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Insights into Editorial: Remove the wedges in India-Bangladesh ties

 

 

Context:

The friendship between India and Bangladesh is historic, evolving over the last 50 years.

India’s political, diplomatic, military and humanitarian support during Bangladesh’s Liberation War played an important role towards Bangladesh’s independence.

Nearly 3,900 Indian soldiers gave up their lives and an estimated 10 million Bangladeshi refugees took shelter in India.

 

 

25-year treaty of friendship and cooperation between India and Bangladesh:

Fifty years ago, PM Indira Gandhi and PM Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, through signing a 25-year treaty of friendship and cooperation between their two countries, solidified the links that India and Bangladesh had forged in the course of the Bangladesh War of Liberation in 1971.

Half a century on, as PM Narendra Modi arrives in Dhaka to be part of the golden jubilee celebrations of Bangladesh’s independence, it is the enduring nature of the ties between the two nations that takes centre stage.

Added to that are two complementary realities, namely, the 50th year of close ties between the two neighbours and the centenary of the birth of Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

 

 

India-Bangladesh ties: A warm friendship despite turbulence:

India and its neighbouring country Bangladesh have a history forged in the battlefield.

The two countries share a border, dozens of rivers and most importantly, a common culture. The two countries share a 4096-kilometre border and 54 rivers.

The key role played by India in the birth of Bangladesh cannot be overlooked and since then, despite roadblocks, the two countries have maintained close relations.

 

 

Here’s a round-up of the bilateral ties between the two countries:

  1. Long before colonial cartographers chalked up South Asia, India and Bangladesh shared a common land.
  2. In 1947, the country currently known as Bangladesh was called East Pakistan. After 20 years of hardship, there were rumours of dissent that East Pakistan wanted independence.
  3. The Indian army was welcomed as liberators in Dhaka. They had turned the tide against West Pakistani forces. They fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Bangladeshi freedom fighters. This joint campaign remains the cornerstone of bilateral ties after 50 years.
  4. The Indo-Bangladesh treaty of friendship, cooperation and peace was signed. Although the two sides looked set for bigger things, Mujibur Rahman’s assassination in 1975 acted as a turning point.
  5. In 2015, India and Bangladesh signed the land border agreement. Both sides promised to exchange border enclaves. Thus, settling a decades-long border confusion.
  6. They set up a joint rivers commission in 1972. Both sides seldom agree on water-sharing. But the conflict remains inside the commission. In 1996, they signed a 30-year treaty on sharing water from the Ganga.
  7. Both countries are members of SAARC, BIMSTEC, the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the Commonwealth.
  8. Recently, Bangladesh backed India’s election to the UN Security Council. The armed forces from both sides regularly conduct joint drills like exercise Sampriti and Milan.
  9. India has extended its hand of friendship whenever Bangladesh faced crises.
  10. During the coronavirus crisis, India provided medical training to Bangladeshi professionals, test kits and medicines, besides the dispatch of vaccine consignments. New Delhi gifted 2 million doses of the COVID vaccines to Bangladesh.

 

 

Concerns that need to be address:

The Teesta River is a point of contention for the two countries. While India claims 55 per cent of the river’s waters, Bangladesh is unhappy with its share.

The Teesta river originates in Sikkim, flows through the northern parts of West Bengal, before entering Bangladesh and joining the Brahmaputra river.

The flow of the river is crucial for Bangladesh from December to March during which the country requires 50 per cent of the river’s water supply.

Hundreds of illegal migrants cross the porous border putting economic pressure on India. New Delhi’s plan to document illegal migrants and deport them is viewed with concern in Dhaka.

Bangladesh’s participation in the China-led belt and road initiative is a cause of concern for India due to the growing closeness between a key ally and a strategic rival.

 

 

However be the concerns, key is maintaining stable and friendly relations:

  1. Maintaining stable and friendly relations with India has been to Bangladesh’s advantage in terms of both countries sharing a common position on regional security.
  2. Bangladesh’s strong stand against religious militancy and terrorism has resonated with policy makers in Delhi and vice versa.
  3. In the field of trade, there is certainly a gap in terms of exports and imports, but again, it is geography which has often determined conditions.
  4. Bangladesh is currently India’s biggest trade partner in the South Asian region.
  5. To strengthen and encourage Bangladesh’s trade and commerce, India has given several concessions to Dhaka, including duty-free access to Bangladeshi products into the Indian markets.
  6. While India has given duty-free access to a number of Bangladeshi goods, its physical enormity precludes circumstances that could have Bangladesh enhance the quantum of exports.
  7. While the gap between the countries’ exports to each other seems worrying, for Dhaka the redeeming factor is its economy, which is currently one of the fastest-growing in the world.
  8. Meanwhile, the inauguration of the Chilahati-Haldibari railway link has been a significant move in enhancing connectivity between the countries.
  9. Bangladesh has received 9 million doses of Covishield vaccines from India, a gesture that has enormously boosted morale in Dhaka as it battles the pandemic.

 

 

Conclusion:

The Modi-Hasina talks could well be a fresh opportunity for Bangladesh to emphasise to India the need for meaningful pressure to be applied to Myanmar over the Rohingya issue.

As the two prime ministers join in the celebrations in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s leader may well find the moment opportune to buttonhole the visiting Indian head of government on the Rohingya issue.

PM Modi’s visit to Dhaka will be an opportunity for the two countries to enhance cooperation through some new MoUs.