David N. Robinson
Following the successful general election of 30th December in Bangladesh, I have been writing in various newspapers in the world explaining the necessity of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to the people of Bangladesh. In my journalistic experience of over four decades, possibly this is the first time, I am witnessing with greatest dismay, the way a section of Bangladeshi and foreign (particularly Indian) media are running cruel propaganda against Sheikh Hasina without realizing the fact – unless she was the Prime Minister of that country for past ten years, Bangladesh would already have gone into the grips of radical Islamists and jihadists. In that situation, the worst sufferer would be India while the entire world would have been under serious security threats.
Threats posed by ARSA:
Let us not forget, over seven hundred thousand Rohingya Muslims were abruptly driven-out of Myanmar by its military junta in 2017. Bangladesh had no choice than giving refuge to this huge number of unfortunate people. We also need to bear in mind, due to decade-old persecution of the Myanmar authorities; a notorious militancy group named Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) had already taken birth. Ataullah abu Ammar Jununi commonly known simply as Ataullah or Ata Ullah is the leader of ARSA.
Ataullah was born in Karachi, Pakistan to a migrant family, who had fled the religious persecution in his native Rakhine State in Myanmar (also known as Arakan, Burma) sometime in the 1960s. At an early age, Ataullah’s family moved to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where he was enrolled in an Islamic school. In his later years in Mecca, Ataullah served as an imam to the Rohingya diaspora community of around 150,000 people. A Myanmar government press release claims Ataullah spent six months training in modern guerrilla warfare under the Taliban in Pakistan. The ICG report stated that though not confirmed, there are indications he went to Pakistan, and possibly elsewhere, and that he received practical training in modern guerrilla warfare. Several members of the group also stated to ICG that he may have received additional training in Libya before his return to Rakhine State. On 9th October 2016, Ataullah led hundreds of insurgents to the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, where they attacked Burmese border police posts. A week later, Ataullah appeared in a video online, claiming responsibility for the attacks. Ataullah led a second large-scale attack on 25 August 2017, which resulted in the deaths of 71 people.
According to Radio Free Asia, “A more pressing concern is that whether ARSA asks for support from external organizations or not, it gets it. The plight of the Rohingya is big news in the Muslim world, and their cause is being championed by politicians, the middle class and hardline Islamists.
“Indonesian authorities have broken up two terrorist plots by pro-ISIS militants to blow up the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta, while IS has begun to refer to the Rohingya in it’s (albeit diminished) media. Across the region, there also has been a surge in arrests of Bangladeshi nationals in connection with pro-ISIS groups.”
As we know, for past several years, Pakistani espionage agency Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) has been making repeated attempts in creating anarchy in Bangladesh with the ulterior motive of putting Sheikh Hasina government into trouble. It was due to Bangladeshi Prime Minister’s efficient handling of the Rohingya refugee crisis as well combating militancy; ISI has greatly failed in beginning jihadist activities within Bangladesh-Myanmar and Bangladesh-India borders by using the members of ARSA. In this case, the worst affected would be India indeed, as ISI would mainly try targeting both Sheikh Hasina government and India. Following the landslide victory of Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League, most definitely, the risk of Bangladesh turning into jihadist launch-pad has come to zero possibilities.
Cruel propaganda against Sheikh Hasina:
Still a section of the Indian media is continuing cruel offensives on the Bangladeshi Prime Minister. As part of such wrong propaganda, Bharat Bhusan, a senior journalist based in New Delhi wrote an article in Indian daily, the Asian Age. In his article titled – No gain for democracy, or for India’s interests, he wrote, “The Bangladesh election results are neither going to further democracy in that country nor India’s long-term interests in South Asia, and beyond.”
He wrote, “Sheikh Hasina wears the badge of development but the system she presides over has functioned with intimidation, intolerance and fear. Over time, this has muted critical voices and narrowed the democratic discourse. After the Awami League’s massive, yet questionable, victory, the democratic space can only shrink.
“Hundreds of political adversaries, including Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader Begum Khaleda Zia, are already in jail. The Opposition will be further decimated as those who escaped prosecution so far may be jailed in the coming days. Fear of the State’s coercive machinery will stymie public protests against the government. The democratic institutions of Bangladesh have been eroded for short-term gains by those in power for a long time. Both the outgoing Parliament and the incoming Parliament are good examples. The former was unrepresentative because the Opposition boycotted the general election and the latter will be also perceived to be so because of the allegations of match-fixing.
“Due to political manipulation by the State, the judiciary and the Election Commission have also lost their sheen in the country. The media has fallen in line with state diktats. Given a history of attacks by both state and non-state actors, public intellectuals and independent bloggers fear for their lives.
The absence of democratic safety valves and with institutions of the state “weaponsied” against dissent, is a particularly dangerous situation for countries which have a significant presence of Islamic radicals. The failure of political processes creates a fertile ground for the expansion of radical politics. The people can then easily turn to Islamic radicalism, as happened in Egypt and Algeria.
“The prospect of a radicalised Bangladesh is one of the reasons why the developments in that country may not be in the long-term interests of India. There are other reasons as well.
“Although China and India both welcomed the political continuity in Bangladesh, their stakes are very different. China wants a strategic foothold in Bangladesh to counter the United States, and secondarily, India. Its inroads into the domestic politics of the country through business relations with prominent families of the ruling party can help it advance its strategic goals. The Awami League government has given several entry points to China. Bangladesh is an integral part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Of the six BRI corridors — four land and two maritime — Bangladesh is an integral part of the important maritime corridor running from Kunming to Kolkata through Myanmar’s Kaukpyu Port to Chittagong in Bangladesh and on to Kolkata.
“Apart from opportunities for trade and commerce, this gives China access to the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. The Kaukpyu Port, with 85 per cent Chinese ownership, will be an energy hub, designed to overcome its dependence on the vulnerable Malacca Straits for 80 per cent of its oil imports from the Middle East. The Kaukpyu port will store the crude imported from the Middle East and process it at a refinery being built by the Saudis, a methane refinery will be built by Qatar to treat gas imported from Qatar and all the products along with Myanmar’s Shwe gas field will be pumped through pipelines to China. The BRI connecting deep-sea port at Sonadia near Cox’s Bazar is currently on hold. China wants continuity in Dhaka to protect its geo-strategic, geo-economic and geo-energy interests as well as its investments in big infrastructure projects like the Padma Bridge, the Chittagong Highway project and the 13,500-MW Moheshkhali Power Station. China fears a repetition of what happened in Malaysia when the new government of Mahathir Mohamed put on hold the Chinese $1.5 billion East-West Railway Project.
It wants no uncertainties about the $40 billion BRI investment it has committed to Bangladesh. As the bulk of the BRI funds are expected to flow into Bangladesh after the recently-concluded elections, China had an interest in political continuity.
“China also needs Bangladesh to relocate some industries because of the lower labour costs it offers. Bangladesh could become the preferential entry point for “Chinese¨ goods from Least Developed Countries to the Western markets.
Compared to China’s wide spectrum strategic and economic interests in Bangladesh, India’s interests remain small – assurances on denying shelter to the Northeastern insurgents in Bangladesh; preventing jihadi militancy from crossing over to India; denying Pakistan the opportunity to print and push fake currency into India and preventing illegal immigration. Sheikh Hasina’s government has cooperated with India on these issues in the past and, therefore, New Delhi has supported the continuance of the Awami League.
Although the entry of China in Bangladesh had an Indian nod, the Chinese footprint is set to expand over time and India will not have a veto. The Chinese expansion will marginalise the role of both India and the United States.
As this great game unfolds, it remains to be seen whether or not Indian interests will get squeezed out of Bangladesh.
“As for India’s primary bugbear, the rise of Islamic radicals in Bangladesh and its consequences across the border, a one-sided election may have given it a new breath of life. In the long run, it might be easier to deal with a stable and democratic Bangladesh than one that may become a powder keg.”
Answer to such propaganda:
Indian media actually is willing to see Sheikh Hasina as a mere chief minister of any of its states, who would exclusively look into the interest of India. But, this is a gross mistake on the part of Indian media. Why in the world, a world-level statesman like Sheikh Hasina should be dictated by Indian policymakers? People should remember Sheikh Hasina is the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, who enjoys admiration and support from her people. In this case, for sure, Bangladesh is first to her. If she considers Chinese cooperation proposals suitable for Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina certainly should accept those. Indian policymakers and media should refrain from interfering into domestic affairs of Bangladesh and also should change their attitude of considering Sheikh Hasina as their puppet. They should remember, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is the daughter of Bangladesh’s founding-father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. She definitely is the most brilliant leaders in today’s world and of course, she knows what is best for her country.
As mentioned by Bharat Bhusan, China will relocate some of its major industrial projects to Bangladesh with the aim of helping Bangladesh in emerging as a major exporter of various types of goods to the Western markets. This will effectively help Bangladesh in drastically increasing its foreign exchange earnings. Experts from China also will provide training to the Bangladeshi workers, thus again helping Bangladesh in transforming its huge population into valuable human resources. Additionally, China can establish exclusive export zones within Faridpur district and other disadvantaged districts in Bangladesh in order to drastically improve the life standard of the locals. In this case, China can use its “Pudong Model” for transforming greater Faridpur district into an economic hub.
In tourism sector, China also can play an important role by helping Bangladesh in transforming the St Martin Island into an exclusive tourism island, which would only be accessible to foreigners. All sorts of facilities including casinos, nightclubs, golf courses, sea cruise, hotels, motels, restaurants, bars etc would be built in the island so that Bangladesh can earn few billion dollars only from the St Martin Exclusive Tourism Island.
Something India needs to realize:
Indian policymakers need to realize, although Sheikh Hasina is their most dependable ally, to her, Bangladesh is the priority. She may not repeat the one-sided cooperation and assistance as she has done during the past ten years to India. It is high-time for the Bangladeshi Prime Minister to demand cooperation on mutually respectable and reciprocal basis. In this case, Indian authorities should immediately resolve the long-standing water-sharing issue and refrain from pushing over four million Bangla-speaking Indians into Bangladesh territory. At the same time, India should not intervene into Bangladesh’s foreign policy.
For Sheikh Hasina, next ten years will be of great challenge as being the Prime Minister she needs to accomplish her goals of transforming the country into Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal). Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already made her position in the history by promoting Bangladesh into one of the top fastest growing economies in the world from the rank on under-developed country. She also has made immense contributions in women empowerment. Most importantly, Sheikh Hasina is fighting radical Islam and she definitely deserves support from the Western nations and the world.
David N. Robinson is a business consultant, who occasionally writes on various global issue.