MonitorsPublished on Aug 21, 2010
India and Bangladesh relations got a new boost following Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's brief visit to Bangladesh recently, demonstrating New Delhi's keenness in enhancing bilateral relations.
Bridging the gap: India Bangladesh relations
< class="heading1">Analysis

India and Bangladesh relations got a new boost following Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's brief visit to Bangladesh recently, demonstrating New Delhi's keenness in enhancing bilateral relations. The 7 August visit was aimed at operationalising the Indian credit-offer of $ one-billion for infrastructure development, announced in the joint communiqué during the January visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to New Delhi.

Bilateral relations began witnessing an upward trend after the Awami League returned to power in Bangladesh, in December 2008. The prime ministerial visit and the Indian assistance thus marked a high-point in the process. Back home, however, the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has continued to running down the ruling party, saying that the Hasina Government was partial towards India and was 'selling' the country's interests to New Delhi. The party further claims that country had lost its sovereignty during the Prime Minister's visit to India and that India was not doing enough compared to the support it was getting from Dhaka. The Opposition campaign has led to a growing concern that the Awami League may have to pay a heavy price for its 'India policy'.

Under the bilateral credit agreement, the Indian aid will be utilised for the development of infrastructure -- dredging rivers, building bridges, buying locomotives and buses. The Indian Finance Minister's presence at the signing ceremony signifies India's priority in delivering its promise. This helped the government to counter the Opposition's criticism for the time being. But looking at the internal dynamics of Bangladesh politics, to sustain the present momentum of warmth in bilateral relations, India needs to be pro-active in addressing Bangladesh's needs and wishes.

Among the issues of bilateral concern, cross-border firing is the most prominent, as it concerns common people in Bangladesh. The importance of the issue could be ascertained from the coverage any incident of firing by India's Border Security Force (BSF) gets in the popular media. Despite series of discussions, there has hardly been any improvement. A minor initiative by India in checking cross-border firing by the BSF could go a long way in changing the local perception in Bangladesh. At the same time, Indian concerns about unchecked movement of Bangladeshi nationals, most of them manual labour, remains. It became manifold years ago after it became clear that Pakistani ISI and north-eastern insurgent groups were using Bangladeshi territory for cross-border terrorism against India. Thus, India easing the pressure on illegal migration would relate to Bangladesh taking effective steps to check infiltration of the kind. Dhaka proved its commitment recently when it was involved in the arrest of senior Assam insurgent leaders, who had made Bangladesh, their haven and operational headquarters of some kind.

Trade relations witness another irritant in the bilateral sphere. There is a need for pruning the long list of exemption for import from Bangladesh. However, the Indian Government has taken some steps like the signing of an agreement between Bureau of India Standard (BIS) and Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institution. A BIS delegation has since visited Bangladesh to help harmonise standards so that bureaucratic hurdles can be cleared at the earliest. Another step could be the removal of all tariff-barriers and allowing duty-free access for Bangladeshi goods in India, a popular demand in that country. Even a small gesture of increasing the quota for duty-free import of ready-made garments could play an important role in changing popular perceptions.

Experience suggests that the boundary issue and river water-sharing could take a long time to resolve. Hence, these initiatives could be helpful in maintaining the goodwill. New Delhi needs to remember that the ruling Awami League has to has to convince its population at constant intervals that the nation stood to gain from friendly relations with India. Pressure on the party and the Government will increase now, after Dhaka has agreed to provide transit facilities for Indian goods to reach the north-eastern States. Looking at the nature of India's relationship with its neighbours, New Delhi will also have to consider if it was worth its efforts to lose a sustaining friendship with Bangladesh, and what pragmatic efforts it would have to take to keep it going. There is also greater urgency for India to take the initiative, as other external powers are waiting on the wings to fill the gap, if and when India provided one.

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee is Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation

< class="heading1">Country Reports

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">JMB active still

The security forces in Bangladesh fear backlash from Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), the banned militant outfit. Despite harsh measures by the security forces to dismantle the group, it continues to be active. The security forces claimed that at present, the JMB is led by two of its Sura members- Sheheed alias Osman and a Dhaka University graduate Siddiqur Rahman alias Mostafiz. The group is famous for making high-powered explosives. The JMB caught limelight after it carried out countrywide bomb attack on 17 August 2005.
Source: The Daily Star, August 17, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">1000 released from Jail

To ease prison congestion, Bangladesh has started releasing 1000 inmates from various prisons across the country. This is the largest incident of mass amnesty in the country. Many of those released had been convicted for murder, but their release was based on old age and good conduct. At present, prisons in Bangladesh are housing more than three times of their capacity 77,000 in the place of 28,000.
Source: The Daily Star, August 20, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bangladesh invited to join the IPI gas pipeline

Iran has invited Bangladesh to join the proposed the trilateral IPI gas pipeline. The Iranian envoy at Dhaka has written to the Finance Ministry's Economic Relations Division in this regard. According to local media reports, the Iranian proposal was to extend the grid that is now planned up to Kolkatta in east India.

The proposed Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline would travel over 2,775 km from Iran's South Pars gas field to the Pakistani city of Khuzdar. From the Pakistan border, one branch will go to Karachi and other will reach India, via Multan. While negotiations have been completed between Iran and Pakistan, India is waiting for certain clarifications and commitments, particularly about pricing and delivery-point.
Source: www.allheadlinenews, August 17, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Flood aid to Pakistan

The Bangladesh Government has announced $ 2-million relief assistance for the flood victims of Pakistan. The country has also expressed its solidarity with the people of Pakistan.
Source: The Daily Star, Wednesday, August 18, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Environment tax proposed

An international group that includes Maldivian experts has suggested that the Government should levy an 'environment tax' on tourists visiting the country, to fund conservation efforts, including the protection of marine ecology. Pointing out that tourism and travel sector accounted for 45 per cent of the GDP, the committee's report pointed out how tourism-related activities, including reef-fishing to quench the palate of foreigners, affected the coral reefs, which by itself was the main attraction for the tourists.
Source: Minivan News, August 18, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">TV newscast in sharp focus

The Opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), led by lawyer-politician, Dr Hassan Saeed, has threatened to go to the court, over what it calls the Government's efforts to take over the assets of the State media. Citing the Government's decision over the transfer of the assets of State-funded, independent Television Maldives and Voice of Maldives to the newly-formed Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), the DQP said that the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) was misusing the State media, to promote the self and abuse the Opposition.

In a related development, MDP parliamentary group leader 'Reeko' Moosa Manik has threatened 'action' against Villa Television (VTV), owned by another Opposition leader, Gasim Ibrahim, founder of the Jumhoree Party. The main Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Nihan said it was ?typical? of Moosa to attack any media that ?does not report the way he likes.?
Source: Minivan News, August 18-19, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Deal between Maoists and Monarchy?

A top leader of the pro-monarchy Rashtriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N) has claimed that the Maoists have struck a secret deal with the party aiming at preserving the monarchy as the cultural symbol of the country. However, the deal is yet to be inked.

Supporters of the monarchy in Nepal, where kings have been revered as the reincarnation of the Lord Vishnu, have demanded a national referendum to decide if the centuries-old monarchy should be revived. Even ousted King Gyanendra has hinted that the monarchy may one day be restored.

Maoist leader Prachanda, who is one of the prime ministerial candidates, has been openly wooing RPP-N to gain their support in the ongoing rounds to elect the prime minister of Nepal. The party has five members in 601-seat Constituent Assembly.

While efforts are underway to reinstate monarchy in Nepal, the nation's central bank has issued directions to the banks and financial institutions not to accept currency notes with the portraits of the erstwhile rulers. It is decided that such notes will soon go out of circulation from the next financial year starting in April 2011.
Source: Hindustan Times, August 18, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">CPN-UML members join Maoists

In a surprising move, over a dozen leaders and activists from Kaski district belonging to the United Marxist Leninist Party -- the second-largest group in the Constituent Assembly ? have joined Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists at Maoist headquarters. Maoist Vice-Chairman Mohan Vaidya said it was a clear example of what he called the "revolutionary polarization" in the country. However, he seems to have forgotten the fact that barely a month back, a dozen or so Maoists had left the party to form their a separate outfit. Disillusionment with the party methodology and approach was given as the reason for their disenchantment.
Source:, August 20, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UNMIN for term-extension in Nepal

The chief of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), Karin Landgren, has asked the three big parties ? namely, the UCPN-Maoists, Nepali Congress and CPN?UML -- to consider extending the term of the UN body, beyond the September 15 deadline. While the Maoist leaders have expressed their willingness by acknowledging the necessity to have UNMIN to fulfil the pending tasks of the peace process, the other two parties are learnt to have said that it was for the Government that decide on such matters.

Landgren also tabled a five-point proposal regarding the integration of Maoist combatants and the completion of the peace process. Categorisation of combatants under two heads - those qualifying for integration into the national force and the other requiring rehabilitation ? and also handing over the task of PLA integration and adjustment to the ex-Gorkhas are among the points outlined in the UNMIN's paper.
Source:, August 20, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Struggle for aid

Pakistan's struggle to cope with the recent floods has been compounded with international aid falling far below expectations. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement from Pakistan, appealed to the world to respond with more aid for disaster relief. The total aid pledges have gone up to $466 m, with the US, the UK and Saudi Arabia together contributing $ 152 m.

The US has committed $75 m, which includes USAID and US Government contributions. The UN distributed goods worth $27 m. It was said that about 54 per cent of the pledged aid had been received so far. Aid relief is expected to go up as the international community realises the magnitude of the disaster.

The World Bank has announced a $900 m relief and rehabilitation aid, which will come from re-appropriated funds of its country assistance programme. The World Bank, Asian Development Bank and the UN together will conduct a net damage assessment and coordinate with the donors accordingly.

President Asif Ali Zardari laid stress on the transparent use of aid and asked the Pakistani expatriate community to donate generously. The Government has meanwhile accepted Indian Government's aid of $5 m, reportedly after U.S coercion.

It appears that the relief and rehabilitation work is being anchored by international agencies supported by the army and civilian administration. The criticality now lies in effectively managing and distributing the incoming aid.
Source: Dawn, August 18, 2010, Daily Times, August 19, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Floods and fight against terror

The Pakistan Army has assured the US that the 150,000 troops employed in the conflict zone would not be diverted for rescue operations. Around 60,000 troops employed for flood relief are from local units in the flood affected areas. The mountainous areas where anti-terror operations are being conducted have been spared the worst of the floods. Meanwhile the U.S in a statement announced the futility of pressing Pakistan for discontinuing military operations in North Waziristan, saying it was time for consolidation.

The overwhelming floods have taken the nation's focus away form its fight against terror and in the absence of an efficient flood relief effort by the civilian institutions, the army has been forced to step in. This would undoubtedly take a toll on the anti-terror operations, the extent of which will be visible in the time ahead.
Source: Reuters, August 19, 2010; Dawn August 14, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Election commission asserts its autonomy

A letter sent by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to all federal secretaries including the cabinet, state assembly, Prime Minister's and President's office, underlining the constitutional power of the ECP to be autonomous and challenging the powers of Parliament to supervise and evaluate its performance.

The letter has been sent in the wake of recent instances of committees of the National Assembly and Senate summoning of ECP members. The ECP has been involved in the scrutiny of the law-maker's educational qualifications, and the federal Government has been accused of trying to slow down the process by delaying the final report on the 'fake degree scam', which was to have been submitted by the Higher Education Commission (HEC).The letter is being seen as an attempt to prevent the federal Government from influencing the ECP's decision on the issue.

The letter also says that the ECP has the same powers as a High Court in matters of contempt and consequent penalty. It is said that moves such as this would have a positive effect on the larger picture of strengthening the ECP, which would increase the credibility of the next national elections slated in 2013.
Source: Dawn, August 14, 2010

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">GSP+ facility: EU ready to negotiate with Govt.

The European Commission has said that it was ready to negotiate with Sri Lanka on renewing the GSP+ tax concession ,based on the 2005 regulations.

?The 2005 regulations and the present regulations are interlinked and compatible therefore if the Government is willing to negotiate based on the 2005 regulations, the EC sees this as a positive move and is ready to accommodate the request,? Trade Attaché Roshan Lyman said.

This follows a statement by Sri Lankan Media Minister Kheliya Rambukwella that Colombo was willing to renegotiate with the EU based on the regulations laid down in 2005 when the GSP+ concession was first granted.
Source: Daily Mirror, Colombo, 21 August 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian consulates in North, South

Foreign Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe and Indian High Commissioner Ashok K Kantha signed an agreement on the establishment of Indian consulate offices in Jaffna in the Tamil-majority North and in the South, apart from the establishments in Colombo and Kandy. The proposal found a place in the joint communiqué issued at the end of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's New Delhi visit in June, and provides for Sri Lanka opening a new post in India, beyond the existing diplomatic establishments in New Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai.

The two countries are also working on the revival of the ferry services that were discontinued at the height of the three-decade long ethnic war in Sri Lanka.
Source: Daily Mirror, Colombo, 20 August 2010

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