New era in Indo-Bangla re­la­tions


The rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the In­dia-Bangladesh Land Bound­ary Agree­ment (LBA) dur­ing the re­cent visit of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi to Bangladesh is per­haps the top­most strate­gic achieve­ment with neigh­bour­ing coun­tries by the Modi Gov­ern­ment. Ob­vi­ously tremen­dous spade­work had been done for this land­mark agree­ment. Un­der the LBA, 111 In­dian vil­lages go to Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi vil­lages come to In­dia but this is hardly a game of num­bers as it sorts out the com­plex is­sue of con­claves award­ing na­tion­al­ity to some 50,000 state­less in­hab­i­tants.

This cruel joke on the pop­u­la­tion of these en­claves would not have hap­pened if the Bri­tish had not brought Cyril Rad­cliffe to In­dia first time in July 1947, giv­ing him five weeks to chair two bound­ary com­mis­sions (one for Punjab and one for Ben­gal) to par­ti­tion un­di­vided In­dia. Rad­cliffe had never han­dled a map and par­ti­tion along the Rad­cliffe Line ended in vi­o­lence that killed one mil­lion peo­ple and dis­placed 12 mil­lion. Iron­i­cally, the chance to stream­line the In­dia-Bangladesh bor­der was also lost when In­dia helped birth of Bangladesh de­spite hav­ing 93,000 Pak­istani pris­on­ers of war. But while Prime Min­is­ter Modi de­serves ac­co­lades for ad­dress­ing the neigh­bour­hood in fo­cused man­ner, Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina too de­serves ku­dos for fo­cus­ing to dis­man­tle the ter­ror­ist in­fra­struc­ture in Bangladesh, in­clud­ing go­ing af­ter the hide­outs and cozy com­mer­cial projects es­tab­lished by the United Lib­er­a­tion Front of As­sam (ULFA) in Bangladesh, plus check­mat­ing flow of weapons and am­mu­ni­tion across the bor­der.

In the past, ma­jor anti-In­dia ter­ror­ist camps used to run openly in Bangladesh, re­plete with the Spe­cial Ser­vices Group (SSG) and Al Qaeda in­struc­tors. In 1992-93, Stu­dents Is­lamic Move­ment of In­dia (SIMI) had es­tab­lished firm link­ages with Is­lamic Ch­ha­tra Shibir, Al Qaeda af­fil­i­ated HUJI, Al Badr, Al Ji­had and other or­gan­i­sa­tions in Bangladesh and their cadres were trained in fa­cil­i­ties lo­cated in­side Bangladesh un­der the very noses of DGFI and BDR. Presently, Pak­istan’s ISI con­tin­ues to main­tain links with HuJI-B, Ja­mat-e-Is­lami and Tal­ibanised Ja­maat-ul-Mu­jahideen Bangladesh. Some mil­i­tant groups have es­tab­lished links with Al Qaeda, LeT, HuM and ISIS. 22 agree­ments were inked be­tween In­dia and Bangladesh dur­ing Modi’s visit, among them al­low­ing In­dian cargo ves­sels use of Chit­tagong and Mongla ports of Bangladesh, cut­ting down time dis­tance and com­mer­cial ex­pen­di­ture against the present prac­tice of of­fload­ing goods for Bangladesh at far off Sin­ga­pore.

Prime Min­is­ter Modi ex­tended a $2-bil­lion credit line to Bangladesh and an­nounced that power sup­ply from In­dia to Bangladesh will grow from 500 MW to 1,100 MW within two years. Bangladesh is the first neigh­bour of In­dia which is es­tab­lish­ing a spe­cial eco­nomic zone (SEZ) ex­clu­sive to In­dia com­pa­nies. In­dian FDI to Bangladesh in 2014 was $68 mil­lion, up from $45 mil­lion in 2013 but re­mained lower than FDI from UK, Ja­pan and even Pak­istan. De­vel­op­ment for SEZ for In­dian in­vest­ment would sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove bi­lat­eral in­vest­ment and rec­tify trade im­bal­ance which presently favours In­dia. The two Prime Mi­nis- ters flagged off two bus ser­vices that would con­nect our North-eastern states with Dhaka. For In­dia, this con­sid­er­ably im­proves ac­cess to the north­east. For ex­am­ple, the cur­rent route dis­tance be­tween Agar­tala and Kolkata is 1,650 km. How­ever, via Bangladesh it’s only 350 km. Such transit fa­cil­ity will pro­vide fil­lip to the North­east econ­omy as goods from the re­gion are trans­ported to Bangladeshi ports for on­ward ship­ment to other parts of In­dia or South East Asia. The joint agree­ments be­sides sign­ing the LBA deal with: bi­lat­eral trade; coastal ship­ping be­tween the two coun­tries; in­land wa­ter transit and trade; co­op­er­a­tion in the field of stan­dard­i­s­a­tion; Dhaka-Shil­long-Guwahati and Kolkata-Dhaka-Agar­tala bus ser­vices and their pro­to­cols; co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Coast Guards; preven­tion of hu­man traf­fick­ing; preven­tion of smug­gling and cir­cu­la­tion of fake cur­rency; new line of credit from In­dia to Bangladesh; Blue Econ­omy and Mar­itime Co­op­er­a­tion in Bay of Ben­gal and In­dian Ocean; use of Chit­tagong and Mongla ports; pro­ject un­der IECC (In­dia En­dow­ment for Cli­mate Change) of SAARC; In­dia eco­nomic zone; cul­tural ex­change pro­gramme (2015-17); ed­u­ca­tion co­op­er­a­tion; leas­ing of In­ter­net at Akhaura; joint re­search for oceanog­ra­phy in Bay of Ben­gal; MoU be­tween Univer­sity of Ra­jshahi, Bangladesh and Univer­sity Jamia Milia Is­lamia, In­dia, and; com­mence­ment of LIC of In­dia in Bangladesh.

River wa­ter shar­ing was men­tioned only briefly when Prime Min­is­ter Modi said that the res­o­lu­tion is achiev­able on lines of the LBA, adding, “I am con­fi­dent that with the sup­port of state gov­ern­ments in in­dia we can reach a fair so­lu­tion on Teesta and Feni Rivers”. It may be re­called that ear­lier West Ben­gal Chief Min­is­ter Ma­mata Ban­er­jee had scut­tled such dis­cus­sions but since she ac­com­pa­nied Prime Min­is­ter Modi on this visit to Bangladesh, it is ob­vi­ous that she is amenable to the idea. If no agree­ment has been now is per­haps be­cause of the elec­tions slated in West Ben­gal next year. So it is per­haps a mat­ter of time. Since the next elec­tions in Bangladesh are due only in 2018, this gives ad­e­quate op­por­tu­nity to build upon the rap­port be­tween Prime Min­is­ters Modi and Hasina.

In his speech to Dhaka Univer­sity stu­dents and cross sec­tion of Bangladeshi so­ci­ety at the Bangla­bandhu Con­fer­ence Cen­tre, Prime Min­is­ter Modi re­ferred to ter­ror­ism as the ‘en­emy of hu­man­ity”, while also en­dors­ing Prime Min­is­ter Hasina’s ‘zero tol­er­ance’ against terror. From the de­fence and se­cu­rity point of view, the fall­outs of Modi’s re­cent visit to Bangladesh have been tremen­dous. The bor­der has been straight­ened be­tween the two coun­tries. This would en­able bet­ter con­trol, co­or­di­na­tion and sur­veil­lance, es­pe­cially with the agree­ments for co­op­er­a­tion against hu­man traf­fick­ing and cir­cu­la­tion of fake cur­rency. Co­op­er­a­tion in the Bay of Ben­gal too is good from the se­cu­rity view­point. If Bangladesh con­tin­ues its drive against ter­ror­ism and has full co­op­er­a­tion from In­dian states, par­tic­u­larly West Ben­gal on this, In­dia-Bangladesh re­la­tions can grow rapidly, to the bet­ter­ment of econ­omy and peo­ple of both coun­tries.


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