By Samuel Baid
They say a friend in need is a friend indeed. India and Bangladesh proved this adage in 1971 when the latter became a free country and also subsequently many pinpricks notwithstanding. The six point programme, on which Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Awami Leage fought and won the December 1970 elections in united Pakistan, sought economic emancipation for the people of the East Pakistan who had groaned under the oppressive political and economy domination of West Pakistan since the creation of Pakistan.
India’s very first concern about Bangladesh after its liberation was its economy. The Pakistanis, who flew out of Dhaka before its fall on December 16, 1971, had taken with them gold and cash. Pakistan also refused to give Bangladesh its share in the assets of united Pakistan. Worse, the Pakistani Army in Dhaka was ordered from the military High Command to kill all the political, economic and social thinkers so that Bangladesh was never reconstructed after its liberation. A campaign of character assassination before the physical assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was launched in Pakistan. Astrologers were hired to predict his violent death. If you go back and see Pakistan’s Urdu Press of the early 1970s, you will see the projection of Bangladesh as a destitute starving nation. India’s efforts to help it were mischievously interpreted as its designs to occupy Bangladesh. It has been India’s effort and desire since then to defeat a dooms day predictions against Bangladesh.
India didn’t bother about Pakistani propaganda. Then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent one of India’s top economists Dr. Manmohan Singh to Dhaka to meet Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and work out an economic programme for the newly liberated country. Dr. Singh’s visit to Dhaka in the first week of September as the Prime Minister of India was in continuation of efforts to strengthen economic relations with Bangladesh. On way back Dr. Singh told journalists of his first visit to Dhaka thus “I worked with Nurul Islam, the then Chairman of Bangladesh’s Planning Commission to finalise the economic programme”.
Dr. Singh’s recent visit to Dhaka was a productive one. That an agreement on Teesta was left out did not make this visit less successful. Important factors that contributed to the success include Dhaka’s realization that India has become a global economic power and the toning down of earlier hostile attitude of main opposition party, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) towards India. On the eve of Dr. Singh’s visit to Dhaka, Dr Gowhar Rizvi, who is the foreign relations adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told a Chennai newspaper in an interview that the BNP and its ally, the Jamaat-i-Islami, had considerably toned down their anti-India rhetoric and voiced support for improved relations with India. “Interestingly, the anti-Indian bogey failed to garner votes for the BNP,” he said.
Dr. Singh was also of the same view after meeting BNP leader Khaleda Zia and Jatiyo Party Chief Hussain Mohammad Ershad. He told newsmen that “they are willing to work with us to strengthen bilateral relations”.
It is fortunate that Bangladesh does not suffer from the ideological hang up of Pakistani days. With Pakistan it is impossible for India to talk business because it always throws the spanner of its ideology in the talks. And with ideology are connected all issues with India like Kashmir. Between India and Bangladesh issues are different and which can be rationally resolved. Also, unlike Pakistan, it is not the Bangla Army which runs India policy off stage.
During Dr. Singh’s visit, he and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina presided over the signing of a new land border agreement. Border had been a bone of contention for a long time. This problem was left over by hasty partition in 1947. The India’s enclaves in Bangladesh and Bangladesh’s enclaves in India have been a source of much bitterness between the two countries. That affected about 2 lakh people. With rationalization of the border, the enclaves problem will be resolved. Dr. Singh said the border agreement could also help check the illegal movement of people and goods across the border.
Dr. Singh and Sheikh Hasina also signed a vision statement to tackle all future bilateral problems. India agreed to allow duty free imports of 46 lines of garments from Bangladesh to help reduce its deficit balance of trade vis-à-vis India.
How the present leadership of Bangladesh looks at relations with India was summed up by Dr. Rizvi in his interview to the aforesaid Indian newspaper. He said: “ I think it would not be a great exaggeration to claim that the forging of relations between India and Bangladesh is an exemplar for the region ……. Bangladesh and India have charted a new course and their cooperative approach offers a model for their countries to resolve their problems with their neigbhours India is rapidly emerging as an economic super power and its neighbours can confidently look forward to partaking in its prosperity, trade and technological innovations.”
The world should credit Sheikh Hasina with rescuing her country from becoming the second home of terror after Pakistan. She could see that anti-India sentiments were being promoted in Bangladesh to take the country towards Talibanisation and ultimate destruction of all the ideals for which Bangladesh was liberated at the cost of million of lives of men, women and children. Any perceiving person can see that Pakistan has lapsed into chaos because of its negative India policy. Before Sheikh Hasina returned as the Prime Minister, Bangladesh was following in the footsteps of Pakistan.
Under the Prime Ministership of Khaleda Zia, who ruled with the support of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Bangladesh provided safe haven to ULFA militants and opened insurgent camps. Khaleda Zia’s dependence on the Jamaat and Islamic Oikya Jote allowed Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HUJAI) to prepare the ground for Talibanisation of Bangladesh by creating a political vacuum in the country. The attack on Sheikh Hasina (then the opposition leader) on August 21, 2004 was apparently meant to paralyse the political system. The HUJAI, which had been declared as a terrorist organization by the US, was supposed to be behind the attack on Sheikh Hasina. She escaped the attack but 20 of her party men were killed and 300 injured.
When she came to power, she reversed the Khaleda Zia government’s policy of supporting cross-border terrorism against India. She stopped the help being given on the sly to Indian insurgents braving all the criticism against this step.
Sheikh Hasina is cool headed person. She sees what is in the long term interest of Bangladesh. She can give fiery speeches but does not play on the people’s sentiments. Yet she enjoys massive support of the masses.
Dr. Rizvi said in his interview, anti-India bogey failed to get Khaleda Zia votes. That reminds one of the 1997 elections in Pakistan. Ms. Benazir Bhutto fought it on anti-India plank. She lost badly. On the other h and, Mr. Nawaz Sharif of the Muslim League fought those elections on the promise of normalization of relations with India and won massive vote. Later, Ms. Bhutto was to acknowledge that Mr. Sharif’s victory was due to his positive stand on India.