By Sushanta Das Gupta and Kh.A.Saleque.
Morning dawned brightly and beautifully for Bangladeshis living in different countries of the southern hemisphere with the news that two friendly neighbours Bangladesh and India have finally broken through all impasse to build long lasting forward looking relationship. PM Sheikh Hasina is on a state visit to India. The two countries have inked three agreements and two MOU to boost co-operation – security, power, trade and connectivity, water sharing and resolution of all other long standing bilateral issues and concerns which unnecessarily soured relations. PM Hasina also received Indira Gandhi Peace Award from Indian President Mrs Protiva Patil.
It is worth remembering that India sheltered millions of refugees during our liberation war when occupation Pakistan army unleashed genocide. India also provided training and arms to our freedom fighters and Indian army fought alongside with us in liberating our dear home land. Several Indian soldiers also laid down lives to help assist Bangladesh liberation. Bangladesh government operated in exile during the war. But such invaluable bond of fraternity became sour for several unnecessary irritants emanating poor political vision and commitment, lack of trust and faith among them. Religious fundamentalism, influence of some international community , and to some extent big brotherly attitude of big neighbour often contributed to misgivings.
Days have changed. New decade has emerged with new hopes. Now with two positive looking democratic government in state power – congress in India and Awami League led Mahajote in Bangladesh doors and windows have opened to forge understanding to barrier across past impediments for pursuit of common good – bilaterally, globally and regionally.
In the 50 point historic communique issued after the summit meeting at Hyderabad House PM Hasina and PM Manmohon have pledged commitment to working positively for solving all issues with the spirit of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation.
Indian government has categorically committed that nothing that harms Bangladesh will be done at Tipai Mukh.The PMs also vowed to work positively to reach an agreement regarding sharing of Teesta river water. The JRC meeting to expedite this and also on issues related to Feni, Muhuri, Khowai, Dharala and Dudkumar rivers will be held at a convenient time in the current quarter of 2010. Actions on Dredging of Ichamati river and protection of Mahananda, Karotoa, Nagar, Kulik, Atrai , Dharala and Feni rivers were also agreed to be worked out.
India appreciated the urgency of Bangladesh government to regenerate required water flow in all rivers and agreed to support Bangladesh initiatives to dredge rivers for flood control, navigation and access to ports. India agreed to provide dredgers on urgent basis.
PMs also agreed to resolve maritime boundary disputes through mutual discussions. They acknowledged the initiation of proceedings under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and in that context India welcomed a visit of a Bangladesh delegation.
Issues related to land boundary disputes were agreed to be resolved keeping in view the spirit of 1974 Land Boundary agreement. It was agreed to convene Joint Boundary Working Group to address this issue.
Bangladesh agreed to let India, Nepal and Bhutan use Mongla and Chittagong port by rail and road for trading.It was also agreed that RohanpurSingabad broad gauge railway link will be available for Bangladesh for transit to Nepal. Bangladesh informed India of its intention to convert Radhikapur Birol railway line into broad gauge and requested railway transit link to Bhutan as well. To facilitate smooth trading of goods , it was agreed that trucks from Bhutan and Nepal would be allowed to enter about 200 metres into the zero point at Banglabandha at Banglabandha-Phulbari land customs station. Necessary arrangements will be mutually agreed upon and put in place by both countries.
Countries agreed to jointly combat organized terrorism, insurgency and criminal activities. Countries earlier signed to exchange convicted criminals .PMs assured each other that the territory of either will not be allowed for activities inimical to the other, and resolved not to allow their respective territories to be used for training, sanctuary and other operations by domestic or foreign terrorist/militant and insurgent organisations and their operatives.
Both prime ministers agreed that the respective border guarding forces will exercise restraint, and underscored the importance of regular meetings between the two border security forces to curtail illegal cross border activities, and to prevent loss of lives.
Apart from above Bangladesh and India earlier signed three agreements and two MOUs. Bangladesh under power trading agreement will import about 250MW power from Indian eastern grid. The actions required for Grid connectivity will be completed soon.
Power trading agreement is the stepping stone to set up regional power grid and energy ring. The countries of this region have enormous untapped energy resources which if jointly explored and exploited can provide energy security of the entire region for several years. Bangladesh is in desperate situation now due to massive corruption and mismanagement of energy sector over the last 7 years.Bangladesh is suffering worst ever power and energy crisis now.
India also agreed to allow 42 additional Bangladeshi exportable commodities access into Indian market tariff free. This will act significantly to improve trade imbalance.
India also agreed to provide 1 Billion US dollar loan to Bangladesh. for a 20 year term at 1.9% interest whereas World Bank loan interest is 5%.
India will also provide 300 Scholarships to meritorious Bangladeshi students. Dohagram and Angorpota enclaves with get power supply and fly over will be built for Teen Bigha.
It was also agreed that Ashuganj of Bramanbaria and Sheelghat of Asam will be used as port of call. A joint team will work out the required infrastructure and the carrying costs of over dimensional cargo from Ashuganj.India will make required investment. Contractors of both countries will be eligible for works. The Agartala –Ashuganj Rail Link will be set up under Indian grant.
The issues between India and Bangladesh have been accumulated over the last 35 years since 1975. Unfortunately previous governments either for shallow vision or for inferiority complex did not really honestly and sincerely tried to resolve these issues. Communal feelings of some section of people in both countries also acted as barriers, bureaucrat in both countries also always tried to keep things hanging. It is a very encouraging sign that ice has melted.
If two governments remain honest and committed there is nothing which can barrier the building the bridges of good healthy neighbourly relation for the greater interest of the great people of the region. Days will come soon when barbed-wire fencing will be removed and people will move like free singing birds across.
Sushanta Das Gupta, the editor of E-Bangladesh and Kh. A. Saleque (Saleque Sufi) is the ex-Director (Operation) GTCL and writes from Australia.