Saturday, September 21, 2013

Despite global downturn: Bangladesh's GDP has grown at an average of 6.3% per annum

SUBIR BHAUMIK
US secretary of state Henry Kissinger had dismissed Bangladesh as a "perpetual economic basket case" almost immediately after it was born. Spite, more than anything else, may have influenced the remark as the birth of Bangladesh was "raw chilly to wounds" sustained by the US in Vietnam.

Washington could only blame itself for supporting Yayha Khan's blood-thirsty military junta in one of the worst genocides in recent history — but unlike China that quickly got over the same hangover for Pakistan and developed relations with Bangladesh, regardless of the party in power, the US could never come to terms with the Awami League that had spearheaded the fight for the country's independence from Pakistan.

But Bangladesh has proved Kissinger wrong with a vengeance. In the last five years, its GDP has grown at an average of 6.3% per year, in the midst of one of the worst global downturns in recent times. It has achieved its 2015 UN Millennium Development Goals two years in advance. In 2013, it had brought the number of poor to less than 30% of its population — a target set for 2015 by the UN. In most indices of human development, especially gender-related, Bangladesh has surged miles (in some cases, yards) ahead of India and other south Asian nations.

When India is unable to manage its spiralling current account deficit, Bangladesh sits on a comfortable current account surplus of $2.57 billion for the first time in its independent history. Its revenue collection has risen threefold over the last five years and its tax-GDP ratio has increased to 13.5% from 10.8% during the period. The Awami League, which has been in power since January 2009, has good reasons to take credit for its management of the economy.

WAR CHEST SWELLS WITH PRIDE
The foreign currency reserves at the Bangladesh Bank have crossed the $16-billion mark, enough to meet import costs of five months. Export earnings have soared to over $27 billion from $10 billion in the last five years. Bangladesh also witnessed a buoyant remittance flow with the amount nearly touching $15 billion.

With its expatriates largely from the working class, the tendency is to send a lot of money back home to buy assets for the future as they plan to return home rather than settle overseas. So, regardless of the political turmoil back home, most Bangladeshis abroad believe in a future for south Asia's youngest nation.

For the first time, foreign direct investment has topped the $1-billion mark. It was $1.3 billion in the 2012-13 fiscal year. Foreign aid flow has also increased substantially.

However, the agriculture sector has witnessed a decline and investment in the private sector has fallen too, as the State of Economy report published by the Planning Commission in September 2013 indicates. In fiscal year 2005-06, the agriculture sector grew 4.9%. But that came down to 2.2% in the last fiscal year primarily because fresh acreage could not be added to agriculture due to lack of irrigation and other infrastructure.


But due to successive bumper harvests, production has gone up and the food import bill has dropped by as much as 16%. Food prices have risen by only 2.8% this fiscal year. This has helped to boost forexreserves. The growth of the services sector has dropped to 5.7% from 6.4%, the report said. But that is attributed to lack of investment, primarily because of the disturbed political situation in the country.

DAVID BEATS GOLIATH, AGAIN
A year ago, the Bangladeshi Taka (BDT) was selling at 84 to a US dollar. It is now between 77 and 78. In the same period, the Indian rupee has fallen over 15%: from 47-48 to a dollar to 61-62. In fact, currency traders predict that another nosedive by the rupee and it would be nearly at par with the taka. That may not be good for Bangladesh that seeks to boost exports, but it does indicate the strength of the economy.

When Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina lost patience with the World Bank, withdrew the funding request to the global lender and decided to fund the $2.9-billion rail-road bridge on the mighty Padma river, she made a huge statement of national confidence. It is not easy for Bangladesh, once so dependent on foreign aid, to tell the World Bank to pack up.

BRIDGE ON THE RIVER PADMA
Then Hasina refused offers from China and Malaysia to fund the 6.15-km bridge — the Malaysian terms were not attractive and Chinese entry would have upset India. But Hasina reasoned that sovereign bonds offering interest a little higher than bank deposits would easily fetch expatriate funds because the remittances were flowing. Finance minister AM A Muhith has already placed taka 68 billion ($0.88 billion at current exchange rates), or about a third of the total cost of the Padma project, in the current 2013-14 national budget.

That is some statement of financial confidence. Bangladesh, despite her political turmoil and uncertainties over the next parliamentary polls, seems well on its way to become a middle-income nation before the end of the decade.


First published in The Economic Times, 20 Sep, 2013

Subir Baumik is a writer, a veteran journalist, is now senior editor with Dhaka-based bdnews24.com

Monday, September 16, 2013

Bangladesh: Islamist Terrorism: New Challenges

S. BINODKUMAR SINGH

In an attempt to derail Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s Awami League (AL)-led Government’s efforts to suppress Islamist extremism and terrorism within the country, Islamist militant formations have started reorganizing themselves, presenting a rising challenge to the regime and its enforcement apparatus. On September 3, 2013, Mukhlesur Rahman, Director General of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), disclosed, "We have information that the militants are trying to reorganize their groups under different banners. All the 13 anti-militant wings of RAB have been asked to remain vigilant across the country to collect advance information of their regrouping." Following this, intelligence operations were stepped up across the country, especially in remote areas, to collect advance information of regrouping of Islamist militants to frustrate their activities.
 
Significantly, on August 25, 2013, the Detective Branch (DB) of the Police stated that a new extremist formation, the Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) has now emerged and was following in the footsteps of Islamist terrorists in other Muslim countries. The ABT plans to gain control of a part of the country (Bangladesh) and conduct armed jihad(Islamic uprising) from there to make Bangladesh a Sharia-based Islamic State. Mufti Jasimuddin Rahmani, the head of ABT, was arrested along with 30 of his followers, on August 12, 2013, while they were allegedly holding a secret meeting to plan to attack Police Stations and other state establishments in order to create disorder, destabilize Bangladesh, and overthrow the Government through jihad. Again, Police arrested nine ABT extremists from different parts of Dhaka city on August 25, 2013, along with an instruction manual on how to explode grenades and use rocket launchers, as well as some books on jihad. Dhaka Metropolitan Police Joint Commissioner Monirul Islam commented, “They were planning to overthrow the Government through jihad.” Senior Assistant Commissioner of the Detective Branch, Mohammad Touhidul Islam, added, “They [ABT] are closely following al Qaeda in running their organization.”
 
ABT started their extremist activities under the banner of a Non Government Organisation (NGO), Research Centre for Unity and Development, way back in 2004. The group follows the ideals, policy and strategy of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Pakistan-based Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
 
Another growing concern in Bangladesh is the Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT, ‘Party of Liberation’). Colonel T.M. Jobaer, Director of National Security Intelligence, described HuT as “currently the biggest threat of all the Islamic outfits… the organization is strong because it has a strong international agenda - it wants to establish a Khilafat (Islamic State) in many countries."
 
Meanwhile, other terrorist formations that had been forced into dormancy over the past years, have also been trying to regain lost ground. According to a September 9, 2013, report, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B), which had been paralyzed since the arrest of its ‘operations commander’ Mufti Abdul Hannan in Dhaka city on October 1, 2005, has, over the past five years, recruited around 10,000 cadres and supporters through cyber services such as the social network website Facebook. On August 14, 2013, Police arrested nine cadres of HuJI-B at Kademul Islam Qaumi Madrassah mosque in the Jhalakati District, while they were allegedly participating in a ‘training session’.
 
Disturbingly, the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), which was responsible for the countrywide serial bombings in 2005, and had been crippled when virtually its entire top leadership was executed in 2007, is presently trying to reorganize, albeit on a "very small scale". On August 16, 2013, RAB Legal and Media Wing Director A.T.M. Habibur Rahman observed, “With its whole network dismantled, the banned militant outfit has almost no strength left to carry out any subversive activity. Some JMB members were recently caught printing leaflets and posters, suggesting that they were active…” On June 20, 2013, a Dhaka court sentenced 10 JMB terrorists to death over a suicide bomb attack at the Gazipur Bar Association office on November 29, 2005, in which eight people were killed, including four lawyers, and another 80 were injured.
 
Other groups, including the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) and Hizb-ut-Tawhid (HT), among others, continue to propagate appeals for jihad. In a recent incident, on August 22, 2013, Police arrested two female cadres of HT from the Kanaikhali area of Natore District while they were distributing books on jihad.
 
Further, Hefazat-e-Islam (HeI, 'Protectorate of Islam'), which came to prominence after it raised its 13-point demands on March 9, 2013, has expanded the space for all Islamist extremist formations to extend their subversion in the name of political activism.
 
Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, for instance, claimed that cadres of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS) had joined the violent May 5, 2013, rally under the aegis of HeI. Alamgir stated, on May 5, 2013, “We have talked to the leaders of the HeI and they have confirmed that the people who attacked Police are not their activists.” On September 5, 2013, Police identified seven political parties – JeI, Islami Oikya Jote, Muslim League, Nezam-e-Islam (Latif), Nezam-e-Islami (Izharul Islam), Khelafat-e-Islam, and Khelafat-e-Mazlish – that participated in the rally and engaged in widespread violence, intimidation and disruption. At least 35 people were killed in their campaigns between May 5 and 14, 2013.
 
On August 26, 2013, at a ‘views-exchange meeting’ organized by the Islami Dalsamuha (an alliance of some 15 Islamic Parties), at the head office of one of the alliance partners, Bangladesh Khelafat Andolon (BKA, ‘Bangladesh Caliphate Movement’), in Dhaka city’s Lalbagh area, ended with a declaration that the alliance would act against the ruling Awami League (AL), which they considered an “anti-Islamic element”. Zafrullah Khan, ‘secretary general’ of BKA and a member secretary of Islami Dalsamuha declared, “Our first target is to oust the ruling AL government and take steps so that the party cannot come to power in the next general election.” BKA, an Islamist political party founded by Moulana Mohammadullah alias Hafezzi Huzur, on July 30, 2008, had demanded that women be made ineligible for the posts of head of Government or State.
 
Further, reviewing the role of Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI, Pakistan’s external intelligence agency) in Bangladesh, State Minister for Law, Advocate Quamrul Islam, on May 8, 2013, claimed that the mayhem on May 5, 2013, in Dhaka city was backed by the ISI. Moreover, the clashes between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in the Rakhine State in Myanmar, which resulted in some 200 deaths and the displacement of over 22,000 people in 2012, have provided a new opportunity to ISI-backed Islamist formations to consolidate their hold in Bangladesh, and to make the Bangladesh-Myanmar Border their operational base.
 
Meanwhile, violence perpetrated by JeI-ICS cadres with the tacit support of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) continued unabated. According to partial data collected by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the country has witnessed 206 Islamist related fatalities in total, including 116 civilians, 77 militants and 13 Security Forces (SFs) through 2013 (all data till September 15). By contrast, only three Islamist extremism-linked fatalities had been recorded in 2012, including one civilian and two terrorists; no fatalities were reported in 2011; and in 2010, six fatalities were recorded, including three civilians and three militants.
 
These worrying developments have the potential to undermine the Hasina Government’s work over the past years. Indeed, since it came to power on January 6, 2009, on the promise of taking drastic measures to tackle terrorism in its election manifesto, the regime has been able to rein in Islamist extremist groups in substantial measure. Despite tremendous and sustained opposition, the Government has pushed on with the War Crimes Trials, where a total of 13 persons, including 11 JeI and two BNP leaders, have been indicted thus far. 12 of these persons had been indicted till August 1, 2013, while the thirteenth, JeI central executive committee member Mir Quasem Ali, was indicted on September 5, 2013. Quasem Ali faces 14 charges, including murder, torture, abduction and confinement of people and complicity in crimes against humanity during the Liberation War of 1971. Out of 13 persons indicted, four have already been awarded death sentence, while another two have been given life imprisonment. Trials of the remaining seven are under process.
 
The SFs have arrested at least 2,861 extremists belonging to various Islamist groups in 2013, as against 1,832 such arrests in 2012; 578 in 2011; and 958 in 2010.
 
The achievements of the Sheikh Hasina Government in its counter-terrorism and de-radicalization programmes have been extraordinary, and they have established a measure of stability in a State that, just a few years ago, appeared to be going the Pakistan way. Nevertheless, these gains remain fragile. The hold of subversive and extremist Islamist formations remains significant and is spread across the country, and the possibility of a dangerous and disruptive revival has not been eliminated.


First published in the South Asia Intelligence Review, Weekly Assessments & Briefings, Volume 12, No. 11, September 16, 2013


S. Binodkumar Singh is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

Monday, September 09, 2013

Survivors of Bangladesh garment factory collapse still suffering, 5 months later

Photo: Relatives and colleagues search for near and dear ones in the death list
JASON MOTLAGH

Rafiqul Islam can’t recall how many people he pulled from the rubble of Rana Plaza, the eight-story factory complex that collapsed in April, killing more than 1,100 people. But he knows how many he cut out with a hacksaw blade — eight. He did so in spaces so cramped that at one point he became trapped himself.

Those 18 days as a volunteer rescue worker left their scars. Islam has suffered memory lapses and had a series of violent outbursts, and wound up losing his job. Now he wanders alone most days, not sure where to go — until the voices bring him back to the place where he saved so many people and lost himself.

“I hear them still, calling for me,” he says, staring into a mound of broken concrete, torn fabric and twisted iron.

Nearly five months after the deadliest incident in garment manufacturing history, the suffering is far from over for the victims, their relatives and the rescue workers. Many families have received only part of their promised financial compensation. And activists and health-care professionals decry a lack of psychological and financial support for scores of survivors and rescue workers stricken with invisible handicaps.

“After the Rana Plaza tragedy, people are so concerned with the physical impact, but they are completely ignoring the psychological,” said Abdus Sabur, an adviser to the Sajida Foundation, a leading Bangladeshi social development organization. “Mental health is not taken seriously at all in this country.”

According to the Solidarity Center, a nonprofit group affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the Bangladeshi government has paid settlements to dependents of 777 of the 1,131 confirmed dead in the disaster, in amounts ranging from $1,250 to $5,000. An additional 36 garment workers who lost limbs or were paralyzed have received between $15,000 and $18,750 each.

Smaller amounts have come from a British chain, Primark, which used a supplier in Rana Plaza, and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, which represents the $20 billion-a-year industry. A group of Western clothing brands are also discussing providing a lump-sum payment for the suffering experienced by the victims of Rana Plaza.

So far, none of the 4,000 families affected by the Rana Plaza disaster have received the full payments promised by the government or association, says the Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies, a labor advocacy organization.

Survivors are struggling to cope with not just physical and financial burdens but also with deep emotional wounds.

Visible and invisible signs
Razibul Rahman Kari, 20, a sewing machine operator, was luckier than most when the factory complex collapsed April 24 on the outskirts of Dhaka. Pinned by a heavy slab, he eventually managed to dig himself out with the help of a local man.

But spending hours in the dark amid muffled screams took its toll: The young man has fresh scars on his wrists from cutting himself with a knife while locked in his bedroom. Sometimes when his mother has tried to bring him food, she said, he has beaten her. Without his $70-a-month salary to support them, the family relies on handouts.

The Center for the Rehabilitation of the Paralyzed, a large private facility in Savar, has worked beyond its capacity to care for Rana Plaza’s injured. But because of a dearth of trained mental health professionals, patients with symptoms of acute psychological trauma receive “a minimum” of counseling before they are discharged, said Hossain Mehedi, a doctor at the center.

Other victims may refrain from seeking help because of the social stigma attached to mental problems, Sabur said.

Majeda Begum, 23, another garment factory employee, grapples with severe headaches, disorientation and a paralyzing fear of closed indoor spaces. She lives within walking distance of the rehabilitation center, which provides her with free medication — but that’s only if she manages to show up, and these days she tends to gets lost.

‘Am I gonna be psycho?’
As the government struggled to organize a relief operation at Rana Plaza after the disaster, many local residents rushed to the factory ruins, playing a critical role in rescuing survivors.

One of them, a young mechanic named Omar Faruque Babu, was celebrated in media reports for pulling more than 30 people from the wreckage. When the rescue effort ended, he was checked into a hospital, where he hanged himself in a bathroom.

A part-time teacher, Faizul Muhid, 27, spent three days and nights mining the rubble for the living, and then moved on to a local high school where victims’ bodies were left for relatives to claim.

As the corpses rotted in the heat, he did what no one else would do: searched the rows of remains for items — cellphones, nose rings, scraps of paper — that might help with identification. Late one night, he and another volunteer had to fight off a pack of dogs that had gotten hold of an open body bag with a corpse inside.

These days, he self-medicates with a cocktail of antidepressants that he buys with assistance from friends. “Am I gonna be psycho?” he asked one recent afternoon.

Muhid initially resisted psychological help. Now he thinks he could use it, but it’s expensive and scarce: There are no more than a dozen certified counseling psychologists in this country of more than 160 million people, according to several doctors and activists.

Sheikh Yusuf Harun, deputy commissioner for the district of Dhaka, said, “It’s true — no one is taking responsibility” for the mentally damaged. “They are not reported to us,” he said.

Once compensation packages are finalized, Harun said, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is planning to address the matter. He offered no details on what kind of long-term support might be made available.

To fill the void in psychological services, several grass-roots organizations are working in hospitals with victims of Rana Plaza, forming support groups that encourage patients to share their stories. Groups are also training counselors to canvass neighborhoods and offer help.

Though the outreach is generally well received, it remains “pretty ad hoc” and covers just a fraction of those affected, said Sadaf Saaz Siddiqi, who works at Naripokkho, a nonprofit group that helps garment workers.

No one has yet reached Islam, the rescue volunteer. A medal from a local workers’ rights organization sits on the nightstand of his tin shack, the only nod to his sacrifice.

After spending three weeks in a hospital facility, largely unattended to, he left to be with his wife before the birth of their fourth child, a son. He wants to support them, he said, but thoughts of the bodies he left behind still make him angry and restless.

When he’s not home, his wife usually knows where to find him.

First published in TheWashington Post, September 8, 2013


The story by Jason Motlagh was reported with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Rohingya Muslim Migrants Caught in Limbo between India and Bangladesh


The historic conflict between the Indian state of West Bengal and the nation of Bangladesh has enacted a new chapter over concerns that many Rohingya Muslims have been illegally crossing into West Bengal from Bangladesh.

Officials with the Indian Border Security Force’s South Bengal Frontier (BSF) said they have arrested more than one hundred illegal Rohingya immigrants this year, and most of them likely came from Myanmar, where they have faced a brutal campaign of repression from the authorities.

“We increased our vigil on immigrants from Myanmar since the end of last year after some Rohingya Muslims were arrested… last November,” Santosh Mehra, the BSF’s inspector general said, according to Hindustan Times.

“It was tough to interact with them as they neither speak nor understand Hindi, Bengali or English.”

Rohingya also do not speak Urdu or any other Indian language. The Rohingya language is related to the Chittagonian tongue, a dialect related to Bengali that is spoken in southeastern Bangladesh, but differs from standard Bengali.

“As we don't know their [Rohingya] language, we have to get experts from universities or other agencies to act as interpreters,” Mehra told the Times of India.

The stream of illegal Rohingya immigrants has dramatically increased this year. Mehra added that in 2011 only two Myanmar Rohingya nationals were arrested in West Bengal in 2011, and just six last year.

A senior BSF official also told the Hindustan Times that the Bangladesh government has taken the initiative to expel Rohingya migrants back to Myanmar, where the overwhelmingly Buddhist majority does not want them. Myanmar authorities regard them as “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh, while Dhaka rejects them as undocumented foreigners.

Mehra cited this catch-22 scenario by declaring that “we contact the Bangladesh High Commission [in India] after Bangladeshi migrants are held. [But] we cannot contact anyone after Rohingyas are held since no country recognizes them.”

He told the Times of India that “unlike illegal migrants from Bangladesh, it is difficult to send them back across the border … There are certain United Nations guidelines that have to be followed.”

Mehta also rejects concerns by some Indian intelligence officers that the Rohingya migrants are linked to terrorist groups, perhaps supported by entities in Bangladesh itself of even in Pakistan.

Intelligence agencies in New Delhi believe that some Rohingyas have received arms training from Islamic militant groups including the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistani-based terror outfit, in the Chittagong Hills district of Bangladesh.

Indian officials suspect that LeT -- as well as militant organizations like Jamaat-ud-Dawah and Jaish-e-Mohammad -- are using the plight of the unwanted Rohingya Muslims migrants to stir up trouble between Bangladesh and both of its neighbors,m Myanmar and India.

An Indian intelligence told Times of India that Bangladesh has assured India that it will look into the matter of training camps in the Chittagong.

“We have specific information that LeT and Jamaat-ud-Dawah created an outfit known as Difa-e-Musalman Arakan [Burma],” he said. “This outfit was assigned to tie-up with Islamic organizations in Myanmar and Bangladesh. There are several other terror groups that are involved with the Rohingyas. While the Rohingyas are receiving funds from Saudi Arabia, weapons are apparently being sourced from Thailand.”

The Times reported that over the past year-and-a-half some 10,000 Rohingya Muslims have crossed into India, residing in West Bengal, but also in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Three-thousand of them alone are living in the capital city of New Delhi. They exist in a kind of limbo, with no rights of residency and little hope of ever attaining citizenship.

But some Indians have taken up their cause.

Nawab Zafar Jung, a former vice-chancellor of Jamia Milia Islamia University, in New Delhi, in tandem with leftist student unions at Jawharlal Nehru University (JNU), are demanding the government grant the Rohingya Muslims official refugee status.

First published in International Business Times, September 06 2013


Palash Ghosh has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

India-Bangladesh Land-Swap Deal Hit Roadblock

Photo: India-Bangladesh border check post
IBU SANJEEB GARG

One again, the Indian government has hit a roadblock in its attempt to introduce to parliament legislation that would enable a land swap deal with Bangladesh to take place. That is a shame, for the bill—the India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement—has implications not only for foreign relations but also for larger questions of human rights, the right to livelihood and even the larger contours of what constitutes foreign policy in India today.

The bill in question called for India to exchange 111 of its enclaves in Bangladesh in return for 51 Bangladesh enclaves in India. Under the agreement India would give up claims for just over 17,000 acres of land which will be transferred to Bangladesh. In turn Bangladesh would cede around 7,000 acres, which would then join Indian territory.

The deal would not only end a historical thorn in the bilateral side, it would also open a new era in the relationship. India often suffers a “perception problem” in the eyes of its neighbors, which often view India with suspicion because of its size, economy and military might. That in turn encourages them to turn to China. The land swap deal would go a long way to improving India’s local image.

A healthy relationship with Bangladesh would have other economic benefits. India could seek from Bangladesh as a goodwill gesture transit rights to its northeast, bringing development to a struggling region. A deal could also revive the moribund South Asia Growth Quadrangle (SAGQ), comprising India’s north east, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. And a deal would give a pre-election boost to a Bangladesh government that has generally been favorable to India.

A land swap agreement would also give citizenship rights to close to 52,000 people: 37,000 on the Bangladesh side and close to 15,000 on the Indian side. These stateless people, often victimized, would finally get rights and privileges as citizens, to the benefit of India’s human rights record.

This deal could particularly benefit the North East and Assam. Resolving the land issues would enable borders in these areas to be secured. India would be able to talk officially about the issue of migrating Bangladeshis, a thorny problem for Assam for nearly three decades that will only grow with climate change.

Despites these benefits, the legislation has faced numerous hurdles, particularly accusations that India is selling off land to Bangladesh. Not unexpectedly, ground zero for the opposition has been the northeastern state of Assam. Any policy initiated by New Delhi towards Bangladesh needs to take the sensibilities of Assam into account. In addition to the historical immigration issue, there is Assam’s proximity to Bangladesh and the region’s own troubled history with India’s neighbor, extending back to the 1970s.

So the protests and marches against the alleged sell-out of Assam are not surprising, nor are they completely groundless. There is a genuine feeling in Northeast India that the central government often takes it for granted. Hence, there is a need to engage the people of Assam on a more direct level to talk about the benefits of the swap and any possible ramifications. Assam has a vibrant civil society, which should be engaged on this issue. In short, it is time for some public diplomacy.

On a broader level, this is an opportunity for India to adopt a new model for the 21st century, one that recognizes the changing nature of diplomacy. As their self-identity grows, India’s states and its people want a greater say in how India frames its relations with its neighbors. The land swap deal is an opportunity for India to adopt a new foreign policy discourse that engages the states and the public, while giving the Northeast a chance to participate in the rewriting of its own history.

First published in The Diplomat, September 3, 2013


Ibu Sanjeeb Garg has recently completed the civil service examination and is slated to join the Indian Railway Traffic Service