India's indeciveness is spoiling a good Bangladesh story

Discussion in 'Foreign Relations' started by Yusuf, Dec 30, 2011.

  1. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

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    NEW DELHI: Despite a steady upward trajectory in India-Bangladesh ties in recent months, India may be falling short in taking this relationship forward, a fact that is worrying the top foreign policy leadership here.

    "Bangladesh worries us," said top level sources in the government, less because of Bangladesh itself but more because of India's inability to take big decisions.

    Last week, traders in Akhaura, Tripura went on a strike, impacting bilateral border trade worth lakhs of rupees. They were protesting against the pathetic infrastructure of the integrated check-post at Akhaura, which has made trading a hellish activity. Six months ago, home minister P Chidambaram inaugurated the checkpost with a lot of fanfare, promising construction in 18 months.

    The traders' protest was obviously a reminder that the government had dropped the ball after promising much -- they were only persuaded to resume activity after senior officials from the Tripura government reaffirmed their commitment to complete construction on time.

    Manmohan Singh's Bangladesh initiative had been the most important piece of neighbourhood diplomacy by the UPA government, but it seems to be slowing down. First, the exercise was largely in response to the first steps taken by Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina. Second, while Bangladesh has actually moved far in addressing India's security concerns, the perception has gained ground that India is dragging its feet.

    In fact, India and Bangladesh have actually had a very productive year. A land boundary has been demarcated, the vexed issue of enclaves and adverse possessions resolved, India has been generous with tariffs leading to greater trade and investments.

    But India failed at the last minute to stitch together a Teesta rivers agreement with Bangladesh after promising to do so, because the UPA government could not get West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to agree to the deal. Banerjee, famously capricious, dumped Manmohan Singh at the eleventh hour killing the PM's transformative visit to Dhaka in September.

    "Our inability to settle the Teesta issue is making small incidents flare up," sources said. The Shaikh Hasina government had gambled big on the India relationship, but with India failing to come up to scratch, there is the inevitable bad blood that affects the bilateral relationship.

    In another incident, which became bigger than it otherwise would have, three Bangladesh nationals were killed in firing by BSF forces in Govindpur in Malda District and Narayanganj in Coochbehar District of West Bengal on December 16 and 17, which raised hackles in Dhaka. Dhaka lodged a strong protest with India. New Delhi "regretted" the incident, though said the firing had been in self-defence.

    In a statement, the MEA said, the policy of restraint by BSF personnel has "emboldened criminal elements" who have stepped up their attacks to facilitate their illegal activities and asked Bangladesh to take measures to restrict the movement of people along the border especially during night hours.

    The MEA spokesperson said, "It is the view of the Indian government that illegal activities, which sometimes lead to regrettable loss of lives on both sides along the border, need to be addressed through joint collaborative efforts and mechanisms."

    Recounting the incident, MEA spokesperson said, a group of around 50-60 miscreants from the Bangladeshi side pelted stones at a BSF personnel and tried to drag him towards the Bangladesh side. "Sensing imminent danger to his life, his two colleagues fired four rounds in all resulting in the miscreants fleeing the scene leaving the BSF jawan behind," the spokesperson said.

    Incidents like these should be resolved at the local level, but residual discontent with India has contributed to small incidents acquiring a bigger dimension than necessary.

    India is yet to appoint a high commissioner to Dhaka, a post that is one of the most important foreign postings for Indian diplomats. The last envoy, Rajeet Mitter retired a couple of months ago, and the post has been vacant since then.

    Sources said a slew of candidates from Navtej Sarna, India's ambassador in Israel to Pankaj Saran from the prime minister's office are in the running for the job. But the government is yet to make up its mind on a crucial appointment.

    The good thing is that India acknowledges the importance of Bangladesh and is willing to take small steps to keep the ties afloat, even as domestic politics has grounded substantive movement on issue that matter to Dhaka. Sheikh Hasina will be in Agartala on January 11 to receive a doctorate from Tripura University. But more important, she will be going down memory lane, because Agartala holds memories for their independence struggle, as well as some personal memories of her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It's a small gesture, but its important for states to develop an independent relationship with neighbours.

    Bangladesh politics continues to pressure the Hasina government on the Tipaimukh dam prompting a recent urgent visit by hasina's foreign policy advisers, Gowher Rizvi and Matiur Rehman, who met the PM to apprise him of the brewing crisis. It prompted Dipu Moni, Bangladesh foreign minister to defend their position this week. "We want a joint study on the project to find out if it has any adverse impact on Bangladesh," Moni said.

    There are any number of creative solutions to the Tipaimukh Dam issue, including making Bangladesh a beneficiary of it.

    Bangladesh is a good news story for Indian foreign policy. But India's window of opportunity is limited, and it needs careful political nurturing, which is not possible in the current environment of Indian politics.

    http://m.timesofindia.com/PDATOI/articleshow/11306973.cms
     
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  3. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    India should do something.

    But the GOI themselves are in a bind!
     
  4. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

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    Th political drama at home has paralyzed the government.
     
  5. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    A very accurate assessment by Bagchi. Now is the time to solidify the relationship but the bureaucracy and both Center and state politics have put this relationship into a slow freeze situation. And if things go south, then only India will be to blame.

    The Teesta water treaty should have been resolved by now. Mamta Banerjee should realize that some states will have to make a sacrifice for the larger national interest. Look at for example J&K where they had to sacrifice all the three rivers that flowed through them to Pakistan as part of the Indus Water treaty.

    Then we have other border states still dragging their feet on border infrastructure which should have been taken on a priority basis. And the fact that we still haven't appointed a high commissioner to BD after several months is unacceptable given its importance in the South Asia and North East context for us
     
  6. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    There is yet another big problem.

    The problem is the general perception that much of India has about Bangladesh and Bangladeshis. This is acute among certain political parties. It is a generally held view that most Bangladeshis as illegal immigrants or wannabe illegal immigrants and terrorists. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that most of these illegal immigrants are poor villagers seeking jobs in India. With that kind of attitude rife among many in Delhi, I wonder any PM can get away without being branded a 'sellout' if he tries to be generous towards Bangladesh.
     
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2012
  7. Bhartiya

    Bhartiya Tihar Jail Banned

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    India must have good relations with it's neighbors, I wonder if can make Bangladesh agree to give us some of their lands
     
  8. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    [h=1]Check the Downslide in India-Bangladesh Relations - IDSA[/h]Check the Downslide in India-Bangladesh Relations | Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses

    Pushpita Das


    January 4, 2012


    For the past few years, India and Bangladesh have been enjoying a renascent friendly relationship based on shared interests and reciprocity. Under this rubric, they have been able to resolve various contentious issues as well as show a willingness to cooperate with each other for mutual benefit. Bangladesh addressed India’s security concerns by handing over a number of top Northeast insurgent leaders to India. For its part, India has reciprocated by: settling the decades-old border dispute; facilitating the provision of electricity to Dahagram and Angarpota and providing 24 hour access to these two Bangladeshi enclaves through the Teen Bigha; allowing duty free access to 10 million pieces of readymade garments from Bangladesh and removing 46 textile items from the negative list; providing Nepal and Bhutan transit access to Bangladesh, and promising to invest in Bangladesh’s infrastructure sector; and, 225 Indian firms promising to invest Rs. 558.77 million as FDI in Bangladesh.
    Despite all this, anti-India sentiments continue to grow in Bangladesh and have now come to centre primarily on two issues: India’s failure to finalise an agreement on sharing the waters of the Teesta and its decision to go ahead with the construction of the Tipaimukh dam. Under the 1983 Teesta river water agreement, presently, India and Bangladesh share 75 per cent of the river’s waters on a 39 and 36 per cent basis, respectively. As a friendly gesture, India had reportedly decided to share the remaining 25 per cent water with Bangladesh on a 50:50 basis. Domestic political compulsions, however, compelled India to pull back from signing the agreement at the last minute during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to Bangladesh. This volte face by India not only embarrassed the Sheikh Hasina government but has also tarnished India’s image as a reliable partner. The people of Bangladesh perceive it as a betrayal of trust as they hoped that the signing of such an agreement would settle the issue of water shortage in northern Bangladesh and serve as a template for the future sharing of trans-boundary water resources between the two countries
    At the same time, the proposed construction of the Tipaimukh dam near the confluence of the Barak and Tuivai rivers in India has become yet another spoiler in the bilateral relationship. Bangladesh fears that the construction of the dam would greatly reduce the flow of the Barak river in Bangladesh as well as adversely affect its two downstream channels - Kushiyara and Surma. Reduced water flow, according to Bangladeshi experts, would wreak havoc on the ecology, turn northeast Bangladesh into a desert and destroy the livelihoods of thousands of people. India had been trying to allay these fears by arguing that the Tipaimukh multipurpose hydroelectric project would in fact help in flood moderation, improve river navigation and aid the fisheries sector in Bangladesh. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh even promised that India would not do anything that would harm the interest of Bangladesh. However, the signing of a ‘promoter’s agreement’ between the Government of Manipur, the National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) and the Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) on October 22, 2011 to set up a joint venture company has raised hackles in Bangladesh. Many in Bangladesh are interpreting it as yet another example of India breaking its promise. Some in Bangladesh even claim that India has indeed built the dam, whereas in reality no such dam exists on the proposed site. Nevertheless, rumour mongering has succeeded in spreading misinformation and fomenting anti-India sentiments.
    In addition to these two issues, the killings of supposedly innocent cattle traders and other Bangladeshi citizens by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) along the border continue to strain the bilateral relationship. Last year, India had agreed to use non-lethal weapons against trespassers in an attempt to bring down the number of such killings. The BSF has claimed that the number of border killings has reduced substantially because of the use of non-lethal weapons and that the ‘innocent cattle traders’ who get killed are in fact gangs of cattle smugglers who attack Indian border guards. Bangladesh, however, asserts that frequent killings along the border indicate that India has gone back on its promise of preventing its border guards from killing Bangladeshi civilians.
    Related to the issue of border killings is the smuggling of phensedyl into Bangladesh. Bangladesh argues that its drug problem arises from the channelling of spurious phensedyl manufactured in factories set up inside Indian territory along the border. Refuting these charges, India maintains that it cannot take action against the distribution of a legal drug in its territory. The discrepancies between the two countries in their understanding of the situation arise from differing notions about what is legal and what is not. While the trade in cows is legal in Bangladesh, it is illegal in India and therefore has to be prevented at any cost. In contrast, phensedyl is banned in Bangladesh but is a legal drug in India and therefore can be sold anywhere in the country.
    The main casualty in this atmosphere of growing frustration has been the transit issue, which, if implemented, would benefit both countries. India would save time and money in transporting goods to its Northeastern states, while Bangladesh would be able to earn millions of dollars in transit fees. The provision of transit rights to India has always been a contentious issue in Bangladesh. People opposed to this measure argue that it would allow India to transport lethal weapons to its Northeastern states through Bangladeshi territory; that it would ruin Bangladeshi exports to the markets of India’s Northeast; and, that it would lead to the spread of drugs and HIV within Bangladesh. Protests have also taken place in Bangladesh against the trial runs for the trans-shipment of ODC (Over Dimensional Cargos) through the Ashuganj port. Nevertheless, the Bangladesh government successfully overcame all opposition and had agreed in principle to provide transit facilities to India. The two countries were set to sign an agreement to this effect in September 2011. However, India’s turnaround on the Teesta agreement prompted Bangladesh to hold back on the transit issue.
    Such stalemates and the creeping feeling in Bangladesh that it has done more for India without gaining anything substantial in return does not bode well for the relationship. India must act swiftly to stem the downslide in its relationship with Bangladesh. While it is a fact that the amicable resolution of various vexing issues and pronouncements about huge investments (which have raised considerable hopes in Bangladesh) would take time to implement, it is also true that India has failed to live up to its commitments and needs to get its act together.
    To begin with, India should expedite the conclusion of the Teesta agreement. Secondly, it should invite an all-party delegation from Bangladesh to the proposed Tipaimukh dam site and request Bangladeshi participation in the joint construction of the multipurpose project in order to encourage transparency and dispel misgivings. India should insist on the speedy implementation of the joint coordinated border patrol plan, which would secure the border against smugglers and help reduce unnecessary killings. India should also take steps to regulate the distribution mechanism of phensedyl within its territory and take stringent action against drugs stockists, especially in the border towns. India should address the Sheikh Hasina government’s refrain that it does not have much time on its side by implementing all agreements in a time bound manner as well as fast tracking various trans-border infrastructural developmental schemes. Most importantly, India should address the interests of the common people of Bangladesh and keep its promises.
    (This commentary is based on the impressions gained by the author during a recent visit to Dhaka as a participant in the Bangladesh-India Security Dialogue jointly organized by the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) and the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi.)
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2012
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