Monday, November 11, 2013

Bangladesh-India: Treaty of Hope


SANCHITA BHATTACHARYA

On October 7, 2013, Bangladesh's Cabinet ratified the Extradition Treaty with India. Disclosing this, Bangladesh Cabinet Secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan stated that the Cabinet meeting was chaired by Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, and that the treaty would now require the approval of the Parliament in order to come into effect, following the exchange of documents after legal procedures by both countries. The Indian Cabinet had already ratified the treaty. On October 23, 2013, the instruments of ratifications were exchanged, and the Treaty came into effect. The Extradition Treaty had been inked on January 29, 2013.

Some of the significant aspects of the treaty include:
Article 5: Nothing in this Treaty shall preclude the extradition by the Requested State of its nationals either in respect of a territorial offence or in respect of an extra-territorial offence.

Article 11(1): In case of urgency, one Contracting State may request the other Contracting State to provisionally arrest the person sought. Such request shall be made in writing and transmitted to the Central Authority of the Requested State through diplomatic channels.

Article 17(1): When a request for extradition is granted, the Requested State shall, upon request and so far as its law allows, hand over to the Requesting State articles (including sums of money) which may serve as proof or evidence of the offence.

Article 18: Each Contracting State shall, to the extent permitted by its law, afford the other the widest measure of mutual assistance in criminal matters in connection with the offence for which extradition has been requested.

However, according to Article 6, persons accused of political crimes [offence of a political character] would not come under the purview of the Treaty. Further, offenders accused of small crimes, with a maximum penalty of imprisonment for less than one year, are also outside the scope of the Treaty. Article 8 states that the signing countries also reserve the right to refuse extradition.

Apart from its specific provisions, the Treaty well enhance the already-much-improved Indo-Bangladesh security ties. India hopes that the Treaty will facilitate the extradition of Anup Chetia alias Golap Barua, 'general secretary' of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and other criminals taking shelter in Bangladesh. Chetia has been in a Bangladesh jail since his arrest in 1997. A Bangladesh court jailed Chetia for seven years for illegal entry. Although his sentence has expired, he is still in Bangladesh custody. Chetia sought political asylum in Bangladesh thrice, in 2005, 2008 and in 2011, after being arrested from Dhaka's Mohammadpur area in 1997.

In addition to Chetia, National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) leader Thulunga alias Tensu Narzery and many other insurgents from India's insurgency-wracked north-east have been hiding in Bangladesh, and are now under imminent threat of deportation.

Bangladesh on the other hand, wants India's help in arresting and extraditing Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's killers. The suspects, Captain (Retired) Abdul Mazed and Risalder (Retired) Moslehuddin, are believed to be hiding in India. The treaty will also clear the way to bring back criminals like Subrata Bain and Sazzad Hossain to Bangladesh from India. Bain and Hossain are currently lodged in Delhi's high-security Tihar Jail. Bain was charged with carrying Fake Indian Currency Note (FICN), illegal arms and for illegal immigration into India. Hossain is wanted in cases of murder in Bangladesh. The Awami League government of Bangladesh contends that Bain and Hossain were involved in attacks that targeted its top leadership. Bain is an accused in the August 21, 2004, grenade attack on a rally of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka.

Further, with an over 4,000 kilometre porous border between the two countries, mainly along India's insurgency-plagued north-eastern States, and reports suggesting that both Indian and trans-border terrorists are taking advantage of security gaps in the Indian State of West Bengal, the treaty will be crucial for both countries to take effective action against serious offenders for a wide variety of crimes, including terrorism, smuggling, human trafficking, organised crime, and white-collar crime. The treaty has also extended the scope of mutual cooperation on security and border related issues. It can be hoped, moreover, that it will help the enforcement agencies on both sides to secure their common goals of protecting their respective citizens and eliminating cross-border safe havens for criminals.

In addition, India has also operationalised the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in Criminal Matters with Bangladesh. The Legal Assistance Treaty assume importance in combating transnational organized crimes, trans-border terrorism, and other serious offences such as human and drug trafficking, money laundering, counterfeit currency, smuggling of arms and explosives, etc. Keeping in mind the regional challenges of terrorist funding and the recent Rohingya problem, such cooperation will create strong instruments of 'official hindrance' to anti-governmental formations and non-state actors with radical political agendas.

The India-Bangladesh relationship has been on a sustained upswing since Sheikh Hasina came to power in January 2009. With remarkable transformations in the domestic scenario, Dhaka sought to repair relations with Delhi, and to stamp out the anti-Indian sentiment in Bangladesh.

These gains, of course, remain tenuous. Recent developments, including the political turmoil in Bangladesh, and evidence that the US has revaluated its position on the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) - Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) combine, with an assessment in its favour, suggest that the outcome of the General Elections due before January 24, 2014, are deeply uncertain. A restoration to power of the BNP-Jamaat combine in Dhaka would lead to the inevitable resurgence of Islamist extremist radicalization and the anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh, and the rapid erosion of the gains of the past years in India-Bangladesh relations. Significantly, the Extradition Treaty has several loopholes, particularly including the clause that allows the signatory states to refuse extradition, which would allow an uncooperative Government to subvert the letter and spirit of the agreement. As with much else, South Asia remains a region of extreme uncertainty.

First appeared on South Asia IntelligenceReview, Weekly Assessments & Briefings, Volume 12, No. 19, November 11, 2013

Sanchita Bhattacharya is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management