Friday, October 15, 2004

Bangladesh: Indian Media and its "pre-emptive strike" doctrine

[ In the Indian panel discussion a leading politician straight away posed the question: ‘Why cannot the Indian army march into Bangladesh unilaterally to destroy the suspect rebel camps, or the Indian Air Force bomb suspect targets (like Israel does in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria)?’ He argued that Bangladesh does not possess any deterrence capacity of nuclear arms, nor any missile power for retaliation. Indian military strength and hardware in the north and north-east of Bangladesh is overwhelming; the Indian navy dominates the Bay of Bengal. India could easily bring Bangladesh to terms for its security needs by unilateral ‘pre-emptive’ military actions. Several other discussants in the panel agreed with him. In Bangladesh, there were unpublished reports and strong suspicions within the national security agencies that the Indian ‘intelligence-security establishment’ was already pro-active in Bangladesh in creating a state of destablisation irrespective of the regime holding office, with the purpose of nipping in the bud ‘the growing challenge from the east’ by reducing Bangladesh to the status of a failed state. ]

Flayed nerves in Indo-Bangla relations need soothing
Sadeq Khan

A popular TV channel in India broadcast a panel discussion the other day on current affairs. It was beamed to Bangladesh and other parts of South Asia, and indeed to Hindi viewers around the world. The topic was the threat to Indian security by armed rebels of the north-eastern Indian states from across the Bangladesh border. For quite some time now, India has been complaining of insurgent camps within Bangladesh territory harbouring Assamese and Tipperah rebels, and asking for a joint military operation to flush out the alleged rebels from their reported hide-outs. Bangladesh, after investigation of Indian complaints, found such camps non-existent. (In a densely populated country like Bangladesh it is indeed impossible to hide the existence of militant camps.) Bangladesh also refused the proposal of a joint military operation or any Indian military operation on its soil, as it would be an infringement of its sovereignty.

In the Indian panel discussion a leading politician straight away posed the question: ‘Why cannot the Indian army march into Bangladesh unilaterally to destroy the suspect rebel camps, or the Indian Air Force bomb suspect targets (like Israel does in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria)?’ He argued that Bangladesh does not possess any deterrence capacity of nuclear arms, nor any missile power for retaliation. Indian military strength and hardware in the north and north-east of Bangladesh is overwhelming; the Indian navy dominates the Bay of Bengal. India could easily bring Bangladesh to terms for its security needs by unilateral ‘pre-emptive’ military actions. Several other discussants in the panel agreed with him.

This line of thinking in the ruling elite in India is neither exceptional nor new. For decades now, certain political circles in India have been complaining of a threat to India from economic migrants of Bangladesh, as the carrying capacity of the latter’s inadequate landmass was overwhelmed by the population explosion. Of late a militant dimension has been added to that perception, not only on account of suspected sanctuaries of north-eastern Indian insurgents in Bangladesh, but also on account of an alleged ‘cocoon’ of international Islamic terror hiding in Bangladesh and forming an ‘Islamic Manch’ joined by the United Liberation Front of Assam and the Minorities United Liberation Tigers of Assam in May, 2002, ‘to coordinate inter-organisational activities geared to establishing a trans-national Islamic state in the region with Bangladesh at its core’, involving the growing Muslim population pockets in West Bengal and Assam and the Arakan state of Myanmar, the Senai-Miya of Indian Nagaland, and other sympathetic tribal populations unhappy with Delhi. This threat perception ‘to India’s long-term national security and territorial integrity’ was spelled out by Bibhuti Bhusan Nandy, a retired and respected Additional Secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of the government of India by way of public warning last July in the Statesman, the 129-year-old Indian newspaper. Nandy advocated ‘effective pro-active action’ by India against Bangladesh, using India’s ‘political, economic and diplomatic leverage’ and focussing India’s ‘intelligence-security establishment’ on ‘the growing challenge from the east’. Most recently, other leaders of opinion in India have articulated views in the Statesman, the Hindu, the Hindustan Times and other newspapers, and in television interviews, urging the government of India to flex its military muscles to tame Bangladesh, and unabashedly expressing themselves in favour of a regime change in Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh, there were unpublished reports and strong suspicions within the national security agencies that the Indian ‘intelligence-security establishment’ was already pro-active in Bangladesh in creating a state of destablisation irrespective of the regime holding office, with the purpose of nipping in the bud ‘the growing challenge from the east’ by reducing Bangladesh to the status of a failed state. It has been noted that there was a continuity in mindless bombings and bomb-plants in places of public gathering, merry-making or worship apparently averse to fanatic brands of Islam since March, 1999 when the Awami League was in power. Most were expert jobs that left no clues leading to the masterminds, and judicial enquiry commissions examining witnesses and forensic evidence available could only point to the supply route of subversive materials from across the border and the escape route of culprits to India across the border.

It has also been noted that the spate of bombings for mass killing with systematic selection of targets started after an official report, signed by the then Governor of Assam, Lt. General (Retd.) S.K. Sinha, PVSM, on Illegal Migration into Assam was sent to the President of India on 8 November, 1998, and duly considered by the government of India. The strange coincidence came to light only recently when Indian research scholars disclosed excerpts of that report on the Internet. The report said: ‘Failure to get Assam included in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1947 remained a source of abiding resentment in that country…Even a pro-India leader like Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in his book, Eastern Pakistan, Its Population and Economics, observed, ‘Because Eastern Pakistan must have sufficient land for its expansion and because Assam has abundant forest and mineral resources, coal, petroleum, etc., Eastern Pakistan must include Assam to be financially and economically strong.” (The report here has wittingly or unwittingly confused Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with Mujibur Rahman Khan, journalist and author of that book.)

Leading intellectuals in Bangladesh have been making out a case for ‘lebensraum’ (living space) for their country…The natural trend of population over-flow from Bangladesh is towards the sparsely populated lands in the south-east on the Arakan side and in the north-east on the Seven Sisters side of the Indian subcontinent…The silent and invidious demographic invasion of Assam may result in the loss of the geo-strategically vital districts of lower Assam. The influx of illegal migrants is turning these districts into a Muslim-majority region. It will then be only a matter of time when a demand for their merger with Bangladesh may be made. The rapid growth of the international Islamic fundamentalism may provide the driving force for this demand. In this context, it is pertinent that Bangladesh has long discarded secularism.’

It is clear that the public warning by Nandy in the Statesman in July, 2004 was but an a posteriori disclosure of policy research of the government of India dating back to the Sinha report of November, 1998. That policy prescription does not differentiate between the Awami League and BNP regimes, but looks at the ‘natural’ thrust of Bangladeshi people with militant Islamic connections as a potential security risk for India.

The suspicion that agent provocateurs trained, employed and protected by the ‘intelligence-security establishment’ of India are engaged in covert operations to destabilise Bangladesh and to project it as a potentially dangerous hub of Islamic terrorists and their diabolical criminal acts and agitations against the secular institutions of the polity, was aired in so many words without naming India in the latest judicial enquiry commission report, as leaked to the press, on the August 21 grenade attack on Sheikh Hasina’s rally in Dhaka. An earlier judicial commission report on the spate of bombings during the last 2½ years of Sheikh Hasina’s government, i.e. the Bari Commission report, found direct links between some Awami League camp followers and the perpetrators of the bombing spree, attributing to them the motive of shifting the blame onto political opponents, particularly the Islamic parties. The latest Joynul Abedin Commission report absolves the two major political camps of the Awami League and the BNP, their leadership and their Islamic or pro-Islamic associates, of any involvement in the violent acts of terror and mass murder, but pinpoints the hand of a scheming foreign agency behind the August 21 grenade attack, drawing inferences also from the deposition of witnesses who expressed their opinions on the chain of bomb attacks that preceded the August 21 incident. The report has not been released for publication, and has remained confidential. The misgivings expressed in that report, however, have remained expressly in the public domain for a long time, and continue to cause deep-seated anguish in the minds of the people of Bangladesh, who are essentially peace-loving and have no expansionist or aggressive intent or ambition beyond seeking legitimate opportunities for the betterment of their lives under the existing world order.

hat deep anxiety in the public mind over the spate of faceless hit-and-run aggression on Bangladeshi soil has not been adequately addressed in the Prime Minister’s television appearance before the nation, although she put forward the account of the achievements of her alliance government in the last three years, particularly in disaster management, macro-economic turn-around, education and human development, and containment of the crime spiral, candidly admitting at the same time that quiet rent-seeking and extortion rackets continue to plague the society, and dreaded criminals are on the run after surviving the Operation Clean Heart when the Rapid Action Battalion and other special law-enforcement agencies launched vigorous drives. The Prime Minister in her speech glossed over the hiccups in our relationship with India, China, the European Union and the USA.

People remain anxious about the government’s capacity to skilfully but steadfastly soothe the flayed nerves in India-Bangladesh relations. People remain uneasy about reported hitches affecting the relationship between China and Bangladesh. On the other hand, ambassadors, visiting diplomats and officials of the US and the European Union are telling us all the time about the danger to democracy that has developed in Bangladesh on account of misgovernance and corruption, and about the slow pace of reforms under World Bank/IMF prescriptions including transparency, accountability and justiciability, the absence of which is hampering growth.

The Prime Minister has expressed her intent to release the Joynul Abedin Commission’s report. What is important is to act on the recommendations of that report insofar as they are relevant and worthy, rather than create public controversy over sensitive matters of foreign relations. What is all the more important is for the government to engage more vigorously in ‘political, economic and diplomatic’ exchanges at state and non-state levels to build defences of solid external relations. From India, the Tata proposal of $2 billion investment is a positive development in this regard. The government must give due weight to the proposal accordingly.

HOLIDAY 15/10/2004