Hope, expectation, satisfaction, disappointment –– such words are used to express emotions and sentiments. But life is more than emotions –– and more so, diplomacy. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his onboard media interaction during his return journey to New Delhi on 07 September made an evaluation of the outcome of the just-concluded Bangladesh-India summit meeting held in Dhaka. He said: “(W)hat we have achieved today, things could have been better if we were able to sign the water sharing accord, but what we have achieved, a broad umbrella agreement setting out pathways of cooperation in diverse fields for accelerated development of our two countries, I think has immense potentialities.”
The “broad umbrella agreement” is the “Framework Agreement on Cooperation for Development” between Bangladesh and India. The agreement has become operative from the same day it was signed, on 06 September 2011, by the prime ministers of the two countries, Sheikh Hasina and Manmohan Singh. The 781-word agreement lays down the general principles of the whole gamut of bilateral relations between the two countries.
The Joint Statement, issued at the conclusion of the summit, notes effusively: “Both sides welcomed the conclusion of the comprehensive ‘Framework Agreement on Cooperation for Development’ that outlines the shared vision for durable and long-term cooperation to achieve mutual peace, prosperity and stability.”
It is tempting to compare the Framework Agreement with the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Peace the two countries signed in 1972. Both the treaties comprise 12 articles but their spirit and content are different.
The Treaty of Friendship did deal with issues of bilateral cooperation in various fields but highlighted anti-imperialist and non-alignment agendas. Reflecting the realities of the Cold War days, the Treaty of Friendship was essentially a security pact. It devoted three articles on security concerns: “(viii) In accordance with the ties of friendship existing between the two countries, each of the contracting parties solemnly declare that it shall not enter into or participate in any military alliance directed against the other party. Each of the parties shall refrain from any aggression against the other party and shall not allow the use of its territory for committing any act that may cause military damage to or continue to threat to the security of the other contracting parties; (ix) Each of the contracting parties shall refrain from giving any assistance to any third party taking part in an armed conflict against the other party. In case if either party is attacked or threatened to attack, the contracting parties shall immediately enter into mutual consultations in order to take necessary measures to eliminate the threat and thus ensure the peace and security of their countries; (x) Each of the parties solemnly declare that it shall not undertake any commitment, secret or open, towards one or more states which may be incompatible with the present treaty.”
The Framework Agreement is, in contrast, a development-oriented document, focusing almost exclusively on bilateral cooperation. It, though, mentions about the desirability of cooperation at “sub-regional and regional levels.” On the subject of security, Article 9 says: “To cooperate on security issues of concern to each other while fully respecting each other’s sovereignty. Neither party shall allow the use of its territory for activities harmful to the other.” The formulation of the article is apparently innocuous; its real import will be evident only when the modalities of security cooperation will be in place.
The Treaty of Friendship was contacted for 25 years and both the countries allowed it to lapse in 1997. The Framework Agreement is, on the other hand, envisaged to be an agreement in perpetuality. Article 12 says: “Either Party may seek termination of this Agreement by giving a written notice to the other Party providing the reasons for seeking such termination. Before this Agreement is terminated, the Parties shall consider the relevant circumstances and hold consultations to address the reasons cited by the Party seeking termination in the Joint Consultative Commission. Actions taken or agreements reached pursuant to this Agreement shall not be affected by its expiry or termination.”
The Treaty of Friendship established special relationship of Bangladesh with India in the aftermath of the War of Independence. The Framework Agreement now restores that special relationship between the two countries in a changed global and regional context. In the present-day world of Pax Americana, India, a regional power, is a strategic partner of America.
From the perspective of the all-comprehensive Framework Agreement, the failure of the September 6-7 summit meeting to sign accords on water sharing and transit seems to be a mere hiccup in the bilateral relations of the two countries which, according to the two Prime Ministers, have entered “a new phase.”
NM Harun, now retired, was a journalist in profession.