Begum Zia's Victory Is Ominous For Northeast - by Wasbir Hussain Back   Home  
The sweeping victory of Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in the recent general elections could have far-reaching adverse consequences on India-Bangladesh ties. The BNP has always adopted a strident anti-India position and this might get only more accentuated since Begum Zia now heads a coalition that includes radical Islamic outfits such as the Jamat-e-Islami. TheNewspaperToday provides an insight on why the change of guard in Dhaka might give a fillip to the ongoing insurgency movement in the northeast, particularly Assam.
At a time when global attention is focused on the monster called terrorism, the polls in Bangladesh were hardly noticed, and ifKhaleda Zia becoming the Prime Minister of Bangladesh is good news for the insurgency movement in the Northeast anything, passed off as yet another general election in an impoverished nation. Khaleda Zia winning the battle of the Begums in Dhaka should, by the same logic, have been seen as a purely domestic event in Bangladesh. For India, and the northeast in particular, it is not so.

The coming to power of Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) could have far-reaching consequences, with the potential to sour bilateral ties between the two neighbours. In Bangladesh's murky domestic politics, the BNP has always survived with its harsh anti-India posture. When the Awami League under Sheikh Hasina signed the historic Ganges Water Treaty with New Delhi, the BNP cried foul, and called the pact a sell-out. The BNP has also been vehemently opposed to conceding India's request for access to the Chittagong Port to provide the land-locked northeastern states a water super-highway, linking the region to the Indian mainland through Bangladesh. The BNP thinks 'big-brother India' could use the facility to transport troops and military hardware to its strategic northeastern frontier through Bangladeshi waters.

The BNP's anti-India tirade could become much more shrill, now that the party, unlike in the past, is heading a broad coalition force that includes radical Islamic parties as the Jamat-e-Islami. Therefore, New Delhi's diplomatic skills will be put to test because an irritant neighbour in the form of Bangladesh will open a worrisome front, at a time when the continued illegal migration of people from that country into Assam and elsewhere is altering the very demography of vast areas.

Fillip to N-E insurgency

For Assam, and the northeast, the coming of the BNP to power in Bangladesh could give a definite fillip to the ongoing insurgency movements. BNP supremo Khaleda Zia had openly admitted during interviews that her party has 'sympathy' and 'moral support' for the ULFA struggle. She seeks to call the ULFA cadres as 'freedom fighters' just as the Mukti Bahini cadres were freedom fighters who had fought for the liberation of Bangladesh. Begum Zia denied having provided shelter or direct support to the ULFA during her government's earlier tenure. But, the very fact that the BNP openly admits of having 'sympathy' and 'moral support' to the ULFA is in itself a matter of concern. Moreover, the BNP supports the idea of granting political asylum to ULFA leaders. The group's general secretary Anup Chetia, detained in Dhaka since December 1997 on several charges, including entry into Bangladesh on forged travel documents, has been pleading with the authorities in that country for granting him political asylum.

That a section of the military establishment in Bangladesh is under the firm grip of the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence is well known. That is why, the sudden intrusion of armed Bangladesh Rifles personnel into Meghalaya's border village of Pyrdiwah and Lyngkhat in April, which led to the border skirmish, did not come as a surprise. It was, after all, not a minor episode of sabre-rattling-19 border guards were killed, 16 from the Border Security Force and at least three from the Bangladesh Rifles. If such a hostile act could have been carried out when a supposedly India-friendly regime-the Awami League, whom its rivals love to dub as New Delhi's puppet-was in place in Dhaka, anything can happen under the BNP.

Fears on the border

Already, tribal Khasi chieftains in villages along the Bangladesh border have expressed their fears of a possible fresh attack by the BDR. The Khasi Dorbars or village council have sent an SOS to home minister L.K.Advani last week seeking his direct intervention into the matter and asking him to initiate urgent steps to prevent a fresh intrusion of Bangladeshi soldiers into border villages in Meghalaya.

The ministry of home affairs (MHA), meanwhile, has directed states having borders with Bangladesh to keep a vigil and carry out raids in madrassas and other Islamic institutions found to be indulging in undesirable activities or harbouring elements of the Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). The Congress government in Assam has responded by categorically stating that it would not blindly carry out the Centre's directive. "We will certainly not hesitate to take action against anti-national elements. But we shall never carry out random raids on madrassas or other Islamic institutions just on the basis of suspicion. It is unfair to dub every Muslim or Islamic institution to be anti-national," Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi said.

The immediate fallout of the BNP's victory in Bangladesh has been the illegal entry of about 200 Awami League supporters into South Tripura this week following a bitter clash with BNP cadres in Feni and its adjoining district in Bangladesh. The Awami League may still be close to New Delhi, but illegal migration of Bangladeshis into the northeast is just not welcome.

In the post-September 11 scenario, when global opinion is focused against terrorism and violence, no government can openly risk backing any group fighting for a cause through an armed struggle, and through extra-Constitutional means. But, when it becomes a question of survival, parties or governments in the sub-continent have shown that they can go to any length to cling on to power. And the BNP could do exactly that if the going gets rough.
Published in NewspaperToday. Author Wasbir Hussain is Guwahati-based Consulting Editor of TheNewspaperToday