This article originally appeared in South Asia Defence and Strategic Review
As a Bay of Bengal littoral state Bangladesh has strong maritime interests. Increasingly, Bangladesh has recognised the importance of its maritime domain and the requirement to augment its Navy to secure and project its regional interests. Bangladesh Navy chief, Vice Admiral Zahir Uddin Ahmed spoke to Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe about the navy’s changing responsibilities, maritime security challenges, efforts to mitigate the effect of natural disasters and the need for naval diplomacy.
Assam: friction in a crucial corridor July 30, 2012Posted by sandygordon in : Bangladesh, Bhutan, Gordon, Sandy, India , 9comments
A week ago some 48 people were killed in Assam in clashes between the Bodo ethnic group (a Tibetan-Burmese people who are now predominantly Christian and Hindu) and Muslim Bengali immigrants, mainly from Bangladesh and its previous incarnations. Approximately 400,000 have also been displaced from their villages. These are by no means the first such ethnic clashes in Assam, the most recent being between Bengalis and Bodos four years ago, which left 70 dead. The worst attacks occurred in 1983, when an estimated 2000 Bengali Muslims were killed.
Since well before the British left in 1947, Bengali Muslims have been crossing into Assam. Pushed by desperation, they often occupied the shifting char lands – dangerous but fertile flood plains of the rivers that criss-cross the region. Since independence in 1947, East Pakistanis, and later Bangladeshis, have continued to cross the poorly policed, poorly defined border. There are now an estimated 10-20 million Bangladeshis in India. But of course not all Bengali Muslims are in Assam illegally and many have been there for generations. As pointed out by the New York Times, it is well nigh impossible to distinguish between those legitimately in Assam and those who have come illegally.
Besides the devastating displacement and loss of life, ethnic unrest in Assam is important for a number of reasons.
India and Bangladesh: calculus of territorial dispute settlement February 8, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, Guest authors, India , Comment
Guest author: Sourabh Gupta, Samuels International
This article was first posted in East Asia Forum on 10 October 2011.
On 7 September 2011 in Dacca, the prime ministers of India and Bangladesh signed a landmark protocol to their 1974 Land Boundary Agreement, providing for final settlement of their long-pending boundary issues.
Given that instances of territorial dispute settlement in this sovereignty-conscious region have been few and far between, this exercise in statesmanship is both commendable and long overdue. A review of the principles and processes underlying the compromises reveals useful insights into territorial dispute settlement at New Delhi’s end.
The India-Bangladesh boundary is no ordinary one. Hastily constructed in the dying days of British colonialism, it was the longest international boundary created during the age of decolonisation. The border was intended to separate a contiguous majority area of Muslims from that of non-Muslims — but for only about a quarter of its length does it separate a Muslim-majority in Bangladesh from a Hindu-majority in India. As many as 162 tiny enclaves (111 Indian and 52 Bangladeshi) dot a section of the frontier: in the extreme an Indian enclave sits within a Bangladeshi enclave, itself situated within a larger Indian enclave, all surrounded by Bangladeshi territory!
China’s investment spurs Bangladesh development June 22, 2011Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, India , Comment
This article was first posted in Future Directions International on 15 June 2011
On 9 June 2011, Bangladesh signed a loan agreement worth US$211 million ($198 million) with the Export-Import Bank of China to upgrade the country’s telecommunications network. Such initiatives by China to develop critical infrastructure are illustrative of the central role it has played in strengthening Bangladesh’s economy and connectivity to the region.
Bangladesh established formal relations with China in 1975 and thereafter bilateral relations were steadily enhanced by frequent diplomatic visits to both countries. Subsequently, in 1986, the Bangladesh-China People’s Friendship Association was formed, which helped set the pattern in two-way trade and investment, especially throughout the 1990s, fostering China’s emergence as a vitally important partner and ally.
Indeed, from the time relations were first established until October 2000, China provided cumulative assistance worth US$217 million ($205.6 million) to Bangladesh. In the same year, bilateral trade reached an unprecedented high at US$715 million ($677.6 million).
Later, in 2002, on a visit to Bangladesh, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao signed nine bilateral agreements to enhance co-operation in a variety of fields. Among the crucial agreements signed was a defence co-operation accord, which strengthened China’s position as a key supplier of weapons, equipment and ammunition to the Bangladeshi military. ‘Bangladesh wanted time-befitting armed forces for the country. China will co-operate with Bangladesh for this purpose,’ stated Morshed Khan, the former Bangladeshi Foreign Minister. He added: ‘[The] intention is there to co-operate in defence sector; now the two sides will co-operate with each other. This umbrella agreement is not directed against any country and would not affect Bangladesh’s relations with India.’
Book review: Bina D’Costa’s ‘Nationbuilding, Gender and War crimes in South Asia’ (London, New York: Routledge, 2011) May 17, 2011Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, Gordon, Sandy, India, Pakistan , 1 comment so far
In her new book, Bina D’Costa provides a convincing picture of the role of war, war crime (especially against women) and myth in the construction of modern South Asian nation-states. The story of the women caught up in the violence of 1971 is movingly told, in terms of how they originally suffered and how they continue to suffer due to family and societal ostracism, the re-emergence of the religious right in Bangladesh and the failure of the state to acknowledge their stories or suffering.
I liked a great deal about this book – its density, its extensive reading into the problem, its intellectual subtlety and especially its use of history. Dr D’Costa argues convincingly that the atrocities of 1971 cannot be understood without reference to those of 1947; that South Asia is not just India, but constitutes a culturally inter-connected set of countries that interact constantly over porous borders; and that the analysis of nation-building should incorporate the micro-level stories of women as well as the macro-level ones. This last is especially difficult to bring off analytically, and D’Costa accomplishes it superbly.
Women fighters during the 1971 war.
FEATURE ARTICLE: Where are the women? The anguish of displacement in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and Sri Lanka March 10, 2011Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, D'Costa, Bina, Features, Sri Lanka , Comment
Some 43 million people have been driven from their homes by local or cross-border warfare. The international community needs a much broader and better protection for them. The year 2009, which saw a world total of an additional 15.2 million refugees, was the worst ever in terms of the numbers who returned home voluntarily, mainly because conflicts were becoming more intractable and peace more difficult to achieve. In addition, there are some 27 million people who have been forced to flee their homes but are still living inside their own countries as IDPs (internally displaced persons). This figure does not include people uprooted by disasters like earthquakes and floods, who numbered 36 million in 2008, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Women and their children account for 80 per cent of the global displaced population.
Indeed, through my research in various camps and with hidden communities around the world, but especially in South Asia, it is clear that displaced women and their children are at serious risk. These women and children are ghettoized in horrid camps, slums and other constricted spaces either as IDPs or on the move as refugees or stateless people in other states. Unfortunately, gender-based violations of rights of displaced communities, especially in societies emerging from protracted conflicts and militarized environments, have received scant attention from the media. (more…)
Work permits for Bangladeshi immigrants in India March 8, 2011Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, India, Kumar, Vikas , 1 comment so far
Bangladesh is not only one of the most densely populated countries but also among the countries most vulnerable to natural disasters. Gautam Ghosh’s award winning movie Padma Nadir Majhi (The Boatman of River Padma, 1993) beautifully captures the dilemma of people locked in a grim existential struggle against nature. The movie opens with the birth of a child and a chunk of river bank falling into water and ends with people compelled to go to a tiger and reptile-infested island. Ghosh’s characters cannot be stopped by any manmade boundary. They would also be prepared to work at unbelievably low wages, which ensures a steady demand for their labour in neighbouring India. In the foreseeable future, climate change is likely to accentuate their existential crisis and by implication, the problem of “illegal” Bangladeshis in India. Hidden in the midst of this sea of humanity are drug-traffickers, arms smugglers, and Islamic terrorists. The Indian government obviously finds it impossible to screen the immigrants.
To address this problem, the Indian government has already fenced as much as half of the 4053 km long Indo-Bangladesh border. However, complete fencing will be hampered by riverine landscape and incomplete demarcation of the international boundary. Also, even if it is feasible, complete fencing will block the easiest escape route for the targets of Islamic extremism including not only non-Muslims but also syncretic Muslim Bauls, Ahmediyas, etc. People such as Taslima Nasreen are the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The share of minority religions in Bangladesh’s population has, in fact, halved since its independence. The struggle for scarce resources is routinely, and conveniently, provided a communal cover, which allows Islamic extremists to fish in a troubled delta. A major atrocity against fenced-out minorities of Bangladesh will translate into greater support for Hindu majoritarian parties in India, which will endanger Indian minorities as well as existing Bangladeshi immigrants and provide an ex-post justification for attacks on minorities in Bangladesh. So, complete fencing will strengthen religious extremists on both sides of the border. Faith-based screening of immigrants at designated points along a completely fenced border will permit the vulnerable to escape. But it will allow the Islamic extremists to portray India as a Hindu majoritarian country with which Bangladesh cannot be friendly. In any case, faith-based screening will be struck down by the Supreme Court as repugnant to the basic structure of the Indian constitution. It will also be opposed by Indian politicians who depend on immigrant votes or have links with human traffickers.
Effectiveness of Track II in promoting BCIM: The K2K example January 28, 2011Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, India, Mishra, Binoda Kumar , 1 comment so far
Binoda Kumar Mishra
The idea behind BCIM
Originating in 1999 as the Kunming Initiative, the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (hereafter BCIM) initiative is now gathered for its 9th forum. There is optimism about the prospects of the initiative in promoting regional cooperation between the geographically contiguous BCIM countries. Contiguous countries all over the world are coming together to form blocs to harness benefits from the opportunities created by globalisation. Realising this, four institutes from the four countries initiated this idea of involving stake-holders and using experts to promote mutual development.
The region is not only geographically contiguous but also complementary in economic terms. But there are also certain negative similarities such as underdevelopment. Trans-border crime and other non-traditional threats are equally threatening. The idea behind BCIM is to address these issues and create an environment for mutual development focusing on the contiguous region. The initiative also seeks to promote people-to-people contact through tourism and cultural exchanges. And at the base is the objective of improving of trade and commerce .
‘Frozen in time’? The war crimes trial in Bangladesh July 9, 2009Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, D'Costa, Bina , 4comments
‘Justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done’.
The Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported on May 14, 2009 that Pakistan’s Foreign Office “rejected Bangladesh’s demand for an apology over the alleged [emphasis added] 1971 atrocities”. The official response was that Bangladesh should not be “frozen in time” but rather move ahead. Pakistan advised that Bangladesh should “let bygones be bygones” and hoped that relations between the two countries would not become hostage to the past.
The most recent tension arose from the Bangladesh parliament’s adoption of a resolution in early 2009 to try the alleged war criminals under the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973 (adopted on 3 December, UN Resolution 3074). The United Nations has also announced that it would assist Bangladesh in designing and setting up a war crimes tribunal.
Pakistan attracted global condemnation because of its brutal army crackdown in 1971 in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) – an event that resulted in mass atrocities and genocide. Estimates vary, but the widely accepted figure is that between one to three million people perished during the nine months of conflict, and a further eight to ten million were forced to leave their homeland. Also, 200,000 women were victims of rape and sexual violence, with 25,000 rapes resulting in forced impregnation. In addition, at least 30,000 Biharis and West Pakistanis were killed as a result of the conflict. (more…)