Fascinating insights into Indo-Bangladesh relations from the departing Indian High Commissioner

Fascinating insights into Indo-Bangladesh relations from the departing Indian High Commissioner

A narrative of diplomat’s experiences has always been revealing and entertaining. A life of a diplomat is always exciting as ever and often unexpected events occur during his/her tenure. Diplomats are privy to many interactions with the government which others are not aware of.

Indian High Commissioner has always maintained a high profile across media and community in Bangladesh. It is not an unmixed blessing as it has the advantages and disadvantages. High Commissioner Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty could not manage the media in Dhaka because some of his undiplomatic remarks were publicized in the media widely in the country.

Indian High Commissioner’s lively discussions at a farewell lunch on 7th December are not only fascinating but also provide deep insight into Bangladesh and India relationship. He has been transferred as Ambassador to Thailand and he leaves Bangladesh on 20th December.

I was present at the lunch, hosted by the Center for Foreign Affairs Studies (C-FAS), for departing India’s High Commissioner Pinak Chakravarty. .

.High Commissioner Pinak has been no stranger to Bangladesh because earlier he served as Deputy High Commissioner in Dhaka. Although he is a Bengali, he lived, and had his education in New Delhi. In that sense he is a member of Bengali diaspora community.

At the lunch, it was interesting to listen to Indian High Commissioner’s personal experiences in Bangladesh with revealing anecdotes.

His comments can be divided into two segments: one relating to his experience with the Caretaker government (CTG) led by Fakhruddin Ahmed and the other on New Delhi’s earnest desire to remove mistrust and lack of confidence between the two governments.

His anecdotes with the CTG are out of the ordinary and some deserve mention as follows:

• He came to Bangladesh just 3 days before 11th January in 2007 which ushered in the “military backed Caretaker Government”, a terminology frequently used by some media. This was an unexpected event for him and that provided him an opportunity to know about the web of forces released after January 11, 2007.
• As he could not present his credentials, he took the initiative to get in touch with the Chief Adviser’s office and sought an appointment with the Chief Adviser. He was contacted by the Chief Adviser’s office on the date and time of his appointment while he was playing golf in the late afternoon. At a meeting, the High Commissioner mentioned to the Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed that India wished to pursue the policy of engagement with the Caretaker Government (CTG).
• Once when High Commissioner Pinak was at the golf course, he happened to meet the then Army Chief General Moeen U Ahmed. General Moeen wanted to know from the High Commissioner about India’s proposed tri-nation (Myanmar-Bangladesh-India) gas pipeline. The High Commissioner informed the General that there was no gas available in Myanmar because the country had committed the gas to China instead of India.
• On another occasion, the Army Chief wanted to know from him whether the Kolkata-Dhaka train service could start. The High Commissioner informed the General that negotiation for the service was already completed but the train service could not operate, reasons best known to Bangladesh. When the caretaker government agreed to commence the train link between the two cities, the selection of a date needed to be fixed and “Pahela Baisakh” ( 14th April, 2007)-New Bengali Year- was agreed upon to start the train service, symbolizing a new era.
• He disclosed that CTG once sought a clearance over India for an aircraft from Dhaka. Indian government gave the permission but then the CTG never used it..

On Indo-Bangladesh relations, one could get impression from High Commissioner Pinak that with the Sheikh Hasina government, the atmospherics in New Delhi has dramatically changed and there are many reasons for it.

But the one that has been of significant impact on India is the commitment of the current Bangladesh government to get rid of extremists and militants that has led many insurgents of North East India to surrender to BSF and the government of India has taken fully note of it.

India attaches its highest importance to the threat of security and wants a “peaceful
periphery” for socio-economic progress. He is convinced that the Indian government will walk “miles” to restore the confidence and trust with the current Bangladesh government in areas of security, trade, water sharing, energy and roads and railways.

He has indicated that when Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visits New Delhi in the second week of January, she will see for herself the changed atmosphere in New Delhi and a new horizon will be ushered in on Indo-Bangladesh relations.

A few other facts came out as follows:

• With regard to Indian investment in Bangladesh, according to him, the rejection of TATA’s proposal has been a huge setback for Bangladesh as it conveyed a negative impression to Indian investors but there would be some opportunity in future.
• On the question of Bangladesh’s cable TV not operational in India, he has explained that Bangladesh’s foreign exchange regulations pose the problem of paying the cable operators in India. Cable TV from other countries such as Russia, and Pakistan, are operational in India and there is no reason why India should put restrictions on Bangladesh cable TV operators.
• On the implementation of the 1996 Ganges Water Treaty, the High Commissioner said that Bangladesh was getting more than its share of the water under the Treaty to which one eminent Bangladeshi responded that let the arrangement be permanent.
• On visa matters, he has said it has been made much easier at present because one fix an appointment with Indian High Commission for visa through electronic token and the website is: www.ivacbd.com

To me, it appears that positive attitude of current Bangladesh government has not gone unnoticed in New Delhi and the Congress –led government wants to seize this opportunity.

Bangladesh’s gains may not have to come at India’s expense, or vice versa. India and Bangladesh are not locked in some Manichean, existential conflict. “Win-win” solutions are possible on all the issues if sincere efforts of mutual accommodation exist.

It is easy and pointless, to spend endless amount of time in a dialogue of the deaf discussing how one country has never done the right thing by the other. The time has come to look forward to move on a mature partnership on economic, social and political level.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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