S.M. Krishna’s visit to Dhaka: Injection of robust optimism on bilateral ties

S.M. Krishna’s visit to Dhaka: Injection of robust optimism on bilateral ties

The three-day visit of S. M. Krishna from 6th July is considered to be productive and has ushered in high optimism for resolution of most of all bilateral issues, plagued for years between the two nations.

Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna, the US- educated civil lawyer, is a veteran political leader and served as state minister with Prime Ministers Indira and Rajiv Gandhi.

In recent times, he was chief minister of Karnataka state and Governor of Maharashtra state until 2008. Thereafter he re-joined active politics and became a member of Rajya Sabha. In May 2009, he was appointed as Minister for External Affairs replacing Pranab Mukherjee and at the age of 79, he appears to be the oldest member of the cabinet.

The visit took place in the backdrop of the controversy triggered by Dr. Manmohan Singh’s off-the-record remarks on June 29th to a group of editors in New Delhi with Krishna himself denying suggestions that his trip was being undertaken to repair the damage to bilateral relations following the prime minister’s remarks.

Meanwhile, the two countries have downplayed the remarks and on 4th July Dr. Manmohan Singh spoke to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina indicating that he was looking forward to his visit to Dhaka in early September.

S.M. Krishna, on his arrival to Dhaka, said at the airport “a prosperous, stable and democratic” Bangladesh was in the interest of the region and underlining New Delhi’s resolve to deepen ties with Bangladesh.

He said “I am confident that through a forward-looking, progressive and pragmatic approach based on understanding and cooperation, we can achieve a mutually rewarding relationship that brings a brighter future, prosperity and development to the people of both countries.”

During talks with the Bangladesh leadership, Krishna has reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral relations ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit on 6 September.

The bilateral issues at the level of Foreign Ministers included security, border management, boundary demarcation, trade and economic, connectivity and transit, water resources management, power, culture, education, people-to-people contact, visa and consular ones, and regional and sub-regional interests.

During the visit, two accords were signed: One was the agreement on standard operating procedure for movement of Bhutanese vehicles between Indian and Bangladesh local customs stations and the other was the exchange of instrument of ratification of the India-Bangladesh agreement on promotion and protection of investments.

India would introduce “non-lethal weapons” to deal with border intruders from Bangladesh but expects both countries to take “responsibility” to bring killings to “zero level”, SM Krishna said to a group of editors on 6th July evening.

He added “We’ll have to deal with the border issue in a humanitarian manner. At the same time, border management is the responsibility of both the government”. We welcome the introduction of non-lethal weapons and wait to see its implementation on the ground.

It is important to note that Krishna has met the leader of opposition and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, whose BNP and allies Jamaat-i-Islami parties oppose some of the deals made by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with India last year.

The meeting appears to signal a shift of policy for India to involve the opposition leader and its party in the parliament on the benefits of India’s cooperation with Bangladesh for the mutual benefits of the people of the two nations as well as for the region. Earlier visiting Indian Ministers or top officials did not call on the leader of the opposition.

Bilateral ties have made major strides since Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited New Delhi nearly 18 months ago which ushered in a new era of bilateral relations. Krishna summed up rightly the state of bilateral relations when he said that they stood at “at a momentous juncture “and the visit of the Bangabandhu (in 1974) and that of Sheikh Hasina were “constant reminders” for India to reciprocate.”

Given the changed scenario of political environment, there were reasonable expectations that long-standing bilateral issues, such as water-sharing, border demarcation and exchange of enclaves, stoppage of border killing and a regional framework of interconnectivity /transit or transshipment would be resolved but regretfully the implementation of the bargain on the Indian side has been lost in Delhi’s bureaucratic maze that can defeat even the most purposeful political directives.

It is good to note that Krishna’s visit has been a part of efforts to do the spadework for working out the “deliverables” by India during Singh’s visit to Dhaka when New Delhi is reportedly expected to come out with a raft of agreements, including Teesta water-sharing, an agreement on border demarcation and adversely-held enclaves and further easing of Bangladeshi textile exports to Indian market..

His visit has injected high hopes for resolution of most pressing bilateral issues. Bangladesh people have now to wait for the visit of the Indian Prime Minister in early September to witness the concrete results on the ground.

India is an emerging power. What is desirable for India is to adopt a regional approach on issues, such as, energy, food security, water resource management, counter-terrorism, and environmental security where all its neighbours are on board for commonality of interests.

Bangladesh, at the same time, has to live with a reality that the country cannot remain insular from developments in neighbouring countries and Bangladesh, being sandwiched between India and China, must explore and make use of the advantages of its strategic geographical position for its benefits.

Sub-regional cooperation is based on proximity of areas, common economic interests and interconnectivity. It is suggested Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and the Northeastern states of India could be constituted as a sub-regional economic group, sharing resources for mutual benefits.

The sub-region could be made an engine for economic growth, enabling to fully use resource endowments of the region— natural and human resources. Thereafter the region will be easily get linked by multi-modal transport with China and South East Asian region. This is the vision for the eastern region of South Asia in future and all countries must realise that in the days of economic globalisation they must stand together to meet the challenges of the time.

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

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