LBA: Opening up new possibilities
It is rather ironic that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the NDA II government signed the ground-breaking Land Border Agreement (LBA) with Bangladesh. For, till the NDA I government of former prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, it was fashionable in the Prime Ministers’ Office (PMO) and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to look at the eastern neighbour through the Pakistan prism.
There were, of course, some valid reasons for that; some more that were completely invalid. During the tenure of the Vajpayee government, Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) formed the government at Dhaka in 2001. And Bangladesh was the safe haven for anti-India insurgents like the ULFA leadership and a full alphabet soup of militant groups of the North-East Indian origin.
The Bangladesh-policy was being run in New Delhi, primarily by then National Security Adviser, Brijesh Mishra, and a motley group of foreign ministry officials and a few of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW). Every time, India would raise the issue of those insurgents and anti-India activities of various Islamist groups that were offshoots of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Zia would simply stonewall.
The Bangladesh army was backing her then. And they had built strong connections with their counterparts in Pakistan, most on the direction of the Directorate General of Foreign Intelligence (DGFI) that had turned home for fierce anti-India operatives. Zia enjoyed a cosy relationship with the officer corps of the Pakistan army.
Some well-informed sources used to say that Indian intelligence would listen in on her nightly calls to Mian Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad, then the prime minister of Pakistan.
The mistake Mishra and his foreign policy mandarins made was to be led by their nose because of all these factors into believing that Bangladesh could be turned into another enclave of the ISI. So they courted Zia at the expense of Sheikh Hasina, with inducements like secretly flying Zia’s son, the pilfering prodigy Tarique Rehman with then R&AW station chief in Dhaka as escort, to meet the Ambanis.
The futility of these exercises was witnessed when none of the anti-India terrorists could quite be taken into custody, either by security agencies Bangladesh or their Indian counterparts.
Instead, it was with Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee, along with Sonia Gandhi at the helm when pieces began to fall in place. Fortunately, when Zia’s term ended, and the caretaker government (mandated by Bangladesh’s Constitution for holding Parliamentary polls) took reins of power, fully backed by the army that was commanded by a scrupulously nationalist chief of army staff of Bangladesh, General Moeen Khan, now retired.
Though he was equally leery of the constant family feud between the Zias and the Rehman – a fact that led to the ‘minus-two’ formula floated for an early ‘Jatiya Sangshad’ election – he delayed the polls till the time the nation could be brought out of the pernicious political games of a BNP-Jamaat combine. The terrorist groups did try to kill Sheikh Hasina, but they had failed.
The credit that General (<g data-gr-id="62">retd</g>) Khan deserved should be equally shared by the people of Bangladesh – even the post-Liberation war generation – that held their cultural and ethnic roots so dear. These were the people who facilitated the killing of Bangla Bhai, the notorious killer who thought that the law of the land was unto him.
The real change in this country’s Bangladesh policy came at the time of the UPA I government, as stated earlier. But Singh did not have the required political heft – especially after his splendid obsession about the USA and Pakistan – to carry forward the policy of much needed pro-Bangladesh policies.
Despite that, the Indian security establishment was ready to pull her out of Dhaka were the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) were to lead to a rerun of the massacre of 1975. When Sheikh Hasina visited India during the UPA II regime, she came across a nation that was grateful to her keeping for her promises.
The ULFA leadership, barring Anup Chetia (who was in Dhaka’s custody) and Paresh Barua, whose business empire across the India’s eastern border had many stakes of influential men of Bangladesh, was in the hands of Indian authorities.
So was the case with the NDFB leadership. The Islamists that were in cahoots with these anti-India terrorists and who had a free run of Hasina’s Bangladesh had reined in, either killed or in custody. The 2010 visit by premier Hasina could get a $ 1 billion credit line, even as she promised moves on access through the country to the seven sisters of north-east.
Strategically, the Chinese influence on the army of that country appeared to be on <g data-gr-id="49">low</g> ebb. And the possibility of Bangladesh turning into an outpost of Pakistan on the eastern side of India seemed remote.
This column had begun with a seeming irony being played out during the Modi visit. Indeed, the BJP’s policy of kowtowing to Zia’s Islamism in the early part of the last decade, for keeping a bogey alive, appears to have run its course.