The Pioneer > Online Edition : >> A strange obsession G Parthasarathy India is far too occupied with an ever recalcitrant Pakistan to focus attention on its other neighbours. This is doing us no good Indiaâ€™s neighbours h ave often complained about their disappointment that New Delhi is so obsessed with Pakistan that it tends to either ignore or miss opportunities to cooperate and expand ties with them. There are legitimate complaints in Nepal about our diplomats in Kathmandu behaving like proconsuls, where even Indiaâ€™s friends are today dismayed by what they see as crude â€œmeddlingâ€ in their internal affairs. In Myanmar, we have delayed action for over 15 years on development of a 1,500 MW hydroelectric project and lost access to natural gas, by delays and procrastination in determining how the gas would be transferred to India. It is perhaps in Bhutan alone that performance has matched promise in our economic and political engagement. This is perhaps more due to the statesmanship of Bhutanâ€™s royal family than our imaginative diplomacy. Inertia and procrastination now similarly appear to be setting the stage wherein we may well lose a historic opportunity to put our relations with Bangladesh on a sound footing. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasinaâ€™s Awami League swept to a decisive electoral victory in December 2008, winning 230 seats and securing a two-thirds parliamentary majority. Showing immense courage, Sheikh Hasina has moved to get Bangladesh declared a secular republic. Agreements with India on mutual legal assistance on criminal matters, transfer of sentenced persons and in combating terrorism have been signed. Anti-India Islamists from groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, apart from separatists like United Liberation Front of Asomâ€™s Arabinda Rajkhowa and National Democratic Front of Bodolandâ€™s Ranjan Daimari have been quietly put behind bars, though for understandable reasons Bangladesh avoids publicising its actions. Pressures in Bangladesh have forced top ULFA leaders to flee to safe havens along the Myanmar-China border. The visit of Sheikh Hasina to New Delhi earlier this year produced a broad road map for future cooperation. Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee visited Dhaka on August 7 and inked an agreement extending a soft loan of $ 1 billion for 14 projects in Bangladesh. He proclaimed, â€œI am sure this credit line will be a stepping stone for a shared destiny and will transform our bilateral relationship.â€ The Line of Credit will finance projects ranging from railway lines and equipment to the dredging of rivers and the supply of buses. India has also agreed to supply 250 MW of electricity from its grid to Bangladesh. Our image and credibility will be seriously compromised if the promised electricity is not supplied expeditiously. Bangladesh has, for the first time, agreed to transit of Indian goods across its territory to our North-East for the Palatona Power Project. But, given the opposition to such transit within Bangladesh, India would be well advised to fulfil its commitment of improving the road network within Bangladesh to Tripura, before it is accused of damaging Bangladeshi roads for transit of its goods. Moreover, the Indian bureaucracy has little enthusiasm for upgrading and modernising border-crossing points in remote areas. This needs to be addressed. Politically, the agreement for India to construct a bridge across Feni river to facilitate trade would dilute former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Ziaâ€™s anti-Indian rhetoric, as it would promote border trade through her constituency. After agreeing to a long-pending request from Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh for according transit rights of Chittagong and Mongia ports, India has to act expeditiously to fulfil its commitment. India has shown an overly protectionist attitude in is approach to SAARC neighbours like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka by placing key items of interest to these neighbours in a â€˜negative listâ€™, denying them duty free access. This is short-sighted, given that we have a trade surplus approaching $ 3 billion with Bangladesh. It would be statesmanlike if India moves to expeditiously end restrictions on import of around 61 items of specific interest to Bangladesh. It is ridiculous to pretend we are a rising economic power if we behave like an economic pygmy with smaller neighbours. There would be immense political benefit if our Commerce Ministry ended these restrictions before the end of this year. Sheikh Hasina is facing domestic criticism, spearheaded by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami, for allegedly having sold out to India. She will have to show that relations with India are producing tangible and visible benefits for Bangladesh and that long-pending differences are being resolved. Under the 1974 Indira-Mujib Agreement, India is required to hand over 111 enclaves to Bangladesh and in return get 51 enclaves. It took us 18 years to lease a small corridor of land near Tin Bigha to Bangladesh, which we were required to do, under the 1974 agreement. Barely 6.5 km out of the 4,096 km land border remains undemarcated. Measures need to be agreed upon so that the border is expeditiously demarcated. The â€˜Tin Bigha Corridorâ€™ gave access in perpetuity to the Dahagram-Angarpota Enclave. It was agreed during Sheikh Hasinaâ€™s visit that while Bangladesh would provide electrification to the affected population, India would build a flyover for unfettered Indian use, while Bangladesh would use the ground under the flyover for its citizens. India should fulfil this commitment, which is regarded as a litmus test of our sincerity, without any delay. Given the misgivings among our neighbours about our obsession with an ever recalcitrant Pakistan, the time has come to realise, as Mrs Indira Gandhi realistically did, that relations with Pakistan are not going to materially change any time soon and that Pakistan regards Indian readiness to plead for better relations as a sign of weakness. A policy of â€˜benign neglectâ€™, together with low key diplomatic engagement, is the only realistic way to deal with Pakistan. Our other neighbours need to be engaged more purposefully bilaterally and regionally, through the now dormant BIMSTEC, as Pakistan appears determined to undermine the entire SAARC effort for economic integration. There is also need for a dedicated inter-disciplinary team at the Secretary-level to seek imaginative ways for forward-looking engagement with other neighbours. The primary role of this team would be to anticipate problems, assess opportunities and see that promises made by us are fulfilled, with the National Security Adviser and the Prime Minister constantly overseeing its work. While Pakistan entraps itself in a rising tide of Islamic extremism and terrorism, India has a vital interest in ensuring that Sheikh Hasina succeeds in building a secular and economically vibrant Bangladesh.