Encouraging signs

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s visit to India seeks to strengthen New Delhi-Dhaka relations which have earlier experienced their share of ups and downs. This prime ministerial visit takes place in the backdrop of Dhaka’s security cooperation with New Delhi over the arrest of key LeT and ULFA operatives. India has reciprocated Dhaka’s gesture with enormous economic aid to the tune of $1 billion credit which is the largest ever one time assistance by New Delhi to any country till now.

The year-old Awami League government with Sheikh Hasina at the helm is expected to make progress on bilateral relations with India. In her earlier tenure as prime minister, the two neighbours resolved the contentious dispute over sharing the Ganga River waters. Unlike the Bangladesh National Party which pursues religious nationalism, the Awami League practices a liberal and secular agenda similar to the Congress-led UPA government which facilitates security and economic cooperation between the sides. While India has always sought cordial relations with Bangladesh over the years, the domestic dynamics of Dhaka has not permitted close ties with New Delhi. This is because Dhaka has been ruled by a group of military generals and pseudo-democratic rulers for 30 out of 39 years of its nationhood. These rulers who are tilted towards Pakistan and allowed Bangladeshi soil to be used for anti-Indian activities. As a result, India-Bangladesh relations never realised their true potential.

Prime Minister Hasina has now proclaimed that Bangladesh’s territory would no longer be allowed to be used against India. This has tremendous significance from India’a security viewpoint. At the foreign ministers’ meeting held last September in Dhaka the two countries informally agreed to combat terrorism together. Apart from the bonhomie that lately characterises bilateral relations, the irritants are many that need to tackled with a sense of urgency. Two major issues are movement of people and the territorial disputes. To cope with human traffic, India has erected a fence along a part of the the border to regulate the illegal movement of economic migrants and border trade, besides the infiltration of jihadis from Pakistan. New Delhi also needs to resolve the other outstanding issue of 225 enclaves in each others’ adverse possession as early as possible. With the Awami League government firmly ensconced in power, there is need to make up quickly for the lost decades between the two sides.

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