Visit of Bangladesh PM – Ex­pec­ta­tions

SP's MAI - - MILITARY VIEWPOINT - The views ex­pressed herein are the per­sonal views of the au­thor.

Com­ing up next month in April is the all im­por­tant visit of Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh to In­dia. Not only is she a close friend of In­dia, the man­ner in which she has gone af­ter the Pak­istan spon­sored ter­ror­ists and ter­ror­ist in­fra­struc­ture in her coun­try, she por­trays to the world the true na­ture of Pak­istan. Last year when the South Asian As­so­ci­a­tion for Re­gional Co­op­er­a­tion (SAARC) meet in Is­lam­abad was called off and Pak­istan ac­cused In­dia of in­flu­enc­ing SAARC mem­bers, she went on record to say, “It is over the sit­u­a­tion in Pak­istan that we de­cided to pull out [from the SAARC sum­mit in Is­lam­abad]. Ter­ror from Pak­istan has gone ev­ery­where, which is why many of us felt frus­trated by Pak­istan. In­dia pulled be­cause of the Uri at­tack, but for Bangladesh the rea­son is to­tally dif­fer­ent.... One of the other main rea­sons of my gov­ern­ment for SAARC pull out was hurt felt over Pak­istan’s stri­dent crit­i­cism of the war crimes process in Bangladesh in which dozen Ja­maat-e-Is­lami lead­ers, ac­cused of bru­tal­i­ties dur­ing the lib­er­a­tion war in 1971, have been hanged or in­dicted.”

Her visit to In­dia is im­por­tant in the back­ground of ris­ing China’s ag­gres­sive pos­ture. There is no doubt that eco­nom­i­cally Bangladesh needs Chi­nese in­vest­ments and China needs Bangladesh mar­kets. How­ever, it is the Chi­nese in­tent of the de­fence re­la­tion­ship with In­dia’s neigh­bours and de­vel­op­ment of ports for use by the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Navy (PLAN) that is a mat­ter of con­cern con­sid­er­ing that China has in­di­cated be­yond 2025 she will act to claim her ter­ri­to­rial claims (how­ever il­le­gal) in her quest for ‘Great Power’ sta­tus. This in­cludes China’s mil­i­tari­sa­tion of the In­dian Ocean. Al­ready there are write-ups that China aims to cre­ate a South China Sea (SCS) like sit­u­a­tion in the Ara­bian Sea an­chored on Pak­istani ports of Gwadar, Omari, Karachi, and Ham­ban­tota in Sri Lanka. With the same aim, China is de­vel­op­ing deep-sea port of Kyaukpyu in Myanmar and had of­fered to fund 99 per cent of the Sona­dia Is­lands deep-wa­ter port projects but lat­ter was re­jected by the Sheikh Hasina Gov­ern­ment.

China’s plan for de­vel­op­ing the Chit­tagong port is part of the same strat­egy. In­dian se­cu­rity con­cerns also need to be viewed in con­text of any future change in Gov­ern­ment in Bangladesh con­sid­er­ing that dur­ing the Khaleda Zia regime four ma­jor anti-In­dia ter­ror­ist camps were op­er­a­tive in Bangladesh and the regime with rad­i­cal sup­port was pro-Pak­istan and China. China’s enor­mous in­vest­ments in Bangladesh should not con­cern In­dia as long as it does not im­pinge on In­dia’s se­cu­rity con­cerns. That Pak­istan, Bangladesh and Myanmar re­spec­tively oc­cupy the first, sec­ond and third po­si­tions in China’s de­fence ex­ports is well known. Year 2009 on­wards, Bei­jing has been Bangladesh’s big­gest arms sup­plier, ac­count­ing for over 80 per cent of the to­tal arms de­liv­ered to the coun­try in that pe­riod. In Oc­to­ber 2016, en route to Goa to at­tend the Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia, China and South Africa (BRICS) Sum­mit, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping made a stopover in Dhaka and signed off loans worth $24 bil­lion. In Novem- ber 2016, Bangladesh pur­chased two sub­marines from China for an es­ti­mated $203 mil­lion. Then there is also the ques­tion of the mul­timo­dal BCIM (Bangladesh, China, In­dia and Myanmar) Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor which will be the first ex­press­way be­tween In­dia and China also pass­ing through Bangladesh and Myanmar.

How this will progress is yet to be seen with the China-Pak­istan in­tent upon keep­ing In­dia con­strained within South Asia and al­ready desta­bil­is­ing In­dia, in­clud­ing the North East, at the sub­con­ven­tional level. In De­cem­ber 2016, De­fence Min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar vis­ited Bangladesh, fol­lowed by Bangladesh Navy Chief Ad­mi­ral Muham­mad Farid Habib vis­it­ing In­dia, and For­eign Sec­re­tary S. Jais­hankar vis­it­ing Dhaka in Fe­bru­ary this year. Bangladesh has tra­di­tion­ally been a friend of In­dia and Prime Min­is­ter Hasina has en­deared her­self to In­di­ans with her “zero tol­er­ance pol­icy” against ter­ror­ism, cat­e­gor­i­cally stat­ing, “We won’t tol­er­ate any sorts of ter­ror­ism and mil­i­tancy and won’t al­low our land to be used for car­ry­ing out ter­ror­ist acts against any coun­try.” And, it is not the state­ment alone but the ef­fec­tive ex­e­cu­tion that has mat­tered. Had it not been for Bangladesh, a preacher like Zakir Naik would have con­tin­ued to spew venom and rad­i­calise Mus­lims.

At New Delhi, Sheikh Hasina will be meet­ing Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and hold del­e­ga­tion level talks. Be­sides con­nec­tiv­ity and de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives, ter­ror­ism and co­op­er­a­tion in de­fence and se­cu­rity are also likely to be high on the agenda. Both coun­tries are likely to sign a de­fence pact. This should ad­dress se­cu­rity con­cerns of both na­tions. What should have hap­pened also is ink­ing of the Teesta Wa­ter Agree­ment to the mu­tual ben­e­fit of both na­tions. But this is un­likely be­cause of In­dia’s in­ter­nal pol­i­tics and the at­ti­tude of West Ben­gal Chief Min­is­ter Ma­mata Ban­er­jee. In In­dia, wa­ter is sup­posed to be a State sub­ject but then Teesta River also flows through Sikkim and when more than one state is in­volved, why should such river wa­ter not be­come a sub­ject for the Cen­tre? Given the pol­i­tics in In­dia, the Gov­ern­ment of West Ben­gal and that at the Cen­tre are un­likely to be of the same po­lit­i­cal party in the fore­see­able future. Does this mean we will let the is­sue of shar­ing Teesta River wa­ters with Bangladesh con­tinue to hang in­def­i­nitely?

Modi had promised Hasina dur­ing his 2015 Dhaka visit that he will get Ma­mata Ban­er­jee to agree to the Teesta deal af­ter Ben­gal’s con­cerns were ad­dressed. The time to de­liver has come. At a re­cent global wa­ter con­fer­ence in Bu­dapest, Hasina pitched strongly for lower ri­par­ian rights on trans-re­gional rivers. As sig­nif­i­cantly, Hasina wanted In­dian par­tic­i­pa­tion in the am­bi­tious $3 bil­lion Ganges wa­ter bar­rage project, but In­dia is yet to re­spond while Chi­nese com­pa­nies are pre­pared to fi­nance the com­plete project. Will we miss the bus?

LT GEN­ERAL

P.C. KA­TOCH (RETD)

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