TURNS AND TWISTS: PM Sheikh Hasina’s positive movesBangladesh is waiting for another lift in relation with India during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to New Delhi in early on April 7. Viewed as highly significant, the visit will likely see culmination of cooperation and understanding in varied areas, focused on boosting ties and deriving maximum benefits for the two friendly neighbouring countires.
The aim of the visit is also reassure India of Bangladesh’s unstinted support to further consolidate Dhaka-Delhi friendship and to reaffirm Bangladesh’s sovereign rights to claim its dues on the basis of equality between two independent states.
The visit is expected to reflect both countries’ urge to upgrade relation guided by principles of equality despite difference in territorial size and demographic importance.
The bilateral issues have been listed for discussion between Sheikh Hasina and her host Indian Prime Minister Narendraa Modi during her four-day visit. Of them, deals are expected to be signed on 21 subjects including a MOU on defence cooperation.
BANGLADESH-INDIA TIES: TURNS AND TWISTS: PM Sheikh Hasina’s positive movesBANGLADESH-INDIA TIES: TURNS AND TWISTS: PM Sheikh Hasina’s positive movesThe Indian government is eager on having a long-term treaty on defence cooperation like the one that was reached (now expired) after Bangladesh’s independence in 1971. But Sheikh Hasina’s statesmanship and strong leadership have revised the likely deal, diplomatic sources said. She wants to review the MOU’s effectiveness before deciding upon an extension.
Modi agreed to Hasina’s suggestion as he considers the Bangladesh Prime Minister as an equal partner in any deal driven by common urge to better ties and cooperation between the two closest South Asian neighbours.
Bangladesh and India have historic cultural and political ties that have often been soured and suffered dents during the last 46 years. The relations saw bumps and twists after Bangladesh’s independence leader and founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed, along with most members of his family, in an army coup in August 1975. His two surviving daughters Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana were away from the country at the time.
Hasina retruned home in 1981 and took the reins of Awami League, which has had enjoyed friendly relation with the then ruling Indian Congress. She was first elected as Prime Minister in 1996, then in 2008 and for the third term in 2014. Successive Indian governments including ruling BJP of Prime Minister Modi found a strong ally in Sheikh Hasina and pledged all possible cooperation to restore democracy and support development in Bangladesh after two spells of military rule. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made positive moves to remove the irritants and misgivings from Bangladesh side to consolidate Dhaka-Delhi ties. Many Indians feel is now the turn of New Delhi to reciprocate and show goodwill to Bangladesh.
Sheikh Hasina remained defiant to threats to her life and criticisms by her political rivals, especially the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).She granted no undue consideration for India nor begged anything undue from them, thus defusing and demoralizing her critics and opponents. Sheikh Hasina won the challenges and fortified her position as the country’s top leader before Awami League regained power in 1996 after a 21 years lapse.
Then Hasina turned her attention to resolving two critical issues – trial and punishment of the killers of her father and the 1971 war criminals, mostly leaders and activists of BNP’s ally Jamaat-e-Islami. She faced mounting opposition over implementing her decisions both internally and externally. India helped Bangladesh during the War of Liberation against Pakistan by supporting Bangladesh’s cause of liberation.
At the same time, Sheikh Hasina moved to resolve some critical issues with India that had been pending for decades after Bangabandhu’s assassination and subsequent change of governments .
She signed the historic Ganges water sharing deal with India in 1996 formalising sharing of the river’s flow by the two countries on the basis of informal understanding and neighbourly gestures. The Ganges sharing deal put to end a perennial issue that effects millions of Bangladeshis in the country’s north.
In January 1997 Sheikh Hasina sealed another agreement with tribal Shanti Bahini insurgents in southeastern Chittagong Hill Tracts. The rebels laid down their weapons and those who fled to India in course of the 25-year insurgency came back home and they all were rehabilitated peacefully.
It was time for her to focus on other key issues that needed to be settled carefully keeping Bangladesh’s interests intact but without hurting ties with its neihbours.
To win its territorial and economic rights in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh under Sheikh Hasina’s guidance moved to international court and won the litigation against Myanmar. Then came forth the maritime dispute with India.
An international tribunal on India-Bangladesh Maritime Delimitation delivered its ruling on 7th July 2014. The Tribunal was set up under the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. Bangladesh won its full right over a huge maritime area in the Bay of Bengal earlier claimed by India. New Delhi accepted the verdict in the spirit of good neighbourly relations.
Regarding another outstanding issue of demarcating the remaining portion of land boundary between the two countries, former Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and India, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Indira Gandhi, had agreed to settle the land boundary issue way back in 1974 but after Bangabandhu’s death it didn’t see the light of the day. Though Bangladesh parliament ratified the Agreement India failed to ratify it till 2015.
After 41 years Sheikh Hasina pushed her way through and the two countries signed the long awaited Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) in June 2015. As per provisions of the agreement the two countries have already exchanged a large number of enclaves (adversely held territory) and granted their residents Indian or Bangladeshi citizenship along with rights and privileges that other citizens enjoy. This came as a big relief and removed one more irritant in relations between India and Bangladesh.
Sheikh Hasina’s government concluded all those treaties disproving criticisms of her political enemies.
India and Bangladesh share a unique bond and a special relationship rooted in a common cultural heritage, shared principles and values and forged by common aspirations and sacrifices of their peoples. They are committed to strengthen their historic bonds and impart a durable and sustainable vision for the collective prosperity of the region.
Analysts say Bangladesh’s geopolitical importance for India is due to three factors. First, Bangladesh’s location is a strategic wedge between mainland India and Northeastern seven states of the Indian Union. Each of these states is land-locked and has shorter route to the sea through Bangladesh. Currently, Kolkata port is used by these states for both domestic and imported cargo. Bangladesh is a natural pillar of “Look East Policy”. A friendly Bangladesh that ensures no anti-India terror or insurgent activities can be carried out from its soil unlike in the past will substantially assist India in handling security problems in some of its restive north-east States. Importantly, a ‘neutral’ Bangladesh also ensures containment of an assertive China in this region, including along the strategic sea-lanes of the Bay of Bengal.
Despite bon-homie, unfortunately, there exist many contentious issues between the two countries — some of which are expected to be addressed and resolved during PM Sheikh Hasina’s upcoming visit to India.
India and Bangladesh share 54 trans-boundary rivers, big and small. In 1996 when Sheikh Hasina came to power for the first time, the sharing of the Ganges waters was successfully agreed upon between the two governments. However, the major area of dispute has been India’s construction and operation of the Farakka Barrage which holds back water of the Ganges (or Gonga in India) at the upstream often denying Bangladesh optimum share of the flow during the lean months. As such a dispute arose between India and Bangladesh over inadequacy of water during the lean season.
Bangladesh feels aggrieved as the reduction in flow caused damage to agriculture, industry and ecology in the river basin in Bangladesh.
The other reason for water dispute is Teesta River – which has its source in Sikkim – flows through the northern part of West Bengal in India before entering Bangladesh, where after crosssing through about 45km of irrigable land, merges with the Brahmaputra River (or Jamuna as it’s called in Bangladesh).
In 1983, an ad-hoc water sharing agreement was reached between India and Bangladesh, whereby both countries were allocated 39% and 36% of the water flow respectively. However, the deal fell through when the then newly elected Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, refused to approve the treaty, fearing that the loss of higher volume of water to the lower riparian would cause problems in the northern region of state, especially during drier months. She still lives with that notion and in 2011 dropped herself at the last moment from the entourage of former Indian Prime Minister Monmohon Singh visiting Bangladesh when a treaty on sharing of the Teesta river was ready.
Construction of the Tipaimukh Dam is another contentious issue between India and Bangladesh. Tipaimukh Dam is a hydel power project proposed on the river Barak in Manipur. Bangladesh feels the dam would have adverse ecological effects in its eastern Sylhet district. In spite of India’s reiteration that no dam would be constructed overlooking Bangladesh’s objections, the controversy is far from over. However, India and Bangladesh have agreed on a joint study group to examine the points of contention raised by Bangladesh.
Bangladesh and India share 4351 km of common border running through five Indian states,
The border is used as a route for smuggling livestock, food items, medicines and drugs from India to Bangladesh. Moreover, illegal immigrants from Bangladesh cross the border to India. To stem the flow, a controversial shoot-on-sight policy has been enforced by the Indian border patrols. Scores of Bangladeshis have been killed at the border by Indian Border Security Force (BSF) often prompting objections by the Bangladesh government. Yet the problem continues unabated.
Territorial Waters :
The issue of demarcating territorial waters led to serious differences between the two countries. Questions of ownership over a new born island known as South Talpatty in Bangladesh and New Moore/ Purbasha in India spotted by a satellite picture in 1975 in the estuary of Haribhanga river on the border of the two countries has been a source of contention since its discovery.
In order to settle the above dispute Bangladesh proposed sending a joint Indo?Bangladesh team to determine the flow of channels of the river on the basis of existing International Law of the Sea. But India sent forces to establish claims by stationing naval troops on the island in 1981. After initial resentment by Bangladesh, India agreed to resolve the issue through negotiations. Till now the sovereignty over the island nation remains undecided.
Illegal migration through the porous border is one of the bones of contention between the two countries, Though it is difficult to assess the exact number of illegal migrants, who entered mostly West Bengal. India claims they numbered millions scattered around the country. PM Modi’s BJP government repeatedly threatens to deport them. This issue remains unresolved though both countries want to take necessary steps to resolve it.
India has fenced almost its entire border with Bangladesh to stem the flow of illegal migrants but Dhaka feels they are doing excess on the matter and urges New Delhi to see the problem in right perspective keeping the spirit of neighborly relations high.
Insurgency plays a role in straining relations between India and Bangladesh. Northeast India has been facing insurgency since 1956 due to feelings of ethnic separatism among its inhabitants. India alleges Pakistan-based ISI is operating from Bangladesh, supporting the insurgents in the North east India. But Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has assured India of full cooperation to help redress India’s insurgency problem and reiterated no insurgent or rebel would be allowed to stay or use the soil of Bangladesh. The Bangladesh law enforcing agencies have busted several Indian rebel camps over the years, and aldso seized huge cache of arms, ammunition and explosives the Indian rebels stored in their hideout along Bangladesh’s eastern border. Sheikh Hasina’s firm stand has removed the security threats to India’s seven northern states – a legacy created by post 1975 regimes in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is increasingly being used as a transit point by drug dealers and the drug mafia, which dispatches heroin, opium and Yaba from India, Myanmar and other countries of the golden triangle. In Bangladesh the illegal drug trade is controlled by political leaders and their hired agents. However, Bangladesh has urged India and Myanmar to intensify watch on their borders to stop the flow of drugs. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has now waged a new war against drug and ordered the law enforcing agencies to show ‘zero tolerance’ to drug peddling.
Trade and Investment:
Bangladesh is an important trading partner for India. But the trade gap stands billions of dollars in favour of India. For long, Bangladesh has been urging India to reduce this gap by lifting the tariff and non-tariff barriers as they were a major impediment to the growth of Bangladesh’s exports to India. India has partly responded to Bangladesh’s call but a lot remains to be done.
India wants Bangladesh to provide rail and road transit to connect with its north-eastern states. Though inland water transit has been functional the rail and road transit is still waiting to be operational.
Bangladesh’s initial reluctance to granting India rail and road transit was on the grounds that transit facility once given was difficult to take back and such a facility may encourage terrorism and insurgency.
Other concerns included damage to the roads and bridges in Bangladesh by the increased traffic flow from the Indian side. From political point of view, the delay in concluding a land transit deal may have been caused by delay in signing a deal for sharing the Teesta water.
Milestones in relationship
* In Feb 1998 Chittagong- Hill tracts Peace treaty was signed in cooperation with India.
* Disputes over seawater at the Bay of Bengal was resolved.
* Ganges Water Sharing Treaty was signed to end a long dispute.
* In September 2011, the two countries signed a Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) resolving all 68-year old border disputes. India also granted 24-hour access to Bangladeshi citizens in the Tin Bigha Corridor. The adversely held enclaves were exchanged.
* On 7 May 2015 the Indian Parliament passed the LBA as its 100th Constitutional amendment. The bill was pending ratification since the 1974 Mujib-Indira accords.
* In 2012, Bangladesh allowed India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation to ferry heavy machinery, turbines and cargo through Ashuganj for Palatana Power project in southern Tripura.
* From October 2013, India started exporting 500 megawatts of electricity a day to Bangladesh over a period of 35 years.
* The two countries joined hands to set a 1,320-MW coal-fired power plant in Rampal of Bangladesh.
* Rail and road connectivity established.
* Bangladesh allowed India to ferry food and grains to the landlocked Northeast India’s using its territory and infrastructure.
* As many as 22 agreements were signed during Narendra Modi’s state visit to Bangladesh during June 2015 including maritime safety co-operation and curbing human trafficking and fake Indian currency.
* During the visit India extended a US$2 billion line of credit to Bangladesh & pledged US$5 billion worth of investments.
What is to be done
* Agreement on water sharing should be given priority. Early resolution of the Teesta issue is necessary.
* Security cooperation between the two countries needs to be boosted. Border irritations should be resolved.
* Connectivity should be given top most priority.
* There is need for addressing the problem of illegal migration.
* India should now consider an agreement on non-tariff barriers.
* Indian investment should be encouraged in Bangladesh.
* Cooperation on common challenges like terrorism, militancy, climate and disaster management, food, energy and security needs to be increased.