Protests in Chittagong, Comilla and elsewhere left 10 dead, besides loss of property. The protests were sparked over an allegation of desecration of the Holy Quran in a temple. The Holy Quran was found resting on the thigh of a Hanuman statue in a Durga Puja pandal near a pond in Comilla called Nanua Dighi. A raft of issues from water disputes to religious tension mask mistrust in the relationship. Let us look at some of them. Broken promises indicate that India looks to its own interest.
India’s Citizenship Act and the national Register of Citizenship does not confer citizenship on the Bengali immigrants at par with non-muslim refugees. In one of his speeches, India’s minister Amit Shah even called Bangladesh immigrants “termites”. The BJP leaders quote from Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s book to say that Mujib, as an East Pakistani national, wanted to annex Assam into East Pakistan (Bangladesh). Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Telangana T. Raja Singh Lodh demanded `Illegal Bangladeshi settlers and Rohingya should be shot if they do not return to their countries like gentlemen’. He made the statement in the context of the Supreme Court-monitored exercise to identify genuine Indian nationals living in Assam. A legislator from Goshamahal in Hyderabad, in similar vein, roared in a video message on a social networking site: “If these people, illegal Bangladeshis and Rohingya, don’t go back with ‘sharafat’ (like gentlemen) then there is a need to talk to them in their own language. They should be shot. Only then India will be safe. Such illegal settlers were “shot and driven out” from some other countries.
YS Chowdary of the Telugu Desam Party Said illegal immigrants from Bangladesh had settled in Assam as part of a “conspiracy to destroy India”. It is the responsibility of the government to send them back to Bangladesh, he added.
“Shoot on sight”
Indian Border Security force has orders to “shoot on sight” if any Bangladeshi citizen living near the 4,096 kilometer (2,545 mile)alluvial/shifting border, happens to cross over. Regarding border killings, Brad Adams, Executive Director of the Asia Department of Human Right Watch state that, “Routinely shooting poor, unarmed villagers is not how the world’s largest democracy should behave” (Adams, Brad “India’s shoot-to-kill policy on the Bangladesh border” The Guardian. London). According to a report published by Human rights organisations, around 1,000 Bangladeshi civilians have been killed by Indian Border Security Force (BSF) in a period of 10 years (from 2001 to 2010). The report also states that Indian paramilitary forces routinely threaten, abuse arbitrarily detain and torture local Bangladeshi civilians living along the border and Bangladeshi border guards usually don’t help the Bangladeshi civilians. Odhikar, a Bangladesh-based human right organization, allege that acts of rape and looting have also been perpetrated by BSF at the border areas.
Bangladesh Border Guards hate the BSF so much that a soldier, accompanying his commander for a flag meeting with DG was shot dead.
Onion export banned
India suddenly stopped exporting onions to Bangladesh. While addressing India-Bangladesh Business Forum, in Delhi, Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina expressed grief on the onion crisis in her country. She taunted that she asked her cook not to use onions in her food. Hasina said, ‘We are facing crisis on the onion issue. I don’t know why you have banned onion export. Maine cook ko bol diya ab se khana mein pyaaz bandh kardo.” Indian Government had banned export of Onions on September 29 (Times of India ).
India is the biggest supplier of onions to Bangladesh, which buys a yearly average of more than 350,000 tons. India abruptly slapped a ban on onion exports to Bangladesh. Following the export ban, onion prices in Bangladesh jumped by more than 50 per cent, prompting the government to procure supplies from elsewhere.
Vaccine export contract cancelled
India backed out of its agreement (December) with Bangladesh to supply 30 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, developed by Oxford University in cooperation with the Pune-based Serum Institute of India. The Institute announced that India had barred Serum from selling doses on the private market until everyone in India had received the vaccine.
Later, Salman F. Rahman, a Cabinet minister and co-founder of the Beximco Group, a Bangladeshi conglomerate, took over the responsibility to distribute three million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Bangladesh.
The ruling Awami League itself is mired in charges of corruption and nepotism. Its army chief also is being besmeared. It cracked down hard on its opponents with the army chief’s help. The persecution of Muslims in India and laws like the citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizenship turned Bangladesh into a simmering cauldron of resentment.Demand for expelling all Bangladeshis from various Indian states is gaining momentum. The onslaught against Bangladeshi Muslims in India is part of Hindutva (perverted Hindu nationalism) frenzy to harass Muslim community.
Bangladesh is tight-rope balancing China and India. Many cabinet ministers think that Bangladesh’s future lies with stronger rapport with China. During her visit to China, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister discussed a broad spectrum of issues and signed several memorandum of understanding. They cover the power sector, riverine matters including Brahmaputra River, commercial loans and formation of various working groups. Bangladesh has also accepted the Belt and Road Initiative.
Bangladesh has contracted Chinese in a proposed $300 million project downstream of Teesta River. Turkey also is improving relations with BD.
The Significance of the United Nations High Seas Treaty for Bangladesh
As the sun sets below the horizon over the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh is at a pivotal juncture in its distant past. The state of the seas is crucial to Bangladesh’s economic development and sustainability in the future because the country’s waterways and maritime heritage serve as a major defining feature. Thus, the United Nations High Seas Treaty in 2023 provides Bangladesh with a once-in-a-generation chance to safeguard its interests and promote sustainable growth in an age of mounting international challenges.
The historic treaty to protect international waters from exploitation, oil extraction, and climate change has been signed after two decades of talks under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In March of this year, countries reached an agreement on a worldwide commitment to protect marine life, and in June, the United Nations officially adopted the treaty for the protection of the world’s seas. The treaty was ratified by 67 nations on September 20, 2023. Under this treaty, the UN has recognized international jurisdiction over two-thirds of the seas. This implies that every nation has the right to engage in fishing activities, shipping, and scientific research in that particular region.
To protect vital ecosystems from “extractive activities,” member states will follow the guidelines established by the Treaty on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) to establish a marine protected area (MPAs). In this regard, it is considered a vital resource in attempting to achieve the “30 by 30” goal of protecting 30% of the world’s land and sea by 2030. As the signing process is scheduled to go until 2025, experts are optimistic that this will be a watershed moment in the history of marine conservation.
On September 20, 2023, Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, ratified the treaty to avert the further destruction of the maritime environment caused by overfishing and other human endeavors.
Water is more than a natural resource in Bangladesh; it is essential for survival. Bangladesh is often referred to as the “Land of Rivers” due to the country’s extensive river network. Water is are intricately interwoven with society, economy, and culture. The waters of the Bay of Bengal, which extend into the high seas, play a vital role in our daily lives, supplying us with fish—a primary source of nutrition for millions—and connecting us to the rest of the world. Under the provisions of the new treaty, countries will share genetic resource profits equitably. The Treaty is a forward-thinking piece of international law because it gives developing and least-developed nations such as Bangladesh a voice by promoting capacity development.
From the magnificent Royal Bengal tiger to the mysterious Irrawaddy dolphin and a variety of sea turtle species, Bangladesh is home to a diverse maritime ecosystem. However, overfishing and habitat loss pose major hazards to numerous species. The United Nations High Seas Treaty seeks to establish marine protected zones in international waterways, recognizing the interdependence of oceans and coastlines. The initiative is commensurate with Bangladesh’s commitment to marine life conservation. This treaty makes an explicit effort to ensure that everyone, including developing and underdeveloped countries, benefits from a shared space, a principle that has been neglected for decades in international agreements, particularly in terms of global commerce.
The issue of overfishing is a problem on a worldwide scale, and Bangladesh is not an exception. In the Bay of Bengal, there are several instances of local fishermen having to compete with foreign vessels. As the high seas are inaccessible without using enormous amounts of energy and money, this is crucial information: 97% of commercial fishing boats in the high seas are registered to higher-income nations. Countries with lower incomes are frustrated by the fact that fish migrating to their waterways are now being caught by wealthy nations. The pact seeks to solve this problem by encouraging responsible fishing techniques and enforcing strict rules in international waters. This not only safeguards Bangladesh’s fishery industry but also contributes to global efforts to reduce overfishing.
Bangladesh is at serious risk from climate change as rising sea levels submerge agriculture in salt water and force entire coastal villages to relocate. Due to its strong link with atmospheric CO2, the ocean is vital to climate change. Again, marine bacteria that break down methane could make biofuels. By addressing climate change globally and transforming clean energy, the deal indirectly helps Bangladesh. International cooperation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect vulnerable coastal areas from climate change is enabled under the pact.
There has been a rise in transnational threats, including piracy and illicit fishing in the Bay of Bengal. The UN High Seas Treaty is anticipated to increase maritime safety by encouraging governments to collaborate and share intelligence. This means a safer marine environment for Bangladesh, where fishermen have no reason to fear for their safety and criminals have no desire to leave.
There may be a palpable concern about obtaining sufficient funds for the treaty’s implementation. By establishing a shared trust fund to pay for technological transfers, capacity building, and training for low-income governments so they can participate in scientific missions and development, the Treaty aims to offer a framework for the equitable distribution of high seas earnings. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that $500 million will be required initially and yearly $100 million may be needed for a special implementation and capacity-building fund.
Despite its complexity, such as the potential harm of deep-sea mining on sensitive ecosystems, world leaders and environmental activists are optimistic about the treaty. According to Mads Christensen, the Executive Director of Greenpeace International, “we welcome so many governments signing the UN Ocean Treaty. This sends a powerful signal to the world that governments will maintain momentum towards protecting 30% of the oceans by 2030, after the historic Treaty agreement back in March. But this signing is a purely symbolic moment, now politicians must bring the Treaty home and ensure it is ratified in record time”.
Although Bangladesh is devoting a lot of resources to the blue economy and other development initiatives, environmental deterioration and climate change are major concerns. In the context of a global landscape characterized by enormous environmental and climatical concerns, the United Nations High Seas Treaty emerges as a source of optimism and promise for the nation of Bangladesh. It guarantees the continued success of the “Land of Rivers” and the protection of the waterways that connect us to the rest of the globe. The importance of this deal to Bangladesh goes beyond politics and directly threatens the country’s survival. Let us seize this opportunity as we navigate the murky oceans of the 21st century and collaborate with the rest of our neighbors to establish a safer, more prosperous maritime future.
No Alternatives for Taliban but Danger of Future Civil Conflict
Events and processes in Afghanistan are moving according to a negative scenario. Despite the significant information blockade, there is still some news regarding the situation in Afghanistan. The country’s economy is deplorable and has no significant moves towards stabilization. The humanitarian situation is stable but critical. Political repression against the Taliban’s opponents continues and became systemic. And it mainly occurred against national minorities, in particular Tajiks and Hazaras. The actions of global terrorist groups also cause particular concern and warning among reliable international players. Statements regarding threats from international terrorists are made by the UN, the USA, India, and the countries of the European Union.
Paradoxically, despite the difficult economic and social situation, political transformations are still problematic to foresee. Afghanistan under the Taliban run is a classic case from the theory of political science of a rigid militarized authoritarian regime with average legitimacy. The masses cannot express their political views given repressions by government institutions. There is no rule in Afghanistan yet that could challenge the Taliban nationally. Currently, and possibly in the mid-term, there is no alternative to the Taliban. The opposition, consisting of national minorities, does not have the necessary military potential and support among the population. Regardless, international diplomatic circles and representatives of the world’s leading countries actively explain to the Taliban leaders that such a situation won’t last forever. The world centers of power are not interested in the total destabilization of Afghanistan and the beginning of a civil-military confrontation there. As the socio-economic situation of the Pashtuns, who form the core of the Taliban, deteriorates, contradictions can result in an armed uprising. And even the most oppressed ethnic groups will sooner or later begin to resist the authoritarian control of the Taliban.
One of the factual aspects of possible future destabilization could be Pakistan’s policy. Even though Islamabad is the key creator, sponsor, and mentor of the radical Islamist movement, which used terrorism as a method of political struggle, there are certain contradictions between them. In September, the Pakistani leaders decided to expel all Afghan refugees illegally living in the country. According to Pakistani media, this means that about 1.1 million Afghans will go to Afghanistan in the near future. The Pakistani government states that this number of Afghans have fled to Pakistan in the past two years — in addition to several million others living in the neighboring country for years. The decision to expel illegal Afghan refugees was made against the background of the fight against terrorism, currency smuggling, and illegal trade in sugar and fertilizers.
Ariana News informs that the plan to deport more than 1.1 million Afghan refugees was supported by the government and the Pakistani Foreign Ministry. It also means the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Pakistan consulted with all interested parties, including the Taliban. The Pakistani police have raided Afghan migrants over the past few months. Hundreds have been arrested, and many have already been dispatched homeland. Most Afghan migrants are Pashtuns from the poorest rural areas, but their mass flow to Afghanistan will lead to additional economic and social difficulties.
The contradictions between the Taliban and Pakistan also lie on a different plane. So, the recent attacks by the Pakistani Taliban, also known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, wreaking havoc, paints an alarming picture of rising instability across Pakistan. Especially the TTP’s recent incursion into the Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa bordering Afghanistan is very concerning for the Pakistan military apparatus. According to the Pakistanis themselves, after the seizure of power in Kabul, terrorist groups intensified on the territory of Pakistan. Before the Taliban’s victory, official Islamabad spread the narrative that the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban were unrelated. However, today, it is becoming evident that this is not the case, and strengthening one unit leads to activating another.
It is difficult to predict the political events in Afghanistan, but it is evident that without attention from the responsible world centers of power, destabilization and strengthening of the international terrorist underground is unavoidable.
The Tug-of-War of Regionalism in South Asia
The South Asian area, encompassing countries such as Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives, exhibits a significant degree of variety, accompanied by a multitude of intricate factors. The establishment of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) in 1985 was a sincere endeavor to cultivate regionalism within the subcontinent. Notwithstanding its conceptual merit, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has seen limited success in realizing its goals, principally due to the persistent tensions between its prominent constituents, India and Pakistan. The absence of coherent political intent has adversely affected regionalism in South Asia.
From an economic standpoint, it can be observed that South Asia is now experiencing rapid growth, positioning it as one of the most swiftly developing areas globally. India, characterized by its burgeoning middle class and notable technical progress, assumes a prominent role in the global arena. Nevertheless, smaller economies such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have comparable growth rates. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) implemented by China has developed as a notable economic entity in the area, giving rise to both prospects and concerns. The issue of significant debt obligations linked to Chinese investment has raised apprehension.
The political structures in South Asia exhibit significant variations. India, being the greatest democracy globally, stands in contrast to its neighboring nations, such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, which have had instances of military coups and civil turmoil throughout their history. In contrast, Bhutan continues to function as a monarchy, employing a distinctive methodology for pursuing progress, which is evaluated by means of Gross National Happiness as opposed to Gross Domestic Product. The presence of a wide range of political systems presents significant obstacles to the process of regional integration. The growing engagement of China in South Asia has prompted a reconfiguration of geopolitical interests. Nations such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives are progressively turning their attention to China in search of economic opportunities and military collaborations, thereby introducing complexities to the regional dynamics. Moreover, the United States’ strategic shift towards Asia highlights the growing significance of this area within the context of global geopolitics. Given the competing interests of these more influential nations, the smaller nations within the area frequently encounter themselves ensnared in a precarious position.
The South Asian area has a diverse array of religions and ethnicities, contributing to the intricate nature of interregional dynamics. The socio-political ramifications of the Hindu-Muslim split, Buddhist communities, and Sikh populations, among other groups, are noteworthy. The adverse impact of the ethnic strife in Sri Lanka and the religious difference between India and Pakistan on the promotion of regionalism is evident.
Border issues, such as the ongoing Kashmir war between the neighboring nations of India and Pakistan, pose substantial obstacles to the establishment of regional cooperation. Moreover, the matter of terrorism, sometimes endorsed by states or at the very least allowed by certain nations, presents a security concern that complicates the prospect of enhanced collaboration. The subject of climate change is gaining prominence as a matter of great importance that South Asian nations cannot afford to overlook. The geographical area under consideration encompasses many climatic hotspots, notably the Himalayas and the Sundarbans, which are progressively vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as the retreat of glaciers and the escalation of sea levels. The presence of environmental concerns has the potential to intensify pre-existing social and political conflicts. Water shortage has the potential to exacerbate disputes between governments that have shared river systems. As the South Asian area increasingly assimilates into the global digital world, it is imperative for the region to confront and address the challenges pertaining to cybersecurity. This encompasses a wide range of issues, spanning from safeguarding data privacy to addressing the challenges posed by online radicalization and cyber warfare. The significance of the socio-political components of these difficulties cannot be overstated, as the progress in technology has the potential to either facilitate regional collaboration or exacerbate rivalry and conflict.
The subject of gender equality in South Asia is undergoing significant socio-political transformations. The involvement of women in politics, business, and social action is seeing a notable upward trend, potentially yielding significant consequences for the growth and cooperation of the area. Nevertheless, persistent challenges such as cultural barriers, institutional inequalities, and gender-based violence remain significant obstacles.
The significant impact of media on creating public perception and subsequently affecting socio-political dynamics cannot be emphasized enough. Within the context of South Asia, the media frequently assumes a dual function, wherein it may serve as a conduit for promoting comprehension and collaboration or, alternatively, as a mechanism for disseminating propaganda that exacerbates societal divisions. The aforementioned phenomenon is clearly observable in the manner in which media outlets across different nations depict their neighboring countries, hence exerting a substantial influence on the potential for regional collaboration.
In light of evolving global dynamics, governments in South Asia are actively forging alliances that extend beyond their conventional allies. The interplay between India’s burgeoning ties with the United States, Pakistan’s alignment with China, and Sri Lanka’s approach to Russia has significant implications for regional politics. The task of managing these collaborations while sustaining regional stability is a multifaceted endeavor that necessitates careful equilibrium on the part of each country involved.
The socio-political dynamics of South Asia are multi-faceted, influenced by a rich tapestry of historical events, cultural diversities, and geopolitical factors. While traditional challenges like territorial disputes and political polarization continue to hinder regionalism, new dimensions such as climate change, cybersecurity, and gender equality are adding layers of complexity. However, despite these challenges, there remains an untapped potential for collaboration and growth. As South Asia evolves, understanding these intricate dynamics will be key to unlocking the region’s full potential.
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