Sunday, January 4, 2009

Let’s be realistic about the return of our ‘friend’ in Bangladesh

Let’s be realistic about the return of our ‘friend’ in Bangladesh
By Susenjit Guha

Let’s look forward to this year with hope and do some realistic thinking as well about the huge mandate for the Awami League in Bangladesh .

It is natural to be upbeat about the return of the Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh when our relations with Pakistan have strained and our friends have dwindled like usual in the neighborhood.

But can we sink into complacence just because the Awami League is considered India friendly?
If we do, we would grossly misjudge the average Bangladeshi and his reaction to India . Our conclusions are based on the support we lent to their liberation struggle in 1971 by covertly arming the mukti bahini or the freedom fighters. In return ecstatic Bangladeshis lined up the streets to throw garlands at Indian soldiers.

We did manage to break up Pakistan , create loads of goodwill among the Bangladeshis, but faltered later when trade and water sharing issues made us look like a regional hegemonic big brother.

Our traders took the opportunity in the years after their independence to fob off junk taking advantage of a nascent nation that was still unable to find her bearings.

To Bangladeshis India was a savior but had turned into a devourer.

And this attitude towards India was shared by the Bangladeshi armed forces.
While the recent India-Pak war posturing was going on in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks, Bangladeshi naval warships threatened Indian vessels that they alleged were exploring gas in their waters.

We cannot separate the Bangladesh armed forces from their Pakistani counterparts when it comes to India . The ISI trains and supports militant groups masquerading as relief organizations who they brand as non state actors for creating mayhem in India and uses Bangladesh as a logistic base for intrusion through India’s porous eastern borders.
Poverty being the main problem in Bangladeshi villages, the promises and ‘dreams’ that motivated young men like the lone Pakistani terrorist caught during the Mumbai mayhem, Kasav, is also sufficient incentive for them to train for terrorizing innocent Indian civilians.
Terror groups operating out of Bangladesh were involved in the blasts that took place in Indian cities in recent years.

With rising prices and an economy totally dependent on export of garments to the west, Bangladesh cannot but be hit sooner or later by the recession in the US and Europe. Sheikh Hasina’s major task would be to save the economy and control prices to prevent the village youth from careening towards religious fundamentalist groups. Her rival Kahleda Zia and the radical Jamaat may have been wiped out, but her call to ‘save Islam’ during the election campaign is a pointer to the direction the country could have headed had she taken over power. Islam was never a danger in Bangladesh but the hype was necessary at the behest of the now wiped out Jamaat.

But considerable support for radicalism among the electorate must have made it inevitable for the secular Awami league to rein in the fundamentalist Khelafat-e-Majlish party during the last failed attempt at holding an election two years ago.

While hopes are on the upswing in India , one would be naïve to expect the new government--- supposedly India-friendly--- to hand over NE insurgents or close down some of the alleged terror training camps.

We cannot leave a porous border with Bangladesh un-sealed any longer and should forget about the socio-economic and humanitarian aspect of allowing mobility of labor.

Can the proponents guarantee that terrorists won’t slip in disguised as laborers looking for work in India ?

Many of the recent terror blasts had some link, however weak to West Bengal as the language and culture allows Bangladeshis to melt with the state’s population.

Health tourism attracts tens of thousands to India and all it requires is a doctor’s certificate for an extension of stay.

That was the very reason why many Awami League workers and small time leaders-on –the-run during the last Khaleda Zia government could stay on for years in India without being noticed.

Friendship with India and cultural similarities to West Bengal should not make us blind to the reality that Bangladeshis love Indian goods and movies but are always wary as they are engulfed by a mammoth India from all sides.

Any upper hand in settling common problems by India find them looking for common ground with Pakistan .

And with nearly 40% first time voters barely out of their teens in the recent election, alluding to the heady 1971 drubbing of common enemy Pakistan and maintaining it as a constant for the future would be extremely shortsighted.

Change from an utterly corrupt BNP government and of course a return to democracy and shunning of Jamaat brand of Islam was what the 80% of Bangladeshis who turned out to vote hoped for.

Cementing the loose bricks with India was certainly not on their minds.
And it does not take 80% to create terror. Only a fraction of the population can hold a nation, a religion and its ideals to ransom and make fools of larger nations’ if they live in a fool’s paradise that friendship is forever.

Hope 2009 will be a year for some realistic assessment of our regional security and the will to follow and act on the tips and leads of the intelligence agancies to save lives of innocent Indians.

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