Friday, December 23, 2011

Bangladesh-India relations: Historical perspective and current status

The Independent
Liberation Day Supplement
December 16, 2011
M. Serajul Islam

Morning shows the day. So goes the cliché. Sometimes, it happens that way but often it does not. In case of Bangladesh-India relations, the cliché has failed, almost completely so far because the bright and sunny morning of Bangladesh-India relations that we saw in the early days of the present government’s tenure has turned cloudy in the late afternoon with dark and ominous clouds in the horizon.

History and geo-politics places Bangladesh is a position where its full potentials as a nation can only be achieved in the context of India treating us fairly and as a friend. We are dependent on India on a few major counts of which the need to get a fair and equitable share of waters of the common rivers is of paramount importance. Equally important is the issue of a fair demarcation of the maritime boundary where we cannot exploit the rich hydro-carbon resources in the Bay of Bengal without an agreement with India.
We also need India for realizing our potentials on a host of other issues. Our position in between India’s fragile northeast and its mainland places us in a situation where we can help India profusely and ourselves gain a lot from reciprocity. We also hold the key to Indian security, an issue that could make or break India as it reaches out to become a world economic power.
Bangladesh began its journey as an independent nation by helping India fulfill a dream. A lot is said and rightly so about how much Bangladesh owes to India for looking after 10 million of our refugees in 1971 and helping our war of liberation both in the theater of the war as well as projecting our case to the international community. In that, the point what emergence of Bangladesh has meant to India, is lost.

The emergence of Bangladesh has eased for India pressures from Pakistan from the east. In terms of savings on defense, Bangladesh must have contributed to the Indian coffer a mind boggling sum of money and continuing to do so. It has given to the Indians in addition the psychological comfort and support by freeing it from any fear coming from the East. The fact that Pakistan has become nuclear since Bangladesh’s emergence only adds to the direct contributions that Bangladesh makes to the Indians in the strategic, defense and financial contexts.

Nevertheless, it is Bangladesh that has always been asked and has always paid a heavy price to India on the issue of gratitude for its support to our emergence as an independent nation. In order to serve India’s interests to resolve its problems with Pakistan, we allowed India to send back to Pakistan the 193 Pakistani soldiers who were POWs in India after they had surrendered to a Joint Indian and Bangladesh Mukti Bahini Command, soldiers we wanted to try for crimes against humanity during our war of liberation. The sacrifice we made then is more than evidently clear in Bangladesh today as the country struggles to try the war criminals of 1971.

We also allowed India a trial run for the Farakkha Barrage for 40 days that it extended unilaterally to suit its needs that has caused great damages to the environment of northern Bangladesh. We have allowed India river transit for carrying goods from mainland India to northeast. We even agreed in principle to accord India land transit in the Trade Agreement we signed with it in 1972. In 1974, we signed the agreement on land boundary under which we gave India what we agreed. India did not keep its part of the agreement.

In fact, it is Bangladesh that has been paying off to India the price for the help it gave Bangladesh in 1971. Bangladesh never asked anything for helping India break its nemesis Pakistan into two. Bangladesh just wanted from India its legitimate rights as an independent and sovereign nation on issues of water, trade, land and maritime boundaries.
On the maritime boundary, the Indian refusal to negotiate on principles of international law has forced us to go to the international tribunal to seek redress. On trade, the deficit has exploded, with India unwilling to accept agreements at multilateral forum to help our exports to enter Indian market. It has fenced off the border; yet it accuses Bangladesh of mass migration. In last one decade, Indian BSF has killed over a thousand innocent Bangladeshis; most of them killed as a result of smuggling ventures that went wrong for which the control is in the hands of the Indian Border Security Force (BSF). Yet, it sees no reason to regret where its own human rights and international human rights organizations have squarely placed the accusing fingers on India.

The only times the Indians have done something for Bangladesh was when it signed the Ganges Water Sharing Accord in 1996, 22 years after we gave it permission for 40 days’ trial run, and arm twisted the insurgents in the hill tracts that it was encouraging to sign the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord. The Ganges Accord has outlived its utility because upstream withdrawal brings very little amount of water at the point of sharing for Bangladesh to receive its equitable share. The Indians are not even sorry for our predicament and we can do nothing about it as there is no guarantee clause in the agreement. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord has been signed because the Indians arm twisted the insurgents that they had been training to harm Bangladesh and that to, not for the same of Bangladesh but for a political party that it thought would serve its interests.

In the BNP’s last term of office, bilateral relations stagnated with India not interested in moving relations ahead because they perceived the BNP Government as an unfriendly one. The BNP was also in no hurry to mend fences with India. Therefore, it was quite a courageous move that Sheikh Hasina made immediately upon becoming Prime Minister to sent strong signals that her government was prepared to work with India for a paradigm shift in bilateral relations. Towards that conviction, she assured India that her Government would not allow Bangladesh soil to be used as a sanctuary for attacks on India by terrorists and insurgents. As proof of her seriousness, Bangladesh handed to India 7 top ULFA insurgents, albeit secretly.

On her official visit to India in January, 2010, she made further concessions. She promised India land transit that had been meanwhile renamed by India with Bangladesh’s concurrence as connectivity for public acceptance in Bangladesh. She also offered to India the use of the Chittagong and Mongla sea ports. In exchange for Bangladesh’s offers on security, and land transit and use of the seaports, the Indians made a number of promises and a firm offer. The promises were to sell us electricity, talk with us on water sharing, trade issues and land boundary. The firm offer was a soft but tied loan of US$ 1 billion.

The visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was heralded by the Bangladesh side as a great success. The Prime Minister’s principal negotiators, Dr. Gowher Rizvi, Dr. Mashiur Rahman and the Foreign Minister undertook a media campaign in which they built up great expectations in the minds of the people. They urged the people to believe that India is a neighbour to be trusted and that India has the goodwill of Bangladesh at heart. They chided those who were critical of India or hesitant to believe in India. Our negotiators assured us that India would make us rich and important by making us the connectivity hub of the region that would not just include its northeastern states but also Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and China.

Our negotiators asked the people to wait for the visit of the Indian Prime Minister during which they told us we would see what a good friend India is. The two countries exchanged high level visits. The Indian Foreign, Finance and Home Ministers visited Bangladesh and our senior Ministers also visited India. The committees between the two countries at the official level on water, border and trade also met in the period leading up to the visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Dhaka. These positive developments lent credibility to what our negotiators were telling us, that India could be trusted as a friend and that it was ready to do serious business with us.

The Indian Prime Minister finally came to Dhaka in September amidst great expectations in Bangladesh. Unfortunately, the evening before his arrival, the Indians threw cold water on our expectations by withdrawing the agreement on the Teesta and Feni rivers. They made concessions of trade by adding 46 RMG items to duty free access to India. The 6.4 miles land boundary was finalized and so was exchange of enclaves and land in adverse possession. Bangladesh was also given 24 hours’ access through Teen Bigha to the Bangladesh enclaves of Dahagram and Angorpota.

Nevertheless, the nation was deeply disappointed with the Teesta fiasco. The Indians failed to acknowledge the importance and sensitivity of the water issue to the people of Bangladesh. Our negotiators tried their best to hide people’s disappointment and acclaimed that the visit was successful. They expressed no public disappointment over Teesta. Instead they defended India and expressed firm home that the agreement on Teesta was just round the corner. A number of Ministers said that the two countries would sign the agreement on Teesta in 3 to 4 months. Our negotiators went into denial over the fact that India had betrayed us literally at the eleventh hour!

The negotiators’ efforts to defend India were surprising as it became evident that the agreements and concessions India made were met with strong disapproval from string lobbies in India. The BJP objected to the exchange of enclaves. RMG groups opposed the 46 items put on the duty free list. The 24 hours’ access through Teen Bigha is a regression on the 1974 Indira-Mujib Agreement that had given us the land as ours. The Indians were themselves apparently embarrassed that they had failed to deliver with their Prime Minister’s visit. The Indian Prime Minister expressed regrets over Teesta.

The Indian media was harsh on their Prime Minister and blamed him and his government for failing to match the strong hand of friendship offered by Bangladesh. At least two leading Indians, Kuldip Nayyar and Muchkund Dubey who are well known in both the countries, expressed anger at the “disdain and apathy” of their Government towards Bangladesh. Muchkund Dubey felt that the Indians are behaving in a manner that could turn Bangladeshis to feel the same way for India as does the Pakistanis.
If the Indian Prime Minister was embarrassed on disappointing Bangladesh by his visit, it was only in passing. The Indians however did not regret what they did to Bangladesh over Teesta. They have told us subsequently through various channels that an agreement on Teesta would be a long time in coming. The Indian Prime Minister, after assuring us in Dhaka that the Teesta agreement would be signed soon, has said recently that there is the need to build a consensus before the agreement can be signed! No one from our side asked the question what he and his team doing was doing all this while when they were taking from Bangladesh concessions that they dreamt but never expected, a total assurance on India’s security and an access from mainland to the northeast.

The Indians have now signed an agreement to build the Tippaimukh Dam. They simply did not bother that Bangladesh needed to taken on board after Bangladesh had spared no efforts to convey to the Indians that there exists in Bangladesh bipartisan fear and apprehension over the dam. That fear has been greatly enhanced following the tremors in Sikkim. When we sought information over the dam, the Indians asked us not to be concerned and to have faith that India would not harm us. The two Advisers of our Prime Minister who met the Indian Prime Minister in New Delhi were given the same assurance.

The Indians have said that they would build just the dam and have set aside the barrage that would have harmed Bangladesh. In giving the assurance, the Indians have missed a very vital point, that as a neigbour with sovereign status, Bangladesh deserves to be treated better, particularly when it has made the major concessions. It has more importantly missed the legal point that under international law and convention, a country is allowed to unilaterally build raise the water level of a cross boundary river to the height of 15 meters or thereabouts. For a level higher than that, an upper riparian of a cross boundary river is bound under international law and convention to discuss with the lower riparian about the level it proposes to rise. In case of the Tippaimukh, the level would be raise to 170 meters! By their contemptuous behaviour, the Indians have once again highlighted that they cannot be trusted.

For the first time in many decades, Sheikh Hasina showed India Bangladesh’s interest to accommodate what India wants from us the most, namely sincere assurances for its security concerns and a land transit to its fragile northeast. In doing so, our Prime Minister took great political risks. Common sense dictated, given the importance of the concessions made by Bangladesh (Muchkund Dubey called these concessions as “supremely significant” to India) to reciprocate on water as the first item and then on the other bilateral issues of trade, maritime boundary, border, and the rest. It is not that the Indians did not make the concessions towards which Bangladesh was expectantly looking; it added salt to the injury by treating us as if we did not deserve to be treated with respect. After being treated so disdainfully and disrespectfully, we had to send our Advisers to New Delhi. If the Indians were serious about us, they should have sent an envoy to Dhaka instead to take care of Bangladesh’s hurt feelings.

In retrospect, the Indian attitude was not at all unexpected. This is the way the Indians have always treated Bangladesh. What is a wonder is the attitude of our negotiators. The Foreign Minister and the Foreign Secretary saw nothing wrong with the way the Indians treated us on Tippaimukh. They demanded that the Indians must be trusted. The State Minister for Water saw politics in the agitation over the dam and absurd as it may sound, said that India has the right to build the Tippaimukh dam and any other structure on any of the rivers we share with it! The State Minister’s preposterous comments did not bring him any reprimand although by his comments, he has handed over to India the sovereign right on the rivers we share with it, rivers that are indispensible for our existence.
Between the arrogance of the Indians and the subservience of our negotiators (in case of the State Minister for Water, far worse), we have wasted a great window of opportunity that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had opened in the context of Bangladesh-India relations. The promise of our negotiators that as the connectivity hub of the region we would become rich and important seems to have vanished in the thin air. The promises of water also have evaporated and all the other agreements that we have signed since the government took office three years ago, seem to be going by the way side.

India, its arrogance notwithstanding, has achieved its goals in the short run. The security concessions on the ULFA insurgents has helped India break the many decades old ULFA insurgent movement that would help India save many times more than the much acclaimed money it has given Bangladesh as soft loan. It has also been given the go ahead on land transit on a trial basis. But by betraying on Teesta and Tippaimukh and failing to show that it has a heart to match its size on reciprocating to what Bangladesh has given, India has shown short sightedness because both the security and the transit cards are certain to be in serious jeopardy in the backdrop of rising distrust of India.
The morning sun that Sheikh Hasina brightened in Bangladesh-India relations has now paled into a cloudy late mid afternoon. Indian arrogance, short sightedness and habbit of taking Bangladesh for granted and our negotiators’ unbelievable subservience have almost wasted a historic opportunity opened by Sheikh Hasina to take Bangladesh-India relations to a new level of friendship, mutual trust and mutual benefit.

The writer is a retired career diplomat and a former Ambassador to Japan

How important are our roots?

Daily Sun
Liberation Day Supplement
December 16, 2011
M. Serajul Islam

A friend and I were talking on the current status of politics in the country at a gathering of friends recently. We both agreed it was in a sorry state of affairs and that the country was surely not moving in the right direction. A common friend, an active member of a political party joined us but we continued in our critical vein. He did not like our critical tone and said rather abruptly that we have to go back to our roots and those who do not believe in our roots must be dealt with.

I asked him for an explanation of our roots. He gave an instant reply. He said that our roots are Bengali nationalism and secularism. I asked him a few questions. I wanted to know more clearly what he meant by the roots because there was a threat implied in his tone that those who did not agree with his explanation of the roots would not be left alone. I also wanted to know by what mechanism he arrived so authoritatively on our roots.

My friend the politician is a straight forward guy. He did not take long to explain our roots and what would have to be done with those who did not believe in our roots. Our roots according to him are the divide that the two political parties have introduced in our politics; whether our nationalism is Bengali or Bangladeshi and secularism. His roots are, in fact, those that the Awami League explains publicly as essential forces that motivated our liberation and created Bangladesh.

I and my other friend had no problem in accepting one part of the “roots”; namely Bengali nationalism. We told him that on the face of it, no one should have any problem with Bengali nationalism. This root of ours was the prime motivator of our war of liberation, so much so that there is no point even in discussing it. Nevertheless, we also told our friend that this element of our “roots” has been made controversial by the two mainstream parties whose support among the people is roughly half and half. Therefore we told him that there is the need to take a serious look at it to arrive at some sort of a consensus because democracy demands that no one party should impose its views on another.
When the Pakistanis cracked down in that dark night of March 25th, 1971, their enemy was clear as day light; it was the AL led by Bangabandhu who showed, in the eyes of the Pakistanis, the audacity to divide Pakistan and create Bangladesh. The Pakistan Army had the easy option of going after the Awami League politicians who had taken the leadership to break Pakistan. There were 162 of these Awami Leaguers who were elected to the Pakistan National Assembly and 298 Awami Leaguers were elected to the Provincial Assembly who could have been targeted.

The Pakistanis took Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as a prisoner who surrendered voluntarily. After this singularly civil act, the Pakistanis went about killing our people without consideration of political affiliation, sex, age, or whatever else distinguishes people. They killed us simply because we spoke the Bengali language that made their act the worst recorded and unanswered case of genocide in history. Out of the 450 plus parliamentarians, the Pakistanis did not target any and a few who were apprehended and/or killed were caught as Bengalis and not as Awami Leaguers.

The Constitution today identifies our nationalism as “Bengali” nationalism and our citizenship as “Bangladeshi”. The 15th amendment has been written entirely by the AL but may have opened the window to bridge the differences between the mainstream parties on the “Bengali” root. It has strengthened the AL stand that one of our roots lies in Bengali nationalism but has also accommodated the Bangladeshi character dear to the BNP in defining our citizenship. The “secular root” is divisive and more complex. My friend the MP was adamant that there could be no compromise on the secular root. He showed a definite contempt about the Islamic forces in the country. To him, the country must be secular.

We listened to our politician friend with apprehension. We told him that what he was getting at is his party’s public stand by which it has divided the country into what it calls pro-liberation and anti-liberation forces. He did not disagree with us. In fact, he underscored that those who believed that our roots are in “Bengali nationalism” and “secularism” are the pro-liberation forces and those who have doubts on these roots are anti-liberation forces.
We pleaded with him to consider that his party’s uncompromising stand on the roots is dividing the country into two conflicting groups and that the conflict is now destroying the country. We wanted to know from him how we have come to a stage where today there are 75 million or more people in the country who are so-called “anti-liberation” force according to his party when during our war of liberation; there were only a handful of such anti liberation elements.

My friend did not have any explanation but he did have an answer on what should be done to those who are “anti liberation” forces who do not believe in our roots the way he and his party believes. He simply said they had no right to live in Bangladesh. This friend had on an earlier occasion told me and a few other friends that dealing with these “anti-liberation” forces meant “sizing” them up and when asked to clarify what he meant by “sizing”, he said without batting an eyelid that these forces should be eliminated! Afterwards at home, my friend’s strong views had me thinking very seriously. If it had been just his views then I would have been able to lay it at rest even though his views were very discomforting to merely set these aside. I was alarmed because there are many in his party who do think the way he does and they are as compromising with our roots as he is.

Many of us have lived through 1971 without being an Awami Leaguer. It was Bangabandhu’s 7th March, 1971 speech that boiled the blood in all of us and brought us all together under his leadership in believing in Bangladesh. It did not matter for us whether we were Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists or Christians. It did not matter whether or not we voted or supported the Awami League. Barring a handful of collaborators and Islamic parties that had little support amongst us, we all united under Bangabandhu’s clarion call. The need to explain that the basis of our nationalism in those 9 months was we were Bengalis was irrelevant even to consider because it was as obvious as saying it is daylight when we are at mid-day and the sun is shining brightly on us. It was 25 years’ of deprivation as Bengalis as a part of Pakistan that made this factor irrelevant. Pakistan’s decision to commit genocide on us simply because we spoke the Bengali language was what has brought us together as a nation in 1971.

Nevertheless, since we achieved our independence, there have been good reasons for extending this Bengali nationalism to Bangladeshi nationalism to make complete sense of what we are. First, without a Bangladeshi content to Bengali nationalism, there will be little to set us apart from the people of West Bengal who by the definition that our nationalism is determined solely by the language will have as much right to Bangladeshi nationality as we have. It is like the claim to Israel citizenship. Any Jew anywhere on the world has the right to become an Israeli citizen based on the right of return for the Jewish Diaspora. Second, by making the Bengali language as the sole basis of our nationalism, we will logically exclude the minority in the country who do not speak Bengali as a mother tongue to be a part of Bangladesh as a matter of right. Third, the many centuries of influence of Islam that majority of Bangladeshis follow will be lost by restricting our nationalism to language alone.

The issue of secularism during our war of liberation was far removed from the minds of the people because we were united by a fear of genocide that for us was the litmus test that transformed us from being Pakistanis to Bangladeshis. In the nine months of liberation, there was no force on earth that could not have divided us nor was any necessary to unite us. We were not bothered whether we were a Hindu, Muslim or a Buddhist or a Christian. Religion was no factor; it was the Bengali language that brought us together and kept us united as a monolith.

The claim of the two mainstream parties leaves a lot to be desired to be a conclusive explanation of our nationalism . It is a matter on which we can debate as long as we want to. Yet we will not come out with a consensus on it. But then is this an issue that should hold us back and make us fight and divide? One way of looking at this could be by asking ourselves why we needed to be independent. Here there no division of opinion. We needed to be independent to build a democratic state. Pakistan was a dictatorship that we did not want. Our attempt to make it democratic when we voted the AL to power was met with genocide. We created Bangladesh so that whatever differences there existed amongst us would be discussed in the democratic way; by listening to all shades of opinion and then deciding on the basis of majority verdict. The very thought of imposing an opinion without discussion and on pre-conceived notions is anathema to the very dream that gave birth to Bangladesh, to reject a dictatorship and live in a democratic country.

My friend the politician reflected to me the same mindset that the Pakistanis had when they tried to destroy our spirit and keep us under their domination. If a large number of people of Bangladesh believe that our nationalism is “Bangladesh nationalism” and that our Islamic belief must not be lost in our emphasis on secularism, then the only way to deal with it for the group that differs with it is political. The way is not by calling those who differ with both our roots as my friend described it as views of anti-liberation forces and most definitely not by sizing them up. Even the thought that any person or group, 40 years after we have liberated ourselves for our democratic convictions and beliefs, could believe that there could be a solution of a political problem by force is taking a stand against the very basis that united our people in 1971 to fight and liberate Bangladesh.

The roots are important no doubt. Nevertheless, we need to consider how it is possible that a nation that was united as a monolith in 1971 on the issue of independence and freedom, can now be, as the ruling party suggests, divided into half so called pro-liberation forces and half so called anti-liberation elements. The thought that it is possible that there are 75 million people in this country is absurd.

In the 15th amendment, while the secular root has been restored, the Islamic character of the society has also been retained. And, on the issue of nationalism, while the 15th amendment has underscored the fundamental importance of language it has also given space to the view of the BNP that we are Bangladeshi in defining our citizenship. The official stance of the ruling party on the roots therefore differs from the uncompromising stance of its members and activists like my friend. The difference provides the hope that despite the rhetoric, the AL may not eventually pursue our roots in a manner that would destroy the tree.

The writer is a retired career diplomat and former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt.

Foreign Policy Issues: Coordination and consistency is the name of the game

Daily Sun
December 18, 2011
M. Serajul Islam

If democracy is the freedom of speech, then our Government is the most democratic by a long stretch in the context of allowing its Ministers/Advisers absolute freedom to speak as they like. Take the Padma Bridge as an example. We all know that the World Bank stopped funding the mega project worth US$ 2.7 billion on charges of corruption in the Ministry of Communications. It had specific charges against the Minister in charge of the Ministry and asked for his removal. JICA and ADB also followed the WB.

The Government initially refused to accept the WB request and made a few proposals to it. Nothing worked. Finally, the Minister was removed to another Ministry. Yet the WB did not relent, at least not yet. This angered the Prime Minister who blasted at the WB and other international financial agencies. She vowed she would build not just the Padma Bridge but another over the Padma River and many other bridges with fund from private international financial agencies. She also referred to interest of certain countries to build the Padma Bridge.

The new Communications Minister does not seem to be on the same wave length with the Prime Minister. He has already started talking with the WB local office for a favourable response to the removal of his predecessor. He seems to feel that the WB would withdraw its objection and start funding the Padma Bridge. At the official level, it is being said that the ball is now in WB court and that it would have no option but to withdraw its objection.

More of “democracy Bangladesh style” is evident on the issue of Tippaimukh. The Prime Minister has said that she would not allow India to do anything that would harm Bangladesh over Tippaimukh. Her Adviser has very recently scribed a piece in a local English Daily stating firm conviction that India would not do anything to harm Bangladesh. His belief in India and its Prime Minister is quintessential. He just cannot understand the concerns in Bangladesh over Tippaimukh.

It is not just that there is discrepancy between the Prime Minister and her Adviser over Tippaimukh. There are serious differences between the ruling party and its principal ally, the Jatiya Party over it. The Government’s official position, despite the Prime Minister suggesting some concern, is one of total trust in India. Between the Prime Minister’s Adviser Gowhar Rizvi and the Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, the Government’s case has been stated unequivocally that there is not even the reason to ask India questions over Tippaimukh.

Nevertheless, General Ershad believes that all work of the Government must stop till we succeed in forcing India to abandon the Tippaimukh project. His party is an important coalition partner of the ruling party and hence is a part of the Government. Therefore President Ershad’s strong public stance against the ruling party’s stand is either a sign of democracy of a peculiar type or rumblings within the coalition. It however underscores the fact that the frustration and the opposition on the Tippaimukh project is one that the ruling party cannot simply wish away as the Adviser to the Prime Minister seems to be doing.

Even if one is to accept Dr. Rizvi’s arguments that the Tippaimukh will not harm us in anyway, there is a lot to be said about the matter. It is still the Indian Government and Dr. Rizvi and a few others in and around the Prime Minister who are saying the good things about Tippaimukh. What do these individuals want to do for the anger, fear and frustration among the people of Bangladesh over Tippaimukh? For one, no matter what arguments the Prime Minister’s aides bring to explain the Tippaimukh, the Indians have destroyed their credibility by withdrawing the Teesta deal and going ahead with Tippaimukh without taking Bangladesh into confidence after they had so strongly argued the Indian interests.

The other issue is one that has always been there, only the Prime Minister’s men (and woman) for some unexplained reason did not notice. This is the way India has treated us over Teesta and Tippaimukh that fits a pattern. In the history of Bangladesh-India relations, India has treated us as a big brother to decide what is in our interest when an AL Government is in office. When the BNP is in power that India perceives as unfriendly, it acts as the bully. With Tippaimukh, the Prime Minister’s aides are telling us to believe that our big brother cannot harm us. The aides could not have been further removed from ground reality if what the people of Bangladesh thinks are of any consequence to them.

The handling of Padma Bridge and Tippaimukh are examples of what is wrong in the way Bangladesh conducts its foreign relations. Although there is need to be democratic in any activity of the government, the sort of democracy we are seeing under this government on foreign relations is one leading us to disaster. Someone with sense from among the Prime Minister’s closest circle should flag for her to show her that on both these issues, her Ministers and aides have spoken in a manner that has suggested than the hand does not where the glove is. Many in Government have spoken on these issues who have no business or authority to speak on these issues at all. Many have spoken on India in a manner that the Indians themselves would have been embarrassed to speak.

The Prime Minister often has spoken strongly on for example the WB in a manner that would have been better done out of the media. Sending such salvos does not help her own image or the country’s interests. It will only make the efforts of her officials difficult in negotiating WB funds that her government, her salvos notwithstanding, is no doubt pursuing. Then again, WB is crucial for funding other development projects in the country. Creating bad blood with it would only hamper the smooth flow of these funds. Getting funds for future development projects from private sources would be difficult and costly that economists in the country have already flagged following the Prime Minister’s strong words against the WB.

In case of Tippaimukh and generally with leading Bangladesh’s talks with India, the lack of coordination among those negotiating has been palpably evident. The team has ended up negotiating India’s case more strongly than the Indians. In fact, while it is the responsibility of the Indian Government to explain the fears in minds of most Bangladeshis on the proposed Tippaimukh Dam given the concessions and commitments Bangladesh made since the present government came to power, it is our negotiators who are instead being seen acting as lobbyists of the Indian Government.
It is time for the Government to get its house in order on foreign policy issues if it is already not too late. With such lack of coordination with no known leader, it does not need a crystal ball to predict that we would not be able to achieve our foreign policy goals, as we have not. With such way of conducting foreign policy it is not just that we are failing to achieve our national interests; even our respect as a sovereign nation is being jeopardized.
The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan

Our Cricketing Misfortunes

As I See It
The Independent
M. Serajul Islam
December 17, 2011

The loss of the first test against Pakistan in Chittagong by a humiliating margin of an innings and 184 runs is really bad. However, even the best of teams at certain occasions have lost tests by innings. In case of Bangladesh though, the humiliation of losses by an innings is more the pattern than the exception. In 72 tests that we have played, we have lost 34 by an innings. Of the 72, tests, we have lost 62!

Sports scribes writing about test cricket in foreign newspapers and in the internet are now writing with no holds barred. They are asking seriously whether Bangladesh is fit to play test cricket. The condescending attitude of one Pakistani commentator who was on air during the Chittagong Test was too much to bear.

Yet there is such a lot to be said about Bangladesh cricket. One of its test batsmen, Tamim Iqbal, was the Wisden Test Cricketer of the Year in 2010. Another test player, Saqib Al Hasan, is currently the number one all rounder of the world in limited overs cricket. There are a few others who have acknowledged class. Yet when they play together, the results are more often than not, disastrous.

What is sad is in addition to some good talent, we spend a great deal of money for our cricket team. Our cricketers get more or less the same level of coaching and other privileges that cricketers from other countries get.. In fact, the package our national cricketers get is better than some of the countries playing test cricket these days. They also receive public adoration that should have been an added incentive to perform. Cricket has replaced football by a long margin in the context of popularity among the public. Yet our team continues to perform miserably and is on the declining scale.

After the disappointing performance in Zimbabwe where we thought we would win both the test and one-day series comfortably but lost, there was talk of an official inquiry into the state of affairs of our cricket. I am not sure what happened to that. I guess like all inquiries in our country, the call was merely for appeasing the public. Nothing was expected to come out of it and nothing has.

Some of the problems in our cricket are so obvious that one wonders how those in charge can overlook them. Take the Chittagong Test for instance and there were two glaring examples there for seeing the big faults in our cricket. The first example was from the performance of the opening batsmen Nazimuddin. He was a debutant; yet in both innings he showed what our batsmen lacked and what type of experience a Test cricketer should bring to his game. First, he played Test cricket as Test cricket should be played; that it is over 5 days, where a batsman should concentrate on pitch occupation and most definitely not on striking rate. Second, he brought with him experience of playing the longer version of the game that his colleagues did not. Our batsmen play Test cricket in one-day mode that has been the primary cause of their dismal performance

The second example was provided by including Ashraful in the side. After playing nearly 60 Tests and achieving an average of less than 23, it is simply absurd that our sports scribes talk of him as a “legend”. He has been in and out of the Test side on many occasions and was not in the squad for the one-dayers against Pakistan. Yet he was brought into the Test side because there was no one waiting in the wings to replace him. The country simply does not have that system of three days or longer competitions where teams from all over the country would take part so as to provide the selectors with the option to choose test cricketers from a wide selection of players.

The Bangladesh team has one advantage that no other test team at present has. Its cricketers are all very young and have the experience to build the core of an excellent test team. This has not happened for a few reasons. First, the cricketers themselves are responsible for this not happening. Second, an equal responsibility lies with the team management. It has failed the team badly. Finally, there is a responsibility that the country’s sports scribes could have played. They too have failed.

On the issue of the cricketers failing themselves, take the example of Tamim and Saqib, two cricketers who have outstanding class. The way Tamim has played in the Chittagong Test suggests that he lacks cricketing brains. On a first day of a Test match , when the opponents have asked his team to bat, simple common sense dictated that he would hold on to his shots at least for the firsts session. Yet in both innings, he batted like it was a T20 and not a Test! Saquib did better but then he has one atrocious shot called the slog sweep that he has not been able to disband from his array of strokes although he has been out to this stupid shot time and again!

Not long ago, I had written in this column that an infant must first learn to walk before running. Our batsmen are running when they have not learnt to stand properly. They need to learn to defend first before trying to hit the 4s and the 6s. There was a message that Pakistanis wrote large in the Chittagong Test that in test cricket crease occupation is the name of the game. Yet, Saquib came and scored a quick fire 50 where the way Sunny Ilyas played hinted that a score of close to 400 could have been on cards if he, and the senor batsmen played like for example Pakistan’s Asad Shafiq, Taufiq Omar and the others.

The management has singularly failed to inculcate in the minds of our batsmen that Test cricket needs a mindset different from one day version. The attitude problem in the players is unacceptable. They behave like they are “stars” but forget the fact that in a team that loses thy way that the Bangladesh team does, the thought of a star in such a team is absurd. Instead of showing a star like attitude, they should show signs of shame. It is this message that the management has failed to communicate to the players. Their more serious failure is to create the infrastructure required to let a regular supply of players for place in a team that has test playing status. One seriously wonders how many of those who don important positions in our cricket administration really understand cricket in order to give it leadership.

The same goes for our cricket scribes. Like our cricket administrators, many of them have funny ideas of cricket like viewing Ashraful as a “legend.” Between the cricket administrators and scribes , a misperception is often created in the public mind about the ability of our team , like the one before the World Cup, that we had a serious chance in that competition only to have that day dream destroyed by a far below par West Indian team that bowled us for 58!

Bangladesh team has talents. It is quite possible that in the Dhaka Test it may show a glimpse of it or a lot of it. However, unless the mindset of the players, the knowledge and vision of the administrators and the poor knowledge of the cricket scribes show a paradigm shift, even an unexpected show in Dhaka Test would be a mere flash at a pan and would not be sustainable. Without the paradigm shift in each of the above, what would be true is what some frustrated cricket fans had displayed in a large placard to the Bangladesh Team upon their arrival at Dhaka Airport after their disappointing Zimbabwe tour. The placard read: “You cannot plough the field with the goats in place of the bulls”! That is the truth about our current cricketing woes.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan.

Four decades of liberation and need of bipartisanship on national issues to save the country

The Holiday
December 16, 2011
M. Serajul Islam

As a diplomat abroad, I remember how my Sri Lankan friends regretted their ethnic division that took their country to the doors of doom. Although it has since returned from that predicament, it has been pushed back by many decades from reaching its fullest potentials due to its ethnic problem and division.

These Sri Lankan friends looked at Bangladesh from a perspective that we have not, at great national costs. They would tell me that as a nation, Bangladesh is indeed a creation of God because it has no inbuilt divisions to cause the type of problems that nations like Sri Lanka have faced in their development efforts. Bangladesh has no regional divide. Although there is a religious one where we have nearly 10% of our population who are different from majority 90%, historically there has never been serious communal or inter-religious strife in Bangladesh between the majority Muslims and the minority Hindus.

Our strongest God gifted asset is our ethnicity. We are all Bengalis, an ethnicity we derive from our language of which we are all very proud. We have a few additional advantages too. Of these, the egalitarian nature of our society is one. In Bangladesh, the rich poor divide is not class based as it is in India to a large extent. It is not at all that there are no poor people in Bangladesh. In fact, the vast majority of our people are poor. Nevertheless, the richest man in Dhaka has poor relatives living in the villages. The Zamindari system established after the Permanent Settlement of 1793 that ended in 1950 in the then East Pakistan did create a feudal class in undivided Bengal but the overwhelming majority of the Zamindars were from the Hindus religion.
These strengths came together to unite us in 1971 under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In the history of nations that have fought for freedom, Bangladesh would easily head the list for the quality of the unity we showed in 1971 in fighting for our independence following the clarion call of Bangabandhu. The great and successful revolutions of the last century, like the Russian, the Chinese and the Vietnamese, have all suffered from inner divisions. In our case, barring a handful of misguided Islamists and collaborators of the Pakistani military, 75 million people came together like a monolith that no force then had the power to divide.

Yet four decades down the road, as the nation celebrates the 40th anniversary of its liberation, it is anything but united. The unity that the nation showed the world in 1971 seems to be a dream of a distant past. Today Bangladesh stands broadly but clearly divided between two antagonistic camps, one led by the ruling Awami League and the other by the opposition BNP. The scattering of other smaller parties are allied with one of these two and often show the same antagonism that the members of the two mainstream parties show in public. The division permeates just not to all aspects of our politics but also to all the institutions of the government such as the bureaucracy, and under the present government, even the judiciary.

The main basis of the division is unbelievable and absurd. It is based in the first place on two individuals who in their lifetimes would not have even thought that after they were gone, their names and contributions to Bangladesh’s emergence would cause the nation they helped to create to be divided the way it has. It is our great misfortunes that a nation that was born in fire with such unity has chosen after Bangabandhu and President Ziaur Rahman were killed to divide itself on who was more important in the emergence of Bangladesh and in the process has wasted the opportunity of turning Bangladesh into one of the great success stories in modern nation building. While the two leaders were alive, President Ziaur Rahman had no reason but to accept Bangabandhu as the architect of Bangladesh for it was in his name and direction that he took up arms against Pakistan to liberate the country.

In a post-Mujib and post-Zia Bangladesh, the Awami League is uncompromising on the issue of leadership. It accepts no role for anyone except Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for the emergence of Bangladesh. It is not willing to give any space to any other leader. For the AL, it is a zero-sum game; all credit must go to Sheikh Mujib and none for anyone else. This stance has pushed the BNP to present President Ziaur Rahman, who declared the independence over the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, to claim part of the credit for the emergence of Bangladesh. However unlike the AL stance, the BNP does not claim all credit for emergence of Bangladesh for its leader alone.
If it was left to just claiming credit for their respective leader for emergence of Bangladesh, then perhaps the damage of this conflict could have been contained. Unfortunately, the two parties have allowed this division based on Bangabandhu and President Ziaur Rahman to affect all aspects of political and public life of the country. In creating this division, it has been the Awami League that has taken the lead with the BNP in a reactive role. From the same mindset of the zero-sum game in the context of leadership, the AL has claimed that it alone has contributed to the fight for Bangladesh’s independence and no other party could claim for itself any role in the emergence of Bangladesh.

It did not stop at that. The Awami League has followed this claim to reach at an illogical conclusion. It has claimed that as the party of Sheikh Mujib, the Awami League, its supporters and followers are the pro-liberation forces and those who oppose the Awami League are the anti-liberation elements. The Awami League has used the BNP’s alliance with the Jamat that had opposed the war of liberation to further nail the accusation that it is anti-liberation. In this accusation, the AL has set aside the fact that while opposing the BNP in its 1991-96 term of office; it had shared the same political platform with Jamat led in those days by Gholam Azam.

The Awami League has failed to acknowledge the meaning of its uncompromising stand. First, it makes roughly over half of the voters of the country who are not Awami Leaguers, anti-Bangladeshis! Second, the stand has destroyed the greatest asset we were given by our glorious war of liberation, namely our unity. Finally, it has created the politics of conflict that is now our most formidable obstacle to our development. The most illogical manifestation of this politics of disunity and conflict that is an anathema to the spirit of our liberation is the provision in the constitution it has made recently by being in government by which it is an act of treason to criticize the constitution! The ruling party has not bothered to find out that our constitution written by men is the only one in the world with such a provision, a sanctity given in some countries to books authored only by God!

Newton’s third law of motion says that to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The BNP is now following that law, claiming loudly that it is the pro-liberation force and not the AL for which there is ample justification. They are saying that their leader President Ziaur Rahman led the war in the battle field and their supporters stayed in the country to battle it out to win the independence that their opponents cannot claim. This could be for a new dimension to the politics of conflict and could further disunite the country. In the midst of these conflicts, it is just not the unity critical for the country’s welfare that is being destroyed; the contribution of the people of the country for the success of the war of liberation without which or independence would not have been achieved, is being ignored.

Thus as we celebrate the 40th year of our liberation, we need to ask our mainstream parties to end their politics of dividing the country on issues of leadership and so-called pro-liberation and anti-liberation forces. Let these issues be discussed and conclusions reached in the four walls of the academic institutions. Let sanity return to politics where at the minimum, the two mainstream parties should make sincere efforts to achieve bipartisanship on issues of national development and foreign affairs.

The ball for this is in the court of the ruling party. This is the minimum the country expects of them for showing respect to the millions who laid down their lives for our independence. Our martyrs are turning in their graves over the ugly partisanship now being seen in our politics.

The writer is a retired career diplomat and former Ambassador to Japan

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Bonn Meeting on Afghanistan: Pakistan-US Relations on the brink

Daily Sun
December 11th., 2011
M. Serajul Islam

Pakistan has stayed out of the international conference on Afghanistan’s security and development in Bonn held on 5th of December. The meeting was called to discuss course of action to facilitate the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 to an Afghan Government that would be able to bring peace to the country after US and NATO efforts to eliminate the Taliban and the Al Qaeda that had not just brought the country to ruins but also made the country the headquarter from where to launch terrorist attacks on the US and the West.

The friendship between President George Bush and General Pervez Mosharaff and between the US and Pakistan in the days after 9/11 when Pakistan became the US’ most strategic partner in the war on terror were the best in history of Pakistan-US relations. It is not always that a Pakistani President gets invited to the White House and more especially to a US President’s vacation home as often as was President Moshraff.

President Moshraff, in those hay days of US-Pakistan relationship, was treated in the same level by the US President as world leaders from the most important of the developed world. President Moshraff became a member of the inner circle of friends in the President’s list of close buddies. Pakistan and its military establishment benefitted most from the friendship of the two Presidents and their countries.

A little over a decade from when it all began, those days of warmth in US-Pakistan relationship seems to be events of the distant past. US-Pakistan relations have been on sharp decline ever since the US in obvious distrust of the Pakistan Government, particularly its military and intelligence, took unilateral action and killed Osama Ben Laden in a quarter literally inside Pakistan’s most secure military establishment; its elite military academy at Kakul.

All Pakistan, particularly the military establishment, erupted in anger and shame that the US, its most trusted ally, had infringed in the most blatant way upon the country’s sovereignty. The US, true to its way of conducting diplomacy where interests alone determine diplomatic and military action, did not mince words in accusing Pakistan’s military and intelligence of complicity in hiding Osama Ben Laden. .

The action against Osama Ben Laden took years of skillful and super secret planning and was successful because no one in Pakistan’s military was informed about it. After the initial tough stance in defending its action, President Obama, aware of Pakistan’s importance in bringing peace to Afghanistan and assisting in the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from there by end of 2014, made conciliatory gestures towards Pakistan. He said that no one in Pakistan top military and intelligence brass was involved in hiding Osama Ben Laden. Nevertheless, the way Osama Ben Laden was nabbed left the trust factor between the two hitherto partners in the war on terror almost totally in array.

To make matters worse, US-Pakistan authorities were involved in the case of CIA contractor Raymond Davis who had killed two Pakistanis in Lahore, apparently in self-defense. The Pakistanis tried him for murder and sentenced him to death by refusing to accept him as a diplomatic staff of the US Embassy staff in Islamabad. The case of Raymond Davis caused widespread uproar both in the government and military circles as well as among the public because it underscored the fact that the US spies were operating inside Pakistan at will.

The fallout from the Osama Ben Laden’s killing operation and that of Raymond Davis heightened the tension between the civil and the military in Pakistan. The depth of the tension has been revealed in the memo allegedly written by Pakistan’s Ambassador to Washington Hussain Haqqani to the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen to intervene in Pakistan’s politics against the military that it said was conspiring to attempt a military coup to over throw the civilian government.

Admiral Mullen admitted receiving the memo but did not take any action on it on the ground of credibility. The Ambassador has since resigned to save President Asif Zardari embarrassment. Nevertheless, the memo (the incident having been named “memo gate”) highlighted the deep rooted tension in Pakistan between the civil and the military that US’ unilateral actions in Pakistan is only accentuating.

The fragile nature of internal conflict in Islamabad involving the US has been further enhanced when 24 Pakistani soldiers, including 2 officers, were killed by ISAF/NATO air strike attack on November 28th. The US described as an accident which the Pakistan military dismissed with contempt. The Pakistan army described the attack as “an unprovoked attack of blatant aggression.” In retaliation, Pakistan has withdrawn the permission given to NATO to move logistic supplies across the border to Afghanistan. It also gave CIA notice to withdraw from Shamsi air base in Pakistan northwest from where the US was sending the drones into Pakistan’s tribal areas in attempts at eliminating the Taliban elements.

All these developments coincided in encouraging Pakistan to stay out of the Bonn international conference on Afghanistan’s security and development. US Secretary of State expressed regret at Pakistan’s decision to stay out of the Bonn meeting, stating that the meeting had been planned much ahead of the NATO airstrikes and that Pakistan was aware of the importance of the meeting.

In the exchanges on the NATO airstrikes, the military was clearly visible taking the decisions on critical issues on Pakistan’s cooperation with the US not as partners on the war on terror but as antagonists. In the weeks and months leading to the present state of Pakistan-US relations, the US had left no doubt what it thought of Pakistan. It had openly accused Pakistan’s military and intelligence of helping the enemy with intelligence in the efforts of US and ISAF/NATO troops in taking out Taliban and Al Qaeda elements in Pakistan’s impregnable northwest. Pakistan’s patronization of the Haqqani network in Afghanistan is an open secret. Clearly, the element of trust between the two countries is today all but gone.

The decision of Pakistan to stay out of Bonn has brought to surface not just deep fissures in Pakistan’s partnership in the US led war on terror but few other negatives as well. It has started the process of the parting of ways between the Pakistan’s military and intelligence and their US and NATO counterparts at a very inconvenient time for the United States. The situation in Afghanistan is hardly the way the US and its allies would have liked with the Taliban in resurgence and President Hamid Karzai hardly in control. The US and NATO forces have just till the end of 2014 to withdraw. Because of Pakistan’s undeniable importance in any eventual peaceful resolution of the US led war on terror, the rupture of US-Pakistan security and intelligence cooperation can only put into jeopardy an acceptable exit of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan. Hence, Pakistan’s decision to stay out of Bonn has put the US in a difficult predicament.

Pakistan’s civilian government was nevertheless relieved to have stayed out of the Bonn meeting where they would have been subjected to severe criticism for their active support of Taliban forces in Afghanistan and for an explanation about Osama Ben Laden being found inside Pakistan’s security clad military academy at Kakul. It has also saved the civilian government of Pakistan the need to take a stand in an international gathering against allies led by the United States who violated Pakistan’s sovereignty with the killing of the 24 Pakistani soldiers but instead of being apologetic about it would have been critical of Pakistan for its covert support to the Taliban.

These developments do not augur well for US-Pakistan relationship and for US and western involvement in Afghanistan. It seems like the dog’s crooked tail, Afghanistan is going back to what it was before it all began after 9/11. Events are also highlighting the historical truth about the country that foreign forces never succeed in that country.

The writer is a retired diplomat and former Ambassador to Japan

Four minutes ends 400 years of united Dhaka

As I See It
The Independent
December 10th., 2011
M. Serajul Islam

The Prime Minister has said if the Government had money, it would have split Dhaka city into four. Her concerns are to give the people the best service and splitting is the best way to provide this service. She believes that splitting an organization such as a municipality or a corporation that provides public service is the best way to increase its effectiveness.

Coming from the Prime Minister, there is no reason to think of the contrary as far as her concerns go. Nevertheless, there are a few issues that the Prime Minister has not considered before the decision to split Dhaka. In the first place, this decision has lacked transparency. Dhaka is after all the capital city of the country. Everybody in the city and the country has a legitimate stake in what happens to it.

For the city to be divided in consultations limited only between the Prime Minister and the Ministry of LGRD by taking the people of Dhaka for granted is to say the least, highly improper and un-democratic. For the Prime Minister and her Minister for LGRD to tell them that they know what is better for Dhaka and they should accept that without question is not right.

There are people and groups living in Dhaka who have expert knowledge about city matters. There are people and groups here who know the legal implications of dividing a city. Then there are people and groups too in Dhaka who know about environmental issues. The opinion of these people has not been taken. Then there are some members of parliament from Dhaka city who have not spoken; nor were they consulted, at least not in public knowledge.

From a common individual’s point of view, the first obvious question that comes to mind is how do you divide Dhaka? From a physical point of view, certain world capitals have a natural advantage. Cairo for instance is naturally divided by the River Nile. Seoul is divided by the River Hangang. Yet those in power to decide never thought of doing to these cities, that are much bigger than Dhaka, what we have done to ours because there are so many better ways of providing the service that the Prime Minister has given as the main cause for the division.

One very simple way would have been to re-organize the wards. The 56 wards of Dhaka City Corporation could have been grouped into 4 divisions (to suit the Prime Minister’s fond wish!). Each could have been placed under a Vice-Mayor and given enough powers and money to provide the services that is the Prime Minister’s major concern and retain them under the Dhaka City Corporation under a Dhaka City Mayor. In this way, the Prime Minister’s concerns could have been met and Dhaka could have been kept united. Tokyo City Government could have been an ideal example to emulate. Tokyo too has a 400 years’ history. The city government works under an elected Governor and the city’s large number of wards are each placed under a mayor.

Yet the Government of Japan has not split Tokyo into two or four or whatever. In fact, in 1943, the Tokyo city and the Tokyo prefecture came together to form Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) under a Governor with an Assembly whose members are elected directly by the citizens of Tokyo. TMG has under it 23 wards, cities and villages that make up Tokyo with adequate manpower and resources to provide services to the people of Tokyo at their door steps. At the same time, it has made the elected Governor of TMG very powerful to be able to coordinate with all Mayors in the city of Tokyo effectively and with adequate muscles to get from the Government of Japan all the resources it needs for the services it provides. By dividing Dhaka, a weak Dhaka City Corporation has been made weaker and the divided structures would have more difficulty getting from the Government resources and hence more difficulty in providing the services the citizens need.

The Government’s stance that it has divided Dhaka for better services is a palpably weak one. Even a weaker argument is the one that says it would save people travelling a long distance to the present Nagar Bhavan from the northern locations of the city. On the issue of services, the main ones the citizen of Dhaka need are water, electricity and law and order. Not one of these is given by the City Corporation. If they have any role in such services, it is only on paper. On the issue of saving citizens travelling hassles, none of us or may be a few have gone inside the Nagar Bhavan ever. The need to go there is limited. Only those who own a house or property in Dhaka have the need to go there. When that need arises, most citizens of Dhaka use someone who works for them to do the needful, often by paying bribes.

Dividing Dhaka would not help in solution of problems in anyway whatever. The problems it would create are so obvious that it is strange why and how the government has turned a blind eye to these problems. Apart from one problem mentioned earlier in this piece, namely where to draw the line of division, other problems are which Dhaka would own the present Nagar Bhavan? Where would be the new Nagar Bhavan for the new Dhaka? Where would the present manpower of Dhaka City Corporation go? Would it not mean creating a similar structure with the same manpower for the new city corporation? Has anybody estimated the extra costs that could be a huge?

It is no doubt that these questions must have come up in the minds of those who divided Dhaka. Yet they sidetracked these problems. This raises the obvious question: why have they? The answer to this question is also obvious: politics. The AL is looking at the next elections. What they see cannot be at all promising. Its failure to deliver on the election promises and all round poor governance is causing widespread criticism from its own ranks while helping strengthen opposition ranks. The failures of AL candidates in city elections in Chittagong and Naryangang have sent warning signals to the party. A failure in a united Dhaka mayoral election, that looked very likely, would have been politically disastrous.

Dividing Dhaka and having administrators sympathetic to the party in place would allow the ruling party the advantage it needs to win. Further, a divided Dhaka would give the AL a much better chance of winning in the part where old Dhaka with its Hindu citizens would fall. To assure a 100% commitment of Hindu voters, Suranjit Sen Gupta who had spoken for annulment of the Vested Property Act has been made a Minister and the Act has been annulled.

In a hurry to divide Dhaka, the Government has weakened its own argument against the caretaker government. The Government has argued that the unelected nature of the caretaker government make elections under it un-democratic. Yet it has now opted to hold elections for the two Dhakas under unelected administrators in place of the elected Mayor. The Government has unwittingly also got caught in practicing double standard. What is worse, it seems not to care!

United Dhaka’s demise defies logic. It is also frustrating. Nevertheless, the resilient citizens in Dhaka are dealing with this strange decision with a bit of humour and a premonition. In a talk show, one participant said if Dhaka had become too big in the four decades of independence to make its division under two Mayors necessary for better service then the country should also be divided into two and placed under two Prime Ministers for it has grown two times in the last forty years to govern effectively! The premonition is on the time it took to adopt the bill dividing Dhaka in parliament and another bill in 1974. The fourth amendment or the BAKSAL bill was passed in 9 minutes and the bill on Dhaka, 4 minutes!

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt

Should Dhaka trust Delhi on Tipaimukh?

The Holiday
December 9th, 2011
M. Serajul Islam

Two Advisers of the Prime Minister, Dr. Mashiur Rahman and Dr. Gowher Rizvi have been assured by the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh when they met him in New Delhi that India would not harm Bangladesh with the proposed Tippaimukh Dam. He said that the agreement signed between the National Hydro Power Corporation, Manipur Government and Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam on October 22 is to build a hydro-electricity project.

The Indian Prime Minister also offered Bangladesh a stake in the proposed project under cross border power cooperation among SAARC countries to draw electricity from the project. Dr. Singh said that there would be consultations between the two sides so that Bangladesh would know that the proposed dam would not harm it.

The assurances are convincing but only on face value. However the Indians had assured Bangladesh twice in the past at the highest political level that it would do nothing at Tippaimukh that would harm it. This assurance was first given to Sheikh Hasina when she visited New Delhi in January, 2010.

Dr. Manmohon Singh reiterated this assurance more forcefully when he visited Dhaka in September this year. The spirit of the assurances was clear. India would take Bangladesh on board for whatever it did at Tippaimukh. This the Indians did not translate into reality. It went ahead and signed the agreement to construct the Tippaimukh Dam without informing Bangladesh. It was only when the news was broken in the Indian media did Bangladesh come to know that India had gone ahead and signed the agreement.

Slow to get confirmed

Bangladesh’s efforts to gain confirmation of media reports in India were slow in coming. When it came, the Indians saw no fault in signing the agreement without informing Bangladesh. Bangladesh was asked to look at the website of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs for details. A spokesman of MEA gave a written response to Bangladesh’s concern later in which it was said that India would not harm Bangladesh.

Thus before the Advisers visited India, the Indians did not feel that there was any reason to keep Bangladesh informed over it. As a consequence, the news took Bangladesh by surprise. It is not just the opposition but the civil society and environmental groups came together to oppose the dam because serious bipartisan concerns remain in the minds of majority of Bangladeshis over the dam. Sheikh Hasina herself expressed concern when she said in parliament that she would not allow any harm to come to Bangladesh.

There are a few serious issues that make it difficult to feel the comfort that Dr. Gowher Rizvi has express in the media on Indian assurance after returning from New Delhi. The first worrying point is why the Indians did not keep Bangladesh in the picture and why it had to send two Advisers and a Special Envoy waiting to go to New Delhi. It is not that the Indians are not aware about Bangladesh’s concerns. No matter how convincingly the Indian Prime Minister tries to assure Bangladesh now, the way they have dealt with it on the latest situation over the Tippaimukh issue tends to suggest that Delhi takes Dhaka for granted and treats it condescendingly – a major irritant that has stood in the way of sustainable friendly relations between the two countries.

Unequal partners

The India treatment of Bangladesh has actually angered people like noted newsman Kuldip Nayyar and formed Indian foreign secretary Muchkund Dubey. In fact, the latter has put it on record that “the attitude of most Indian political leaders, senior officials, business magnates and strategic thinkers towards Bangladesh has been one of disdain and apathy.” One cannot help feeling the same attitude in what the Indian Prime Minister has said to the two Advisers. If the Indians respected Bangladesh then in the first place they would not have gone ahead and decided on the construction of the dam keeping Bangladesh out of the loop and in the second place, they would have sent a Special Envoy to Bangladesh instead of Dhaka’s sending two Advisers and waiting to send a Special Envoy! At the least, the Indian Prime Minister could have expressed regret for not informing Bangladesh before signing the agreement.

The Indian Prime Minister’s assurances now do not do anything to the element of trust that his government has broken with Bangladesh. He of all persons should know what the Indians have done to Bangladesh by withdrawing the Teesta Agreement off the table after giving us assurances that it would be signed in Dhaka during his visit. Then why should he forget his major faux pas and then an official apology with his insensitive and absurd statement that 25% of Bangladeshis are anti-Indian and under influence of Pakistan’s ISI?

It is just not the Indian Prime Minister who has been insensitive and disdainful towards Bangladesh in recent times. It has been so all along in the relations between the two countries. As the much smaller neighbour, the record shows quite clearly that it is Bangladesh that has always gone ahead first and made concessions to India. The Indians either did not match Bangladesh’s concessions or in other instances, promised to match the concessions and then reneged.

Broken promises

Take for instance the 1974 India-Bangladesh border agreement. Bangladesh kept its part of the agreement within months of signing the agreement. The Indians did not, on one pretext or another. Teen Bigha corridor was agreement bound to be handed to Bangladesh under the 1974 agreement in exchange of Berubari. Bangladesh has now been given 24 hours access through it to its enclaves of Dahagram and Angorpota but not the right to own it. Absurdly, Bangladesh negotiators have acclaimed this 24 hours’ access as a mark of success of their negotiations!

Bangladesh allowed the Indians trial run for 40 days on the Farakkha Barrage. Indians perpetuated that unilaterally till Bangladesh was able to reach an agreement in 1996. For 22 years, the Indians dried the northern part of Bangladesh by holding back the water of the Ganges illegally. In 1992, Bangladesh withdrew tariffs against Indian goods under the SAPTA Agreement. The Indians, who were supposed to reciprocate, did not. Bangladesh has been pleading for India to do since then without much success. In fact, there is a litany of such broken promises by India in the history of Bangladesh-India relations.

Even in the backdrop of such a history, Sheikh Hasina risked her political career and gave India unilateral concessions on two critical areas to Indian interests, namely security and land transit. Instead of feeling embarrassed that Bangladesh again gave the concessions expecting to see the Indian heart for its legitimate rights on water, trade and a host of other bilateral issue. Instead it was shown the same face by India, that it could not be trusted. India did what is a pattern in Bangladesh-India relations. It reneged on the Teesta and now on Tippaimukh.
The Indian Prime Minister, after his latest “assurance” to Bangladesh, has said in Manipur that the project has been accorded environmental clearance and he has asked concerned Ministries to pursue World Bank funding for it. So what is India going to discuss with Bangladesh on Tippaimukh except re-iterating that it knows what is best for Bangladesh, a view that the Bangladesh government has accepted obligingly?

The BSF betrayal

For another Indian “assurance”, it is the same story; the same pattern. Only two weeks ago, the BSF beat to death another Bangladeshi and kept his body in a field for all to watch. Yet in the Joint Statement of the recently concluded Bangladesh-India Home Secretary level talks, it was the Indian concern that Bangladesh Border Guards should refrain from indiscriminate firing that was reflected ahead of ours! Bangladesh’s policy on India cannot any longer be called subservient. It is worse.
The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Egypt goes to polls: Is democracy near?

Daily Sun
December 4th., 2011
M. Serajul Islam

Egyptians have started the process to elect 444 members of their lower house in parliament through a complicated system of election that is partly under the single constituency system (44 seats) but mostly under the proportional system (400 seats). The mathematics involved is complicated that most Egyptians do not fully understand.

Nevertheless, they have gone excitedly into it, at least the majority of them. The elections for the lower house first and then for the upper house would be staggered over the next three months. It would then be followed in the middle of next year with the Presidential elections to elect the successor of ousted President Hosne Mubarak’s successor whose 29 years’ absolute rule ended last February as part of what has been named Arab Spring that has seen dictators in Lebanon, Libya and Yemen also fall and others like Syria’s Bashir Asad in extreme pressure to relinquish power or be ousted.

The Egyptians have gone to a free and fair election for the first time in living memory. In fact the last free election was in 1952! Three decades under President Mubarak left Egyptians believing their deliverance from dictatorship would never end. It was the suicide of an unknown youth in Tunisia that set into motion forces to bring down dictatorships in the region with a domino effect that has sent President Mubarak to jail and opened great possibilities for Egypt.

However, the Egyptians are not sure, nor are outsiders watching the changes in Egypt, what shape the new political system emerging in Egypt would take as the military junta that assumed power after the fall of President Mubarak seem to have a few cards up their sleeve. The movement that brought down President Mubarak was a genuine one where people of all walks of life and profession, young and old, came together. Tahrir Square became synonymous with the desire of 80 million Egyptians to be free at last.

Just before the elections began, the military junta killed 42 people who had started a new round of movement, with Tahrir Square as their meeting point, to push the military junta out. The reason was the attitude of the military that wanted to have a major role in the system to replace the one left by President Mubarak. They have openly talking of the Turkish model or a new one in the new Egyptian political order to evolve.

The desires of those who gathered in the Arab streets in the days of the Arab Spring no doubt had the notions of replacing their dictatorial orders by democratic ones. Unfortunately for them, the dictators that they sought to replace had been in power too long who had systematically destroyed all the institutions except those that they needed to retain their power.

Thus when President Mubarak fell, all institutions except the military and security had been weakened and compromised. The parliament had been turned into a rubber stamp. The official political party of the President, the National Democratic Alliance, consisted of sycophants whose main duty was to sing the praise of the President. All other political parties and all forms of opposition were either disbanded or under constant threat of the security forces. Many Egyptians over the last 3 decades of Mubarak’s rule simply vanished into thin air after being nabbed by the security.

Thus after President Mubarak was removed, there were no political leaders or institutions except the military to take over the political mantle. Those who led the movement in Tahrir came together as individuals or loosely knit groups. The only political party that had succeeded in keeping itself together under President Mubarak, the Freedom and Democratic Party of the Muslim Brotherhood, knew that although they had roughly 20% of support among the Egyptians, they needed time and space to come to power because of the essential secular character of the majority of the Egyptians.

For these reasons, the military junta has managed to not just retain power but have maneuvered their position to be able to choose the time and date for the parliamentary and presidential elections. The military in Egypt has an advantage in addition to their strong organization against weak political groups/parties now vying for power. The Egyptian military has acceptability among the people. In fact, some of the heroes of modern Egypt have emerged from the military. The builder of modern Egypt Gamal Nasser for instance was a Colonel of the Egyptian Army. Hosne Mubarak too was an Egyptian hero having led his country’s Air Force in the 1973 war with Israel. So was Anwar Sadat but although he won a Noble Peace Prize, he lost credibility to Egyptians by signing the peace accord with Israel.

At this stage, it appears like in the elections, the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra conservative Salafis would emerge as the largest winners. The Muslim Brotherhood is likely to have a taste of political power. In anticipation of that, it stayed away from the latest agitation at Tahrir Square to overthrow the military just before the elections to keep the military happy because the latter’s credibility and future role in Egyptian politics would depend on successful transfer of power to an elected government.

The US has no doubt lost badly in Egypt as a consequence of the Arab Spring. There is little to no likelihood of another Hosne Mubarak emerging who would take up US’ and Israel’s case in the Arab world. Nevertheless, the US still provides the Egyptian military US$ 1.5 billion a year in aid and hence has great influence over it. The US’ has a few options to come into reckoning in the new political system in the process of emerging. First, it could back the military and encourage a major role for it in the new Egypt. Given the fact that the Egyptian military is almost completely pro-American in terms of its equipments and training of its officers cadre, a major role for the military in future politics of Egypt would serve US interests the best.

A second option for the US could be to work with the Islamic parties and mould them to consider the US as their best ally for developing the new Egypt. The US has accepted the recent elections in Tunisia where the moderate Islamic party Ennahda has won. The problem in backing the Islamic parties in Egypt who are like Ennahda would be in two areas. First, these parties are overtly anti-Israeli that they would project more if they come to power because it is also the sentiment in Egyptian and Arab streets. Second, the Islamic parties of Egypt have already offered the olive branch to Tehran that would run against the US’ strategy in the region.

The first option would be difficult to implement because the common Egyptians have come very strongly against the military. A predominant political role for the military in Egypt is a dream from the past that the Arab Spring has made irrelevant. The second option would align the US with the current mood in the Arab world and could earn back for the US the acceptance it lost under President Bush and with the pro-US dictators being pushed out of office by the Arab Spring. A solution of the Palestinian problem could take care of the anti-Israel stance and give the US renewed standing in the Arab world to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat in the second option.

However in an election year in the USA with President Obama under serious pressure as he seeks a second term, the chances of the US aligning with the Islamic forces are not good at all. The Israeli lobby and the Republicans would tie a knot around President Obama over it and drag him out of the White House. At the same time, a clear political alignment in Egypt would take the whole of 2010 to emerge. Till that happens, the US and the world would be looking at Egypt for answers.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt

On Long March and Democracy

As I See It
The Independent
December 3rd., 2011
M. Serajul Islam

The BNP has just completed the third of its Long Marches. This one was in Khulna and has passed by peacefully. The two previous ones at Rajshahi and Sylhet too were peaceful.

There were widespread speculations before the BNP came out with its decision on the Long Marches that the country would slide to a long period of political instability when the dreaded hartals would again return to make our lives hell. The fear of the return of the hartal was encouraged by a series of actions of the government that were to say the least, provocative. Among these was the annulment of the system of caretaker government and the introduction of the system of interim government to hold the next elections.

The introduction of the interim government as the mechanism to replace the caretaker government has been put in the Constitution through the 15th amendment. Under this new system, the incumbent Prime Minister would be heading the administration as head of an interim government under which the next elections would be held. The interim Prime Minister would have a smaller cabinet but the Ministers of that small cabinet would be chosen by him/her and obviously would be from his/her party.

The fact that the first interim government under the 15th amendment would be an Awami League administration under Sheikh Hasina is not all of the bad news for the BNP. The administration has been turned into an institution meanwhile where it is now headed by bureaucrats loyal to the Awami League. The blue print of a district and police administration at the district level and below headed by those loyal to the ruling party has already been laid.

The Election Commission (EC) upon which a major part of the hopes of a free and fair election has been placed, in theory of course, is about to be changed at the top level of its administration. The incumbent Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and his two Commissioners would be completing their terms early next year. There is news in the media that the choice of appointing new faces in their places would not be taken in consultation with the Opposition. Thus soon, the EC would also be manned, in all probability, by those whose loyalty to the ruling party would be above any doubt.

The implications of all these have recently been laid out clearly by the CEC. In a recent speech he made at the American Chamber of Commerce, the CEC felt that a free and fair election would be impossible under the system that has been put into place by the 15th amendment. He very clearly and unequivocally put it on record that the next general election must be held under a system of neutral, non-party caretaker government for it to be free and fair.

The CEC, by what he said in the speech, destroyed the arguments that the ruling party has been making in favour of the next election under the interim government. He did not feel that the free and fair elections of the local government under the EC were enough for a free and fair general election by it under the interim government. He felt that the element of distrust in the mainstream parties for one another ruled out the possibility of a national election under a government where one of the mainstream parties would have the control of the entire administration and in a position to influence the EC. He felt that the culture of accepting defeat in the elections has not evolved in our politics. A party in a position to influence results in its favour cannot be expected to do otherwise.

The CEC’s assessment of the mainstream parties, of the ruling party and the opposition BNP in particular, is extremely pessimistic. Nevertheless, he may not be entirely correct in his sweeping assessment. If he was fully correct, then the BNP would not be acting as it has so far in opposing the interim government for holding the next general elections. The BNP has said categorically that it would not go for elections under an interim government headed by the ruling party.

Yet the BNP has not gone for hartal that would have been natural from the assessment of the CEC to be correct and the way the mainstream parties have done politics. It has instead held meetings and demonstrations for opposing the Interim Government. It has arranged the Long Marches for articulating their opposition and public support against the Interim Government and in favour of the Caretaker Government.

In the past, the BNP as well as the AL have both resorted to hartals for flimsy reasons. In fact, in the past BNP Government, the AL had resorted to hartals for trivial reasons on so many days that no one was counting. During the final days of the last BNP Government, the AL added to the hartals, mahashamabesh and brought to a standstill not just the political life of the country but also the day to day lives of the people. They did so as they felt that as the BNP was conspiring to return to office by having a Chief Justice of its liking as the Head of the caretaker government. In the end, the AL succeeded in its objective but the hartals and the mahashamabesh eventually led to the emergency that pushed back the country decades in its development efforts.

To stop Justice MA Hassan from becoming the head of the caretaker government for which the AL indulged in “lagatar hartals” and mahashamabesh, the BNP is being asked to go to next elections under an administration where not just the head of the interim government would be an Awami Leaguer; everyone in the election process would be Awami Leaguers, AL supporters, activists and loyalists. Against such an eventuality that at this stage looks assured as it has been enshrined in the Constitution, the BNP’s decision to opt for demonstrations and the Long March must be welcomed as a sign of victory for democracy. In this context, the Prime Minister’s statement that she would ask the law enforcing agencies to find out the owners of the cars who participated in the Long March is unfortunate. As a champion of democracy, she should have welcomed the BNP’s option for the peaceful Long March instead of hartal.

The BNP’s decision to go for Long March is a victory for democracy. However, it would be not entirely correct to give the BNP all the credit for it. The BNP has simply taken note and paid heed to the sentiments of the people who have finally succeeded in communicating to at least the BNP in opposition that they consider hartal as anti-democratic and harmful for the people and the country. Only when we see the Awami League acting the same way with hartal when it goes to the opposition can we the people feel that we have been able to bury hartal for good. The country has paid too heavy a price with hartal. The BNP’s option for the Long March in place of hartal is at the moment the only bright spot in a dark political sky.

There is a postscript to the Long March. A major political faux pas by the government on dividing Dhaka city has created widespread and bipartisan anger and anguish in the capital and the country that has tempted the BNP to call a hartal in Dhaka on Sunday, the 6th. This is a hartal that the people of Dhaka may not entirely disapprove because the decision to divide Dhaka has been taken arrogantly and without consultation. It just took just 4 minutes to pass the bill in parliament where none of the representatives the people of Dhaka elected to parliament, numbering close to a dozen, even spoke! The 4 minutes to divide the 400 year old city reminded people that the BAKSAL amendment had taken the same time to adopt in the parliament!

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan

Friday, December 2, 2011

Delhi’s betrayal and Dhaka’s incredible reaction over Tipai

December 2nd, 2011
M. Serajul Islam

Well known and acclaimed Indian journalist Kuldip Nayyar called the Indian decision to construct the Tippaimukh Dam a break of trust. He then wrote a scathing article in one of the leading newspapers of Dhaka where he blamed India for failing to match Bangladesh on the major concessions that Prime Minster Sheikh Hasina made to India. Teesta to him was a major disappointment and now the decision on Tippaimukh is a letdown of major significance.

The Indian journalist also wrote that Sheikh Hasina’s popularity is on a sharp decline. Indian letdown is adding to her current predicament. He however felt that despite the Indian letdown, the anti-Indian feelings in Bangladesh have not increased. He gave high marks to Sheikh Hasina for her firm commitment to secularism.

Hasina’s political risk
Sheikh Hasina had taken great political risks by giving India assurances from day one of her tenure against terrorism and insurgency and subsequently by handing over the ULFA terrorists to India, albeit secretly. Bangladesh also offered India land transit early in Sheikh Hasina’s present tenure that has gone to operation on a trial basis recently. At literally the 11th hour, indeed the evening before the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Dhaka, the Indians withdrew from the table the agreement on the Teesta after assuring Bangladesh that the deal would be the icing on the cake for celebrating the success of the Indian Prime Minister’s visit. Thus the visit of the Indian Prime Minister ended disappointingly.

Now the news about the Tippaimukh Dam and the manner in which the Indians have treated Bangladesh when it sought news on the Dam has added salt to the injury. It is not that the Indians did not know the bipartisan feelings in Bangladesh against the Tippaimukh Dam or fears about it. The recent earthquake of major significance in Sikkim close to Bangladesh has only enhanced public concerns and fears over the Tippaimukh Dam.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had more than convincingly communicated this to the Indian Government during her official visit to New Delhi in January, 2010. Her concerns and those of Bangladesh were duly reflected in the Joint Communiqué of that visit. The Indian Prime Minister again acknowledged the concerns of Bangladesh when he spoke to a cross section of Bangladesh’s intelligentsia in Dhaka University.

Thus the news that India would build the dam has caused widespread concern and anger in Bangladesh. The Prime Minister herself vowed that she and her government would not allow the Indians to do anything that would harm Bangladesh. She announced in parliament that she would send a Special Envoy to India to discuss with the Indians the concerns of Bangladesh on the Tippaimukh Dam.

Unbelievable Govt. stance
Yet against the Prime Minister’s stand, strange as it may seem, there have been some unbelievable statements in the press from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Water Resources. The State Minister of Water Resources in an interview to a local TV station said that it is India’s internal matter whether or not it decides to construct a dam at Tippaimukh. He then went to say something absolutely incredible. He said that India has the right to do whatever it pleases with any of the international rivers we share with it as the lower riparian. By his incredible stand he gave away Bangladesh’s rights under international laws and conventions of waters of all rivers flowing to Bangladesh from India! He said that the opposition is playing politics with the issue of Tippaimukh.

The Foreign Ministry, instead of contradicting the suicidal comments of the State Minister, backed him instead. In a press interview at the MFA, the Foreign Minister thought that the hue and cry raised over the Tippaimukh Dam are unwarranted and that it is part of the opposition ploy to fiddle in troubled waters. She assured the nation that there is no reason to doubt Indian intentions. India, she has no doubt, would not harm Bangladesh. The Foreign Secretary also joined his Minister and addressed the media to assure that India can and must be trusted!

There is clearly a major disconnect between the Prime Minister and her team. By implication, her team is telling her that she too should have full trust in India! They are not bothered that India has dismissed our concern over Tippaimukh by a curt reply to go to the MEA’s website for details about the dam. To them, trusting India is more important than finding out, first why India chose to go ahead with the dam without informing Bangladesh and second, whether or not the dam when eventually built would harm Bangladesh!

The Indian arrogance has infuriated many well known Indians like Kuldip Nayyar. Yet such arrogance has not had any impact on our team that is currently dealing with India. In fact, they are, accepting each act of Indian betrayal as proof of Indian friendship and concern for us. They have given to India the guardianship to decide our interests and have written our rights off even to question Indian intent.

The outcome of all these are going to take Bangladesh and India at directions of conflict instead of friendship. Kuldip Nayyar is right in expressing his concerns at Indian attitude that is causing Bangladesh-India relations to fall apart and pushing the ruling party on a steep decline politically. . He is however mistaken in thinking that it is not causing anti-Indian feelings to grow. In fact, today, the anti-Indian feelings are growing faster than Kuldip Nayyar may be willing to admit.
Indian arrogance is rendering justification to the BNP’s anti-Indian stance in politics that could have been contained if the Indians had not been as insensible and insensitive as they have been. Many in the AL camp are also beginning to question Indian intentions. In the process, a great widow of opportunity opened by Sheikh Hasina upon assuming power for a paradigm shift in Bangladesh-India relations is also being wasted.

Hidden agenda

A former colleague with first hand experience about Bangladesh-India relations asked me bluntly why India first aborted the Teesta agreement and now unilaterally went ahead with Tippaimukh fully aware that it would place a government both covertly and overtly out to please it in political trouble. I had no answer except blame it upon the dynamics of domestic politics in India. He disagreed. He said firmly that the Indians have some hidden agenda for which they are subjecting the Bangladesh Government to pressure. He had me thinking. Is India changing sides aware that the Government, as Kuldip Nayyar has written, has made a mess of governance? Or is India trying to force this government to sign some agreement with which it could hold the next government responsible to serve its interests?

There is a postscript to Bangladesh’s absurd ways of negotiating with India. The Minister for Water Ramesh Chandra Sen has said Bangladesh would take India to the international court for protecting its interests! Does he know what his Deputy has said in public or the trust that the Foreign Minister and the Foreign Secretary has in India? Perhaps not. Our negotiators are behaving like children lost in a maze without grasp of reality in their pursuit to please India at any cost.
The writer is a retired career diplomat and former Ambassador to Japan.