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India, Bangladesh: Water Disputes and River Diplomacy

Aerial View of Teesta River

Aerial View of the Teesta River. Flickr photo by Prato9x (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

India and Bangladesh share 54 rivers between them. Despite setting up a Joint River Commission for water management as early as 1972, tensions between the countries on how to share resources recently came to a head in a dispute over the Teesta River. At stake are the lives of countless people from West Bengal and Bangladesh who depend upon the river for survival.

To date, only one comprehensive river pact has been signed by India and Bangladesh – a 1996 bilateral treaty that established a 30-year water-sharing arrangement between the two countries.  This was set to change in September 2011 when India’s Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, was due to sign a pact with his Bangladeshi counterpart regarding access and use of the Teesta River.

The Teesta – which has its source in Sikkim – flows through the northern part of West Bengal in India before entering Bangladesh, where after coursing through about 45km of irrigable land, merges with the Brahmaputra River (or Jamuna when it enters Bangladesh). In 1983, an ad-hoc water sharing agreement was reached between India and Bangladesh, whereby both countries were allocated 39% and 36% of the water flow respectively.  The new bilateral treaty expands upon this agreement by proposing an equal allocation of the Teesta River. » More

Justice in Bangladesh: What to Expect

Photo: Vashkar Abedin/flickr

Bangladesh appears to be powering ahead with its war crimes tribunal, established to try those who collaborated with the Pakistan army in committing war crimes during the 1971 independence war. On Nov. 20th, its first suspect, Delwar Hossain Sayedee wascharged. I wrote here about the historical context in which the tribunal was established. The Bengali government has also now upped its ante by demanding a formal apology from Pakistan, although it is not clear whether this is forthcoming.

The tribunal has been welcomed by many as a late but useful tool to “set the record straight”, so to speak. Nevertheless, though many were killed or suffered in other ways that year, the fact still remains that the tribunal is thought to be a kangaroo court.

A major criticism relates to case selection. Although the tribunal claims comprehensive jurisdiction to “try and punish any individual or group of individuals, or any member of any armed, defence or auxiliary forces, irrespective of his nationality, it is not prosecuting Pakistani soldiers or members of the Bangladesh military. It is chasing only easy targets, members of the opposition parties comprising the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami – indeed all seven defendants who are currently under investigation are elderly members of the opposition, some of whom were clearly against the creation of Bangladesh, but membership in itself does not, of course, make one necessarily guilty. » More

UN Peacekeeping, and a Pub Quiz?

A UN Peacekeeper in Africa

A UN Peacekeeper in Africa. Photo: Flickr/Julien Harneis

I often play Pub Quiz on my iPhone as I’m waiting for the bus. Recently, I was
intrigued by one question in particular – or more specifically, by the answer:

In which country – apart from India and Bangladesh – is Bengali an official language?

A) United States

B) Sierra Leone

C) Canada

The correct answer is: Sierra Leone. Did you get this right?  » More

Repatriation of Migrant Workers from Libya

Let's go home. Photo: magharebia/flickr

The Kuwait Times reports that before the uprising, there were some 2.5 million migrant workers from various countries in Libya. Some have since returned to their native country on their own, while some required consular or diplomatic assistance. According to international migration officials, 191,748 foreign migrant workers have already left Libya. Of these, 104,275 crossed into Tunisia, 84,973 to Egypt, 2,500 to Niger and 4,000 went to Algeria.

The situation of the remaining migrant workers is tenuous: They have been left to fend for themselves, after employers abandoned them. Unskilled workers do not dare go out as they are fearful of being shot, either by protesters or by forces loyal to Muammar al-Gaddafi. With food, water and medicine shortages, local shops are selling the few available products to Libyan citizens, not migrant workers. This has meant some workers have no money or food, and are approaching the verge of starvation.

The governments of developing countries in Asia – such as Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand, and India – are struggling to evacuate their nationals from Libya. Among the masses of foreign workers trapped in Libya and desperate to leave, migrants from Bangladesh comprise the largest number of foreigners ensnared in the crisis and unable to flee.

In a recent article, World Bank senior economist Jahed Hossain Khan said that the World Bank will loan Bangladesh $30 million for the evacuation of expatriates from Libya. » More

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