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India and Bangladesh: calculus of territorial dispute settlement February 8, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, Guest authors, India , comments closed

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!

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South Asia in 2011: a year of strained relations January 17, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Gordon, Sandy, South Asia - General , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

First published as  part of a special feature: 2011 in review and the year ahead, in East Asia Forum, 3 January 2012.

South Asia is a vast region encompassing eight nations (if we include Afghanistan) and over one-fifth of humanity. It is difficult to do it justice in this short summary of the year’s events.

Foremost among the region’s significant developments is the killing of Osama bin Laden in a US raid on 2 May. This is important not just for its effect on al-Qaeda, but because it made possible Washington’s claim that the US could now leave Afghanistan with its ‘mission accomplished’. By the end of 2014 there will be only a rump of about 20,000 NATO troops remaining.

At the same time, the raid also triggered a marked deterioration in the US-Pakistan relationship, already troubled by the Raymond Davis affair. The net result is that although the impetus on the US to leave Afghanistan has increased, the prospect of an orderly departure and satisfactory final outcome has declined.

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Work permits for Bangladeshi immigrants in India March 8, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

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.

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Effectiveness of Track II in promoting BCIM: The K2K example January 28, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, India, Mishra, Binoda Kumar , comments closed

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 .

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Some thoughts about the South Asian ‘region’ May 27, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Snedden, Christopher, South Asia - General , comments closed

Christopher Snedden

In April 2010, the body attempting to create a South Asian region—the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)—celebrated 25 years of existence. The fact that SAARC has existed since 1985 is an achievement in itself. SAARC members have few connections with each other apart from SAARC itself, some historical links with British imperialism, and geography.  South Asia is a long way from becoming a unified and coherent region.

SAARC’s most recent ‘Meeting of the Heads of State or Government’ was held in Bhutan from 28-29 April.[1] The summit’s (largely aspirational) ‘Thimphu Silver Jubilee Declaration’ was positively titled ‘Towards a Green and Happy South Asia’. Somewhat surprisingly, however, its third point ‘emphasized the need to develop a “Vision Statement” ’, something that should have been done a long time ago.  Furthermore, SAARC has held only sixteen summits in 25 years, despite its Charter stating that ‘The Heads of State or Government shall meet once a year’.  ‘Annual’ summits were not held in 1989, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2006 and 2009. More than one of these meetings was abandoned due to the parlous-to-poor state of India-Pakistan relations. (more…)