INDIA - BANGLADESH Relations
Paving The Way To Strengthen Mutual Co-Operation
Dr. Naved Jamal &
Sanjio Kumar Singh
Indo-Bangladesh relations have reached new heights. Despite having various contentious issues and complications between the two neighbours, it is the will power of both leaderships and countrymen that path of friendship and close co-operation is being treaded. On 7th April 2017, on arrival of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave her a warm welcome, breaking the protocol, which has been much appreciated by the media and people of both countries.
Actually, the neighbourhood-first policy and fast-track diplomacy of Modi Government and the Bangladeshi government's reciprocal approach to solve the issues through mutual co-operation have generated enough warmth for friendly relationship and that's the reason India and Bangladesh on 8th of April 2017, signed three pacts in the field of nuclear energy, second such deal with a neighbour after Sri Lanka. This deal is important for both countries which may provide a solid base for deeper co-operation and peace in the South Asian region.
The first agreement of the civil nuclear deal is the general cooperation pact for peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The second agreement was signed by the Atomic Energy Regulatory authorities of the both countries (the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) of India and Bangladeshi Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority (BAERA) for exchange of technical cooperation and sharing of information in the field of nuclear safety. The third one is focused on Indo-Bangla collaboration for nuclear power plants installation in Bangladesh. The pact also includes training of Bangladeshi personnel by AERB.
No doubt, the visit will be considered as a milestone for the relationship of the both countries as consisting these three agreements of nuclear energy, total 22 agreements have been signed in the different fields and the range of issues of co-operation include defence, space, cyber security and connectivity. India has announced a line of concessional credit worth $4.5 billion for the implementation of projects in Bangladesh. A major aspect of the visit is the defence component which includes a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on defence framework, and a $500 million Line of Credit for defence procurement for the Bangladesh military forces. The two leaders have talked of increasing security cooperation between two sides. They have agreed to work for peaceful borders and to be zero-tolerant towards terrorism. The Khulna-Kolkata train service and Kolkata-Khulna-Dhaka bus service have been flagged off by the two leaders.
The scope of these agreements should be considered much bright because the two nations have solved the two major issues of dispute. Under the current leadership of the neighbouring countries, 31st July 2015 has been described as a historic day for both countries as it marks the resolution of a complex issue of enclaves pending since independence from British colonialists in 1947. At midnight thousands of stateless people stranded for decades along the poorly defined border finally got freedom to choose their citizenship. About 37,000 people of 111 Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh and 14,000 of 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India got citizenship of their choice ending the issue of bitterness. The second major issue was the Ganga water dispute which has been solved much before through a comprehensive bilateral treaty signed in New Delhi by Indian Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on 12 December 1996. Confirming a water-sharing arrangement for 30 years.
Before the current visit of the Bangladeshi Prime Minister, during the state visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Bangladesh in June 2015, twenty two agreement were signed by the two sides which also helped build a stronger relations between the two neighbours. During the visit India extended a US$2 billion line of credit to Bangladesh and pledged US$5 billion worth of investments. As per the agreements, India's Reliance Power agreed to invest US$3 billion to set up a 3,000 MW LNG-based power plant (which is the single largest foreign investment ever made in Bangladesh). Adani Power would also set up a 1600 MW coal-fired power plant at a cost of US$1.5 billion. Among the 22 agreements, maritime safety co-operation, curbing human trafficking and fake Indian currency were the main agreements.
Before Mr. Modi's Visit, the External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj in her first official overseas trip visited Bangladesh in June, 2014 and a number of agreements were concluded to boost Indo-Bangladesh ties. They include - easing of Visa regime to provide 5 year multiple entry visas to minors below thirteen and elderly above sixty-five; proposal of a special economic zone in Bangladesh; providing an additional 100 MW power from Tripura; and increasing the frequency of Maitree Express and start buses between Dhaka and Guwahati and Shillong. Bangladesh in a friendly move agreed to allow India to ferry food and grains to India's landlocked North-east using its territory and infrastructure.
These significant developments show the gradually increasing interdependence and optimistic future of the relations between the two neighbours.
The other face of coin
But, the coin has another face also. The existence of anti-India sentiments inside the territory of Bangladesh in a large segment provokes the elements fatal for the relations and peace of the region. Pakistan in the name of non-state actors has always been a cause of tension to India and the Pakistani intelligence agency has always tried to take benefits of such situations as many time it tried to disturb the peace in India through Bangladesh and Nepal.
Since the time of the emergence of Bangladesh, India has tried to maintain a healthy relationship with Bangladesh. But domestic politics of both the countries have not been so favourable to nurture bonhomie. A number of issues are still bone of contention between the two nations which needs to resolve through the same pace and reciprocity for sustainable height of Indo-Bangladesh relations. Currently, illegal migration and Teesta water sharing - these two issues are potential factors to determine the depth and direction of the relations.
As far as the Teesta Water sharing issue is concerned, it has remained unresolved even during this recent meeting of the two heads of governments. It is good that other developments are taking place in the relations of the two neighbours, but the water sharing issue of the Teesta River is being raised continuously by Bangladesh. But, the public sentiments in Bangladesh and, as claimed, their unavoidable need and in the same way, the internal politics in India and sentiments in Indian side for Teesta has made the situation tough to solve. In 2011, the then Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh also attempted to resolve this. But that did not happen due to the reservations of the Chief Minister of West Bengal who cited the interest and protest of the people of West Bengal. However, in 2015 when Mamta Banerjee visitied Bangladesh, she also assured the people of Bangladesh of some positive outcome regarding Teeta Issue. But during Modi's visit to Bangladesh in 2015, she did not accept the new arrangement between India and Bangladesh. Thus, though many agreements and initiatives were taken up, the Teesta issue remained unresolved. Solution of the Teesta Water sharing issue is much required to nullify the anti-India elements who were taking the advantage to attribute, justify and promote their anti-India feelings by projecting India's constraints as India's unwillingness to share the water. Thus it will be in the favour of India if Modi government anyhow can solve the water problem whether by persuasions in internal politics to accept the equitable sharing of Teesta water or by implementing the idea of building giant reservoir in Sikkim or nearby areas, as suggested by some experts.
Another important issue which has created strains in the Indo-Bangladesh relations is the illegal migration to India from Bangladesh through the north-eastern states of India. This is a very complicated issue and has to be handled with care.
Though many things are being done for the connectivity but many more can be done for the people to people relation between the neighbours especially because of the advantages of cultural similarity.
And finally the most important thing is the trade between the two countries which needs to be strengthened with intensive focus because the trade between the two nations is not much. The total trade between the two neighbours are less than seven billion Dollar. The import from Bangladesh is very low, at the level of 500 million dollar and this matter of trade deficit has also been raised by Bangladesh. Boosting trade and cutting the trade deficit is very important for both nations to compete in the globalized competition.
On the other hand, in the globalized and interdependent world where the economic growth is of utmost priority and at same time the protectionism of all kind and violence due to conservatism is increasing, the relations of two countries are not limited to bilateral issues. Now many state, not-state actors and causes and factors influence the relations.
In such a way, terrorism is a big issue and threat to India and the peace of the region. Last year, after the terrorist attack on Uri Army Base, amid growing tension India boycotted the 19th SAARC Summit. After that the decision by Bangladesh to not join the summit with a statement that "one country has created an environment, which is not conducive to the successful hosting of the summit" was very much appreciated and welcomed a lot throughout India. Actually both nations need each other's close co-operation to counter terrorism as both are fighting terrorism in their boundaries like anything.
Pakistani Agencies have many times tried to take advantage of the land of Bangladesh which can be nullified only through better understanding and mutuality. For the better relation of India-Bangladesh it is responsibility of both nations to keep up the confidence in each other which has been created now.
Apart from these regional issues, the relations of India and Bangladesh are moving on an extended understanding. Bangladesh supports in principle the Indian bid of UNSC permanent seat and have the common stand of common but differentiated responsibility approach regarding the climate chance initiative. The both countries have also the common goal of democratization of international institution like United Nations Organisation (UNO), World Trade Organisation (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) and both are working in close co-operation on various international fora.
Beyond all these both the nations have common heritage which can provide solid base for deepening relation and understanding. Also the relations between these two neighbours are of immense strategic as well as socio-political importance to each other. Thus eagerness of both the sides for robust engagement with each other to resolve contentious issues, for better cooperation and to ensure development for each other is of utmost significance. To tackle terrorism in the region and in ensuring peace and prosperity, India and Bangladesh can contribute a lot if they can work jointly.
In today's world of interdependence in general and in the midst of some of the hostile neighbours in particular, growing engagement between India and Bangladesh will benefit both. The contentious issues must be resolved with mutual understanding without further delay. The recent visit of Sheikh Hasina to India no doubt shows her eagerness to engage with India and will hopefully strengthen the Indo-Bangla relations. Both countries must reciprocate by taking into consideration the problems of each other to cater each other's need and concerns.
So, today Bangladesh can get benefitted a lot in its development, from India. Similarly, India also would like to have Bangladesh as a friendly neighbour. Both countries are paving the way to strengthen good neighobourly ties through mutual co-operation but they still have to work a lot to resolve their problems and to have sustainable and longlasting friednship.
Dr. Naved Jamal teaches at the Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi & Sanjio Kumar Singh is Scholar, at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
Views expressed are personal.
Image: Courtesy Google