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.
LT GENERAL P.C. KATOCH (RETD)