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“India and its South Asian Neighbours other than Pakistan”


(Presentation at the United Service Institution, New Delhi, National Security Seminar on November 9- 10, 2004).

The USI Security Seminar 2004 on “India and its South Asian Neighbours other than Pakistan” limits the discussion to the countries situated primarily to the East and South of India. Although it excludes Pakistan the fact remains that Pakistan’s mischief-making potential remains strong enough in all these countries – actually and potentially -to make the standalone analyses deficient if this influence is not taken into account. Hence it would be prudent to commence with a brief analysis of the intractable situation on the Western front where for full 50 years and more India has been led by the nose by Pakistan, in a manner of speaking, both internally and externally. India’s policy has almost invariably been reactive. No doubt Bangladesh was an outstanding success. However, the military gains were fast dissipated in Pakistan as well as in Bangladesh post-1971. Irrespective of the decline of Pakistan itself on the global arena in recent years, it is undeniable that Pakistan has succeeded brilliantly in the following domains:

- Undermined India’s efforts at securing a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

- Keeping the Kashmir question alive in global forums.

- In concert with China limiting India’s access to Central Asia.

- Reducing the colossus called India into a whimpering giant by forcing it to plead before the world community to save it from cross border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

- Putting India on the defensive on several counts.

- Forcing India to expend enormous outlays to counter the threat of low intensity conflict generated by Pakistan or sponsored by Pakistan.

- Creating adverse situations on the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bangladesh borders.

- In concert with Saudi Arabia contributing to the enormous proliferation of madrasas in India and other parts of subcontinent, notably Bangladesh and the Indo-Nepal border.

- Sustaining militant groups in the North East in spite of the crushing military defeat in East Bengal in 1971.

- Multiplication of jehadi cells in many parts of India and the subcontinent.

- Circulation of large amounts of fake currency in the country.

- In concert with its sympathizers in Bangladesh forcing an exodus of Hindus from that country.

- Pushing in hostile elements for permanent residence in India for carrying out anti-Indian activities at opportune moments.

- Domination of the underworld in Mumbai and other areas on the West Coast through its proxies based in Mumbai.

- Infiltration of the Mumbai film industry.

- Furthering political – criminal nexus in many of the Western states notably, Maharastra and Gujarat.

- Militancy in J&K.

- Innumerable acts of subversion, sabotage and terrorism.

- Subversion of the Muslim psyche and setting up of pan-Islamic movements with anti-India overtones.

When looked at dispassionately the implications of the tabulations made above should have a sobering effect. It is inconceivable that a country the size of India with resources that far outmatch its adversary, Pakistan should have allowed this state of affairs to continue for decades on end. This is in spite of having got the better of Pakistan in four wars against the country. Had an adverse situation developed for India in any of the conflicts the consequences for India would have been far too grim to even think about. Therefore, the question to be addressed is whether India is intrinsically weak or whether it has been artificially weakened through wrong policies, wrong military priorities and an inability to grasp the essentials of the threat that it faces from Pakistan and the manner in which it should be handled.

To overcome the weaknesses that have been allowed to come into India’s strategic planning and thinking and the response patterns that have resulted from the faulty premises, there is a need to apply a tabula rasa approach in an attempt to change the locus as well as the focus of the debate. In the process it is hoped that pathways might evolve that could lead to a more efficacious response to the threats emanating in India’s neighbourhood. While the emphasis will remain on the countries under discussion in the Seminar – the focus of the study – it will be shown that some of the anomalies that had crept into the thinking had resulted from, inter alia, looking at these countries in ‘isolation’, even after it had become abundantly clear to the defence planners of India that China, USA and the Western countries have not taken a hands off approach as regards the subcontinent.

For India to emerge as an important player on the global scene, it has to be able to tackle the radical Islamists threat from Pakistan, which has increasingly been extended to the Eastern sector and even within India under the nose of India’s intelligence agencies. Therefore, unless India has a viable capacity for breaking the impasse that has developed on the subject of cross border terrorism and cross border influx of illegal immigrants it would not be in a position to prevent the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as well as the Maoist-Naxalite threat on the subcontinent. It becomes one of the prime concerns of the present seminar to undertake an analysis of the non-war pathways to arrive at a comfort level that successfully relegates the cross border potential of Pakistan and Bangladesh through the Eastern corridors now in the ascendant to more manageable levels. Nepal presents a problem for India that has a dimension at variance with the threat from Bangladesh. For the time being the Sri Lanka threat has entered a dormant phase as far as India’s security is concerned.

The Government of India has come in for considerable criticism, both from outside the country and within at its handling of its neighbours over the years. What many people find inexplicable is that a country the size of India should continue to appeal to other countries to restrain Pakistan and now even Bangladesh from abetting cross-border insurgent groups. Since intrinsically these countries can be no match for India seeing the relative strengths of all concerned the fault for India’s supposed helplessness in dealing effectively with them must lie in wrong prioritization of force structuring and weapons acquisitions, as also the fixation on an unproductive one-track defence strategy, which ignored several other options available to the country to right the situation.

The paper goes into areas that have been considered taboo to date on account of denominational and other sensitivities. The armed forces are a professional organization. It is incumbent upon professional forces everywhere in the world to examine every aspect of national security with clinical detachment. For example, when the most sacred place of Islam i.e. Mecca itself was threatened by revolutionaries some years ago, the Saudi forces had no hesitation in storming the holiest Citadel of Islam to restore order. Numerous other instances can be cited from Egypt and elsewhere in the world. Nations mindful of their security and especially armed forces are meant to act decisively, when a clear threat emerges. It is only in India that problems are allowed to fester due to endless agonizing. This has become a peculiar Indian trait. Unfortunately, it may have entered into the armed forces mindset as well. Whatever be the case, this paper takes the approach that national security and, by extension, national survival supercedes all other considerations, be they religious or of any other kind.

There is no doubt that the threat to Indian security today is greatest from global terrorism, linked to Islamic fundamentalism. A parallel threat developing due to the regrouping of Naxalite-Maoist forces is not the focus of the paper on account of the space and time constraints. It is amenable to instigation, support or training from both Pakistan and Bangladesh, acting in concert. These kinds of threats are all-pervasive and can surface from within the country or from the West or the East, as is being witnessed with increasing frequency via Bangladesh and even Nepal, putting the entire Northeast in danger. It is not so much the potency of the threat as it exists today, but its alarming potential due to the inability of the governments of India to take decisive and what is more timely action.

By the same token, while adversaries use the interim between wars to strengthen themselves for another round or to achieve their long-term objectives (as in the case of China, USA and Pakistan), in India complacency sets in very fast, even in the armed forces, leading to vulnerabilities that had not existed earlier - after the successful conclusion of the last round. This pitfall too needs to be avoided by the Indian armed forces in future.

In any permanent de-escalation with Pakistan it will have to be ensured that cross border terrorism is ended not only into J&K, from other sectors as well - in the Northeast, including Bangladesh and Nepal. Otherwise, while Pakistan may reluctantly concede to ending cross border infiltration into J&K, it might redouble the effort in other sectors.

On account of the geographical contiguity with Bangladesh and presence of 16 million or so illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in the border-states the rise of Islamic terrorism in the eastern neighbourhood poses a serious threat to India’s long-term national security and territorial integrity. The threat is compounded by the continuing insurgency in the northeast under the aegis of the ISI and the DGFI. Significantly, ULFA and MULTA have already joined the Islamic Manch, an umbrella organization of the Islamic terrorist outfits floated in May 2002, to coordinate inter-organizational activities geared to establishing a transnational Islamic state in the region with Bangladesh at its core. This is in keeping with the gradual shift from the West (Pakistan) to the East (Bangladesh and the northeast) of the asymmetrical warfare capability being built up against India as a long-term, almost never-ending quest for the internal erosion of India. The shift besides complementing the Islamic jihad effort from Pakistan has been necessitated by the greater intrusiveness of the US and Western scrutiny and reach in Pakistan, an intrusiveness that is likely to deepen with each passing year. Taking the definition outlined by other writers ‘asymmetric threat’ is defined as a threat that can cause harm in bigger magnitude than its size.

Asymmetric threat is also defined as a threat that does not follow the known patterns of warfare including surprise attacks, as well as warfare with weapons used in an unconventional manner. It must also be linked to the disproportionality factor discussed in the book Dealing with Global Terrorism: The Way Forward. Unless this asymmetric or disproportionality factor is tackled without resorting to conventional war, both internally and externally in the shape of cross border terrorism, India might not be able to get the upper hand. While the US might find it difficult to deal with the disproportionality factor, the degree of difficulty in the case of India can be considerably reduced.

Hence, peace can only come in after comprehensive dismantling of assets in all sectors. By the same token, the long-term prognostication of any understanding with Pakistan and Bangladesh and the peace measures that follow will generally always turn out to India’s disadvantage because these countries will retain the ability to reactivate dormant cells and restart anti-India activities at any time as long as the military-mullah combine retains power in them in any form. Therefore, India cannot afford to lower its guard. If anything, it will have to redouble its intelligence and counter intelligence efforts; more so, if the peace process moves forward significantly.

Whatever be the outcome of the talks between India and its neighbours and whatever be the concessions made by India to defuse tensions with these countries, either of their own accord or due to external pressures, the aspects outlined in the ensuing paragraphs will invariably work to India’s disadvantage for a long time to come. Firstly, the Muslim community, almost en masse, will be opposed to some fundamental shifts that have taken place in India’s foreign policy. These relate to a better relationship between USA and India and Israel and India. In both cases, the Muslim community is most likely to frown upon the new direction taken by the Government of India, presently or by any successor government. It stems from a visceral anti-Israel sentiment amongst Muslims and the pan-Islamic hatred toward USA that has become embedded in Muslim communities in almost all countries having sizeable Muslim populations. In India, the problem is exacerbated by the large size of the Muslim population and its vulnerability to propaganda coming from across the border. Hence, Indian leaders and the Government of India have to reconcile themselves to this sentiment, which goes against the foreign policies of the government, based on religion and for no other reason or from any anti-nationalism. To that extent, this identifying with the pan-Islamic sentiment at the cost of the national interest is something that has to be lived with and taken into account by all governments and its instruments for the foreseeable future.

Secondly, while the military regime in Pakistan and the ruling dispensation in Bangladesh may actually succeed in dismantling the jehadi camps used for training cross border infiltrators, it is not likely to ever succeed in dismantling the madrasas run by the radical groups that advocate jihad and the killing of Hindus or non-believers by devout Muslims as a matter of faith. Actually, it is the hatred imbibed into the young entrants into the madrasas that allows these tanzeems to keep a stranglehold on their flock. Modernize the madrasas and let fresh thoughts flow in and one will witness a sea change in the behaviour of the students. However, the radical Islamists are not going to let it happen and no government is going to enter into a major confrontation with these groups on this count. Regardless of the peace overtures and other confidence building measures, the products of these madrasas and the firebrand leaders that control them will always be in a position to reestablish the training camps for suicide missions across the border.

Thirdly, as long as America remains bent upon extending its influence in the Middle East, Central Asia, Pakistan and Afghanistan it is axiomatic that anti-modern Islam, in whatever form, will flourish, especially on the subcontinent. Because of the pan-Islamic sentiment in this regard ‘a few’ Muslim groups in India from time to time will either become amenable to join radical groups and indulge in anti-national activities or push their followers into anti-modernity. In the latter case, even if they do not directly indulge in anti-national activities per se, they help in creating the tinder box that can be set aflame by firebrands at some future date when the sentiment of the Muslim youth is exploited due to the policies of the governments of India being followed in the national interest that can be made to look as being anti-Muslim even if they are not so.

These are some of the aspects that will continue to hamstring India’s growth as a regional power regardless of the progress made on the economic or other fronts and irrespective of the concessions that India may make to Pakistan and Bangladesh to lessen tensions in J&K as well as between the two countries as part of the larger measures to harmonise relationships. That being the case, it would be foolhardy in the extreme for the Government of India or its main security instruments to lower their guard in the wake of improved relations. Pakistan and Bangladesh will always retain the option to raise the ante and start fermenting trouble whenever they choose to do so. India has no such retaliatory mechanism other than going to war with these countries. To overcome this perpetual menace the following steps will have to be taken:

- First and foremost, the Government of India and its instruments responsible for the security of the country have to realize that Pakistan and Bangladesh will always be in a position to create mischief for India, either directly or as proxy for outside powers, unless they are sufficiently weakened so that they are unable to indulge in anti-Indian activities in the future. Otherwise India will continue to suffer as it has for the last 50 years in spite of being the stronger power, militarily as well as economically.

- The internal security instruments have to be beefed up so that they are able to ferret out and destroy all sleeper cells and organizations infiltrated by hostile agencies. There can be no let up in this activity, regardless of the attitude of the states. The training and sophistication of paramilitary forces and intelligence agencies to unearth and deal with such threats has to be increased manifold.

- The demographic profile, especially in the border-states, has to be monitored far more professionally. In border areas any attempts made by fundamentalists, be they Pakistani or Bangladeshi agents or Indian nationals to bolster anti-modernity and push the women behind the ‘purdah’ and not let them attend state schools has to be ruthlessly dealt with.

Special efforts should be made, through central agencies deployed on the border if necessary, to open schools for backward populations amenable to the propaganda of the fundamentalists, whether it originates from across the border or within the country.

It is high time that people entrusted with India’s security understood that until the Pakistan and Bangladeshi jehadis are comprehensively disabled there cannot be any peace between India and these countries, even if satisfactory peace accords take place. It is because of the failure of India’s political leadership and defence establishment to grasp this fact that the potential for mischief will always be retained by those inimical to India.

This potential for serious mischief remains one-sided. It obtains only in Pakistan and Bangladesh. India has a different set of problems. What must be understood is that whether in peace or in war the militants will keep planning to undermine India. This exercise will be carried out by them ad infinitum. Hence, India too has to single-mindedly plan for the destruction of these elements by means other than conventional war. So far only lip service has been paid to other avenues available for creating the conditions for the destruction of such elements.

One or two examples of the prevailing one-sidedness will suffice.

On the Pakistan and Bangladesh side the fundamentalists can always block the dissemination of Indian publications and films in provinces or sectors where they hold sway, as they have been doing earlier. Whereas, on the Indian side they will freely use the opportunity available to subvert the psyche of the Muslim population in India through propaganda, direct access, media, and through the spread of madrasas. (The Indian Constitution, judiciary and media, while these are strengths of Indian democracy, which India should rightly cherish and be proud of, works to India’s disadvantage and detriment in as far as it relates to these threats from across). For example, it has to be realized that under General Musharraf the jehadi organizations in Pakistan are extending their grassroots network much faster than even Pervez Musharraf or the Americans realize.

While mainstream political parties have been circumscribed the militant organizations are setting up madrasas with each passing month. They are also organizing grassroots charitable activities for the poorer sections of Pakistan’s society, neglected by the state. Their collection boxes are swelling from massive, small size donations from the ordinary public. They are investing this money well. In the next five to ten years they will mount a credible challenge to the supremacy in the marketplace of the Pakistan-army’s Fauji Foundation. Something similar could be taking place in Bangladesh.

Deterrence and containment of the terrorist threat can never be the long-term strategy of any nation facing a potent terrorist threat. It has to be the destruction of the heart and mind of the organization or entity sponsoring it. Fly swatting should ideally succeed and not precede the former. For an inordinately long period, on account of an inability to come to grips with the essence of the problem, the Indian polity as well as its security apparatus has been unable to tackle the problem effectively. The response has to change. Each nation has to evolve its own alternatives to the US method of dealing with terrorist threats – i.e. pre-emptive destruction or massive retaliation.

After ‘major’ blows to Al Qaeda and other forms of Islamists, the USA is reasonably content to channelise the residual energy of the Islamists/jehadis to Russia, Asia and Africa; i.e. Chechnya, Kashmir and wherever else, provided that Western countries remain insulated to a reasonable degree. For the same reason the Western world, in spite of knowing the difficulties and having appreciated first hand ethnic incompatibilities with foreign populations within, nevertheless, continue to castigate India on that score. It suits them, diverts attention and shifts the focus away from them. India, therefore, remains important to them for this reason as well.

Beefing up India’s internal security is the surest way of ensuring the degradation of hostile capabilities against India. Needless to say, it leaves much to be desired. A democracy with the polity like the one in India will always leave wide gaps in national security, literally and metaphorically, for an enemy to exploit, especially an enemy who can invariably target pan-Islamic sympathies or resentments that have built up in the minority community for various other reasons. The matter is compounded due to the fact that security being a state subject with states responsible for not only dealing with security matters, but also for prosecution, the situation is far from satisfactory.

Additionally, a major flaw that has remained in the Constitution in as far as it relates to internal security; one which has not been remedied in spite of various constitutional amendments in other fields over the last 50 years is the lack of the definition of a federal crime or a federal prosecution agency covering the whole country. Hardly any other country has such infirmities, which can be exploited by interests inimical to the country.

Notwithstanding the above the Indian army must acquaint itself with security enhancement measures being taken by several entities within their respective countries and globally. For example, security guards monitoring close circuit television round the clock may soon become reality for Indian companies supplying high tech security devices. Surveillance cameras could become ubiquitous in Indian factories, because of a US law, which requires exporters to take measures to reduce the threat of terrorist attacks. Leading American retailers and apparel brands such as Wal-Mart, JC Penney and Phillips Van Heusen are in the process of implementing a plan to bring their dedicated suppliers in India under a stringent new law called the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT). The move, the latest in the series of measures initiated by the US government in the aftermath of 9/11, is aimed at guarding commercial shipments to the US against terrorist attacks. The measures under implementation include installation of closed-circuit televisions with a view of critical locations including entrances. Every factory, the US buyers are insisting, should have an eight-foot fence or wall.

The objective of the programme is clearly spelt out in a communication on C-TPAT (including a detailed questionnaire on the security aspects) that Wal-Mart—the world’s largest company with revenues of $246.5 billion—has recently sent to its Indian suppliers. The communication states: “Wal-Mart’s policy is that all suppliers establish procedures to guard against introduction of non-manifested cargo into outbound shipments. Such items would include drugs, biological agents, weapons, radio-active material, illegal aliens and other contrabands.” Post-9/11, US authorities have increased security manifold, Shipping lines are now required to inform US customs authorities in advance of the details of containers. It is believed that shipping companies will also be brought under the ambit of C-TPAT.

The American majors are now gathering data on the security aspects of their suppliers’ plants in India. Some of them are even holding interactive sessions with suppliers on the benefits of joining C-TPAT. Meetings were recently held in Mumbai and Bangalore where most apparel suppliers are located. According to apparel industry sources, any supplier who forms part of the partnership agreement will be considered a low-risk importer, whose shipments will be subject to fewer security examinations by US customs. These importers will also be exempt from focused assessment audits. According to industry sources, some American non-government organizations (NGO) will be given the powers to check whether Indian suppliers are C-TPAT clear or not.

Looking ahead the time may have come, in the face of increasingly sophisticated security threats of a type not faced to date by the Indian army, to incorporate high-tech measures along similar lines, for reasons that do not require to be spelled out. In fact, indigenous satellite technology and existing circuits allow for the central monitoring, as a backup measure of several installations and areas around the country. A scheme along these lines can be worked out separately.


According to a former US Secretary of State, demography plays an important role on account of the fast multiplying populations. The submissive role forced on women led to the population explosion. He went on to say: “generations of young people have grown up in these societies with a surplus of time on their hands and a deficit of productive occupations”. (George P. Shultz at the Kissinger Lecture delivered on February 11, 2004, at the Library of Congress).

Demography has played a major part in the worsening situation in the Northeast. While the estimates of immigrants from Bangladesh may vary from a low of 12 to 16 million to a high of 20 million and above, the fact remains that India will always be at the receiving end of illegal immigration from most of the countries on India’s periphery. Much of this population has the potential to be amenable to blandishments from anti-Indian elements. The security implications of the increasing demographic influx are now being perceived by New Delhi and the State of West Bengal, which had earlier followed an ostrich-like policy in this regard. However, neither West Bengal, nor the Northeastern states and the Centre have formulated clear policies in this regard to ward off the threat posed by the ever-increasing influx from across the borders. If anything, the Centre’s decision to maintain the status quo with relation to the IMDT Act could exacerbate the problem in the years ahead.

Should anticipatory measures not be taken the influx from Bangladesh – and even Pakistan and Nepal – could become a flood when the trade pact referred to as the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing, signed by the WTO members, comes to an end on 31 December 2004, freeing American and European countries that currently buy from 60 countries to source them from fewer countries. The main beneficiary will be China and to an extent India as well, the main losers Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. Millions of people could be thrown out of work in some of the world’s poorest and most politically volatile countries. In Nepal, where more than 300,000 workers depend directly or indirectly on the garment sector for their livelihood, extending the quota system is a critical matter. Experts in Bangladesh fear that anywhere from $1.25 billion to $2.5 billion of that country’s annual exports could be lost, with the shock waves rippling through the nation’s banking sector and the entire economy. Some 70% of Bangladeshi garment workers are women; many come from backward rural areas. It is feared that should they lose their jobs and return home many will have no option but to join the underground sex trade.

In this regard the decision by the House of TATA to invest US $ 2 billion in Bangladesh would appear to be a step in the right direction. Other Indian industrial houses could follow suit, provided they receive cast iron guarantees from the host government.

If not already so Bangladesh could soon become India’s Mexico as regards the continuing demographic influx. The USA has not been able to stop it in spite of much better border management programmes, including high tech surveillance. Of course, the USA does not face the type of threat from the Mexican influx that India potentially faces from the Bangladeshi demographic swamping of certain areas in the Northeast and West Bengal. The response patterns from the Indian side have to be imaginative and innovative.


A few excerpts that have a bearing on the discussion are tabulated below:

- In Afghanistan, according to Christian Aid, the U.S. has spent $40 billion on military operations, while the international spending on aid is $4.5 billion.

- The world suddenlyfinds itself confronting a new phenomenon in the international arena. This is an actor who in many subtle ways has begun to influence the foreign policies of many leading nation-states, an actorwho cannot be appeased because his objective is total annihilation of the enemy and himself at the same time. As Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammad put it from his home in England, "It is foolish to fight people who want death; that is what they are looking for."

- Saudi Influence. It is a factor that has to be taken into account because as much as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia is equally to blame for the radical Islamisation of Bangladesh, as most of the funds for setting up the anti-modern seminaries are sent from Saudi Arabia.

- Now Western leaders have appropriated the rhetoric of humanitarian intervention as part of the military lexicon: tough on terrorism and tough on the causes of terrorism. Poverty and injustice are recognized as factors that nurture terrorism. From there the Bush administration took a major leap to the assertion that U.S. NGOs should consider themselves a branch of the government’s anti-terror effort. The consequences of this approach are obvious - NGOs are associated with U.S. military policy, and where that fails, so does the humanitarian effort. The NGO sector has long outgrown its charitable beginnings and is now a global player: recent estimates suggest that globally some 26,000 NGOs employ 19 million people and dispose of around $1 trillion in finance, much of it directly from governments. Individually, NGOs are bewilderingly diverse; collectively they are a huge force that can change government agendas.

- But the trade-off for power on this scale has been partnership with the governments that largely fund them. In areas where western governments see vital interests at stake, those same governments can now condition the terms under which NGOs operate. When governments overstep the line, the NGOs now share the opprobrium. (The Hindu, July 15, 2004).

- These threats to international security are not purely new phenomena. However, what is new in this sense is the effect of globalisation on these threats. Today, in a world where things have increasingly become more trans-boundary and interdependent, owing to the effects of globalisation, as in the domino theory, any incident in a country or in a region, be it a terrorist act or an ethnic conflict, post threats on other areas. As the corollary to this, such threats that transcend borders happen to affect security more rapidly, more severely in an ever-expanding magnitude with spillover effects. These threats inevitably necessitate collective responds as they affect almost all states in one way or another. (Perceptions, September–November 2003. Revisiting Security Communities After the Cold War: The Constructivist Perspective by Hasan Ulusoy).

- “The other view is that this is a wholly new phenomenon, worldwide terrorism based on a perversion of the true, peaceful and honourable faith of Islam; that its roots are in the madrasas of Pakistan, the extreme forms of the Wahabi doctrine in Saudi Arabia, in the former training camps of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. If you take this view, the only path to take is to confront this terrorism, remove it root and branch and at all costs stop it acquiring the weapons to kill on a massive scale.” (The Statesman, 1 October 2004).

- The report of Justice Joynul Abedin Commission, set up by prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia to investigate the August 21 grenade attack on Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka, where 22 people were killed, follows the line that she took – that the blast was the work of a neighbouring country trying to destabilize her government and install a puppet regime in Bangladesh. Short of naming India, Justice Abedin has said that the local agents of a neighbouring country were responsible for the blast and mayhem. Coming on the heels of the Bangladesh foreign minister Morshed Khan’s provocative statement that his country could play havoc in the northeast “as it was landlocked by Bangladesh”, there is no doubt that the commission’s finding will help Delhi to the conclusion that present rulers in Dhaka are no friends of India. Whatever illusions it had about the character of the Begum Zia government have gone with the sudden steep rise in insurgency in the northeast. In fact, the recent blasts in Nagaland and Assam, which claimed over 40 lives, came soon after Morshed’s threat on the northeast. And now that India is unjustly blamed for the 21 August carnage, Delhi’s attitude to Dhaka is going to undergo a sea change.

There is no doubt that the commission’s finding is going to result in Indo-Bangla relations touching a new low. Delhi knows the purpose of the commission’s finding is aimed at shielding Islamists in Jamat and also within her own party responsible for the 21 August attack. It is also a clever move to divert world attention from the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism, now sweeping Bangladesh. It is also meant to muffle international outcries against attempts on Hasina’s life. Senior world leaders from Kofi Annan, George Bush, Putin, Blair to Manmohan Singh have decried the attack and expressed concern over the attempt to wipe out the entire Awami League leadership.

Some have gone to the extent of airing their doubts about the future of democracy in Bangladesh. That Justice Abedin’s report has refused to identify the real identity of perpetrators of the dastardly crime is borne out by the fact that it says nothing about the recovery of Pakistan-made hand grenades from the scene of attack and also from inside the high security Dhaka central jail. Nor does it mention the bullet marks in Hasina’s car. Actually Khaleda is trying a desperate cover-up so that the hardcore Islamists in her party and the Jamat, besides Mujib’s killers, who attempted a repeat of 15 August 1975 like massacre, are never exposed and brought to justice. She has successfully botched all investigations into a score of bombings that have claimed over 150 lives in the last six years. Even attackers of the British High Commissioner in Dhaka, although identified, are not traced yet. She has allowed Middle East based radical Islamic groups to operate and also let them slip out of the country when exposed. Actually Begum Zia is playing a dangerous game, much too dangerous for her comfort. (The Statesman, 13 October 2004).

The excerpts mentioned above provide an insight into the activities of outside powers that influence events on India’s periphery. For example, although USA and Saudi Arabia might not have a direct presence in Bangladesh to the same extent as Pakistan’s ISI, they indirectly play a role that cannot be ignored. In the case of USA, while it has been hard on Islamic radicalism elsewhere, it has looked on almost benignly at the activities of the Khalida Zia government in promoting or allowing the promotion of radical Islam in Bangladesh.


In the war on terror the globalised market forces now dominate the military scene, blurring the distinction between private and public armies as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wherever there is a shortfall in regular soldiers, private security agencies have been filling the gap. These private contractors have free run of military prisons. It is quite possible that the US may oblige or persuade Bangladesh to fill this role. It has implications for India.

Indian defence planners have to boldly articulate the likely outcome of the demographic shifts being induced in the subcontinent, almost exclusively to India’s disadvantage, be they in Pakistan, Northern Areas, POK, Nepal or Bangladesh. Unless a clear strategy is formulated to alter these trends Pakistan will be strengthened immeasurably at the cost of India. Military officers do not have to be involved with – or shy away from the debate. The clear danger arising from the demographic exclusion of non-Muslims from large parts of the subcontinent and neighbouring regions, while at the same time pushing in of people who denominationally have the potential to be hostile to India is a direct and irrefutable military threat. It needs to be countered urgently and decisively.

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