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Monmohan Singh’s Visit of Bangladesh: The implications and aftermath

Edit Date:9/21/2011 12:00:00 AM

 


Content

 

Page

1.      Executive Summary

01

2.      Introduction

03

3.      Hasina’s visit to India in 2010

04

·        Basic Agreements with India in 2010

          05

4.      Return Visit by Monmohan & Expectations

06

5.      An Analysis on the Monmohan Singh’s Visit and its Potential Implication

08

6.      Conclusion

11

7.      References

13

 Executive Summary:

Both Bangladesh and India were making attempts for a comprehensive resolution for the pending issues. India better understands that, transit will remain a dream if all issues are not addressed. In this returning visit to his counterpart Sheikh Hasina’s one in January 2010, Monmohan Singh in fact was looking to finalize the transit deal; but domestic political complexities or last-minute strategic calculation by India resulted in the postponement of Teesta treaty. As a consequence, Bangladesh government due to the potential domestic political uproar within the country remained far from signing the transit deal with India. It is acknowledgeable that, Land Boundary Agreement dealing with some legacy issues -- exchange of enclaves and adversely possessed land, demarcation of 6.5 km of un-demarcated border, allowing Bangladeshis to use "Tin Bigha Corridor" for 24 hours is a significant development, if implemented. On the other hand, no important development is seen regarding the power deal and 1 billion dollar credit line. Similarly, no discussion took place on stopping the construction of Tipaimukh dam and dealings like overland transport connectivity in the Southeast region of Asia. There is a school of thought in Bangladesh comprising of academia, civil society and other intellectuals who tend to focus on the shared culture, traditions and history between Bangladesh and India while putting emphasis on the need for increased cooperation. There is another school in Bangladesh including many scholars in Dhaka University, especially in the department of international relations who advocate that in the age of globalization there is no reason of not having a strong connectivity between Bangladesh and India. We should not depend on a bilateral system making India utmost dominant. A viable relation with great power China is also urgent to render a balance. We have many cards to use while negotiating with India and China. We should not make mistake by being trapped by one great power in the region. This article is aimed to see the whole gamut of bilateral cooperation during the present government with a pro-Indian stance having special focus on agreements: what India took and paid back to Bangladesh, followed by a short analysis on future implication of the present venture between two governments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Introduction

The recent visit to Bangladesh by Indian premier Monmohan Singh is a return visit in response to the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s India trip in 10-13 January 2010. Expectation is high because this time the high level visit from India is taking place after 12 years. Both countries were looking for a comprehensive agreement on bilateral disputes. Some of the issues like transit and Teesta treaty that were awaiting final agreements were thought would get successful completion at Singh’s visit. This summit with sky-rocketing expectations for a successful resolution of some of the burning issues and an improved relation between these two countries remain, at the end of the day, a nightmare. Singh’s visit, though some said is significant and different from previous visits by Indian premiers and characterized by a cordial attitude from Singh himself, finally became susceptible to political manipulation from the West Bengal chief minister in particular, and complex political calculation of India in general. This article is aimed to see the whole gamut of bilateral cooperation during the present government with a pro-Indian stance having special focus on agreements: what India took and paid back to Bangladesh, followed by a short analysis on future implication of the present venture between two governments.

 

Hasina’s visit to India in 2010

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit was termed as historic which was thought to be epoch making in the relationship between two neighbors. Hasina was warmly received, which was reflected in Singh’s words ‘’ a valued friend a close neighbor’’. The arrest by Bangladesh of some top leaders of the United Liberation Front of Assam, (ULFA), and the rendition to India of several of them provided a backdrop to the visit[i]. India took this high profile visit as the greatest chance to elicit her best interest: transit to its north-eastern region or seven sisters through Bangladeshi mainland as going there otherwise incurs irreparable cost for India. A number of issues got attention at this summit. India was careful not to embarrass her friend Sheik Hasina for what she could face at the domestic political realm for compromising on the issues politically sensitive. India thought pressing her for great concession would be great political blunder for it. Despite that, many claimed that big neighbor got more and weak Bangladesh was satisfied by getting some promises which we would see cautiously approached in Singh’s Bangladesh visit.

In general, the Issues that Bangladesh is seeking to find a lasting solution for involve upstream diversion of river flows by India, demarcation of land and maritime boundaries, the burgeoning trade imbalance, shootings by border guards, and the persistent matter of enclaves. On the Indian side, subjects of interest and concern include the issues of enhanced connectivity, transit facilities linking the rest of that country to its northeastern states, non-provision of safe havens to insurgents. Most of the issues had been discussed in this summit. Predictably, India was focused in reaping transit from Bangladesh. Most importantly, India showed interest in cooperation with Bangladesh upon the assurance that, the present government has political will in granting transit to India.

Basic Agreements with India in 2010

Three major initiatives were undertaken by India. First, there was the US$ 1 billion credit line to Bangladesh for infrastructure development, the largest single financial aid package to any recipient from India. Second, amidst the raft of five agreements signed, one on cooperation in the power sector was also included. According to it, India was committed to providing 250 MW of power to Bangladesh every day. And third was to reduce the ‘negative list’ of items imported from Bangladesh, and accord it ‘zero tariff’ treatment. Instead of the paltry US$ 50 million or so India could have made in the form of duties and tariffs, India clearly, and perhaps, wisely opted for much larger political returns.

There were substantial paybacks for India as well. India would be able to obtain access to two Bangladeshi ports, Chittagong and Mangla. This would open up the landlocked Indian northeastern states to the Bay of Bengal. Small steps were taken to facilitate transit of goods to Bangladesh from Nepal and Bhutan through India, and between India’s north-east to the rest of its territories through Bangladesh. Nepal and Bhutan are also clear beneficiaries. A project to link the Indian state of Tripura to Bangladesh was agreed upon. The upshot of the visit was the 50-paragraph Joint Communiqué, one of the longest ever issued in recent times.

 

 

Return visit by Monmohan & Expectations

Monmohan Singh visit in 6-7 September 2011 was much desired and expected to bring a fundamental change in the relations between two countries. Lower riparian country Bangladesh was hopeful of a Teesta treaty to ensure just portion of water. On the other hand, India was confident that it would be able to sign the historic transit agreement with Bangladesh. The recent joint land demarcation cooperation between both countries is the direct result of a desired transit agreement. The general expectation in India was that Singh’s visit was awaiting a historic change for India’s geographic debacle.  Now it is important to see what the expected agreements were and what finally have seen success.

Monmohan’s two-day visit was expected to bring a fundamental development in the trajectory of their relationship through singing deals in a numbers of sectors.  According to the reports by India Times[ii], the following protocols, Memorandum of understanding (MoU) were supposed to be in motion for final agreement:

1.      The two countries were to sign agreements, protocols, and memorandums of understanding (MoUs) on withdrawal of water from Feni River by India for a drinking water project and a 20-year agreement on purchase of 250 megawatt power by Bangladesh from India at a preferential rate. Bangladesh might purchase another 250 MW power at the international market rate.

2.      The two countries were to sign a package protocol under the 1974 Mujib-Indira Land Boundary Agreement which will deal with five legacy issues -- exchange of enclaves and adversely possessed land, demarcation of 6.5 km of un-demarcated border, allowing Bangladeshis to use "Tin Bigha Corridor" for 24 hours, and finalization of a strip map.

3.      A MoU on trade liberalization was to allow duty-free entry of several of the 61 Bangladeshi products, most of them garments, to India under the Trade Agreement between the two countries.

4.      A protocol on Protection of Royal Bengal Tiger in the Sundarbans was supposed to be inked. Besides, the two countries might sign an MoU on Preservation of Biodiversity in the Sundarbans.

5.      Bangladesh and India were also to sign MoUs on cooperation on renewable energy, telecast of programs of Doordarshan and state-owned BTV, cooperation in fisheries sector and cooperation between Dhaka University and Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Amid these expectations, now its important to see the realization of these agenda in Singh’s visit. It was a widely held discontent at the last-minute of his visit to Bangladesh when West Bengal chief minister pulled out her schedule on the ground that, the information used in draft was three years old and if signed, would not serve the interest of her state. Mamata’s stance was an indicator that new clouds were revolving around his visit to Bangladesh. India did not inform Bangladesh through diplomatic channel that Teesta water sharing treaty was going to face another round of setbacks from India.  However, Monmohan Singh was accompanied by other four chief ministers from north-eastern states--Assam, Tripura, Meghayala and Mizoram--on his trip to Dhaka. Transit and Teesta treaty was in the mode of ‘one for one’. It meant that from Bangladesh side transit agreement was refused to be singed. Despite all, during Singh’s visit cooperation on following areas saw further progress, though a mixed response and analysis of the deals have been made in both countries:   

Final deals

1.      A protocol singed for the demarcation of 6.5km boundary, transfer of enclaves and adversely possessed lands, and free movement of the Bangladesh nationals of Dahagram and Angorpota enclaves through Tin Bigha Corridor.

2.      A number of MoUs and protocols signed regarding the expansion of trade and commerce, duty-free access of 46 Bangladesh garment items to Indian market, railway link between Rohanpur and Singabad to connect Nepal.

3.      A framework agreement for cooperation in different fields singed, not only between Bangladesh and India, but also among all the countries in the entire region to advance all development activities in the future. The framework agreement also envisages the joint river basin management.

 

An Analysis on the Monmohan Singh’s Visit and its Potential Implication

It is seen that, it is a historic visit without any historic breakthrough.  Two countries signed a series of protocols but without agreement on two major issues: no accord on sharing Teesta river water and no deal on granting India overland access across Bangladesh to its land-locked north-eastern states. India pressed Dhaka for a new deal for the use of Chittagong and Mongla port that also remains dream for the neighbor.

For India, as far as domestic political complexity is concerned, there is a mixed reaction to its concession to Bangladesh. On the eve of Manmohan's visit both Indian and Bangladesh officials confirmed that they finalized a deal for signing during his tour. Both sides reportedly agreed to a 50-50[iii], (some sources said 48-50 percept) share of the water of the river that originates in the Indian state of Sikkim and runs through Paschimbanga and Bangladesh. It is finally proved that the mind set of Indian politicians is still big brotherly and too narrow to concede to Bangladesh. Some said that, the ruling party congress was thoroughly willing to sign the deal, but Trinamul Congress for its political interest abstained from giving consent to this initiative. There was national thirst for transit, but no thrust for giving concessions to Bangladesh. Some opinions from Dr Ashok K Behuria, Research Fellow at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, for example, also hinted us that the whole India was divided over the issue. He said that, “it remains a fact that as the upper riparian, India has to be mindful of the just requirements of Bangladesh as a lower riparian”[iv]. Finally it seems that India failed to gain substantially from this visit. For the first time in Indian history of diplomacy, it felt embarrassed while dealing with its small neighbor Bangladesh. Moreover, one tendency in India is seen that, there is an increasingly rising segment of scholars, politicians, and general educated people who believe that India needs to negotiate with Bangladesh and settle the key issues. Within India, there is an opinion that it should stop acting big brotherly with its immediate neighbors while they don’t want India to do so.

For Bangladesh, as far domestic politics is concerned, present government saved it from a political blunder. Many thought that, it was a timely stance that, Bangladesh abstained from signing transit deal. But the opposition party, BNP leaders termed it a “total failure”[v]. It has also proved that, Bangladesh still needs to do intensive home work while dealing with India. This view is important that, Bangladesh should remain firm in its claims on Teesta River as it is likely that, India can revise the draft to address domestic concern.

Indian request for transit through Bangladesh is also not realized this time. It is seen that, the underlying motivation behind India’s approaching Bangladesh is getting transit within the tenure of this government. There is a consensus among high level politicians and officials that, northeaster regions can no longer be controlled by the use of force; ensuring development in these areas is a viable solution to the insurgency. But for development, a strong communication network is vital which geographically not feasible for India. Therefore, using the mainland of Bangladesh to go to this region is the only alternative. For the failure to sign the deal on Teesta, two other key deals have also been brought down: sharing the Feni river water and letting India use Chittagong and Mongla seaports to transport goods through Bangladesh territory.

For Bangladesh, it is important to understand that, land of Bangladesh is not ready for Indian use of heavy transports in the name of transit. Moreover, there is a need for national consensus on this issue. Without addressing such thing, any transit deal with India would be national disaster.

 

It is an important aspect of the visit that, many longstanding problems like exchange of enclaves and border demarcation were resolved. If implemented, it is good news for tens of thousands of ‘stateless border people’ after 68 years since 1947. Protocol to the agreement concerning the demarcation of the land boundary between India and Bangladesh essentially addresses three issues of border management: demarcation of 6.5 km of common borders, exchange of enclaves numbering 162, and exchange of adversely possessed lands between Bangladesh and India. If the agreement is implemented, Bangladeshis will get unfettered 24-hour access to Dahagram and Angarpota enclaves in India through the Tin Bigha Corridor. The road connecting the enclaves will be open 24 hours a day and have an automatic signaling system. At present, the use of the corridor is restricted to 12 hours from 6:00am to 6:00pm or sunrise to sunset. Media report said that, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is likely to travel to Angarpota and Dahagram to launch a bus service connecting the mainland[vi]. The agreement on 4,096-km border between the two countries (262 km with Assam, 443 km with Meghalaya, 318 km with Mizoram and 856 km with Tripura is seen as significant achievement for Bangladesh.

Though it is good news for Bangladesh, there is enough space to bear doubt in mind that, unless this agreement is ratified by Indian parliament, it would still remain a dream. There would have not come any such issue if India would ratify the 1974 land boundary agreement. The stop of border killings should have got focus in the agenda, although many said that, implementation of land boundary agreement will keep no reason for BSF’s indiscriminate killings of Bangladeshis. After all, this agreement should be seen as a positive development.

 

Bangladesh request to ensure duty free access to Indian market has seen some success. MoUs and protocols are signed regarding the expansion of trade and commerce, duty-free access of 46 Bangladesh garment items to Indian market, railway link between Rohanpur and Singabad to connect Nepal. The four chief ministers of seven sisters came with Monmohan Singh to ensure that, their interests are not hampered and assure access of some Bangladeshi goods which are very expensive if brought from western part of India. Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh said in a conference in Dhaka university senate building on 17 August that, India provided free access to almost 98 percent of Bangladeshi products. We have to know that the range of volumes of Bangladeshi exports is very small. Because of the proximity, for not having transport cost, there is a potential market in Tripura, Mizoram, Assam and other areas for Bangladeshi products. But the vital aspect is that, maintaining the balance of trade is vital for good relations. Bangladesh can export small package of products to north-eastern parts of India, therefore, Bangladesh should not be flooded by the products from the western India.

 Conclusion

There is seen a theoretical debate among the scholars and policy makers including the foreign policy adviser of prime minister Sheikh Hasina that, the comprehensive approach which addresses all concerns at a time should be prioritized over the discrete approach which deals one issue at a time regarding the negotiation with India. In the past it is seen that, discrete approach did not work. Discussion always revolves around one single issue, other issues were bypassed. And dealing that single issue needed years to reach to solution. Meanwhile, change of political government changes the relations between two countries. Therefore it is important that, under a broad package all issues need to be resolved so that both countries can walk towards a better future leaving all problems behind.

 

It is imperative to mention that, no important development is seen regarding the power deal and 1 billion dollar credit line. Similarly, no discussion took place on stopping the construction of Tipaimukh dam and dealings like overland transport connectivity in the Southeast region of Asia. Though India does not expect the eastern look of Bangladesh, our interest is best served by having a balanced relation with both China and India. There is a school of thought in Bangladesh comprising of academia, civil society and other intellectuals who tend to focus on the shared culture, traditions and history between Bangladesh and India while putting emphasis on the need for increased cooperation. The issue is that, in foreign policy such rhetoric works at the surface. Beneath the surface works the rigid core values or interests of the state what it never compromises. Rhetoric is good for exterior management of good relations; in practical diplomacy it is difficult to say that it is effective. There is another school in Bangladesh including many scholars in Dhaka University, especially in the department of international relations who advocate that in the age of globalization there is no reason of not having a strong connectivity between Bangladesh and India. None would ever say that, the advent of globalization has changed the interest of state that is vital for the survival of its people. It is important to have connectivity with neighbors, but before such venture, Bangladesh should fully address its interests. Southeast Asian region also need to be part of this connectivity.  We should not depend on a bilateral system making India utmost dominant. A viable relation with great power China is also urgent to make a balance. We have many cards to use while negotiating with India and China. We should not make mistake by being trapped by one great power in the region.

 

 

 

 References

 



[i] Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, (the National University of Singapore. He was the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh from 2007 to 2009. He can be reached at isasiac@nus.edu.sg) "Hasina’s Visit to India and Emerging Indo-Bangla Relations: Implications for the Region", available at <http://kms1.isn.ethz.ch/serviceengine/Files/ISN/112087/ipublicationdocument_singledocument/29096ce5-6ed2-4298-94c6-3d6b5494ae51/en/150.pdf>

[ii] “Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's historic visit to Bangladesh begins today”, India Today, September 6, 2001 available at <http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/manmohan-singh-visit-to-bangladesh/1/150225.html>

[iii] “Teesta failure unfortunate”, The Daily Star, September  8, 2011, available at <http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=201549>

[iv] “Indian think-tank for Teesta sharing”, The Daily Star, September  12, 2011, available at <http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=202127>

 

[v]“ Manmohan’s visit a ‘total failure’: BNP”, The Daily Star, September  8, 2011, available at  <http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/latest_news.php?nid=32137>

[vi] “Dipu Moni terms Indian PM's visit big success”, The Daily Star, September  14, 2011, available at

<http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=202339>

 

A hard copy of a presentation is attached with this paper as supporting document. This was presented in a recent conference on Bangladesh-India relations by a renowned think tank in Bangladesh.

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