Dr. Dipu Moni’s visit to New Delhi: No breakthrough either on Teesta water or Land Protocol

Dr. Dipu Moni’s visit to New Delhi: No breakthrough either on Teesta water or Land Protocol

On 7th May, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. Dipu Moni went to Delhi to attend the first Bangladesh–India Joint Consultative Commission meeting under the Indo-Bangladesh Framework Agreement on Cooperation for Development signed on 6th September last year during the India ’s Prime Minister’s visit to Bangladesh .

The purpose of the first meeting of the high-level Joint Consultative Commission led by the two Foreign Ministers was to overview the progress of the implementation of the promised deals between the two countries.

During the visit, she met the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on 8th May, besides meeting with the Water Resources Minister of India, Pawan Kumar Bansal and the Home Minister Dr. P.Chidambaram.

After the visit, a 26-paragraph Joint Statement was issued under .six broad heads such as:

Political and security cooperation
Trade and Connectivity
Development Cooperation
Bilateral Cooperation in water resources and power
Sub-regional cooperation
People-to-people exchanges

The Joint Statement on the above subjects mainly deals with what has been in process, and what programmes or projects will be initiated by the two countries.

When one reads the Joint Statement, one gets the impression that security and infrastructure on connectivity on road, rail and seaports between the two countries have been given emphasis, while core issues of Bangladesh, such as, water sharing of Teesta River or ratification of the Land Border Protocol have been subject to Indian domestic politics and will not see the light of the day.

India ’s External Affairs Minister S. M.Krishna told media.”I have assured Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni that India remains committed to an early solution on the issue of sharing Teesta waters. Since water is a sensitive issue, in accordance with the traditions of consensual decision-making in India ‘s democratic polity, internal consultations are on amongst stakeholders.”

The above statement of the Indian Minister simply means that the Congress-led Manmohan Singh government in New Delhi has not the capacity deal with Ms. Mamata Banerjee on the water issue or has the majority in the Rajjya Sabha (Upper House) of the parliament to ratify the Land Border Protocol.

There is another factor for delay from both sides. The gains in each and every case are unlikely to be equal to both countries. Bangladesh may gain more than India in some area and reverse might be the case in other area. To evaluate the differential gains for each country in dissimilar areas or sectors to reach a reasonably acceptable overall balance is not an easy exercise by bureaucrats of both sides. It is a challenge for them to appreciate and offset short and long term gains.

The “melting of icy” bilateral relations began in January 2010 following the landmark visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India . It is therefore no surprise that it takes time to put in place concrete actions when suspicion and mistrust reigned for decades between the two nations in the past.

While Dhaka has moved quickly to address Delhi’s concerns on cross-border terrorism and connectivity to the North-East, it appears the implementation of the bargain on the Indian side has been lost, especially in water-sharing of the Teesta and Feni Rivers as well as on the implementation of the Land Border Protocol including exchange of enclaves and adverse possessions of lands.

On Bangladesh side there is disappointment that no early water sharing agreement on Teesta River is in sight because of India ’s domestic politics. India has to realise that time is the essence of implementation of promises and agreements, such as, water-sharing of Teesta River and exchange of enclaves and adverse possessions.

These deals have been put on slow-burner for implementation because they became victims of political maneuvering in India . Delay is causing serious misgivings among most people in Bangladesh about India ’s commitment and sincerity in fulfilling the promised deals.

During her visit to New Delhi , Bangladesh Foreign Minister did not mince her words when she reportedly told the Indian media that Indo-Bangladesh relations would be hit if the water sharing agreement on Teesta River was not concluded early. She added “Water is an important issue. And the people of Bangladesh want the Teesta accord to be signed.”

The Joint Statement demonstrates that a lot of things are on the plates of both sides and their finalization or implementation would take years for their fruition. The reality is that the tenure of both governments in Bangladesh and India will expire by the end of 2013 and both countries will face general elections in 2014.

It appears there is hardly any hope that Indian Congress-led government will be able to resolve the core issues with Bangladesh . This is a huge setback for Indo-Bangladesh relations which friends of Bangladesh and India do not wish to happen.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid

Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva

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