Bangladesh is standing up to India to stand down the Islamic fundamentalists
Prem Shankar Jha calls for India to be more mindful of Bangladesh’s apprehensions for the relations between the two countries to improve.
Paradoxically, Bangladeshâ€™s creeping estrangement from India is rooted in an attempt by its political leaders and elite to shield their secular heritage from the creeping Islamisation of their society. Over three decades, millions of its workers have returned from West Asia infected by the austere Sunni and Wahhabi Islam they found practised there. The percolation of this imported Islam into Bangladeshi society has turned the Jamaat-i-Islami into a potent political force, and given rise to a still-small terrorist movement that is targeting communist and other â€˜hereticalâ€™ elements.
The fear that these fundamentalists will succeed in enlisting Bangladeshi nationalism to overwhelm its secular polity is the main reason why every government in Dhaka has felt obliged, at least in public, to adopt a less than cooperative attitude to India. This was as true of the Awami League government under Sheikh Hasina as it is of the BNP government of Begam Zia. In 1997, the Awami League government agreed to close down the Ulfa camps in Bangladesh. But after closing down around 50 of them, it found that it could not go any further because of determined resistance from within the Bangladesh army. Since 2001, most of these camps have been reopened. Bangladeshi sources confirmed to me that the majority are permanent encampments whose presence is known to their government and security forces. [HT]
Jha also points out that India’s misguided economic policies of the 70s and the 80s had pernicious effects on the Bangladeshi economy, the legacy of which is haunts bilateral trade relations to this day. This again suggests that the route to improved bilateral relations between the two countries may lie through the trade route. More reason to hope therefore, that Tata’s investment plans become a successful reality.