Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bangladesh: walking on a knife-edge?


A RECENT news report that India is preparing to send a commando-style force in Dhaka to guard its diplomatic mission and to protect VIPs is of great concern to many Bangladeshis. Unfortunately, the news has not been covered by most print and electronic media in Bangladesh. Some media outlets appear to be interested more in the daily political bickering, squabbles, gossips and scandals inside Bangladesh than in the ever-increasing foreign control of different state organs. Attempts by foreign powers, especially the US and Indian imperialists, to reduce the country as a vassal state by all possible means, legal or illegal, covert or overt, are going on unabated.

In case some people suggest that the news report on sending Indian troops to Dhaka is another piece anti-India propaganda by vested quarters, it has to be mentioned that the news was published by the New Delhi-based media outlet Press Trust of India as well as the Kolkata-based Ananda Bazar Potrika. So any criticism about its authenticity would be untenable.

For the sake of objectivity, let us quote the PTI news (New Delhi, December 17). Captioned ‘Indian mission in Dhaka to be guarded by SSB troops’, it reads: ‘Facing threat from terror group Laskhar-e-Taiba, India will soon deploy its paramilitary troops to guard its mission in Dhaka. ‘At least 50 specially-trained troops of Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), a force that guards Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan borders, will soon be sent to guard the High Commission after getting a clearance from External Affairs Ministry. ‘The personnel have been trained in VIP, mobile and static security duties and would also render technical support responsibilities, official sources said. ‘The troops will be sent soon and an assessment report is being prepared for their deployment, they said, adding SSB personnel will be in addition to the security men provided by Bangladesh government.’ It is clear from the report that the Indian government has already decided to send at least 50 specially trained troops of an elite force to Dhaka and this would be done after getting a clearance from India’s External Affairs Ministry.

And the purpose of this deployment is said to be providing security to the Indian High Commission in Dhaka and other dignitaries from possible attacks by the terror group Laskhar-e-Taiba. The Indian government would probably justify this deployment on the excuse that Laskhar-e-Taiba is a serious threat to its security because this group is allegedly using Bangladesh soil to carry out terrorist activities in India. Three alleged members of this group were arrested last month by Bangladesh security forces, who then also said that they got the intelligence and information about these persons from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was also claimed that this group was taking preparations for attacks on the Indian, British and US embassies in Dhaka.

We do not know how far the story about these alleged terrorists’ plan to attack the three most important embassies in Dhaka is true. But even if it were true, it is the duty of Bangladesh security forces to protect all the foreign embassies including the Indian embassy from any potential terrorist attacks, and not of the Indian SSB commando force. The arrest of the three alleged LeT members in Bangladesh could also be another piece of R&AW-instigated disinformation campaign against Bangladesh and its security forces to portray the country as a ‘failed state’ and its government and security forces as totally ineffective to deal with ‘terrorism’. Such type of R&AW-inspired propaganda against Bangladesh and Muslims is nothing new.

The Indian ruling class and its various establishments suffer from ‘big power’ chauvinism and they have never treated the less powerful neighbours with due respect and dignity. They have always treated Bangladesh with disdain and extracted only one-sided benefits without giving anything in return. Of course, they have very successfully cultivated some important elements within the Bangladesh political establishment and planted agents in different sectors to advance their cause.

The position of the Bangladesh government on the issue is unclear and to a large extent it remains very mysterious. We do not know for sure if the government has already agreed to India’s proposal for stationing the ‘especially trained’ and armed SSB elite forces in Dhaka. If such proposal has not yet been accepted, how is that the Indian government is preparing for sending its forces to Dhaka? On the contrary, if Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already agreed to the proposal (nobody else in the government would have the authority or guts to do so), does she really want to hand over the security of the Bangladesh state to the ‘big brother’? Does she accept that Bangladesh security forces are incapable of providing security to foreign diplomatic missions and other VIPs?

Does she understand the consequences of Indian forces moving with arms on Dhaka streets? Besides, there are dozens of other related questions that must be answered by the Awami League government before it becomes a pawn in the hands of their so-called friends. If the friendship is not a one-way but two-way traffic, would India allow armed Bangladeshi elite forces such as SSF to be deployed in New Delhi or Kolkata to provide security to Bangladeshi missions there? In times of a serious crisis, it is not inconceivable that these missions would become natural targets for attacks by various anti-Bangladeshi outfits such as R&AW-inspired Banga Sena or any terrorist (Muslim or Hindu) groups based in India.

If the Indian mission or any of India’s numerous business houses, cultural centre, etc, or any of its thousands of citizens living in Dhaka or elsewhere in Bangladesh come under any kind of attacks by a terrorist group like Laskhar-e-Taiba, Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh or Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (the chances of such acts would only increase after the Indian forces are deployed in Dhaka), what would the government do? Would it allow more Indian troops inside Bangladesh to protect ‘India’s vital national and strategic interests’ and/or ‘help’ the AL government in its ‘fight against terrorism’?

What happens if India itself or any other external actor ‘stages’ some dramatic incidents of sabotage, kidnapping and hostage taking or carries out some high-profile murders, and Bangladesh security forces are not able to make a quick response? Would it be difficult for India’s various agencies to create or take advantage of any serious ‘terrorist’ incidents to ‘volunteer’ more troops inside Bangladesh? Those who want to know do know that imperialist and hegemonic powers do not bother for friendship with a particular group or one political party in economically and militarily weaker states; they only want to advance their own economic and strategic interests by any means – sweet talk, a little crumbs, coercive diplomacy, blackmail, threats, covert actions, creation of internal dissension and strife, and, finally, if the above less visible methods fail, by armed aggression and brutal occupation.

The excuse for such drastic action by the imperial powers is often: ‘restoring civil order’, ‘maintaining peace’, ‘creating stability’, ‘prevention of serious abuses of human rights’, ‘protecting minority rights’, ‘advancing the cause of freedom and democracy’, etc. There are numerous examples in old as well as recent history where the imperial powers did not hesitate to dispense with their one-time ‘friends’ by conspiratorial and/or violent methods. Even in Bangladesh, we have witnessed several instances of ‘regime’ change with not-so-hidden instigation and participation by powerful foreign actors.

After the recent double game played by the AL government against the ULFA leaders who are fighting for their own independence from Indian control, this and other freedom seeking ethnic armed groups in Assam and other regions northeast of Bangladesh would become hostile to Bangladesh and Muslims. If the government proceeds further along the Indian trap of becoming an active partner (or collaborator) in their counterinsurgency campaigns in the northeast, the anti-Indian freedom fighters there may extend their battlefield into Bangladesh territories. India’s war against ULFA and other freedom fighters in the northeast is not ‘our war’ and we must not get involved in that.

In the past, we have observed all governments remain more or less silent on any difficult issue related to foreign countries, especially the US and India. But the silence of the present government on security threats posed by the two imperialist powers is alarming, to say the least. While many ministers miss no opportunity to argue for public acceptance or compliance of India’s multifaceted demands and actions that many consider contrary to Bangladesh’s national interests, they seem to be totally indifferent or oblivious to their foremost duties and obligations, that is, to stand firm against all external and internal adversaries to safeguard the country’s hard-won independence, sovereignty and vital national interests.

The government and people of Bangladesh must not allow the deployment of Indian SSB commando forces on their soil, whatever may be the excuse. Such an arrangement would invariably generate more suspicion, hostility and animosity against both the AL and Indian governments. It would open the country to further Indian and US imperialist intervention on this or that excuse. The people of Bangladesh wish to live in peace with their Indian neighbours, but they must never accept the presence of Indian troops on their soil.

Bangladesh security forces have suffered some serious setbacks during the last three years due first to the misguided ‘Gang of Four Generals’ and then to the mishandling of the armed and security forces by the AL government, especially after the tragic Peelkhana massacre. But we are confident that the armed and security forces would soon recover from the setbacks forced upon them by the nation’s local and foreign enemies and they would definitely stand side by side with the patriotic people to safeguard the nation’s sovereignty and security.

Dr KMA Malik is a former professor of chemistry, Dhaka University, and a lecturer in chemistry, Cardiff University