Bangladesh: A key neighbour of ours

It is the only country besides Bhutan in the Saarc region, which had addressed India’s security concerns.

The focus that had come on India’s neighbourhood foreign policy with the formation of a new government at the centre continues with the visit of foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to Bangladesh. Earlier this neighbourhood policy had received a thrust when Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invited all Saarc leaders to his swearing in ceremony and subsequently chose to visit Bhutan as the first foreign country. .

Along with Bhutan another country with which India enjoys a very good relationship is Bangladesh. In recent times, the improved relationship with Bangladesh has been a success story of India’s foreign policy. But even the glitter of this success was considerably diminished when the last government failed to deliver on its promise on Land Boundary Accord or Teesta Water sharing agreement. These two have been seen as the touchstone of improved bilateral relationship from Bangladeshi side.Lots of misgivings were generated in Bangladesh in the run-up to the Indian general elections, when the prime ministerial candidate of NDA Narendra Modi talked about the issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh and eviction of Muslim Bangladeshis.

 The people of Bangladesh who were already debating the future of India-Bangladesh relations under the Modi government got concerned with this emphasis on the illegal migration. No doubt, illegal migration is an important issue for India, but this is also a very tricky issue which is not amenable to any easy solutions. Hence it is advisable that India at this point in time deals with the issue carefully and does not show any undue hurry. A mishandling of the problem may not lead to its solution, but will definitely damage the bilateral relationship.

Nurturing further

Bangladesh is one of the few countries in the neighbourhood with which India enjoys very good relationship. This relationship if nurtured properly can become even better. But this relationship is also very delicately poised and any wrong move either on the side of India or Bangladesh can hurt it unnecessarily. Bangladesh is the only country besides Bhutan in the Saarc region which had thoroughly addressed India’s security concerns. It handed over almost all top leaders of ULFA and took action against the training camps of all northeast insurgent groups. Though BSF says that 45 such training camps still exist in Bangladesh, they are probably not being under the observation of the government as was the case in the past. What is equally important is that Sheikh Hasina’s commitment against terror has not reduced even now. The High court in Bangladesh has given death sentence to eight HUJI terrorists. It is well known that HUJI has been a threat to India’s internal security.

Bangladesh is also the largest trading partner of India in south Asia. The bilateral trade is about $6.5 billion dollars. Despite India’s grant of economic concession to Bangladesh, the exports from that country is just about $500 billion. Indian FDI has also reached $2.5 billion last year. A CII report has suggested that if India and Bangladesh remove non-tariff barrier then the bilateral trade relationship could reach up to $10 billion.

No major progress however is expected during the present visit of Sushma Swaraj on two issues Bangladesh considers crucial. The easier of the two is Land Boundary Agreement. But even here the resolution has not been passed in the Indian parliament, so its implementation remains pending. On another issue of Teesta Water sharing again  a progress will take time, as this issue will be difficult to resolve in an amicable way unless West Bengal Chief minister Mamata Banerjee comes on board. There is no indication that any detailed discussion has taken place with her.

However, this does not mean that not much is happening in the bilateral relationship of the two countries. India is constructing a power plant for Bangladesh at Rampal. India is also supplying 500 MW of power to Bangladesh and plans to add another few hundred Megawatts to it. It is also willing to share power from the Paltana power project in Tripura for which Bangladesh allowed to transport heavy equipments through Ashuganj port. Bangladesh is also contemplating allowing India to lay power transmission lines through its northern part. It has also agreed to let grain consignments from Andhra Pradesh go to Tripura through Ashuganj port. India has also inaugurated a number of border Haats for the convenience of Bangladeshi population. 

Clearly, India Bangladesh relationship is already on track. There is need only to maintain the momentum. So even if the present visit of India’s foreign minister turns out to be a goodwill visit as it has been described in the official circles and both sides manage to understand the nature of problems well and agree to work on them in near future in right earnest it would be considered a success.

(The writer is an associate fellow at Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses) 

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