Relations between India and Bangladesh have reached a new low. India is rightly concerned at reports that Bangladesh is becoming the latest haven for terrorists in south Asia. Dhaka has, however, predictably viewed India’s concerns as being motivated and baseless. The latest diplomatic row was caused by a statement by the Union home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, who has alleged an increase in the activities of al Qaida and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence in the country. In the last few months, a variety of reports has identified Bangladesh as a hotbed of extremism. Mr Bertil Lintner, one of the most incisive analysts of the region, has written recently that Islamic fundamentalism, religious intolerance, militant Muslim groups with links to international terrorist groups, a powerful military with ties to the militants, and the mushrooming of Islamic schools churning out radical students, are all transforming Bangladesh. This change has particularly been in evidence since the formation of the new government last year.
The Jamaat-e-Islami is a part of the ruling coalition led by the Bangladesh National Party. The Jamaat opposed the creation of Bangladesh, but is now occupying two important ministerial portfolios in the government. Not only did the Jamaat oppose the campaign against terrorism, launched in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, but it is also believed to have links with the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. The Harkat is known to have been sponsored by al Qaida. Other countries, including the United States of America, have also expressed concern at developments within Bangladesh. Dhaka has, however, not created a diplomatic furore over such expressions of concern. But the Indian high commissioner has been summoned to Bangladesh’s foreign office three times in the last ten days. Dhaka must recognize that India is uneasy at the rise of extremism in Bangladesh. This unease is not restricted to the activities of al Qaida and the ISI. India believes that Bangladesh is a safe haven for militants from the Northeast, and there are training camps in the country servicing, among others, the United Liberation Front of Asom and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland. New Delhi has, in fact, handed over to Dhaka a list of 99 militant training camps existing in Bangladesh, and a list of 77 militant leaders who are wanted in India. So far, Bangladesh has given no indication that it will act on the list. It can still make a choice. Bangladesh could either become the new epicentre of terrorism, or act quickly and decisively against extremists who seem to believe that the government in Dhaka is their partner.