Category Archives: National Security/Strategic Issues/Foreign Policy

Restoration of Asian Silk Route won’t help Bangladesh

Restoration of Asian Silk Route won’t help Bangladesh

It is a matter of serious concern that a multilateral lending agency, involved in substantial infrastructure development, especially roads and highways, appears to be advocating a certain position regarding the Asian Highway Network, which would not suit the national interests of Bangladesh. According to a report published in New Age on Saturday, a paper of the Asian Development Bank, titled, ‘Restoring the Asian Silk Route: Toward an Integrated Asia’, points out that Bangladesh stands to gain substantially by reopening the ancient and fabled trade route that accounted for a considerable trade volume in the 13th century.

Although the study, practically conducted by a couple of Indians, fails to project the potential volume of trade that might be generated by restoring this old route, it posits that restoring the route would eventually benefit Bangladesh. A critical look at the study shows that restoration of the Silk Route—which existed over 700 years ago and the dynamics of the region where it existed have changed significantly since— promotes and strengthens the Indian position of linking Bangladesh to the Asian Highway Network through India both on the east and the west. While we have no problem with India to gain certain advantages, we are concerned about the disadvantages that Bangladesh would be exposed to in case of restoration of the Silk route.

Substantial economic gains are among the most compelling reasons for increased connectivity. Increased connectivity expedites and facilitates the potentials for increased trade and thereby increased interaction among the peoples of different regions. We have stated a number of times before in these leaders that increased connectivity among the countries of the subcontinent is imperative for an integrated South Asia. But such integration should come on the back of enhanced trade, increased interaction among the peoples and comprehensive mutual benefits from such interaction and cooperation.

The Asian Highway Network provides such an opportunity for not just South Asia but also the emerging countries of South East Asia with their lucrative markets. Bangladesh should by all means join this highway network and there should not be an iota of doubt that it would be beneficial for Bangladesh. But Bangladesh needs to choose the best option for itself to get connected with the network when three alternative routes are there. Two of the three routes are through India on the east, the Silk Route being one and the third is through Myanmar—which has so far been favoured by Bangladesh, and quite rightly so—in the east connecting both Bhutan and Nepal in Bangladesh’s north-west through India. This route has a far greater potential to increase trade volume since these countries are virtually untapped markets for Bangladesh. We believe the only benchmark to decide on a certain route must be on the basis of comparative economic gains, as well as strategic advantages for Bangladesh. The choice of route must be such that it offers Bangladesh substantially better terms of trade through economic advantages and at the same time help preserve its strategic interest. Of the available routes, the one linking the Asian highway through Myanmar on the east ensures both, and therefore Bangladesh should go for that, in case it cannot wrestle out something better.

Govt should now ask India to recall its envoy

Govt should now ask India to recall its envoy

THE foreign minister’s realisation that the Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh, Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, ‘might have stepped out of line’ in his remarks at a seminar in the capital on June 21 may be belated but is welcome nonetheless. Also, her explanation as to why, despite being present at the seminar, she did not respond to Pinak’s comments – ‘I don’t think it is prudent on the part of a foreign minister to respond to comments of a diplomat’ – tends to indicate that she may have finally begun to realise the gravity and prestige of the post that she holds. Disappointingly though, she tried to pass her criticism of the Indian high commissioner as a ‘personal opinion’. What she apparently overlooked is the fact that when a foreign minister makes a comment in public it ceases to be a personal view and becomes the view of the government that s/he represents. It follows then that, when the foreign minister says the Indian high commissioner ‘might have stepped out of line in his remarks that day’, her words encapsulate the sentiment of the entire government. Naturally, then, it is expected that the government will do what the government of a sovereign state would do in such circumstances – it should ask New Delhi to recall Chakravarty immediately.

The Awami League-led government does appear increasingly fractured on the controversial Indian plan to construct a dam on the river Barak at Tipaimukh in Assam, some 200 kilometres upstream of the Bangladesh border. At one end, several members of the cabinet have publicly proclaimed their faith in Delhi’s assurance that the proposed dam would not harm Bangladesh in any away and that there might actually be benefit for Bangladesh to be had from the dam. At the other end, at least two cabinet members voiced, in public, their opposition to the controversial project – one on Wednesday and the other before the AL-led government came to power. Also on Wednesday, at the same function, three parliamentarians of the ruling alliance also demanded that the government should take immediate actions to stop construction of the Tipaimukh dam. Thus far, the prime minister and the foreign minister have taken the middle road in the debate and insisted that the government will make its decision in this regard on the basis of the findings and recommendations of a team of parliamentarians and experts due to visit Tipaimukh soon and in the best interest of the country.

Divergence of views is the signature of democratic governance, and it is indeed refreshing that such an issue of national interest as Tipaimukh is debated in different public forums, with the parliamentarians of the ruling alliance joining in, both in favour and against. However, with regard to the remarks of the Indian high commissioner, there is hardly any space for such divergence, for those were not only disrespectful of the country’s leading water experts but also indicative of the Indian establishment’s inclination to arm-twisting the Bangladesh into submission to its whims and wishes. Hence, the AL administration needs to publicly condemn the remarks and ask its Indian counterpart to immediately recall Chakravarty; failure to do so would only be perceived as its unwillingness or inability to exercise the authority befitting the government of a sovereign state.

Indian HC’s contention challenged by Bangladeshi water expert

Ganges water sharing and Tipaimukh Dam
Indian HC’s contention challenged by Bangladeshi water expert

Firoz Al Mamun

Tauhidul Anwar Khan, a veteran water expert of the country and former executive member of Joint Rivers Commission and DG of Water Resources Planning Organisation, has contested and rebuffed Indian High Commissioner Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty’s contention on Ganges water sharing and construction of Tipaimukh dam as well as derogatory remarks about Bangladeshi water experts.

He was talking to The Bangladesh Today in an exclusive interview on Monday.

1) Question: Is the statement of Indian HC that no international law in the world can stop construction of Tipaimukh dam true?

Answer: My comment is that Pinak himself admitted that there is a UN convention regulating non-navigation and water resources which was adopted in 1997 and this convention to be operational requires ratification by 35 countries has been ratified by only 17 countries with Bangladesh and Indian neither signed nor ratified.

He said “It is true but the issue is that although the treaty has not become yet operational but most of the countries today consider this document as a framework document for sharing and management of international water courses. It has been settled principle that rules in this convention have to be followed by upper-riparian countries.”

Apart from this convention, there are some agreed principles and norms in this world stating that if an upper riparian country would like to undertake a project or make an intervention natural flows or flows of the river, that country intending the intervention, must inform the lower riparian countries and must engage in consultation with lower riparian countries in order to obtain consent of lower riparian countries before undertaking those interventions, he added.

He stated that there is no alternative to this rule. Had it not been followed by the countries there would have been chaos and confusion in the world. Certain norms and rules are followed that nothing can be done which is detrimental to other countries, nothing can be done without permission of other countries and nothing can be done in sole interest of a country affecting the citizens of other countries.

“I think Mr Pinak Ranjan should take note of this,” he opined.

2) Question: Is Indian claim that Bangladesh is getting due share of the Ganges water as per treaty of 1996 as stated by Pinak is authentic?

Answer: Mr Pinak has said that under the 1996 treaty over sharing the Ganges water singed December 12, 1996 Bangladesh has been receiving due share of Ganges water. About this our comment is that treaty became operational since January 1, 1997. In the very first year 1997 Bangladesh did not receive its due share as per the treaty. Then there have been occasions in other years the country did not receive its due share and continuous deprivations took place in 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and even 2009. As per press lease report published by JRC on every 10 day period continuing from January 1 to May 31 mentioning the amount of water that BD received from Ganges at Farakka point and the volume of water the country supposed to receive therefrom as per the schedule II of the 1996 treaty. So in all these press releases it was found that BD has received lesser amount of water and at least in 11 cases out of 15 ten day periods in the current year 2009. These are all on record as stated by JRC press releases.

Pinak may contest India is giving water as per annexure I of 1996 treaty but he has totally forgotten that 1996 treaty says that sharing of water between India and Bangladesh in first 10 day from January 1 to May 31 every year without taking into consideration the indicative schedule referred to in schedule II specifying BD share every 10 days.

Quoting Annexure I he said -in case availability of 70,000 cusecs or less water at Farakka Bangladesh and India will get 50% each, in case 70,000 to 75,000 cusecs Bangladesh will get 35,000 cusecs and India will have balance of flow and in case 75,000 cusecs or more India will get 40,000 cusecs and Bangladesh will get balance of flow.

Drawing an analogy between share of water BD is supposed to get as per Annexure II and that it actually got in 2009, he said (a) January 01 t 10 BD actual share of water is 67, 516 cusecs but it got 56,414 cusecs, (b) from January 11-20 actual share is 57,673 cusecs but it got 50, 654 cusecs, (c) January 21-31 actual share is 50, 154 cusecs but it got 45, 974 cusecs, (d) February 01-10 actual share is 46, 323 cusecs but it got 41, 650 cusecs, (e) February 11-20 actual share is 42,859 cusecs but it got 35,000 cusecs, (f) February 21 -28/29 actual share is 39,106 cusecs but it got 32,429 cusecs, (g) March 01-10 actual share is 35,000 cusecs but it got 30,613 cusecs, (h) March 11-20 actual share is 35,000 cusecs and it got the same, (i) March 21 to 31 actual share is 29, 688 cusecs but it got 21, 114 cusecs, (j) April 01 -10 actual share is 35,000 cusecs and it got the same, (k) April 11-20 actual share is 27,633 cusecs but it got 19,219 cusecs, (l) April 21-30 actual share is 35,000 cusecs and it got the same, (m) May 01-10 actual share is 32,351 cusecs but it got 23,351 cusecs, (n) May 11-20 actual share is 35,000 cusecs and it got the same and (o) May 21-31 actual share is 41,854 cusecs and it got the same. It appears from above statistics that Bangladesh has been deprived of its due share in 11 occasions out of 15 in the current months of 2009 alone. This water sharing amount has been determined studying average availability of water in 40 years from 1949 to 1988 at Farakka. Every effort has to be taken by India as upper-riparian country to protect flow of water to ensure availability of water as indicated in 40 years average but India is not doing so. If the flow is protected, BD will get proper share.

“Pinak’s statement that water level is declining because of climate change is baseless due to the fact climate change resulting in melting ice is rather contributing to rise in the water level and melting of ice at Himayans should augment the flow of Ganges. How can it decrease the flow? Water flow at Farakka is less and less and BD is getting less,” he said.

3) Question: What is your reaction to Indian HC remarks that so-called BD experts are trying to instigate anti-Indian feeling and poisoning the minds of people of Bangladesh against India by bringing undue allegation against India in terms of water sharing and other issues?

Answer: Then the issue of Tipaimukh dam comes. It has got two components -one is dam at Tipaimukh and the other is barrage diverting water meant for irrigation projects in Assam and Tripura. If dam is constructed by modifying flow condition Tipaimukh in turn will affect the flow of Shurma and Kushiara which ultimately joins with Meghna. It will change hydro morphological condition of Shurma, Kushiara and Meghna and it will cause early drainage and drainage congestion of haors at different times of the year affecting fisheries and environment at large. So, BD is reasonably worried about this dam. So, this is why BD is worried about specially for the reason that south west region of Bangladesh is experiencing the detrimental effect of Farakka barrage as it creates serious problems to the life of Bangladeshis and Tipaimukh barrage if it is coupled with dam may bring devastation of life of 3 crore people in the adjoining areas.

Bangladesh-India ties: more downs than ups

Bangladesh-India ties: more downs than ups

By not acknowledging what Farakka has already done to Bangladesh and what the Tipaimukh dam project can do, India is not just treating with utter disdain a neighbour who desires friendship with respect, it has in fact chosen to ignore the dangers to our very existence, writes Shamsher M Chowdhury

NINETEEN seventy-one is what should have been the defining element of the form and content of bilateral relations between these two neighbouring countries in South Asia. It was after all in that year that India joined us in our glorious war of liberation against the occupying Pakistani army that gave us our motherland, Bangladesh, and at the same time served to achieve the otherwise unachievable Indian desire to dismember, and thereby, severely weaken its arch enemy Pakistan. We in Bangladesh were singing songs of joy, India felt like being on top of the world and Pakistan appeared to be in shreds.

It was, however, not long before our intrinsic sense of suspicion took over and we wanted the Indian army to leave our soil, much to the displeasure of the Indian ruling establishment. But then that’s what we are. The history of the population of the deltaic eastern Bengal of having had their destiny decided by outsiders has made us inherently suspicious, fearful and distrusting.

Over the last nearly four decades of our existence as an independent nation state, it is this lack of trust and a sense of suspicion and fear that has come to define the very nature of our relations with our giant neighbour India. Our experience during this same period has in fact served to reinforce these very traits. Global history also shows that in a big neighbour/small neighbour scenario, the onus is inevitably on the bigger neighbour to make the right move to win the confidence of the smaller neighbour, simply because size scares. And Bangladesh can be no exception to this phenomenon.

From the moment of the beginning of our journey as a nation state, we felt a sense of intrusion into our decision making process. This sense was not just one of perception, most of it was in fact real. A senior Indian diplomat once told me personally at a social meeting in New Delhi ‘India wishes to see a pliant state in Bangladesh’!

The first true test came when both countries decided to address the land boundary demarcation, a legacy from the two centuries of colonial rule. The British might have left our subcontinent in 1947 but they certainly left behind a lot of problems for us. The Radcliff award of the land territorial boundaries of India and Pakistan left much to be desired. In some cases even the fundamental principles determining the partitioning of India were not followed. We in independent Bangladesh inherited some of those problems as a successor state. There were Bangladeshi enclaves in India, and vice versa, and land in adverse possession of each other. Attempts were made to resolve this issue early on and an agreement was signed by the prime ministers of Bangladesh and India in 1974. This was thought to have paved the way for a solution. But that was not to be. Bangladesh did not delay in delivering on its part of the deal by ratifying the agreement and handing over ownership of Berubari to India in quick succession. But the Indian obligations have not yet been met on one pretext or the other.

Thus Bangladeshis inhabiting some of our enclaves in India like Angarpatha and Dahagram, for example, were subjected to inhuman sufferings, and in fact continue to suffer to this day. It was not until the early 1990s that the two countries reached an agreement that allowed the inhabitants of these two enclaves to use a corridor to come to Bangladesh if they needed to. But the corridor is open for only twelve hours of the day, during the daytime. This means that at night they cannot come to Bangladesh even in the case of extreme medical or other emergencies. They are also subjected to humiliating checks and controls by Indian security forces along the border. There is hardly any proper schooling or medical facilities within the enclaves. They need unhindered access to Bangladesh for their very survival! The harrowing tales of this people were narrated at a recent seminar in Dhaka. Anybody listening to their heartbreaking plight would have had to be moved.

But does India care? It must. After all, we are talking of genuine human sufferings here.

The construction and subsequent commissioning of the Farakka barrage in Indian West Bengal over the once mighty Ganges River and its debilitating impact on Bangladesh is now known to all, both at home and abroad. India went ahead with this severely damaging project in total disregard and disdain for all protestations of Bangladesh governments and Bangladeshis from all walks of life. The severity of its impact on the economy, ecology and society of Bangladesh left Bangladesh with no other option but to take it to the UN and that too after every effort to resolve it bilaterally had failed in the face of sustained Indian intransigence. It was only with a change of government in India following the elections in 1977 that an agreement was signed for five years that guaranteed an equitable share of water for Bangladesh. But the outcome of the Indian elections in early 1980 changed all that and once again Bangladesh was being deprived of its rightful share of water as a lower riparian country, resulting in alarmingly increasing desertification, vastly reduced navigability and large scale population displacement. It was said in New Delhi at that time that ‘India cannot give the waters of the Ganges to Bangladesh for the sake of good neighbourly relations alone’. In other words, Bangladesh needed to do more to please India. The much talked about Ganges Water Treaty of 1996 was possible because of having an ‘India friendly’ government in Dhaka. It was, in the end, all about politics.

But even that treaty does not guarantee Bangladesh what amount of water it deserves and needs. Besides, the damage already done is irreversible. The immediate and long-term negative effects of Farakka barrage on Bangladesh have all been catalogued. It is there for all to see.

Now comes the proposed Tipaimukh dam project on the Barak river in the Indian state of Manipur and the potential of this causing as much, if not more, damage to the north-eastern regions of Bangladesh. Like in the case of Farakka, India plans to go ahead with the Tipaimukh dam project in total disregard for the rights of Bangladesh as a lower riparian country and in violation of existing international conventions on sharing of water of common rivers. Importantly, it will be violating at least two provisions of the much touted Ganges Water Treaty of 1996, viz. the principle of no harm and the one stating that consultations will have to be held between the two countries before any one undertakes any project on the rivers whose waters are shared by Bangladesh and India. Dr Habib Siddiqui, a Bangladeshi-American writing from Pennsylvania, said recently: ‘The Indian government’s decision to construct the Tipaimukh dam in north-east India is not only arrogant but it is criminal to the core.’ This is the degree of anger emanating from Bangladeshis everywhere. Can India continue to ignore this?

By not acknowledging what Farakka has already done to Bangladesh and what the Tipaimukh dam project can do, India is not just treating with utter disdain a neighbour who desires friendship with respect, it has in fact chosen to ignore the dangers to our very existence.

The construction of barbed wire fencing around Bangladesh and the daily killing of innocent Bangladeshis by Indian border guards certainly does not speak of good neighbourliness. These are in fact acts of outright hostility. It certainly doesn’t help things when the Indian foreign secretary condescendingly declares publicly in Dhaka that he feels ‘good fences make good neighbours’.

It is this deadly combination of disrespect and hostility by India that impedes building of confidence on this side of the border and makes the average Bangladeshi distrustful and fearful of its giant neighbour. In fact, many look at India as a source of threat.

As has been mentioned in the earlier part of this piece, the responsibility of rebuilding this lost confidence lies squarely on India’s giant shoulders. As a first step, India needs to shift away from its policy of regionalising its domestic political problems. The Tamil Nadu-Sri Lanka situation is a case in point. The LTTE, once considered the most fearsome terrorist outfit of all times, derived moral, material and importantly, political support directly from India. New Delhi found such a policy expedient in order to pacify and win support of the volatile political leadership of the state of Tamil Nadu, who openly sympathised with the Sri Lankan Tamils in their brutal campaign for a separate Tamil state in northeast of Sri Lanka. The rest is history. But Sri Lanka today remains a sharply divided society and may continue to be so for a very long time to come.

Perhaps, the same would have been the case in Bangladesh with the way events were turning out in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The Shantibahini found safe refuge and support in the neighbouring Indian state of Tripura. This allowed New Delhi to find favour with the leaders of the state. A peace deal between the two countries, however flawed, saved the situation from turning worse.

Both of the instances cited above were part of New Delhi’s policy of using ‘leverage’ against its smaller neighbours to serve its own domestic, geo-political and strategic interests. It is alarming that protagonists of such a policy more often than not are rewarded. Experience, however, shows that in the end nobody wins.

India now has a strong functional democracy. Her growing political and economic clout in the world is an undeniable reality. As an emerging global player, India today is in a position to rise above narrow parochial outlooks, reach out to her smaller neighbours and make them feel safe and secure. This can best be achieved by seriously addressing and seeking mutually beneficial solutions to issues that are of vital interest to her neighbours and their survival. This is the way forward. Anything different and it will be difficult to blame countries like Bangladesh for being fearful of Indian designs in the region and view India less as a friend.

Tipaimukh project: all trust and no verification

Tipaimukh project: all trust and no verification

This committee, largely devoid of opposition members of the parliament, seems all set to enjoy official Indian hospitality, do a bit of sightseeing and perhaps some shopping and come back and grant legitimacy to this project so that India can commence and proceed with the construction
work, writes Omar Khasru

‘TRUST, but verify’, a translation of the Russian proverb ‘doveryai, no proveryai’, was a signature phrase of Ronald Reagan, the two-term (1981-88) popular and admired American president, credited with the demolition of the mighty and once invincible Soviet socialist empire to effectively end the cold war with a thumping US triumph.

Reagan was fond of repeating the Russian adage during the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty negotiations with his Soviet counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev, the last general secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Union (1985-1991), and also the last head of state of the USSR (from 1988 until its collapse in 1991). Gorbachev proved to be a pliant and accommodating negotiating partner. The current absolute supremacy of the United States as the single dominant superpower is a testimony to that.

The overbearing and Orwellian big brother control freak neighbour, India, cannot be termed as an accommodating, amenable, gracious or even pleasant and responsive negotiating partner by any stretch of fertile and fancy imagination. But the persistent stance and approach of the current Sheikh Hasina government in bilateral dealings, and in resolving bitter and acrimonious disputes, oddly and inexplicably, have been obedient and acquiescent, with the implicit ‘your wish is my command’ submissive and deferential posture. What should be the primary and, perhaps, the sole steadfast and indisputable consideration, the best interest of the country, seems to have taken an insignificant backseat and put in the backburner.

There appears to be an unsavoury competition among assorted ministers and Awami League bigwigs to appease, support and go gaga over the attitude and utterances of Indian government representatives and mouthpieces regarding bilateral conflicts and impending significant and crucial strife, India’s unilateral and arbitrary decision to build a dam on the river Barak at Tipaimukh in Assam, 200 kilometres upstream of the Bangladesh border. There seems no concern or care for the adverse effect on this country, its ecology and environment, survival of animals and plants, water flow in the lean seasons and various other harmful impacts.

The appalling competition to please and praise India at the expense of vital national interests seems to be especially keen among the commerce minister, water resources minister, and shipping and inland transport minister. The alarming and puzzling one-upmanship contest seems to be heading for a photo finish, with other ministers and big shots chiming in. The latest to join the fray has been Abdur Razzak, the current chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the water resources ministry, and former water resources minister during the earlier 1996-2001 Awami League regime.

This genuflecting deferential policy and posture towards India had started during the last interminable, illegal and unconstitutional caretaker regime. The then foreign affairs adviser claimed that he was launching an irreversible ‘friendship forever’ policy towards India, come what may. A landmark of the policy was the visit of the then army chief Moeen U Ahmed, the virtual and de facto chief of the military-dominated regime with a civilian façade, consisting of a group of subservient and inept advisers. His India trip and the Indian gift of white horses seemed to have provoked an extreme adoration for the neighbouring country with an implicit pledge to preserve and uphold India’s interests on a priority basis. The ostensible Indian backing of the caretaker regime and the apparent support for the army chief might have played a pivotal role in the policy formulation. This government seems to have inherited and carried on with this appeasement mindset.

It was during the tenure of Razzak as the water resources minister in the previous Awami administration that the latest Farakka Barrage Ganges water sharing agreement was signed with plenty of fanfare and hoopla. The rest is history. Bangladesh has never received its legitimate share of water because the water sharing accord was fatally flawed. It lacked a viable, acceptable and unbiased method of resolving India’s unwillingness to release sufficient water during the lean season or put into practice significant portion of the deal.

Razzak was asked back then how, in the absence of any provision for impartial third party arbitration, the two countries would solve the inevitable disagreements and difference of opinion regarding the quantity of water that would flow past the deadly and detrimental Farakka barrage. His glib answer was that he would pick up his VIP telephone and call the Water Resources Minister of India and the row would automatically and magically be solved through mutual conciliation with symbiotic benefits. That unfortunately proved to be cheap talk and pointless blather. Razzak might have called his Indian counterpart on many other things but there is no record that he ever called regarding the chronic shortfall in the agreed amount of water for Bangladesh during the dry season. Even if he did, there is no evidence that India took any compensating measure to alleviate the situation.

Sheikh Hasina, the usually garrulous and strongly opinionated prime minister, has decided largely to keep her mouth shut regarding Tipaimukh. Her only significant comment has been that her regime will decide after the tour of the project site by a parliamentary committee and the resultant recommendations. Some of her ministers and henchmen are matching and even surpassing callous and insensitive comments of Indian High Commissioner, Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, in denouncing the detractors of the project. Others in the top echelon of the ruling alliance are mostly acting like Gandhi’s three monkeys with the ‘say no evil, hear no evil and see no evil’ viewpoint. This is weird, shocking and puzzling because vital national interests are at stake here.

Now Razzak, as the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on water resources ministry, is about to lead a fact finding delegation of parliamentarians and experts to Tipaimukh to inspect the controversial project and assess the possible effects on Bangladesh. But his mind seems all made up already and we will be waiting for the last nail on the coffin. He has joined in the chorus with the commerce minister and the others in denouncing the critics of the Tipaimukh project. This committee, largely devoid of opposition members of the parliament, seems all set to enjoy official Indian hospitality, do a bit of sightseeing and perhaps some shopping and come back and grant legitimacy to this project so that India can commence and proceed with the construction work. Razzak had failed the country back then in the Farakka water sharing treaty and he seems all set to fail the country again.

The problem with the upcoming trip is that India so far is yet to handover vital information and documents, feasibility study, pros and cons and other relevant information regarding Tipaimukh project to Bangladesh. There is no clear indication that it will provide the important documents or facts any time soon or ever. So the delegation will be acting and making recommendations based mainly on Indian assurances, promises and rose coloured glasses added to the predetermined ideas and programmed opinions, most of which already seem favourably disposed towards the project.

This is a clear case of proverbial ‘fox guarding the chicken coop.’ It is no wonder that the New Age editorially commented on June 18, 2009 that Tipaimukh team had lost its credibility before inspection. As the editorial points out, there seems to be complete trust in Indian assurance that it would not divert water from the dam, the dam would not harm Bangladesh and that Bangladesh stands to be benefited. This country really should be wary and suspicious of such Indian pledges, especially in the light of past bitter experiences in Farakka and elsewhere. The government big shots seem all trust and, unlike Ronald Reagan, no urge to verify.

The first Awami League regime after independence had granted the permission to India to start the Farakka Barrage on an ‘experimental basis.’ The current Awami League regime seems all set and primed to grant the go-ahead to Tipaimukh project with potential to cause extreme and lasting harm to the Northeastern third of the country just as Farakka did to the Northwestern third. Once fertile Ganges delta now is unable to produce a third of the grains each year. The untold ecological damage and economic harm to the people are evident for all to see. Most experts feel that Tipaimukh project, if completed, will offer a parallel set of impacts and experiences, despite hollow and vacuous ‘assurances’ from India, and brazen cronyism and toadyism by government ministers and party functionaries to the contrary.

Let me end with a quote from the dearly departed Ronald Reagan, ‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.’

Rise in killings on the frontiers with India

Rise in killings on the frontiers with India
Raheed Ejaz

There has been a significant rise of killings of Bangladeshi people by the Indian border guards along the frontiers with the death of 52 people in first six months of 2009 despite repeated pledges of Indian authorities to curb such killings.

The death figure of Bangladeshi nationals in the border areas is almost double compared to the tally of corresponding period of last year when 30 people were killed, according to information available with human rights watchdog Odhikar.

Among those killed, some 37 people died in the first three months of 2009 while the figure was 3 and 10 in April and May respectively.

During a director general level meeting of the BDR and BSF held in Dhaka on August 20-24, 2008, the then chief of the Indian border guards Ashish Kumar Mitra had said they would show ‘zero tolerance’ to border killings as they did not want anyone to be killed on the frontiers.

The human rights watchdog’s statistics also revealed that apart from killing 52 Bangladeshi nationals in the border areas, the Indian BSF also injured and abducted some 65 Bangladeshis in recent months.

According to news agency reports, Indian BSF on Tuesday morning gunned downed Rabiul Islam, 30, of Barogram sadar upazila of Dinajpur district while he was working in the field along the border.

Quoting Fulbari 40 Rifles Battalion sources, the reports said that the BSF members of Doghati camp also injured another Bangladeshi citizen, Anwar, 28, of the same village.

In a recent report, Odhikar revealed that on April 23, Rabindranath Mandal, 45, and his wife Kalyani Rani Mandal, 38, from the village Bolabari under Ashashuni Upazila in Shatkhira, were arrested by BSF from India’s Ghojadanga Camp as they were returning to Shatkhira from India along Main Pillar No 4.

The report said that BSF officers beat Rabindranath to death and tortured and raped Kalyani and left their dead bodies near the Main Pillar Number 4 on the Shatkhira-Lokkhidari border.

The couple had gone to the Nadiya district in India for medical treatment six months ago.

Odhikar said that Indian border guards from Dubli border camp entered into Bangladesh territory on the morning of March 21 and abducted three Bangladeshis namely, Sultan Hossain Dhabok (20), Bokul Hossain Dhabok (19) and Alamgir Hossain Dhabok (18) from the village of Choyghoriya of Boikari Union in Shatkhira.

The following day Sultan and Bokul were rescued after being tortured by the BSF. But the other person, Alamgir, is still missing.

Tipaimukh dam: Farm output to fall, spelling disaster for Sylhet region

Tipaimukh dam: Farm output to fall, spelling disaster for Sylhet region, Dhaka

Farm output will fall and poverty will rise, spelling ‘disaster’ for the Sylhet region if India’s proposed Tipaimukh dam and Fulertal barrage are built, maintain experts.

“The dam will cause water flow to slow down while the barrage will ensure their full control of water resources,” former director general and chief engineer of Water Resources Planning Organisation,engineer Inamul Haque told Thursday.

“The cultivation of early variety of boro in the northeast would be hampered,” he said.

“So far as I know the Tipaimukh dam will be built 200 kms from the Amolshid border, at Zakingong, to construct a vast water reservoir for hydro-power generation.”

“The water from three rivers-the Barak, Tipai and Irang-would be required to feed the water reservoir to cover an immense area,” said Inamul.

“Besides, another barrage is to be built 100 kms off our border at Fulertal in India for irrigation purposes which would feed the waters through canals,” Haq said.

Haq said downstream regions will experience two major impacts: firstly, with the decrease of water in December, the people who now grow early varieties of boro on the land which used to arise in the haor areas would no longer have this resource.

Secondly, the water flow of the river Surma will decrease significantly, he said.

IUCN resident director Dr.Ainun Nishat told that the construction of Tipaimukh dam will reduce the the natural monsoon flood patterns of the area on which cultivation depends.

He said the construction of barrage at Fulertal on top of the Tipaimukh dam could seriously reduce the water flow during the dry season.

“The extent of drop in water flow depends on the volume of water withdrawn through the irrigation canals,” he said.

“We could see the Surma and Kushiara rivers dry up completely during the dry season, he said

Anu Muhammad, professor of economics at Jahangirnagar University, told the Tipaimukh dam and Fulertal barrage would spell “a great disaster.”

“Arable land will decline and production of crops fall, leading to a rise in poverty,” he said.

According to some reports, the proposed Tipaimukh dam across the river Barak in the Indian state Monipur will 162.5 metres high and 390metres long to create a reservoir by permanently submerging some 2.75 square kilometers of land.

India expects to generate around 1500 megawatt of hydropower from the project.

Govt harps on Delhi’s Tipaimukh justification, unfortunately

Govt harps on Delhi’s Tipaimukh justification, unfortunately

THE Awami League-led government seems to have chosen to rely on ‘diplomatic sources’ and assurances from New Delhi – and not the growing body of scientific evidence gleaned by experts in both Bangladesh and India – to arrive at its conclusions about the controversial Indian plan to construct dam/s on the upstream of the river Barak at Tipaimukh in the Indian state of Assam. The water resources minister, Ramesh Chandra Sen, told the parliament on Sunday that the government has ‘learnt from diplomatic sources that the proposed dam is a hydroelectricity project’ and that ‘Indian authorities have assured that they will not divert water from the dam elsewhere.’ Late last month, the commerce minister, Faruk Khan, told journalists that ‘those who are talking too much against construction of the dam are talking without knowing anything’ on the basis of, it now seems, information gathered from ‘diplomatic sources’ and assurances from the Indian government. The foreign minister, Dipu Moni, also appeared assured when she told the private news agency bdnews24 that ‘The Indian government has assured us that they will in no way act to harm Bangladesh.’ However, there is hardly any reason for the people to have faith in either the AL-led government’s ‘diplomatic sources’ or the Indian establishment’s ‘assurances’.

The government’s views about the Tipaimukh Dam/s appear increasingly similar to, if not the same as, what New Delhi has thus far said about the controversial project. If it is so because of the information provided by the ‘diplomatic sources’ there is hardly any reason to have faith in the credibility of such sources. On the other hand, the assurances of the Indian government count for very little; after all, seldom has New Delhi remained true to its promises and followed the bilateral agreements that it signed with Dhaka to the letter. Surely, the government needs not be reminded that India has consistently denied Bangladesh its due share of the Ganges water and that, before the construction of the Farakka Barrage, New Delhi had also reassured Dhaka that the barrage would not harm Bangladesh in any way. In the case of the Tipaimukh Dam/s, India did not even bother to consult with Bangladesh before commissioning the project.

Against such a grim reality, the government’s self-professed conviction in the Indian government’s assurances that the Tipaimukh Dam/s would not harm Bangladesh in any way and claim that there are actually benefits to be had for Bangladesh from the dam could only be construed as its willingness to submit to New Delhi’s designs. It is all the more so because of the Indian establishment’s perceived predilection for the Awami League. The government needs to realise that, along with the life and livelihoods of millions of people, its own credibility could also be at stake here. Hence, it will do a great service to the people and also to itself, if it discontinues reliance on its ‘diplomatic sources’ and the Indian government’s ‘assurances’ and, for once, looks at the scientific evidences against the proposed Tipaimukh project and listens to what experts, particularly in Bangladesh, have to say about the catastrophic consequences that the project looks set to bring upon the people of Bangladesh. The government, after all, was voted to power by the Bangladeshis.

‘MPs, Ministers should quit if they fail to stop Tipaimukh Dam’

‘MPs, Ministers should quit if they fail to stop Tipaimukh Dam’

UNB, Dhaka

Former TIB chairman Prof Muzaffer Ahmed on Monday said the lawmakers and ministers should step down from their respective position if they fail to protect people’s and nation’s interest by saying no to Tipaimukh dam.

“We voted them to protect our rights and interests… I don’t know how they claim the dam will not be harmful for Bangladesh,” he said, while speaking as chief guest at a national seminar on Tipaimukh Dam at the Jatiya Press Club auditorium in the morning. Assistant Professor of Chittagong University Geography Department Kazi M Barkat Ali presented the keynote paper at the seminar, organized by ‘Movement to Protect Surma-Kushiara-Meghna’, a citizens’ forum.

Former DG of BDR Maj Gen (retd) ALM Fazlur Rahman, former secretary Mohammad Asaf Uddowlah, Engr Dr SI Khan and Prof Dr Mahbub Ullah, among others, addressed the seminar with convener of the forum Abdul Qayyum Chowdhury in the chair.

Prof Muzaffer Ahmed doubted the patriotism of the lawmakers and ministers who are advocating in favor of Tipaimukh Dam ignoring the nation’s interest.

He said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should lead the nation to protest India’s bid to make the dam and people are ready to go for a movement with her to protect the country’s interest.

He urged the government “not to kill people by welcoming drought saying yes to Tipaimukh dam.”

“It’s not a political issue at all, it’s a national issue and we’re virtually in a do or die situation,” said the eminent economist and social activist. “It is unfortunate that an elected government is apparently favoring the dam,” he added.

He said he was alone when he protested against the same issue in 2004 and now the entire nation is united against the dam. This will help to force India to change their mind over the issue.

Prof Muzaffer asked the Prime Minister why she is sending a team to India without demanding documents of feasibility study and technical assessment on Tipaimukh dam.

“Make your stand over the issue clear before the nation, people will cooperate you,” he said suggesting direct discussion before agreeing on the construction of the dam.

He urged the people to remain alert against any conspiracy and continue their movement until India suspends its plan. “For sustainable development of Bangladesh, its rivers and water-bodies would have to be protected.”

Dr Asaf Uddowlah said national unity is urgently needed to stop the construction of Tipaimukh Dam as it has become a great cause of concern for the entire nation.

Former BDR DG Maj Gen (retd) ALM Fazlur Rahman said people are making promises on various issues but none was found to pledge to stop the Tipaimukh Dam. “Promising to stop Tipaimukh dam is more urgent than any other promises.”

Indicating at those who are talking in favor of Tipaimukh Dam, he said: “Wrap up your business with India, people will never forgive you for anti-state activities.”

Barkat Ali in his keynote paper suggested an all-party committee to deal with the issue so that the country’s interest can be protected.

Describing some adverse impacts the Tipaimukh Dam might cause, he said all patriotic citizens of the country should stand against the dam as India is moving with their own agenda keeping Bangladesh in dark.

Earlier, speakers said democracy, independence and sovereignty of the country are now in great peril and all the people with “nationalistic spirit” should get united to protect the country’s interests.

They said country would incur huge “economic and environmental losses” if India builds the Tipaimukh Dam.

The speakers called upon the government to take all possible initiatives to stop the construction of Tipaimukh dam on Borak River saying that the northern and eastern side of the country would be turned into desert if Tipaimukh dam is constructed. They were highly critical of the government for remaining silent when the Indian government is implementing the construction of the dam violating the international river law and ignoring the interest of Bangladesh.

Tipaimukh Dam goes counter to Bangladesh interest

Tipaimukh Dam goes counter to Bangladesh interest

M.T. Hussain

After getting nod of Bangladesh for the river Ganges’ water withdrawal by India in May 1974 at the Farakka Barrage point up 17 kilometers of the common border of the two countries, and what is called at the downstream the Padma river of Bangladesh in the west, India has taken now to build two dams at Tipamukh and Fulertal in the east on the river Barak that forms upper riparian of the Kushiara, Surma and mighty Meghna rivers of Bangladesh. The evils of Farakka in the three and a half decades in the downstream incurred yearly losses in money term at 150,000 lakhs crores Taka and the incoming Eastern two are estimated to incur yearly loss for Bangladesh at Taka 225,000 lakhs crores. Farrakka Barrage adversely affected the western and southwestern territory of one third Bangladesh and the eastern two dams to affect one fourth of Bangladesh in the eastern area.

On the Farakka Barrage issue I had my first book (India’s Farakka Barrage… now out of print) published in 1996. I was then fortunate not only to have facts from documents of the Bangladesh Government source but also from other published documents about the issue here and elsewhere at the international level. I was also fortunate to have a very close rapport with the renowned hydrological expert B M Abbas during his last days before passing away in Dhaka, in addition to useful information I had from his authoritative book The Ganges Water Dispute. Just a few months back I had two articles, one in Bengali and the other in English on the same topic of Farakka losses incurred by Bangladesh that I took advantage of an occasion of follow up of a surface scratching by the BBC Bengali Radio discussion meeting held at Rajshahi a few months earlier on the effects of the India’s Farakka Barrage in Bangladesh as the razzmatazz of the discussion had nothing of losses of Bangladesh in concrete terms of money figure. In the two articles mentioned and published in dailies in Dhaka I cited figures in specific calculated terms. The figure of Bangladesh losses for 33 years since May 1974, the time the Farakka went on in full commission to 2007 at nearly 49 lakhs crore Taka, that made yearly average of about one and a half lakh crore Taka. A research organization based in the USA and corroborated by a local organization in their calculation for likely losses of Bangladesh due to the India’s Tipaimukh Dam would still be higher at over two lakhs crore Taka than the yearly average due to the Farakka, thus exceeding yearly average of about one lakh crore Taka losses that Bangladesh has been incurring due to the death trap of the Farakka Barrage.

Although there were groups against the Farakka project in West Bengal and Bihar before the barrage was erected, as one was renowned irrigation engineer Kapil Bannerjee (See weekly Holiday, 29 May 09), there are groups, as well, against the other two proposed dams. The Tipaimukh dam to be built at 500 meters downstream of the confluence of the Barak and Tuivai rivers is planned for generation of 1,500MW of hydro-electricity and the Fulertal one for irrigation purpose there in the Eastern India. The likely affected ones included common poor people as also objections raised by area experts, environmentalists, etc. Because, the Dam if erected and made operational is certain to affect lives and livings of many people engaged in agriculture in the project region, fisheries and fishing trade, river craft works and to adversely affect ecological balance that may even add to risks of bigger scale earth quakes in the region according to the noted earth science expert and famous geologist like Dr. Soibam Ibotombi, Professor of the Indian Manipur University

International rivers are well designated so for that they flow through many countries. The Ganges and the Barak are international rivers. There are international rules and conventions that guide modes of sharing waters of such rivers between countries in the riparian regions. The upper riparian country, in particular, is not permitted by the rules and conventions to withdraw and divert water of any amount that would harm the lower riparian country/s. The 1997 UN convention adopted two key issues, one, in gist stated by two words, ‘no harm’ and the other ‘equitable sharing’. To elaborate the implications of the two set of terms, one can safely state that the upper riparian country can do no harm to lower riparian country by withdrawing or diverting normal natural flow of water, and if any such withdrawal and diversion is at all to be done, such mode must have prior sanction of the lower riparian country subject to the condition of mutually agreed equitable sharing. There are examples of such water sharing treaties between countries like Egypt and Sudan for the Nile waters, Germany and Hungary for the Danube, Pakistan and India for the Sind just to cite as instances. The Ganges water dispute with India started about four decades ago, but unfortunately no equitable sharing agreement had been possible. In 1974 there had been a memorandum of understanding for ‘experimental operation’ of the Farakka Barrage by India for ‘forty days’ only. But that experimental forty days went on and on, India cared little for the lower riparian Bangladesh. During Presidennt Zia’s time there had been two-year treaty first in 1977 for sharing water of the Ganges and renewed once only, but during President Ershad there had been no treaty at all. Instead the Indian Government suggested the then President Ershad to forget about making any water sharing treaty and advised him to dredge Bangladeshi part of lower riparian area of the rivers for storing bigger volumes of water. Such dredging action program is not only very costly but also a recurring and very expensive matter having no durable solution to the problem due to siltation of river beds for obstruction of flows in the upper riparian region. The 1996 agreement made by the then government for 30 years duration sealed the ill fate of Bangladesh, at least, until the expiry of the period of the unequal an inequitable treaty until 2026.

I recall very clearly from a TV news item on the day in December 1996 how the 30-year treaty was undertaken by the then Sheikh Hasina during her visit to Kolakata and Delhi. The day previous to the treaty was signed in Delhi, Hasina not only met the West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, but in her meet she fell on his feet to pay respect in somewhat Hindu style, Shashtyange Pronipat, and so pleased the Chief Minister blessed her as usual putting palm on her forehead and then made a brief remark that said that India would make a treaty for water sharing at the Farakka Barrage point for two to three years. Amazingly, the next day the treaty was signed for duration of 30 years and not for two or three years as Jyoti Bosu had predicted in blessing Hasina.

If one would recall further back about the facts about 1974 MOU, 1977 water treaty for two years and renewed for another two years, no treaty whatsoever during the nine years term of Ershad and also none during the first term of Khaleda during 1991 to 1996 with the amazingly 30 year treaty made in December 1996 with P.M. Hasina that Bosu had predicted for a very short period. This treaty had no right standing so far as it did not meet international rules and conventions. Further that the treaty had no guarantee clause at all. These meant that the treaty went against the interest of lower riparian Bangladesh and violated international standard rules, conventions and norms. Thus it became a fait accompli that continues to harm Bangladesh, its ecology, economy and thus subservience to Delhi made in reality a mockery of sovereignty of Bangladesh. During the last 13 years it is the sad reality that India released for Bangladesh less quantities of water than Delhi had promised in the terms and schedule of the treaty; their excuse keeps on telling that they had no flow enough in the upper region and hence the lower quantum for Bangladesh became obvious.

Having had the sad and painful experience due to India’s Farakka Barrage being operated for the last 35 years, the Tipaimiukh dam has been floated to further aggravate the position of Bangladesh in this case in the eastern region involving one fourth of the much smaller and impoverished geographical area.

Being the Tipaimukh a life and death question for Banglkadesh, Bangladesh has to stand solidly united to restrain India to abandon the Tipaimukh dam project for good. But if she does not restrain on their own, Bangladesh has no option left to bring the matter in the knowledge of international bodies like the UN and the possibly into the International Court of Justice at the Hague for appropriate redress.

Tipaimukh dam: Protest against Indian HC’s remark

Tipaimukh dam: Protest against Indian HC’s remark

Sylhet Division Development Action Council yesterday brought out a red flag procession protesting the Indian step to construct Tipaimukh Dam. NN photo

Sylhet Division Development Action Council yesterday brought out a red flag procession protesting the Indian step to construct Tipaimukh Dam. NN photo

DU Correspondent

Sylhet Division Development Action Council (SDDAC) yesterday demanded removal of Indian High Commissioner Pinak Ranjan Chakrabarti for his controversial speech on Tipaimukh dam issue against the interest of Bangladesh.

They called upon the Government to take initiatives to stop the construction of the dam to protect the people of 16 districts of northern and eastern regions of the country from desertification saying that the government should raise the issue in the international forum.

The demand was made at a protest programme in front of the National Press Club in the city organised by SDDAC protesting the construction of Tipaimukh dam at the upper reaches of Surma and Kushiara Rivers.

Former Chairman of Privatisation Commission Enam Ahmed Chowdhury attended the programme as chief guest with President of SDDAC Advocate Abed Raza in the chair. Environment Researcher Ifma Hossain, Journalist Khairul Islam Chowdhury, President of Sylhet Division Development Student Action Council EH Jasim, Advocate Selim Newas Chowdhury, Jayeda Abed, Jubair Ahmed and Saiful Faruki attended it among others.

Enam Ahmed Chowdhury said when the people of the country are protesting the construction of Tipaimukh dam, then some ministers and Indian High Commissioner are delivering the controversial speech on the issue.

He called upon the people to be united to form a strong movement against the construction of the dam.

The speakers said that if the government did not take initiatives to stop the construction of dam, they would launch tough movement.

After the demonstration, a memorandum was submitted to Foreign Minister from the organisation calling to take initiatives from the government to stop the construction of the dam and to remove the Indian High Commissioner.

Tipaimukh dam to destroy ecology: experts

Tipaimukh dam to destroy ecology: experts
Staff Correspondent

Commissioning of the planned Tipaimukh dam by India will escalate socio-economic and political tension in India’s north-eastern states and also Bangladesh, and imperil the ecology of the region, green campaigners said.

After sounding this note of caution, a leading environmentalist on Wednesday demanded that New Delhi must make public all the documents on the Tipaimukh hydro-electric project and Dhaka should raise its voice against such an ecologically destructive project in the country’s interest.

‘We will definitely protest against it in collaboration with the rights groups in India. If the construction of this dam is allowed, it will instigate insurgents like ULFA as we have seen in the past,’ said Muzaffar Ahmed, president of Bangladesh Paribesh Abdolon, on the sidelines of a roundtable on climate change at the office of the Communist Party of Bangladesh.

Referring to widespread resentment in Manipur and other states of north-eastern India caused by the planned mega-project, he warned that Bangladesh might be a victim of the socio-economic repercussions of the dam.

‘I talked to Medha Patkar [environmental campaigner] who has called for resistance against such a dangerous project through people-to-people contact,’ said Muzaffar, adding that the Indian civil society organisations would extend their support to those who oppose the building of the dam.

Citing the example of the Farakka Barrage that has deprived Bangladesh its due share of water, he predicted that the Tipaimukh dam would allow hardly any flow of water during the dry season and eject excess water during the rainy season, leading to drought and flood respectively.

‘We have had a bitter experience with regard to the Kaptai Dam project that created a social crisis and led to displacement of the ethnic minority people. Whatever profit India wants to make by generating 50,000 megawatts of electricity will eventually result in devastating consequences for the people in this part of the world,’ said Muzaffar.

The meeting, presided over by CPB’s president Manjurul Ahsan Khan, called for preparation of a people’s charter incorporating various aspects of the effects of climate change and the measures to mitigate them.

‘Political parties should play an enhanced role in promoting the country’s cause in an issue which is a question of life and death for us. But it is solvable,’ he said.

Our relations with China: Unexplored potential

Our relations with China: Unexplored potential



Syed Munir Khasru

EXTERNAL aid forms about 50% of ADP of Bangladesh, constituting more than 2% of GDP, leading to strong presence of donors in the country. A significant portion of the aid goes to the health, education, infrastructure, and social sectors. We need further and diversified support that will accelerate growth, since about half the population is still stricken by poverty, with nearly one-third underemployed. If we do need further help, then from whom should we seek it?

In our own region, we have a miracle story about a country with a long history and tradition, facing many of the same problems which we are facing now, if not more: poverty, surplus labour, over- population, backward agriculture, lack of food security, natural disasters, weak industrial base etc. The miracle lies in the fact that in just over 2 decades not only were these problems mitigated, but the country also became one of the largest and most robust and resilient economies in the world. It is the People’s Republic of China that we are talking about, the third largest economy after US and Japan, with a nominal GDP of $4.3 trillion (2008) when measured in exchange-rate terms.

China has been the fastest-growing nation for the past quarter of a century with an average annual GDP growth rate above 10%. Major reforms which began in the 1980s enabled hundreds of millions to be lifted out of poverty, which went down from 53% in 1981 to 2.5% in 2005, nearly 20-fold decrease, an achievement unmatched in poverty alleviation. Infant mortality rate fell by 39.5% between 1990 and 2005, and maternal mortality by 41.1%. Access to telephone rose by 94-fold, to 57.1%. At the same time, China invested heavily on developing its human capital, an integral part of a modern economy. The student population in higher learning has doubled in a very short period and is one of the largest in the world.

China is a close ally of Bangladesh, offering infrastructural support, technical assistance, financial aid, military assistance and other forms of aid. In 2005, China emerged as the number one import source for Bangladesh, overtaking India for the first time. By 2008, China-Bangladesh trade volume reached over $4.68 billion.

On the diplomatic front, 2005 was declared a “China- Bangladesh Friendship Year,” marking the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations. A firm believer in the one China policy, Bangladesh can gain much from this relationship. Since China rose rapidly from a situation not much different from our current predicament, it is of paramount importance that we effectively learn from the Chinese experience of reform and economic development.

In agriculture, there is much room to collaborate, considering that China is highly acclaimed for its ability to feed its growing population despite limited natural resources. Given China’s strong agricultural research base, Bangladesh can benefit by developing a mechanism whereby we can tap into their research programs to transfer relevant learning to Bangladesh.

China can also help develop our human resource by offering increased technical support. It has numerous high powered, strong, and active policy research institutions that help the government in key decision making. Such institutions can help Bangladesh develop its capacity to effectively formulate, evaluate, and monitor policies. This will help us deal effectively with exogenous shocks like natural calamities or financial crisis.

Historically, Bangladesh has not performed well in trade negotiations — either multilateral or bilateral. The Chinese have proved themselves to be some of the smartest trade negotiators, who have successfully worked out trade deals that have propelled domestic production and benefited overseas consumers. Particularly, Chinese experience in effectively negotiating FTAs with countries like Australia and New Zealand can provide helpful insights to our policymakers as the South Asian regional trade still has much to achieve when compared to other trade regimes.

Re-branding is another area where Bangladesh can learn from China. For example, China has been quite often cited as one of the major polluters of the environment. China has re-branded itself as an environmentally proactive nation by enlisting with the Kyoto Protocol. By adopting the Kyoto Protocol, China has developed the image of an environment-friendly economy, which in turn has increased acceptability of products exported from China.

Similar lessons from China can be taken on re-positioning with respect to the RMG sector. While Bangladesh mostly continues to cater to low-end products in the international market, China has increasingly shifted towards catering to high-end products, enjoying increased profitability. Our RMG entrepreneurs, instead of asking for cash subsidy while underpaying the workers, can learn much by analysing the value additive strategies of RMG sector entrepreneurs of China.

China has successfully implemented a well thought out strategy of making large investments in its public infrastructure, which has led to greater output, more private investments, and higher employment.

In view of the recent emphasis of the Bangladesh government on using public-private partnership to spur economic growth, the role of the Chinese public sector in this regard can provide useful leads.

The Chinese economy also has substantially benefited by the manufacturing sector, which is backed up by an endogenous culture that supports reverse engineering — thereby making China the largest exporter of electronic appliances.

While there is a tendency to emulate the Western models of economic development, countries like China and South Korea provide better examples to learn from. Because of greater commonality in the social, economic, and cultural arenas, chances are better that learning from such experience of industrial growth and economic development would not only be more relevant but also more rewarding for Bangladesh. Cooperation with China needs to be exploited further to the mutual advantage of both the countries.

Syed Munir Khasru is a Professor at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka.

Deadly game with nation s fate

Deadly game with nation s fate

M. Shahidul Islam

It s like watching a movie already seen twice. Or, it could be the recurrence of a hellish nightmare? The reasons that had compelled the last BNP-led Government not to approve the proposed Asian Highway in December 2005 remain alive, but the AL-led regime has agreed in principle to approve the three different routes, only to turn the entire country into a virtual corridor of India.

The Communication Ministry on May 21 made the decision following a meeting in which roads and railway secretary ASM Ali Kabir and senior officials from the foreign, defence, home and finance ministries, ERD, roads and highways and railway departments were present. Following the meeting, Communication Minister Abul Hossain, as well as a spokesperson of the ministry, confirmed that the Government had approved the scheme in principle. It s a deadly game with nation s fate.

Whither Asian Highway from Japan to Turkey?
The decision is dangerous both on counts of its historicity and the cost and benefit calculations. Since the proposal for the Asian Highway was mooted first in 1959, some 15 countries, including Pakistan, became founding members by signing the agreement. Bangladesh too is considered a founding member by virtue of its integration with Pakistan until 1971. Then, following decades of vacillation and bargaining, the United Nations Economic and Social Council for Asia Pacific (UNESCAP) managed to draft an Intergovernmental Agreement for the 1,41,000 kilometers-long roadways that would crisscross many Asian countries from Japan to Turkey, to reach the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and the continent of Europe.

Connectivity with India
As the move intensified with the tempest of globalization whipping the world in the last decade, a total of 27 nations ratified their participation (32 had signed so far) by 2004 while the deadline for Bangladesh expired in December 2005 following the BNP-led alliance Government s negation to accept the proposed route on ground that it would compromise country s national security by turning Bangladesh a virtual transit and corridor of India.

The economic and infrastructural viabilities too did not favour a positive decision from Dhaka. For, of the three routes proposed by the UNSECAP for Bangladesh – AH1, AH2 and AH 41   two of them serve solely Indian interests at the cost of harming economic and geopolitical interests of Bangladesh.

Being surrounded by India from all sides excepting the Sea to the south and the limited outlet with the Myanmar, the BNP-led alliance regime decided instead to pursue aggressively to linking Bangladesh with Myanmar in order to reach the Far Eastern countries as part of a comprehensive Look East policy.

Sources say that decision was based on three major factors: First, various bilateral deals have already made connectivity with India easier over the preceding decades, without yielding better economic opportunities for Bangladesh. Secondly: Dhaka s main concern was how to connect landlocked Nepal, Bhutan and the Indian North East with Chittagong and Mongla ports to integrate those economies with the regional mainstream. Third: Bangladesh could reach the Asian mainland only via Myanmar, not via India.

Economics and geopolitics
Added to those concerns were the perspectives of sovereignty, economics and geopolitics. As the three proposed routes are slated only to facilitate transportations of Indian goods from the Indian mainland to the Indian North East via Bangladesh – and impose unbearable pressure on the two ports of the country  – Chittagong and Mongla  – which can barely cope with our own needs at the present – the BNP-led regime insisted on choosing the third route (AH-41). The other two routes (AH-1 and AH-2) being both economically and geopolitically non-viable, and, having serious implications for the nation s sovereignty, the deadline in December 2005 was quietly allowed to pass by.

How can such a decision be faulted  – and reversed without considering its implications – when the 495 kilometers long AH -1 will connect Tamabil, Sylhet, Kachpur, Dhaka, Jessore with Benapole; only to render Bangladesh into an Indian corridor by facilitating connectivity between the Indian states of Tripura and Manipur on one side, with Assam and the West Bengal on the other, by using the territory of another sovereign nation? The same is true of the 805 kilometers long AH- 2 which will connect Banglabandha of Panchagarh, Hati-Kamrul of Sirajganj, Dhaka, Kachpur and reach Tamabil again, only to re-enter India across the Sylhet frontier.

Although the third route, 752-kilometer AH- 41, too will serve to carry goods for India from the Mongla port by connecting Bagerhat via Jessore (and thence to Benapole), it seemed comparatively harmless as it will traverse past Dhaka before proceeding toward Teknaf and Cox s Bazar to eventually connect Myanmar.

An Indian Highway
That is how the connectivity scheme the Government decided to approve will allow construction of an Indian Highway, not an Asian one, given that none of those routes will connect Bangladesh with other Asian nations who are part of the scheme. Barring Myanmar, with which Bangladesh has already arranged bilateral land connectivity, the two other points of connectivity with India neither allow Bangladesh to reach the Tokyo to Ankara Highway (as the Asian Highway is meant to be) nor the other nations who are part of it (Japan, South Korea, (India excepted), Indonesia, Pakistan, Nepal, the Philippines, China, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Bhutan, Georgia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Laos and Malaysia).

Besides, there are allegations of Indian influence- peddling in choosing and doggedly pursuing the implementation of the proposed routes. Sources say the AH-1 route will enter Bangladesh from India via the western Benapole frontier and will exit again to India through northeastern Tamabil of Sylhet. That seems to be an Indian Highway stretching from West Bengal to Tripura and Assam.

Likewise, the AH-2 will enter Bangladesh from northwestern Banglabandha frontier and will reach again Tamabil. The two routes entering from and exiting to India are meant to facilitate the huge volume of traffic to and from Indian North Eastern states. Only the third route being an internal (or sub-regional) link to connect southeastern Mongla port with Teknaf near the Myanmar frontier, the previous government wanted the third one to be the main route to bolster our  Look East Policy  that aimed at fostering economic cooperation with Myanmar, China, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Nepal, Bhutan left adrift
Who s behind this highway game and why did it resurrect once again? Sources say India having enormous influence over the UN and its affiliated bodies, Delhi choose to intensify the  politics of highway  since 2004 after Bangladesh commissioned a land port at Banglabandha ( in Panchagargh district) to facilitate exports to Nepal, Bhutan and the Indian North East. The port was expected to increase trading with these nations via the 61 km corridor (between Bangladesh and Nepal) and the 68 km corridor (between Bangladesh and Bhutan).

Following this move from Dhaka, India choose to impose upon Bangladesh, via the UNESCAP, the proposed routes for Asian Highway; two of which (AH-1 and AH-2) were designed to enter Bangladesh only to re-enter India. Only the third route (then known as AH-3) was left to connect Myanmar to allow Bangladesh s exit to the Far East.

Analysts say it was an Indian ploy to obtain corridor through other means. And, coming as it did following Dhaka s negation to export gas to India, Delhi s stance could be summarized as very stubborn:  my way or highway.

However, the lack of Delhi s empathy was too visible to ignore. After all, Dhaka s decision to commission the Banglabandha port came amidst repeated Nepalese insistence to open the land port due to a Nepal-India bilateral agreement preventing Nepalese trucks from directly entering Bangladesh and vice a versa. Those inconveniences were compounded further by the necessity to off load everything from trucks inside India for custom and security inspections.

Not only that. Despite repeated requests to facilitate Nepal-Bangladesh, Bangladesh-Bhutan and Bangladesh   Indian North East connectivity via those corridors, India persistently pursued the UNESCAP to impose on Bangladesh the two routes to serve its own geopolitical and economic interests at the cost of disadvantaging Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

Reliable sources claim that the previous BNP-led regime s negation to comply with the Indian demand for gas, transit, corridor, and, finally, the Asian Highway have had much to do with what followed in Bangladesh since October 2007.

Policy of subservience
That being the backdrop and the reality, the AL-led Government s decision to approve the routes is tantamount to  selling out  our vital national interests, as it testifies to the Government s lack of independence and the magnitude of helplessness borne out of being beholden by something unknown to the public. Fact is: India wants to use Bangladesh territory to connect its mainland with its North East, and, to use Bangladesh s ports for the economic wellbeing of the landlocked North Eastern states. Above everything, India wants to overcome its military handicap in the insurgency-infested North East by using this connectivity.

Hence, for Bangladesh, the decision making mechanism in allowing such a scheme shall be the one used in recent past by both nations. For example, after the devastation of hurricane Sidr, Indian High Commissioner said in response to Bangladesh s demand for rice:  We can not sell rice to Bangladesh keeping our people starved.  Well said. Likewise, amidst unprecedented pressure – even by using senior US diplomats – to obtain gas from Bangladesh in 2003, Dhaka made a realistic assessment of its gas reserve and spare-able capacity and said no to India. That decision too was wise. Six years on, Bangladesh doesn t have enough gas to keep its own industries and electricity generation facilities functional.

Structural inhibitions
Being aware that India s main intent is to serve the entire land-locked North Eastern region comprising seven large states (known as seven sisters) by using the proposed Highway, Bangladesh must calculate the premium involved with respect to traffic-related-logistics and infrastructural repairs, which, cumulatively, will outweigh any expected material gain it may hope for from the venture. Added to the danger to be posed by inadequate capacity of our ports, the future of this project could be suicidal.

Country s main port in Chittagong is overburdened and ageing. It also handles almost eighty-five percent of the country s sea-borne trade. Established in the 15th century, this moth-eaten establishment gained its full potential only after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. Of its 15 operational jetties, only 13 are equipped with shore cranes, each having a lifting capacity of only about 1.5 tons. Since 1991, its only floating crane (used for lifting heavier cargos) remained out of order, until recently.

Besides, the river-moorings have no shore cranes and ships berthed at the moorings still use their own derricks or cranes for unloading or loading cargoes. Despite the construction of – or conversion into – few container berths in recent years, the capacity of the port is as yet not sufficient enough to meet our national needs, let alone serve foreign nations. The sinking of a small ship on the entry to the jetty had left the port crippled for weeks over a month ago, further testifying its limitations.

Mongla is incapable
On the other hand, Mongla is not a full-fledged sea port as yet. Even last week the main dock of the port got submerged by the tidal waves caused by the latest hurricane in the Bay. The port is virtually an anchorage to allow ships load and unload their cargoes into barges and coastal ships moored in the middle of the Pussur River. And, the draft of the river being shallow, navigation of large ship remains unsafe as yet, although few new berths built over the years allow light draft vessels to berth at the jetties.

Coupled with the chronic instability caused by an unruly bunch of highly politicized labour force, Mongla port can hardly be trusted to serve foreign interests involving international commitments of a powerful, bellicose neighbour and the consequences of potentially reneging on any binding commitment could prove unmanageable. Besides, the limitations for further modification of the port are compounded by surrounding private properties and stationing of naval ships and naval activities all around.

Based on such realities, any decision by the Government to allow the proposed highways to enter from and exit to India via Bangladesh can lead to devastating consequences, involving serious national security implications. Such a decision may also impact adversely the existing relationships between the two close neighbours to the extent of provoking hostile moves by either side. Whether the Government agrees or not, this is certainly not the highway to heaven. Rather the very opposite of it.

Govt. inert over claim on Continental Shelf

Govt. inert over claim on Continental Shelf

Moinuddin Naser in New York

Though little time is left, the Government is still in slumber and lamentably lagging behind its next-door neighbours in acting on the crucial matter of placing Dhaka’s claim to the appropriate authority on her right over the economic zone in the Bay of Bengal. For Dhaka to do this, only about two months are left. Shouldn’t the Foreign Office have been up and doing by now regarding this vital matter and held a grand national conference of major political leaders, eminent economists, scholars, geographers and so on?

Although Bangladesh will have to submit its claim on continental shelf by July 27, 2011, but prior to that she will have to dispute the claims of India and Myanmar before the 24th session of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf this year.

Already India, Myanmar and Sri Lanka have submitted their claim on the Continental Shelf to extend their economic sovereignty on the Bay of Bengal as per Article 76, Part VI of the Law of the Sea Convention. India and Myanmar both have submitted their claim beyond 200 nautical miles (NM) as per provisions.

Myanmar updated the claim on April 30, 2009, while India submitted the claim on May 12, 2009 and Sri Lanka submitted the claim on May 8, 2009. Bangladesh will have to submit its claim or dispute, if any, by August before the beginning of the 24th session of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to be held in New York from August 10 to September 11, 2009.

India, Myanmar against Bangladesh
It is gathered that India and Myanmar have articulated a joint strategy to claim their extended continental shelf over Bay of Bengal so that they can preempt Bangladesh’s right over the Bay of Bengal. In fact the Indian institutes helped Myanmar to prepare its claim.

Surprisingly, Myanmar did not seek help from any Chinese institute to prepare the claim this time! Knowledgeable source said Myanmar and India both have got together to establish their extended rights over the Bay of Bengal, while both the countries opposed Bangladesh’s move to lease out the blocks in Bay of Bengal for exploration of oil to the foreign companies.

No paper yet from Dhaka
Bangladesh will have to submit its claim on continental shelf by July 27, 2011. But it will have to dispute the claims of India and Myanmar before the 24th session of the commission this year.

According to the diplomatic circle in New York, Bangladesh is yet to prepare any paper or report disputing the claimed Continental Shelf by India or Myanmar encroaching the vital economic zone of Bangladesh.

Myanmar has made its claim ahead of deadline until May 21, 2009 for submission of its claim, but it submitted ahead of the date. Again, India had time up to June 29, but she has already submitted its claim.

Myanmar claimed in 2008
Myanmar had submitted its claim first on December 16, 2008, which was later updated on April 30, 2009 and now waiting for discussioin the claim in the provisional agenda of the 24th session of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

In the introduction to its submission Myanmar stated that this claim is made “to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) pursuant to Article 76, paragraph 8 of the Convention in respect of the establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles (M) from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea of Myanmar is measured.”

200 nautical miles
It clearly said: “Myanmar is making its submission for extension of its continental shelf in the Bay of Bengal, off Rakhine, and referred to as Rakhine Continental Shelf, beyond 200 nautical miles.” The country has collected geophysical data from large area for preparation of the submission.

Beyond 200 nautical miles, Yangon will claim at least 60 more nautical miles to satisfy its acquired morphological, geological and tectonic aspects of the data collected from the Bay.

The Goa-based National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR) of India which led the Indian side for preparation of the claim, was also engaged for quality control purpose of the Myanmar claim, while National Geophysical research Institute (NGRI) of India helped Myanmar for seismic Data processing and interpretation. Dr N.K Thakur, another consultant, who was former member of the Commission, interpreted acquired geophysical data. Besides, many other institutes of Myanmar were involved.

Continental Shelf
India took nine years to finalize its claim on continental shelf, while the Goa-based national Centre for Antarctica and Ocean Research led eight organizations to collect data and process them to prepare the report. The Indian report has extended its sovereignty beyond 200 nautical miles and within 350 nautical from the baseline. In fact India completed its preparation for this submission at list six months ago and that was passed through different stakeholder ministries to obtain their consent.

According to sources, different studies have so far been collected over seven to eight terabytes of data after surveying the Indian marine area divided into lines totalling 30,000 km. The demarcation of the continental shelf was based on Article 76 of the Part VI of the “Law of the Sea Convention” which also includes determination of water depth, sedimentary rock thickness and precise mapping of the foot of the continental slope.

Serious Indo-Bangla dispute
India shares maritime boundaries with Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan, Maldives and Sri Lanka. Among them Myanmar, Bangladesh and Srilanka have water territory in the Bay of Bengal.

India has already negotiated a deal with Myanamar and Sri Lanka, while it has got serious dispute with Bangladesh.

Claiming the continental shelf ‘baseline’ of the coast is very important. That means from which point the 200 nautical miles will be measured.

Bangladesh coastline is very unstable. So Bangladesh demarcated its baseline from a distance of 10 fathom from the shore, which was disputed by both India and Myanmar.

Delhi claims up to 350 NM
Now India is claiming up to 350 nautical miles (NM) from its baseline invoking Article 76 clause V, VI, VII and VIII as continental shelf. This is beyond 200 NM, of the normal territory. If Myanmar extends 60 NM beyond 200 nautical miles and India extends up to 350 nautical miles, the curved coast line may stop Bangladesh to get her outlet.

Sri Lanka also has submitted its claim on the southern part of the Bay of Bengal beyond 200 nautical miles, while the Indian line has passed with short distance of less than 24 nautical miles and as such India has already proposed a ‘separate agreement’ on this issue with Sri Lanka. In fact in terms of establishing claim on the Bay of Bengal Bangladesh has become isolated.

Bangladesh has to resolve the issue on priority basis.