Sheikh Hasina's India visit: Firming up Bangladesh PM's security must be high on the agenda

Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India that kicks off on Friday has generated much excitement, hope and goodwill between both countries — like never in the past. Hasina has been a frequent visitor to India even before she became the country's prime minister, as her children were studying in Kodaikanal when Bangladesh was going through a turbulent period with threats made on her life .

So what makes this official visit that comes after seven years so special? Print and electronic media on both sides are going gaga and building huge hype amid animated talk shows and debates. In fact, there is a plethora of issues that will be addressed during the visit, with as many as 30 to 35 agreements likely to be signed. Crucially, Hasina's masterstroke in posthumously felicitating as many as 1,661 Indian soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the 1971 liberation struggle augurs very well. This is not only a formal recognition of the Indian participation in Bangladesh's freedom struggle, but also a very handsome tribute to the glorious dead. This gesture will go a long way.

File image of Sheikh Hasina and Narendra Modi. PTI

File image of Sheikh Hasina and Narendra Modi. PTI

However, having said that, it's important to stress that Hasina should decisively prevail upon the educationists and academics in Dhaka to ensure that Indian involvement is reflected positively in the history curriculum of schools and colleges, so that the present and future generations of Bangladeshi youth have firsthand knowledge of India's assistance in 1971. Further, they should ensure that history is not tampered with by anti-India forces active across the border.

As per Bangladesh foreign ministry sources, during the Hasina visit, Dhaka will be offered a third line of credit worth $3.5 billion. That's a colossal quantum. By a rough breakup, out of the total allocation, $940 million will be earmarked for the Rooppur Nuclear Plant, $350 million for a multipurpose terminal at Pyra Port and $177 million for a power transmission line between Bogra and Jharkand. In addition to that, $500 million will be allocated for the new railway line from Bogra to Sirajgunj and $177 million for a solar power plant. From the MoUs and different pacts, we see huge assistance being provided to Bangladesh on the infrastructure front.

The sharing of the water of River Teesta will, of course, not be discussed for obvious reasons even though the issue is not overdue, and has given the Opposition in Bangladesh fodder to criticise the Hasina government for its alleged failure to address the topic. Bangladesh water experts assess that Teesta remains critical as from December to March each year, the flow of water falls below 1,000 cusecs from a normal flow of 5,000 cusecs.

Another major highlight of the visit includes the signing of a defence and security cooperation treaty between the two countries. Since July last year, Bangladesh has been afflicted by bloody terror attacks occurring at regular intervals with the Islamic State's footprints all over them, despite the government's denial of any IS presence. Terror acts are attributed to homegrown terror groups like Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and its affiliates. These groups are well-trained, well-armed, sponsored by Pakistani money and materials, and facilitated by an extensive network of the ISI, active in Bangladesh to subvert the present government as also to impair growing India-Bangladesh relations.

It would appear imperative to enter into an intelligence operation where hard and actionable intelligence is shared through a well-crafted mechanism in place. And so, intelligence seems to be a priority. The Bangladeshi counter-terror architecture, aided by the army, is professionally sound. It has been neutralising every terror-linked hostage crisis, yet Bangladeshi intelligence does not always appear to have prior inputs to preempt the attacks. Technological know-how and the latest expertise can possibly be offered to the visiting side to streamline actionable intelligence.

Since there is a great opportunity for both sides through the discussion of security, it becomes important to discuss Hasina's personal security in view of heightened threat by Islamic extremists. She is now the only India-friendly leader in the country and only champion to root out extremism. Hence, her security needs to be paramount and foolproof. This needs to be firmed up between security professionals from both sides.

In the same vein, Bangladesh should seek India's help to ensure there are no infiltrators inside the country's armed forces that are inimical to Hasina. It has been a highly-politicised and Islamised force having caused and witnessed a number of bloody coups and counter-coups. Nothing should be left to chance. India continues to need Hasina as much Bangladesh needs her at the helm. Her continuity is in the interest of both countries.

The author is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst and has worked with Bangladesh in Dhaka and from New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.

Updated Date: Apr 06, 2017 11:10 AM

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