Dhaka seeks proof, Delhi readies maps

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By SEEMA GUHA in Delhi
  • Published 6.01.04

New Delhi, Jan. 6: The first day of the border coordination talks between India and Bangladesh made little headway, though both sides agreed that the meeting was “excellent” with free and frank exchange of views.

Bangladesh maintained its old position, saying no insurgent groups from India’s Northeast operated from its soil.

“We have no camps of any insurgent outfit in our territory,” Major General Mohammed Jahangir Alam Chowdhury, the chief of the Bangladesh Rifles, the Border Security Force’s counterpart, told reporters. “If you can pinpoint a single camp, I will personally ensure it is destroyed.”

“There are no Ulfa (United Liberation Front of Asom) camps in my country,” he added. “…None of your separatist leaders are in Bangladesh.”

On reports in the Bangladeshi media that a recent drive by the BDR against criminals had also netted six members of the National Liberation Front of Tripura, Chowdhury said: “Our media is the same as the media here, they write whatever they want.”

BSF director-general Ajai Raj Sharma said the three-day conference had just begun and it was too early to comment on the negotiations. Asked if the Indian side would give the BDR maps with locations of militant camps Delhi claims have come up in Bangladesh, Sharma said it would be done before the talks ended.

The BDR chief, on his part, said he had brought a list of names of “wanted criminals” who, Dhaka claims, are hiding in India. “I have also brought a map showing the location of 90 camps of anti-nationals working out of India,” he added, but gave no other details.

Bangladesh claims that separatist outfits like the Banga Sena, led by Kalidas Baidya, and Bir Banga strongman Chittaranjan Sutar — who are instrumental in spreading communal hatred — operate from India.

Indian officials realise that unlike Bhutan and Myanmar, where both governments have launched operations against Indian insurgents, Bangladesh is unlikely to act against northeastern militant groups.

“They may do a little here and there, but that would be nothing more than cosmetic. When a country refuses to acknowledge that the militants are there, how can its forces take action,” a senior official in North Block, the seat of the home ministry, said. “We have very little hope of a change in Dhaka’s policy,” he added.

Officials say Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has her own domestic compulsions and cannot be seen to be giving in to India’s demands. The ruling coalition has a large number of hardliners, including the Jamaat, and cannot afford to antagonise them. Moreover, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which won the elections on an anti-India platform, might find it politically impossible to change its policy and act against northeastern militants.

But the officials also acknowledge that Bhutan’s military operations against the Ulfa have put pressure on the Khaleda government to act. Highly placed sources in the government believe that any real change can come only if the Saarc summit in Islamabad actually leads to better relations between India and Pakistan. “If India and Pakistan, the two biggest nations in the region, continue their engagement and repair ties, the situation in the entire region will improve,” a home ministry official said.

North Block believes Pakistan is at the heart of the anti-India sentiments that drive smaller nations like Bangladesh and, if the two improve their relations, encouragement to Indian insurgents will also reduce drastically.