THE EDITING STARTUP
Sheikh Hasina Wazed, current Prime Minister of People’s Republic of Bangladesh and daughter of the country’s founding father – Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was in West Germany along with her sister Sheikh Rehana when her father and the then-President of the state was assassinated in a coup d’état in the early hours of August 15th , 1975, just three years after the long-drawn liberation war which granted independence to the territory which was then called as East Pakistan and led to the creation of the state of Bangladesh. Following the incident she was flown into India and she took refuge in the country. She lived in a self-imposed exile in New Delhi for the next six years and returned to Bangladesh only in May 1981.
She’ll be on a state visit to India starting April the 7th in capacity as the Prime Minister of a neighbouring friendly nation, almost 7 years after her last such visit in 2010 and a much deferred one given prior domestic and international commitments on part of both the leaders, be it her or even more so Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whom she is scheduled to meet on the second day of her visit. Much groundwork has already been done prior to her trip given there’s simply a lot of crucial business to attend to given the sheer multifacetedness of the ties the two states share.
India and Bangladesh share much in common, beyond culture. They represent one of the most important, defining relationships in South Asia and, for India, it is a vital element in its Act East Policy and a major chunk of its larger foreign relations doctrine. Otiose cavilling has had impacted the potential of their bilateral ties for long, especially in decades following the creation of Bangladesh, first with the military takeover of the government and Islamist generals taking over the reins of the government, formation of the anti-India Bangladesh Nationalist Party in 1978 by then president Ziaur Rehman and subsequent constitutional amendments and major foreign policy reorientations in the country. It’s PM Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League alone which has historically advocated stronger Indo-Bangladesh ties and worked to that effect.
For the upcoming visit, Bangladesh has prepared a draft of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on defence co-operation with India involving defence industries, space technology, technical assistance and development of sea infrastructure. The draft of the MoU has been prepared taking into account national policies and security of both the countries, sources in Dhaka said quoting from a copy of the draft. The proposed co-operation framework will be the first defence deal between the two close-door neighbours, and it is among the 10 MoUs likely to be signed between Bangladesh and India during the visit, as per which both the parties will arrange training, exchange of military experts, trainers and observers, military courses and information, provide mutual co-operation on maintenance of military equipment, arrange treatment, organise sports events; impart training on disaster and relief co-operation, hold discussions at the staff level of the armies, navies and air forces of both the countries and resolve bilateral military issues through discussions; and hold annual talks between the military organisations of the two countries. Clearly a paradigm change in terms of military cooperation and assistance. India is also willing to commit up to $500mn under a line of credit (LoC) for military co-operation with Bangladesh, inter alia other mechanisms of furthering bilateral growth.
What further adds impetus to and strengthens the relationship is the fact that both countries are keen to enhance connectivity not just between them, but also with other countries in South Asia, in view of regional connectivity and trade at large. The BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) corridor will be high on the agenda during PM Hasina’s visit. Apart from the SAARC region, Bangladesh is an important conduit for almost all supra-national infrastructural and diplomatic initiatives of India in the medium and long term, for example there have been some proposals of a strong trilateral between India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, such as a gas pipeline (although the current security situation may not permit it). Both countries are also part of a number of groupings that seek to expand South Asia’s connectivity with Southeast Asia and China; these include the Mekong Ganga Cooperation Initiative, BIMSTEC, and the BCIM (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar) economic corridor project.
Another perspective and factor has been the role of India’s Northeast in India-Bangladesh ties, which has long been delinked from security and migrant issues. It is time that Northeast India and Bangladesh built not only strong economic links, but also greater cultural and educational ties, much of which seems more feasible now with the ruling BJP gaining political power and currency in the region of late. Be it access to higher speed broadband from Bangladesh for the seven-sister states of India in the remote region, or supply of electricity from India to power-deficit Bangladesh, there is simply a lot of scope to collaborate upon.
Contemporarily, there used to be a lot many irritants in their ties which the two countries have had settled, be it the historic Land Boundary Agreement ratified by the Indian parliament in 2015, the progress on maritime border disputes, plethora of agreements on cross-border transit options to and through the two nations, use of each other’s infrastructure for purposes of trade and commerce, strengthening of security cooperation and intelligence sharing, joint military exercises; the list is exhaustive.
As with almost every other south-Asian neighbour, the China factor looms over Indo- Bangladesh ties as well, albeit to a smaller extent. Although scope still remains for more cooperation in furtherance of common policy objectives between the two nations and despite the complexity of lingering issues, be it the Teesta river pact or the unfinished land boundary business, and the ever dynamic nature of foreign ties, recent history bears testimony to the solid foundation the ties have been built upon. With two rather supportive leaders firmly in charge of domestic policy-making and the foreign affairs of their respective states and even deeper collaboration and not conflict, simplify the way ahead, that there’s just one direction Indo-Bangladesh ties are destined for, up and up.