Power needed to deter attacks on our sovereignty

Maswood Alam Khan
Two guests invited to a recent episode of Channel I’s Tritio Matra, Professor of International Relations Department of Dhaka University Md. Shahiduzzaman and ‘Amader Shomoy’ Editor Nayeemul Islam Khan, must have agitated many viewers’ minds to ponder over our international relations and the state of our military defence—two sensitive and reclusive domains many of us are not quite aware of.

As one of the viewers of the episode I was awestruck learning from these two erudite personalities about the poor state of our diplomatic capacity and the helplessness of our defence forces. In the event of an attack on Bangladesh’s sovereignty by any of our neighbouring countries, I am afraid, we would have to raise our hands in surrender many days, or maybe many years, before our enemy plans to hold a gun over our head, if what the guests disclosed in Tritio Matra are true.

Two scenarios, as I could learn from the episode, are terribly horrible. It is assumed that about two to three hundred thousand Burmese citizens, who mostly belong to Rohingya community, have already infiltrated into Bangladesh during the last few months, facing no hold-up from our side. On the diplomatic side, as was told by ‘Amader Somoy’ Editor, we are so poorly equipped that some of our diplomats could not exactly follow what the negotiators on the other side of the table were talking about in English while settling some vital issues on our bilateral relations with a country. What a shame!

The Tritio Matra episode gathered momentum and I got extremely keyed up when some disquieting issues were raised in the discussion as to “What did our Chief of Armed Forces do when the Burmese caravans were crossing the border?” “Is it true that nowadays knees of our Generals judder violently when faced with a critical issue?” “Are we deploying right diplomats (with their sufficient command of diplomatic proficiency and negotiating skill in English) in right places to safeguard our interests?” etc.

I was hearing in awed silence when one of the guests told that the top brass of all the armed forces of our country feel jittery when a dossier on a big purchase is placed on their desks; on sight of such a dossier they start losing their sleep and go on procrastinating on the pretext of ‘further enquiries’ with a view to shelving a final decision till their tenures are over. It is an open secret that during the last couple of years Bangladesh Navy did not execute one single big purchase essential to maintain their existing arsenals and logistics, let alone a mega purchase to expand their naval prowess. What a good piece of news for Myanmar’s military regime to relish!

There is a ‘fatigue theory’ for making friendship with enemies when one finds quarrelling too fatiguing to endure—at a point of time when rivals find shaking hands quite relieving. This fatigue theory I had learned when I found my life in kindergarten miserable due to extreme bullying by my classmates, especially by one named Jahangir who was a tall boy with stout muscles. One day during our Math exam I was very slowly answering the questions only to allow Jahangir, who sat next to me on a bench, to copy what I was answering. Jahangir, who was my enemy number one, all on a sudden became my best friend and thenceforth no classmate ever dared bully me all through my days in school.

We badly need a Jahangir in our diplomatic relationship. That is to say, we need a big power like America or China or even India to back us when our neighbour Myanmar is trying to bully us and when our Naval Force is too poor or too weak to thwart an aggressor trying to venture into our territory on the Bay of Bengal. But, making friends with an enemy is much more challenging in diplomacy than in childhood playground.

Like many common observers I agree with Md. Shahiduzzaman, the guest speaker in Tritio Matra, that we must change our mindset about India. As we cannot change our borders, so we will always be surrounded by India. It would be suicidal if some of us still harbour the hackneyed outlook that India was and still is our enemy, an outlook we were made to develop during Pakistan time when religious dogmas used to dope us up.

We must befriend India. At the same time we have to make India believe that she is not the only friend in the world we always have to repose on.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while making remarks during a meeting with our Foreign Minister Dr. Dipu Moni in Washington on Wednesday, said the U.S. will continue to support democratic institution building, counter-terrorism efforts and improvement of skills of law enforcing agencies in Bangladesh. Such an assurance is nice to hear though it is a universal statement a developing country is quite used to hearing.

But, an announcement like “U.S. will always stand by Bangladeshi people whenever Bangladesh will face a threat on her sovereignty” from the U.S. President or the U.S. Secretary of State is a prize statement from a superpower a country with its weak military defence like Bangladesh or Somalia, which is surrounded by powerful neighbours, naturally expects. Eliciting such a sympathetic response from a power like America however is a colossal task one like you or I, who knows a little bit of functional English necessary to exchange with an English-speaking salesman, cannot really deliver. What is needed is a robust diplomacy with a bunch of diplomatic negotiators, which can read the lips and the body language of the veteran diplomats sitting across the negotiating table.

Learned diplomatic onlookers like Md. Shahiduzzaman are afraid that in the next winter Myanmar, bolstered by their successes in their earlier attempts to encroach into Bangladesh and backed by China’s unwritten support, may start rigging in the submarine terrains of Bay of Bengal that are very much inside Bangladesh maritime zone.

What in such an event of Burmese adventure should Bangladesh do? Should we silently watch the Burmese rigging activities the way our armed border guards had watched the caravans of Burmese rohingya people entering Bangladesh? Should our Air and Naval forces, being encouraged by their sitting duck roles when Burma by encroaching into our territory very recently made a litmus test of our military strength, wait out time depending on our diplomats’ negotiating skill?

As a low-lying basin the floor of Bay of Bengal is deemed a repository of valuable minerals. The submarine topography in the Bay of Bengal is also fast changing! According to estimates of geologists, a huge chunk of land as big as the size of a number of Bangladesh may surface in the Bay of Bengal in a matter of time. Countries like Burma and India cannot restrain themselves from grabbing such a rising land or from hitting the potential pockets in the bay where they might strike the mother lode connected with a huge reservoir of oil or gas.

Aware of the strategic importance of the Bay of Bengal, United States of America may too be looking for any ally here. It may not be a surprise if USA, totally forgetting what is happening to the vanguard of Myanmar democracy Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, may all on a sudden shake hands with Myanmar military regime and set up American companies—civil or military—on the Burmese shores of the Bay of Bengal!

For a nation that ostensibly honours democracy and freedom, the United States after all has a nasty habit of embracing foreign dictators when they seem to serve American interests.

It is high time we found our powerful ally who would help defend our sovereignty by both words of mouth and deeds of promise. Our diplomatic motto “Friendship with all and malice to none” has to be rephrased into “Malice to none, but alliance with one who will stand by our side in times of our peril”.

When it is a question of safeguarding our territorial integrity we must forget who was our enemy and we must shake hands with our archenemy or the enemy of our enemy. In case we don’t find an ally powerful enough to deter attacks on our sovereignty we have to shop around for assistance so that we can become an Israel or even a North Korea. If necessary, we have to recognise Israel with a view to befriending America.

Our researchers on international relations should let us know why Bangladesh should not be like Israel, a country as big in size as Chittagong and as tiny a country of just 6 million people having no oil or minerals beneath its soil? And why should Americans continue to support Israel and alienate themselves from the 500 million Arabs who control one-third of the world’s oil supply?

Only the United States, as opined by Md. Shahiduzzaman during the discussion in ‘Tritio Matra’, can perhaps help dispel the tension that is now brewing up between countries centring around claims on the Bay of Bengal. However deep is our friendship with China we must not depend on that country when we would have to chase Myanmar out from our territory because China cannot afford to lose Myanmar, her vital strategic partner.
Source: The New Nation Bangladesh

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Local authorities deny rights of unregistered refugees

Thursday, 17 September 2009
Kutupalong, Bangladesh: The concerned authorities of an official refugee camp (under UNHCR), refused to solve problems between registered refugees and unregistered refugees, said a refugee committee member.

Last evening, Yousef with 15 other registered refugees beat up Hamid from the unregistered refugee camp of Block B 1, with an iron rod. Hamid was seriously injured and the unregistered refugee committee members went to complain about the matter to the officer in-charge of the registered camp. However, they were unable to find him in the camp and then the committee members went to Camp Security Officer Sub Inspector (SI) Monir, who refused to file the case, the committee members said.

Given his serious condition, the refugees tried to get medical treatment for the injured man, from the clinic of the registered camp, which is operated under UNHCR. But, Hamid was denied treatment there too since he was not a registered refugee, said Abu, another Local authorities deny rights of unregistered refugees unregistered refugee, had gone with Hamid to complain to the concerned local authorities.

Later, the refugees admitted Hamid to the MSF clinic near the camp, where he was admitted as an indoor patient, Abu added.

“I know the UNHCR works for refugees, although why in Bangladesh it follows the divide and role policy among refugees of Kutupalong area is unknown. It is their duty to save a life and the reasons for the UNHCR clinic’s refusal to admit the patient are still uncertain,” said Kalam from camp.

It has been learnt that Hamid had taken Taka 40 from Yousef last week, but had paid back only Taka 25 yesterday and requested for some more time to pay the rest. But, Yousef attacked Hamid with an iron rod, while 15 others joined in, to help Yousef. In the skirmish, Hamid was seriously injured.

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ACF distributes soap to unregistered refugees in Kutupalong

Thursday, 17 September 2009
Kautupalong, Bangladesh: The Action Contre la Faim (ACF) distributed soaps to unregistered refugees in Kutupalong as part of its hygiene programme to keep refugees in good health, according to a worker of the hygienic programme.

The ACF distributed to 5300 families. It distributed eight soaps for under four-member families and 12 soaps for over four-member families, the worker said.

“It is good for us as we received goods from NGOs working in our camp. Before we got biscuits and now we are getting soaps,” said Halima, a mother of five children carrying 12 soaps with biscuits for her kids.

When we get some goods from NGOs, locals become jealous and attack the refugees. They are demanding jobs in the refugee camp and need rations. They disturb workers, who are working in the refugee camp, said a member of the refugee committee.

Local people attacked unregistered Rohingya women refugees, while they were returning from the Action Contre la Faim (ACF), after collecting biscuits on September 1, Abul Kalam, an elder from Kutupalong unregistered refugee camp said.

Local people attacked the women refugees yesterday, while they were working in the camp on a hygienic programme. Work was to stopped the whole day with local people demanding jobs in the camp, said Anwer, a refugee from the camp.

The refugees from unregistered camp had no score to serve their family, when ACF started the programme of hygiene in the camp. The refugee committee requested ACF to recruit the workers from the camp. So, ACF recruited from the camp to help the refugees, the members said.

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Mute Rohingya refugee girl gang-raped

Tuesday, 15 September 2009
Kutupalong, Bangladesh: A 15-year old mute girl was gang-raped at the Nayapara refugee camp in the first week of September. The men took advantage of the fact that she could not complain to people or scream for help, said Kassim, a refugee elder from the Kutupalong unregistered refugee camp.

The young girl, Saytara, daughter of late Mohamed Syed, lives with her bother and sister-in-law, at the Kutupalong unregistered refugee camp, Kassim said.

On September 1, her brother’s father-in law, Hanifa, son of Molana Noor Mohamed, who lives in Nayapara camp, Shade D, came to their hut and requested the family to give permission to take her to his room to help his wife, who was about to deliver a baby, according to her brother.

Saytara went to her brother’s hut yesterday in tears and explained with signs that she was raped by Hanifa, taking advantage of her handicap, since she was unable to call for help, Saytara explained with signs.

Saytara also explained that Hanifa called other people to rape her one by one, after she arrived at the camp. A total of nine people raped her, she explained in tears to her sister-in-law.

According to refugees of Nayapara camp, Hanifa is notorious for his bad behaviour, and all the refugees from Block D, hate him.

Saytara’s brother was unable to do anything as Hanifa is the father of his wife and forbade his wife not to contact her father.

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Twelve Burmese nationals pushed back to Burma

Naikhyangchari, Bangladesh: Twelve Burmese nationals were pushed back to Burma by Bangladesh Rifles and police on September 11 through the Chakdhala border under Naikhyangchari upazila in Bandarban.
The Burmese nationals entered Bangladesh from Burma illegally in the last week of August 2009 to escape persecution by the ruling military junta and for staying in Selami village under Naikhyangchari upazila. They were arrested on August 10, when the Bangladesh border force conducted raids to drive out of intruders, according to local sources in Naikhyangchari.

The Burmese nationals were identified as Mubarak Ali, (67) Ayesha Begum (39), Fatema Khatun (12) Jonefa Begum (14) Jafar Alam (50) Sajeda Begum (40), Ashek Tara (18), Saiful Alam (12), Mohammad Rashid (20), Mohammad Saifuddin (9) Umme Maleka (8) and Habiba Begum (6).

Most Burmese nationals come to Bangladesh from Burma for medical check-up and some people flee to Bangladesh from Burma because of persecution by the junta.

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Two Rohingya women tortured in Nasaka camp

Maungdaw, Burma: Two Rohingya women were tortured to confess and to get a signed confession that their husband had fled to Bangladesh by Nasaka personnel from Inn Din camp under Nasaka sector number 8 of Maundaw Township on September 7, said a neighbour on condition of anonymity.
Their husbands were arrested by Nasaka on August 30, on the allegation of repairing a Mosque. With no evidence of repairs the Nasaka released them wanting to arrest them again with evidence. So Nasaka planned to get signed confession letters from their wives that their husbands fled to Bangladesh, he said.

The women are identified as Zahida Begum (26) wife Kabir Ahamed and Rahena Begum (32), wife of Shafique Ahamed, hailing from Koolong village tract of Maungdaw Township.

On September 7 and 8, Nasaka personnel arrested Zahida and Rehena from their homes and took them to the Inn Din Nasaka camp and asked when their husbands went to Bangladesh and wanted a written confession, but they refused, said a villager.

When they refused to give the confession, the Nasaka personnel started torturing them in the camp till evening. When they could not take the suffering from the torture, they signed the confession letters the Nasaka personnel wanted. Later they were released without any bribe, the villager said.

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Relief distributes in unofficial lada refugees camp

Teknaf, Bangladesh: The Islamic Relief (UK), the managing group in Lada unregistered camp, distributed relief materials in the Lada Burmese refugee unofficial camp, in Cox’s Bazaar district of Bangladesh yesterday, said Hakim from the camp.

The Islamic Relief (UK) provided three items— 8 kgs of rice, 2 kgs of chickpea and one litter of oil per family, he added.

When asked Sayeda a woman refugee said that she as well as other refugees are very happy to receive relief from Islamic Relief (UK) given their need for food.

They provided rations to 2100 families in the camp but did not receive any support from any other quarter in the ongoing month of Ramadan except this relief, said Salim another refugee from the camp.

Over 10,000 Rohingyas are living in Lada camp without government or UN assistance. The government and UNHCR are not providing food and shelter.

“We have been facing many difficulties in supporting our family members. We do not find sufficient work out of the camp and have been facing many problems when we go out of the camp,” said Noor Hakim from the camp.

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