Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Analysis: India faces new security threats
By KUSHAL JEENAUPI Correspondent
An Indian parliamentary standing committee has asked the government to monitor the country's eastern border, saying large-scale illegal migration from Bangladesh and a flourishing counterfeit currency racket are threatening the country's security and economy.
The parliamentary standing committee attached to the Interior Ministry in its report -- presented to both houses of Parliament recently -- said a large presence of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants posed a grave threat to India's security and economy as many border-crossers come with sophisticated weapons and ammunition to fuel terrorism. They also carry a large amount of fake Indian currency to weaken the economy, the report said.
"The government should view the illegal immigration by Bangladeshis seriously," said Sushma Swaraj, a senior lawmaker from the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and chair of the committee that looks into the functioning of the Interior Ministry. "We at the standing committee have recommended that movements of human beings along the border with Bangladesh must be strictly monitored."
In response, the Interior Ministry said it is aware of illegal immigration into India from Bangladesh and has taken measures such as border fencing and floodlighting the area to stem the movement.
With border infiltrations by militants from Pakistan waning, many say India now faces a threat from its porous -- partially fenced -- eastern border with Bangladesh. Intelligence inputs have suggested many illegal migrants have been able to secure ration cards, driver's licenses, voter-identity cards and other government documents.
The Interior Ministry said it has also asked the governments of bordering states to take action to detect foreign nationals in the country illegally -- but this is often hard as Bangladeshis resemble Indians and they usually live in Muslim-dominated parts of India. Bangladesh is a predominantly Muslim country.
India has on various occasions taken up the issue of illegal immigration with Bangladesh, but Dhaka denies a problem exists, India says.
"Illegal migration is a genuine problem, but Bangladesh refuses to recognize it. How this could be solved when Bangladesh does not want to accept it," said Pranab Mukherjee, India's foreign minister.
The presence of fake Indian currency notes in states along the eastern border has alarmed Indian intelligence and security agencies. The gravity of the situation came to light recently when a minister in Tripura state had to resign for alleged links with Bangladesh-based militant outfit Harkat-ul-Jehadi-Islami. India says the group was behind bomb blasts at various places in the country.
The minister, Shahid Chowdhury, told security agencies he supplied at least 20 million counterfeit Indian notes to the markets. Following his confession, security forces swung into action and confiscated a huge sum of fake notes. They refused to divulge the quantity, however.
The government of Assam state, which has among the highest number of illegal Bangladeshi migrants, has set up as many as 32 foreign tribunals for the detention of illegal migrants and foreigners, the parliamentary standing committee said in its report.
The Interior Ministry said the involvement of terrorist groups based in Bangladesh in some incidents of terrorist violence had come to notice, but there were no reports of recruitment of Bangladeshi nationals in India for these purposes. The government has taken various measures to prevent terrorist incidents, the ministry said.
According to a government estimate, India has 20 million illegal Bangladeshi migrants in various states and the capital, New Delhi. The figures provided by Assam's Interior Department said every day around 6,000 migrants from Bangladesh illegally cross the border and enter the state from where they move to other parts of India. Many of these migrants have links to Islamic militant outfits, state police said.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
by SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
The romance of the railroad generated confidence long before strategic writers recognized connectivity as an essential element of bonding. One of history’s best-known examples is British Columbia’s refusal to join the Canadian federation until the Canadian Pacific Railway was built. But romantics on either side of the Bengal-Bangladesh border would be well advised not to be carried away by the heavy symbolism of the flower-bedecked Maitree Express running for the first time in 43 years on Poila Baisakh.
True, India has no major political problem with Bangladesh, like the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan or the border with China. But the state of mind that generates mistrust is the most dangerous of all dividing factors for it can breed monsters out of trivialities. So, when Pranab Mukherjee told the Bangladeshi daily, Prothom Alo, that “the depth of political relations between our two countries is now as deep as it should be”, it sounded like a realistic admission that, train or no train, there never can be a return to the euphoric high noon that animated the two Bengals in 1971. The external affairs minister’s compliment to the interim government for cooperating with India is even more revealing. Despite its achievements, this government is not politically accountable. It is an executive regime that can take sensible decisions regardless of grassroots reactions but enjoys no popular mandate. Precisely for that reason, it may also run counter to the popular mood. An election may not uphold its values and virtues.
A small detail like the Maitree Express’s change of engine and crew at the border, however cordially carried out, highlights the absence of trust between the two countries. Born on the rail track, as it were, and bred in railway saloons and station retiring rooms, I have a nose for these minutiae. For all the bickering between Singapore and Malaysia, the train from Kuala Lumpur drives right into Singapore’s heart. The quaint little station at Tanjong Pagar, the tracks, rolling stock and staff all belong to Malayan Railways. The same crew and engine serve the entire route. There would be no train if Singapore demanded proprietary rights. In the early Fifties, the vivid green Parbatipur Express, with its huge white Arabic lettering, swept past our bungalow in Kanchrapara as a mobile manifestation of Pakistan’s Islamic personality. I doubt if the engines and crew were Indian.
As a reporter covering Ireland’s Troubles in the late Sixties, I often rode the train from Belfast in British-held, fiercely Protestant Northern Ireland to Dublin, mellow capital of the predominantly Catholic Irish republic, and back. No one was aware of when and where we crossed the border. Yet, those were the days when the Provos, the murderous Provisional Irish Republican Army, and the Royal Ulster Constabulary each defended its pitch with the fervour they devoted to god and Caesar. The railway could be ignored because the substance — Protestant supremacy, Catholic emancipation — mattered more than the symbol.
For Bengalis, the symbol always takes precedence over the substance. The tearful passengers on the train were refugees of the spirit, dwelling nostalgically on the innumerable plates of chicken curry they had devoured (or had heard of being devoured) on the pre-partition Goalundo-Narayanganj steamer. Their objective is not sound political and economic relations between the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of Bangladesh with an 89.7 per cent Muslim population whose ‘state religion’ is Islam. They yearn for the consolation of a mythic East Bengal where hilsa was sold as a whole fish, not chopped into pieces, and a goat slaughtered for meat.
I say ‘mythic’ because there are far more East Bengal zamindars in Calcutta today than ever existed in real life east of the Padma. But real or imagined, that lifestyle presumed a communal hierarchy — Muzaffar Ahmed of the National Awami Party called it the “two-hookah” culture — that played no small part in East Bengal’s choice in 1947. Beneath the bravado, Bangladesh lives in neurotic fear of attempts to undo that decision. So does Pakistan. When a sentimental Bengali gushed during the Calcutta visit of Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, Pakistan’s suave former high commissioner, that the British mischief of partition should be undone so that India could be united, he saw it as further evidence of Hindus still not being reconciled to Pakistan.
There are some similarities with Russia’s complex-ridden relations with Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Georgia. They have little in common with each other but are strongly united in their suspicion of Russia, of which they were once a part. Azerbai- jan’s breakaway region of Abkhazia, the secessionist Tskhinvali area of Georgia and Ukraine’s flirtation with the North American Treaty Alliance would not have looked like serious casus belli if it had not been for underlying misgivings. But there is a difference with the subcontinent. Russia aggressively cuts off gas pipelines, threatens Nato missiles and makes open overtures to breakaway regions. India is placatory, overlooking even an estimated 12 to 18 million illegal migrants in our midst.
That does not appease a people who may now have revised their liberation history, but who are haunted by the fear that what was done in 1971 can be done again. That apprehension surfaced within months of Mujibur Rahman’s return to Dhaka, to the disgust of India’s first high commissioner, Subimal Dutt, who was a member of the Indian Civil Service but also from a modest Chittagong family, and culminating in Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s visit in August 1974, months before the night of Dhaka’s long knives. Visible linkages like trains do have a place in diplomacy, but mainly to impress and involve the populace in official goodwill initiatives. That counts for little among an effervescent people whose quick changes of mood are woven into my childhood memories of Direct Action Day when it was “Allah ho akbar!” one moment and “Hindu-Mussalman bhai-bhai!” the next.
Even if the next set of elected Bangladeshi politicians retains the present regime’s efforts, there is no guarantee that political exigencies will not tempt them again to change course.
Paradoxically, the Bangladesh-India relationship is part of the equation between the two Bengals that is subject to all the emotional vicissitudes captured by Muzaffar Ahmed’s two-hookah analogy compounded by the village-city complex. Dhaka may long ago have far outstripped Calcutta, as rich Bangladeshis never tire of reiterating, but objective fact does not exorcise subjective reaction rooted in the past. If Bangladeshis had not been so mercurial, Inder Kumar Gujral would not have warned, when he was in office, against buying Titash gas direct even from Hasina Wajed’s government, suggesting that only a multinational middleman could absorb shocks. New Delhi’s insistence even now on protecting the train and Mukherjee’s “as deep as it should be” are reminders of strictly limited expectations.
The emotional Bengali public is another matter. Large sections of it imagined in 1971 that Epar Bangla Opar Bangla were about to unite. Even if that hope was belied, they expected free travel without the fuss and bother of passports and visas. That, too, was just wishful thinking, as any Indian who had suffered the indignity of the foreigners’ registration office in Dhaka’s Lal Bagh should know. Bangladeshi uniforms have replaced Pakistani uniforms, but the men inside are still the same.
Some caveats must be entered. There has always existed in Bangladesh a substantial, reasonably liberal constituency that harbours only friendly feelings for India. Greater interaction, courtesy Maitree Express and other follow-up forms of communication, may strengthen this lobby and help to dissolve Bangladeshi reserve. On the other hand, too many people from Calcutta, especially non-Bengali traders, may again arouse economic fears. Also, the understandable and unavoidable ambivalence of Bangladeshi Hindus, about 9 per cent of the population, is a permanent irritant. The Maitree Express is an attractive idea, but no one should be surprised if it turns out to be a train to nowhere.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
A five-member CID team, headed by DSP Priya Lal Majumder, would also interact with West Bengal CID, which provided the the information about Mia and seek information about the present status of investigation in the neighbouring state.
The CID would also investigate how the Bangladeshi National, who is alleged to be a member of the Harkat-ul-jihadi-islami, could live in India without a valid passport and obtain a permanent resident certificate in Tripura, the sources said.
A team of CID personnel of West Bengal and Tripura police arrested Mia from a house at Ramnagar area here on March 28. He was flown to Kolkata the next day on transit remand.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
DIPHU (Assam): At least 40 people were wounded, 18 of them seriously, when a cycle bomb ripped through a market in Howraghat town in central Assam's hill district of Karbi Anglong on Thursday.
The Karbi Longri National Liberation Front (KLNLF) detonated the bomb at 12.45 pm in the busy Howraghat vegetable market on Netaji Subhash Road.
Eighteen seriously injured persons had been referred to Nagaon civil Hospital in neighbouring Nagaon district. Others were discharged after first aid.
The police had received intelligence inputs that the KLNLF had plans to launch a series of explosions in the district at the behest of the ULFA with which it has close links, the sources said.
Two KLNLF militants were arrested by security forces on Tuesday. Jiten Hansie was nabbed from Manja area with a
Chinese grenade while the other, Kangpura Rongpi alias Rang Rongpi, from Diphu.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
India gave refuge with honour to all those people who were persecuted in their own country; be it Jews, Parsis or Tibetans. It has been an ageold tradition to treat them well. Many of them were given land and other liberal relief by Indian kings.
Perhaps, Taslima is the only exception. She was first hounded out by the West Bengal Government and then by the Centre. Her case is similar to that of Salman Rushdie's. Rushdie wrote Satanic Verses wherein he criticised Prophet Mohammed. Ayatullah Khomeini, Islamist ruler of Iran, issued a fatwa against Rushdie for his "blasphemous writings".
Rushdie is a British citizen who has all freedom and rights, including freedom of expression and writing. Khomeini decreed that anyone who killed Rushdie would be rewarded bigtime.
According to his version of Islam he had the right to punish citizens of any country. For him, the sovereignty of Britain did not mean anything, on ground that all of Earth belongs to Allah.
Sovereignty does not stand anywhere against the sovereign rights of Allah and, therefore, Khomeini had the right to exterminate citizens of other countries.
Taslima wrote a novel depicting the shameful atrocities on Hindu minorities in Bangladesh in an aptly titled novel Lajja. There is no concept of gender justice in Islam. She wrote on feminists too. Top Islamic clergy charged her with blasphemy and there was every danger of her being persecuted. She took shelter in Kolkata, known for its cultural homogeneity. She took refuge in European countries for some years but the alien atmosphere there compelled her to return to Kolkata.
This time, in November 2007, she had to face mob fury in a State ruled by Marxists, the most vocal champions of secularism.
Ironically, the mob was managed and led by yet another champion of secularism, the Congress. The CPM bundled her out to Delhi via Rajasthan. In Delhi, she could have lived under ordinary security peacefully continuing with her writing. But the Centre kept her in an IB House where she was not allowed to talk to anybody. "It was a virtual jail," she said. Officials of the Foreign Ministry talked to her periodically in order to persuade her to go to some European country. She wanted to return to Kolkata but Marxists refused her request.
She succumbed to the pressure and took a plane to London. She told journalists that the Manmohan Government was the worst type of fundamentalist.
Nasreen doesn't know the Indian definition of secularism. Here, it means exotic romance with Muslims, particularly the fundamentalists, and offending the majority routinely. It means meek and tolerant behaviour from Hindus and empowering fundamentalists with veto.
Taslima could not understand the invertedness of Indian secularism. It is like a pyramid. All the burden has to be borne by the lower portion and the top portion enjoys the pleasure of height.
People in general and top intellectuals, particularly the Left, have openly condemned the behaviour and decisions of West Bengal and the Centre, hounding Taslima out of the country.
The Dalai Lama is given periodic instructions to not speak or do anything which may harm Sino-Indian ties. Taslima, too, was stopped from writing and giving any statements.
These are against basic tenets of rights of refugees as per the UN charter. Most countries practice it. But in India, due to growing Muslim vote politics, it has been distorted. The votes are of paramount importance; ethics, code of conduct and human rights of refugees do not count, if weighed against votes.
During British rule, VD Sarvarkar was fighting for the freedom of the country but when, in London, he was given refugee status, he had all human rights.
Sun Yet-Sen of China, too, was a refugee and had full freedom in the host country. Lala Hardyal, a freedom fighter, was given refuge by the US. It was in the US that he wrote some of his best books.
The late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, too, lived as refugees. Khomeini was a refugee in France during the Shah's rule in Iran.
No country humiliates even political refugees barring, probably, India. The way India treated Taslima and is now treating the Dalai Lama is shameful and against its glorious traditions.
One can imagine the fear in which Taslima lived. Many human rights activists spring up whenever a case of a terrorist comes to the fore. Where are they now? They have not shed a single tear.
The entire nation is unconcerned, watching TV. Political statements as per party lines do appear but they do not galvanise people in the manner required. Who can dare act against the aforesaid veto?
Monday, April 7, 2008
According to Lt. Gen. K.S. Jamwal, general officer commanding-in-chief, Eastern Command, DGFI’s activities in India are on the rise, with support from terror outfits in the North-East (Of India).
“Top leaders of Ulfa and other North-East terror groups are hiding in Bangladesh with DGFI’s support. As payback, they are helping DGFI build a network here.” Lt. Gen. Jamwal said.
He was speaking at an investiture ceremony in Binnaguri, where 32 army personnel were awarded Sena Medals, three of them posthumously.
DGFI is trying to turn its plan of establishing a sovereign Islamic state in the North-East into reality. The agency is receiving support from ISI. As part of its plan, there is a sustained effort to push in Assamese speaking Bangladeshis into the North-East. Outfits like Ulfa have been convinced to discriminate simply on the basis of language and not nationality.
According to reports from central intelligence agencies, the aim of ISI and DGFI is to create an independent Islamistan, comprising Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and the districts of Malda, Murshidabad, South Dinajpur, North Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar in West Bengal.
The Times of India, Kolkata
Saturday, January-19, 2008
Reporter: Pinak Priya Bhattacharya
Thursday, April 3, 2008
In these circumstances one cannot overestimate the importance of the agreement on the 'Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project' finalised during the visit of Myanmar's Vice-President Gen Maung Aye. This project, with an estimated investment of $ 135 million, will end the landlocked nature of our North-Eastern States, by connecting Mobu in Mizoram to the Bay of Bengal port of Sittwe in Myanmar, located barely 539 km from Kolkata. While Myanmar has cooperated with us in mounting military operations against Indian insurgent groups being infiltrated from Bangladesh, this project will secure its co-operation in dealing with what amounts to a virtual blockade of our North-Eastern States by Bangladesh. By gaining access to Sittwe port, India has also addressed its longstanding concerns about Chinese pressure on Myanmar to make this port available for its 'strategic corridor' along the Irrawady to the Bay of Bengal. This project has been handled more imaginatively than our unsuccessful and indeed amateur efforts to secure Myanmar gas from offshore fields in which GAIL and ONGC have equity stakes.
Gen Maung Aye has come at a time when the emerging contours of Myanmar's future political evolution appear to be taking shape. Having signed "standstill agreements" with virtually all ethnic armed groups, Myanmar's military rulers have ensured that apart from the Kachins operating on the Thai-Myanmar border, there is an end to ethnic insurgencies in the country. In addition, the military Government has announced that a Constitution finalised after 15 years of discussions by a National Convention (in which supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy initially participated) will be put for endorsement to a referendum, to be held next month. Unlike Myanmar's past Constitutions of 1947 and 1974, the new Constitution envisages, for the first time, a measure of regional autonomy, with provisions for elected Regional Councils. The May 2008 referendum is to be followed by a general election in 2010. Whether the ruling dispensation sticks to this schedule remains to be seen, as there are reports about differences within the ruling elite about this roadmap for constitutional change.
Does this mean that we are going to see full-fledged parliamentary democracy as we understand it soon in Myanmar? The Constitution envisages a dominant role for the 'Tatmadaw' (armed forces) "to be able to participate in the national political leadership role of the state". This is reflected in the powers the armed forces have been given to run their own affairs, including the budget, and in the extensive powers of the President, who will undoubtedly be drawn from the armed forces. Moreover, 25 per cent of all seats in the Union Parliament and Regional Assemblies have been allocated to armed forces personnel. Thus, Myanmar's transition to full-fledged parliamentary democracy is set to follow the path adopted over the past four decades by its two ASEAN neighbours - Indonesia and Thailand. It remains to be seen how Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD are accommodated in - or reconcile themselves to - this framework, where they will face stiff opposition from the Army backed Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA). As things stand, Western pressures are unlikely to be able to deter the ruling dispensation from following this path, though one will have to see how far urgings by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari and friendly neighbours like India can persuade the regime to make the process of political evolution more inclusive.
Apart from its bilateral dealings with Myanmar, New Delhi will have to play a more activist role in giving meaningful content to its engagement with South-East Asia through the Bay of Bengal Regional Grouping, BIMSTEC, which brings together Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, with ASEAN members Myanmar and Thailand. Elimination of trade and investment barriers along our North-Eastern frontiers has to be an essential element in this effort and BIMSTEC is a crucial forum to achieve this. Procedures need to be simplified and existing trade barriers removed for border trade with Myanmar. Our private sector also should seek to invest in agricultural production in Myanmar. This will enable easy imports of rice and agricultural products for our North-East from Myanmar, rather than providing supplies, especially for the public distribution system, from distant parts of India. Moreover, we have thus far ensured, in cooperation with the Myanmar Government, that there is no large scale Chinese presence close to our border. This could well change if New Delhi dithers as it did on utilisation of Myanmar gas, in implementing the proposal for developing the hydro-electric potential of the Chindwin River, close to Myanmar's border with Manipur. Energy hungry China could well move in to get the project implemented to meet its needs if we continue to procrastinate.
New Delhi can derive some satisfaction that successive Governments in India have not allowed political populism to prevail over considerations of national security in dealing with Myanmar over the last 15 years. Strangely, our Communist parties purport to be champions of democracy in Myanmar, in contrast to their "hear no evil and see no evil" approach to Chinese repression in Tibet. China will, after all, be the principal beneficiary of strained India-Myanmar relations. But, while moving ahead with improving relations with Myanmar, India should urge the Myanmar Government to do more for people of Indian origin in that country, especially for the estimated half-a-million people of Indian origin who are still stateless. We do unfortunately bend backwards to help affluent Indians abroad, but pay less than adequate attention to the travails of the poor and the dispossessed.