In­stead of ter­ri­tory, the moral high ground is the best path

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

What’s re­mark­able about the his­toric land swap deal be­tween In­dia and Bangladesh is the sen­si­ble, civ­i­lized way in which the whole mat­ter pro­gressed and ended.

This took place against the back­drop of a long-run­ning com­pli­ca­tion in­volv­ing parcels of land owned in­side each other’s ter­ri­tory.

With the Land Bound­ary Agree­ment com­ing into force on Aug. 1, a seven-decade-long is­sue in­volv­ing 50,000 peo­ple has been laid to rest — with the switch­ing of sovereignty over 111 en­claves in Bangladesh and 51 in In­dia.

Ter­ri­to­rial dis­putants gen­er­ally tend to cite history to sup­port claims. In this case, the ori­gins of the tan­gle aren’t too clear.

Capri­cious lo­cal rulers in the 18th cen­tury could have traded the lands while gam­bling, while some blame the de­part­ing Bri­tish colo­nial­ists — Bangladesh was carved out of the for­mer eastern half of Pak­istan, which it­self was cleaved from the sub-con­ti­nent in the Par­ti­tion of In­dia.

With the agree­ment tak­ing ef­fect, the world’s only third-or­der en­clave — the In­dian land par­cel called Da­hala Kha­grabari was sur­rounded by a Bangladeshi en­clave en­cased in an In­dian one — has ceased to ex­ist.

Res­i­dents get to choose whether to stay and get new na­tion­al­i­ties or up­root and set­tle else­where.

For In­di­ans, the set­tle­ment marks a pol­icy mile­stone as its re­la­tions with neigh­bors have fre­quently been hostage to nar­row po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests and one-up­man­ship in do­mes­tic pol­i­tics.

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and its se­nior lead­ers had been tren­chant crit­ics of the land deal when it was agreed in 2011 by for­mer PM Man­mo­han Singh.

In of­fice, Modi wisely re­versed that stand and de­clared the deal to be in In­dia’s in­ter­est.

Aside from the ben­e­fits of re­mov­ing an en­dur­ing ir­ri­tant, New Delhi owes much to Dhaka for curb­ing anti-In­dia in­sur­gent groups in­side Bangladesh.

Also note­wor­thy is Modi’s swift ac­cep­tance of a Per­ma­nent Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion rul­ing on a mar­itime dis­pute with Bangladesh, even though the award was gen­er­ally deemed more fa­vor­able to Dhaka. The pre­vi­ous year, it had sim­i­larly ac­cepted another ar­bi­tra­tion rul­ing from The Hague, this time on river wa­ters shared with Pak­istan. Re­cently, there are also signs that the Modi hard line on Pak­istan, al­ways a thorny neigh­bor, is un­der­go­ing a welcome mod­i­fi­ca­tion.

All these send pos­i­tive sig­nals across the world. South­east Asian na­tions, sev­eral of whom are vexed by mar­itime dis­putes with China and the main­land’s hard- line be­hav­ior, would hold up Modi’s ap­proach as a bea­con of how big pow­ers ought to be­have — es­pe­cially with re­gard to the rule of law.

As In­dia builds up its mil­i­tary mus­cle, such states­man­ship will help to tamp down ex­pected inse­cu­ri­ties about its rise.

Hard power can in­still fear, but re­spect comes when you seize not ter­ri­tory but the moral high ground. This is an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished by The Straits Times on Aug. 11.

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