Bangladesh can eye India’s hydel power for import

Reaz Ahmad
Thursday, April 12th, 2018

Reaz Ahmad in conversation with Lt.Gen. Hasnain Photo: UNB


Talking to UNB, former Indian Army officer Lt. Gen. S. A. Hasnain says Saarc caught up in Indo-Pak mistrust; BD needs greater UN support to tackle Rohingya crisis; India’s limitation must be understood.


Lt. Gen. (retired) Syed Ata Hasnain, a second generation Indian Army officer, has extensive experience in the handling of turbulent situations throughout his career which gave him hands-on insight at different ranks in diverse environment such as Sri Lanka, Siachen, North East India, Mozambique and Rwanda, and most frequently in Jammu and Kashmir where he served seven tours of duty ending as the Commander of the Srinagar based 15 Corps. General S. A. Hasnain, regarded as one of India’s most decorated military officers, served Indian Army for long four decades retiring in 2013 as the Military Secretary, after 40 years of service in the Indian armed forces.


The Hasnain family has the rarest distinction of having ten military honors and awards to its credit and the only one with father and son both being awarded the Param Vishisht Seva Medal by the President of India. Educated at Sherwood College Nainital, St Stephen’s College, Delhi and Kings College, London General Hasnain has also done strategic level long exchange programmes at the famous Royal College of Defense Studies (RCDS), London and at the Asia Pacific Centre for Security studies (APCSS), Hawaii. He also has an M Phil in Defense and Management Studies from the Indore University.


General Hasnain uses his vast experience and education to research and write on strategic issues focusing on Kashmir, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Middle East, religious radicalism, internal security issues and terrorism. His repertoire of knowledge of Jammu and Kashmir is based upon his boots on ground experience spread across various ranks and appointments. He is reputed to have been largely responsible for turning the situation around in 2011-12 after three years of street turbulence which had seen Kashmir virtually paralysed.


Lt. Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain is now an important member of Track 2 diplomacy with Pakistan. He writes on various strategic issues for mainstream print and online newspapers and magazines in India. A regular participant in Indian National TV debates he is associated with Vivekananda International Foundation as Visiting Fellow and Delhi Policy Group as Senior Fellow and is also on the Governing Council of Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS).


Last week Lt. Gen. S. A. Hasnain was in Dhaka to attend and speak at a panel discussion on security, counter-terrorism and cross-border cooperation. During his brief stay in the city, General Hasnain gave an elaborate interview to the United News of Bangladesh (UNB). He shared with UNB some of his work experiences in difficult terrains as well as his thoughts on some contemporary issues.


Here is the full excerpt –


Reaz Ahmad: You’ve a long military experience and a checkered career. Tell us about that experience.


Lt. Gen. Hasnain: I’ve served in the military for 40 years, becoming the 2nd General in the family after my father, who was also a General in the Indian Army. I was commissioned as an officer in 1974, and joined my father’s regiment, the 4th Battalion, the Garhwal Rifles, from the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun.


My postings were mostly in Jammu and Kashmir in all my ranks, but I have been fortunate that the Indian Army had given me the opportunity to travel across the world, as I was posted for a considerable amount of time in Sri Lanka, Mozambique, Rwanda, Punjab, Siachen, Uri, Baramulla and other locations, mostly in turbulent situations besides some outstanding strategic level courses of instruction in the US and UK which afforded me to travel internationally.


Reaz Ahmad: As part of UN forces you served in Mozambique and Rwanda. Can you please share with us some of those experiences?


Lt. Gen. Hasnain: Post-Cold War, Mozambique was one of the few African countries where the UN peacekeeping forces had managed to resolve conflict between the warring parties and ensure a zone of peace. In any such operation, you had to separate the two warring factions, disarm the local militias and commence a process for holding democratic elections. We achieved all this in Mozambique where incidentally a very large contingent from Bangladesh served alongside the Indian Army.


Rwanda, on the other hand, was the opposite. The Bangladeshi battalion (BANBAT) tried its best to hold the fort during the 1994 civil war, but had to retreat to Nairobi in the face of severe pressure of the civil war, virtual genocide and lack of any reinforcement from the UN.  Later we had a group of UN military observers and staff officers from Bangladesh who returned to Kigali, the Rwandan capital. That is when an Indian contingent arrived and I once again had the opportunity to serve with Bangladesh Army officers and make good friends.


A remarkable point to be noted was that the Indian and Bangladeshi contingent, given the similarities in their culture, had excellent bonding with each other, even sharing houses at one point.


Reaz Ahmad: You’ve served Indian Army in various capacities – a substantial part of that you served in troubled Jammu and Kashmir. You brought some sort of stability there through ‘Hearts Doctrine’ – what was the mantra?


Lt. Gen. Hasnain: In Jammu and Kashmir, different commanders preferred to follow different doctrines; mine was to balance hard and soft power, as it was a delicate situation which involved both neutralizing of terror groups and ensuring the population did not get alienated. There was to be no unidirectional use of force; that is something all our commanders understood. Therefore, after the initial use of hard power we set out to make the transition to soft power and uphold the subtle balance between the two to ensure success.


Trust-building between all the stakeholders was equally important. After a campaign of force, we wanted to unite all the state players – the government agencies, local administration, and police – reestablish governance and reduce grievances in the process. India successfully conducted elections in Jammu and Kashmir from 1996 onwards even though terrorism was still rife.


We found that Islam, the dominant faith in Kashmir region tended to be misinterpreted to legitimize violence. The state must play a pivotal role in getting people to resolve such misinterpretations.


Followers of Islam in the Subcontinent, unlike other regions where it is practiced, follow the most pragmatic inclusive path which is the core of Islamic values. I do strongly believe that the right narratives of religious tolerance can emerge from here – as a role model for other countries. We should ensure stable governance and prevent outside interference. That will ensure the security of nations such as Bangladesh and India.


Reaz Ahmad: Tell us about your Sri Lanka experience. You were a part of Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), the Indian military contingent that was in an operation in Sri Lanka during 1987-90 period.


Lt. Gen. Hasnain: Sri Lanka was the place where I experienced a rebirth in the army, as nowhere else had I come across full hard contact with armed opposition in the manner that I did in that island. For two years during my stay over there, I considered the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as some of the finest fighters in the world, albeit they were fighting us out of disagreement over the peace deal which we had negotiated for them. Contrary to popular belief, the Tamils showed how martial a race they actually are – fighting effectively with the most minimum of resources but brilliantly organized.


The experience taught us many things, as it was India’s first out-of-area experience, which transformed into something political – as we went from becoming peacekeepers to fighting the LTTE.


Reaz Ahmad: You’ve been involved in Track-II diplomacy. How do you evaluate the state of diplomacy in SAARC region now?


Lt. Gen. Hasnain: There is no reason why SAARC should not be effective. Bangladesh’s role in SAARC has always been positive; the problem lies with the Indo-Pakistani impasse. As an example, we have given Pakistan the status of most favoured nation for trade but they have not reciprocated the same to us. Back in the 90s there was a big opportunity to establish trade with the Central Asian Region (CAR) through Pakistan, but that never materialized due to Pakistan’s cussedness of not giving India overland access. Twenty-six years have passed and still there is no development in that regard.


Now we are being forced to access the CAR through Iran; the Chahbahar port is facilitating that. Pakistan’s unfriendly gestures and interference in Jammu and Kashmir all construe a level of mistrust, thus forming the basis of no economic cooperation between us and them. Unless that mistrust can be eliminated, the future of SAARC would remain questionable.


That does not take away anything from the feasibility of developing other sub regional architectures such as BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) towards which India and Bangladesh must work. We should opt to looking at other sub-regional cooperation too.


Geopolitically keeping Pakistan out will have ramifications, but if the international community can pressure Pakistan, then there is tremendous potential, as Pakistan is well connected with important parts of Asia.


Reaz Ahmad: What’s your take on the current state of bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and India?


Lt. Gen. Hasnain: After 1971, as both India and Bangladesh cooperated with each other for the latter’s independence, I believe the level of trust should have been a lot higher than it actually was, for quite some time. It has taken us too long to arrive at the current status of higher trust and better partnership. For example, I was the first Indian general to speak at Bangladesh’s National Defense College (NDC) back in 2016. It took so many years for an Indian general to speak at NDC, so you can imagine what other opportunities have been missed. India should have helped establish the NDC in Bangladesh.


Now that we have reached this stage I think there should be no let up as scope for cooperation is immense, especially in the field of trade, economics and social environment.


Reaz Ahmad: Do you foresee the prospect of further cooperation in the fields of regional integration, infrastructure and energy security?


Lt. Gen. Hasnain: In terms of regional integration, I do think Bangladesh is crucial for India’s access to South East Asia, as also for the development of the Northeast. West Bengal to Northeast India through Bangladesh, with rail and road connectivity is the best option. If you look at how China is attempting connectivity with its Belt and Road Initiative, we can do something similar. Prime Minister Modi’s “Act East Policy”, does have Bangladesh as a crucial link to connect with parts of ASEAN countries. That way, it is rather inevitable that the Subcontinent and Southeast Asia will eventually be connected.


In terms of infrastructure and energy, if you look at Bangladesh’s gas sector, China has entered into it. India can do a lot more in this regard.


The problem for Bangladesh lies in the power sector. India is gradually shifting towards solar energy, but in Bangladesh land availability for solar farms is a problem. As a result, Bangladesh still has to rely on producing electricity through gas and diesel, which is expensive and harmful for the environment at the same time. It is in the realm of hydroelectric power that much scope exists for India to supply power to Bangladesh. Bangladesh can look into India’s hydroelectric power for importing, which can make a huge space for investment and infrastructure potential between the two countries.


Reaz Ahmad: Bangladesh is currently playing host to one of the largest refugee population in the world. How do you see the role, so far, played by India, China over Rohingya crisis. Couldn’t India play a more pro-active role?


Lt. Gen. Hasnain: The situation is similar to when 10 million Bangladeshis had fled to India from the oppression of the Pakistani army in 1971. Today, Bangladesh is experiencing the same thing but at the receiving end of the exodus. Bangladesh does not have the resources to look after such a huge population of displaced people and yet has been humanitarian enough to temporarily absorb them. It is for the international community to appreciate Bangladesh’s role thus far but this state cannot go on without adversely affecting its economy and security.


It is a joint challenge for our two countries as these Rohingyas, if they are not accepted back in Myanmar, will become drifters and cannon fodder for recruitment for transnational terrorism. One can quote the example of Sri Lanka. The Tamil tigers fought there from the 1970s till 2009. The world saw it as an internal crisis, but it had its adverse impact on India too.


The United Nations should play a bigger role besides providing assistance to the Rohingyas. Bangladesh and India need to be more proactive through diplomatic channels for help and support in the return of the Rohingyas. India’s limitations, however, must also be understood in that – the issue involves Myanmar which is an important country for us in terms of its cooperation with us in competition with China.


In addition, India is already suffering from the scourge of terrorism, and would not want to see the Rohingyas exploited in that regard. That potential exploitation can be used against us in India.


Reaz Ahmad is Executive Editor of the United News of Bangladesh (UNB).

Leave a Reply

  • National
  • International