Fresh winds: India-Bangladesh relations and cooperative approach

With most of the India’s immediate neighborhood gradually getting engulfed in internal strife and political instability, Bangladesh offers hope and opportunity for India to expand its policy of cooperative partnership without seeking any reciprocal rewards and thus create for itself a congenial atmosphere for its national development and increase its regional and international clout.

The first ever visit of Indian President Pranab Mukherjee to Dhaka in the first week of March, 2013 would  help promote India among the Bangladeshis and has managed to erode some of the anti India feelings among the Bangladeshis. Though Pranab’s visit has not been able to deliver the Teesta water to Bangladesh, the two neighbors have been able to embark on a new era of relationships, for which ground work was done by two very important visits of Indian home minister in late January and External Affairs Minister in mid February.

Mr Salman Khurshid’s visit carried forward the good work done by Mr Sushil Kumar Shinde, during which the landmark land boundary agreement was given final shape and will be offered for final resolution after the Indian Parliament gives its approval.

During the visit of the Prime Minister of India to Bangladesh in September 2011, a Protocol to the Land Boundary Agreement of 1974 was signed to pave the way for the settlement of the three outstanding issues pertaining to un-demarcated land boundary of approximately 6.1 km, exchange of enclaves and adverse possessions.

With another landmark agreement on extradition, unimaginable till a few years ago from a country which was alleged to harbor all anti India rebels groups, criminal and terrorist elements, India and Bangladesh now seem to be moving on the road to cooperation, overcoming the decade old friction over issues relating to internal security, illegal migration, cross border river water sharing, imbalance of trade etc.

Improved relations

This marks a major shift in bilateral relations. India was pressing for such treaty with Bangladesh since long but the previous regimes were not forthcoming on this issue because of adversarial mindset. This treaty will help tackle the insurgency problem in North Eastern states of the country. It is expected that the treaty will help in the deportation of the ULFA militants of Assam. Similarly Bangladesh also hopes to apprehend the killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, believed to be hiding in India, with the assistance of Indian law authorities. The India-Bangladesh relations have seen a marked improvement ever since Sheikh Hasina Wajed assumed power in 2009.

Though India was instrumental in the birth of Bangladesh but Pakistan inspired communal and hate India politics created artificial barrier between the people of two nations, though the two countries share common cultural heritage, history and language.
With the return of democratic government, independent of military influence, the Bangladesh Awami Party government led by Sheikh Hasina Wajed, over the years, has created a positive ambience for promoting bilateral relations, which has resulted in many solid gestures from India, with the purpose of creating an atmosphere of trust and mutual cooperation for the betterment of lives of millions of peoples on both the sides.

Bangladesh, which borders many turbulent North Eastern Indian States along with West Bengal, has till recent years maintained a strained relations with India as Indian complaints of shelters being given to Indian insurgents and ISI backed anti India elements by Bangladesh were ignored. But the return of Sheikh Hasina as Prime Minister to power three years ago, has led to a new confidence in Indian leadership on the need to fast track the bilateral cooperative relations, before it is too late as new national elections are approaching fast in Bangladesh, which has witnessed relative political stability.

A peaceful and politically stable neighborhood is vital for India and since the country has enjoyed relative calm and stability over last few years , India felt encouraged to avail the opportunity of bringing the eastern neighbor more closer.

Important agreements

With this view India offered the Teesta water sharing agreement with Bangladesh last year but the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Bannerjee threw a spanner and caused a setback in relations when she at the very last moment decided to oppose the agreement to share the Teesta river water with Bangladesh and the extradition treaty was dropped from the table by the Bangladesh government.

Now, the Bangladesh government has realized the significance of such an agreement with India as it also wants to apprehend the 1971 war criminals, who are supposed to be hiding in India.

The extradition treaty was ultimately concluded during the visit of Indian Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde to Dhaka on 28th January, 2013 for which he thanked the Bangladesh government for addressing the security concerns India is facing, particularly in dealing with Indian insurgent groups.

After the agreement was signed, both the home ministers expressed satisfaction and hoped that the Extradition Treaty will help to increase cooperation among law enforcing agencies of the two countries and to curb criminal activities. According to an Indian official Shinde conveyed the appreciation of Indian government to Bangladesh for extending cooperation. Both the Home Ministers reiterated their commitment to act against the elements inimical to both countries.

Both the Home Ministers also resolved to cooperate in the smooth operation of the Coordinated Border Management Plan (CBMP) and agreed to increase number of joint patrolling with a view to curbing criminal activities along the border. They expressed confidence that increased number of coordinated patrolling under the CBMP would enhance cooperation between the border guarding forces of the two countries, and enable them to manage the identified vulnerable areas with a view to preventing criminal activities, illegal movement, acts of violence and loss of lives along the border areas.

Both sides agreed to allow development work within 150 yards of zero line. As an additional measure for better border management, both sides agreed to immediately start consultations between the District Commissioner and District Magistrate of border districts for resolving local issues.

The two Home ministers also agreed to extend cooperation for apprehension of wanted criminals and fugitives and in this regard, Bangladesh Home Minister once again urged India for immediate tracking, arresting, and handing over the killers of the father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

The Indian Home Minister assured that all possible assistance would be extended in this regard, if they are found in India. India and Bangladesh had already signed the three agreements (Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Persons and Combating Terrorism, organized crime and illicit drug trafficking) during the visit of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India in 2010 and expressed satisfaction over their smooth operationalization and also agreed to take immediate measures for repatriation of released prisoners and victims of trafficking.

The two home ministers also signed the Revised Travel arrangements (RTA) between the two countries which will ease the visa obtaining procedure and will promote people to people exchange between the two countries.

The liberalized visa regime will prove to be a boon for Bangladeshi citizens, which allows for provision of multiple entry tourist and medical visas valid for a year and also five year business visas. Many Bangladeshi citizens want to travel India for medical and religious purposes and this RTA will definitely remove their woes. The pressure of more and more Bangladeshi citizens eager to visit India will lead to better air, land and maritime connectivity and transport infrastructure, which will create new demands of investments in these sectors besides in the hospitality sector.

With India’s western neighbor Pakistan embroiled in the problems of home grown and ISI promoted terrorist groups who are being aided and abetted to attack on the sovereignty of India, the new era in bilateral relations with India’s eastern neighbor, will commence with the signing of the extradition treaty and land boundary agreement which is being portrayed as the blowing of fresh and soothing winds from the Eastern border.

Improved relations will help promote deeper trade exchanges and Indian investments in Bangladesh, which will result in better road, rail and air connectivities. This will create interdependence and over the years reduce the heavy trade imbalance, one of main grouse of the Bangladesh government against India.