the future of Bangladesh
years ago, Bangladesh was written off as a basket
case and a nation without a future.
Today Bangladesh is still surviving as a
nation-state, and perhaps has a better prognosis
than Pakistan, from which it was hewn in 1971.
However, the future is not rosy. Bangladesh is a nation with deep psychological wounds that is
at a critical juncture in its history.
It can either come to terms with the
reality of its past and move into the twenty-first
century, or it can remain wedded to the Stockholm
syndrome where friends are confused for foes.
For India, the path that Bangladesh takes
has deep implications for India’s economic
well-being, social stability, democratic polity
and national security.
As such, it is important to understand the
various drivers in Bangladesh today to facilitate
their development along preferred paths.
Bangladesh has been slowly
making progress in some areas.
For example, it has achieved near
self-sufficiency in rice (1, 2) and has the second
fastest growing economy in South Asia (2) aided by
the well-known innovations of micro-credit (3).
It has implemented many of the mechanisms
necessary for a democratic society, including the
conduction of relatively free and fair elections
Bangladeshi society is still driven by many of the
factors that led Kissinger to call it a “basket
case” including: Population Growth, Illiteracy,
Religious Extremism, and Protectionism.
population is still growing at over 2% a year.
It is currently around 130 million, and is
expected to reach 150 million by 2010, and 180
million by 2025 (4).
It is a very young country with a median
population age of 21 years. This means that the
next 10 – 20 years will be critical as this
group of young men mature (5).
Their life choices will shape whether
Bangladesh becomes an entrepreneurial state or an
Bangladeshi economic growth has been
hovering in the 4 – 5 % range over the past
several years, making it second only to India in
South Asia (5, 6).
Increasing economic opportunity will reduce
the Islamization of society that shackles
women’s rights and education.
This is critical, since increasing
women’s education is known to lead to reduced
The literacy rate is around 40%
(5), compared to nearly 70% literacy in India (7). In India, literacy rates have escalated as a result of
efforts of encouraging education in modern
institutions, as compared to the traditional
Bangladesh, much of the education still continues
to occur within the 65,000 madrassas that exist
a result of the low literacy rates, and the
educational system driven by religious
institutions we find an escalation in religious
addition, the effects of a high degree of
illiteracy in a country dominated by young people
where economic opportunity is limited has led to
an increase in religious extremism.
Figure 1. Map of
Bangladesh showing linkages with India.
country has been termed the world’s most corrupt
(8), and has seen the Jamat-e-Islami obtain almost
17 seats in the Bangladeshi parliament.
Hindus have borne the brunt of this
The Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Jihadi (HUJI) is the
largest of these groups with an estimated
membership of over 15,000 (9, 10).
HUJI was created by Bangladeshis who fought
in the Afghan War and is known to have a direct
link with Al Qaeda (10) with Fazlul Rehman one of
the signers of Al Qaeda’s Jihad against the
It is known to have linkages with the Inter
Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan (10)
having received training and funding from them,
and has been involved in attacks on Hindus and
Hindu population has declined from 24% of the
population in 1961 to around 10% today.
Even accounting for the murder of 3-million
in the genocide by the Pakistani government, the
proportion of Hindus has shown a consistent
the fertility rate of Hindus in the regions
surrounding Bangladesh, it appears that the
decline in the proportion of Hindus is primarily
due to their eviction from their native lands (9,
12, 13). The
attacks on Hindus may be properly termed ethnic
cleansing, with the state instruments guilty of
acts of omission as well as commission (14).
This trend of attacks on minorities
designed to expel them from their native lands
finds a parallel in Pakistan.
In Pakistan, of course, the logical
extension of the ethnic cleansing of religious
minorities has now turned to the ethnic cleansing
of non-Sunni Muslim sects.
The implications for Bangladesh are grave.
escalation of religious extremism pertains to the
economic situation in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is still one of the poorest
nations in the world.
It has a GDP of approximately $50 billion
time-tested path to wealth creation involves trade
For Bangladesh, surrounded almost
completely by India, trade with India could be a
critical source of wealth generation.
In addition, since Bangladesh effectively
separates North East India from Central India, it
has the opportunity to engage its economy with
India’s by providing commercial transit to
India’s North Eastern States.
Enabling commercial transit has the
potential of adding approximately $80 – 100
million per year to the Bangladeshi economy (16).
Unfortunately, there appears to be an
institutionalized fear of India’s intentions,
fed by the Islamist establishment.
As a result, Dhaka has been unwilling to
enter into a Free Trade Agreement with India,
expand transit links with India, or sell gas to
India (17). This
counterproductive stand on trade with India has
resulted in a number of oil majors winding up
their Bangladeshi operations (18) boding
dangerously for the future of the Bangladeshi
Implications of current
In the next 10 years,
Bangladesh will have a 150 million people, of
which almost 92% will be Muslim, with a Sunni
the trends towards extremism in other nations with
a Sunni majority, this suggests that unless the
institutional drivers of extremism are addressed,
the extremists will continue to consolidate their
over 64,000 madrassas in Bangladesh (8, 9), the
majority of the youth are affiliated with
religious institutions, and therefore not
obtaining a modern education and are feed for the
pipeline of Islamist Terror.
The institutional drivers include the
judicial system, law-enforcement entities, and
flow of funds through Islamic Charities to
entities that threaten violence as well as the
issues of modern education and a healthy and
Bangladesh is known to
provide shelter to a number of violent and armed
terrorist organizations fighting the Government of
India (19). The
existence of such groups within Bangladesh,
despite government denials, serves to create and
sustain a black market in arms traffic, as well as
criminality and murder.
The logical extension of this process can
be seen in Pakistan’s North West Frontier
there is a concerted attempt by the Bangladeshi
government to prosecute and eliminate these
groups, they can act as a fissure mechanism for
Bangladesh itself, as they are doing in Pakistan.
In addition, around
500,000 – 1,000,000 of Bangladeshis enter India
every year, illegally (19).
The majority of these are Muslim, although
the number of Hindus may be estimated (from the
differential population growth rages) at
approximately 20% of the total, as a result of the
ethnic cleansing in Bangladesh.
This social and economic burden of
Bangladeshis is changing the demographic profile
of the border districts of West Bengal and the
North Eastern States.
Unless this migration is ended through
political means, it is likely that this will
result in a major communal fault-line in Eastern
India appears to have reached a critical mass with
sustainable economic growth of 6-8%, it is likely
that the economic drivers for this illegal
immigration will continue to expand.
Shaping the future
In order to shape the
future, it is essential to understand what the
objectives must be.
Simply put, India desires a peaceful
relationship with Bangladesh, where trade and
commerce foster increasing wealth in both
order for this to occur, Bangladesh needs to move
away from state sponsorship of religion (20),
create an independent judiciary, and effective law
enforcement mechanism, a financial sector that is
independent of government interference with an
effective capital market.
Equally important, Bangladesh should invest
in modern education, thereby sucking the life
force out of religious extremism.
In addition, Bangladesh should enhance its
commercial sector, by encouraging investment from
Indian enterprises, enabling transit between
central and northeastern India.
The three broad goals are (a) Eliminating
Extremist Islamism; (b) Facilitation of a
pro-India sentiment; (c) Enhancing Trade and
extremism is on the rise in Bangladesh today
because the Bangladeshi military has used Islam as
a counterweight to the Awami League (9) and due to
massive funds from Saudi Arabia (20).
In addition, the 65,000 madrassas that
exist in Bangladesh exist because of a void that
is not met by modern educational institutions. If extremist Islamism is to be excised from the polity in
Bangladesh, it requires a broad spectrum effort
designed to eliminate the financial support,
political patronage as well as the availability of
Bangladesh currently only
spends 2.2% of its GDP on education (22).
The conventional wisdom is that this is
what feeds the madrassas.
The level of competency achieved in a
madrassa was found to be more than ten-times worse
(6% compared to 61%) than that of a formal school
further supports the belief that the madrassas do
not equip their students for a productive life,
rather for a life where the transition to an
Islamist terrorist is a rather simple one.
If the madrassas are to be discredited as
institutions of learning, it requires a
clear-headed effort created and disseminated by
Non-Governmental Organizations in Bangladesh,
perhaps guided by New Delhi.
It is in New Delhi’s
interest to encourage the creation of primary and
secondary educational institutions in Bangladesh.
These institutions may be funded through
World Bank and other aid agencies.
India should offer to train Bangladeshi
NGOs in the methodologies adopted to facilitate
the acceleration of Indian Literacy rates.
Funding a Radio station
(Radio Bangladesh) is an important part of the
overall strategy to co-opt Bangladesh by appealing
to its citizenry.
This station would be designed to provide a
forum for the variety of suppressed opinions and
voices regarding the ethnic cleansing of
minorities, India’s peaceful intentions, and to
create a radio broadcast truth-and-reconciliation
designed to heal the psyche of the nation.
The cost of funding such a station may be
estimated from the annual budget for Radio Free
Asia (23, 24) of $ 30 million. Given the spread of RFA (China, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, North
Korea, Tibet and Vietnam) it is realistic to
assume that a Bangladesh centered radio station
should not cost more than $10 million a year.
Ending political patronage
of Islamist organizations by the Army and the BNP,
and stemming the flow of Saudi funds into
Bangladesh requires a dedicated effort.
This requires long term, and extensive
human intelligence into the relationships between
these four organizations (Saudi “Charities”,
Bangladeshi Armed Forces, BNP, and Islamist
The purpose of these intelligence efforts
is to expose the links between these entities, and
to aid their adversaries at every level of
political system in Bangladesh is driven by the
personal animosity between Sheikh Hasina and
It is especially necessary to develop a
second tier leadership within the BNP and Awami
League that has legitimate nationalist credentials
without the baggage of religious extremism and
The mass media outlets described above will
be critical in this effort to expose the corrupt
of a pro-India Sentiment
tenor of the relationship between India and
Bangladesh is driven by Bangladesh’s inferiority
complex inherent to that of a small nation
surrounded by a large nation.
The Peace and Friendship Treaty between
India and Bangladesh have been viewed as an
imposition following India’s liberation of
Bangladesh, providing in Article 10, in the case
of a an attack, or a threat of attack “the high
contracting parties shall immediately enter into
mutual consultation in order to take appropriate
effective measures to eliminate the threat”
(26). Since the threat of attack was most likely to be a Chinese
attack on India, this was understood to imply
Bangladeshi concessions to India in the face of an
attack on India.
Further, comments that in the face of any
aggression by China, that Bangladeshi territory
would be used to transport troops to the frontline
have been taken as a threat to Bangladeshi
sovereignty (“There is not the same risk of the
Chinese cutting off Assam as there was in 1962,
since in the course of hostilities, the northern
Bangladeshis are likely to be overrun by the
Indian forces and the communication lines with
Assam will be broadened rather then narrowed down
or closed”, which was attributed to K.
As a result, Bangladesh,
as a nation surrounded by India is exceptionally
sensitive to comments from Indian leaders.
In an attempt to allay these sensitivities,
negotiation with India has involved considerable
concessions from India. As
a result of these imbalanced negotiations,
Bangladesh views Indian concessions as a sign of
weakness resulting in an escalation of Bangladeshi
India is to exit from this vicious cycle governed
by Bangladesh’s wounded psyche, it can only do
so by not making unilateral concessions that can
be viewed as weakness.
In a certain sense, India must chart out
its course independent of what Bangladeshi
responses are going to be.
For example, if Bangladesh is unwilling to
allow the transit of goods to the North East,
India should focus on investing in improving links
to North East through Indian territory (i.e.,
In the issue of illegal
immigrants from Bangladesh affecting the social,
political and economic landscape of the states
that border Bangladesh, India has avenues to
address the implications of some of these problems
through the use of a National Identity Card.
Unfortunately, the lack of political will
in New Delhi has prevented implementation.
In this regard, making threats towards
Bangladesh accomplishes little other than fan
anti-India sentiment, while assuring that
effective steps that might be unilaterally taken
It is well recognized that
a relatively small number of people can be
exceptionally effective in determining the course
of a nation if they have access to the appropriate
this regard, it would benefit India to invest in
the human resources within Bangladesh to advance a
mutually advantageous agenda.
In this regard, key academicians,
politicians and bureaucrats are to be identified
and cultivated with a view to enunciating ideas in
a politically acceptable fashion into the polity
As indicated above, facilitating a second
tier of nationalist leadership within the BNP and
Awami league that are not anti-Hindu and by
extension anti-India is essential.
A careful use of the mass media mechanisms
can leverage this effort, if done carefully.
If done carelessly, it can destroy the
effort, if not the lives of those involved.
personal links with key personnel is critical in
fostering an atmosphere of trust.
In a sense, Bangladesh’s growing
relationship with Pakistan, despite Pakistani
complicity in the murder of 3 million Bangladeshis
in the 1960s, is linked to the personal
relationship between junior level officers in the
1960s that are now in leadership positions today.
Creating a framework that enables officer
training, joint military exercises, joint EEZ
patrolling, anti-piracy efforts, and intelligence
sharing can build strong and long-term
relationships with the armed forces, which have
been historically anti-Indian.
In addition, offering training and
professional development of the administrative and
bureaucratic personnel offer the opportunity for
long-term relationships within the government
Similarly, Indian educational institutions
may be leveraged to provide education to
Bangladeshis as part of the long-term relationship
Often, the greatest anti-Hindu and
anti-Indian sentiment exists within the elite.
Consequently, it is important to create a
sub-elite that is philosophically inclined towards
democracy and individual rights.
Since the elite are already perverted, it
is necessary to create this sub-elite out of the
socially deprived strata.
Consequently, it may be beneficial to
extend these educational opportunities for the
Bangladesh is a nation
that falls victim to many natural disasters.
Help in a time of need is often cherished. Assistance with emergency services and humanitarian disaster
management in the times of cyclones, ferry and
boat capsizing are relatively low-cost
opportunities that may be leveraged to improve the
image of India.
These efforts can be further magnified with
the aid of a Radio Bangladesh.
Trade and Transit
is well known that the pursuit of wealth creation
brings out the best in people.
Creating an environment that facilitates
commercial enterprise can be a catalyst for
political accommodation and destroying religious
first step in the enhancement of trade and transit
is the creation of a free trade agreement with
an agreement will enable Bangladesh to increase
its exports to India, with the effect that overall
trade will increase, although the trade imbalance
may reduce from Bangladesh’s viewpoint.
More importantly, as trade increases, there
will be a larger number of Bangladeshis who view
India and relations with India favorably.
Recent reports suggest that such a Free
Trade Agreement leading to an elimination of duty
is almost at hand (27).
Transportation network in Bangladesh
Transit through Bangladesh
will greatly reduce access times to the North
two key routes will all involve considerable
investment to upgrade or even create roadways that
are designed for floods.
These are the Calcutta-Bongaon-Jessore-Dhaka-Comilla-Agartala
(200 miles), and the
Mymensingh-Sylhet-Silchar (300 miles) route (28).
The second route does not exist currently
and requires considerable investment involving
traversing many rivers that often shift course in
the rainy season.
It has been estimated that the cost of road
construction is approximately $0.6 million/mile
equates to a cost of approximately $300 million
for these two key EW corridors to the North
The investment sources for this could come
from the ADB, World Bank or other Aid donors.
build-operate-transfer (BOT) mechanism whereby
Indian investors facilitate the creation of road,
rail and river ways could be pursued.
These must be carefully done to prevent
them from mutating into an anti-India sentiment
during the “own and operate” stages that are
required for an adequate return on investment.
If Bangladesh is not to
slide into the extremist Islamist morass, then it
will be because of actions taken by the Indian
on the other hand, the Indian government lacks the
political will to act, Bangladesh will slide into
This slide is driven by the population
growth rate, illiteracy, and the lack of economic
For India to forestall
this slide, it must take active measures to
eliminate Islamist control of the Bangladeshi Army
and the BNP.
This can only be done through the use of
human intelligence as well as mass media outlets
giving voice to the suppressed voices of
An integrated strategy
involves the implementation of domestic policies
that address the social, political and economic
impact of illegal immigrants, as well as ending
the Gujral-Doctrine of unilateral concessions,
since these lead to perceptions of weakness.
In addition, to this are the efforts to
assure investment in Bangladesh’s elementary,
secondary and higher education sectors, while
simultaneously starving the flow of funds to
a positive view of India can be aided by the
creation of long-term personal relationship
between the military, administrative and
These can be further strengthened by
leveraging India’s educational institutions to
train the limited number of Bangladeshis from the
socially deprived strata.
Creating a rapid response task force to for
emergency assistance in the face of cyclones and
river capsizing provides another opportunity for
India to facilitate a benevolent image in
should also facilitate the investment into road
and rail links that traverse Bangladesh E-W,
thereby shortening the transit times to the NE.
Notwithstanding the advantage of such a
link, India should invest in the alternative link
through Siliguri in order to retain its
Ultimately, the best-laid
plans fail if there is no execution, or political
will has to come from a clear-headed analysis of
what is in the self-interest of the nation.
India is served well by having a peaceful
border with Bangladesh, where trade and commerce
help both nations increase their wealth through
the efforts of private citizens.
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