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Bangladesh: Indian Prime Minister Modi’s Epochal Visit June 2015 Reviewed

Paper No. 5940                                       Dated 26-May-2015

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Indian PM Modi’s visit to Bangladesh next week will be an epochal one for Bangladesh-India relations as this historical relationship gets set for the long awaited take-off now that PM Modi has been able to get through the Land Boundary Agreement passed unanimously by the Indian Parliament.

Bangladesh and India are wedded by geography, history politics, economics and geostrategic factors as neighbours and this reality needs to be translated and interwoven into a substantive and comprehensive relationship for the future.

Bangladesh and India today are fortunate in having the leadership of two bold and decisive leaders in the persona of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Prime Minister Narendra Modi who can audaciously forge ahead to evolve a vibrant Bangladesh-India Strategic Partnership. It was an imperative for both nations that I had stressed years back and will review it after the current visit of PM Modi to Dhaka.

Bangladesh and India live in a troubled security environment spawned by both external and internal forces which in the past have fouled relations between the two nations. Mutual suspicions were fanned and misgivings about each other’s intentions sown to achieve their divisive intentions.

The major credit to steer Bangladesh through these murky machinations without domestic ill-will to India being stoked as a major upset, goes to the bold and fearless leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In a matter of speaking, it is India’s pay-back time to Bangladesh and its present Prime Minister for standing by India despite many odds. This needs to be borne in mind as Prime Minister Modi starts to unveil a new chapter in Bangladesh-India relations.

Prime Minister Modi can be expected to be widely welcomed in Dhaka with the Land Boundary Agreement in his briefcase and possibly also the Teesta Water Sharing Agreement. Both these issues were major irritants in Bangladesh perspectives of India and affecting Bangladeshi public opinion and perceptions and acted as fodder to anti-Indian forces in Bangladesh to stoke public passions. With these out of the way India under PM Modi has injected optimism and hope for a brighter Bangladesh-India joint future.

Much optimism has also been raised in Bangladesh by Indian ministerial assertions that Bangladesh and India would be open to joint management of waters

Reports indicate that Bangladesh and India are set to sign at least five agreements with focus on improving connectivity between the two countries besides other sectors including transportation and inland water transportation. India must explore ways and means as to how Bangladesh and India can plug-in into each other’s economies especially power-sharing and energy. Coastal shipping and joint ecology preservation of the Sundarbans need also to be explored.

As Bangladesh and India map out their blueprint for the future course of the relationship, besides the above essentials, greater attention needs to be put by the two countries on strategic and security cooperation. Security dialogues and security mechanisms need to be put into place to explore wider strategic convergences. More importantly, effective mechanisms need to be put into place for border management of the Bangladesh-India border as nothing more is emotive for the Bangladeshi public than the Bangladesh vernacular media sensationalising border killings, even though they may be cattle smugglers.

Hopefully, with the finalisation of the Land Boundary Agreement the scope of border incidents may stand reduced giving lesser scope for their occurrence.

Little highlighted in India is that Bangladesh shares borders with five critical Indian Border States as follows: Mizoram-320 km.; Meghalaya-436 km.; Assam-264 km.; Tripura-864 km.; West Bengal-226 km. With these Indian states plagued by Maoist and insurgency challenges. India would require close cooperation from Bangladesh in terms of surveillance and intelligence.

Bangladesh’s geostrategic location on India’s strategically sensitive Eastern flank makes it an essential and valued component of India’s security calculus and all the other political and economic initiatives that PM Modi undertakes need to complement and be integrated with India’s security imperatives e,g. the requirement for Bangladesh to afford transit to Indian logistics from  India to Indian States in the North East mentioned above

Similarly, India should emerge as a preferred source of military hardware and equipment besides advanced training in insurgency and Special Forces training. Similar scope exists in the Navy and Air Force fields for joint collaboration and training.

Concluding, it can be said that Bangladesh and India under Prime Ministers Sheikh Hasina and Narendra Modi seem poised to establish a new relationship with newer initiatives which should expectedly usher in ‘Strategic Trust’ leading to a vibrant Bangladesh-India Strategic Partnership.