July 05, 2007

Confessions of "a RAW Agent"

Recently on Rumi bhai's blog, I was accused of being an Indian agent who refused to recognise Indian hegemonic ambitions and Indian infiltrations. For those interested in how the politics of secular takfir (declaring people to be "non-believers") is played, read the exchange here.

Yes, a debate about political reform in Bangladesh soon became a debate about India's role in Bangladesh. Now I don't doubt Indian ambitions. However, I do seriously doubt their current "relative capabilities" to get at those ambitions, and the super-powers attributed to their spy agency Research and Analysis Wing, or RAW for short. Moreover, I really dislike people brushing off internal dissent - such as the garments' workers agitation last summer - as being the mere by-product of Indian influence. It smacks of the institutional inability to see other people's pains that I've complained about before, in a slightly different context. Lastly, and most importantly, I don't see the government of India as being a special breed of evil, just another devil out to get us in a devilish world. Call me a realist. Just don't mistake idiocy and paranoia for realism. It did no good for Bush and co.

My reward for voicing MY dissent was the same as these garments' workers (who were also dubbed RAW agents, or in their pay). Yes, my vocal opponent on the thread imputed the very same motives to me, namely that I was intentionally trying to "defect" attention away from Indian role (which he has proved conclusively in his own mind) while he was the underdog hero trying to highlight it. Despite complaining about their ambassador's recent comments, about their media coverage of Bangladesh, and even about Mandira Bedi's pandering to the "emasculated Indian postcolonial man" threatened by every loss to Bangladesh, I remain, my dear readers, "a RAW agent" trying to deceive the Bangladeshi public. Which is some of the worst abuse I can imagine being hurled at Bangladeshis.

And why? Because I called for a nuanced analysis of Indian actions and motives instead of subscribing to drivel that issues forth from some quarters. And by some quarters, I do mean the conservative side of the divide, whose fallacies I promised to highlight even as I highlighted the liberal fallacies that dog our every step at being the state we want to be. Consider this post partly to be the fruit of that promise, and consider my two antagonists as well as our recently departed PM, Mrs. Khaleda "captive market" Zia to be our guiding lights into the Bangladeshi conservative mindset.

Once my patriotism was called into question, I decided that that was an insult too far. I would not try to present my rationales and opinions anymore. What did it matter? No matter what I said, I can be dubbed an "Indian agent". Such is the slippery slope of paranoia that even my two antagonists just might be "Indian agents" too. I mean, if you wanted to discredit all the serious people who want a better, tougher India policy from the GoB, look no further than my dear brothers M. Amin and Ahmedur R.! The drivel these two have spewed out can be used by every Indian media outlet to talk about "Bangladeshi paranoia" and "the insecurities of a small, failing state". In this way, by ruining the credibility of the SERIOUS FOREIGN POLICY people who want a MORE ROBUST India policy, they too are serving Indian aims. Perhaps they are doing so precisely with this aim in mind. But of course I would not call them RAW agents withour proof. My reasons are simple: I am not paranoid, I do not believe in the politics of takfir, and I do not bite back biting dogs as the old rhyme says.

And do note that I am simply a citizen. All the issues (and abuse) directed at me are better taken up with the GoB. It's the GoB that must negotiate about BSF-BDR disputes, not me. It's the GoB that must ensure that our polity is not filled with RAW agents and Indian bombs. It's the GoB that must respond to Indian media criticism (over which the Indian government has limited control).

But that really is out of the question isn't it? For these people, India is just a bogey and has to be kept perpetually alive if they're going to scare the rest into submission or takfir them out of the debate. That is why Khaleda Zia could state that India was trying to make Bangladesh into a "captive market", overlooking the fact that she was the PM of a sovereign country whose borders were under HER control in the final analysis. For people like me, India is a serious challenge not to be feared but met head on. We don't worry about "captive markets" but how to expand ours in the face of Indian competition and growth, and how to access their market too. We don't worry endlessly about India de-stabilising us, but instead work to ensure that that does not happen.

What are the really serious issues? Listing them as complaints to the government of India:

Complaint number 1, get your BSF under control! They're killing our people at random almost every month. To all those human rights activists sitting cozy in Dehli and Bombay (sorry, Mumbai), ever thought of protesting this instead of whatever the latest leftist fad issue is at the moment?

Complaint number 2, trade barriers. India has way too many non-tariff barriers against Bangladeshi goods and they have done nothing about it over the last 36 years. I'm not even going to mention the battery and the saree export. Domestic industry protection indeed, good neighbours defuse tensions by doing something about trade imbalances.

Complaint number 3, stop building dams without consulting us. It's called international blackmail and I was told that "secular democratic" nations do not indulge in that, only "rogue states" like Pakistan do.

Complaint number 4, stop building that fence without consulting us. No seriously, stop and talk.

I'll stop there for the time being. And yeah, this has nothing to do with Bangladesh, drop those silly charges against M.F. Husain.

Please note, that except the first one, none of these issues are touched upon by my antagonists. No, they simply cry, "they are out to create instability in Bangladesh", although how this would help India control its already turbulent North-East is best left to the paranoid imagination of our friends. And how the first one is relevant to Bangladeshi internal politics is still unknown to me. The GoB and the Dhaka chatterati really do not care about people on the periphery of Bangladesh (I don't approve of this), so really this does not constitute "bullying". Gunboat diplomacy is bullying.

So one last message to you BNP-propaganda fed dullards: DON'T FUCK AROUND WITH FOREIGN POLICY. We've achieved independence at too high a price to leave Bangladesh's sovereignty in the hands of paranoid, dumb, half-baked, indoctrinated, dogmatic, James Bond-reading, Bollywood-watching, Jamaat-believing freakshows like you, who think international relations is all cloaks and daggers, shadow and mirrors. Spies do not make history in utter secrecy without the world knowing. That is the fevered imagination of the paranoic mind. Leave the hawks and doves to argue it out without you flightless dodos getting in the way, huh?

(Special note to my two dear friends from Rumi bhai's blog: your commenting privileges on my blog have been removed. If you do comment, I warn you I will delete them as soon as I find them. Unless you fulfill one condition. No, not an apology, I'm not mortally wounded. I need your firm assurances that in the future, online or in real life, you will NOT stifle debate by "takfir"-ing people, by crying out "Indian agent", "un-Islamic" or "anti-Muslim" or any such abuse anytime you hear disagreement with your hard-earned views. Learn to listen to opposing, equally hard-earned views, and maybe you will learn even more and who knows, one day you too might make some positive contribution that makes Bangladesh stronger vis a vis India. Make comments prefaced without such an assurance, and you will still remain dodos in my books and have no place in this debate. The hawk has spoken!)


rumi said...

To set the record straight,
the accusation did not come from Rumi Bhai, BTW. :)

Anthony said...

Ha ha.

Leaving paranoids aside, we should have a serious discussion about how we should think about India. To kick things off:

1. Why are we not Indian?

Of course we want Bangladesh to be home of all Bangladeshis, irrespective of religion or ethnicity. Of course we are for equal rights and secular state. But underlying Bangladesh's very existence as a sovereign state is its Bengali Muslim character. This is something not all our intellectuals/opinionmakers comfortable with.

2. How much should we integrate with India economically? Should we sell our gas? Should we allow Tata to invest? SHould we privatise our ports? Should we allow India transit rights for civilian purposes?

As a liberal economist, my answer to all of these is yes. But these are more than economic questions. Will the median Bangladeshi share my economist's answers? Probably not. Should we try to convince them? Yes, through a transparent and open debate. And acknowledging why we are Bangladeshis and not Indians will go a long way to assuage the median voter's doubts about India.

Like many other things, I'm worried that our current regime will push for, on economic grounds, closer integration with India without any proper popular mandate. And then these policies will be demagogued by opportunist politicians. And ultimately we'll take a backward step.

Saif said...

Hahah. Demagogued! I'm always for the creation of new words, Anthony bhai.

I agree with both points you raise, btw.

Fugstar said...

Have you read a book by a chap called zainul abedin on 'raw and bangladesh'? if so what do you make of it?

Its difficult to make head or tail of the less open institutions in this world. both the posture of paranoia and of dismissal are less than adequate.

Sajid said...

I know of the book, fugstar. It's supposed to be a bit dodgy. There are all kinds of conspiracy theories about RAW and '71.

Interesting post, AsifY. These accusations of serving Indian or Pakistani interests are so unfortunately so common. In around Columbia, they fly too. Some say the policy school here, SIPA, is a den of spies. :)

Who knows?

asif said...

Rumi bhai, anyone who knows your writings and comments on DP knows that it couldn't have been you:). Most people here are DP regulars I feel.

Fugstar, I've heard of the book and found it praised highly in Pakistani Online Defence forums. Maybe people should start asking about links between the author and the ISI. It won't be the same people, and it won't be me. Please note, I do not dismiss "indian infiltration". Common sense says that India has spies in BD, just as BD has spies in India. What I suggest is that spies rarely play key roles in creating history. WWI would have happened even if Ferdinand was not killed. And when they do, they cease to remain spies and become public figures, as in the Iranian coup of '53.

Sajid, let's not forget the English term for this would be McCarthyism, and of course all universities are "a den of spies" to McCarthyites! Why else the serious disconnect between our military establishment and DU? It's the feedback that American govt. and universities have established not just scientifically but also social science-wise that has seen America become powerful and remain that way.

Finally Anthony, thank you for kickstarting the conversation in the direction I'd like it to see. Integrating with India economically will not happen as long as we feel that doing so jeopardises our security. In this, India's opening of it's own markets would be a tremendous help.
Personally, I'd say "no" to gas, a BIG "yes" to linking Chittagong with the North-East of India (because it gives us the leverage, not them), and really don't know enough about either transit rights or Tata investment. I'd say yes to the last one if we manage to negotiate for 2/3 or 1/2 Bangladeshis at each and every level of management except maybe the top tier.

On security, it's really about time India and Bangladesh held ministerial level talks about our border skirmishes. On water security, I'd like to see more engagement and a push from civil rights group on both sides to ensure that people downstream do not get affected. So far, I haven't seen any of that.

Lastly, yes completely agreed with you about the need for a complete revamping of the current Bangladeshi mindset. At the same time, the Indian mindset has to change as well. North Indians have a subtle way of dealing with us as "Bangalis" rather than Bangladeshis, or in extreme cases as "Muslim terorists" (adopting the idiom of their one-time colonizers), inherently irrational and emotional. Neither will do. At the same time, Bengalis on the other side of the border tend to obfuscate the very real class tensions present at Partition and the elitism of Bangali culture as established by the "bhodrolokes", and push them all under the carpet of "communalism" and "colonialism". Simply won't do.

Ok, I hope the length of the comment says a lot about why it took such a long time coming. Looking to hear more from everyone!

Rumi said...

Anthony's observations are known to me and I share his views.

Anyway as I am cleared of the charges of accusing AsifY, let me take this opportunity to congratulate AsifY for his wonderful works in this blog. Deinitely he is a rising star in this blogging world.

Going back to this post, In addition to Anthony's coments, I think I have this to add.

Our perception of India as well as our policy towards India should go through reaprisals based on chaging attitude of Indian mass about Bangladesh.

In sharp contrast to a tolerant, supportive generation of 70s, a new generation is coming up who carry a very disturbing, intolerant and hawkish perception about Bangladesh. This generation, also believes that Gandhi was a bad influence for India and India should flex muscles more decisively to overwhelm and rule the insubordinate neighbours.

Anthony said...

Traditionally, Bangladesh (or East Pakistan) had not even been in the radar of the north Indian foreign policy elite. Jawaharlal Nehru told Abul Mansur Ahmed and Ataur Rahman Khan in the 1950s that he didn't see much point in devoting scarce resources on cultivating relationship with East Pakistan. Even in 1971, Indians were genuinely surprised by the developments.

Indian foreign policy has, and continue to be, dominated by Pakistan. While most north Indians (and Indians from other areas) focus on Pakistan, Bangladesh policy is usually left to Bengali officers from Kolkata. Traditionally, their attitude to Bengali Muslims, and by extension Bangladeshis, have been little better than Ayub Khan's (though Kolkata babus are much more articulate than Marshal A (Rushdie reference alert)). It is this mindset that needs to change first if the relationship between the two countries is to improve.

Of late, as Rumi bhai notes, there has been a marked change in the Indian attitude. A new generation of officers (in their 40s, who would have started service in the 1980s) tend to view Bangladesh suspiciously at best. This hardened mindset is very much a result of developments in the other side of the subcontinent. There is little chance of this receding so long as Kashmir, and Pakistan, fester.

But at the same time, there is more awareness of Bangladesh in the non-policy 'civil society' circles. This is a cause for hope. But this won't come to much until mindset changes in Kolkata.

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