Bangladesh-India Relations: Status report at the fag end of the Hasina government

Bangladesh-India Relations:  Status report at the fag end of the Hasina government

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

In 2009, the installation of the Awami League government in Bangladesh and the Congress party in India to power created a congenial ambience in building a stronger bilateral architecture.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s landmark four-day visit on 10-13th January 2010 to India created an excellent environment of mutual trust that sought to lay the foundations to a much more mature, stable and fruitful relationship with India.

What the visit has achieved is the new direction to which bilateral relations have moved forward for the benefit of the people of both countries.

Catalogue of many positive gains after the visit:

The Hasina government has moved quickly to address Delhi’s concerns on cross-border terrorism (including expelling top ULFA insurgents to India) and connectivity to the North-East.

Bangladesh agreed to provide transit facility through Bangladesh’s Ashuganj port for transportation of heavy duty equipment for ONGC Tripura Power Company (OTPC)’s 727 MW gas-based project located at Palatana in Tripura

In May this year, the Bangladesh government agreed to transport 10,000 tonnes of foodgrains for Tripura through its territory. It is reported that Bangladesh has agreed to allow 100026 MW electricity generated from 429 dams in northeastern states though Bangladesh to West Bengal and to other places in India.

India has provided 24-hour access to Bangladesh nationals across Tin Bigha to the Bangladesh residents in the enclaves of Dahagram and Angarpota. India began to export 500MW to Bangladesh (India would get more than $350 million annually) and 250 megawatt (mw) electricity to Bangladesh from 5th October.

Many infrastructure projects are being implemented under the supplier’s credit loan of $800 million dollar from India ($200 million of the $1 billion loan was converted into a grant).

Bangladesh and India are reportedly dredging common rivers to restore navigability and prevent flooding. Ichamati common river has been dredged over a 20-km stretch for the last two years

The bilateral trade has increased to $563.9 million as of 2012-13 from $100 million a few years ago. Border Haats at Kalaichar and Balat in Meghalaya are in operation. Proposal for establishing four border haats along Bangladesh-Tripura border agreed upon.

The Maitreyi Express (Friendship Express) was launched to revive a railway link between Kolkata and Dhaka that had been shut for 43 years. The K

olkata-Dhaka Govt. bus is operational.

The two countries have concluded Extradition Treaty. This will facilitate the extradition process of criminals hiding in each other’s country.

However these aforesaid positive gains of partnership have been overshadowed by the following events:

Border-fencing was perceived to display the unfriendly sentiment of India towards people of Bangladesh. Does the fencing off with barbwire of 3,300 kilometres border of Bangladesh make India a trusted friend? People ask: does the land transit through Bangladesh to the Indian northeastern states is compatible with the spirit behind the fencing the Indo-Bangladesh border?

Bangladesh-India border has become the deadliest border of killing Bangladeshi citizens by the “trigger-happy” BSF soldiers which is contrary to the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Statement of January 2010 (paragraph 18). The continued abduction, senseless torture and killing of Bangladeshis by BSF at the border have led overwhelming section of people in Bangladesh to believe that India does not care the loss of lives of Bangladeshis.

Furthermore the failure of the Teesta water sharing deal and the non- ratification of land boundary protocol signed during the visit of Indian Prime Minister in September 2011 as envisaged by the 1974 Mujib-Indira Land Boundary Agreement have put into serious question on the credibility of the Indian government to keep its pledges with Bangladesh. ( Bangladesh ratified the Agreement in 1974.)

Bangladesh is aware of the difficulties that the New Delhi government has confronted with the BJP opposition and the West Bengal government in concluding the deals However every one knows that the issues or disputes between Bangladesh and India involves directly Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram and furthermore New Delhi Congress-led government needs to seek their views in particular when the states are not ruled by the Congress before making international deals.

The resolution of water disputes on common rivers such as Feni, Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudkumar as agreed under the Joint Communique of January 2010 by the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission has not yet progressed.

Although the interactions through visits between people of the two countries including cultural exchanges have increased in recent years, the channel of electronic communication from Bangladesh to India is blocked. In Bangladesh, TV viewers watch India’s cable channels while in India, Bangladesh TV Channels ( more than 20 in number) for some seasons are denied to the Indian people.

One of the biggest challenges is addressing the asymmetrical nature of the connection between our countries. My Indian interlocutors brought this home to me by asking whether India really needs Bangladesh as much as Bangladesh needs India. I don’t have easy answers to that question, but finding ways to address it should be a major preoccupation of the political leaders on both sides.

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