Friday, March 2, 2012

India’s border fencing work in NE in progress

Ahead of Indian Union Home Minister (State) Mullappally Ramachandran’s scheduled visit to the Indo-Bangladesh border on Friday, Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma said that the international border in the northeast has not been manned as efficiently as the western sector. Ramachandran would be visiting some of the troubled sectors along Meghalaya’s 443-km international border with Bangladesh to get a picture of the ground situation and also have a look at the ongoing fencing work, the Assam Tribune said.

“We are trying to fence the international border to the best of our abilities,” the home minister said during his brief interaction with the media in Shilong.

There is opposition along some portion of the border areas in Meghalaya to erect the fence from zero line. The home ministry said that discussions were on at the highest level with Bangladesh to be flexible on this bilateral issue, the paper added.

Sangma on the other hand said that the northeastern border with Bangladesh has not been manned by the border guards as desired and Meghalaya has demanded intensified patrolling by BSF along these vulnerable areas.

“The northeastern border has not been as stringently manned unlike the western sector. So we have requested the home ministry to ask the BSF to intensify their patrol,” Sangma added.

Due to Meghalaya’s insistence for better border management, the home ministry had recently deputed BSF’s Special Director General to visit the international border in Meghalaya sector as a priority, the Assam Tribune quoting Sangma said.

Ramachandran, meanwhile, said he would not comment whether the BSF would be encouraged to use rubber bullets along the international border to minimise casualties.

Meanwhile, the state government has set up a committee to find ways and means to prevent infiltration, particularly through the unfenced Indo-Bangladesh riverine border, governor JB Patnaik said on the opening day of the budget session on Thursday, another report from Guwahati said.

“My government has constituted a committee to examine and recommend ways and means to prevent infiltration through the unprotected riverine areas at Assam-Bangladesh border and the committee is, at present, deliberating on the matter,” Patnaik said.

The governor said, “36 foreigners’ tribunals are functioning in the state for detection and deportation of foreigners. Assam PWD has completed most of the Indo-Bangladesh border roads and fencing works allocated to them except those relating to three bridges, which will also be completed soon. My government is trying to complete their allocated works of Indo-Bangladesh border roads and fencing and flood lighting at an early date.”


Brahmaputra Water : India now says diversion by China not true

India yesterday said the apprehensions expressed by the Arunachal Pradesh government about a possible diversion of the Brahmaputra River by China "is not correct and devoid of facts". 

The concern on drastic fall in water level of the river, locally known as Siang, "may be based on the visual impression gathered from general public perception of the river flows around Pasighat town", a central government statement said. 

The Central Water Commission found no “abnormal changes” in the water level of the river Siang. This is lean season when water levels of rivers naturally drop.

Tako Dabi, a spokesman of Arunachal government, told the media on Wednesday night about “the fall” in water level of the Siang due to either diversion of water in its upper reaches in Tibet, China or any blockade there.

He claimed such a fall in Siang water level has not been seen in the last 50 years.

India also said China assured it of not doing anything that could hurt the interests of lower riparian countries. 

“On the question of diversion of water, let me say that India and China have had many exchanges on this subject, even at the highest levels, between the prime ministers of the two countries. 

“Our own look into this whole question has also led us to believe that what the Chinese are telling us is correct”, said Joint Secretary (East Asia) Gautam Bambawale. 

The Brahmaputra has its source in China's southwestern Tibet region where it is known as the Yarlung Tsangpo, and it enters India in the mountainous, remote northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh.

The 2,900-kilometre river then descends into the plains of adjoining Assam state and ends in Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal, along the way supplying water to hundreds of millions of farmers and residents.

Yesterday, China denied that a dam it was building on a major river in Tibet was impacting the lower reaches of the waterway in India, reports AFP.

"Our projects have not affected the lower stream regions, including those in India," China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters when asked of his nation's water usage on the river.

"Overall, the utilisation of the river by the Chinese side is very low." 

China pays attention to the impact on the lower stream regions when developing its water resources, Hong said, adding that Chinese officials have briefed India on its development of the Yarlung Tsangpo.

"To satisfy the needs of the Tibet Autonomous Region, China has begun to build the hydroelectric power station of Zangmu in the middle part of Yarlung Tsangpo river," Hong said.

"It does not have a big capacity and does not retain an excessive amount of water. It will not affect the downstream water regulation and environment."


HRW fears illegal means for evidence

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says it is concerned that the need to solve the case over murders of the journalist couple might lead law enforcers, 'known to engage in torture', to use 'illegal' or 'coercive means' to get evidence.

"HRW regrets their killing and we would urge the government to investigate these deaths in an expeditious and law-bound manner," the New York-based human-rights organisation said in an email sent to on Friday.

Though home minister Shahara Khatun has promised proper investigation, HRW said, there needs to be pressure to make sure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

Maasranga Television news editor Golam Mostofa Sarowar, alias Sagar Sarowar, and his wife, ATN Bangla senior reporter Meherun Nahar Runi, were found murdered at their flat in the city's west Rajabazar on Feb 11.

Three weeks have gone after the killing but police are yet to arrest anyone or name any suspect.

The home minister had ordered the law enforcers to arrest the murderers within 48 hours but later said it was a 'strategy' to expedite the investigation.

Amid criticisms from several quarters and demonstration by journalists protesting the murders, prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Feb 23 said, "The journalists are staging demonstrations. But it's not possible for the government to guard anyone's bedroom."

The prime minister had also come down heavily on a section of reporters who interviewed Mahir Sarowar Megh, the 5-year son of the slain journalist couple.

Though she had promised full assistance for Megh, main opposition BNP has been saying it does not do away with the need to try the murderers.

The party has demanded resignation of Shahara for her failure in getting the killers of the couple arrested. She had said that the prime minister herself was supervising the case.


The HRW also aired its concern over the trial of crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 Liberation War.

"The war crimes tribunal, if set up and conducted properly, would be an important step towards justice for victims who have been waiting for more than forty years," the statement said.

"Unfortunately, we have grave concerns about the Act and the attendant rules which we do not consider to meet the best standards of international practice on this matter," it added.

HRW said it will send separately some material it has drafted on this issue.

The government formed International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) on Mar 25 last year to try the suspected war criminals for their crimes against humanity during the 1971 War of Independence from Pakistan.

The ICT is currently trying eight leaders of main opposition BNP and its key ally Jamaat-e-Islami on charges of murder, arson, loot, rape and related crimes against humanity during that bloody war.

Jamaat chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, secretary-general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujaheed, executive council member Delwar Hossain Sayedee, assistant secretaries-general Mohammad Kamaruzzaman and Abdul Quader Molla are currently behind bars after being arrested over these charges.

Former Jamaat chief Ghulam Azam is also under custody in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University's prison cell on similar charges.

BNP standing committee member Salauddin Quader Chowdhury and former member of BNP founder Gen Ziaur Rahman's cabinet Abdul Alim were also arrested on similar charges.

Of them, Alim is out on conditional bail, while the tribunal has already pressed charges against Sayedee. 

TANGLE OF POLITICAL CIRCUS : Diversion derails probe of journo couple murders

There are brave journalistic souls among us who dare to unmask the truth even at the cost of their lives. 
Murdered journalist couple, Sagar Sarwar and Meherun Runi, is the latest victims of a predatory onslaught by a powerful coterie that never tolerated truth, let alone digest. Now the doors of justices seem to be slamming shut and the incident has become a political football.
Flabbergasted by the weeks-long flip-flopping and the lack of direction of the police in finding the killers, a Writ was filed with the High Court last Tuesday by a lawyer named Monzeel Murshed to obtain a ruling against the government to expedite the efforts to nab the killers. The High Court Bench ruled the same day, saying: “The government has played its role properly in the investigation and no error or negligence was seen.” 
The court, however, did order the police to unearth motive of the twin murder, and went a step further to reprimand the leader of the opposition, Begum Khaleda Zia, for making what it called, “irresponsible remarks to obstruct the inquiry.” The court invoked the comments made by the Opposition Leader the previous day when she blamed the government during a rally in Lalmonirhat for allegedly ferrying abroad the main culprit of the crime.
Political circus
People are generally aware that playing politics with a criminal matter under investigation — or under judicial proceedings — can often be construed as being prejudicial. Political observers, however, are of the view that the leader of the opposition did not make a political statement on the matter first. She rather responded to a plethora of ‘game changing’ stunts displayed by the law enforcement agencies over the preceding weeks.
It began with the Home Minister Shahara Khatun’s emphatic assertion on the very first day of the crime’s commission that the killers would be apprehended within 48 hours. It perhaps implied two things: That she and her law enforcing team knew who the killers were, and, either the killers were already under custody, or under surveillance, so as not to pose a flight risk. 
Three days later, the Home Minister changed the track and said the comment was a tactical move to expedite the arrest of the killers. Tactic without strategy sounds strange. The police subsequently spun a number of theories and all of which made laughable headlines in the media, but little progress has been made in nabbing the killers or unearthing the motive of the crime.
Theories sprouted
The maiden version was that the police were in the dark and clueless, which is reasonable. But it was quickly followed by a sizzling tale of romanticism that strove to attribute the murder to an illicit love affair of one or both the victims. With each passing day, more theories sprouted; including robbery and filial or land disputes. 
Finally, the Prime Minister herself partook in the discourse, though only responsible answer from the government could have been that the police and other relevant law enforcers were doing their job, and, no comment could be made to prejudice the law enforcers’ efforts. 
Curiously, by then, the ball has rolled from the Home Minister’s to the Prime Minister’s court, and at one point the Prime Minister was tempted to make the most irresponsible comment by a lady of her stature: “Manning people’s bedrooms is not a government undertaking”.
Govt. can’t shun responsibility
Of course the government cannot shun its responsibility in maintaining law and order anywhere and everywhere within the country—-be it a kitchen or washroom or whatever. And the Prime Minister is certainly aware of the fact that more than one President of the country was killed in their bedrooms.  Fact or not, many in the media are aware about reports and comments being circulated by the readers of Bangladesh dailies online, in Facebook and numerous other blogs about the probable reasons for Sagar and Runi’s killing. 
Yet, all through this political circus, the media has been swinging like a pendulum with the diverse, and often laughable, versions of the spins. None, however, dared to focus so far to the fact that the murder of a journalist at home, or two of them together, could plausibly stem from their probing into a sensitive story that had the potency to harm influential quarters.
The prima facie evidence, briefly outlined below, does corroborate the assertion of their death caused by professional uprightness and leads one to discard the other hypotheses being scattered around by the power that be.
Probable causes
The love-affair theorem is nonsensical due to both the husband and the wife being victims of murder and none being alive to meet the ‘phantom lover.’ The robbery theorem is more incredible as the couple had no valuable assets in their possession and the only things the murderers got away with were the laptop computer, cell phones, etc.—- material that had the content of sensitive information stored. 
The fact that the victims had allowed the murderers to enter their home at the dead of night implies the killers were known and trustworthy, hence not robbers. 
Our investigation reveals that Runi and Sagar were jointly working on a major scam in the nation’s power sector, involving huge sums of money that had changed hands in 2010 and 2011 to secure contracts for the construction of three major fixed power plants and four floating ones. 
Corruption story
It is learnt from sources close to Sagar and Runi that the couple were aware of a major corruption story they compiled together. In the course of their investigation into the scam, the couple had interviewed over 20 people, gathered documents and took shots of many installations and individuals. 
On February 3, the story was given to the ATN Bangla network where Runi worked as a senior reporter, confirmed one of her colleagues. The management of the TV channel decided not to run the story. However, it is rumoured that someone in high position had tipped off the concerned quarters and made a political capital out of it.  
Readers in a large number of online Bangladeshi newspapers with some knowledge suggested that a flurry of behind-the-scene manoeuvring occurred since February 7 to destroy the story, including four rounds of negotiations with the murdered journalist couple took place. Sagar, who worked as the News Editor of the Machhranaga TV channel and has had expertise in energy related reporting, decided in exasperation to take the story to his own channel; a decision Runi has reportedly conveyed to the ATN authority only two days prior to their death. 
Who’s fled the country?
It was also reported that on the night of the murder, a close relative of ATN Bangla’s high up whom the source did not name, arranged the last meeting with the murdered couple. That the shadowy negotiator entered the journalist couple’s compound with some others testifies to his intent to do something sinister and snatch the story, should the negotiation fail.
This is not the version of event we want the police to believe but to investigate. This also is the only credible version that is in circulation over the worldwide web, in free comments from readers of Bangladesh dailies on line, in face book and other blog sites and social networks. They are beyond the jurisdiction of the Bangladesh high Court order or of easy reach of the Bangladesh authorities. 
Heroes of the profession
The fear of death has engulfed the community of journalists like an Octopus. So far, the journalists also helplessly watched the distorted handling of the matter by police and the government. The couple got murdered in what the military says ‘line of duty.’ They are the venerable heroes of our profession. We salute them. 

BY :   M. Shahidul Islam.

Olive branch to Yunus “may not do the trick”

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had earlier thrown a challenge to the World Bank to come out with concrete proof that her ministers or officials were involved in any form of corruption in the selection of contractors/consultants for the Padma Bridge project. The World Bank is presumably still looking into the veracity of allegations to that effect. Now the Finance Minister, Honourable AMA Muhith has gone one step further by accusing the World Bank itself of being privy to corruption, suggesting that the latter had recommended a firm reputed to be corrupt for enlistment for work in the Padma Bridge project. One wonders when and how such war of words between this government and the World Bank will be resolved, ending the impasse with the external Development Partners of Bangladesh (i.e. the donor community).
Honourable AMA Muhith has been characterised by sections of the media and the intelligentsia as an “empty vessel” whose much-sounding faux pas from time to time has been causing recurrent share market debacle, dollar crisis and other financial woes for the nation-state. The habit is contagious, and now the Prime Minister herself, being under great stress from failures in governance, law and order problems, economic troubles, factional feuds within and opposition challenges without in the polity, is found by many to be increasingly given to faux pas. One such faux pas or an overture perceived by many to be flippant, was the Prime Minister’s off-the-cuff remark to a visiting parliamentary delegation of the European Union suggesting that Europe should propose the name of Dr. Muhammad Yunus to be appointed as the head of the World Bank. Many in Bangladesh wondered whether the Prime Minister was at all sincere in making that overture, since she has been publicly asserting in her party meetings that Dr. Yunus was in reality a “blood-sucker” from all positions in the Grameen Bank despite overwhelming support of the bank’s shareholders for a lifelong role of the founder of the Grameen Bank in that institution. The Holiday in its last issue dubbed the proposal coming from Sheikh Hasina as the “decade’s biggest joke.” And Mahfuz Anam, editor of The Daily Star, questioned: “Is it a change of heart or mockery?” A news-commentary in the Sunday Guardian of U.K. questioned “Olive branch or poison pill?” The commentary read (abridged): “What a fascinating turn of events. With the announcement that Bob Zoellick is retiring as head of the World Bank, there has been a lot of talk that the new head need not necessarily be an American, as has been the custom since the bank’s inception.

Now the Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina has mooted the possibility of her mortal enemy Dr Muhammad Yunus being the new head of the World Bank, and has suggested to the EU that if they don’t want an American in the top spot, they can nominate Bangladesh’s Nobel laureate instead.
The PM’s full frontal assault on Dr Yunus has diminished both the PM and the country, and has achieved nothing except to contribute to the unpopularity of her government. Hasina may now be looking for a way to signal that the madness is over and that she is ready to make peace.
However, even though the PM appears to have forgotten herself sufficiently to toss in a few back-handed compliments to Dr Yunus, she has by no means disavowed her earlier statement that he is guilty of “sucking the blood of the poor,” nor is there any sign of contrition for her harassment of him.
And since one person whose name has been raised as a serious candidate for the post is US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is known to be a close personal friend of Dr Yunus and who has been active in supporting him against the PM, the PM’s tossing of Yunus’ hat into the ring seems more like mischief making than an olive branch.
(Indeed) if the PM wants a truce, then it’s a day late and a dollar short. She needs to do much more than suggest his name for the headship of the Bank, which is a symbolic gesture at best.”
The head of the visiting parliamentary delegation of the European Union explained to the media that the European parliamentarians were “surprised” by the Prime Minister’s proposal. They had replied that the European Union has no vote in the World Bank, but the member countries of the EU have votes. The delegation would place the Bangladesh PM’s proposal to the governments of the member-states of EU for consideration. Likewise the US ambassador in Bangladesh, when questioned about the proposal by journalists, said that if Dr. Muhammad Yunus is interested to take charge of the Presidency of the World Bank, the USA will certainly consider his candidature. All that is presumably diplomatic pep-talk. 
There are, however, serious takers of the proposal also around. One of them, a former US consultant to the Government of Bangladesh and now a prolific commentator on the political economy of Bangladesh, Forrest Cookson, found the proposal to be an “inspired decision” of the Bangladesh Prime Minister, notwithstanding “a remarkable amount of negative comments. He observed in “The Independent” of Dhaka (abridged): 
“The World Bank has had eleven presidents since its founding; by tradition the president has always been an American citizen.  Of these eleven, six were bankers; three had served in high positions in the United States Department of Defence; one was a publisher and one was a Senator and Congressman. 
In 65 years the Bank has followed a number of strategies:  First, emphasis was on infrastructure projects that would produce the earnings to insure repayment of the loans.   Dams, power plants, ports and roads fed the portfolio of the Bank.  The Bank had a lot of success with this approach. 
Next came the McNamara regime which I characterize as having two themes—(1) transfer of resources from the rich countries to the poor countries, (and) (2) Direct resources to villages and try minimize government bureaucracies from getting in the way.  These ideas came from the better experience of the Vietnam War.
Following McNamara the Bank’s strategy shifted to supporting good macro-economic policies under so-called structural adjustment loans.
Gradually the Bank focused more and more on social issues (health and education) and governance, particularly corruption.
The Bank missed the importance of the export-led growth strategy that resulted in several Asian countries lifting themselves out of poverty.   (Korea, Taiwan, China, Thailand and Malaysia.) However, the Bank responded to the great changes in the financial world—the end of the iron curtain and emergence of Eastern European states with significant success. 
The World Bank (now) needs a leader who will take up the drive to reduce poverty. Yunus is without doubt the best candidate for the job through accomplishment, education and experience.  The campaign for his election must begin now.”
Another former World Bank appointee, now with the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh, Mr. Sadiq Ahmed wrote in The Daily Star of Dhaka essentially as follows:
“The proposal by the honourable Prime Minister (PM) of Bangladesh to nominate Professor Muhammad Yunus to the presidency of the World Bank has met with some scepticism at home owing to the past unhappy developments. Instead of questioning the PM’s motivation, as citizens we ought to welcome the idea. 
The experience of uneven performance by previous World Bank presidents illustrates the need for a change in the selection process. This was indeed recognised during the replacement of Wolfowitz. The board announced a selection process on merit but the outcome still was the selection of the US nominee.
This result is almost guaranteed by the selection process where votes by the executive directors are weighted by country share holdings. The US has the largest percent of votes, presently 15.8 percent, followed by Japan (9.4 percent), Germany (4.9 percent), France (4.4 percent) and UK (4.4 percent). Together this Group of 5 (G5) holds a whopping 39 percent of the voting rights. Along with the convention that a European will lead the IMF, the sister organisation of the Bretton Woods institutions, internal agreements between the US and European member countries along with support from Japan, Australia and Canada almost always guarantee that the US nominee irrespective of merit will get selected.
Without a change in the voting system the idea of a competitive selection is futile, especially if the US is really keen to get its candidate selected. 
(Assuming US agrees to select someone on merit), the person leading the World Bank must be visionary. Professor Yunus has an impeccable track record of innovative ideas and forward thinking.
(Among other things), the World Bank leader must be able to mobilise external support for the cause of the institution. The work of Professor Yunus has been hailed globally. He has inspired both world leaders as well business leaders to mobilise around his ideas and leadership in providing substantial amount of financial as well as personal support. It is no wonder that even though coming from a poor country like Bangladesh he has been welcomed by the top leaders of the world and he can count people like Bill and Hillary Clinton as amongst his best friends. This ability to reach out to external constituencies will serve the needs of the World Bank much better than that of any other potential candidate I can think of.”
However, it is The Economist of London which perhaps has conciliated both angles of vision over the issue in its report under the Banyan column dated February 27. The report says:
“Few in Bangladesh doubt that Mr Yunus must be a serious contender for the job, which would bring him to Washington, DC. But many wonder why the prime minister, after working so hard to discredit Mr Yunus and having him fired, is now pitching for him to get a new one.
Sheikh Hasina is a lady not known for U-turning. ....
The treatment of Mr Yunus has long annoyed Western governments, particularly America, where the microfinance pioneer has lots of fans, including the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. American officials had repeatedly warned that not being nice to Mr Yunus might affect bilateral ties. They are sure to have pondered what to do with a government which, as one official put it, ‘insists on spitting in the face of those who are trying to help it’.
Much to the annoyance of donors—the World Bank, ADB and the Japanese—it took the Bangladeshi government three months to get rid of a crooked-looking former communications minister, Syed Abul Hossain. The World Bank had identified him as being unable to keep his hands off the $3 billion nest egg that had was set aside on behalf of the Padma Bridge. Bangladesh’s pliable anti-corruption commission has since absolved Mr Hossain of all graft allegations. But a $1 billion loan by the IMF has not been disbursed, ostensibly because progress on reform has been slow.
The economy is wobbling, the taka has been among Asia’s worst-performing currencies and reserves are just sufficient to finance three months of imports. Money is needed to patch the fiscal hole burned by an unsustainable energy policy: power plants that run on imported fuel oil. The Bangladeshi government claims that China and investors from South-East Asia are keen to stump up the money for the bridge. ....
Most likely, Sheikh Hasina had to sort out relations with other donor countries. Being nice to Mr Yunus—in many ways the symbol of an increasingly hostile relationship with more liberal states—may not do the trick alone. But it is a start.”
BY :  Sadeq Khan. 

Thank you, but no thanks: Yunus

Muhammad Yunus has 'sincerely' thanked prime minister Sheikh Hasina for proposing his name for The World Bank presidency, but said he is not interested in the job.

In a statement released by Yunus Centre in Dhaka on Friday, the former Grameen Bank managing director said the proposal "was an unexpected good news for me".

Widely perceived to be instrumental in getting Yunus out of Grameen Bank as its chief executive, Hasina surprisingly floated the idea at a meeting with a delegation of Members of European Parliament in Dhaka on Feb 22.

The next day the leader of the team of European Union parliamentarians termed "very positive and interesting" the idea that Yunus be made the chief the Washington-based bank that has never seen a non-American as its head since its birth after the Second World War.

The US ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan Mozena, also said that Washington will give its "fullest consideration" to the candidature of Yunus for presidency.

Yunus in the statement felt that the prime minister's broaching the idea signalled a change in the frosty ties he had had with Hasina.

"Now I am hopeful that the government's policy towards the Grameen Bank and me will be in line with the Prime Minister's latest position," he said.

He said that he had been among the staunchest critics of World Bank and then went on to throw cold water on the talk.

"I never thought of taking up the top job of the World Bank or any other such multi-lateral institutions. I have been a regular critic of the World Bank for its policies and programs. My criticism also included the fact that this Bank's highest post is always reserved for an American citizen.

"But I never had any interest in stepping out of the work that I have dedicated my life to, to take up the highest responsibility of the World Bank.

"President Bill Clinton had invited me to the Oval Office. Among other issues, he discussed the role of the World Bank and asked for my advice. Then he said that a new president was to be appointed for World Bank and asked whether I had any interest in this."

Yunus said that in 2005 former prime minister Khaleda Zia decided to nominate him for the position of the secretary general of the United Nations.

"I want to remain completely focused to these tasks. I hope some time soon, there will be a "World Social Business Bank" and this bank will have an important role in solving the fundamental economic, social and environmental problems faced by the world today.

"When this bank is created, if someone requests me to take the Presidency of the bank, I'll accept that responsibility with great pleasure, no matter what my age will be at that point of time." 


US special forces in 5 South Asian countries

A top Pentagon commander has said that US special forces teams are currently stationed in five South Asian countries, including Bangladesh, as part of the counter-terrorism co-operation with these nations.

"We have currently special forces assist teams laid down in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives and India as part of the effort to enhance their counter-terrorism capabilities," US Pacific Command admiral Robert Willard told lawmakers at a Congressional hearing on Thursday.

He said that these teams have been deployed by US Pacific Command to improve these countries counter-terrorism capabilities, particularly in the maritime domain, India's state-run news agency PTI reported.

In the Congressional hearing, Willard introduced Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (Let) as a very dangerous organisation. He said, "It not only has very good operational security, but also a lot of international design in terms of their aspirations."

"So it is a very important threat, and we're working very closely with the nations in the region to help contain it."

Responding to a question from congressman Joe Wilson, the PACOM commander said, "Responsible for many attacks in India, including the horrific attacks into Mumbai, LeT is headquartered in Pakistan. It's also affiliated with al-Qaeda and other Violent Extremist Organisations (VEO) and contributes to terrorist operations in Afghanistan and aspires to operate against Asia, Europe and North America."

Willard said that South Asia, anchored by India, comprises of major sea lines of communication for the transport of energy and other commerce to Asia and the Americas from the Middle East and Europe. He said, "South Asia as a whole is of major strategic importance to the US and the security partnerships are increasingly vital to the US Pacific Command's mission."

He also mentioned that these US Special Forces teams engaged throughout these five South Asian countries are assisting and training their respective militaries to counter and contain VEOs, such as LeT; cooperating in maritime security activities, such as countering piracy; conducting disaster response planning and training; and exercising extensively, service to service.

Bangladesh, he said, has emerged as a particularly effective partner in the fight against terror and is cooperating with India as well as the US to counter VEO activity by actors such as the LeT.

"Further, Bangladesh's military is advancing its capabilities and contributes broadly to UN peacekeeping operations," he added.

US Special Forces teams are also stationed in another South Asian country Pakistan to fight terrorism in Afghanistan.