• Dhaka Wed, 19 JUNE 2024,
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Distortion of Nazrul's song: AR Rehman issue
Bangabandhu's murderer Noor Chowdhury is expected to be returned
A long cherished happy news came to us after a long time. The current location of Noor Chowdhury, the self-confessed killer of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, has been traced and a Canadian TV channel has produced a report on the killer. The investigative report was broadcast by the country's state television CBC. It took seven months to complete the report. The 42-minute report entitled 'The Assassin Next Door' was aired on last Friday midnight Bangladesh time in the investigative segment of the television 'The Fifth State'. The report shows Noor Chowdhury on the balcony of his apartment in Toronto. Apart from this, Noor Chowdhury was seen sitting on the driving seat while leaving the car. But he drove away without talking to the reporter. The search team of the Fifth State has tracked him down for a long time. Etobic is an area 13 kilometers away from Toronto, Canada. There, the 70-year-old murderer of Bangabandhu lives on the third floor of a condominium. He comes to the balcony every afternoon. Although living freely in Canada, he was seen on camera for the first time. Noor Chowdhury's absconding in Canada and his return to Bangladesh to serve his sentence for murder have emerged in the report. In the report, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, 'Canada is looking at the human rights of the murderers but not looking at the human rights of me or our relatives.' The High Commissioner of Bangladesh appointed to Canada said, except for this one issue, Bangladesh's relationship with Canada is friendly. Not only as a Bangladeshi High Commissioner, but as a common man of Bangladesh, I want him to be sent back to Bangladesh. Former Canadian opposition leader and minister Stockwell Day said that it should be addressed even though it happened 50 years ago. The report shows how Noor Chowdhury was involved in the assassination of Bangabandhu, according to the lawyer of the Bangabandhu murder case and the current Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Anisul Haque, the investigation officer Abdul Kahar Akand and through various evidences. Noor worked as a diplomat in different countries after Bangabandhu was shot dead. When Bangabandhu's daughter Sheikh Hasina came to power in 1996, he fled Hong Kong and went to Canada. In 2006, Canada rejected his refugee claim and ordered him to leave the country. But if he returns to the country, he will be sentenced to death and asked for a security risk assessment. He is staying there taking advantage of Canada's anti-death penalty position.  Six murderers of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman have been hanged after completion of judicial proceedings in several rounds in the last 14 years. Five more convicts are absconding. They are Abdur Rashid, Rashed Chowdhury, Shariful Haque Dalim, Risaldar Moslehuddin and Noor Chowdhury. The whereabouts of the first three are unknown. Rumors were published several times that Moslehuddin was absconding in India, but nothing was known later. And Nur Chowdhury is in Canada - everyone knows that. But due to the death penalty in Bangladesh, Canada made it clear that it would not hand over Noor. However, a subsection of the Canadian law says that the criminal can be sent back to his country if he is accused of committing a crime against humanity. We know that during 2004-2008, Canada wanted to send Noor Chowdhury back. But the BNP-Jamaat government and the 1/11 government were not ready to accept Noor for some unknown reason. Apart from this, Khandkar Moshtaq's foster-son Rafiq Ahmed served as the ambassador of Bangladesh in Canada for a certain period of time, which created obstacles in the return of the prisoners. We have already learned that our Honorable Ambassador Khalilur Rahman is in close contact with the Government of Canada regarding Noor Chowdhury. Finally, thanks to the CBC News staff for producing such investigative reports. It is necessary to say that after the killing of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family, the successive governments did not prosecute this brutal murder but took all kinds of steps to stop the prosecution. Because of that, the trial had to wait until Awami League came to power in 1996. *Lawyer of Supreme Court. Columnist.  First initiator of filing case against the killers of Bangabondhu.
The US – China Equation is Essentially Prone to Embroilment
The Destruction of Buddhism in Pakistan: A Tragic Reality
Allegations of poll rigging begins in Pakistan
Jihad Factories Function As Schools in Pakistan
Interpreting American thinking on Khalistan terrorism and India-Canada tensions
It was the type of crisis no one in Washington wanted. While there had been some background discussions among Canada, the United States, and other countries in the run-up to the G20 Summit about the Hardeep Singh Nijjar case, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apparently caught Washington by surprise when he decided to accuse India of murdering the terrorist on Canadian soil. Trudeau based his accusations on alleged intelligence provided by the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing group (United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand).  Not all intelligence agencies are equal, however; no one fears New Zealand spies and Australia’s Office of National Intelligence focuses more on China than on Canada. Therefore, Trudeau’s statement insinuated he had received intelligence from either the United States or United Kingdom. It is no secret that the United States or Canada spy on allied countries; India does the same thing. To simply say “intelligence shows” is amateurish, though. When there is intelligence, for example, intercepts of phone calls, these are seldom cut-and-dry but rather open to interpretation. Intelligence provides puzzle pieces, but it seldom offers a clear picture.  Nor would any operative speak clearly about their plans, even in the special rooms designed to avoid eavesdropping. When intelligence is clear, for example, when the United Kingdom developed the Enigma device during World War II, the United States and Canada would likely prioritise keeping their penetration secret rather than haphazardly exposing a capability it might take years to restore. When after the murder of Saudi intelligence agent-turned-dissident Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, Turkey revealed it had bugged the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, they did so after cancelling balancing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s desire to embarrass Riyadh over the fact that they would never again receive information from those transmitters. When the United States assassinated Al Qaeda leader Usama Bin Laden, they did so only after calculating the damage caused by exposure of America’s then-secret stealth helicopter capabilities. Make no mistake: The United States is frustrated with Trudeau’s willingness to expose intelligence collection and capabilities especially at a time when the intelligence was murky at best. While the White House has tried to dampen rhetoric against India in sharp contrast to its actions in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s murder, David Cohen, the US ambassador to Canada, appeared on Canadian TV and confirmed that Canada received “Five Eyes” intelligence. “There was a lot of communication between Canada and the United States about this, and I think that’s as far as I’m comfortable going,” Cohen said. Cohen’s remarks were not wise. He appeared on television for its own sake, stirred the pot, but ultimately said nothing. From his perspective, he simply wanted to be available for Canadian TV. Indians should understand US diplomacy and Canada.  American ambassadors come in two forms: career and political. The US President usually sends a political ambassador to Canada, someone who contributed generously to his campaign.  Not all political ambassadors are equal. India and Japan regularly receive highly capable American advisors. Because Canada neighbours the United States, speaks English, and most business is done directly with direct phone calls, ambassador posts in Ottawa are usually reserved for those who want the honorific but do not have top skills that the State Department can trust in a crisis.  Cohen was a successful businessman and, from his stint as chief-of-staff to Philadelphia’s mayor, he understands city politics, but he is not someone whom the United States trusts in a crisis. Technically speaking, American ambassadors supervise all elements in US embassies including the CIA chief-of-station.  In practice, however, the US ambassador in Ottawa keeps a hands-off approach. It is doubtful that Cohen even knew about any Nijjar-related issues before Trudeau’s comments last week. He is playing catch up and trying to assuage his Canadian audience with whom he must interact daily. Frankly, the same pattern extends to American diplomats stationed in Canada. Canada is seldom a first-choice destination for ambitious diplomats.  Often, the State Department’s personnel shop reserves slots in Ottawa or at the various provincial consulates for diplomats who must stay close to home for certain reasons, be they family issues or health. No top State Department official built their career in Canada. Secretary of State Antony’s Blinken’s comments should worry India more. Blinken built his career in the Senate as Biden’s chief foreign policy aide. In the culture of the senate, posturing and virtue signalling trump’s policy responsibility. If American progressives seize upon this issue as a cause célèbre no matter Nijjar’s terrorism, Blinken’s political instincts will be to follow rather than lead.  This dynamic has haemorrhaged Biden administration relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia. Many American progressives harbour an irrational antagonism to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. If Modi walked on water, they would belittle him for not knowing how to swim. Behind-the-scenes, though, Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan are smart enough to hope the problem will just go away. This might occur in two ways: First, a new crisis might simply shift the focus in Washington and relieve the pressure on the White House and State Department. Blinken and Sullivan pursued this strategy after the Afghanistan withdrawal, and they hope the Nijjar story will likewise simply disappear as focus shifts elsewhere. A more likely scenario is that it will disappear when Trudeau loses his premiership, something polls show will likely happen in the next election. While Trudeau can remain in power until 2025 due to a deal with the left-leaning New Democrats, such a deal is not binding and elections could occur much sooner. The question for New Delhi and Washington then becomes whether the source of the current crisis is Canada or Trudeau’s superficiality and venality? Certainly, economic and educational ties suggest India and Canada are a relationship too important to discard. Trudeau is like Donald Trump; the personality is the problem, not the country. Indeed, the silver-lining to the crisis is already obvious: No longer will either Ottawa nor Washington ignore New Delhi’s security concerns. Whether the United States wanted to or not, it increasingly understands it cannot ignore the violence and terrorism Khalistani separatism represents nor the movement’s lack of popular legitimacy. Source: firstpost.com
China’s approach to water with lower riparian countries in South and South East Asia
Introduction Conflict over water has been predicted to be the next theatre of war. Note that the planet is covered with 70 per cent water, but only 2.5 per cent of this is freshwater. This is precisely why nations have begun to preserve fresh water and, in some cases, have gone beyond to become global water hegemons, as they grow and develop. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) provides the best example today, which is a water hegemon! The PRC, a water-stressed country, has made huge investments in water-based resources globally. Apart from the geo-political implications, the PRC’s water hegemony has had an adverse impact on the environment, well-being of local populations and pushed nations into debt traps due to resource intensive investments in dam/hydro-electric projects. The focus in this analysis is on the attitude of the PRC towards the lower riparian states and its impact. China and its global water ambitions China is said to have constructed a whopping 308 dams in 70 countries on various rivers (Tibet Policy Institute, September 23, 2016). Recent estimates of China’s dam construction worldwide shows that these dams generate a total of 81 GW of power. Such indiscriminate dam construction has adversely affected river courses, caused environmental degradation and resulted in floods and displacement of thousands of people living in the host nations and further downstream. China’s disregard for environmental conservation and consistent denials of the ecological fallouts of its mega projects on the Tibetan plateau have aggravated global concerns. China’s disregard in this regard was most telling in the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. Estimates show that between 1992 and 2008, over 1.5 million residents living in the floodplains of the Three Gorges Dam were displaced. China’s territory is the starting point for major rivers that flow into more than a dozen other countries, making it Asia’s “upstream controller” and giving it unmatched power to “weaponise water” against downstream countries. The development of overseas hydropower by China needs to be contextualised in these terms. Pertinently, six of Asia’s largest rivers, Brahmaputra, Indus, Salween, Irrawaddy, Mekong, and the Yangtse, have their origins in China. These rivers flow into as many as 18 countries, making China the upstream water hegemon! As an upper riparian state, China’s domestic demand has pushed it to dam its rivers with disastrous result for downstream nations. For instance, China’s eleven dams on the Mekong have disrupted aquatic life and flow sediment and has directly contributed to the collapse of river banks. The Mekong dams have also triggered recurring droughts and caused floods in countries like Thailand and Laos. China’s South East Asia Water Hegemony A 2019 study by the Stimson Centre in the US shows that even though upstream Mekong received excess rainfall, China blocked the water in its dams, resulting in downstream countries facing unprecedented droughts. Satellite imagery showed that lack of water in the lower Mekong was mainly due to blockage by dams in China (The International Prism, 22 January 2022). The lack of real coordination amongst countries in the region for operating dams has allowed China’s eleven Mekong dams to disrupt aquatic life and flow sediment and has directly contributed to the collapse of river banks and the destruction of communities. Additionally, China has consistently refused to engage in mutually beneficial and cooperative water-sharing arrangements across borders. Despite sharing over forty transboundary water sources, China has very few water governance treaties with its fourteen neighbours. China also shies away from entering into multilateral, basin-wide transboundary water agreements, lending credence to the assertion that China sees water resources as a sovereign rather than as a shared source. In sum, the PRC’s approach to waters is governed by outright unilateralism and a maximalist approach to water sovereignty enabled by its rapid hydro-engineering prowess. This is one of the reasons for China not showing any willingness to share hydro data and sedimentary load data, with either the Mekong basin states or India, the two regions where China has asserted its upper riparian status with full gusto.   Exploitation of Tibet’s Waters China has attempted to exploit the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), which contains a major portion of the world’s fresh water. Official figures reveal that by the end of 2017, installed hydropower capacity in China had reached 341 million kilowatts, while the installed hydropower capacity in the TAR was only 1.77 million kilowatts, accounting for only 1 per cent of the technically exploitable potential. (Hongzhou Zhang and Genevieve Donnellon-May, The Diplomat, 1 September 2021). The downstream impact of such development is only too obvious. The inclusion of the Medog Dam (near the border with Arunachal Pradesh) in the 14th FYP was driven in part, by the CPC’s push towards Carbon Emission reduction. (Jagannath Panda, China Brief, Jamestown Foundation, 7 June 2021). China aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. As China shifts away from coal, which supplies nearly 70 per cent of its energy use, to clean energy sources like hydroelectricity, more dams can be expected to be built. (The Diplomat, 1 September 2021). Impact on South Asia A growing source of tension in the Himalayas is China’s plans to dam key rivers before they reach India, leaving India and Bangladesh the losers. It is not just a question of damming a river; China has also taken recourse to blocking the flow of rivers. In June 2020, satellite imagery showed that China had used bulldozers to block the flow of the River Galwan, a tributary of the Indus River in Aksai Chin, thus preventing it from flowing into India. There could be no better instance of a water hegemon than this. China’s proposed Medog Dam, close to the border with Arunachal Pradesh, will eventually have an impact on lower riparian states, particularly India and Bangladesh. Further, ongoing diversion of substantial volumes of water from the Tibetan plateau watershed by China for northern China, could strain India’s agricultural needs in the North-Eastern states; conversely, Chinese mismanagement could lead to overflows and floods in India. The threat of a water bomb being unleashed on India from the proposed Medog dam cannot be overlooked. For example, a Tibetan dam burst (2000) resulted in massive flooding in India. (Jagannath Panda, Jamestown Foundation, 7 June 2021). In March 2021, a change in flow rate, turbidity and quality of the Yarlung Tsangpo River water was observed. This was attributed to the massive landslide and glacial surge near the Great Bend Region. Landslides in the Great Bend Area of the River in Jialacun Village, Tibet have the potential to cause flooding towards India (Arunachal Pradesh). China’s Motives China’s motives in investing in hydropower overseas is clearly a ‘neo-colonial’ drive to capture resources and materials, both as a part of the Belt and Road Initiative and otherwise to fund China’s GDP growth at the cost of other nations. Chinese investment in power projects globally in the past two decades is estimated to be US$ 114 billion, 44 per cent of which went to hydropower. Further, Chinese companies reportedly hold an estimated 70 per cent of the global hydropower market. (International Institute for Environment and Development News, 17 March 2022). This gives us a sense of China’s ambitions and its desire to control resources wherever possible. Brahma Chellaney, one of India’s foremost experts on water, aptly states: “China’s territorial aggrandizement in the South China Sea and the Himalayas…. has been accompanied by stealthier efforts to appropriate water resources in transnational river basins.” There is merit in reviewing the India’s position on water security from this perspective and planning for the future. The combination of territory grabbing and water resource hegemony by China is a threat that all countries in South & South East Asia face and their respective security environments. The writer is a freelance journalist Source: dailyasianage.com
The PLA’s weaknesses are now evident on all fronts
The writer is based in South India for the past 40 years. He writes on India, China, Tibet and Indo-French relations. After a four-month gap, the 19th round of talks between the Indian and Chinese generals at the corps commander level was held at the usual Chushul-Moldo border meeting point. Interestingly, for the first time, it was spread over two days (August 13 and 14). Though no breakthrough was made for the Depsang and Demchok sectors, the contentious issues were discussed in some depth. A joint press statement (which was an achievement in itself) said: “The two sides had a positive, constructive and in-depth discussion on the resolution of the remaining issues along the Line of Actual Control in the western sector. In line with the guidance provided by the leadership, they exchanged views in an open and forward-looking manner.” As usual, it was agreed to resolve “the remaining issues in an expeditious manner and maintain the momentum of dialogue and negotiations through military and diplomatic channels”. The last sentence does not, however, mean that a solution is forthcoming soon, as the formula has been used in most of the statements. In the meantime, it is interesting to analyse the present state of preparedness of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which has been repeatedly told by President Xi Jinping, who is also the chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), to be “ready for war”. The “war” usually refers to the “liberation” of Taiwan, an old Chinese dream. In this context, the visit of three former Indian service chiefs to Taipei has to be noted. Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria, Adm. Karambir Singh, and Gen. M.M. Naravane had travelled to Taipei on an invitation by Taiwan’s ministry of foreign affairs for the Ketagalan Forum. It probably means that New Delhi has started positioning itself in case of a war scenario. Though it is difficult to predict the future, a careful analysis of the PLA’s preparedness shows several weaknesses for a professional modern army. We shall list a few. First and foremost, the PLA is the army of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Chairman Xi, as he is called by the PLA, recently published his “Eleven Absolutes” (a sort of Eleven Commandments). The First Absolute is: “The absolute leadership of the People’s Party (CPC) is the foundation of the People’s Army and the soul of a strong Army. It is necessary to comprehensively strengthen the Party’s leadership and leadership in the Army and implement a series of fundamental principles and systems for the Party to lead the Army, and ensure that the troops are absolutely loyal, absolutely pure, and absolutely reliable.” Loyalty to the Party comes before merit or competence; this cannot translate into professionalism. Mr Xi’s first commandment wants “to build a People’s Army that obeys the Party’s command, can win battles, and has a good style of work”.   What recently happened to the PLA Rocket Force (PLARF) is an indicator that the Party line is supreme. The Chinese (and Taiwanese) social media announced that the commander and deputy commanders of the PLARF were in deep trouble. When Xi Jinping undertook reforms in the PLA at the end of 2015, the Second Artillery Force, looking after China’s strategic missile force, was renamed PLARF, and it was made responsible for China’s tactical and strategic missile force, including nuclear missiles. On July 6, Lt. Gen. Wu Guohua, the deputy commander of the force, allegedly died; as reports said that he was purged by Xi Jinping and was suspected to have committed suicide; though the official information just mentioned a “brain haemorrhage”. Lt. Gen. Wu passed away at a time President Xi Jinping (also chairman of the Central Military Commission) was on a visit to the Eastern Theatre Command, lecturing the troops to be ready for war. Then, Gen. Wu’s boss, Gen. Li Yuchao, the PLARF commander, was taken away by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) for investigation. Further, Lt. Gen. Zhang Zhenzhong, a former deputy commander of the PLARF and current deputy chief of staff of the CMC’s Joint Staff Department, was also sacked. To add to the list, Wei Fenghe, former commander of Rocket Force, and former minister of national defence, was said to be under the scanner. As it is always good to know the limitations of your purported enemy, let us look at the other weaknesses of the PLA. China’s one-child policy has greatly weakened the PLA as parents are less and less keen to send their one child to war and eventually lose their only offspring. It also means that the soldiers are no longer used to hardship, having been cocooned for twenty years or so by their family; there is certainly less motivation today than during the Long March or Chairman Mao Zedong’s times. The present Chinese recruitment mode is also a problem; among other issues, a conscripted Army takes more time to accustom to difficult terrains such as on the Indian borders. Further, the PLA has not fully assimilated the radical reforms introduced in 2016 by Xi Jinping, in particular the combined armed integration. While Beijing likes to brag about new equipment developed for the PLA (such as laser canons, quantum communication, hypersonic missiles, etc), the personnel manning this weaponry are not fully trained to use the latest technology. Corruption is a serious issue; we have seen it with the recent beheading of the PLARF. It is a big problem — 100 or so generals were sacked in the past few years — and it is unthinkable in any other Army; corruption in promotion, in businesses, in recruitment, and so on. Further, hiding the casualties of soldiers, like in the Galwan Valley in June 2020, certainly has a demoralising effect. In the PLA, the centralised chain of command is cumbersome, officers on the Indian border always have to refer to the higher authorities in Chengdu or Beijing for orders. The hierarchical difference in the field restricts the analytical process. Orders from senior officers need to be strictly implemented on the ground and if the leadership is targeted during the course of a confrontation, then the force can be in disarray. Too much brainwashing about the Party ideology does not help for the professionalism of the PLA, but what is worrying is that President Xi Jinping seems obsessed by it; in 2022 he started expressing concern about the potential collapse of the Communist Party of China (CPC), with millions renouncing their affiliation to the Party.  And lastly, the recent confrontations in Eastern Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh have shown that the Indian soldier is a far better fighter than his Chinese opponent.
Is New Delhi loading the dice in favour of Awami League?
The people of Bangladesh may be forgiven for wondering whether India is trying to fix the next general election, due in January 2024 to ensure the re-election of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.  A series of media reports, from the Indian diplomatic establishment have suddenly appeared, claiming that India and the United States were ‘on the same page’, in the belief that only Hasina and her Awami League were capable of keeping China and Islamists at bay in Bangladesh. Hasina will be in New Delhi as a special guest for the G20 Summit on September 9. Apparently, the occasion will be used by India and the US to convey a message to her that she must purge all pro-China leaders and pro-Islamic elements from her government and party, and that non-communal and secular candidates must be chosen by her.  While it has not been confirmed by the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi, the developments have given a shot in the arm to the Awami League, and is expected to infuse new energy into the party cadre. Most Bangladeshis are likely to see this consensus as a step that might mitigate strong US threats to impose ‘visa restrictions on individuals and their immediate family members if they are responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh’.  The US State Department has, in fact imposed sanctions against a number of serving and retired officials of the paramilitary force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), accused by the Opposition of helping the Awami League win the previous elections. US President Joe Biden also chose not to invite Bangladesh to his summit of democracies and his administration ignored Hasina during her visit to the World Bank in Washington DC, earlier this May.  An impression gathered that Hasina and her party were being pressured by the US to ensure fair elections. Now, however, it would seem that India is preparing to ‘bail’ them out by ‘managing’ the US. The last two general elections of 2014 and 2018 were seen by most of the western world as rigged. India, however, welcomed the flawed victory of the Awami League.  Rather than the fairness of the elections in Bangladesh, its concern was that the Hasina government should protect its strategic interests. Interference by foreign countries and the spectre of a potentially rigged general election in 2024 haunts Bangladesh, especially the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The flurry caused by the recent reports in Bangladesh is understandable as the BNP seems to be gaining mass support this time around, and is successfully organising marches and rallies against the ruling party.  The general perception is that in a free and fair election, the current odds favour the Opposition. This might explain why the demoralised cadre of the ruling party is angry and violent. The Awami League government has responded to the Opposition’s mass mobilisation with a vicious crackdown. On August 19, 300 people participating in a BNP march in Habiganj in Sylhet were injured, some from live firing.  On July 28, BNP activists on a sit-in in Dhaka demanding free and fair elections were fired upon using rubber bullets and were tear-gassed, with the BNP claiming that 600 of its workers were injured in attacks by the police and ruling party men. Indeed, a running allegation of the Opposition leaders has been that the ruling Awami League workers, especially its youth wing, the Chhatra League, co-ordinate their attacks on their public protests, with the police. How reliable are expectations that Hasina will be the best bulwark against China? Under Hasina’s leadership, China has become Bangladesh’s largest arms supplier. After President Xi Jinping’s visit in October 2016 when Bangladesh formally joined the Belt and Road Initiative, China has invested $38 billion in Bangladesh and has emerged as its largest trading partner.  The Awami League has been a facilitator for China’s strategic inroads into Bangladesh. Similar contradictions dog the reported expectations that Hasina is the last person standing between secularism and Islamic fundamentalism. Apparently, Indian officials have claimed that were Washington to adopt a regime-change agenda it would bring the BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami combination to power, which would be detrimental to India’s security interests. It is a fact that when the BNP-Jamaat combination was in power, several insurgent groups from India’s Northeast found shelter in Bangladesh and weapons flowed through the Cox’s Bazar route to these insurgent groups.  Under the BNP-Jamaat regime, in April 2004, 1,500 boxes of weapons and ammunition landed at a government jetty at Chittagong were seized by the police. In 2014, when the Awami League was in power, a special court awarded death sentence to Jamaat chief Motiur Rahman Nizami (then the industry minister), BNP’s Lutfur Zaman Babar (then minister of state for home) and two ex-chiefs of National Security Intelligence, Generals Abdur Rahim and Rezakul Haider Chowdhury, former Industry Secretary Nurul Amit, and ULFA’s military chief Paresh Barua. However, today the Jamaat-e-Islami does not exist as a political party, and it cannot join any coalition government.  It was derecognised in 2013 and cannot contest elections. Several of its top leaders were hanged between 2013 and 2016 for war-crimes committed during the 1971 War of Independence by a war crimes tribunal set up by Hasina.  A section of Bangladeshi public intellectuals believes that the Jamaat as an organisation should be brought back into democratic politics to prevent its radicalisation. Islamist elements, meanwhile, are also present in the Awami League prompting the US and India to ask Hasina to purge them. Both parties need them to get a clear electoral majority, and for critical political mobilisation on the ground. If both India and the US want fair elections in Bangladesh, they should take a position equidistant from the two major parties.  However, Indian officials seem to have tied themselves so much to Hasina’s re-election that they have even apparently conveyed to the US that India should be consulted before imposing any visa restrictions on Bangladeshis accused of interfering with the election process. (Bharat Bhushan is a Delhi-based journalist.)
Tripartite Power Accord on the horizon: Illuminating Bangladesh with Nepalese energy via India
A ground-breaking energy collaboration is poised to reshape the power dynamics of South Asia. Nepal, Bangladesh, and India have inked a historic tripartite agreement which was fortified during Nepalese Prime Minister Puspa Kamal Dahal's recent visit to India in June 2023. This pact unlocks the potential for hydroelectricity from Nepal to flow to Bangladesh via India's robust transmission infrastructure. Amidst Bangladesh's recurring blackouts due to currency limitations impeding fuel imports, this alliance provides a lifeline. In tandem, Nepal's surplus hydroelectricity harnesses at 97% capacity will find a much-needed outlet. India is an instrumental collaborator in this transformative journey with its ambition to achieve 500 GW of non-fossil energy by 2030. The high-voltage transmission line, sponsored by the Asian Development Bank, links Bheramara in Bangladesh with Baharampur in India, marking a pivotal stride towards cross-border electricity exchange. Its establishment augments regional energy security, especially relevant in today's energy-insecure world. This joint initiative symbolises mutual understanding and neighbourly collaboration. It beckons an era of seamless cross-border energy transmission underscores the paramount importance of united efforts in enhancing regional stability and shared prosperity.  The power-sharing agreement between India, Bangladesh, and Nepal is set to transform the energy scenario of the South Asian region. The three countries recently concluded a tripartite agreement that will enable the transfer of hydroelectricity from Nepal to Bangladesh using the Indian grid and transmission lines. The deal came to fruition when the Nepalese Prime Minister Puspa Kamal Dahal last visited India in June 2023. After the meeting with his Indian counterpart, Indian PM Narendra Modi allowed the use of the Indian transmission line to boost energy connectivity within the South Asian region.  Bangladesh is facing frequent blackouts as it is faced with the problem of depleting foreign exchange reserves which is making the import of fuels difficult for the country. On the other hand, Nepal is blessed with surplus hydroelectricity, nearly 30 per cent more than its domestic requirement, during the wet season and is therefore seeking to sell the excess power to Bangladesh. Since there is an absence of any grid connectivity between    the two countries, both countries sought India’s help, which India as a good friend and neighbour to both the countries, readily agreed to.  The power companies from the three countries – Bangladesh, Nepal, and India –  Bangladesh Power Development Board, Nepal Electricity Authority, and NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam (NVVN), respectively, have entered into a collaboration for cross-border power trading using the Bahrampur-Bheramara high voltage line.  This high voltage transmission line, connecting Bangladesh’s western electrical grid at Bheramara with India’s eastern grid at Bahrampur. After the conclusion of this tripartite agreement, this Asian Development Bank-funded USD 193 million high voltage line will pave the way for cross-border electricity trade. Notwithstanding this line, Bangladesh and Nepal are already considering a transmission line through India that will solely be dedicated for the bilateral electricity trade between Nepal and Bangladesh.  It is important for Nepal to be able to transfer its surplus electricity to prevent, or at least reduce, the wastage. With a total installed capacity of 2,600 MW, Nepal produces over 97 per cent of its electricity through hydropower. At present, Nepal is exporting around 450 MW of its electricity to India. But Nepal has been increasing its hydropower output to meet the electricity demand for dry season. This increased output turns into surplus power during the wet season which Nepal needs to export, and thus in search of a market. With a power-sharing agreement with India already in place, Nepal sought to export some of the excess power to Bangladesh.   Bangladesh, on the other hand, is seeking electricity to meet the shortfall in its own power generation and fulfil the power demand of the country. However, in the near future Bangladesh needs to make a seamless transition from conventional sources of energy to    renewable energy source. This is necessary to ensure not only its energy security but also for long-term sustainability. In the aftermath of the breaking out of Russia-Ukraine crisis, developing and least-developed countries have been facing a looming threat of energy insecurity. Given the context of this war, cross-border energy cooperation and rejuvenating the idea of a power corridor is necessary for Bangladesh to mitigate its power crisis.  Since Nepal is a land-locked country, Nepal’s plan to export its surplus power to Bangladesh would require India’s assistance and support. In the initial phase, Bangladesh and Nepal have decided to trade about 40 to 50 MW of electricity using cross-border power transmission link facilitated by India. As per the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) of India, it is allowed to do cross-border trade where India’s involvement is present. A specific provision of the tripartite agreement allows the Indian authority to become a party to the bilateral framework through signing of an agreement between the Government of India and the governments of the respective countries.  Since India itself is looking to transition to a Green India through a focus on renewable energy production with a goal of generating 500 GW from non-fossil sources and use 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030, India can use the power corridor of Bangladesh to reduce the cost of power generation. Bangladesh itself is looking to get a power mix of 40 per cent from renewable sources by 2050 from the present 3 per cent mix.  This tripartite agreement is therefore going to usher in an era of cross-border power transmission in a seamless manner that will boost energy security in the South Asian region. This cooperation augurs well for the entire region as evidence of collaboration among neighbours for the mutual benefit of all.   In conclusion, the tripartite power-sharing agreement among India, Bangladesh, and Nepal stands as a transformative milestone in reshaping the energy scenario of South Asia. This collaborative effort addresses critical energy challenges faced by Bangladesh while providing Nepal with a valuable outlet for its surplus hydroelectricity. India's role as a facilitator and collaborator in this venture through its formidable transmission network underlines its commitment to renewable energy goals. The establishment of the Asian Development Bank-funded high-voltage transmission line between Bheramara and Baharampur further strengthens the regional energy infrastructure, enhancing energy security in a volatile global energy context. This initiative embodies the spirit of cooperation among neighbouring nations, setting a precedent for mutual prosperity and sustainability. As the world grapples with energy insecurity, this partnership signifies a beacon of hope and regional stability. It underscores the necessity of cross-border energy cooperation and the potential for collaborative endeavours to address energy crises. Ultimately, it exemplifies the power of unity in advancing shared goals and securing the energy future of South Asia. Dr Maheep is a leading analyst of India’s Foreign Policy. He is the Principal investigator of a National Project on India’s Soft Power Diplomacy
A national survey by International Republican Institute found that Sheikh Hasina remains Bangladesh’s most popular leader
Bangladesh’s next general election, which is widely perceived as being important due to the role it is expected to play in determining the country’s political future, is barely six months away. Incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ruling Awami League (AL) party have battled an aggressive campaign led by the primary opposition party the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) as well as economic difficulties that the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought upon the country. The problems of the AL government were compounded earlier this year when the United States (US) began exerting escalating pressure on it to prove its democratic credentials even after 15 years in power. In this backdrop, the recent findings of the national survey conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) that while Bangladesh citizens were pessimistic about the economy and elections, policies on infrastructure and development had buoyed Sheikh Hasina’s public support and added to her popularity would have come as a pre-election shot in the arm for the AL. The IRI is an American nonprofit organization that is funded and supported by the US federal government, and the conclusions of a survey conducted by it would have been taken careful note of by Sheikh Hasina and her team. In an article titled ‘Bangladesh: Survey Reveals Premier Remains Popular Despite Growing Public Discontent’ that was posted on 9 August on the website of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), David Hoogstra, a program manager at the IRI, and Geoffrey Macdonald observed that although political tension was rising in Bangladesh ahead of the country’s next national elections, due by January 2024, with both the ruling AL and opposition BNP holding large rallies across the country to mobilize their supporters, there was little polling data publicly available that could put in focus the state of race. For a country of 170 million people, there was remarkably little credible public opinion data in Bangladesh. Most observers’ assessment of political strength was driven by impressions of grassroots enthusiasm and crowd size at rallies, which are highly unreliable measures. That changed a little when the IRI recently released its national survey and focus group discussion (FGD) study that shed light on Bangladesh’s political, economic, and social dynamics. The authors wrote, “This research shows that though citizens are pessimistic about the state of the economy and elections, the government’s policies on infrastructure and development have buoyed the prime minister’s public support. Furthermore, while the opposition’s popularity is growing and its calls for a caretaker government are breaking through, Bangladeshis appear skeptical of its boycott strategy”. The IRI survey found that economic issues had been driving the pessimism in Bangladesh, and 51 percent of the respondents said that the economy was doing poorly. Bangladeshis are also frustrated with politics, and ordinary citizens believe that political and civic institutions are not protecting their interests. Others cited corruption, a serious issue across all of South Asia, as the single most important problem in the country. Even civil society was viewed negatively, with 62 percent saying civic groups represent the interests of elites. The article pointed out that the most contentious debate in Bangladesh’s politics currently centered on election administration. The BNP is boycotting all elections until the restoration of Bangladesh’s caretaker government (CTG) system, which installs a politically neutral government before election day. The AL — which scrapped the system after Bangladesh’s high court ruled it unconstitutional in 2011 — says the Election Commission can competently oversee fair elections. AL supporters point to the BNP’s massive Dhaka rally in December 2022 and other opposition political events held freely around the country. In 2022, non-AL candidates won in local elections, lending credibility to the process. Recent municipal elections have encountered some problems but have also been lauded for relatively high turnout, reduced violence and open competition in some locations. Furthermore, the government has consistently said it welcomes international election observers in January. In May, the AL also floated the idea of a bipartisan election time government including the BNP, and a senior AL official recently said the party is open to internationally mediated political dialogue. Nevertheless, Bangladeshis are divided on this issue. While 92 percent say they are very or somewhat likely to cast their vote, 56 percent of Bangladeshis say the opposition should compete in the election even if the CTG is not reinstated. In focus groups, many BNP supporters urged their party to run. The article concluded that “The Bangladeshi public’s pervasive pessimism appears to be boosting the opposition’s popularity but has not yet substantially weakened the Sheikh Hasina government. About 70 percent of Bangladeshis say the prime minister is doing a good job, and majorities approve of the government’s performance on various policy issues from access to drinking water to improving education”. International opinion on the issue of democracy and rule of law in Bangladesh has been divided and inconsistent. Over the past year, several senior US government officials — including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Hass and State Department Councilor Derek Chollet — have publicly called for free and fair elections in Bangladesh. Al Jazeera reported in May this year that Antony Blinken had said that the US was adopting a new policy to restrict visas for Bangladeshis who undermined the democratic election process at home. Blinken said the US was supporting “free, fair and peaceful national elections” and would target either pro-government or opposition supporters in the deeply polarised nation. Blinken added that he was “announcing this policy to lend our support to all those seeking to advance democracy in Bangladesh”, and that the move could affect current or former officials and politicians and members of law enforcement, the judiciary and security services “believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh”. He asserted that “The holding of free and fair elections is the responsibility of everyone – voters, political parties, the government, the security forces, civil society and the media”. Other western-aligned governments have followed the US’ lead on Bangladesh. The United Kingdom (UK), Japan and others have echoed US calls for free and fair elections, and the European Union (EU) sent a six-member Election Exploratory Mission that visited Bangladesh from July 8 to July 22 and held several dozen meetings with various stakeholders, including political parties, media representatives and civil society members, to assess the political situation in the country and to decide on the possibility of sending EU election observers to monitor the January 2024 polls. A high-level US delegation, including Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu and Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya, also visited Bangladesh in July and discussed a range of issues, including “free and fair elections”, labor issues, human rights and combating human trafficking with senior Bangladeshi officials. In its response to Blinken’s comments, the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry issued a statement assuring of free and fair elections in January next year. It said, “The government apparatus will take necessary measures to prevent and address any unlawful practices or interference … to compromise the smooth and participatory conduct of the elections. The electoral process will remain under strict vigilance, including by international observers as accredited by the Election Commission”. It stressed that the Election Commission retained the ability to perform its functions in full independence, credibility and efficiency. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reacted angrily to the new visa rule, which was widely perceived as a warning to the ruling administration, and said it amounted to an attempt to topple her government. Speaking at the Qatar Economic Forum in Doha shortly after Blinken’s statement, Sheikh Hasina assured that “I am here to ensure our people’s voting rights because people should decide who will run the country. It is people’s power. I want to ensure people’s power. I am not here to grab power, rather I want to empower our people. They should have that right to choose their government. So under our government, definitely elections will be free and fair”. Taking a dig at the US’ own imperfect experience with democracy, Hasina had added, “As for the US, you can see that Mr Trump didn’t accept the results. What do they have to say now? We have told everybody, if they want to send observers they can do it”. Some analysts believe that the US pressing Bangladesh on democracy has more to do with gaining leverage in business and trade deals and countering rival China’s growing influence in the country. Washington, they say, has done little to push for free elections in Pakistan which is mired in its own deep political crisis. They argue that under proxy military rule, mass arrests, disappearances, murders and torture have become a regular feature in Pakistan. Delwar Hossain, a professor of international relations at the University of Dhaka, was quoted by the Bangladeshi media as saying that “The US approach to Bangladesh needs to be changed. In the case of Pakistan’s political instability, the US is silent while in Bangladesh’s case they are highly active”. Among regional powers, India has consistently extended its unqualified support to the Sheikh Hasina regime. Ali Riaz, non-resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, noted in his article titled ‘Bangladesh election 2024: What role will India play?’ that “Under the Hasina regime, India has received Bangladesh’s support in rooting out insurgency in India’s Northeastern region, securing transit through Bangladesh, gaining permanent access to two main ports in the Bay of Bengal, signing an energy deal which ensures that Bangladesh buys electricity with the highest cost, inking an agreement which allows India to install a surveillance system in the Bay of Bengal, agreeing to a water-sharing deal which provides India control over the river Kushiyara and engaging in close defense cooperation to name but a few significant bilateral achievements”. Riaz opined that it was, therefore, not surprising that “Despite the intense discussions in the media, there hasn’t been any official word from New Delhi regarding the new United States policy or the growing tension between the United States and Bangladesh. New Delhi has remained studiously silent”. India’s support for Sheikh Hasina is on account of many factors, most significant among which is the terrorism promoted by the BNP during its period in power in Dhaka that Hasina has helped virtually eliminate. Equally weighty is the Indian desire to keep China at bay. For its part, China has sought to foster close economic and defense cooperation with Sheikh Hasina’s government, while remaining politically neutral. The US-led West, which has for several years been sensitive to India’s position on Bangladesh, also recognizes the perils of pushing Sheikh Hasina too far. As Jasmin Lorch, South Asia analyst and guest lecturer at the Humboldt University in Berlin put it while commenting upon the possibility of EU sanctions on Bangladesh, “It is also unclear whether such restrictions would be effective because they might just push Bangladesh closer to China, which is a highly authoritarian patron”. From the US perspective, adopting too tough a stance against Bangladesh at this juncture could actually run counter to its broader geopolitical interests in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific. As Geoffrey Macdonald pointed out, “Internationally, the United States, India and China will be watching closely. Bangladesh’s long border with India, strategic location on the Bay of Bengal and economic potential make it an attractive ally for Indo-Pacific competitors”, which includes China. The Awami League, meanwhile, will take solace that the desire of the US to build a close relationship with India will, to a lesser or greater extent, serve to dilute democracy-promoting pressure upon Dhaka from Washington.
In America, India is now bipartisan. Amrit Kaal is here
For the first time in a long time—perhaps for the first time ever—an Indian prime minister is receiving blanket coverage across American television, print, and digital media. Though pockets of scepticism can be found, the keynote tone is excitement. For good or (occasionally) for bad, everyone wants to talk India. It feels like the Amrit Kaal of US-India relations is here. Few Americans would have any idea what “Amrit Kaal” means, or what it has to do with India. But they do know that this is India’s moment, that India is the new China for America’s corporate leaders, and that there is bipartisan support for India on Capitol Hill. And for the first time, most Americans can probably name one Indian other than Mahatma Gandhi. That Indian’s name is Narendra Modi. The turnaround The new excitement represents a fast turnaround in the direction of US-India relations. In 2021, Biden’s nominated ambassador to India, Eric Garcetti, vowed to make NGO concerns about Muslim rights a “core piece” of his mission. Then in 2022, the Biden administration started pressuring India to publicly condemn its longest-standing arms supplier—and only reliable veto on the UN Security Council. When the highly politicised United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) made its annual appeal for the State Department to name India a “country of particular concern” for religious repression, Biden’s own ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom Rashad Hussain pointedly accused Indian government “officials” of “supporting rising attacks on people and places of worship”. It was an overt attempt to sabotage the administration’s India policy, and an act of desperation. Hussain even prefaced his allegation with “as the Secretary stated”. Although Secretary of States Antony Blinken had stated no such thing. That was in mid-2022. When the 2023 USCIRF report was released, Hussain was not invited back to the podium. Instead, President Biden invited PM Narendra Modi to Washington for an official State visit. Not to be outdone, the United States Congress issued its own invitation to Modi to address a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The joint session is symbolic, because support for India is one of the few things the Democrat-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate agree on. In America, India is now bipartisan. If there ever was an Amrit Kaal for US-India relations, it is now. It’s not just that India’s corporate and diaspora boosters are out in force. Even India’s staunchest critics in America have been marginalised as never before. The few US news outlets that want to highlight criticisms of India have had to turn to Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, who can be counted on to tell anyone who will listen that India is primed for a Muslim genocide. For everyone else, it’s pure celebration. Fans of Modi are focusing on “dynamic diaspora” and “world’s largest democracy” rhetoric. Detractors of Modi are focusing on India’s “youthful demographics” and the world’s “fastest-growing large economy”. Both alike share a positive vision for India—and US-India relations. Inevitably, China forms part of that narrative, but a surprisingly small part. American geopolitical analysts have long fantasised about India opening some kind of second front to relieve Chinese maritime pressure in the Western Pacific, but they don’t seem to realise that India has confronted an expansionist China for more than sixty years. It is India, not the United States, that has banned Chinese apps, provoked China to boycott the G20, and actually inflicted casualties on Chinese troops straying too far across the Line of Actual Control. Even India’s Russian-built S-400 air defence missile system, to which the United States has objected so strenuously, is intended primarily for use against China. The power of Indian-Americans So, forget about all the defence procurement stories percolating through the war-obsessed internet. The real India excitement in the United States comes from the diaspora community and the corporate community. And with so many Indian-origin people running major US companies, the two can sometimes seem to be the same thing. When Americans want to know about India, and especially when corporate America wants to know about India, they turn to the Indians in their midst. Indian-Americans are by far the highest-earning minority group in the United States. Everyone knows that Google, Microsoft, and IBM are all run by Indian-Americans, but they are only the tip of a very deep iceberg. At most top US companies and the professional services companies that cater to them, India-born executives can be found at every level of management. Many of them emigrated thirty or forty years ago, and they are keenly aware of the economic changes that have occurred in India since they left. Whatever their politics, they are in no doubt that today’s India is a land of opportunity. Few of them would have thought that about the India of their formative years in the 1980s and 1990s. Thus US-India relations, once the preserve of security analysts and human rights organisations, has become the domain of the diaspora professional. This civilianisation of the relationship bodes well for the future. Politics are inherently unpredictable, but economic networks are much more robust. The more US-India relations are driven by people, not politics, the more stable they will become. “Amrit Kaal” is a slogan made in India, for India. It is not going to jump the cultural divide, like yoga, meditation, or ayurvedic medicine. But it is real all the same. Indian-Americans don’t have to explain the concept to their corporate colleagues in order to put it into practice. All they have to do is be themselves, and their colleagues will get the message that now is the time to go all in on India. Salvatore Babones is an associate professor at the University of Sydney and the executive director of the Indian Century Roundtable. Views are personal.