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Track-2 diplomacy of former D to D diplomats

Sadeq Khan

Last weekend, "The Great Indian Tamasha" was staged in Dhaka, not by dummy puppets of New Delhi Television (NDTV), but by live players of Delhi-Dhaka Diplomatic Community (DDDC). The show was airily named Indo-Bangla High Commissioners' Summit, to the chagrin of some other diplomats and academics who questioned the summiteers' swagger of plenipotentiary status that they no more enjoy after their retirement or alternative assignment.

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Sadeq Khan

Last weekend, "The Great Indian Tamasha" was staged in Dhaka, not by dummy puppets of New Delhi Television (NDTV), but by live players of Delhi-Dhaka Diplomatic Community (DDDC). The show was airily named Indo-Bangla High Commissioners' Summit, to the chagrin of some other diplomats and academics who questioned the summiteers' swagger of plenipotentiary status that they no more enjoy after their retirement or alternative assignment.

Albeit they headed their respective missions while in service, they were but the eyes and ears for their respective governments in their assigned jurisdiction and not the policy-making brains or the top diplomat of respective country whose directions they obeyed. As such, critics say, their posing as summiteers does not make much sense, however capable, wise and experienced they jointly or severally might shine in Track-two diplomacy to which they have now lent themselves.

Well-intentioned exercise
Be that as it may, the exercise is deemed to have been well-intentioned and focused on putting Delhi-Dhaka relations on a steady course based on 'mutual trust, amity and co-operation in the best interests of the people of Bangladesh and India' by 'protecting their democratic values and rights'. (vide their Dhaka Declaration). To find common ground for 'best interests of the people of Bangladesh and India' would be a tall order to politicians indeed of either country and both countries put together.
The 'summiteers' have nevertheless found keys to two openings, by heavy emphasis on economic engagement and intense cooperation on security matters. While the second opening, as long as it is not abused by doctrinaire, diversionary or hegemonic political motives, is most welcome and already in process, the first one particularly expectation of equal, equitable, inclusive and sustainable growth based on social justice and respect, may prove elusive on account of divergence in development dynamics, market conditions and global parameters of the two countries.
SAARC preferential market bids failed for the same reasons. Expectation of 'free and increased flow of goods and services, including investment and financial services between the two countries, as envisaged by the Dhaka Declaration, may simply remain a far cry. No harm in wishing well though. More pertinent question is: will the politicians, or even the bureaucrats of South Block in Delhi and Foreign Office in Dhaka care to heed beyond what relates to their tasks on the table?
The top diplomat of Bangladesh, a seasoned plenipotentiary turned politician and elected member of parliament, Foreign Minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali had graciously welcomed the 'summiteering' assembly as beginning of a fascinating journey towards strong bond between the two neighbours: "All the pending issues will get resolved through this summit by promoting strategic dimensions led by foreign policymakers of the two developing countries." He acknowledged that  of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in reshaping friendly ties with India, he specified that there was a crisis in mutual trust between the two after the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He claimed: "Relations with the Narendra Modi-led government are sustained."

Uncertainty of 'continuity'
During deliberations in the assembly, Veena Sikri, ex-Indian envoy (2003-06) in Dhaka, alleged that the Bangladeshi media published misconceived and disappointing news about Indian foreign policy on Bangladesh after Narendra Modi assumed power. "Governments in India change but positive attitude to Bangladesh never changes."
Off the floor taking questions from some reporters, former Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka, Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty (2007-2009) said India would like to see return of an "ideal democratic" environment in Bangladesh: "Who doesn't want a good election, truly a good opposition party and a real democratic environment in Bangladesh? As a democracy, India also wants that."
On Jan 5 January elections, he said, "It's the internal matter of Bangladesh as to how it conducts its elections. We will have good relations with whichever government you elect to power. It's not India's look out to see which are the parties contesting the election and which are refraining from it. It's for the people of Bangladesh to take a call on this." He maintained that India's bilateral ties with Bangladesh were good even when there was a military regime in Dhaka.
Some knowledgeable persons from amongst political and media circles in Dhaka with fair knowledge of the policy-making lay-out in New Delhi detected in such remarks of the aforesaid two Indian diplomats, who served in Bangladesh through critical times of transition, some uncertainty in their minds about the "continuity" under Modi of the fundamentals of Bangladesh policy so far pursued by India.
They said all countries, USA, Europe, China, India or Pakistan work with whichever government is in power in any country with which they have diplomatic relations. Bipartisan or multi-party consensus in foreign policy is also not peculiar to India alone, but pursued by various powers of the world "in continuity" unless there is a paradigm shift. But with regime change, emphasis on priorities and leadership equations change.

Spin on illusion of continuity
Modi waves have been breaking ashore in Japan-China-USA-Myanmar-Australia, effecting new chemistry of global leadership equations and resurgence of India's power projection in a political way with his political team and some disconnect from South Block's traditional trappings. Indeed India's External Affairs Ministry is known to have been very powerful in maintaining "continuity" of their policy-prescriptions on all governments in Delhi heretofore. "Modi"-fication of the Indian Security State appear to have broken out somewhat from the dotted lines and gainfully so.
It is also obvious from routine utterances of Modi ministers and Modi himself that unresolved issues with Bangladesh is pending build-up of India's internal consensus, for which according to Ambassador Sikri the Modi government has been more pro-active than the previous governments of Manmohan Singh, that the Modi bandwagon did not as yet have time or inclination to turn to Bangladesh. There are other signs and Modi-minion utterances in Eastern Indian parts of Assam and West Bengal which suggests Ambassador Sikri's assurance that India's "positive attitude to Bangladesh never change" has to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Apart from uncertainties over unresolved land-border delimitation and Teesta water-sharing issues, "Modi"-fied Indian power's attitude to Bangladesh may very well be drastically modified by fast-changing geo-political trends, like US rebalance in Asia seeking increased unilateral naval presence in the Bay of Bengal, China's brinkmanship in military manoeuvres at Arunachal border, or within India itself an adverse political regrouping in the East between regional heavyweights of Trinamool, Left and Left of Centre politicians of Tripura, Meghalaya, West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Indeed some suggest that it is precisely these uncertainties over possible Modi policy change towards Bangladesh that has prompted the South Block in Delhi to persuade the former Indian High Commissioners to engage in track-two diplomacy of "summitering" in Dhaka, to spin out the illusion of continuity.


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Cautious cacophony foretells of something ominous

M. Shahidul Islam

Escapists and pseudo loyalists often seek avenues to ventilate or vindicate. PM's political adviser, H.T. Imam, is no exception. He has been in the thick of political melodramas since the August 15, 1975 coup. Then Mostaque loyalist is now a Hasina heretic; that is the difference.

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M. Shahidul Islam

Escapists and pseudo loyalists often seek avenues to ventilate or vindicate. PM's political adviser, H.T. Imam, is no exception. He has been in the thick of political melodramas since the August 15, 1975 coup. Then Mostaque loyalist is now a Hasina heretic; that is the difference.

But the cautious cacophony this octogenarian public servant- come- politician has been gushing out lately through a number of press briefings and TV appearances to impress upon the nation that his latest comments made before the ruling AL's student chapter were "reported out of context" is reflective of a loyalist desperation earlier seen in the exposures of many others of similar ilk.
Throughout history, such people have demolished buildings by words and wizardry. Like two-edged swords, they cut through both ways. However, H. T. Imam's wrath on journalists is not as ingeniously articulated as is expected of a man of his standing.

Storm of transformations
In the business of journalism, reporters or scribes often extrapolate from an ocean of information only a pitcher-full deserving public digestion. The context and the contour are shaped by who said what, when, for what reason, and the time and the audience chosen for such explications. Who can deny the AL-led regime is not waist-deep sunk in a desperate mission to proselytize and patronize different cadres of people to prolong its grip on power?
And, is not what H.T. Imam said a part of that bitter truth: "Pass the written BCS test and we will take care of the rest?" For sure, the assurance he offered to the AL's student cadre is not an off the cup blather; it's both symptomatic of and intrinsically systematic in the nouveau BKSAL political cult.
Besides, what seems like sheer desperation of an individual in the public service is also reflective of many other similar symptoms plaguing the society at large. It is only natural that, when the vital planks of a nation- state begin to unravel, the state itself turns into a vacuous entity to facilitate such authoritative assurances to partisan loyalists by people in power. Isn't it time to take into cognizance that Bangladesh is gliding past a 'storm of transformation' in which the judiciary is remote-controlled, the executive is micro-managed, and, the legislative swings in an interminable pendulum of illegitimacy, agnosticism and suffocation?
Look closely to see how jittery and the discordance among the law enforcers are also making waves simultaneously. Sudden transfer of Rajshahi zone police commissioner soon after the brutal murder of a university professor can hardly be construed as a sign of positivism toward fair investigation of the crime. It's a measure, in all probability, to conceal the truth by creating obfuscation through the plantation of a new loyalist. For certain, the incumbent police commissioner is more familiar with the pattern of crime and the criminality in the region, as well as the criminals involved in their perpetrations.

Bullying needs defanged
One hence is goaded to surmise that he could not be trusted to handle a crime's investigation in which false flag operation is suspected to have taken place to beat the drum of Islamic terror as the phantom culprit.
Then again, these are not symptoms warranting rationalization anew; for they have been in the making for decades. It has gotten worse now in the absence of a functional democracy, a situation turning more conducive to anarchism and annihilation of the disliked ones. Things are also getting worse because no one these days hears of any debate in a 'doctored parliament' bereft of elected ruling party or opposition. Expectedly, rules and regulations are no more the guiding principles of the public servants peddling the wheels of the administration; civil and military alike.
In the judiciary, the ruling coterie is immune from prosecution of any genre while the dissenters endure what seems like never-ending persecutions. Over 4,000 cases of the ruling party hierarchy have been quashed in the last six years while over 7,000 new cases initiated against the opposition party stalwarts of different hues.
More ominous is the predilection of the nouveau BKSAL power house to brand a non-partisan group of patriots striving to tell the truth as rajakars or anti- liberation- war iconoclasts. Unbeknownst that the liberation war itself was the culmination of the nation's struggle for democracy, the ruling coterie is in a desperate dash to bulldoze all its distracters into smithereens to establish a singular political platform like the one unsuccessfully tried, and tragically ended, in the mid-1970s.
Amidst these, one often hears a truism in the making that 'these are not the 70s'. Equally true is another truism: parapet of politics is timeless. What we observe now is a bully culture that can only be defanged by taking it head on. History teaches no other alternative.

Mindset gets exposed
At this critical juncture of the nation, courage is needed to challenge those who brand the field soldiers and commanders of the liberation war as anti-liberation forces; moral uprightness is needed to expose those who are pillaging the nation through bribes, commissions, rent-seeking and outright robbery of public wealth; national unity and consensus is needed to tell the sycophants and the benefactors in the civil and military bureaucracies that the state is bigger than any particular political party, and, the individuals doggedly determined to bid adieu to pluralistic democracy are mere usurpers hell bent on turning Bangladesh into a failed state.
These are desperate times; dotted by desperate dichotomies etched into the nation's political landscape by power hungry wolves. There are episodes that cannot be tolerated further due to their extraneously-imposed outlook and odour; the dictation to add marks to qualify maximum students in the secondary and higher secondary examinations being one of them. As well, the Anti Corruption Bureau's pre-emptive disposal and acquittal of nearly 1,600 corruption allegations against people of power is another example of a scheme aimed at destroying the moral fabric of the nation. Historic Padma bridge scam is just one of them.
Finally, when the PM's political adviser assures party-loyalist students of places in the BCS cadre upon completion of only the written test, the inner mind-set of the regime get nakedly exposed further. The regime wants a nation of the Awami League loyalists alone, in which no other political belief has a place to peacefully accommodate into and coexist peacefully.
We have also learnt, with heart-wrenching pain and anguish, that other selection boards are not immune from this sweeping, plague-like political influence-peddling of the vested quarters. To the power hungry ones, nothing is 'sacred' anymore.
What this nation needs now is a change of mindset to understand that the hen is more desirable than the egg; that the fraction is always smaller than the sum total; and that the political parties will survive only if the nation does. The simmering cacophony of desperation whizzing around shall be galvanized to build the much needed national consensus and cohesiveness to save the nation from what seems like another impending disaster waiting to pounce upon.


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H T Imam’s disclosure reopens ghosts of Jan 5 elections anew

Faruque Ahmed

With the disclosure of viscous election mechanism that returned Awami League to power again in January 5 election, Prime Minister's adviser on political affairs and former bureaucrat H T Imam is under severe pressure from within the party while the opposition has demanded his resignation.

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Faruque Ahmed

With the disclosure of viscous election mechanism that returned Awami League to power again in January 5 election, Prime Minister's adviser on political affairs and former bureaucrat H T Imam is under severe pressure from within the party while the opposition has demanded his resignation.

His remark at a meeting of Chatra League cadres at Dhaka University Teachers-Students Centre (TSC) on November 12 brought the cat out of the sack. Praising the role of the old Chatra League cadres now in police service and other posts of civil administration, Imam said it was they who had snatched election victory for the Awami League.
H T Imam was the co-convener of the Central Election Committee of Awami League during last election. Referring to his efforts to coordinate the service of police and civil administration behind the party's electioneering process, he said he had talked to each and every one that the government had earlier recruited and posted at upazila level and cleared the way to victory.

Imam’s poll winning formula
He said the government had set up mobile court with them, they had stood by the government and braved all odds to snatched the victory. What H T Imam told the students is that they are the one who would be the backbone of public administration in future.
He advised the Chhatra League leaders to do well in BCS written examinations and he would see the rest to ensure that they have passed out to join the civil administration. H T Imam was candid and blunt in his delivery but in doing so he has exposed the election mechanism which brought his party back to power in an election boycotted by the major opposition.
It was an election in which 154 MPs were elected uncontested having the majority to form the government. Moreover the remaining MPs were elected under a seat sharing arrangement with Jatiya Party and some other leftist groups. Police did not allow the opposition to take to the streets and escorted every polling station from opposition move to foil the polls. 
Similarly the Election Commission and the civil administration acted promptly to complete the polls and published the results showing higher voters' turn out while in reality it was practically zero at some polling centers while not above 10 to 15 percent elsewhere.
H T Imam's disclosure thus corroborated the opposition allegations that it was a voter-less election and that of the local observer groups' reports that the turnout was not above 15 percent. The government however showed it above 45 percent in its reports.  
BNP acted sharply on the disclosure saying it proved the conspiracy which the opposition has always decried around the January 5 election. It also showed that the government has no ground under its feet. 'This government is usurping the power through a farcical election," BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said commenting on HT Imam's remarks.

Served Mustaque as loyally
Imam served Khondker Mostaque Ahmed's government as the cabinet secretary and did everything to strengthen his grip on power after the killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975. He then served all subsequent governments and finally settled with Awami League politics.
H T Imam's educating the Chatra League cadres about how old Chatra Leaguers facilitated election rigging,  how the police and civil administration collaborated to election engineering and how the Chatra League students must prepare to make their entry to civil service showed there is nothing left for a neutral administration to reckon with. It prompted stormy protest from all quarters as it revealed how the very foundation of public administration has clearly collapsed under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina government. How political hoodlums have captured civil administration. 
His remarks were an eye opener to the nation as he is the person who had earlier monitored public administration as adviser to Prime Minister and recruited party boys to the civil service. It has also showed how the number of the non-Chatra League candidates has been drastically shrinking from civil services over the past several years. 
His remarks clearly showed candidates of other hue and not belonging to the ruling party students' front are facing discriminatory treatment while the Public Service Commission (PSC) may be under pressure to select Chatra League cadres at the cost of other qualified candidates. 
The PSC standard rule calls for impartial selection of candidates based on merits and results of written examinations and viva voice tests. But it is no secret that since Awami League has come to power the ruling party recommended candidates are routinely passing out and recruited in the civil administration, particularly in police and foreign services while other better qualified candidates are left out. 
News reports galore that the PSC almost routinely sent the result sheets of BCS examinations to the Prime Minister's Office for checks and other verification. It brings the opportunity to adjust the score of Awami League recommended candidates to get them passed.

Isolated Imam blames media
News reports say H T Imam has become practically isolated from the top party leaders following his unguarded statement. The Prime Minister is reportedly angry with him and has not granted an interview he has since been seeking desperately.
Meanwhile he has called a meeting of the publicity sub-committee of the party as its convener but he did not turn up later. Finally H T Imam held a press conference on Monday last and disowned the remarks he had earlier made.
He blamed the press for faulty presentation of his remarks, but there is none to buy his claim within the party or outside. After all he can't disown the TV video footage that several media houses now hold in their hand.
Interestingly, party senior leader Suranjit Sengupta had cautioned HT Imam in making unguarded public statements as such comments always proved highly damaging to the government.
Seemingly busy for mending the damage from H T Imam's disclosures, senior party leaders are now beating the drum of two recent victories of party MPs where Saber Hossain Chowdhury has been elected as chairman of Inter-Parliamentary body and Speaker Sharmin Akhrar Chowdury as president of Commonwealth Parliamentary body.
They are saying the two prestigious world parliamentary bodies have elected Bangladesh's MPs to their chair and it does means that they highly recognize Bangladesh Parliament and the election which returned those MPs to the House. But the question is that the election of two MPs to two prestigious posts is a recognition of Bangladesh and not to the Parliament elected on a fractured polling mechanism. H T Imam has the told the story again.


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Indo-Bangla ties and South Asian unity

Abu Hena

As the Felani murder revision trial resumed on Monday, November 17, at a special court in Cooch Bihar in India, a seminar on India - Bangladesh relations participated by former High Commissioners of the two countries concluded in Dhaka calling for a holistic approach in resolving outstanding issues and addressing the challenges. Adopting a nine- point declaration the retired envoys urged both governments to intensify cooperation on security related matters and ensure utilization of natural resources for mutual benefit, facilitating trade and commerce by simplification and harmonization of procedures.

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Abu Hena

As the Felani murder revision trial resumed on Monday, November 17, at a special court in Cooch Bihar in India, a seminar on India - Bangladesh relations participated by former High Commissioners of the two countries concluded in Dhaka calling for a holistic approach in resolving outstanding issues and addressing the challenges. Adopting a nine- point declaration the retired envoys urged both governments to intensify cooperation on security related matters and ensure utilization of natural resources for mutual benefit, facilitating trade and commerce by simplification and harmonization of procedures.

This is not the first time the Indian envoys who once worked here found Bangladesh in such uncharted territories with India. Following 16 December 1971 when General Niazi of Pakistan signed the surrender document before General Arora of India ignoring Bangladesh, and Indira Gandhi signed the Simla Agreement with Bhutto releasing the Pakistani war prisoners without consulting Bangladesh, Bangladesh quietly caved in to a new unequal and disgraceful partnership with India which continues till toady. Bangladesh's troubles stem from having been too docile, obliging and overfilled with excessive gratitude towards its big neighbor who entered the 1971 war only on 6 December when the Pakistan army was already a defeated force and needed a regular army to surrender to in order to avail the immunities under the Geneva Agreement.

Water, the real issue
Bangladesh's real trouble dates back from the construction of the Farakka barrage when Bangladesh was desperate to press India to stop the construction of the barrage and block its operation. In an article captioned 'Fear and Loathing' published in The Hindustan Times on August 17, 2004 Prem Shankar Jha wrote about the Indian indifference and insensibility to Bangladesh's concern in the following words: "Farakka has halved the water available to Bangladesh from the Ganges. But what is even worse, India took the decision to build the barrage without first consulting Bangladesh, and overrode every one of its objections".
Expressing fear over India's River -Linking Project he said, "This fear was confirmed last year when the Vajpayee government announced its ambitious river - linking project without even a token discussion with Bangladesh, despite the fact that it involved building a link canal from Brahmaputra to the Ganges and up to six dams and barrages on the tributaries of the former in Assam and NEFA. Reactions in Bangladesh show that if there is a single issue that could drive the two countries irrevocably apart, it is not trade, transit rights or access to markets. It is water."
The Thirty Year Water Treaty signed during Sheikh Hasina's first term of office has relegated Bangladesh to the status of a supplicant to India for its own flow of natural water. While signing the treaty Bangladesh behaved like a vassal who has given a bond to oblige his master. India also completed all arrangements to build a dam at the mouth of Surma - Kushiara of the river Borak, which by blocking natural flow of water to the Meghna river is set to subvert the economy and environment of another one- fourth of Bangladesh territory. The Teesta water sharing agreement has been stalled just for the intransigence of Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal, India's one of thirty states.

Refreshing ex-envoys' memory
Speaking about the implications of India's decisions on Bangladesh's economy, Prem Shankar Jha stated: "What is worse, it is not only India's actions but its inaction that affects Bangladesh. In 1971 when Bangladesh was created, its economy suffered a second severe blow, for it lost its markets and sources of food grains and raw materials in erstwhile West Pakistan. India could have cushioned the shock if it had given Bangladesh immediate, free access to its markets...India's failure to perceive and respond to Bangladesh's needs cost that country almost two decades of lost growth."
To refresh their memories the former Indian envoys may be reminded how following the Kargil debacle, India directed its aggressive energies against its  BSF dangerously on the brink of a frontier conflict. On 19 August following the pull-out from Kargil Indian BSF intruded into the Bangladesh territory in Bianibazar in Sylhet and abducted four members of the Bangladesh Rifles. On 22 August the BSF fired gunshots continuously for long fifty hours on Bangladesh villages in Belonia in the Feni district. Simultaneously, there were reports of heavy concentration of Indian troops all along the Bangladesh border. The unprovoked terror tactics of the BSF caused the flight of the terrified inhabitants of Muhurir Char leaving their homes. Incidents of unwarranted frontier crossings, reckless firing on innocent civilians, digging of bunkers and trenches inside Bangladesh territory occurred in many other districts.
Following the closure of eight Bangladesh army camps at Dudukchhari of Khagrachhari district in Chittagong Hill Tracts, the Indian BSF reportedly penetrated one kilometer inside Bangladesh and dug in two bunker camps. This happened after 50,000 Indian tribe members forced their way into the CHT region taking advantage of the December 1997 CHT Accord. Preceding these happenings the chief minister of Assam, Profulla Mohanta boastfully mentioned on 15 August, 1999 that the Assam and the West Bengal police entered deep inside Bangladesh in a hot pursuit in Rajshahi district to recover a packet of explosives and return the Tinbigha corridor.

Only one way won't do
India has delayed signing the LBA on various pretexts. The Indian Envoys may remember that with casualties totaling 22 people including three BDR jawans the then Indian envoy was summoned to the Foreign Office second time in four days to express "shock at this unacceptable turn of events". Such incidents were a few among many instances which are taking place every day and the people of Bangladesh are becoming increasingly sceptical and apprehensive about the Indian agenda.
Bangladesh is the destination of one - fifth of India's exports and one - fifth of its expatriate income come from Bangladesh. All of these bring in cash without any set rules and regulations. On the contrary Bangladesh's trade deficit with India has gone sky high. Yet India is unconcerned and the ever obliging AL government has remained ever ready to satisfy the neighboring giant's all wishes. Its cabinet decision of 24 August, 1999 to grant "an overland passage" to India through Bangladesh territory came as a stunning blow. The thirty hour country-wide strike which followed the decision showed the strong disapproval for such free passage through Bangladesh. Three people were killed and hundreds injured when police and government supporters opened fire on millions of demonstrators all over the country demanding revocation of the government decision.
The Indian High Commission in Bangladesh quickly came to the rescue of the government describing the "overland passage" as "transshipment" and not "transit". The Bangladesh commerce and industries minister tried to justify the ' transit' showing an imaginary annual income of Tk 2000 crore. But the people of Bangladesh got still more concerned to hear the Indian High Commission defending the decision of the Bangladesh government which was taken in its typical arbitrary fashion. Moreover, 'transshipment' is a customs procedure which, in terms of its definition, does not apply to this case.

Mere bureaucratic exercise
The Joint-Communique of 2010, Joint Statement of 2011 and the Framework Agreement on Cooperation and Development signed in 2011 are a mere bureaucratic exercise rather than inter-state instruments duly passed by the respective parliaments and supported and endorsed by the people of both countries. Such cabinet decisions and bilateral agreements also run contrary to the SAPTA of 1993 and SAFTA of 1995 which are multilateral. No bilateral arrangement like transit or transshipment or unequal and interventionist treaties forced upon neighbors can be contemplated within either SAPTA or SAFTA and the wider concept of the SAARC. It's time the South Asian countries work differently from grubby nation states.
The EU, its members claim, offers a model how 21st century diplomacy should be conducted. Each EU member has overland passage over all others because EU is a Customs Union with common external tariff. The EU has 100,000 pages of legislation. The SAARC can be developed as a similar multi-polar alliance in which relations between big and small countries are defined by binding rules. The union should be a political and economic alliance of governments and a judicial regulator, built on a bedrock of legislation.
South Asia should renounce the 'hard power' of military force and wield the 'soft power' of good neighborly relations. Its order, wealth and stability must attract each other and weave the big and small states alike into a web of legal agreements. South Asia's strength is its unity - hence the need to come up with quick decisions to resume talks with each other and stop individual countries going off on their own. The former envoys who met recently in Dhaka will be better advised to work in the interests of creating and preserving the long - term unity of the region.
The writer was a Member of Bangladesh Parliament from 1996 to 2006, a retired civil servant who served as Bangladesh's Permanent Representative to the World Customs Organization in Brussels and as a Minister in the Bangladesh Mission to BENELUX and the EU.]


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SAARC needs removing impediments

Shamsuddin Ahmed

Nepal is set to host the 18th summit of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) which has been limping for three decades under the shadow of distrust and disputes among the member countries.  To many, SAARC is merely a talking shop, providing nothing more than a lip service to various issues of regional problems. From the outset, the biggest partner India was sceptical about SAARC.

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Shamsuddin Ahmed

Nepal is set to host the 18th summit of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) which has been limping for three decades under the shadow of distrust and disputes among the member countries.  To many, SAARC is merely a talking shop, providing nothing more than a lip service to various issues of regional problems. From the outset, the biggest partner India was sceptical about SAARC.

Policy makers in Delhi feared that the proposal for association of regional cooperation made by President Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh might provide an opportunity for the small neighbours to regionalize all bilateral issues and to join with each other to gang up against India. To alley Indian concern, all references to bilateral issues and security matters had finally been dropped from the proposal leaving cooperation only in non-political, non-controversial areas as provided in the SAARC charter.

A nothing doing front?
Located at the centre of SAARC, India has common land and maritime borders with all member countries, except Maldives and Afghanistan which was inducted later in the 7-member association. Border disputes of India with the neighbours have given rise in other problems of human sufferings in enclaves and sensitive political issues belying the objective of SAARC for cooperation in the field of economy, trade and in other areas.
Indo-Bangladesh dispute over sharing of waters of the common rivers and non-implementation of 1974 land boundary agreement adversely affected the very relationship of the two countries.  Suspicion and mistrust of the people was growing.  Most crucial UN resolution for plebiscite in Kashmir was ignored. Kashmir dispute led to two wars between India and Pakistan, and indeed gave birth of terrorism. Palestine problem is another reason for proliferation of terrorism.
It is feared that Indo-Pakistan conflict will sharpen with NATO combat troops leaving Afghanistan before the end of this year (2014).  Both Delhi and Islamabad want a stronghold in Afghanistan. Delhi is accused of fanning up sectarian disturbances in Pakistan in a bid to further weaken Pakistan and thus fulfill its objective in Afghanistan. Danger of sharpening Indo-Pakistan conflict and proxy war in troubled Afghanistan was hinted by former President General Parvez Musharraf in Karachi last Tuesday.
Some believe there is an opportunity for transformation of SAARC by reforms in its charter, especially the provisions that bar discussion of bilateral and contentious issues and the requirement that all decisions be made on the basis of consensus. This is something that holds back regional cooperation. At 30, SAARC should come of age and take up such issues and make bold decisions to remove the obstacles for cooperation among the countries and development of the region.  There is a need to break barriers­physical, connectivity and mindseet barriers­to make SAARC more effective.

SAARC: Least integrated & connected
The neighbouring Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has made significant strides in regional economic integration and promotion of collective regional identity. ASEAN discusses contentious security issues like South China Sea, bilateral issues such as border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand and internal politics of member states like Myanmar. Such discussions also make the forum lively. SAARC can learn much from the failures and successes of ASEAN and other regional associations.
Today regional cooperation is not a matter of luxury or choice. One will be left out if he does not cooperate. The cost of non-cooperation is already too high for the people of South Asia. The region is among the world's least economically integrated and physically connected.  The share of intraregional trade is still a paltry, barely five percent. Non-tariff and para-tariff barriers abound, despite the region's resolve to implement free trade area through the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA).
According to an exporter, Indian tax men impose high income tax to the outlets found selling Bangladeshi goods.  They preferred not to sell Bangladeshi items demanded by the consumers to avoid high tax. Surface transport networks between the countries remain truncated and fragmented. Often, one still needs to fly one member country to another in the absence of road communication.

Let observers play role
SAARC has eleven members including China, Japan, EU, US and neighbouring  Myanbmar with observer status. They don't have any role or engagement. They need to be given some space, role and upgraded to dialogue partner status, rather than allowing them to simply observe from the sidelines. There is also a need to engage other countries and regional groups keen to cooperate with the SAARC. It has so far failed to take up any project that has meaningful impact in the lives of over 1.6 billion people living in the SAAR countries. They are denied opportunity and a chance to benefit from collective partnership and cooperation.
Keeping in view of development in other countries through cooperation and conflict heightening tension it is expected that that the SAARC summit in Kathmandu on November 26-27 will consider necessary reforms in the charter removing impediments to make the organization meaningful to the people. They would also require removing non-tariff barriers in trade.


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COMMENTARY
Chinese investment in Russia will benefit both

Ding Yifan

Amid intensified Western sanctions on Russia and tumbling global energy prices, the Russian financial system is undergoing enormous difficulties. Its accelerating capital flight has led to a steep drop in the value of the Russian ruble, and meanwhile, its fiscal revenue has considerably decreased due to the plunge in oil prices.

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Ding Yifan

Amid intensified Western sanctions on Russia and tumbling global energy prices, the Russian financial system is undergoing enormous difficulties. Its accelerating capital flight has led to a steep drop in the value of the Russian ruble, and meanwhile, its fiscal revenue has considerably decreased due to the plunge in oil prices.

In this context, China's extensive investment in Russia has drawn much attention. China now holds Russian bonds and exchangeable monetary assets and also makes direct investments in Russia. Some observers hold that as the Russian economy is now in a harder position, risks increase for Chinese investment. If massive losses occur, it will in turn affect the safety of Chinese financial institutions and may even spark a systemic crisis, they say.
Should we worry about being implicated in the difficulties of Russian finance? All investment involves risk. International investment in particular involves special risks that result from political, price and contract default factors. While it's necessary to watch these risks, more attention is needed on strategic interests.
Russia is a strategic collaborative partner of China and naturally deserves China's help. In the international landscape, China is under a lot of strategic pressure and needs to stabilize its strategic partner to share the burden. To this end, China's helping a strategic partner is somewhat helping itself.
When some eurozone countries were disturbed by the sovereign debt crisis, it was China that acquired their bonds to help stabilize their markets. However, in the aftermath of the crisis when these bonds appreciated dramatically, some Western investors even came to China in hope of buying back the bonds that they had tried hard to avoid. Didn't they know that things always change?
Such is the case with China's investment in Russia, as it will definitely appreciate when the Russian economy has passed through its difficulties and the world economy returns to the growth track.
As an important part of the global economy, China's decisions will affect the way that things proceed. Where China deploys its over $4 trillion foreign exchange reserves would hence exert a tremendous influence on the global market, which provides a greater security guarantee for China's financial system.
It is businesspeople that haggle over the returns of every investment deal while strategists always eye the ultimate strategic gains. China can only stay stable with stability in Russia ensured. In this case, giving a hand to Russia is also helping China itself.
What will China encounter on the international stage if it lets Western countries heighten sanctions on Russia and drag the country into chaos? What kind of cost will China have to pay for this? This cannot be matched against the losses that China may suffer in its investment in Russia. On the other hand, if China's help earns Russia's trust and makes it a reliable energy and resource supplier as well as a military strategic partner, how much would such a deal be worth?
The author is deputy director of the Institute of World Development at the Development Research Center of the State Council. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn


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