Hiren Pandit: Cultural, social, and economic bonds between Bangladesh and India, history, culture, language, tradition and arts are similar, so the passion of the people of the two countries is almost the same. Although India became directly involved in the liberation war for Bangladesh in 1971, it kept its border open since the beginning of the genocide of Bengalis by the Pakistanis. About 1 crore people left their homes and took refuge in India to escape the brutality. The Government of India provided shelter and food to the oppressed people for 9 months in spite of various difficulties.
Relations between independent Bangladesh and its neighbor India began with India’s recognition of Bangladesh on 6 December 1971. That relationship reached a different height through the diplomatic wisdom and ideological leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Indira Gandhi. In a speech delivered at the Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata on 7 February 1972, Bangabandhu said, ‘I firmly believe that India-Bangladesh friendship will remain unbroken forever. No power in the world can break this alliance. Bangabandhu laid the foundation of the relationship between the two countries on the basis of respect for each other’s independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, democratic norms and values.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is following the path of diplomatic relations shown by Bangabandhu. Due to the strategic situation, both countries have priority in each other’s foreign policy. It should be noted that in 1975, Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina was sheltered in India for six years after losing all her family members. Due to the successful diplomatic efforts of the Sheikh Hasina government, the long-unsettled land and sea boundaries with India have been peacefully demarcated. In 2011, Bangladesh-India signed an important agreement to resolve border issues, known as the Three Bigha Corridor Agreement. Through this, India agreed to 24-hour travel for Bangladeshi citizens through the three-bigha corridor.
In 2015, the Indian Parliament unanimously approved the Land Boundary Agreement signed in 1974, ending the border dispute between the two countries. In 2015, 50,000 alienated citizens, who had no nationality, became citizens of India or Bangladesh through 162 enclave exchanges. Through the exchange of enclaves then 111 enclaves of India became part of Bangladesh and 51 enclaves of Bangladesh became part of India. Bangladesh gets 17 thousand 258 acres and India gets 7 thousand 110 acres of land. If the agreement can be carried out in a balanced manner, preserving the interests of both parties, it will bring benefits to the businessmen of the two countries. Common history, similar values, traditions, arts, and social contexts are natural for such mutual development of goodwill. In addition to the goodwill of bilateral development, emphasis should also be placed on implementation.
Bangladesh-India recognizes each other’s geographical boundaries, sovereignty, regional security and economic development. Both countries are very active as development partners of each other. In 2011 and 2014, India provided loans to Bangladesh for infrastructure development. India has provided assistance of $8 billion to Bangladesh under various loan agreements (until 2020), which is the highest assistance given to any single country. India’s military agreement with Bangladesh was executed in 2017. The implementation of the loan agreement, which started a decade ago, is slow due to various reasons, but it is expected to speed up soon.
In the age of globalization, there is no substitute for a communication system in building bilateral and multilateral relations. In the past few years, various bilateral agreements have been signed under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, including bilateral trade agreements, protocols related to inland navigation routes, Dhaka-Guwahati-Shillong and Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala bus services, MoUs related to the use of Chattogram and Mongla ports, which the two countries have played an indelible role in expanding inter-communication. Akhaura Agartala Rail Link, Khulna-Mongla Rail Link and Mithali Express have been launched and unprecedented improvement has been achieved in the communication system. Recently, the communication between the two countries has been strengthened with all existing land and sea links. Padma Rail Link and Khulna-Mongla Railway have set a unique precedent for communication between the two countries. Advances in inter-communication systems will play a huge role in increasing human-to-human communication.
The role of proper water management is important in combating climate change. In view of this, the historic Ganga water-sharing agreement was signed in 1996 between the two countries. The Ministerial meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission has already decided to finalize the outline of the water distribution of seven rivers on a priority basis and it has been decided to exchange water data for eight rivers. The two countries have also agreed on a joint survey on the maximum use of water in the joint river Ganga, which flows through Bangladesh. There are challenges in Teesta River water sharing but they can be resolved through mutual agreement. Both countries will benefit if the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s visit to India discusses how to deal with climate change through mutual cooperation and how to ensure the balanced use of water resources of common rivers.
Both Bangladesh and India are playing a role as strategic partners in combating terrorism. The length of the India-Bangladesh border is 4 thousand 96.7 kilometers, which is the fifth-longest border in the world. This border spans forests, rivers, villages and farmlands of both countries, so managing the border is quite challenging for the border guards of the two countries. Although border killings have decreased in recent times, Bangladesh and India need to do more to completely stop the killing of unarmed people at the border. To stop human, drug and all types of smuggling through integrated border management, the challenges must be identified and resolved through appropriate measures.
The world is going through a crisis due to the Covid pandemic and the Ukraine-Russia war. As a result, regional and global uncertainties have created new equations between states. In the rapidly changing geopolitical situation, it is necessary to develop relations with neighboring states along with increasing internal capacity to maintain balance and face challenges. Global trade in food, edible oil and fuel oil has been affected by the protracted Ukraine-Russia war, which is also affecting South Asia. In this global reality, Bangladesh is focusing on long-term cooperation with India in the energy sector, as India is in a relatively advantageous position in the energy sector. With the guaranteed supply of energy and essential commodities, there is no alternative to mutual cooperation to maintain regional stability. Bangladesh and India need to extend their hand of cooperation to each other as loyal neighbors to overcome the economic crisis that the world has fallen into due to the war.
Bangladesh is far ahead of neighboring countries in terms of secularism, women empowerment, and economic and social development. But neither Bangladesh nor any country in this sub-region can achieve sustainable prosperity alone. In the rapidly changing geopolitical situation, maintaining balance and increasing internal capacity to face challenges is essential, as well as the development of relations with neighboring states. A peaceful, stable regional situation and a secure neighborhood are, however, necessary for development and prosperity. The development challenges and risks of India and Bangladesh are very similar. Again, the aspiration for a better life for our poor people is almost the same. There are numerous opportunities to learn from each other, exchange knowledge and collaborate in various fields. Bangladesh and India’s democratic values, secularism and neutral policy in global politics can play an immeasurable role in the amicable future of the two countries. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India will strengthen the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India in the current global crisis and strengthen mutual development, regional peace and security.
The area of cooperation between Bangladesh and India is gradually expanding. Another milestone in progress in this regard has been initiated recently. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the ‘India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline’ through video conference. Immediately after the inauguration, diesel started arriving from Numaligarh in Assam to the Parbatipur depot in Dinajpur, Bangladesh. Through this pipeline, Bangladesh will be able to import about 1 million tons of oil annually from India. This will save the huge cost and time required for transporting oil by road or rail. As a result, a stable supply of diesel is expected to be ensured in the 16 districts of the northern part of Bangladesh. One example after another is being created of how both countries can benefit through mutual cooperation.
The Russia-Ukraine war and Western sanctions against Russia have created a major oil crisis in the global market. Many countries are unable to procure the necessary fuel oil. Bangladesh has an annual demand of 70 to 72 million metric tons of fuel oil. Out of this, the demand for diesel alone is 48 to 49 lakh metric tons, of which the government has to import 80 percent from different countries. Importing this amount of fuel oil has become very difficult in the present scenario. Moreover, a huge amount of money has to be spent on the transportation of imported oil. It takes too much time. In such a situation, the government was looking for ways to import diesel from new sources at a low cost. Pipeline diesel imports from India will serve as that alternative source. Earlier fuel oil used to come from India mainly by rail. The amount of imported oil was 60 to 80 thousand tons per year, which did not play any significant role in our energy needs. Again, it would have required a lot of time and money to transport oil from Chattogram or Mongla to North Bengal by road or river. Now it will be very affordable. Not only for both countries but also for sub-regional prosperity including Nepal, and Bhutan, mutual cooperation is absolutely necessary. Bangladesh currently imports 1,160 MW of electricity from India. India is getting a transit facility in Bangladesh. All four countries belonging to the sub-regional alliance BBIN are expected to come under better connectivity in the near future. All countries will benefit greatly from this. There is no opportunity to walk alone or sit behind closed doors in the present age.
Bangladesh and India are two neighboring countries in South Asia. The two countries are also members of SAARC, BIMSTEC, Iowa and the Commonwealth. The onset of economic liberalization in South Asia, it led to greater growth and trade. Both Bangladesh and India are playing a role as strategic partners in counter-terrorism. They are South Asia’s largest trading partner. When Sheikh Hasina’s government came to power in 1996, India-Bangladesh relations also started a new horizon. The historical basis of Indo-Bangladesh relations is the liberation war which was the impetus for the non-sectarian state spirit. As a result, it becomes imperative for the policy-makers of the two countries to strengthen the relationship and reduce the existing conflicts to a tolerable level. Bangladesh-India relations are now at the highest level in history. This relationship will be deepened through mutual respect, trust and cooperation – the people of both countries will be better off. Good relations between Bangladesh and India are indispensable for the development and security of both countries. Everyone should keep an eye so that no conspiracy or misunderstanding can weaken the relationship between the two countries.
Hiren Pandit is a columnist and a researcher