By Joyeeta Bhattacharjee
During the meeting between the home secretaries of India and Bangladesh held in October this year, Bangladesh agreed to sign an extradition treaty and there has been major progress on this regard. This is certainly a welcoming development.
The need for an extradition treaty between India and Bangladesh has been felt for quite some time, particularly after the Awami League government began a crackdown on anti-India insurgents and terrorist groups hiding in Bangladesh. Without a legal framework in place, both the countries found it difficult to pursue criminal and terrorist groups. The absence of such a treaty also created hurdles in intelligence sharing, exchange of court documents and a closer counter-terrorism cooperation. The treaty also underlines the growing warmth and trust between the two countries.
India for long has been urging Bangladesh to sign the extradition agreement. A cornerstone of India’s Bangladesh policy has been security. Several insurgent and terrorist groups operating in India had found easy shelter in Bangladesh. On the other hand, Bangladesh has been reluctant to do so. Successive governments in Bangladesh had their reasons – (i) since they have signed SAARC Regional Convention of Suppression of Terrorism which enable member country to grant extradition, hence there is no need for a bilateral agreement; (ii) It will benefit India more than Bangladesh because with this agreement in place, India will be able to bring back separatist leaders like United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) leader Anup Chetia, who is in a Bangladesh jail since 1997. India believed that Bangladesh was keen on pursuing the anti-India elements and therefore hesitated to sign the extradition treaty.
Today, the situation in Bangladesh has changed substantially. Rising religious extremism in Bangladesh since the early 2000s has forced the policy makers to rethink on the issue of counter terrorism cooperation with India. It is now widely accepted in Bangladesh that no country can remain insulated from the evil effects of terrorism and the country remained vulnerable to trans-national violent extremist groups. It was this realisation that inspired the Awami League government to move decisively against domestic extremist elements and also the insurgent and terrorist groups operating against India from Bangladesh.
It was Bangladesh which helped in the detention of many top leaders of various north-eastern insurgent groups like Arabinda Rajkhowa, Ulfa’s self proclaimed Chairman, and Ranjan Daimary, Chief of National Democratic Front of Bodo (NDFB). The proceedings of War Criminals Tribunal and the manhunt for the killers of the founding father of Bangladesh, Mujibur Rahman, created a favourable public and political opinion in moving forward with the extradition treaty proposal. Many in Bangladesh believe that some killers of Mujib are hiding in India and the treaty would help in their search and subsequent extradition.
Reciprocity is the key pivot for the success of any extradition treaty. An extradition treaty enables one country to arrest or even try one individual person for offences committed in the signatory country. India has at present extradition treaties with 28 countries. Considering the nature of India and Bangladesh relations, the extradition treaty will help smoothen the way for a deeper relationship, particularly in the area of security.
Despite the obvious positive fallouts, some questions are being raised on both sides of the border about the efficacy of the treaty and its impact on the bilateral security cooperation. The scepticism is fuelled by the delay in signing two key agreements — the Teesta water sharing agreement and transit treaty. The two governments, which have invested considerable stake in the bilateral relationship, need to take the next logical steps in transforming commitments into formal agreements without much delay. Failure to do so would fritter away the benefits of making bold steps in security cooperation.
(Dr. Joyeeta Bhattacharjee is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)