Maj Gen (Retd.) P K Chakravorty
Pakistan Army surrendered to the Indian Army in Dacca on 16 December 1971. It was a victory which resulted in the creation of a new nation Bangladesh which found its rightful place in the committee of nations. India withdrew its Army and returned 93,000 Pakistani Prisoners of War back to Pakistan in accordance with the Simla agreement. The new nation was shaping up when a group of Army officers on 15 August 1975 assassinated the President Sheikh Mujibur Rehaman and his entire family. The only survivors were two daughters of the President, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana who were in Germany. The assassination caused consternation and the Bangladesh Army called the shots. Sheikh Hasina returned to Bangladesh after six years of exile on 17 may 1981. In the mean time Bangladesh witnessed the rise of another lady Begum Khaleda Zia, the widow of late General Zia ur Rehaman who was assassinated in 1981. She heads the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). She ensured the fall of Ershad in 1990 and was elected Prime Minister for three sessions. Sheikh Hasina was first elected Prime Minister in 1996 and thereafter in 2008. Currently she is the Prime Minister making all out efforts to focus on economic development and improved international relations. Her current term ends on 29 December 2013 and elections could be held possibly in January 2014. Her main opponent would be Begum Khaleda Zia of BNP which currently has 30 seats in the Bangladesh Parliament Vis a Vis 230 of the Awami league.
Bangladesh is economically becoming stronger with each passing day. The GDP of Bangladesh as per Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) is US $ 306 billion. Despite global economic recession the country has been maintaining a steady growth rate for the last decade at about 6% and this financial year the growth rate is about 6.4%. The country has doubled her revenue collection in the past four years. Further the foreign exchange reserves have risen to $ 12.3 billion as compared to $ 5.78 billion in 2009. The per capita income has risen to $ 848 from $676 four years ago. Currently, Bangladesh produces the best textiles in the world. The biggest achievement is that poverty is down to 31.5% from 40.4% in 2005. Education is being given tremendous importance. Schooling is free in the primary sections but figures of actual attendance vary as a large number of children are not able to attend school due to multiple reasons. Overall there is a gradual stabilisation which is reducing the illegal immigration from Bangladesh into India. Though it is estimated that there are about 10 million illegal immigrants of Bangladesh in India, improvement in socio economic conditions would lead to control over this issue.
The security forces of Bangladesh have stopped interfering with political activities and are contented undertaking military tasks. The Bangladesh Army with seven divisions and a strength of 300,000 would be receiving Russian armoured vehicles, Air defence systems from Russia on account of $1.2 billion deal signed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Jan 2013. The Navy has strength of 22.000 personnel and their primary task is coastal patrolling. They have five frigates, two submarines and numerous small surface ships. The Air Force has a strength of about 22000 and has four fighter squadrons based on F 7 and four helicopter squadrons. Bangladesh is likely to get about eight Mig 29 shortly. The Armed Forces no longer are involved in politics as was observed post 1975 till about 1990. Currently they are very keen on undertaking UN peace keeping operations which fetches them a lot of goodwill and monetarily benefit their personnel. It is reported that the UN has stated that peace keeping operations will be curtailed if the Army interferes in domestic politics. It is pertinent to note that Bangladesh would be commencing two nuclear plants with Russian assistance.
Recently the youth of the country are involved in the Shahbag protests which are being undertaken in the Shahbag portion of Dacca since 05 February 2013. The movement commenced demanding capital punishment for Abdul Quader Mollah and others convicted of crimes prior and during the liberation War in 1971. The International Crimes Tribunal had sentenced him to life imprisonment and this did not satisfy the nation. The current demand is to ban the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami party as its leaders have been convicted of genocide and war crimes. The movement is apolitical and comprises the younger generation who would like the completion of the trial of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehaman along with his family members. The Jamaat-e-Islami has opposed the Shahbag movement and is stated to have killed Ahmed Rajib Hyder a blogger who had been posting anti Islamic posts. The BNP initially supported Jamaat but have now taken a neutral position. There has been a hartal by 23 liberal groups against the Jamaat who have been perpetrating sporadic violence.
Relations with India
India has on her part left no stone unturned to assist Bangladesh. Possibly after about 41 years Bangladesh is responding positively to India’s policies of cooperation. India and Bangladesh have excellent trade relations and exports of Bangladesh to India have crossed $500 million mark and may reach the one billion mark in future. Further to revive traditional community trading that used to exist prior to 1947, Border Haats have been started between the two countries. India’s concerns pertain primarily to Security, border boundaries, water and connectivity.
As regards security India’s main concern was use of Bangladesh by militant groups as a launch pad for executing operations against India. The present Bangladesh Government has extensively cooperated with India on this subject resulting in reducing the insurgency in the North Eastern regions of our country. The two Home Ministers have also signed an Extradition treaty on the subject.
India shares a border of 4096 km with Bangladesh. The Radcliffe line has created enclaves which need to be rationalised. India has 111 enclaves in Bangladesh and Bangladesh has 55 enclaves in India. Further there are Adversely Possessed Lands habitually used for cultivation by people of a community who suddenly found a fence hindering their activities. Both the Governments have come to an understanding and this would lead to signing of an agreement which would need ratification by Parliament. For Bangladesh it would be a simple task, but for India which would need a Constitutional amendment, it would be difficult as the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) has declared it opposes the settlement. It is a matter of time as people in these enclaves are keen to resolve the issue and have faith in both countries. The agreement on the border would also lead to transit rights enabling better connectivity between Bengal and Assam. This would allow people and goods to travel easily between the two countries by rail, road and some places by river.
The two countries share 54 rivers and so far only problems relating to the River Ganga have been resolved by a 30 years agreement on 12 December 1996. Hydro electric dams are being built in Meghalay and Tripura. Further, it is reported that Bangladesh is going to buy 500 mw of electricity from India. Both countries have worked out a draft agreement for Teesta River which was to be signed in September 2012 during the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh has been delayed due to last minute change of stand by West Bengal Chief Minister Ms Mamta Bannerjee. The issues raised by the state are being renegotiated and it is expected that the concern of West Bengal would be suitably addressed.
It is of utmost importance that the land and the Water Agreements are signed between India and the Bangladesh. This will put relations between us on a firm pedestal. Recently our President Shri Pranab Mukherjee visited Bangladesh in March 2013 and the BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia cancelled her meeting with him stating flimsy reasons. It is necessary we make conditions congenial for re election of Awami League in 2014.
Sheikh Hasina Wajed has taken a strong stand against anti India terror activities on its soil. She is slated to visit India in September 2013. The agreements must be signed to facilitate her return to power in 2014.