The year 2021 witness celebrations of 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s Independence and 50 years of Bangladesh-India diplomatic relations.
Bangladesh was not only a key part of India’s “neighborhood first policy” but also crucial for New Delhi’s “Act East policy”, which aims to cement ties between India and South-East Asia.
- Security of North East: A friendly Bangladesh can ensure that its soil is not used for anti-India activities. Bangladesh’s action resulted in the arrest of many top leaders of the NE insurgent groups like United Liberation Front of Assam &National Democratic Front of Bodoland.
- Bridge to Southeast Asia: Bangladesh is a natural pillar of Act East policy. It can act as a ‘bridge’ to economic and political linkages with South East Asia and beyond. Bangladesh is important component of BIMSTEC and BBIN initiatives.
- Securing sea lines of communication: Bangladesh is strategically placed nearby important sea lanes. It can play significant role in containing piracy in the Indian Ocean.
- Fighting terrorism and deradicalization: Stable, open and tolerant Bangladesh helps India in stopping extremists from flourishing there and also in cooperation in deradicalization efforts, sharing intelligence, and other counter-terrorism efforts.
- Balancing China: A neutral Bangladesh would ensure containment of an assertive China in this region, and help in countering its string of pearls policy.
- Four Border Haats, two each in Tripura and Meghalaya, have been established for the benefit of communities living along border areas of both countries.
- Steps have been taken including reduction in customs and immigration documents, establishment of 49 Land customs stations, integrated check posts etc.
- Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in SouthAsia. India and Bangladesh have facilitative trade agreement. Both are members of the Asia Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), SAARC Preferential Trade Agreement (SAPTA) and the Agreement on South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) which govern the tariff regimes for trade.
Connectivity of North-East
- The north eastern states are land-locked& have shorter route to sea through Bangladesh. Transit agreement with Bangladesh will spur socio-economic development and integration of North-East India.
- Through Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT), India is assisting Bangladesh to capture the potential of waterways for both inter and intra border connectivity of Bangladesh.
- Train services in Dhaka-Kolkata and Kolkata-Khulna are doing well, the third one, Agartala-Akhaura route, is under construction.
- Five additional bus services were introduced in 2018. Recently, the first ever Dhaka-Kolkata cruise ship was launched.
- India and Bangladesh have a shared history and common heritage. Greater people to people contact would percolate to other areas like economic and trade relations especially near the border areas. It would also help in curbing hostilities and lack of trust specially Bangladesh being a smaller neighbour.
Challenges in Relationship
- River disputes: India shares 54 trans-boundary rivers with Bangladesh. Some of the major disputes include: Teesta River water sharing issue, Tipaimukh Hydro-Electric Power Project on the Barak River, Ganga River dispute etc.
- Illegal immigrants: The National Register of Citizens (NRC) labeled many as “illegal immigrants from Bangladesh”. Bangladesh remains firm in its stance that no migrants travelled to Assam illegally during the 1971 war of independence and that the controversial NRC risks hurting relations.
- Rohingya crisis: There are almost 11 lakh Rohingyas refugees in Bangladesh. India has supplied humanitarian aid to Bangladesh under ‘Operation Insaniyat’ for Rohingya crisis but Bangladesh expects India to put pressure on Myanmar for repatriation of over a million of Rohingyas.
- Border Management: The Indo-Bangladesh border is of porous nature which provides pathway for smuggling, trafficking in arms, drugs and people and cattle.
- Delay in project execution: As of 2017, India had extended three lines of credit worth approximately $7.4 billion. However, less than 10% of the cumulative commitments have been disbursed so far. Also, there is delay in implementation of the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal initiative)project.
- China factor: China is the biggest trading partner of Bangladesh and is the foremost source of imports. Recently, China declared zero duty on 97% of imports from Bangladesh. The concession flowed from China’s duty-free, quota-free programme for the Least Developed Countries. China is the biggest arms supplier to Bangladesh.
- The smaller countries like Bangladesh uses China card to supplement its bargaining capacity against India.
- Increasing radicalization: Presence of groups like Harkat-alJihad-al-Islami (HUJI), Jamaat-e-Islami, and HUJI-B fuel Anti-India sentiments in Bangladesh. Their propaganda could spill acrossborder.
- The BBIN project was conceived when SAARC at its 18th Summit in Kathmandu failed to sign a SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement in November 2014-chiefly because of Pakistan.
- Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal have signed a sub-regional Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) in June 2015 for regulation of passenger, personnel and cargo vehicular traffic between the four BBIN countries.
- Originally, the BBIN MVA mentioned 30identified priority transport connectivity projects with an estimated cost of over US $8 billion that will rehabilitate and upgrade remaining sections of trade and transport corridors in the BBIN countries.
- India, Nepal and Bangladesh have ratified the Agreement while Bhutan failed to get its Parliament’s nod to ratify the same. It has some reservations about its environmental impact owing to increased traffic of heavy- duty vehicles.
- Under South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) programme, Asian Development Bank(ADB) has been providing technical, advisory, and financial support to this initiative.
- On November 1, 2015, a cargo vehicle made the first successful trial run from Kolkata to Agartala via Bangladesh that reduced the distance by over a thousand kilometres.