Forging links

The laying of a highway that connects Kolkata to India’s north-eastern states through Bangladesh, which both countries have agreed to, will be beneficial to both. The project is part of a recent agreement by which India has pledged credit worth $1 billion to that country, which is highest single credit India has offered to any country. It is to be utilised for development of infrastructure facilities like ports, roads and railway in that country and the highway project will now be a major part of it. It will not only connect many towns in Bangladesh with one another but also benefit India by shortening the distance between Kolkata and the North-East. This has been a longstanding demand of India as it will give a major boost to the economy of the North-East and give India better access to the countries of South-East Asia which are economic powerhouses. A major overland connection to these countries has long been discussed but little progress was made because of the reluctance of Bangladesh to be a part of it.

With the improvement of the political environment in Bangladesh after the coming to power of the Awami League which is a strong votary of better India-Bangladesh relations, proposals for improving economic co-operation are being revived. There are many outstanding issues of dispute between the two countries, and moves for economic integration can help to resolve them.  Bangladesh is important for India because of the opportunities for utilisation of resources, including natural gas, on a mutual basis. Trade between the two countries has improved but it is tilted in favour of India. Bangladesh’s apprehensions on such issues should be removed and it should gain from co-operation. The Awami League government’s friendly attitude to India will receive wider popular support only if the results of such co-operation are visible in that country.

China is also actively promoting its relations with Bangladesh. Its proposals to establish a rail link between Chittagong and the Yunan province through Myanmar and to set up a deep port  facility in Cox’s Bazaar are being seriously pursued. While Bangladesh will be free to pursue its best economic interests, India should not be found wanting in ensuring its own. Good ties with Bangladesh are politically, economically and strategically important for India. Geography and cultural relations give India an advantage and it should make the best of them.

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