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India and Bangladesh

March 14, 2007

India has a reason to back Bangladesh army

By Jyoti Malhotra, Special to Gulf News

The world’s largest democracy, India, is shedding its distaste for military regimes.
New Delhi‘s newly pragmatic turn has been confirmed with off-the-record praise for the army-backed political revolution currently sweeping Bangladesh.

For the record, Dhaka now follows Yangoon (or Naypitaw, as Myanmar‘s new capital in the back of the Burmese beyond is called) in India‘s list of military calling cards.

Indeed, concern for whether General Pervez Musharraf will don his uniform or campaign in civvies when elections are held in Pakistan sometime later this year, is already wearing thin.

The old morality mantra in South Block – where the prime minister’s office as well as the ministries of foreign affairs and defence are located – has been replaced with a spanking, new realism.

It asks not whether high-sounding principles are good for your country, but what this country can do in the promotion of your national interest.

Presiding over this shift in both policy and national temperament is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, even when he defers to Sonia Gandhi’s political instinct for the poor.

Since the prime minister’s instinct is much more right-wing, he seems much more comfortable with the George W. Bush Republican model that declares, let’s do business tonight.

Bangladesh is a classic case in point. When the army in Dhaka took control of the rapidly deteriorating political situation in January, New Delhi reacted predictably by hoping that the people would be allowed to exercise their democratic right in a free and fair election as soon as possible.

Barely a month later, as Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee prepared to go to
Dhaka, New Delhi signaled to Fakhruddin Ahmad’s army-backed new caretaker government that it was prepared to invite Ahmad – and not President Iajuddin – to the South Asian Association of Regional Conference summit in Delhi in April, even if he wasn’t an elected leader.

Mukherjee’s flying visit in February was notable for one other thing. He may not have formally met Bangladesh army chief Lt. Gen. Moyeen U. Ahmad, but a couple of generals in uniform made it a point to attend every official meeting.

Indeed, it was India‘s high commissioner to Dhaka Pinak Chakraborty’s meeting with the army chief, one day before the foreign minister’s visit, that set the stage for the expression of the new pragmatism. It was at this meeting that the train service from Kolkata to Dhaka was finalised – a train that will now make its first journey on April 14, the Bengali new year.

Over the weeks, as contact between the Indian government and Dhaka’s military headquarters grew and grew – on the sidelines of the public cleansing of Bangladesh’s public life, that has touched a new high last week with the arrest of Tarique Rahman, son of former prime minister Khaleda Zia and considered to be the most powerful man in Bangladesh until the army took over two months ago – the generals began to speak a language that New Delhi had been waiting and waiting to hear.

For a start, they said, terrorism and insurgency was a bad thing and insurgent groups – whether or not they were anti-India and had taken refuge in
Bangladesh‘s northern areas – could not be good for the country.

Secondly, since the character of any country was judged by the treatment of its minorities, Bangladesh had a duty and responsibility to protect its rapidly diminishing Hindu population, who had stayed loyal despite two partitions of the mother country. All minorities in Bangladesh, they said, had a right to live securely.
The army-backed caretaker government also sought to push the relationship with
New Delhi to a totally new trajectory, pointing out that a political fillip was needed. The Kolkata-Dhaka railway line could lead the way, while trade, Manmohan Singh’s chosen diplomatic manifesto, could make way for the flag.

We are a unique army, the Bangladesh generals said to New Delhi again and again, we are not like Myanmar or Thailand. We are here to stay. We are not here to ape the politicians. We will clean up the system, however long it takes.

If the army can sweep such a strong broom at home, goes the argument, it can surely help weed out anti-Indian criminal and terrorist elements that have made
Bangladesh their home.

Perhaps the Indian pragmatism takes heart from India‘s newfound partnership with the US. New Delhi feels that it ought to take responsibility at least for its own neighbourhood.

The Indian intervention in favour of the people’s revolution last April in Nepal is a case in point. In Myanmar, New Delhi swings in favour of the military junta because Naypitaw promises help with insurgency and terrorism.

In Bangladesh, India believes, if the army can now broker a domestic, political peace as well as usher in a new bilateral partnership, then so be it.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2007 12:02 am

    Experience tells us that most military dictatorships remain in power once they are in power. While most military institutions in South Asian countries are relatively clean compared to the political establishments they back, armies can avoid patronage, nepotism and all other forms of corruption precisely because they are not intimately involved with the public on a daily basis and more importantly, they are beholden to a more important task: national security. Entrusting them with civil affairs may produce quick, desirable results, but also risk tainting the last bastions of incorruptibilty.
    India would do well to monitor closely the political situation as it unfolds in Bangladesh and encourage the military along the path to a cleaner democracy at every opportunity. India’s off-hands experience for now stems in part from its bitter experience in meddling in Sri Lanka’s politics.

  2. April 2, 2007 3:56 pm

    B’desh democracy fails, army says

    Hope this is not permanent and I desperately wish for no truth in what I suspected.

  3. Pranab permalink
    April 23, 2008 7:07 am

    India has defintely had much to do with the current CTG in Bangladesh. In fact, many call it a Bhadralok Revolution in Bangladesh, akin to what happened in West Bengal during the so-called Bengal Renaissance. A lot of the terminology being used, the supposed trial of War Criminals, and the role of the liberal Media Daily Star and Prothom Alo, are all building blocks to this Revolution. In fact, among those of us who follow cross border Bengali politics and Indian politics, it is surmised that Mr. Mahfuz Anam of Daily Star is on the payroll of the IndianIntelligence. In addition, he has good relations with many conservative Tories in the UK. In a recent event organized by one of his tory friends, Mahfuz Anam apparently said, “I never thought that after 1971, that “thing” called Islam would take root in Bangaldesh”. Interesting, huh?

  4. fug permalink
    April 23, 2008 2:37 pm

    Mr Mukherjee, how nice to see you here…

    Asians who wear airs and pretentions with pride often have links to tories, from a sheer slimy social mobility point of view. some are with the tories becaus they are and dont particularly mind their overt racisms. mahfooooooj enom is of the former, assuming that your sources are legit.

    71 as an emblematic event for the eternal denigration of the islamic spirit….

    a well worn theme.

  5. Nizam M. Selim permalink
    April 25, 2008 3:24 am

    The likes of Mahfuz Anam and Matiur Rahman are a crop bred from post-1972, a self-righteous lot adorning the conceited air of the gentry a-la Toryists and looking down upon the masses with condescendation.

    For them Islam is a stumbling block standing in the way of their liberal and permissive lifestyle,- whatever that might be. Post-1972 has therefore seen an onslaught on the Muslims and their Islamic values and value institutions. Erosion of the social fabric of Bangladesh arguably stems from this tide of overt and covert castigation of the Muslims and Islam.

    The syndromes of “Dysfunctional” and “Failed” State have adroitly been adumbrated by this coterie or quarter who would like to see a free-for-all Bangladesh in gay abandon. As a sequel, Rule of Law has also gone down the drain.

    Indeed, there have been no positives from the stances and pretensions of the “Shushil Samaj” that Mahfuz Anam and Matiur Rahman epitomize in Bangladesh.

    The Army/CTG have understandably been taken up in the bandwagon of this “Shushil Samaj” since 1/11. Look at what has happened to Bangladesh on the prescriptions of this “Shushil Samaj” ruling by proxy by the support and sustenance of the Army/CTG, and albeit tangibly governed by the World Bank Group.

    Bangladesh is in a mess, as is Islam and the Muslims in this country,- constituting some 80% of the population! Lessons learnt over the last 36 years may yet escape the comprehension and wisdom of the motivated, as they are prone not to take lessons from History.

    Like the Guillotines of the mob during the French Revolution, Army/CTG/”Shushil Samaj” are swiping the sword of Democles at anybody and everybody! Hopefully as had happened in France after the haydays of the Revolution and the storming of the Bastille, the halcyon days of these sword-swinging demons shall also come to an end. When? God alone knows. But sooner, rather than later. Otherwise Bangladesh shall probably slide into an abyss. Keep my fingers crossed, and hope for the best.

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