Tuesday, February 08, 2005

BANGLADESH: Anup Chetia release test for Bangla ties

+ His prison term will end on February 25 and there is a strong possibility that he will be released. Delhi has already made it clear to the Khaleda Zia government that it wants Bangladesh to hand over Chetia to India. He can then be extradited to the country, where he is wanted for involvement in a number of criminal cases. But the Indian establishment is not sure how Dhaka will react. +

Chetia release test for Bangla ties
PRANAY SHARMA

New Delhi, Feb. 7: Ulfa leader Anup Chetia’s probable release from a Dhaka jail later this month could have a significant bearing on Indo-Bangladesh relations, which have been under strain since Delhi decided to stay away from the Saarc summit in that country.

If the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) government hands over Chetia to India in deference to a request from Delhi, relations between the two neighbours might actually start improving. On the other hand, if Dhaka refuses to comply with the Indian request, bilateral ties between the two might nosedive even further.

Chetia, whose real name is Golap Baruah, is the Ulfa general secretary. He has played a key role in the outfit since it was launched in Assam’s Sivasagar district on April 7, 1979.

He was arrested on December 21, 1997, from Dhaka’s North Abador locality on charges of using forged travel documents to enter the country and for illegal possession of a satellite phone and foreign currency.

His prison term will end on February 25 and there is a strong possibility that he will be released.

Delhi has already made it clear to the Khaleda Zia government that it wants Bangladesh to hand over Chetia to India.

He can then be extradited to the country, where he is wanted for involvement in a number of criminal cases. But the Indian establishment is not sure how Dhaka will react.

“We have already made our request that Chetia should be rightfully be extradited to India. But the final decision lies with the Bangladesh government,” a senior Indian diplomat said.

Some years ago, Sanjit Deb Burman — the leader of another insurgent outfit in Tripura — was handed over to a non-government human rights organisation and not India after he finished his prison term in Bangladesh.

The head of the NGO, Sigma Huda, was the wife of a key BNP minister and a known India-baiter.

It was even worse when Deb Burman just vanished into thin air, with the BNP government and the NGO refusing to give any details about his whereabouts. India does not want a repeat in Chetia’s case. But it is not going to be an easy decision for the BNP either. If it hands over Chetia to Delhi, it will be seen as succumbing to Indian pressure.

Indo-Bangladesh ties, particularly when Dhaka has been under BNP rule, have never been hunky-dory. Both Delhi and Dhaka have made the right noises about strengthening bilateral ties over the past three years, but there has been hardly any progress.

The Indian external affairs ministry blames Bangladesh for the stalemate, while the BNP claims that India, despite its assurances, has not done anything to take care of its neighbour’s concerns, mainly in terms of better access to Indian markets.

When Dhaka overturned a 30-year-old policy and agreed to allow the proposed Myanmar pipeline to pass through its territory to deliver gas to India, it generated optimism about an improvement in relations.

However, the euphoria evaporated when South Block realised that Bangladesh was tying its decision to India allowing transit rights for its goods and better access to Indian markets.

Bangladesh has long been accused of not doing anything to curb anti-India activity on its soil.