In­dia, Bangladesh seal ‘his­toric’ bor­der pact as Modi vis­its

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY SHAFIQUL ALAM

Bangladesh and In­dia on Satur­day sealed a his­toric land pact to swap ter­ri­to­ries, which will fi­nally al­low tens of thou­sands of peo­ple living in bor­der en­claves to choose their na­tion­al­ity af­ter decades of state­less limbo.

For­eign sec­re­taries of the two na­tions signed a pro­to­col and ex­changed in­stru­ments of rat­i­fi­ca­tion to make op­er­a­tional the Land Bound­ary Agree­ment (LBA) in the pres­ence of vis­it­ing In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and Bangladeshi Pre­mier Sheikh Hasina.

The two lead­ers watched as of­fi­cials of the two na­tions signed a raft of agree­ments and In­dia an­nounced a “US$2 bil­lion line of credit” to Bangladesh in an ef­fort to deepen bi­lat­eral ties.

Modi’s first trip to Dhaka since his elec­tion win last May has been dom­i­nated by the deal to fix per­ma­nently the con­tours of a bor­der which stretches some 4,000 kilo- me­ters (2,500 miles) along In­dia’s eastern flank.

While Delhi’s re­la­tions with China and Pak­istan con­tinue to be dogged by bor­der dis­putes, the LBA’s rat­i­fi­ca­tion re­moves a thorn that has trou­bled re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries since Bangladesh’s 1971 war of se­ces­sion from Pak­istan.

In­dia’s in­ter­ven­tion on be­half of the in­de­pen­dence fighters proved de­ci­sive in that con­flict and suc­ces­sive Bangladeshi gov­ern­ments have en­joyed close ties with their gi­ant neigh­bor.

But an agree­ment on the own­er­ship of 162 en­claves — es­sen­tially is­lands of land re­sult­ing from own­er­ship ar­range­ments made cen­turies ago by lo­cal princes — had proved elu­sive in the decades since.

Bangladesh ac­tu­ally en­dorsed the deal in 1974 but it was only last month that In­dia’s par­lia­ment gave its ap­proval, tee­ing up Satur­day’s joint rat­i­fi­ca­tion cer­e­mony be­tween Modi and his coun­ter­part Sheikh Hasina.

Un­der the agree­ment, the coun­tries will ex­change ter­ri­to­ries, with 111 en­claves be­ing trans­ferred to Bangladesh and 51 to In­dia.

Peo­ple living in the en­claves will be al­lowed to choose to live in In­dia or Bangladesh, with the op­tion of be­ing granted cit­i­zen­ship in the newly des­ig­nated ter­ri­to­ries, and the en­claves would ef­fec­tively cease to ex­ist.

Around 50,000 peo­ple who are thought to live in the land­locked is­lands lack many ba­sic ser­vices such as schools, clin­ics or util­ity ser­vices be­cause they are cut off from their na­tional gov­ern­ments.

Im­prove­ment in Liveli­hood

Modi, who was re­ceived by Hasina at the air­port, has com­pared the agree­ment to the dis­man­tling of the Ber­lin Wall.

“We’ve re­solved a ques­tion that has lin­gered since in­de­pen­dence. Our two na­tions have a set­tled bound­ary. It will make our bor­ders more se­cure and peo­ple’s lives more sta­ble,” Modi said af­ter the sign­ing of the deals.

Bangladesh Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina has been sim­i­larly ef­fu­sive, terming Modi’s visit a “his­toric mo­ment.”

She said she was “ex­tremely happy that with this land pact,” adding “a 68-year old hu­man­i­tar­ian is­sue comes to a peace­ful end.”

The two lead­ers also in­au­gu­rated bus ser­vices con­nect­ing the Bangladeshi cap­i­tal with four eastern In­dia cities, and Dhaka de­clared a spe­cial eco­nomic zone near a south­ern port ex­clu­sively for In­dian in­vestors.

Wary of China’s grow­ing in­ter­est in In­dia’s backyard, Modi has been keen to play a greater lead­er­ship role in South Asia since com­ing to power.

Just an hour af­ter Modi’s ar­rival, top In­dian con­glom­er­ates Re­liance Power and Adani signed out­line agree­ments with Bangla- desh’s state-run elec­tric­ity agency to in­vest some US$5 bil­lion in the coun­try’s rick­ety power sec­tor.

“Top of­fi­cials of Bangladesh’s Power Devel­op­ment Board (PDB) and those from Re­liance Power and Adani signed the deals in Dhaka to gen­er­ate 4,600 megawatts of elec­tric­ity,” PDB spokesman Sai­ful Hasan told AFP.

But a break­through in a dis­pute about the shar­ing of wa­ter from the Teesta River which flows through both na­tions is not ex­pected.

Modi’s talks with Bangladesh op­po­si­tion leader Khaleda Zia on Sun­day will also be closely watched by ob­servers, with her long-run­ning calls for fresh elec­tions hav­ing gained lit­tle trac­tion.

In­dian of­fi­cials have played down the idea of Modi play­ing a me­di­a­tion role in the dis­pute be­tween Hasina and Zia, although he might press on Zia to en­sure an end to anti-gov­ern­ment at­tacks.

Scores of peo­ple have been killed in fire­bomb at­tacks on ve­hi­cles since Zia called a trans­port block­ade at the start of the year in a bid to top­ple Hasina.

In­dia held off from

crit­i­ciz­ing Hasina’s re-elec­tion in Jan­uary 2014 in a con­test that was boy­cotted by the op­po­si­tion and dis­missed as “not cred­i­ble” by West­ern na­tions.

AFP

In this pho­to­graph re­leased by the Press In­for­ma­tion Bureau (PIB) on Satur­day, June 6, In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, left, Bangladeshi Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina, cen­ter, and West Ben­gal Chief Min­is­ter Ku­mari Ma­mata Ban­er­jee wit­ness the ex­change of agree­ments be­tween In­dia and Bangladesh in Dhaka on Satur­day.

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