Wikileaks traces changes in Indo-Bangladesh relationship after Sheikh Hasina’s entry

Bangladesh’s attitude towards terrorists underwent a sea-change after the Mumbai attacks, according to the evidences of the US diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks.

While India had to bear with a poisonous neighbour from where terrorists could walk into India almost at will for several years, after the election of Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League into power and the Mumbai attacks of 2008, the equation changed, cables show.

For several years, India had been caught in a bind over the ‘Bangladeshi situation’ as it could neither prevent the more or less free movement of people over its porous border with Bangladesh nor send its forces to deal with militants across the border.

On its party, the Bangladeshi government had bigger priorities compared to defeating anti-India militants like the ULFA and Lashkar-e-Toiba using its soil as a lauch-pad for attacks.

The transition of Bangladesh from an indifferent onlooker to a state that actively cracks down on them was brought out in a comprehensive review of Bangladesh’s political and economic condition for the benefit of visiting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale last year.

“Since forming the government, Hasina and her inner circle have stressed their determination to confront domestic and transnational terrorist groups.

“They believe such groups were behind attacks against the Awami League during the 2001-2006 Four Party Alliance government, including two assassination attempts against Sheikh Hasina.

“The Government has also realized that counterterrorism cooperation represents India’s primary interest in Bangladesh and that meaningful steps against the insurgent and terrorist groups are a pre-requisite for closer ties with New Delhi.

“The Bangladesh Government is paying more than lip service to fighting terrorism: its intelligence agencies arrested, and shared information with the U.S., India, and the United Kingdom derived from debriefings of members of the Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) operating in Bangladesh.

“These efforts helped disrupt plots to attack India during the run up to India’s March-April general elections. Similarly, Bangladesh has sent back to the Indian Government insurgents from the United Liberation Front of Assam, who had been sheltering in Bangladesh for years.

“Hasina also has signaled a strong interest in attacking the root causes of extremism. For example, she has made reform
of Islamic schools known as madrassas a priority.

“Specifically, she wants to bring thousands of heretofore-independent madrassas under government regulation to ensure they do not disseminate extremist ideologies and their curriculum prepares students to enter the mainstream economy,” the US ambassador to Bangladesh, James F. Moriarty said in his introductory note for McHale.

Separately, in another cable from Dhaka belonging to the same period of early 2010, the US embassy there noted that the mood of the new Indian High Commissioner to Dhaka, Rajeet Mitter was totally unlike that of his predecessor, reflecting the changed relationship.

“High Commissioner Mitter agreed that the Bangladesh Government’s attitude towards counter terrorism underwent a sea-change because of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.

“For the past year, Bangladesh had been much more serious in its counterterrorism efforts and was well-aware of the danger of an attack on India planned on Bangladeshi soil.

“The new Indian High Commissioner,s constructive tone in describing Bangladesh’s counterterrorism cooperation with India contrasted with the sharp criticisms frequently made by his predecessor,” Moriarty said in a separate cable.