People in Bangladesh want the upcoming national elections to be held in a festive atmosphere and improve the atmosphere so that voters can vote for the candidate of their choice. And that will be sure as shooting.
But it is grossly offensive to decency or morality that foreign diplomats stationed in Dhaka are all rabbiting on over the next general election in Bangladesh, whereas their own countries are at colossus faults in many affairs including the election processes. So, when they want to prescribe us in our national matters, we can take them as if rogues supplant justice.
The next parliamentary elections are still more than a year away. However, like every other time, foreign diplomats are becoming involved in Bangladesh’s election process. But they must cease their interference in the national matters of Bangladesh. The government also does not take kindly to their criticisms and opinions on the election process and the internal affairs of the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already informed the foreign diplomats working in Bangladesh to stop all these trumperies.
We remind them of the Geneva Conventions to observe etiquette. Besides, media representatives must not ask any question to the foreign diplomats about our election process.
Last July, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reminded foreign diplomats working in Bangladesh to comply with the Vienna Code of Conduct. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent a letter in this regard to the United Nations office located in Dhaka, all international organizations and all foreign missions located in Dhaka on July 18. But the statements of the diplomats and their continuous close interaction with the opposition political camps have not yet decreased.
In addition, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. AK Abdul Momen and State Minister Shahriar Alam also urged the diplomats to speak according to etiquette. The foreign minister also expressed his anger at the behaviour of diplomats.
Experts say the letter of adherence to the Geneva Conventions means the government does not want foreigners to interfere in the country’s internal affairs. Therefore, foreign diplomats have been warned ahead of national elections.
Earlier on June 13, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was told in the meeting of the National Committee on Security at the initiative of the Cabinet Division that the diplomats of various foreign missions located in Bangladesh should be requested to comply with the Vienna Convention. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina presided over the meeting.
And so, on July 18, the letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes the United Nations Office in Dhaka, all international organizations and diplomats and representatives working in all foreign missions located in Dhaka to follow the relevant rules and etiquette in conducting diplomatic activities.
In view of the recent events, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would like to respectfully inform everyone that diplomats at the public and private levels shall conduct their diplomatic activities in accordance with the proper diplomatic protocol as stipulated in the Vienna Convention of 1961 and the Vienna Convention on Consular Affairs of 1963.
In the letter, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also stated that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs promises on behalf of the Government of Bangladesh that the Government will provide all the necessary support to all diplomatic missions, UN offices and all international organizations to work.
Several foreign diplomats working in Dhaka said that it is not their job to interfere in Bangladesh’s internal issues. They want everything in the country to go well and be peaceful. This is not true. They say one thing, but they do diametrically the opposite.
Investors from many countries have invested and are doing business in Bangladesh. For this, we want a stable environment and do not want any unstable situation to be created in Bangladesh.
German Ambassador Akhim Troster, Netherlands Ambassador Annie Von Leeuwen and European Union Ambassador Charles Whiteley held a meeting with Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader on July 24.
After the meeting, German ambassador Akhim Troster said in a tweet that it is the main responsibility of diplomats to keep in touch with the political parties and institutions of the host country. So, their temerity is irremissible under any setting.
A meeting was held with Awami League General Secretary, Roads and Communications Minister Obaidul Quader and his colleagues on July 24. The European Union and its member states are tested friends of Bangladesh. Ambassador of the Netherlands Anne Von Leeuwen said in a tweet that a diplomat always tries to communicate with all partners to understand the situation of the host country and to advance development. This abracadabra harangue is not worthy of acceptance or satisfactory.
On June 2, the US Ambassador to Dhaka invited five representatives of civil society to lunch at his residence on the issue of the upcoming national elections. Several representatives of the civil society who participated in the lunch at that time said that America and Europe have great interest in the upcoming national elections. Look at how much brazen-faced and insolent Uncle Sam is!
Former Additional Secretary and Ambassador of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mahfuzur Rahman said, the last July letter is a warning. Basically, ahead of the national elections, the government is warning foreign diplomats in advance that the government does not want to see any foreign interference in the country’s internal affairs.
Because, past experience has shown that foreign diplomats have also entered the country’s politics with their own evil agenda. If the government party and the opposition parties, i.e. all political parties, are responsible, there is no chance for foreigners to turn their noses up.
Foreign Minister Dr. AK Abdul Momen said that the foreign diplomats posted in Bangladesh are mature. We believe they will follow diplomatic etiquette. When asked whether the government can make a statement or protest to prevent foreign diplomats from commenting on Bangladesh elections, the minister said, “We believe that the diplomats in our country are mature. They are honorable people. We trust that they will follow diplomatic etiquette.”
Regarding the recent comments of the US ambassador Peter Haas about the upcoming parliamentary elections, the foreign minister told the reporters that because the journalists asked questions to the ambassadors, they commented on the internal affairs of Bangladesh. He said, “You force him. The poor man was forced to answer. It is better if you don’t go up to foreign countries.”
Come to us. They dare to speak because some of our people go to them. The foreign minister said, due to the colonial mentality, we still prefer something foreign. We have to get out of this habit.
Abdul Momen said, democracy is different in different countries. Bangladesh is the leader of democracy. We gave blood for democracy in 1971, 3 million people gave their lives. Where else in the world? We have struggled in this country when people’s voices have been stifled. When people’s right to democracy is taken away.
He also said that when the genocide was happening in this country in 1971, they did not even come close to us. When the genocide was going on in Myanmar, no one gave shelter to those people. Who did it, Bangladesh did it. Sheikh Hasina has opened the border. Protected human rights.
The foreign minister also said that the current government is committed to conducting free, fair and transparent elections and is not in favour of the death of a single citizen of the country during the election process. We are trying so that not a single person dies.
He said, there are good and bad in every country’s democracy. It is not always accurate. It’s a process. Democracy matures through efforts. We also have weaknesses. We are trying to work out how to fix the vulnerability. This does not mean that they are the best. They also have weaknesses, problems…
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam said that foreign diplomats should not talk about the internal politics of Bangladesh. They should speak according to etiquette. They should mind in their own business. An old but significant proverb reminds us, “Let not the shoe-maker go beyond his last.”
Myanmar’s persistent use of mortars to invade Bangladeshi land amounts to a declaration of war on Myanmar’s part and a diplomatic blunder on the part of the government of Bangladesh. In the most recent incident, Myanmar fired three mortar bombs on September 16 into Bangladeshi territory near the Tambru border in Bandarban, killing one man and injuring six others, who were taken to the hospital that night. On September 3, Myanmar fired at least two deadly shells 120 meters into Bangladesh at the Tambru border. On August 28, it launched two additional mortar shells across the same border into Bangladesh, but they did not explode. On August 20, a comparable occurrence occurred at the same border.
Following each incident, Bangladeshi authorities called the ambassador of Myanmar to Dhaka and gave him protest letters. What started with mortar rounds that hadn’t detonated has so far come to a close with the deaths and injuries caused by shell explosions. Bangladesh has reportedly handled the situation professionally on a bilateral basis up to this point, but all that seems to be happening is escalating tensions, which, according to Myanmar, is a provocation for war. Bangladesh is correct to resist giving up.
All of this suggests, however, that despite their repeated claims to be the best of friends, India, China, and Russia have not been persuaded to help prevent Myanmar from inciting a war with Bangladesh. These countries include India, which has cordial bilateral relations with Myanmar, China, which exerts significant influence over Myanmar, and Russia.
According to media reports, Bangladeshi authorities consider bringing the matter before the UN for resolution if diplomatic attempts to date have been unsuccessful.
In December 2018 China and Russia abstained from UN negotiations, and in December 2017 they opposed a UN resolution on the Rohingya problem. It is understandable that the military-run Myanmar, which has a population one-third that of Bangladesh’s and suffers from low credibility throughout the world, would appear to be breaking international law by shelling Bangladesh, given Bangladesh’s weak strategic and political position on the world stage.
In response to recent casualties at Bangladesh’s Bandarban border, the foreign ministry of Bangladesh summoned Myanmar’s ambassador in Dhaka, Aung Kyaw Moe, and delivered a stern protest letter. Since mid-August, the ministry has summoned the Myanmar ambassador four times for violations of land and airspace by Myanmar along the border in Bandarban’sNaikhongchhari, as well as many incidences in which mortar shells from the neighbouring nation landed on Bangladeshi soil.
To counteract any effects of the unrest in the Rakhine state, the Coastguard and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) are still on high alert in the border region. The Myanmar Armed Forces have fired mortar shells into Bangladesh territory on numerous occasions, leaving the population living near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border areas feeling uneasy. In the most recent incident, which happened on Friday night, five mortar rounds fired from Myanmar detonated at a Rohingya camp in a no-land man’s close to Tumbru bazar in Bandarban’s Naikhongchhariupazila, killing a 28-year-old man named Mohammad Iqbal and injuring eight others. An earlier land mine explosion in Bandarban’sNaikhongchhari border area injured a young Bangladeshi man.
The ambassador for Myanmar confirmed that many mortar bombs had been fired into Bangladeshi territory, but he asserted that their insurgent groups had also fired heavy artillery and mortars, some of which had landed on Bangladeshi soil. In this regard, the foreign ministry reaffirmed the government of Bangladesh’s policy of “zero tolerance” toward terrorism and its refusal to harbour any forces threatening the security of its neighbours.
The current crisis is instilling terror among the defenseless citizens residing in Myanmar’s border regions, it has been warned Myanmar.
Bangladesh requested Myanmar to stop engaging in actions that endanger local residents’ lives and means of subsistence. Bangladesh also urged that Myanmar stop its careless military actions close to the border and make sure that no Myanmar-made ammunition enters Bangladeshi territory.
Bangladesh has already said clearly that it wishes to resolve its differences with Myanmar amicably. Therefore, the nation hopes that Myanmar will learn from their error and stop taking actions in the future that would harm bilateral relations.
The Myanmar Armed Forces kept firing many mortar shells into Bangladeshi territory on purpose in an effort to stir up trouble near the border. Bangladesh is working to find a diplomatic resolution with Myanmar because it doesn’t want a war. And the nation will make every effort, taking the matter to the UN if necessary (UN).
The government of Bangladesh, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, never supports armed conflict and always favours peaceful resolution. Bangladesh is attempting to resolve the issue on a bilateral and multilateral level. We are hopeful that the international community and the UN will step up and take the necessary actions to put an end to this disturbance.
Although a battle with a neighbour is not desirable, a diplomatic solution to the problem should still be sought. If necessary, Bangladeshi authorities should raise this with the UN. To find a solution, it must intensify its diplomatic efforts on a regional and global scale.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh should maintain a standing national army to defend its borders, fend against Myanmar, and avert any dangerous situations.
Views expressed are personal
As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centrepiece of all geo-strategic play. So, Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year’s 46th Seminar, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest conference for land forces in the region and one of the preeminent army engagements that provide a platform for the senior military leadership of Indo-Pacific regional ground forces to exchange views and opinions on peace and stability.
This year’s conference brought together senior officers of the military forces of 24 countries. Under the theme of “Possibilities and Challenges for Maintaining Peace and Security in the Indo-Pacific Region,” the main focus of the event was “robust peacekeeping,” “women empowerment,” and “land power in regional cooperation.” Apart from these, peacekeeping operations, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, leadership development, countering transnational crime, and empowering women were being discussed.
Significance of Military diplomacy
Bangladesh has historically been part of ancient Indo-Pacific connectivity. It is indeed in Bangladesh’s interest to advocate and work for an open, resilient and interconnected Indo-Pacific. In a broader sense, its own continuing sustainability as an independent, sovereign, prosperous nation-state depends on this idea. With close to 40 nations comprising its make-up, the Indo-Pacific region covers more than half of the earth’s surface, home to 60% of the world’s population producing 60% of global GDP, contributing two-thirds of current global growth. By 2030, the overwhelming majority (90%) of the 2.4 billion new members of the middle class entering the global economy will live in the Indo-Pacific. 7 of the world’s 10 largest armies are in the region where border disputes and sovereignty concerns are headline events. Therefore, maintaining peace and security across the region is central to global progress.
However, the conference brings army senior leaders together to discuss differences, establish trust, mitigate miscalculations, resolve challenges, and find commonality among multinational-professional soldiers.There are issues that cannot be solved in isolation by just one or two countries. This platform allows military leaders in the region to get together, share their ideas, and find a collective solution to a pressing and immediate problems. The relationships developed throughout the seminar and through Army-to-Army engagements would help to identify issues of common interest for arriving at pragmatic multi-lateral solutions, and dealing with the escalating threats.
It is imperative to build trust at the strategic level. So, the armies need to work together with the public sector in policy-making and lay out a development foundation that links economic and social development with the protection of the environment and natural resources. The IPAMS promotes network building among military chiefs at all levels to join forces in coping with the world’s various changes and challenges for sustainable advancement of the region. The forums provide a unique opportunity to advance understanding of key issues while showing respect for each other’s role in promoting security and stability. It would build interpersonal relations, mutual trust, and confidence among the ground forces in the region, which would reduce tensions. “The IPAMS can create a sense of friendship and warmth so that peace and stability prevail in the region,” PM Sheikh Hasina said while addressing the opening ceremony of the seminar.
The meetings are yet another symbol of the close cooperation between Bangladesh and the United States. It also paved the way for stronger cooperation between the armies of the two countries. Charles A. Flynn, commanding general of the U.S. Army Pacific, assured that the United States will cooperate with Bangladesh and other Indo-pacific countries to ensure the security of this important region. Again, the Bangladesh Army Chief expressed hope that working together will give the Bangladesh army a lot of scopes to learn as the US Army is one of the best in the world and very developed.
While the militaries of the participating countries discussed disaster management, transnational crime, security issues, and women’s empowerment, the issue of Rohingya refugees who have fled from violence in Myanmar is not overlooked. It is undeniable that since the Rohingya crisis erupted in the Indo-Pacific region’s heartland, it has all the potential to directly threaten the peace and stability in the region.
Because of the prolonged stay of more than 1 million Rohingya refugees in crowded camps, the economy, environment, security, and socio-political stability in the region will be seriously affected. A delegation of top military officials from 24 countries, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, India, China, and Vietnam, visited the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, where Rohingyas expressed their desire to go back to their home country of Myanmar’s Rakhine State and not to any third country. The members of the group witnessed the plight of the Rohingyas firsthand and developed a “clear perception” of the gravity of the refugee crisis and the need for their repatriation to Myanmar.
Organizing such an international military conference is a great achievement for Bangladesh Army.
Noteworthy, The Bangladesh military’s positive and active role has earned the nation an international reputation with political and diplomatic mileage. The Armed Forces of Bangladesh have glorified the country on the global stage through their brilliant participation in UN peacekeeping missions. As the UN peacekeeping operations have been evolving continuously, Bangladesh has regularly been carrying out the performance appraisal of its peacekeepers and taking measures to cope with future challenges.
Despite being a late entrant (in 1988) as a troop contributor, Bangladesh has emerged as a credible UN partner over the last three decades. Since 1988, Bangladesh has participated in 54 peacekeeping missions in 40 different countries across 5 continents with more than 175,000 uniformed personnel, including over 1,800 female peacekeepers. Currently, there are over 7,000 troops and police deployed in 10 missions (as per data from the Armed Forces Division). Praising the Bangladesh Army, US Army General Charles A. Flynn said: “The Bangladesh Army is known for its leadership globally because of its contributions to UN peacekeeping operations. Its peacekeeping campus and training center are not just known within the region, they are known internationally. There are many, many things that the US Army and so many other armies can learn from the experiences of the Bangladeshi Army in their international and global commitment to humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and peacekeeping operations. “This acknowledgement has once again proved that our armed forces are a vital factor in upholding global peace and are able to keep our country safe from the subversive activities of internal and external enemies.
Last but not least, this conference is a critical opportunity to connect with the world’s military leaders to foster alliance partnerships and cooperative relationships. It is expected that dialogues like these will further strengthen ties between the Indo-Pacific countries and the Bangladesh Army and increase possibilities for mutual cooperation to cope with recent challenges in order for the region to move forward in a secure and sustainable manner.
There are few noted arrests were made by police to nullify multiple ABT (Ansar al-Islam/Ansarullah Bangla Team)-linked/inspired modules, spread across Dhubri, Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Goalpara, Morigaon, Kamrup (Metropolitan) and Nagaon Districts, which have come to focus since March 2022. On March 4, 2022, the Assam Police arrested five ABT cadres including Saiful Islam aka Haroon Rashid, a Bangladeshi national, from Barpeta.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over Saiful Islam’s case on March 22, 2022. According to the NIA First Information Report, there is an active module of ABT in Barpeta District, led by Saiful Islam, who entered India illegally and was engaged as an Arabic Teacher at the Dhakaliapara Masjid. Saiful Islam was active in motivating impressionable youth/men to join jihadi outfits and to work in modules, Ansars (sleeper cells), to create a base for Al-Qaeda and its manifestations in India. The other members of the module were Khairul Islam, Badshah Suleiman Khan, Noushad Ali and Taimur Rahman Khan. All the accused persons were involved in the commission of various offences, including conspiracy, waging war against the state, harbouring, and collecting funds for committing unlawful and terrorist acts.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 30 ABT-linked extremists have been arrested by the Police from different Districts of the State since March 4, 2022, (till September 11, 2022).
Though details about ABT activities are still emerging, Assam Chief Minister (CM) Himanta Biswa Sarma stated on August 4, 2022, that ABT had increased its focus on Assam during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the administration and police were busy handling the crisis. He disclosed,
These people [ABT cadres] were working as preachers in mosques – as a cover job – their aim was to wage jihad against India and establish ‘shariat’ law. Several training camps were organised by these people especially during COVID-19 times. They were trained in tradecraft (techniques/technology used in modern espionage), radicalisation, indoctrination, gun training and bomb-making… They [ABT] do not use mobile calls but use chat apps to communicate. Not Telegram, but these chat apps found are unheard of. They are peer-to-peer encrypted chat apps and are more sophisticated and beyond the end-to-end chat apps.
Further, on August 28, 2022, Special Director General of Police (Law and Order) G. P. Singh noted that, “till now, we haven’t received any indication of arms training’’. When asked whether the madrasas (seminaries)-linked to ABT were registered, he asserted, “We will take action if they are not as per govt guidelines.” Earlier, on April 25, 2022, Additional Director General of Police (Special Branch) Hiren Nath added that, though “there was no formal arms training” by the ABT, they have “started indoctrination”.
Also, on September 1, 2022, a long-time observer of militancy in the Northeast, Rajeev Bhattacharya, comparing ABT with others like Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), wrote, “Jamatul-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), for instance, was structured unlike the ABT which is loosely organised and decentralized.”
There have been earlier instances of infiltration by ABT into Assam as well. The interrogation of a Bangladeshi ABT cadre, Faisal Ahmed, arrested from the Bommanahalli area of Bangalore city, Karnataka, on July 1, 2022, revealed that he had arrived in Silchar in the Cachar District of Assam in 2015. He, thereafter, made a fake voter ID card under the name, Shahid Majumdar, and also obtained an Indian passport. Importantly, Faisal Ahmed was one of the four ABT militants convicted for killing Bangladeshi blogger Ananta Bijoy Das in thr Subidbazar area of Sylhet on May 12, 2015. On March 30, 2022, the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal-based in Sylhet convicted and sentenced four persons, including Faisal Ahmed to death.
Meanwhile, another Bangladesh-based Islamist terrorist group, the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) continues with its efforts to extend its influence in Assam. The presence of JMB came to notice when, on October 2, 2014, Shakil Ahmed and Suvon Mandal aka Subhan, both active members of the JMB, were killed, and Abdul Hakim aka Hassan sustained injuries in an accidental explosion in a rented two-story house at Khagragarh under the Burdwan Police Station of Burdwan District, West Bengal. All three were found to be Bangladeshi citizens. A spate of arrests that followed the incident underscored the extent of the spread of the outfit.
According to the SATP database, since October 2, 2014, at least 61 JMB cadres have been arrested in Assam. The last arrest was made on July 7, 2022, when two JMB terrorists, Mokkodos Ali Ahmed and Sofiqul Islam, were arrested from Barpeta District.
The interrogation of arrested JMB militants revealed that their objective was to counter purported ‘Bodo aggression’. Between 2008 and 2014, there have been periodic clashes between Bodos and Muslims in lower Assam. In 2008, at least 55 persons were killed in such clashes; 109 were killed in 2012 and 46 in 2014.
Before the advent of these Bangladesh-based jihadi groups, several Islamist extremist formations existed in Assam. The then Parliamentary Affairs Minister Rockybul Hussain informed the State Assembly on December 15, 2014, that between January 2001 to November 2014, a total of 130 Islamist extremists, including 106 Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA) militants, 14 Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) militants and 10 JMB militants had been arrested in the State. Since then (December 1, 2014) another 149 Islamic extremists [including 55 JMB, 30 ABT, 26 Muslim Tiger Force of Assam (MTFA), 21 MULTA,10 Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen (HM), five Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), one each from Muslim Liberation Army (MLA) and Peoples United Liberation Front (PULF], have been arrested in Assam.
A majority of the Islamist militant groups in Assam were founded between 1990 and 1996 with the prime objective of safeguarding the ‘overall interests’ of the minority Muslim communities in the region. These groups had the backing of Pakatan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and the then Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led regime in Bangladesh. According to SATP, at least 21 Islamist terror formations have operated in Assam at different periods.
The entry of the Bangladeshi groups is partly due to the severe crackdown by the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government of Bangladesh that had disrupted the networks of all Islamist groups, including the JMB and ABT, forcing them underground or to seek refuge in bordering regions of Indian states like Assam, Bengal or Tripura, where the demographic composition is favorable for concealment.
Moreover, the present polarized political debates have created a perception of targeting/isolating religious minorities (especially Bengali speaking Muslims) in the state, due to recent events, including the Supreme Court monitored updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) 1951, followed by the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), as well as administrative measures such as ‘anti-encroachment drives’ to free government land. The division of Muslims along ethno-linguistic lines can also be a pull factor for these jihadi groups.
The conflict in Assam is largely shaped on the discourse of identity-based politics based on insider-outsider identification, as well as claims to autochthonous status and primacy over local resources, but has gradually been transformed into a religious struggle, and a polarizing politics to consolidate electoral gains. The dominant narratives are likely to be counterproductive, rupturing social bonds and leading to destabilization.
This article is a part of SLG Syndication project. Giriraj Bhattacharjee, Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management in Delhi wrote this for South Asia Terrorism Portal, where this piece first appeared. Click here to read the complete article.
On Sept 5, India welcomed one of the closest friends in the neighbourhood, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who visited India on a four-day visit. During the course of her trip, she hold a bilateral meeting with PM Narendra Modi as well as interacted with President Droupadi Murmu. The immediate outcome of the visit was the signing of the seven memorandums of understanding (MoUs) in various fields, including the withdrawal of water from the cross-border Kushiyara river, cooperation in space technology, collaboration on IT systems used by railways in areas such as movement of freight, science and technology cooperation, training of Bangladesh Railway personnel and Bangladeshi judicial officers in India, and cooperation in broadcasting between Prasar Bharati and Bangladesh Television, aimed at boosting ties between the two countries.
Among the seven pacts signed on September 6, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on withdrawal of 153 cusecs (cubic feet per second) of water from the Kushiyara by Bangladesh is most welcomed by Dhaka. It is the first such deal the two countries have inked after the Ganges River water-sharing agreement in 1996 and is seen as a breakthrough in addressing an issue that has cast a shadow on their otherwise close ties. The deal came to the Sylhet region as blessings that are expected to help alleviate some of Dhaka’s concerns. A pact to share water resources from transboundary rivers that run downstream from the Himalayas from India into Bangladesh has long been a priority for Bangladesh, a lower riparian state that suffers from crippling water shortages. Earlier, India and Bangladesh finalised the Teesta water-sharing deal in 2010 and it was likely to be signed in 2011. But it could not be inked due to opposition from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banarjee.
The agreement will benefit southern parts of Assam state in India and the Sylhet region in Bangladesh. According to the agreement, the withdrawal of 153 cusecs of water from Kushiara river through Rahimpur canal will bring major changes in dry season farming in Jokiganj upazila bordering Bangladesh. At the same time, the farmers of Kanighat and some parts of Biyanibazar Upazila will benefit.
The two leaders engaged in talks on connectivity, trade, flood management, counter-terrorism, food security, and nuclear energy partnerships. In a bid to help Bangladesh deal with the energy crisis, the two leaders unveiled the first unit of the Maitree Thermal Power Plant, a 1320 MW supercritical coal-fired thermal power plant at Rampal in the Khulna division of Bangladesh. The project is being set up at an approximate budget of $2 billion out of which $1.6 billion was Indian Development Assistance that will enhance Bangladesh’s power generation capacities. Experts believe that the Maitree Power Plant will give citizens of Bangladesh access to affordable electricity, boosting Bangladesh face the difficulties that the country is facing in because of the growing energy prices worldwide.
Both leaders also discussed the issue of counterterrorism. “Today we also stressed on cooperation against terrorism and fundamentalism. To keep the spirit of 1971 alive, it is also very necessary that we face such forces together, who want to attack our mutual trust,” PM Modi said. In flood management, India has extended the period of sharing flood water-related information in real-time which will help Bangladesh counter the annual floods.
An important project that was inaugurated was the Rupsha bridge. The 5.13 km Rupsha rail bridge is a key part of the 64.7 km Khulna-Mongla Port single-track Broad Gauge rail project, connecting for the first time Mongla Port (Bangladesh’s second largest port) with Khulna by rail, and thereafter to Central and North Bangladesh and also to the India border at Petrapole and Gede in West Bengal. “The inauguration of the railway bridge over the Rupsha river is a remarkable step towards enhancing connectivity. This bridge is an important part of the new railway line being built between Khulna and Mongla Port under India’s Line of Credit” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a statement during a joint media appearance with Hasina.
An announcement was also made that India would supply road construction equipment and machinery in 25 packages to the road and highways department of the Bangladeshi government. The Khulna-Darshana railway line link project was also announced to upgrade the existing (doubling of broad gauge) infrastructure, linking the current cross-border rail link at Gede-Darshana to Khulna and thereby augmenting the rail connections between the two countries, especially to Dhaka, but also in future, to Mongla Port. The project cost is estimated to be USD 312.48 million. Another project, Parbatipur-Kaunia railway line, will see the conversion of the existing metre-gauge line to dual-gauge line at an estimated cost of USD 120.41 million. The project will connect the existing cross-border rail at Birol (Bangladesh)-Radhikapur (West Bengal) and enhance bilateral rail connectivity. The connectivity initiatives are part of the ongoing projects in Bangladesh that are aimed at converting the country into a major connectivity hub of South and Southeast Asia.
It is mentionable that, India has provided concessional loans worth $9.5 billion for development projects in Bangladesh, especially connectivity initiatives. These initiatives include improving rail connectivity between Khulna and Dhaka, Chilahati and Rajshahi and connecting Mongla port with Darshana-Gede at a cost of $312million, the Parbatipur-Kaunia rail project to facilitate the transportation of fuel that is being built at a cost of $120million, and the supply of road construction equipment and machinery worth $41million to repair and maintain Bangladesh’s road network. With the expansion of connectivity between our two countries, and the development of trade infrastructure on the border, the two economies will be able to connect more with each other.
Trade prospects under CEPA
It is true that While India is Bangladesh’s largest trade partner in South Asia, with bilateral trade reaching a record $18 billion in the last financial year, there has been a significant trade imbalance between the two countries. To narrow the trade gap and to further accelerate this growth, two sides agreed to begin negotiations on a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) this year. When the CEPA is operationalised, bilateral trade potential would be USD 40 billion. Moreover, the CEPA will boost bilateral and sub-regional connectivity that Bangladesh is championing in its policy initiatives.
During this trip, PM Hasina met with Indian industrialist Gautam Adani, who recently became the world’s third-richest person, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index. Adani Power, a subsidiary of Adani Group, will supply power to Bangladesh from its upcoming 1,600 MW thermal power plant in the Godda area of Jharkhand. The project is significant as Bangladesh has been recognised as an important partner under India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy.
Finally, it is observed that the cooperation during the visit extended to all fields, including trade and commerce, power and energy, transport and connectivity, science and technology, rivers, and maritime affairs. The visit will act as a catalyst for closer coordination and cooperation in resolving all issues, including Teesta river water sharing. It is also expected that Indo-Bangladesh ties will touch new heights and will continue to add more depth and momentum in the coming days.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who completed her India visit recently, attended a closed-door meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Tuesday (September 06). After the meeting, the two Prime Ministers attended a press conference. In this conference, Sheikh Hasina termed the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India as a role model of ‘neighbourhood diplomacy’.
She also said that she agreed with the Prime Minister of India to work together on various bilateral issues. Sheikh Hasina said, we have agreed to carry out cooperative efforts to maintain our economic growth and regional peace, security and stability.
If Bangladesh and India can work together as partners, it will bring peace and prosperity not only for the two countries but also for the region. On the other hand, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, we have emphasized on cooperation against terrorism and radicalism. He said, those who want to hurt our mutual trust.
Security cooperation, investment, enhanced trade relations, Rohingya issue, water resource management, border management, cooperation in power and energy sector, common river water sharing, prevention of drug smuggling and human trafficking were discussed in the meeting of the two Prime Ministers.
Despite the delayed progress on the line of credit extension in 2018, different types of equipment are being considered at various stages. According to media reports, Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka recently shared a wish list of military platforms and systems that its armed forces would like to purchase from India, marking some progress on the delayed implementation of the $500 million defence Line of Credit (LoC) extended by India to Bangladesh. This contains a wide variety of tools, such as an oil tanker for the Bangladesh Navy, a logistics ship, and a floating dock.
India considers the signing of the first contract between Bangladesh and India under the $500 Line of Credit (LoC) to be an “important first step” in bolstering bilateral defence cooperation.
“This week, I believe the first contract under the defence line of credit was signed. You have undoubtedly been paying close attention to this. Despite being small, it was an essential first step “said Vinay Kwatra, the foreign secretary of India, in New Delhi
According to its “Forces Goal 2030,” Bangladesh is modernizing its military by introducing new weaponry and enhancing infrastructure. A large portion of these requirements can be met by India, which will also boost defence cooperation between the two countries.
China has sold Bangladesh weapons, including two traditional diesel-electric submarines. China has become one of the world’s leading suppliers of weapons, particularly to nations in India’s immediate neighbourhood.
India has recently greatly increased its military support for capacity building and capabilities development for nations in the Indian Ocean Region in an effort to counter this.
The “intensification” of bilateral defence ties was welcomed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi.
According to the joint statement released following the bilateral talks between the two leaders, they also agreed on the early completion of projects under the Line of Credit for Defense, which would be advantageous for both nations.
India looks forward to strengthening bilateral defence ties and welcomed the completion of “first purchase plans” for vehicles for the Bangladesh Armed Forces.
Both parties stressed the importance of cooperating closely to implement the $500 million Line of Credit offered by India for defence items at the 4th Bangladesh-India annual defence dialogue held in New Delhi in August. At the meeting, representatives from Bangladesh and India reaffirmed their commitment to improving interactions between their armed forces and discussed the development of bilateral defence cooperation programs.
For in-depth conversations, various facets of defence industrial and capability-building cooperation came up. Both nations looked at the possibility of working together on joint production, co-development, and commerce in the defence sector.
The Indian side reaffirmed its demand for the 2019 MoU’s provision of a coastal radar system for increased marine security to be implemented as soon as possible.
After the meeting between the two leaders, 7 MoUs were also signed between the two countries. These are – MoU on withdrawal of 153 cusecs of water from Kushiyara River under Surma-Kushiyara Project, MoU between BSIR of Bangladesh with Council of Science and Educational Research of India on Scientific Cooperation, MoU between Supreme Court of Bangladesh with National Judicial Academy at Bhopal, Indian Railway Training Institutes, an MoU between the Railway Ministries of the two countries for the training of Bangladesh Railway staff, an MoU between the Indian and Bangladesh Railway Ministries for information technology cooperation in Bangladesh Railways, an MoU between Bangladesh Television with India’s state broadcaster ‘Prasar Bharti’ and an MoU between BTCL and NSIL on space technology cooperation.
The relationship between Bangladesh and India is long-standing. We hope that this relationship will become closer and closer in the future. But it is also true, even though the two countries have maintained good relations, some issues have not been resolved yet. These include the Teesta water sharing agreement, border management and trade deficit. Regarding the Teesta water distribution agreement, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed optimism and said that the agreement will be signed very soon.
It may be mentioned that all the formalities of signing this agreement have been completed but it was not implemented at the last moment. Indian authorities should consider to resolve the matter expeditiously. Indian government should also be sincere in stopping border killings. Reducing the trade deficit between the two countries is also of particular importance. We hope that the relations between the two countries will be strengthened through the settlement of the outstanding issues in the coming days.
Trade and cooperation between these two close neighbours have grown as a result of their special friendly relationship, promising advantages for both nations. To advance their relationship even further, Bangladesh and India signed seven agreements on Tuesday. These agreements covered important topics like water withdrawal from a shared river, railroad development assistance, judicial officer training in Bangladesh, science and technology cooperation, and broadcasting cooperation. These agreements portend a strengthening of the bonds that unite the two nations.
Compared to 2010, India’s loan assistance to Bangladesh has now increased tenfold. 25 percent of India’s total foreign aid is allocated to Bangladesh. In the meantime, the country has handed over a billion dollars to Bangladesh, that too at less than one percent interest, a generosity that no other friendly country has shown to Bangladesh.
India’s provision of tariff-free transit facilities to Bangladesh for exports to Nepal and Bhutan is considered a major step in bilateral cooperation. Also, since India can use the Chittagong seaport, not only the Seven Sisters of India will benefit from it, but Dhaka will also benefit from it. Because, due to this, the South Block of Delhi expects that the export of Bangladesh to Northeast India will increase significantly.
The visit also made it clear where India wants to take its relationship with Bangladesh in the days ahead. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, or CEPA for short, with Bangladesh. As a result, the products of both countries will get duty-free access.
It is estimated that the volume of trade between the two countries will increase from the current 1.4 billion dollars to 15 billion dollars in the next ten years. India was also requested to implement SEPA by Japan and China. But India chose Bangladesh as its fourth largest trading partner before Japan or China. Besides, in the coming days, the area of cooperation between the two countries is going to expand in space as well.
For the last few days tension has been growing along the Myanmar border with Bangladesh which has also spread among locals at Naikhongchari and Ghumdhum border areas. According to media reports, Myanmar security forces orchestrated a series of fierce attacks from fighter planes and helicopters inside Bangladesh border in Bandarban on Saturday morning. (September 03) Shells and gunshots were fired from warplanes and helicopters in the Ghumdhum area at around 9:20am.
At least four Myanmar fighter aircraft reportedly crossed into Bangladesh’s air space over Naikhongchhari upazila in Bandarban Saturday morning.
Media reports read that law enforcers are currently on alert after the incident. However, no casualty was reported.
On Thursday, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam said Bangladesh is better prepared so that none can enter from Myanmar now due to the deteriorated situation in Rakhine state.
“We do not want to step into Myanmar’s provocation or trap,” he said, adding that the Myanmar side might have a strategic benefit if they can move in such a unilateral direction.
Police and locals said that two warplanes and helicopters patrolled across the Myanmar border between BGB-BOP border pillars no 40-41 in Ghumdhum’s Tumbru area.
At that time around 8-10 shells were fired from the warplanes, and two of them landed 120 metres inside Bangladesh. Besides, the helicopters were also seen firing some 30 bullets.
Locals also said at least four rounds of heavy shells were fired from BGP-2 Tambru Right Camp in Myanmar part, between the border pillar No 34-35 in Naikhongchari on Saturday morning.
Firing was also reported from Muringajhiri Camp and Tambru Right Camp in Myanmar.
On August 28, Myanmar’s Border Guard Police (BGP) hurled mortar shells at the border in Bandarban’s Naikhongchhari.
Two mortar shells landing in Bangladeshi territory from Myanmar earlier on August 28, where heavy fighting between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military have been reported, on Sunday is a threat to the sovereignty of Bangladesh and to bilateral relations between the two countries. The incident bodes ill not only for Bangladesh and Myanmar but also for regional stability. The shells landed at Naikhyangchari in Bandarban on Sunday afternoon, creating panic among the locals in the Tumbru Uttar Para border area. The bomb disposal unit of the Border Guard Bangladesh is reported to have defused the shells. Such a situation has legitimately become a cause of serious concern for Bangladesh that sees the incident, be it intentional or accidental, as a threat to the sovereignty of Bangladesh that can deteriorate the relations between the two countries.
The relation between the countries have already remained strained mainly because of the irresolution on the safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingyas — over a million Rohingyas fled violence in Rakhine and entered Bangladesh over the past four decades, with over 700,000 entering the country only in 2017.
Repatriation efforts have faltered since the two countries signed deals, first in November 2017 and then in January 2018, mostly because of the reluctance of the Myanmar authorities and a fearful situation in Myanmar.
When the landing of the mortar shells on Sunday is the recent example of Myanmar’s apparent disregard for the sovereignty of Bangladesh, its bilateral relations with Bangladesh and peace in the region, the Myanmar authorities are not yet known to have acknowledged the incident and clarified their position.
Such disregard was also noted when Myanmar helicopters violated the Bangladesh air space a number of times in August-September 2017, which the Bangladesh authorities strongly protested. However, the repetition of such incidents suggests Myanmar’s continuous breach of international laws. It is also contrary to good neighbourly relations and could lead to unwarranted situations, which are not in the interests of not only Myanmar but also Bangladesh and other regional countries. While a stable and peaceful neighbour is always preferred and, in fact, necessary for any country, an unstable Rakhine is a threat to safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingyas, an unstable border is a threat to the people living there.
It is, therefore, imperative that the Bangladesh authorities protest to its Myanmar counterparts and seek explanations on the mortar shells incident and see to it that such violation never happens again, for the interests of both countries and the region.
The Bangladesh authorities have, therefore, strongly protested the mortar shell incident to the Myanmar authorities and must also officially inform international and regional forums about the recent and earlier incidents of violation of international laws. The government stepped-up security measures on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border so that people living there feel safe.
According to media reports, law enforcement agencies have further strengthened security measures along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border at Naikhongchari point as locals reported firing from helicopters from the Myanmar side on Saturday.
The law enforcement agencies including Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) remain alert and intelligence surveillance has also been increased near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already and will have summoned Myanmar Ambassador to Bangladesh Aung Kyaw Moe again on Sunday to lodge a strong protest regarding the matter.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen on Thursday said the government has warned Myanmar and they assured that the country will remain more careful.
On Thursday, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam said Bangladesh is better prepared so that none can enter from Myanmar now due to the deteriorated situation in the Rakhine state.
The Myanmar side was warned twice in August following mortar shells landing in Bangladesh territory from Myanmar and a strong protest was lodged in this regard. “We do not want to step into Myanmar’s provocation or trap,” he said, adding that they (Myanmar side) might have a strategic benefit if they can move in such a unilateral direction.
On August 29, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Myanmar envoy and lodged a strong protest against Myanmar’s mortar shells landing inside Bangladesh territory a day earlier.
Bangladesh has lodged a strong protest with Myanmar so that such incidents do not happen again. Bangladesh has also strongly condemned the incident.
But tackling insurgency is an internal issue of Myanmar. Myanmar can’t violate the sovereignty of Bangladesh anyhow in the name of unintentional error. Myanmar must have respect to international law. Myanmar must respect Bangladesh’s sovereignty. Such kind of continuous attitude can damage bilateral relations and destabilize the whole region. Myanmar must remember that Bangladesh is also a militarily capable country.
Views are personal
After almost three years, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is going to Delhi again on a state visit on September 5. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit is very significant in India-Bangladesh bilateral relations. The Modi government also wants to give special importance to this visit. Because of the changing geo-political situation, New Delhi considers Dhaka as its most ‘trusted friend’. On September 6, the two Prime Ministers will have a private meeting and a delegation-level meeting. Sheikh Hasina will address major business meetings like the Indian Chamber of Commerce the next day i.e. September 7. She will present the picture of how both parties can benefit if Indian investors invest in Bangladesh. The next day she will return to Dhaka via Ajmer Sharif.
Why is this visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina so important? The temporary power shortage in Bangladesh is going to end as Bangladesh’s largest thermal power project ‘Maitri’ is going to be inaugurated during her visit to India. Despite considerable ‘pressure’ from the Bangladesh government, the Teesta water distribution agreement could not be implemented mainly due to the objection of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. This time there will be significant progress if not all of it. The demand for wheat in Bangladesh is increasing.
In this situation, the Modi government has given permission to export wheat through the Hili border in Dinajpur. It should be remembered that this will be her last visit to India before the upcoming elections in Bangladesh. As a result, India will not return Sheikh Hasina empty-handed. During Sheikh Hasina’s visit this time, there is a bright possibility of finalizing the trade agreement called ‘CEPA’ (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement) between the two countries. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently approved the draft of this agreement in the cabinet meeting. Now just waiting for India to agree on this. It is being touted as a ‘landmark’ or landmark agreement for free and duty-free trade in hundreds of goods between India and Bangladesh.
If this is a joint testing service, one-stop service will be launched. It will increase investment. As a result, exports will increase by 3-5 billion dollars beyond the current (about 1.28 billion dollars) export earnings. After the signing of the CEPA agreement, if the trade barriers are removed, the import picture of Bangladesh will also change. As most of India’s products and services are compatible with Bangladesh’s economy and culture, and due to low transportation costs and time savings, Bangladeshi importers will turn to India instead of Far Eastern countries for the same products. Then the number of imports from India will increase. In that case, the current import of 7 billion dollars will increase by 4-7 billion US dollars.
Before Sheikh Hasina’s visit, a ministerial meeting of the Joint River Commission (JRC) was held in Delhi on August 25. On August 23, JRC secretary-level meeting was held. It discussed the water sharing agreement of the Manu, Dharla, Khoai, Muhuri, Gomti and Dudhkumar rivers. In this, the issue of finalizing the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the withdrawal of Kushiara river water becomes important. Bangladesh wants to use Kushiara water to facilitate the cultivation of 5 thousand acres of land in Sylhet.
This would require India’s permission to withdraw water from the same river. Besides, the Ganga water-sharing agreement will expire in 2026. There is supposed to be a joint survey for maximum utilization of this common river water. After more than a century, the meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) of the two countries is sitting in Delhi. The matters agreed by the JRC in terms of water sharing or water management of several important common rivers of the two countries will be fulfilled in the meeting of the two Prime Ministers. This time, the question is – Will the Chief Minister of West Bengal, who has held back the Tista Agreement, come and meet Sheikh Hasina in the capital during her visit to Delhi? The central government of India has invited as per rules. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gave a message to the country’s Hindu community on Janmashtami before her visit to India. She said, ‘Don’t think of yourself as a minority. All people have equal rights in Bangladesh regardless of caste and religion.
The Bangladesh government has requested $4.5billion in assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Economists say that the increase in the price of oil and gas, machinery and raw materials in the international market has created huge pressure on the country’s reserves. Bangladesh approached the IMF donors to handle that pressure. Last year, Bangladesh’s foreign exchange reserves were 45.5 billion, but by July 20, it had dropped to 37.67 billion dollars. In addition to the increase in the prices of fuel oil, gas, and food products in the international market, imports have increased a lot.
Bangladesh has not faced such economic problems with foreign exchange for the last decade. Because both remittances and exports have done more or less well during this period. But now due to the situation that has developed in the world, there is a negative impact on remittances. Exports are good, but the rate at which imports have increased has created pressure on the balance of payments.
Bangladesh’s infrastructure is improving rapidly. Now it’s time to set up various industries. In that case, in order to get raw materials and technical assistance quickly and cheaply, India will have to enter into some kind of financial agreement, which is not dependent on dollars in the parlance of economics. Bangladesh and India are gradually moving in that direction, only at this moment the leaders and ministers of the two countries need helpful to each other in tackling the crisis.
Views are personal