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Dhaka-Delhi Ties: ‘Imposed Treaties’ Cannot Bring Peace, Security

M. Shahidul Islam


The lopsided treaty of Versailles that was imposed upon Germany at the conclusion of the First World War brought Hitler to power and sparked another Great War two decades later. Likewise, the 25- year treaty of friendship which Delhi foisted upon Dhaka at the conclusion of the 1971 Indo-Pak war is liable for much of the bloody turmoil that had pulverized Bangladesh in the late 1970s, and continues to do so until now.

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At least four different uneven treaties/agreements are being prepared for signing during the Indian PM Manmohan Singh's upcoming visit to Dhaka on September 6-7

It was only recently that Dhaka and Delhi have begun to look eye ball to eye ball. Yet, as if the lessons of history were meant to be brushed aside as nonsense, Bangladesh is once again turning into a satellite state. At least four different uneven treaties/agreements are being prepared for signing during the Indian PM Manmohan Singh’s upcoming visit to Dhaka on September 6-7. Excepting the Teesta water sharing agreement, of which little in specific is known as yet, all other agreements are uneven and detrimental to regional peace and stability.

Too much, too fast

Especially the transit deal has moved too fast, despite its onerous geopolitical and economic ramifications. The persistent brinkmanship since it first demanded in 2009 a slew of concessions from Dhaka have finally compelled Bangladesh to capitulate to unreasonable and unfair Indian demands.
While moving with a break-neck speed to secure transit/corridor through Bangladesh, Delhi has also decided to flood our streets with otherwise not-export-worthy Indian vehicles and locomotives, and, to make us energy dependent by finalizing a handful of power connectivity schemes.
Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said on July 18 that Bangladesh and India have taken a “political decision” on transit (read corridor) for India and a number of protocols regarding the transit would be finalized before the Indian PM’s scheduled visit to Bangladesh on September 6-7, which, Moni said, ‘are expected to be signed.’

Power & transportation

That message received a glowing reception in Delhi. The same day, Delhi gave mandate to its state-run power producers-NTPC and its appendix the Vidyut Vypar Nigam Ltd. (NVVN) – the mandate to export 250 MW of power to Bangladesh. “We are going to export 250 MW to Bangladesh from the 15 per cent unallocated power we have, and will develop 1,320 MW at Khulna,” NTPC Chairman and Managing Director, Arup Roy Choudhury, said on the sidelines of an energy seminar.

This particular move seems too hypocritical and unrealistic due to over 400 million Indian consumers still having no access to electricity; a fact that should have compelled Delhi to focus on providing electricity to its own people first before moving aggressively to set up transmission lines with Bangladesh under a dubious pact signed in July 2010 between the Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd and the BPDB of Bangladesh. This power connectivity is expected to be commissioned by early 2013, at a cost of US$ 190 million (around Rs 907 crore).

Already knee-deep into our telecommunication and RMG sectors with over $2 billion stakes, the Indian dash to overtake the transportation and the power sectors is as alarming as is the transit deal.

Yet, finance minister AMA Muhith disclosed last week that his government would spend $960 million of the $1 billion loan committed by the Indian Exim Bank to procure from India 300 double-decker buses, 50 single-decker, 50 articulated, 50 flat wagons, 180 oil tankers and a host of other vehicles and locomotives, in phases.

All these procurements remind one of the sordid memories created by the Indian Maruti taxicab procurement scam of 1998-2000, all those vehicles finding their places in junkyards in less than five years time. This time, the loans must be paid irrespective of the quality of the merchandise provided by India. More loans also mean more tax burden on ordinary people.

Diplomatic shamble

That’s not all. The Bangladesh ambassador in Kathmandu, Neem Chandra Bhowmik, was found by the Nepalese authorities to have indulged in a range of non-diplomatic activities, prompting the Nepalese foreign ministry to urge Dhaka for his immediate withdrawal from the Himalayan kingdom. One source said, some of the allegations against Bhowmik involved spying on behalf of India, something the Maoist-dominated Nepalese elites found utterly reprehensible, undiplomatic and damaging to their national interest. “Dhaka has launched an investigation to verify those allegations,” according to the source.

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Neem Chandra Bhowmik involved spying on behalf of India

A former teacher of the Dhaka University, Bhowmik has been a leading stalwart in the Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Association of Bangladesh prior to his hand-picked, mysterious nomination in 2009 to serve as Bangladesh’s High Commissioner in Nepal. The army-backed caretaker regime once arrested and imprisoned him for stirring trouble between soldiers and students in August 2007.

If that was not enough, another hand-picked émigré academician cum diplomat had caused further embarrassment to the government by meeting last week with the exiled Tibetan leader, Dalai Lama, in New York. Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen, who too was chosen as a blue-eyed buddy of the PM to become Bangladesh’s Permanent Representative to the UN, did not even bother to ponder how his meeting with the Tibetan exiled leader would throw a deadly spanner on Bangladesh’s long-held one-China policy.

Free transit

For too long, an agile and doggedly arrogant pro-Indian cabal has showcased the transit deal as a cash cow for Bangladesh. Now, weeks before the deal is set to be inked and wrapped, the economic gains seem negative when the cost of maintaining and securing the infrastructure is subtracted from whatever may be levied as transit royalty from the ferrying Indian vehicles. Besides, not only our limited road infrastructures will be overcrowded-and the venomous wrath of secessionist forces of Indian north east, the Chinese anger notwithstanding, will be drawn into-there is no other tangible quid pro quo laced with the deal. Compare this with how diplomacy got conducted in the past. Soon after the partition of India in 1947, Nehru wrote to Jinnah seeking transit facilities from the Chittagong port to the Indian North Eastern states. Jinnah replied, “Excellency, this request can be honoured in a mutually beneficial manner. Please allow Pakistan to ferry goods from the Karachi port to East Pakistan via India.” Nehru never responded to that counter-offer.

Border dispute

That old-fashioned Indian bluff is called once again due to Delhi showing no intention of resolving the outstanding border demarcation issues with Bangladesh. The euphoria expressed on July 14 by Kamal Uddin Ahmed, a Bangladesh government official involved in the bilateral survey of population living in adverse possessions in both countries, that the so-called head count survey by 125 surveyors from both the countries would be completed in 7 days to prepare ground for the boundary dispute settlement during the Indian PM’s Dhaka visit, has turned sour within days.

On July 17, survey at the Mehgalaya-Bangladesh border had to be abandoned due to what the state-controlled Press Trust of India (PTI) said “difference of opinion between the two sides regarding the location of the international border.” Of course there is difference of opinion, but how long this stalemate can linger?

The decision to jointly verify the enclave population was taken last September and a Joint Boundary Working Group (JBWG) was created to resolve disputes along the Dibirhaor, Sripur, Tamabil, Sonarhat, Bichnakandi, Protappur and Lalakhal in Sylhet, abutting Meghalaya. Other enclaves slated for the survey and demarcation abut the Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri districts of West Bengal, and, some are along the Kurigram, Nilphamari, Lalmonirhaat and Pachagarh districts of Bangladesh. The survey on hold, no deal on border dispute settlement is expected sooner.

Bitter past

That Delhi is reluctant to settle this combustive matter became clear from other indications. Indian officials claim the population of 111 Indian enclaves is around 100,400 while the 51 Bangladeshi enclaves inside India have 44,000 residents only. Bangladesh, on the other hand, claims it has 55 enclaves inside India and the population of those enclaves is about 150,000 to 300,000. The two nations share over 4,000 km of border, of which about 6.1 km was thought to have remained un-demarcated. Upon closer look, over 15 km of border is found un-demarcated.

Besides, according to Bangladeshi officials, 7,000 acres of Bangladeshi land is inside India and only 3,500 acres of Indian land inside Bangladesh, which India claims to be 17,000 acres. From these wide variations, one can deduce the prospect of additional danger, unless some agreements are arrived at sooner.

That notwithstanding, the tactic being applied by Delhi is reminiscent of what it did in the 1970s. Dhaka and Delhi signed a land border agreement in 1974 and Dhaka expeditiously executed, ratified and handed over the Tin Bigha corridor to India, in return for the Indian commitment to hand over Berubari to Bangladesh. But Delhi never bothered to return Berubari to Bangladesh.
Thus the border demarcation issue remained on the ice, and, for four decades, the residents of Berubari and other enclaves, who are virtually stateless refugees, crossed the international border every day for cultivation and other chores by enduring strict official formalities enforced by the Indian border security personnel.

Things turned further painful when, since 2003, India started to encircle Bangladesh by constructing barbed wire fencing at a cost of $ 3 billion, and, the killing and maiming of thousands of Bangladeshis by the BSF continued unabated. Faced with such hard facts, how Dhaka can concede to unreasonable pressures from Delhi is beyond a sane person’s comprehension.

In politics, permanent interest is more important than cosmetic friendship cloaked under a deceptive blend of hoodwink, guile and blackmailing. There are proxy wars in the Indian North East and they must conclude through political means. If the US can conciliate with the Taliban, Delhi should do the same with the ULFA and the others. Only then a transit through Bangladesh will be risk free.

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