By S. Binodkumar Singh
On January 28, 2013, Bangladesh Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir and his Indian counterpart Union Home Minister (UHM) Sushil Kumar Shinde signed a landmark Extradition Treaty at Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital, to combat terrorism and facilitate suppression of crime by making further provision for the reciprocal extradition of offenders. Significantly, however, Article 6 of the Treaty says that “it would not be applicable in case the offence is of a political character.”
Earlier, as a precedent, the two countries had signed the Agreements on Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal Matters, Transfer of Sentenced Persons and Combating International Terrorism, Organized Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking, during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to New Delhi between January 10 and 13, 2010.
In the intervening time, to reduce the incidents of border killings and smuggling of arms and drugs, human trafficking and other illegal activities along the Indo-Bangladesh border, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and India’s Border Security Force (BSF) on March 13, 2012, started “coordinated patrolling” and “night coordinated patrolling” at 120 border points selected by two different teams of the BGB and the BSF under the India-Bangladesh Coordinated Border Management Plan (CBMP), which had been jointly signed on July 30, 2011, at Dhaka.
Notably, since the Sheikh Hasina led Awami League (AL) Government (it is in alliance with five other parties) came to power in Bangladesh in January 2009, the state initiated a decisive campaign against radical forces on the domestic front, and also acted relentlessly against various militant formations operating in India’s North East (NE), which had long been sheltered on Bangladeshi soil. Since Hasina assumed power, security cooperation between Bangladesh and India has been dramatic, resulting in the arrest of some of the top NE insurgent leaders by Indian Security Forces after they were ‘pushed back’ into India. Prominent among those held in Bangladesh and ‘handed over’ to India were: All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) ‘chairman’ Ranjit Debbarma (January 23, 2013); Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) ‘Chairman’ Champion R. Sangma (July 30, 2012); United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) ‘captain’ Antu Chaudang and ‘second lieutenant’ Pradeep Chetia (February 5, 2011); United National Liberation Front (UNLF) ‘chairman’ R. K. Meghen alias Sanayaima (November 30,2010); Anti-talks faction of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) ‘chief’ Ranjan Daimary alias D R Nabla (May 1, 2010); ULFA ‘chairman’ Arabinda Rajkhowa alias Rajiv Rajkonwar‘ and ‘deputy commander-in-chief’ Raju Baruah (December 4, 2009); ULFA ‘foreign secretary’ Sashadhar Choudhury and ‘finance secretary’ Chitraban Hazarika (November 4, 2009).
India has also been requesting Bangladesh to hand over Anup Chetia alias Golap Barua, ‘general secretary’ of the ULFA, who was arrested in Dhaka along with two other ULFA militants on December 21, 1997, for illegally carrying foreign currencies and a satellite phone, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Even after spending more than 15 years in various prisons the Bangladesh, he continues to remain behind bars. However, despite the fresh Extradition Treaty, Bangladesh Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir on January 28, 2013, stated that Bangladesh would not be able to send back Anup Chetia under the treaty as he had prayed for political asylum in the Supreme Court, adding, “The Supreme Court will first have to dispose of his prayer for political asylum. After that, we will decide whether to treat this person or any other persons under this extradition treaty or in some other way.”
Other North East militant leaders on Bangladeshi soil, whose expatriation India seeks, include National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) leaders Bishwamohan Debarman and Subir Debbarma, and NDFB leader Thulunga alias Tensu Narzary.
Bangladesh has unambiguously demonstrated its will to end the operation of NE Indian terrorist and insurgent groupings from its soil. Nevertheless, Indian intelligence inputs suggest that at least 55 camps of NE militants continue to operate in Bangladesh, and there is certainly some unfinished business at hand.
Similarly, Dhaka has been demanding that India arrest and hand over Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s two convicted killers, Abdul Mazed and Moslehuddin Khan (who held the rank of Captain and Risaldar, respectively, at the time of the assassination), and are believed to be hiding in India.
In addition, there are several other criminals operating with impunity across the Indo-Bangladesh border, and the Extradition Treaty should help the two countries break this criminal nexus.
As cooperation on the security front strengthened, the resultant increase in trust has led to positive developments on other issues of bilateral concern as well, despite hurdles. These include the historic agreement signed on September 6, 2011, during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka, to settle land boundary issues, including the exchange of 162 ‘enclaves’ which are in ‘adverse possession’. Though the Teesta Water Sharing Deal, could not be concluded because of last-minute objections raised by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on the draft of the agreement, India’s Water Resources Minister Harish Rawat, on November 7, 2012, during a meeting with visiting Bangladesh Agriculture Minister Motia Chowdhury at New Delhi, expressed interest in inking a provisional Teesta Water Sharing Agreement, until a permanent settlement was found.
On July 3, 2012, moreover, Dhaka gave its letter of consent for the renewal of Transit and Transshipment Rights to India, for the continuation of transshipment of bulk cargoes, with retrospective effect from April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2014. The PIWTT, which was renewed annually till then (July 3, 2012), as was agreed in the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT, 1972), was suspended on October 26, 2011, after Dhaka refused to issue the letter of consent because of the failure to reach an agreement on the Teesta Deal.
In addition, following up on the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on India-Bangladesh Energy Cooperation signed on September 6, 2011, at Dhaka, the first Joint Working Group (JWG) meeting on renewable energy was held in New Delhi on August 3, 2012, where Bangladesh and India briefed each other on the present status and growth potential of renewable energy. Similarly, a high-level Indian delegation led by Power Secretary P. Uma Shankar visited Dhaka on January 29, 2013, to sign a deal for the proposed 1,320 megawatt coal-fired power plant at Rampal in the Bagerhat District of Khulna Division in Bangladesh, and the purchase of power by Bangladesh from India.
Significantly, at the time of the signing of the Extradition Treaty, the two sides also inked a liberalized visa agreement, the Revised Travel Arrangement (RTA), to remove restrictions on visits of businesspersons, students, patients, senior citizens above 65 years and children below 12 years.
Conspicuously, Indo-Bangladesh relations have witnessed a strong positive surge since 2009, and this has had a transformatory impact on the trajectory of terrorism and extremism in both the countries, visibly improving the general security environment in the region, and creating a strong foundation of trust. Much, however, remains to be done and, in this, India needs to be the more proactive, both because it is by far the larger partner, and also because Dhaka appears to have done much more in the recent past than Delhi. This equation becomes the more crucial as Bangladesh approaches another General Election in which the present Opposition, backed by a very substantial radicalized constituency, will attempt to cast improving relations with India as a ‘betrayal’ of Bangladeshi interests. As disruptive political mobilization in Bangladesh – of which significant evidence is already visible – gathers force in the run up to the Elections, it will require dramatic and demonstrable successes in the delivery of quantifiable benefits to Dhaka, both to consolidate the relationship and, crucially, to diminish the impact of vicious propaganda that could, otherwise, jeopardize the remarkable gains of the past four years.
S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management