Turmoil in Bangladesh: India needs to honour its commitments
by Ashok B Sharma on 28 Jan 2015 0 Comment

Peace and development in India is possible, if there is peace and stability in the immediate neighbourhood. India, being the major economy in South Asia is of course the main driver of growth in the region with its output of about 70 per cent, but the performance of other countries in the region is the contributing factor. Notwithstanding the continuing global slowdown, the aggregate growth in the economy of South Asia remained steadfast after suffering an initial dip. It is expected to register a growth of 4.9 per cent in 2014 as per latest UN survey, and is projected to grow at 5.4 per cent in 2015.


Let us not forget that though India is a major economy in the region, two of its immediate neighbours – Sri Lanka and Bangladesh – are growing at a much faster rate. While India is slated to grow at 5 odd percentage points, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have maintained a strong growth rate of 7.8 per cent and 6.2 per cent respectively.


After the recent elections in Sri Lanka, the Sirisena government is pushing for more political and economic reforms to ensure the island country’s stability.


But in Bangladesh, the recent series of street protests that began from January 5 leading to violence like hurling of petrol bombs, cocktails at buses and trains, uprooting railway tracks, derailing trains, attacks on other vehicles and firing at law enforcement offices, have raised concerns. The attacks are led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Begum Khaleda Zia and Jamaat-e-Islami, who boycotted the January 2014 polls that returned Begum Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League to power.


Regarding the developments across its borders, India has expressed its intention not to interfere in the matter and has left it to the Government and the people of Bangladesh “to determine what sort of a society they want and what are the issues that they face.” That said India wants peace, stability and democracy in Bangladesh.


But India cannot just wash its hands off and remain a mere spectator. It has to honour its longstanding commitments to Bangladesh like the Land Boundary Agreement that envisages the transfer of enclaves and lands in adverse possessions on the 4,156 km border and also sharing of Teesta waters. The Bill on Land Boundary Agreement is also cleared by the department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee to be passed in both Houses of Parliament. There is a need to pass this Bill!


Similarly, the sharing of Teesta waters should be immediately implemented. The main opposition within the country to sharing Teesta waters has come from the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who seems to have a different political agenda and vote bank; this is preventing her from accepting the accord on sharing of Teesta waters. However, it is the responsibility of the central leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to overcome the hurdles posed by Mamata Banerjee and go ahead on sharing of Teesta waters.


India had shown extraordinary statesmanship and diplomacy in agreeing to the verdict of the international body on the settlement of maritime dispute between the two countries, even though it had to part with some rights. Similar statesmanship is needed to be demonstrated by India in this hour of crisis for Sheikh Hasina, who is perceived to be a friend of India. It pertinent to note, in context, the recent utterances of Prime Minister Modi – “Bangabandhu created Bangladesh and his daughter Sheikh Hasina saved Bangladesh.” If Modi means to live up to his utterances, he needs to honour his commitments!

Apart from river Teesta there are 53 common rivers between the two countries. There should be agreements between the two countries for adequate water sharing and for facilitating trans-border water transport.


Peace and stability in Bangladesh is crucial for peace and stability in the region including India. Let us not forget the recent Burdwan blast that has Bangladeshi connection. Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri has declared the goal of bringing the Indian sub-continent, including Bangladesh, within the ambit of his outfit’s operation. Several home grown Bangladeshi militant outfits like Harkatul Zihad, JMBA, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Ansarullah, Taleban and Hizbut Tahrir are already active and are giving Sheikh Hasina challenging moments.


Dhaka and New Delhi took significant steps to formalise security arrangements during the visit of Sheikh Hasina to India in January 2010 by inking agreements on mutual legal assistance on criminal matters, transfer of sentenced persons and on combating international terrorism, organised crime and illicit drug trafficking and also signed a coordinated border management plan. Subsequently, Extradition Treaty was signed in January 2013 between the two countries. There are two joint task forces in operation, namely, for combating smuggling of fake currency notes and for curbing human trafficking.


With such agreements in place the two countries are better placed to handle terrorism. India should help Bangladesh in tracing the war criminals of 1971 Liberation War if they are illegally taking shelter here. Bangladesh should also crackdown on insurgent elements, if they are taking shelter on its soil and conducting operations in northeast India. It should also speed up the extradition process of the insurgent Anup Chetia.


Bangladesh has adopted Vision 2001 Document to transform the country into a middle income, science and technology based society and a Digital Bangladesh. It has miles to go. Cooperation with India and it’s all round connectivity in the region including India, Nepal and Bhutan as stipulated by Sheikh Hasina is crucial. The Palatana Power Project in Tripura and export of 100 MW power to Bangladesh is an unique example of power cooperation.


Also there are three border haats to facilitate land route trade, namely at Kalaichar (India)-Baliamari (Bangladesh), Balat (India)-Dolora (Bangladesh and the latest one linking Purba Madhugram in Bangladesh. The two countries can explore the possibilities of reviving old road and rail links that were in vogue in the British colonial regime. Bangladesh can explore possibilities of investing in generation of hydro-power in north-east India and subsequently its export.


Let us not forget that most of the positive developments in the region took place between the two countries when Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and his daughter Sheikh Hasina were in power. To name a few: the sharing of Ganga waters in December 12, 1996. India also helped Bangladesh in signing peace accord with the tribals of Chittagong hills in December 2, 1997.


Peace and stability in Bangladesh is crucial for the progress of both India and Bangladesh. While cooperation under SAARC is held hostage to political differences between India and Pakistan, the prospect of sub-regional cooperation under BIMSTEC looks brighter. Here peace and stability in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand is vital. India should, therefore, play a proactive role in bailing out Sheikh Hasina by honouring its commitments. 

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