Friday, January 2, 2009

As terrorists strike at will, India needs Bangladesh more than ever

By- Paritosh Chakma

After the Mumbai mayhem –which shook the nation’s conscience -, the terrorists gave a New Year’s gift to India by engineering a serial blasts in Guwahati, Assam which killed five people and injured about 50.

The state police admitted that they had prior information about the militants’ plan but failed to prevent the blasts. Even after the 30th October 2008 blasts, the security forces had told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that they had information about the possible attacks.

ULFA has been the prime suspect for the 1st January blasts.

Most importantly, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has pointed out the Bangladesh links of the ULFA and has sought “diplomatic pressure” that the Centre should exert on Bangladesh to rein in the terrorist outfits.

Anti-India elements sheltering in Bangladesh soil has been one of the most contentious issues between India and Bangladesh with the latter ignoring India’s plea to dismantle terrorist structures in its soil. Bangladesh has even rejected India’s claim of terrorist camps existing in Bangladesh.

But Bangladesh too has faced music from the Islamic terrorists in recent times.

The recent landslide win by Sheikh Hasina in the Parliamentary elections has come as a relief for India. Hasina is seen as India’s best friend in Bangladesh and her party, the Awami League is a more secular party. India sees Awami League’s victory as “a major landmark in democratic politics in South Asia”.

Hasina’s victory will open up new frontiers for South Asia, in particular India which has been facing the wrath of cross border terrorism. Following the “victory of democracy” in Jammu and Kashmir, Bangladesh verdict brought some more cheers in the Indian establishment. The elections have seen the defeat of hardline Jammat e Islami which secured only 2 seats in comparison to 20 seats it won in 2001.

As Pakistan refuses to act, India has pinned her hopes to tackle terror on Bangladesh. The links of Pakistan-based terrorist networks to Bangladesh are obvious.

So far, India has failed to exert “diplomatic pressure” on Bangladesh. Yet, the country is keen to engage with the new government. This is obvious when the government of India stated – “India looks forward to working closely with the newly elected Government in Bangladesh to further strengthen our bonds of friendship and cooperation in the quest for peace and development.

Certainly, India has no other option. But it is unlikely that India will engage Bangladesh by adopting intense pressure tactics.

As the terrorists continue to strike India at will, India needs Bangladesh more than ever before. After her victory, jubilant Hasina vowed not to allow Bangladeshi’s territory to be used for terrorism against its neighbors. She also mooted Anti-terrorist task force in South Asia. I think it is a good idea, but it will be quite impossible to rope in Pakistan.

But it is still to be seen if the army will withdraw completely from the governance process, and if it does, how far? Bangladesh should not repeat a Pakistan, where the army continues to be the de facto ruler even after a democratically elected government has been installed.

The biggest question is: Who will pull the strings in Bangladesh- The Army boss or Sheikh Hasina?

The challenge for Hasina will also come from the Islamic fundamentalism.

India should assist in the development of Bangladesh. This is a wise decision to secure 4,096-km long international border with Bangladesh in addition to erecting a fencing over it.

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