Of Bangladesh-India relations

Posted: ফেব্রুয়ারি 7, 2009 in Uncategorized

BANGLADESH is surrounded by India on three sides, with a small border with Myanmar in the south-east and the Bay of Bengal on the south. Among the SAARC countries India’s GDP is more than twelve times and population eight times of Bangladesh. With India Bangladesh has more than 4000 miles of border and shares 54 common rivers. Geographical compulsion, however, dictates that laying the foundation of friendly relations with neighbouring countries should be the cornerstone of foreign policy of Bangladesh.

Demarcation of land and maritime boundaries remain unsettled between the two countries. Exchange of enclaves, adversely possessed territories, construction of permanent boundary pillars, implementation of 1974 land boundary agreement, water sharing with common rivers and trade imbalance are the outstanding issues that should have been addressed and settled long time back in the interest of the peoples of the two countries. Many undemarcated and disputed enclaves remain on this side or the other side of the border which may cause conflict between the two neighbouring countries. The serious border incident of 2000 is a glaring example. The territorial disputes are the most fundamental of all conflicts.

According to pres report, India’s foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee is visiting Bangladesh on 9th instant. There may be trade and investment and protection agreement between the two countries, but real purpose of the visit many think may be to convince the new government in Bangladesh to allow India transit facilities. Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty is of the opinion that both countries should consider the issue of transit facilities for the development of the overall economy and trade. India has been clamouring for a long time for transit in view of her 7 sister states in North-East which are to an extent freeing unrest. Therefore, India is in disadvantage so far these sister states are concerned. The transit may ease it to an extent.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh cabinet has decided to renew the existing trade agreement with India. The agreement was first signed in 1980 and last renewed for three years in 2006. However, Bangladesh Foreign Secretary sees no prospect of signing any transit deal at the moment. But if and whenever it occurs the proposal should be contingent upon two areas. First, India should resolve amicably land, maritime and enclave’s boundary which also includes South Talpathy/New Moore Island and allow Bangladesh land transit to Nepal. This transit facility will exclusively be confined to trade.

Maritime boundary needs to be resolved on priority because both India and Myanmar are processing claims in the Bay of Bengal for exploration of natural resources. According to UN convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982, Bangladesh has the right to claim up to 350 nautical miles of the Bay of Bengal from the continental shelf. Myanmar has already filed its claims to the UN while India is processing the issue, according to National Committee to Protect Maritime Area and Resources. Last date for filing claim with UN is 2011. Bangladesh should not sleep, but must rise to survey the Bay of Bengal for which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has prepared map which perhaps is now lying with the naval headquarters.

Trade between Bangladesh and India is in favour of India. There is a huge deficit which could be rectified by India. India, on the other hand, may consider investing in relevant sectors which could benefit both the countries. A negotiation on trade and investment should start with seriousness that it deserves.

The psyche of mistrust, and suspicion should be replaced by trust and sincerity in improving bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India. Country’s interest and security should receive priority in making foreign policy. As of now foreign relations planning to some extent lacks professionalism and appears to be perfunctory. Dynamism, which is an essential pre-requisite in the conduct of foreign relations, should not be lacking as such.

Mohammad Amjad Hossain, a former Bangladesh diplomat, writes from Virginia, USA

The daily star 07.02.2009



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