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BANGLADESH AND INDIA RELATIONSHIP:TRANSIT AND OTHER NATIONAL ISSUES

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BANGLADESH AND INDIA RELATIONSHIP:TRANSIT AND OTHER NATIONAL ISSUES

BANGLADESH AND INDIA RELATIONSHIP:TRANSIT AND OTHER NATIONAL ISSUES


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Home Page > Relationships > BANGLADESH AND INDIA RELATIONSHIP:TRANSIT AND OTHER NATIONAL ISSUES

BANGLADESH AND INDIA RELATIONSHIP:TRANSIT AND OTHER NATIONAL ISSUES

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Posted: Oct 25, 2009 |Comments: 1
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In response to Raheed Ejaz’s report, Dhaka considers one-time transit to Tripura as ‘test case’,

(New Age, 0ctober 17, 2009) the Editor in his editorial, (New Age, 0ctober 18, 2009) has

correctly voiced his opinion under the topic, 0ne ‘test case’ is bitter enough. Congratulations to the Editor for his excellent analysis.

I am confident, that together with me, the conscious Citizens of Bangladesh would equally agree with all the relevant points indicated therein which I submit here to highlight and analyze further:

1. We cannot but express our apprehension about another ‘test case’. The Farakka Barrage, which was supposedly a test case for three weeks, continues to further misery in Bangladesh even over three decades later. Another test case may prove to be too bitter a pill to swallow.

2. While connectivity among the peoples of the two countries, and indeed the entire region, is imperative in order to bring about a more cohesive integration of the subcontinent has substantial advantages, it certainly cannot be at the cost of the individual country’s strategic, political and economic disadvantage that might threaten individual sovereignty. The Asian Highway route is yet is yet to be decided and it appears that the government is all but ready to submit to tacit Indian pressure of agreeing to a route that would not increase Bangladesh connectivity and provide India with a transit of sorts as both the entry and exit points of two of the three proposed routes would be through India.

The above interests of our friendly neighbor, India, according to my judgment are contributing to an overall negative attitude due to lack of transparency in placing the demands and in the manner  the  respective Authorities of both Governments are wheeling and dealing to finalize it. I wish to indicate herein two points in support of this view:

1. Ejaz’s report confirms that 0fficials of the foreign affairs, shipping and communications ministries would want to know how the decision would be implemented and how it could benefit both neighbors. A senior 0fficer, involved in the process said, we consider allowing India transit once as test case and its result will decide the fate of other proposals floated earlier by New Delhi.

2. We are not being informed as to whether the interests of Bangladesh are being included into the deliberations for the Indian Government’s concurrence; issues that are pending for long namely, SAFTA and SAPTA, reduction in non-tariff, para-tariff and tariff barriers for Bangladesh products to be exported to India, removing barriers to Bangladeshi investment, making the Joint Rivers Commission functional ,solutions to Farakka Barrage and other installations and transit to Bhutan and Nepal through India with a view to fostering harmony and integration of the region.

I wish to avail this opportunity to ask the Government of India four very pertinent questions: 1.How, over the last 38 years, prior to Independence of Bangladesh, did they solve the communication, administrative and economic problems of Tripura and Arunachal(the seven sister states)? 2. Why are they being impatient with the Government of Bangladesh’s deliberation on this matter before it can make a final decision? 3. How much cooperation has the Government of India extended to the Government of Bangladesh to solve the above mentioned pending issues of interest to Bangladesh to enhance the “Friendship” between the two?  4. Why India doesn’t feel that there could be security threats to Bangladesh when it wants transit through approximately 600 miles of Bangladesh land to Arunachal and use of Ashuganj port plus Akhaura-Tripura 31 km road connection; when both areas are hot beds for insurgency?

My personal opinion is that, India should continue dealing with these areas as it had been doing before over the previous 38 years and there is no necessity to burden Bangladesh with their domestic problems  and  security threats that can arise from insurgents.

Security threat was cited by the Indians, when it denied Bangladesh the use of Calcutta port in 1972,  (our Chittagong port was difficult to operate then, in view of several sunken ships in and around the port area during the War); and 16 miles of transit through Indian land for trade between two SAARC countries, Bhutan and Nepal. Why can’t Bangladesh do the same?

About cooperation from India to Bangladesh to enhance friendship, it would suffice to say “the less said the better”; while at private and Citizen level the friendly atmosphere is so cordial, it is a pity that over the last 38 years no initiative from either side of Government and political level has been initiated to improve friendly relations without asking of any favor from each other. At Government and political level we still remain suspicious and recall the errors of the past;  I include herein a few pointers for the readers knowledge. Relations began to sour from the time the exile Mujibnagar government was installed and immediately after Independence, on 16 December 1971, when representatives of Bangladesh government and Mukti Bahini were absent from the ceremony of surrender of Pakistan Army to Indian Army, shifting of Jute headquarters to Delhi and placing an Indian as head of Rakhi Bahini and implementation of the seven point agreement between late Indira Gandhi and the then acting president of the exiled Mujibnagar government, late Syed Najrul Islam (ref The war preparation of India-Pakistan and war by Dr.Kalidas Baidyo)was being implemented. Late Jean Dixit, first High Commissioner of India to Bangladesh wrote in his book “Liberation and Beyond, “India’s failure to return part of the military equipment captured from Pakistani forces to Bangladesh and its defense experts suggesting that Bangladesh need not have a large armed force equipped with armour etc also created  misunderstandings and revived  old suspicions about Indian hegemonism”. The list is too long and to shorten it we note with dismay the most recent signs of uncooperation,(1)   pressurizing  Bangladesh government to cancel the connection through Myanmar for the Asian Highway and the (2)Tipaimukh Dam episode. My article “Will dams “damage” the relationship? published on July 24,2009 in the The Financial Times, can be read by those interested in details as well suggestions to its solutions , which in return can help in improving relations.

Next, for the knowledge of Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and Citizen of Bangladesh, I wish to present here an example of  a good strategic diplomacy that will help Bangladesh to negotiate with India. Prior to her decision to help Bangladesh during the war late Indira Gandhi made twenty years treaty with Soviet Union(Russia) which guarantee India  economical, political and military assistance (arms and ammunition needed for the war). Inspite of this treaty late Indira Gandhi didn’t alter the important principles of Indian foreign policy. She made it clear that Soviet Union would not receive any special privileges—much less naval base rights- in Indian ports, despite major Soviet contribution to the construction of ship building and ship repair facilities at Bombay (Mumbai). By repeatedly emphasizing the nonexclusive nature of its friendship with Soviet Union, India kept open the way open for normalizing relations with China and improving ties with the West. (http://countrystudies.us/India/133.htm)

0ne marvels and admires the late Indira Gandi’s intelligence and strategy, which should be a learning lesson and an eye opener, for our Prime Minister, to know that friendship with neighbors can be retained, while diplomacy means strategy without bending our backs to grant special privileges that could be detrimental to our own Country; and that friendship begets friendship, which is imperative for our neighbors to offer.

Agartala, May29, 2009 ICT by IANS (www.thaindian.com) states that Bangladesh has agreed in principle “and this what the ‘test case’ is about” to allow India to use its water ways to transport  heavy machines for 0il and Natural Gas Corp’s(ONGC) upcoming740-MW power project in Tripura. This gas based project, the biggest ever of ONGC is coming up in south Tripura’s Palatana and is expected to be operational by 2012. Tripura Chief Secretary, Shashi Prakash said if necessary India is ready to provide Rs.100 million to Dhaka to improve the poor road (linking Agartala) on the Bangladesh side. “Dhaka and New Delhi are now considering adding Ashuganj as the ninth port of call for easy transport of Indian goods from other parts of the country to the land-locked north-eastern region through Bangladesh.

I can only presume, that our Foreign Minister as well as our Prime Minister, is well aware of the above facts, and wish to remind them of the Bhopal gas tragedy. 0n December 2, 1984 tons of toxic gas leaked from a pesticide plant owned by Union Carbide in Bhopal (India), killing 3.800 people almost immediately. Thousands more were injured. The people are still suffering from lungs problem and respiratory diseases and the new born children are facing problems of poor visions, proper growth and loss of memory. Union Carbide accepted responsibility and established 100 million dollars charitable trust fund to build hospital for the victim yet the Government failed to provide victims of quality medical care. The victims are suffering.

Should any accident like the Bhopal gas tragedy happen within Tripura, (a) either during installation and connection or (b) objections and possible sabotage by the Citizens of Tripura for use their available gas or (c) later during its operation by ONGC; who will take the responsibility and what measures will taken to protect the lives of Bangladeshi Citizens, residing within close proximity to Tripura border area? This factor cannot be overlooked.

What does India mean by Ashuganj as its “ninth port of call”? How will the Rs.100 million be given; as direct payment or as loan to Bangladesh to be paid back with interest?   What would be the terms and condition of the use of the port by India and whether Bangladesh too can use it for its economic benefit without being pressurized by India for their exclusive use.

It is imperative, to obtain complete explanations from the Indian Government, on all the points at the earliest, for Bangladesh to evaluate the entire deal so that an agreement may be signed by May 2010 , as Foreign Minister Dipu Moni has conveyed to her Indian counterpart S.M.Krishna in Delhi on September 8, 2009.

Two vital issues that demands inclusion here are: 1 Maritime Boundary and 2. Bangladesh’s Border and its defending institution BDR.

1.The most important issue is that of maritime boundary that Bangladesh has lodged with the United Nations. Will friendly India support Bangladesh claim to settle the issue on the principles of equity rather than on principles of equidistant, which both India and Myanmar are favoring? Foley Hoaq is retained by Bangladesh for arbitrations against India and Myanmar over boundaries in Bay of Bengal’s resource-rich waters. In separate proceedings against each of its two neighbors, Bangladesh has referred to binding arbitration its maritime boundaries in the territorial sea(out to 12 nautical miles from the shoreline), the Exclusive Economic Zone(or EEZ,to 200 nautical miles from shore), and the continental shelf(beyond 200 miles from shore). Paul Reichler who heads the team says, “Unfortunately, negotiations have been deadlocked for years, leaving international arbitration as the only way for Bangladesh to achieve peaceful and lawful resolutions of these maritime boundary issue, and definitive borders that will ultimately allow it to access natural resources that will benefit the Bangladeshi people.” Neither India nor Myanmar has yet responded to the arbitration notifications, which were filed by Bangladesh on 0cober 8, 2009. They each have 30 days under the applicable rules to appoint an arbitrator or one will be appointed for them.  Reichler further informs that arbitration of this type can take up to 3 to 4 years from the initial notification to final decision. In addition to Reichler, Bangladesh is also represented by Foley Hoaq partners Lawrence Martin and Andrew Loewenstein, as well as Professor James Crawford of Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and Professor Payam Akhavan of McGill University in Canada-(Ref:www.reuters.com).

Myanmar Ambassador in Dhaka, Phae Thann 00 ,in an exclusive interview to UNB has expressed his frustration and queried that when bilateral talk were progressing why Bangladesh had to go to UN for arbitration? Since he is also expresses that, on going talk will continue in November this year and is optimistic that “one day we will have a mutually agreed settlement”, I only wish to draw his attention, right now, to the above statement from Paul Reichler and to act accordingly. He should also read the two part article  of Shah Mohammad Saifuddin, “Bangla-Myanmar Relation” published in New Age, dated 0ctober 19 and 20, 2009. 0ut of curiosity, however, I would like to enquire of him, if the November 2, 2008 activity of Myanmar of sending four ships of Daewoo escorted by two Mayanmar’s naval war ship to drill when delimitation of boundary between the three friendly countries has not been settled?

2. Prior to independence, Bangladesh was the Eastern Part of Pakistan and due to poor relations with Pakistan as a whole, East Pakistan, though enjoying the “Bengali affiliation” with West Bengal was considered as security threat and therefore India had a strong vigilant force manning the border but never formulated national policy to fence the entire border and skirmishes between BDR and BSF and shooting civilians was very rare. What prompts the Indian Authorities to evolve a national policy to fence the entire border area with Bangladesh side now, when it envisages Bangladesh to be a friendly country? Why the BSF have to kill innocent civilians and engage into skirmishes with BDR? BSF shot dead 53 Bangladesh nationals from January to September this year, Home Minister Sahara Khatun informed parliament today-Sangsad Bhaban; 0ctober 12 (UNB) i.e 6 people killed in a month and skirmishes between BSF and BDR are very frequent and  always initiated by BSF.

I believe that, the Citizens of Bangladesh have confidence on their elected representatives, to honestly and properly evaluate the pros and cons of these national matters especially that of the use of Ashuganj port, in the parliament, to form a national consensus before formally conveying the final decision to our friendly neighbor, India. However, if the 0pposition party continues to boycott the parliament, then deliberations within the parliament by the ruling party and its  alliance only, will be partial and therefore unacceptable to Citizens.  The next best choice, for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is to declare an open public debate though media and seminars  for a period of two or three weeks and then fix a date for,  “public referendum”. The 0pposition cannot avoid participating in the public debate or the ‘referendum’, because they cannot afford to loose more credibility for future elections.

My suggestions are based on facts that it essential to follow democratic system through which the consent of the governed must be obtained in order to legitimatize the Government’s diplomatic steps and the Foreign Policy. Precisely, with this view in mind, I wish to draw the attention of our Prime Minister that, unilateral decision to permit one time ‘test case’ to India would be a wrong judgment. Aristotle says, “At his best man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.”  Let us all pledge to stay within the perimeters of law and justice.

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Article Tags:
transit, martime delimitation, port, bsf bdr and referendum pledges

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1. Nizam 09/11/2009

Your write up and the concerns are valid for sure, but relationships between two hostile or near hostile countries is best removed when people of the two have free movements and open economic borders. The socio economic vested interests would check governments of their countries if trying to do anything naughty/evil. EU, particularly Germany & France is one big example. Opening borders will stop India Pakistan HOSTILITIES TOO.

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