Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League'ssurprising landslide victory in December 2008 parliamentary elections ? that were largely fair and free because unlike earlier elections military remained neutral?has opened a window of hope about return of sanity in Dhaka and improvement in Indo-Bangladesh relations. Within two days of the announcement of election results, Hasina publicly stated that she would work for setting up a South-Asian Task Force against terrorism. It was soon followed by the Awami League Government'sannouncement that Bangladesh would hold talks with neighbouring countries to chalk out effective measures to fight terrorism. Her assertions were no off the cuff remarks. She seems to have a well thought out and clear plan of action to cleanse her country from the evil forces of Pakistan-style Islamic radicalism. Encouraged by positive vibes from Dhaka, India responded with alacrity sending External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to Dhaka on an official visit. His talks with Prime Minister Hasina and Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, one hopes, will set in motion moves to involve Dhaka in a joint fight against jehadi terrorism and Indian terror outfits operating from Bangladeshi soil.
Prime Minister Hasina deserves kudos for her bold initiatives. She seems to have learnt lessons from her failure to go the whole hog against fundamentalists and jehadis during her earlier tenure as Prime Minister. New Delhi, one hopes, has also fine-tuned its strategy to wean away Bangladesh from Pakistani influence in the name of religion. Neither India nor Bangladesh is expected to do any favour to the other. They need to tread a path that is in their mutual interest. While India needs warm friendly relations with Bangladesh to strengthen its fight against terror, the very survival of her government, nay nation, will depend on how far she succeeds in containing fundamentalists that are bent upon destroying liberal democracy in Bangladesh. She has no option but to bring to justice Islamists who killed 23 Awami League leaders and almost claimed her life in 2004 grenade attack in Dhaka and ?war criminals? who had worked as auxiliary forces of the Pakistani Occupation Army and committed crimes against humanity, including mass murders, looting, rapes and arson forcing millions of citizens, both Hindus and Muslims, to flee to India. Having rejected attempts to whitewash crimes, she has asked the Home Ministry to undertake fresh investigation into terrorist acts undertaken during the four-year regime led by the BNP to identify the masterminds and their domestic and international links. There are powerful elements in the bureaucracy and politics, including Jamaat-e-Islami of Bangladesh, which would put hurdles in this task. Sheikh Hasina is in a position to thwart these elements for she has a massive majority in Parliament and enjoys a lot of public goodwill. However, much will depend on her ability to mobilise this political support to demolish the network of Islamists and ISI agents responsible for committing atrocities against citizens.
ISI has established a wide network in Bangladesh to carry out cross-border terrorism in India. Terror outfits, like ULFA, operating in north-eastern states, have established a strong base in that country with the tacit support from the authorities concerned. Sheikh Hasina'sstatement that Bangladesh wouldn'tallow its soil to be used by any terror group against any country, including India, is heartening. If she is able to translate this promise into action, it would make New Delhi'stask of combating terrorism in the north-east and other parts of the country much increase space between the columns easier. Her determination to punish war criminals and anti-liberation forces is a welcome sign for India as these fundamentalist elements are pathologically anti-Indian and constitute the matrix of Islamic terrorism in Bangladesh. It is, therefore, imperative for New Delhi to respond positively to the Bangladesh'sproposal to set up a South Asian Task Force to fight international terror that is causing havoc in the region.
Illegal infiltration from Bangladesh is one of the gravest issues as far as India is concerned. It was aptly described by the Supreme Court of India as an ?invasion?. Although illegal infiltration began as a trickle, it has assumed alarming proportions posing serious economic, demographic and security threats to us. Dhaka has been in perpetual denial on the issue. Government spokesmen went to the extent of claiming that there was not a single Bangladeshi infiltrator in India. The Congress party and the Communists are the ones who welcomed and encouraged infiltrators as they are their vote banks in their respective areas. No one, therefore, expects the UPA Government to deal with this issue. Only a nationalist government at the Centre can effectively take up this crucial issue with Bangladesh. The first step should be to stop further infiltration by securing the porous Indo-Bangladesh borders. Fencing Indo-Bangladesh borders, as was done in the case of Indo-Pak borders, should be undertaken on a war-footing and completed expeditiously with active cooperation of Bangladesh.
Once the relations between the two countries are brought to an even keel, New Delhi needs to take up with Dhaka the issue of return of Bangladeshi migrants to their motherland. It is a tough task, given the fact that Bangladesh has been in perpetual denial on the issue. But it is an issue India can ignore at its own peril. Equally important is the issue regarding Hindus pushed out of that country by Islamists by committing inhuman atrocities on Hindu men and women. This is a sensitive issue that has to be resolved with patience.