Massive popular uprising against the Pakistani military junta that unleashed a reign of terror against Bangla-speaking people, including Hindus, and resisted the legitimate demand for power to Awami League that had won a majority of seats in the National Assembly did play a part in defeating the evil designs of the Pakistani rulers. However, the well-trained and professional Pakistani army with the help of entrenched Islamists would have brutally crushed the revolt but for the powerful political, moral and military support extended by India. A new nation committed to liberal democracy was born in 1971 but India’s fond hope of having a friendly and secular democracy on our eastern borders soon vanished as an illusion. Gruesome assassination of the founding father of the nascent nation Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and most of his family in a military coup led to the ascendancy of jehadis. Fanatic elements that had betrayed the liberation struggle and were guilty of perpetrating crimes against humanity whipped anti-India and anti-Hindu frenzy. For more than two decades, the country was ruled by Islamists—General Zia, General Ershad and Begum Khaleda Zia. It was during that period that fundamentalism took roots and jehadi elements entrenched themselves in the political establishment, civil services, the army and the police. There was a rapid deterioration of the socio-political scenario in the country that witnessed anti-Hindu pogroms. Murders, rapes, arson and confiscation of Hindu property became the order of the day. Military dictators and BNP government encouraged Islamic fundamentalism through an enormous growth of madrasas all over the land.
Several jehadi outfits emerged with the active support from the ISI, which established its foothold in the political and administrative establishment. BNP came to power in alliance with Jammat-e-Islami—a rabidly radical Islamist outfit that had bitterly opposed the liberation movement. Rabble-rousing clerics like Maulana Abaidul Haq did the rest to Talibanise the country. Several radical groups linked to Taliban emerged as significant players in the religious, social and political fields. Sections of army, bureaucracy, intelligence services and intellectuals joined the radicals to convert Bangladesh into a hub of secessionist outfits operating in the north-eastern states of India. Top leaders of ULFA, Pravesh Barua and others, were provided shelter and support by the state machinery under successive governments. ISI played a major role in providing training and supplying arms and ammunition to the outlaws. Bangladesh became a safe haven for insurgent groups operating in Tripura, Manipur and Nagaland. Weapons smuggled from China and other unfriendly countries through Chittagong port were routinely transported to the north-eastern states through the porous Indo-Bangladesh border. Bangladesh-based notorious jehadi outfit—HUJI—spread terror in different parts of India by targeting sensitive cities and towns with bomb blasts.
Emergence of Bangladesh as a jehadi hub poses a serious threat to India’s national security and territorial integrity. It is one of the most densely populated and demographically aggressive countries in the world. Low-populated areas in the north-eastern region that are victims of insurgencies for decades are critically vulnerable. The region can be unhooked from the rest of the country by choking or severed by force the Siliguri Corridor—popularly called the chicken neck—that is merely 10 to 20 km wide and 200 km long. Illegal migration of Bangladeshis over the decades has completely changed the demography of most of the districts bordering Bangladesh. UPA government legitimised the infiltration through the Illegal Migration (Determination by Tribunals) Act 1983 for sheer vote-bank politics. The Act was struck down by the Supreme Court of India, which in a landmark judgment called the massive infiltration an “invasion” on India. But New Delhi in connivance with the Congress government in Assam subverted the apex court’s order by illegitimate and covert means. Illegal infiltration continues unabated as the Congress and the communist welcome with open arms “vote banks” from across the border.
Unfortunately, Bangladesh has been perpetually in a denial mode. Dhaka claimed there was “complete communal harmony” in the country and no untoward incident had taken place anywhere in the country even when Bangladesh’s newspapers were full of reports about gory tales of arson, loot, rape and demolition and desecration of about 3000 Hindu temples all over the country in the wake of the demolition of the disputed structure at Ayodhya. On another occasion, the then Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia claimed in a televised broadcast that Bangladesh was a country of communal harmony even when it was rocked by Islamic frenzy and ethnic cleansing. Her foreign minister had on one occasion shamelessly claimed that there were no minorities in the country and as such all reports about atrocities against them were “imaginary”. Only a few years ago, the interim military government of the country claimed there was not a single Bangladeshi infiltrator in India. New Delhi let these false claims go unchallenged under the garb of maintaining friendly relations with neighbouring countries, IK Gujral style.
Begum Hasina Sheikh’s coming to power in Bangladesh with a massive majority is an indication of winds of change in the country for whose emergence India shed a lot of its blood. Prime Minister Hasina appears to be acutely aware of the threat she and her party face from jehadi elements. Her pronouncements and initiatives are music to Indian ears and democracy-loving people all over the world. She talked of working with neighbouring countries (read India) to chalk out effective measures to fight terrorism. Both Bangladesh and India would gain a lot if she is able to fulfil her promise of not allowing terror outfits to operate from Bangladeshi soil. Friendly and warm Indo-Bangladesh relations are in our mutual interest. While India needs willing cooperation from Bangladesh to strengthen its fight against terror, the very survival of Hasina’s government, nay nation, will depend on how far she succeeds in containing fundamentalists.