Bangladesh: New base
India has never ever viewed Bangladesh in an adversarial
perspective. Not even when for reasons of domestic politics, a
section of the Bangladesh polity has made anti-Indian stances as a
plank to gain political mileage.
India wishes for regional cooperation with Bangladesh
especially in the economic field. More so, when Bangladesh’s
economic interdependence with India, if realistically pursued could
lead to economic prosperity for Bangladesh. A significant example
being the export of natural gas to India for which even United
States companies are pressing.
It seems that Bangladesh like Pakistan, (which under
similar United States pressures refuses to export natural gas to
India) is vulnerable to political pressures, especially from Islamic
fundamentalists parties to refrain from economic interactions with
India, despite the sizeable financial losses to their respective
Bangladesh today also seems to be getting overtaken
by Islamic fundamentalist parties, which do not portend well for the
future of good relations with India.
Emerging Political Influence of Islamic
Fundamentalists in Bangladesh:
Bangladesh’s domestic politics are not India’s concerns. But when
the rise of political influence of Islamic fundamentalist parties
begins to influence Bangladesh’s politics and policies in a manner
significant to erode Bangladesh-India friendship or in activities
which start impinging on India’s national security interests, then
it does become a serious concern for India.
The rise of Jamaat-e-Islami, currently a member of
the ruling alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)
under Begum Khalida Zia, the Prime Minister, is becoming
significant. Commenting on political turbulence in Bangladesh, a
Bangladesh defence analyst, Brigadier General Jahangir Kabir (Retd)
in an editorial opinion in the “The Daily Star”” entitled “Policies
of April 30 and Beyond” (May 03, 2004) had commented that the
“Jammat-e-Islami is the real winner in the current situation.
Instead of being in a squeeze from our pro-West major political
parties, it is moving from strength to strength on the back of BNP
as a free rider”.
The strengthening of such parties along with others
with their pan-Islamic links with militant Islam is therefore not
only India’s concern but as witnessed above within Bangladesh also.
It is in this perspective that has to be viewed the discernible
contours of Pakistan exploiting Bangladesh and its territory as an
alternative base for continuance of its proxy war against India.
Pakistan Imperatives for Using Bangladesh as
Alternative Base for Proxy War Against India:
Pakistan’s imperatives in this regard are quite obvious. The more
significant ones being:
* Pakistan’s proxy war activities
against India are under close watch by the United States within
* US intelligence agencies teams
operating within Pakistan in sizeable numbers post-9/11 are
exercising close scrutiny and surveillance of Pakistan’s Islamic
Jehadi organizations and their linkages with Pakistan’s notorious
intelligence agency, the ISI.
* India’s extensive border fencing
along the International Border and Line of Control is significantly
impeding cross-border terrorism and proxy war activities of
* Along the entire western
borders of India, except for a few safe havens in the Kashmir valley
the ISI and Islamic Jehadis cannot make headway anywhere else.
Pakistan perforce, therefore, has to change its base
for its proxy war against India whose continuance is an essential
strategic requirement for the Pakistan Army’s continuing grip on
power in Pakistan, notwithstanding commitments given to the United
Bangladesh offers Pakistan an attractive alternative
base for continuing its proxy war against India, especially under
the current political dispensations in both countries.
Bangladesh’s Utility to Pakistan as Alternative Proxy
War Base: Bangladesh has stood exploited
by Pakistan as a springboard for anti-Indian operations of the ISI
for decades now. Pakistan’s main target all along having been to
keep India’s North East states in a state of strategic
destabilization to reduce pressures along the India-Pakistan
However, post-9/11, Pakistan’s strategy of exploiting
Bangladesh as an alternative base for proxy war against India stands
comprehensively enhanced and expanded, due to the imperatives
Viewing from the geo-strategic angle, Bangladesh’s utility to
Pakistan as a proxy war base arises from the following factors:
* The India Bangladesh border
geographically is porous and difficult to keep under close
surveillance due to its riverine configurations in the West and
hilly terrain in the North East and East.
* Border fencing of the
India-Bangladesh border is yet to commence.
* Bangladesh’s border configuration
rests on vulnerable Indian states like West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya,
Tripura and Mizoram.
* Bangladesh territory provides ISI
with multiple ingress routes to these sensitive Indian states.
* Bangladesh territory sits astride
squarely on India’s strategic “Siliguri Corridor” through which
narrow corridor runs India’s slender communication links with its
seven North Eastern states. Pakistan’s ISI can play havoc against
this corridor from Bangladesh territory.
* The borders of Nepal and Bhutan,
states which enjoy close links with India as non-Islamic states of
South Asia, are within close reach of Bangladesh territory.
Pakistani ISI is already said to be operating against these
countries with linkages to anti-national groups.
* In a belt running parallel to the
borders with Bangladesh and significantly deep, reside large
sections of illegal migrants from Bangladesh, exploitable by Pak ISI.
Bangladesh’ politico-religious factors provide a force-multiplier
effect in terms of Bangladesh’s utility as an alternative base for
Pakistan’s proxy war. These factors are:
* Pakistan’s ISI and its Islamic
Jehadi organizations enjoy pan-Islamic linkages with corresponding
groups in Bangladesh.
* Emerging political influences of
Islamic parties in Bangladesh further reinforces the above.
* Bangladesh’s Armed Forces are
increasingly coming under Islamic fundamentalist influences. They
seem to perceive that Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is a better
weapon to keep India's might at bay.
* Bangladesh already provides safe
havens and gun-running for many anti-Indian insurgent groups of
India’s North East.
* Pakistan’s proxy war activities and
ISI operations can be safely camouflaged under the umbrella of such
* Both Pakistan and Bangladesh are
provided easy “deniability exits” by the above.
* Political fixations of the
present Government in terms of its policies towards India and
Pakistan make it easy for Pakistan to exploit Bangladesh as a proxy
war base against India.
Increasingly, hundreds of “Islamic Madrassas” have
begun springing up along the entire stretch of the India-Bangladesh
border (2,400 km). These “Islamic Madrassas” under the guise of
religious instruction schools provide a nucleus network for Islamic
Jehadi and ISI proxy war against India. Reports indicate that the
“maulvis” (religious teachers are mostly Pakistanis of the Wahabi
Al Qaeda linkages with Bangladesh pre-9/11 and reports of Al Qaeda
operatives flight to Bangladesh post-9/11 stand documented. So also
the disbursement of sizeable financial and to pan-Islamic
organization in Bangladesh by Saudi Arabian organizations deeply
involved in a spread of Islamic fundamentalism. This is a
significant pointer to the emergence of Bangladesh as a base for
Jehadi terrorism with direct implications for India.
India Constantly Points its Concerns to Bangladesh
Without Success: The recent meeting in
Dhaka between the Director General of India’s Border Security Force
and the Director General of Bangladesh Rifles is a pointer. At a
five-day meeting, which ended on May 03, 2004 although a joint
declaration was signed agreeing to stop illegal crossings,
Bangladesh rejected India’s list of 195 terrorist camps in
Bangladesh, disclaiming their existence.
An Indian proposal for joint inspection of suspected
sites was rejected by Bangladesh authorities.
Interestingly one report suggests that during the
discussions, the Bangladesh side maintained that most of the sites
being labeled as terrorist camps were madrassas. On the contrary
this reinforces the Indian point that anti-Indian terrorist groups
are using border madrassas as launching pads for operations against
Bangladesh whether by its own volition or in subtle exploitation by
Pakistan is fast emerging as an alternative base for Pakistan’s
proxy war against India. There are a host of geo-strategic and
politico-religious factors operating in favour of Pakistan in using
Bangladesh as a proxy war base against India. All of them are even
most of them cannot be termed as co-incidental
The media euphoria over India-Pakistan dialogue and
possible peace should not lead India into a state of complacency
that Pakistan would cease its proxy war against India. In fact
Pakistan is not doing so; it is only shifting its base to Bangladesh
to hoodwink the United States scrutiny and have a convenient
This author concluding his above referred paper in
2001 had stated that: “India’s policy planning apparatus both civil
and military are invariably caught on the back foot. Whether it is
Kashmir, Kargil, or China, we do not anticipate events or trends in
the making. Islamic fundamentalist threats are longer confined to
sources from Pakistan and Afghanistan. They have started emanating
from Bangladesh as a base too as would be evident from the
proliferation of Islamic organizations in Assam.”
Three years down the line discernible contours
exist, reinforcing the above assertion, with Pakistan seemingly
determined to use Bangladesh as an alternative base for its proxy
war against India.
It is in Bangladesh’s own domestic political interests to prevent
the “Talibanisation” of its borders with India and not create
tigers, which it cannot ride. Talibanisation of Bangladesh and its
borders have a significant impact not only on the security of India,
but also on Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan. It could also provide
proximate assistance to the Islamic Jehad currently on in South
East Asian countries and a phenomenon, which is increasingly
becoming a global concern and carrying the seeds of external
The author is an
International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the
Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group.