On the backdrop of global recession triggered by US Credit crisis, prolonged uncertainties in the Arab World- Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is to going to make a couple of days state visit to Bangladesh from 6th September 2011. Indian Government has just placed a strong anti corruption bill in Indian Parliament from insistence of one Mr. Anna Hazare. Senior Bangladeshi Ruling Alliance Members of the Parliament demanded actions against failed cabinet members in better management of some pressing issues strongly related to citizens’ welfare. So the time of Indian PM’s visit to Bangladesh is extremely critical to the interests of these two countries as well as to regional peace and prosperity. Entire SAARC region and the rest of the world are looking forward to the visit and possible positive outcomes.
India is the lone emerging world power in the SAARC region. Good friendly neighborly relation based mutual trust and respect of sovereign equality is extremely essential for peaceful coexistence for all nations of South Asian countries. Bangladesh and India have some irritants, some issues which soured their relation since the 15th August 1975 – the black day in the life of Bangladeshi nation and history. Misguided military rulers seizing power through backdoor and polluting politics with money and muscle; and thriving on cheap anti Indian sentiment back pedaled the Bangladeshi nation. Anti Liberation forces were rehabilitated, religion was used as way to exploit people and unnecessary issues were harbored causing extreme miseries for the people of Bangladesh. On the other hand imprudent Indian beauracrats and some communal Indian politicians also misguided Indian policy makers in depriving Bangladesh from some legitimate rights. Consequently several issues like water sharing, boundary disputes [Land and Maritime] and trade imbalances caused profuse bleeding of bilateral relations. It is really unfortunate that majority of Bangladeshis possess genuine apprehension about Indian attitude towards Bangladesh while Indians in 1971 made such massive contribution for the liberation of Bangladesh. We hope Indian policy makers could realize what Bangladesh wants and what is the way forward to normalize the relations.
Water Sharing: Bangladesh economy is agro based and our agriculture is largely dependent on supply of water throughout the year in major rivers and tributaries. Almost all of our rivers either originate from India or flows through India before entering Bangladesh and flows across Bangladesh before flowing into the Bay of Bengal. Due to unilateral Indian actions depriving Bangladesh of its lower riparian right many such rivers have almost died and rest are in the process of extinction. There is Joint River Commission (JRC) and the commission sits in regular meetings. But in the last 40 years since independence other than Ganges water sharing agreement signed during last term of Awami League led government sharing of other river waters could not be agreed. We hope that India and Bangladesh could realize the issues and challenges. In the recent past meetings between Bangladesh and India focused on Dam and barrages at Tipaimukh. Bangladeshi parliamentary delegation headed by veteran politician Abdur Razzak visited Tipaimukh and met responsible Indian ministers and policy makers. None other than Indian PM assured that anything- harms Bangladesh will not be done by India at Tipaimukh. Bangladeshis now want clear commitment about the assurance of Indian Prime Minister. We do not want our Surma, Kushiara; Manu Rivers die from Indian one-sided action at Tipaimukh. The equitable sharing of Teesta River water is another major irritant. We hope that a water sharing agreement of Teesta River based on equality will be settled during the ensuing visit of Indian PM. We have heard that sharing of Feni River water is also included as a part of the package. We hope Bangladesh will not be asked to sacrifice its legitimate right in any such agreement.
Boundary Disputes: Ever since the partition of India in 1947, some disputes in marking of borders between India and Pakistan in eastern region, existed. Mujib–Indira agreement vowed to resolve these after emergence of Bangladesh in 1971. Unfortunately no government of India and Bangladesh made sincere efforts to resolve these disputes. Bangladesh and India must exchange the enclaves on the basis of Mujib–Indira agreement. Both India and Bangladesh possess some lands belong to other. We hope on the basis of credible survey such lands will be exchanged. It is also expected that a meaningful agreement to this effect with specific timeline and action plan will be included in the agreement.
Bangladesh and India have entered into arbitration on maritime boundary disputes in the Bay of Bengal. India is exploring for Petroleum resources in the Bay of Bengal for several years but as soon as Bangladesh planned to explore in its own deep water Indians vehemently objected. Bangladesh had to enter into arbitration due to stubborn attitudes of India in resolving this issue through bilateral discussions while the matter may be resolved through arbitration. But it may take several years. If both party respect international norms there are still opportunity to resolve it through bilateral discussion or this will remain an apple of discord for several years. We hope summit meeting will reach some positive decisions on this matter.
Exchanging Criminals and Combating Crimes:
For several years now criminals and terrorists of one country are finding safe haven in other country and are carrying out their crimes through their planted agents. Two countries’ must make a fresh vow of not sheltering any such criminals and let any place of their land to be used for carrying out subversive activities against others. In the recent past Bangladesh government made crack down on Indian insurgents inside Bangladesh and pushed back several such separatists. Bangladesh government is working on a trial of suspects involved in a massive arms haul through Bangladesh for Indian separatists. But India has so far failed to reciprocate the gesture. Many noted Bangladeshi terrorists including the killers of Bangabandhu, the father of nation, are reportedly hiding in India. One hopes that India will guarantee that it will make everything possible in not letting anyone do any subversive activities sheltering in India.
Despite serious reservations of Bangladeshi Indian Border security force continues to kill and torture innocent Bangladeshis at the border. Senior Indian policy makers made repeated assurances. But that has not worked so far. Indian economy is in no way doing better than Bangladesh that people will move to India for job seeking. Only smugglers may try to go across. But why BSF should resort to killings? Setting up of barbed wire fencing along the border is disgrace for a might neighbor. Bangladesh can never dream of an armed confrontation with India. India started the process of mistrust and disbelief the day it started setting up barbed wire fencing. We hope India will realize these mistakes. Barbed wire fences will remain an irritant in India Bangladesh relation especially when it is seeking transit across Bangladesh to link its eastern and western region.
Transit and Regional Connectivity:
Bangladesh has genuine concern here
a) Many Bangladeshis believe that India may try to transport military hard ware’s using this transit routes to combat insurgencies which may make Bangladesh exposed to Indian separatists groups active in Tripura, Nagaland, Mizoram.
b) Bangladeshi roads and highways, railways and waterways, ports are far from ready to absorb massive flow of transit traffic. It will take several years and huge investment to handle transit traffic. There must be credible feasibility study with transparent benefit cost ratio before bringing in transit into play. Present Bangladesh road infrastructure is even not suitable enough for our own needs. Situation of railway is even worse. Bangladeshi rivers lack navigability in all season primarily due to Indian unilateral actions of withdrawing and diverting water on the upstream.
c) Transit tariff has not yet been decided. Let Bangladesh create infrastructure to handle additional traffic load emanating from regional connectivity. Let all these costs get included in the feasibility study. If our earnings through job creation and tariff make the proposition profitable we believe no one will object to Bangladesh being part of regional connectivity.
d) Bangladesh is supposed to have unhindered connectivity with Nepal and Bhutan through Indian Territory. Are we getting it? Can Nepalese and Bhutanese trucks carrying commodities enter Bangladesh without hustles through Indian Territory?
All the above issues must be positively resolved before entering into or renewing any transit treaty with India.
Bangladesh suffers from huge trade imbalance with India. Indian goods of any quality, good or bad- enter Bangladesh legally or illegally, almost uninterrupted. There are no questions of quality control. But Bangladeshi trade commodities have to undergo various tariff and non tariff barriers. Examples are dirty polluting Indian coal which even India does not use is pushed into Bangladesh and Bangladesh unfortunately accepts the high sulfur and high ash coal. Pro Indian Environmentalists and agitators find dirty Indian Coal more acceptable than allowing economic mining of own superior quality coal. Government of Bangladesh also remains silent. On the other hand our cement, our pharmaceuticals, Rahimafrooz batteries have to face various barriers in entering Indian market. We hope summit meeting will address all these matters.
It is very encouraging that present government of Bangladesh has taken historic initiative to resolve all outstanding issues with India. It is for the mutual interests of both the countries that all issues are resolved without further delay for peaceful coexistence. But all mistrusts and confusions must be done away with through mutual respect of sovereign equality. Bangladesh must come out of its inferiority complex and Indians must abandon its ‘take all and share nothing’ attitude. Let the visit of PM Dr. Manmohan usher a new era in Indo-Bangla relations. Let it set the trend of greater integration of SAARC region. A peaceful SAARC region is so essential for the continued economic development and poverty alleviation of billions of helpless people of the region. All professionals have meeting of minds. It only needs political will and strong fellow feeling at the summit level to make things happen. We welcome Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh with lots of hope and ambitions.