Friday, February 11, 2005

BANGLADESH: Anup Chetia looms over floundering ties

+ Foreign policy and strategic affairs experts say that the bitterness and distrust marring relations is mutual. One of Dhaka's biggest grouse is that Indian para-military forces kill Bangladeshis civilians like 'birds and rabbits' if they strayed by mistake into Indian territory. The cold-blooded killings have figured at foreign ministers-level talks but to no avail. "Clearly, New Delhi's objective is to terrorise and intimidate Bangladeshis into submission by any means," said retired Major-General Syed Ibrahim, who heads Dhaka's Centre for Strategic and Peace Studies. Besides India's sheer size and nuclear, military and economic muscle, Bangladesh's fears are compounded by geography ? India's borders encircle it on the east, north and west. +

11/02/2005

Chetia looms over floundering Indo-Bangla ties

KOLKATA: A major test for India-Bangladesh relations is on the cards. On February 25, Golap Baruah alias Anup Chetia will be released from a Dhaka jail. New Delhi is dying to get Chetia extradited. But will Dhaka oblige?

Very unlikely. Chetia is one of India's most wanted men. One of the founders and general-secretary of the banned United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa), Chetia was arrested in Dhaka with a fake passport and satellite telephone in 1997. India has been demanding his deportation for eight years. But Dhaka refuses to deliver the Ulfa chief on one ground or the other.

There is every likelihood that Chetia will go scot-free after his release. Just like Sanjit Deb Burman, another top separatist leader from the Northeast, who was jailed in Bangladesh. He vanished after his release.

Indo-Bangla relations, already plagued by long-standing mistrust of each other's intentions, is now in tatters after New Delhi's refusal to attend a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit in Dhaka from February 6-8. India cited the law and order situation in Bangladesh to stay away.

Bilateral ties nosedived during Bhartiya Janata Party rule when New Delhi looked at its Muslim neighbour through a sectarian prism. The return of the Congress Party to power in mid-2004 was cautiously welcomed by Dhaka. Expectations rose last month when Home Minister Shivraj Patil vehemently criticised the BJP for giving a communal colour to illegal migration from Bangladesh.

Much to everybody's surprise, Dhaka even signed a tripartite agreement between India, Myanmar and Bangladesh for laying a pipeline through Bangladesh for transporting natural gas from Myanmar to eastern India. But it's back to square one after Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's refusal to fly to Dhaka for the Saarc summit. Although India cited developments in Bangladesh and Nepal to stay away, Dhaka took it as an insult. Dhaka is now unlikely to hand over Chetia. And it just might renege on the gas pipeline pledge.

Foreign policy and strategic affairs experts say that the bitterness and distrust marring relations is mutual. One of Dhaka's biggest grouse is that Indian para-military forces kill Bangladeshis civilians like 'birds and rabbits' if they strayed by mistake into Indian territory. The cold-blooded killings have figured at foreign ministers-level talks but to no avail.

"Clearly, New Delhi's objective is to terrorise and intimidate Bangladeshis into submission by any means," said retired Major-General Syed Ibrahim, who heads Dhaka's Centre for Strategic and Peace Studies. Besides India's sheer size and nuclear, military and economic muscle, Bangladesh's fears are compounded by geography ' India's borders encircle it on the east, north and west.

According to General Ibrahim, the ratio of Indian and Bangladeshi security forces deployed along the 4,000km border is 2.5:1, and the overwhelming numerical superiority seems to have given BSF the licence to gun down dozens of innocent Bangladeshis every year while ignoring earnest appeals to halt the killings.

India accuses Bangladesh of harbouring northeastern rebels and helping Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) spies to penetrate the border area for subversive operations. Dhaka's cordial relations with Bangladesh is unacceptable to New Delhi.

The crux of the problem, according to neutral observers, is that India prides itself on helping give birth to Bangladesh - and expects eternal gratitude. "There is no doubt that New Delhi is neglecting Bangladesh because of its obsession with Pakistan," said analyst Rajat Ray of the Indian Bengali daily Anand Bazar Patrika. "Indian foreign policy is becoming increasingly Pakistan-centric at the cost of other neighbours like Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

"Even Afghanistan seems to matter more to India these days than Bangladesh," Ray said. Security experts like General Ibrahim say that New Delhi expects Bangladesh simply to fall in line without question. Two potential weapons in New Delhi's arsenal, he believes, are India's control over the River Ganges flowing into Bangladesh and the ability to restart tribal insurgency in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, which claimed an estimated 25,000 lives until 1997.

"India helped the rebels with cash, guns and training from 1975 to 1997 when the Bangladesh government signed a peace treaty with the insurgents," he said. "India has the resources ' and the inclination' to kick-start a rebellion all over again."