Bangladesh’s Foreign Policy

On externalities of a neighbour’s ‘internal’ affairs

Nurul Kabir | Published: 00:00, Sep 26,2019


Kashmir lockdown. — Agence France-Presse

BANGLADESH emerged as an independent state through a national liberation war against neo-colonialist Pakistan in 1971 while many a country across the world, particularly neighbouring India, had provided enormous supports, political and material, to achieve the cherished independence. Bangladesh has, therefore, all the reasons to sincerely maintain a friendly relation with India and even make some concessions, if possible, for its past supports for the cause of Bangladesh’s independence, which Bangladesh has done on many an occasion since the beginning of its journey.

Bangladesh, however, has certain historical obligations, based on the genesis of the Bangladesh movement, to continue to meet in pursuing its policies towards the foreign countries. While the constitution of Bangladesh generally obliges the government/s of the state to ‘base its international relations on the principles of […] non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries’, it particularly asks the government/s ‘to support oppressed peoples throughout the world waging a just struggle against imperialism, colonialism and racialism’. Bangladesh, after all, was liberated by way of fighting a war against the racist army of the neo-colonialist Pakistan, which was aided by an imperialist government of the United States of America.

Nevertheless, Bangladesh’s government of the day appears to have adopted a foreign policy towards India which is inconsistent with the state’s constitutional provisions that were adopted in conformity with the country’s spirit of the liberation war — the government’s responses to Indian Hindu fundamentalist government’s oppression of the Muslims, particularly in Assam and Kashmir, being the recent examples.

This is common knowledge across the world now that India’s government of Narendra Modi has been pursuing its anti-Muslim policies across India while making multi-dimensional efforts to expel its own Muslim citizens on various excuses — efforts to do so in the bordering Assam state remains a brutal example, which poses multi-dimensional security threats to Bangladesh. The Indian government has, in the name of its National Register of Citizens, listed as many as 1.9 million of its people, a huge bulk of which is Muslim, to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh while Hindu fundamentalist BJP leaders have publicly threatened the Muslims with expulsion from India.

Bangladesh, which has already received 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims of neighbouring Myanmar’s Arakan state, persecuted by the Buddhist fundamentalist forces of their homeland, should have definite reasons for being worried about India’s visible efforts to create an intimidating environment that could force the Assamese Muslims to enter the country. The Indian authorities have for quite some time been claiming that the NRC issue is an ‘internal affair’ of India and Bangladesh has nothing to worry about it — the public statement made by India’s external affairs minister, S Jaishankar, in Dhaka on August 20 being an example. The government of Bangladesh, which finds India to be a friendly state, despite the latter’s innumerable unfriendly steps against Bangladesh at different levels of relations, bilateral and multilateral, appears quite convinced about the ‘internality’ of the Indian NRC programme in bordering Assam, although the components of ‘externality’ of the issue are so obvious, for whenever the issue is raised in Bangladesh, the foreign affairs minister of Bangladesh, AK Abdul Momen, refers to the ‘assurance’ of ‘no problem for Bangladesh’ provided by his Indian counterpart.

Bangladesh authorities need to realise that the India which had provided friendly assistances for Bangladesh to emerge as an independent state cannot, and practically did not, remain the same India in dealing with the post-independence Bangladesh, for the Indian objectives before Bangladesh’s independence changed immediately after Bangladesh had achieved its independence. India’s immediate objective behind its supports for the Bangladesh cause was to dismember Pakistan, which was the prime ‘threat perception’ for India those years. The emergence of Bangladesh not only weakened Pakistan, but also established India as the most formidable state in South Asia, which, again, raked up India’s inherent hegemonic aspirations to control, even invade, smaller states of the region. Notably, many a BJP politician, for instance Subramaniam Swami, a senior BJP leader and a nominated member of the Lok Sabha, often threats, publicly, of annexing the Bangladesh territory, imposing Delhi’s rule in Bangladesh — the last time in the first week of August 2019.

While the threat of ‘invasion’ could well be a rhetoric of intimidation, India’s direct and indirect interferences with Bangladesh’s national politics, including its electoral process, its visible refusal to resolve the disputes over the waters of international rivers, perpetual killings of Bangladeshis in the borders by Indian security forces, its tacit support for Myanmar in the latter’s dispute with Bangladesh over maritime boundary and Rohingya refugees, et cetera are a few examples of Indian hostilities towards the post-independence Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has, therefore, hardly any scope to take Indian diplomatic assurances at face value. The Bangladesh authorities must realise that the persecution of minority Muslims in India, let alone forcing them to enter Bangladesh, itself creates an ‘externality’ for Bangladesh, for such persecutions might expose the Hindu minorities in Bangladesh to a danger and, thus, create internal socio-cultural instability in Bangladesh, which fought for national independence based on a secular democratic ethno-linguistic nationalism. Under such circumstances, any government of Bangladesh having genuine commitment to the ‘spirit of the liberation war’ of the country cannot have reasons to naively accept the persecution of minority Muslims in India as a mere internal affairs of the latter.

Assam NRC check. — Agence France-Presse


Nevertheless, the government of Bangladesh appears to have swallowed the Indian official position as regards Jammu and Kashmir as well, where the Hindu fundamentalist authorities in Delhi has taken military steps to, what even many an Indian intellectual have described, colonise the Muslim-majority Himalayan region by way of unilaterally changing the latter’s ‘special’ status within the larger Indian union determined through the mediation of the United Nations in 1949. It is well known even to a novice of sub-continental history that after the partition of the sub-continent into India and Pakistan in 1947 and the subsequent decision of Kashmir’s leadership for a conditional accession to India, the two states engaged in a war over Kashmir while it was decided following a UN mediation between India and Pakistan that the future of Kashmir would be decided later by a referendum of its people and until the resolution of the problem through a plebiscite, Jammu and Kashmir would have a constitution, the national flag, prime minister and president of its own. The Indian authorities of the time constitutionally guaranteed this ‘special status’ in 1949, under which certain special rights, such as ‘settlement’ in Kashmir, ‘acquisition of immoveable property and appointment of services’ in the region were reserved solely for the Kashmiris.

Later in 1952, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of the independent India, categorically promised the people of Kashmir: ‘Kashmir is not the property of India or Pakistan. It belongs to the Kashmiri people. [...] We have taken the issue to the United Nations and give our word of honour for a peaceful solution. As a great nation, we cannot go back on it. We have left the question of final solution to the people of Kashmir and we are determined to abide by their decision.’

Nevertheless, it is common knowledge that neither India nor Pakistan has so far honoured their words while controlling two regions of the disputed territory without the democratic consent of its people. Indeed, there are people in Kashmir who want to merge with India and there are also people who want Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, but the vast majority of the Kashmiris want ‘independence’ from both India and Pakistan while the existence of a vigorous ‘freedom movement’ in Kashmir is there for the world to see.

Under this circumstance, India’s Hindu fundamentalist government of Narendra Modi has unilaterally, and illegally as well, abrogated on August 5 the constitutional provisions that provided Jammu and Kashmir with the special status while Indian authorities sent thousands of additional troops, cut off telephone and internet communications, imposed a crippling curfew, conducted brutal night-time raids and arrested dozens of politicians of the hitherto autonomous region before revoking the special status. The Indian step has not only aggravated the already worsened relationship with its nuclear counterpart, Pakistan, but has poised new threats to peace and stability in the South Asian region, of which Bangladesh is a member.

While the Kashmir issue remains an international affair by birth and still remains bound by certain UN resolutions and has now generated additional threat to the regional peace and stability and, thus, practically created new components of ‘externality’ around the issue, Delhi has repeatedly been claiming that the subject is an ‘internal affair’ of India. What is surprising is that the Bangladesh authorities have not only danced to the Indian tune, but also threatened the people of Bangladesh with ‘prosecution’ of those making attempt to protest at the Indian colonialist, political and military actions towards the people of Kashmir.

The foreign affairs minister, Abdul Momen, has made public statements on more than one occasion that Kashmir issue remains an ‘internal affair’ of India, the communications minister, who is also the general secretary of the ruling Awami League, claimed, referring to the ‘situation in Kashmir’, on August 7 that ‘we have no right to say anything and raise question about the internal matters of any country’. Two days after the League secretary’s comment, the director general of the Rapid Action Battalion, Benazir Ahmed remarked on August 9 that ‘Kashmir issue is an internal issue of India’ and that ‘we believe no one conscious will try to muddy the waters over the issue in our country’ and then categorically threatened that ‘those who will try to create any trouble will face harder prosecution’.

Hindutvavadi India’s forcible attempt to take away the autonomous status of Kashmir, visible efforts to militarily oppress the Kashmiri freedom movement by way of further colonising the people and territories of Kashmir and still claiming that the issue is an ‘internal affair’ of India almost amounts to Islamabad’s arrogant claim of the military campaign for suppressing the Bangladesh movement in 1971 to be an ‘internal affair’ of Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the observations and comments of the Bangladesh authorities suggest that they have not only resolved to pursue a subservient foreign policy towards India but also appear to have been oblivious of their constitutional obligations ‘to support oppressed peoples throughout the world waging a just struggle against imperialism, colonialism and racialism’.

Evidently, Bangladesh’s foreign policy towards India, particularly as regards the BJP’s Hindu fundamentalist policies implemented in Kashmir and Assam, is not only impractical, but also immoral from the point of view of Bangladesh’s historic promises to support the victims of imperialism, colonialism and racialism. This is high time that incumbents reviewed their hitherto pursued subservient policies towards the hegemonic neighbour. Friendship, after all, is a concept about equality and mutual interests.


Nurul Kabir is editor of New Age.

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