Can ideology and political agenda change overnight? At least, that is the message Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Chairperson and former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia carried when she arrived in
October 28 for an eight-day visit.
Begum Zia came at the invitation of the Government of India. There have been some comments that this is a change in
strategy. This is not correct.
Certainly, following the assassination of Sk. Mujibur Rahaman in August 1975,
felt betrayed. The operation to kill Sk.
Mujib was a cooperative venture between the USA
(read mainly Secretary of State Henry Kissenger), Pakistan, and a group of
Bangladeshis who pretended to be pro-liberation but were trying to reverse
history. Hence, not only the government
but the Indian people at large burst out with a series of emotions.
Relations began to improve when Gen. H.M. Ershad became president of
Bangladesh. From the 1990s, the Indian government adopted
the policy that India will
be nice to Bangladesh and
would reciprocate. And this policy was
irrespective of the political party in power at the centre.
With economic liberalization in the early 1990s under Prime Minister Narsimha Rao and architected by Finance Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh,
India began to
grow. But the growth story would be a
greater success if the neighbours also grew together.
But that did not happen.
expectedly remained the spoiler. But
there was a great opportunity for Bangladesh
to join India. The entire Bangladeshi policies went through
a regressive storm, especially during the BNP’s rule from 2001 to 2006. The ruling four-party alliance comprising
mainly of the BNP and JEI marked India as the
main enemy. Those were tense years. The JEI spoke about winning the majority in
Parliament by 2013 and bringing Bangladesh
under Sharia law. Some BNP leaders also
floated an idea of confederation type of relationship with Pakistan.
The BNP-JEI coalition gave enough opportunities to
India to react
strongly on the ground. It was not only
of attacks on Hindus just after the elections which saw Hindu migration to India. An Indian Border Security Force (BSF) officer
was abducted from Indian Territory by
Bangladeshi villagers assisted by the Bangladeshi border force, the BDR, tortured
and killed, and his body taken around tied to a bamboo pole, and photographs
widely printed in the media. Had the BSF
retaliated, the BDR would have been routed.
But calmer political counsel prevailed in New Delhi.
Then were many other incidents of provocation.
A major insurgency in North-East India was prevented when ten-truck loads of arms landed in the
port in April 2004 was accidentally detected.
The BNP-JEI government tried to paper over the incident. These arms were meant for the Assam
insurgents ULFA, the Naga insurgents and others.
This case is in the court now, and witness’ statements reveal that those involved include Begum Zia’s elder son Tareq Reheman, de facto leader of the BNP, the then Minister of State for Home, Lutffozaman Babar, JEI Chief Motiur Reheman Nizami, and a host of intelligence officers.
funded the operation through a media front.
The arms were brought from China.
During her meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, Begum Zia assured they will support anti-terrorism policy and would not allow
territory to be used against India. When asked by journalists on the BNP’s
position on the Chittagong
arms haul case, one of Khaleda Zia’s spokesmen said if they returned to power
the case would be reinvestigated by an independent body. This gives lie to all the nice pronouncements.
Khaleda Zia is on record to say that if her party came to power all agreements with Indian signed by the present Awami League government would be annulled. The BNP opposed the transport corridor for
to its North-East on several grounds. The
most important reason proferred was if an India-China war broke out, India will be able transfer arms and troops
quickly through Bangladesh
to its border, and it would annoy China.
The BNP cannot do without the JEI and the other anti-India radical parties. The JEI has its fixed agenda and has close relations with the terrorist organizations some of which have begun to stir against. Connections of some of the BNP leaders including that of Tareq Reheman with terrorist organizations is well known and recorded. BNP-JEI terrorists form a triangular relationship which Khaleda Zia cannot discard. She knows that if she does so, she will be creating two new and dangerous enemies. She is caught in that vicious trap. Khaleda cannot afford to support the Liberation War Crimes trial because it would be counter-productive.
Begum Khaleda Zia’s sudden change is a riddle. Before coming to
she visited China on a party
invitation and a high level Chinese led by Politburo Standing Committee member
Li Changchun was in Dhaka and held discussions
with her and her party leaders. At the
moment the Chinese do not want instability in South Asia and would have advised
Khaleda to mend relations with India. China
had in the past months also advised Pakistan
to improve relations with India.
For Beijing, Indian
influence is preferable to American influence.
After a whole history of anti-Indianism, a sudden showering of goodwill from the BNP is difficult to digest. For
it will be good if the BNP adopts a normal relationship with India. If not, the status quo will remain and Bangladesh’s
economic development will be hurt. It
will be for the voters of Bangladesh
to judge that at the next elections just over a year ahead.
The article is first published in South Asia Analysis Group, Paper No. 5281, November 6, 2012
Bhaskar Roy is a
Delhi based strategic analyst. He can be reached at e-mail