We have noted some interesting discussions and debates in the Bangladesh media regarding India and Bangladesh signing a defence pact during the ensuing visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Delhi commencing from 7 April. Bangladesh and India are two friendly neighbours in South Asia. They have mutual respect for sovereign equality between their peoples. Two such countries can easily sign any or many agreements mutually beneficial to both in defence, security, energy, economics and commerce.
No patriotic citizen should question the sincerity of the Bangladesh government as long as the daughter of Bangladesh’s founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is the head of government. Bangladesh and India are set to initial 33 agreements and MOUs and protocols during the visit of the Bangladesh prime minister. None of these for any reason will harm the interest of India or Bangladesh. More interestingly, a definite time bound action program is set to be agreed on concluding water sharing agreements relating to Teesta and other rivers.
History is proof that India and Bangladesh are friends in need. Being located in in South Asia and sharing a common cultural heritage, history and many other things, they developed a strong bond of friendship during the glorious liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971. At the time, India sheltered over ten million Bengali refugees and provided them with food, shelter and medical care. Driven from their homes by the ruthless occupation Pakistan army’s unleashing of genocide and rape, these refugees had no other places to go.
India also assisted our liberation war in all possible ways — by giving arms and ammunition, providing training to the Mukti Bahini and in the last stage fighting side by side with Bangladesh’s freedom fighters in liberating the country from Pakistani occupation. We have every reason to acknowledge the fact that without India’s active help and assistance our independence could not have been achieved so early and so easily.
None but the Awami League government in exile led the liberation war lasting nine months from March to December 1971. Bangabandhu, upon his return from Pakistani captivity, inherited a completely ruined and devastated country and had to start rebuilding the nation from scratch. His first success was making India agree to withdraw its army from Bangladesh. These days many people talk big. But who else other than Bangabandhu could ask for and make the withdrawal of Indian soldiers happen so quickly? Of course the sincerity of the then Indian government must not also be questioned. Indira Gandhi and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman signed a historic border protocol and a 25-year treaty of friendship between their two countries. Did these at all go against the interest of Bangladesh?
Bangabandhu got only three and half years for nation rebuilding. Many were the epoch making activities he initiated despite continued sabotage and conspiracies of the agents of the defeated forces. He along with most of his family members was brutally killed in August 1975. Bangladesh started moving backwards as the agents of the defeated forces initiated a long period of misrule in the country from 1975 to 1996. The rulers even passed an indemnity act that prevented the trial of Bangabandhu and other leaders. The trials of war criminals was also stopped. Several irritating issues between India and Bangladesh remained unresolved. Successive governments did not even take up these issues with any seriousness with the Indian government.
It was not until the Bangladesh Awami League under Sheikh Hasina, surviving daughter of Bangabandhu, returned to power that the nation began moving in the right direction.
Sheikh Hasina’s government from 1996-2001 repealed the indemnity act, initiated the process of the war crimes trials, concluded the Ganges water sharing agreement with India, started negotiations on the border enclaves exchange and concluded a deal for peace in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Agreements and MOUs for Security: The two governments are expected to sign agreements during the prime ministerial visit to Delhi on joint military exercises, training of armed forces personnel in each other’s facilities and exchanging intelligence information on jointly combating terrorism. A strong Bangladesh for many reasons will benefit India as in that case there cannot be any worry about insurgents sheltering inside Bangladesh and using the territory for subversive activities inside India, which was definitely an issue till the Hasina-led present government completely rooted it out.
Now it is the turn of India to reciprocate this gesture completely though eliminating the safe hideouts of Bangladeshi criminals and terrorists on Indian territory. A security protocol securing the maritime boundary of Bangladesh will greatly assist Bangladesh in exploring and exploiting its huge potential maritime resources.
Agreements on energy sector collaboration: An agreement on 3.57 billion US$ worth Indian soft term loan will be signed for various projects in the energy and power sector. A significant portion of the loan will be used for the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant for which the Russian government is providing money, technology and other support. A Russian firm is building the 2X1200 MW capacity nuclear power plant.
Indian loans will also be utilised in setting up power trading infrastructures between India and Bangladesh and between two parts of India transiting through Bangladesh. A part of the money will also be used for infrastructure development of an Exclusive Economic Zone for Indian investors at Mirersharai, Chittagong. Indian Exim Bank is proving loan to Bangladesh India Friendship Coal Power Company (a joint venture of BPDB and NTPC) for the 2X660MW Rampal coal fired power plant. Indian companies Petronet, ONGC , Reliance Group and Adani are already proceeding with various projects related to Bangladesh’s energy security.
Communication: The Bangladesh and Indian prime ministers will formally inaugurate two intercountry railway linkages through video conferencing. The direct railway linkage between Kolkata and Khulna will benefit the people of both countries. In the not too distant future all erstwhile Assam Bengal railway linkages will be re-established. Side by side road and waterways linkages are also being advanced.
Cultural Exchange Protocols: India and Bangladesh share a common heritage in the field of art and culture.
Sheikh Hasina through balanced diplomacy has opened the door to investment in Bangladesh for Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Korean, Malaysian and Russian entrepreneurs. Internationally Bangladesh enjoys the image of a development hub. There is no reason to believe that any country can unilaterally influence Bangladesh now into agreeing lopsided agreements and contracts.
A vibrant Bangladesh economy is riding a near 7% GDP growth rate and may shoot to double digits if the ongoing development projects are implemented on schedule. The visit of Sheikh Hasina to India will further advance the existing excellent bonds of friendship between Delhi and Dhaka. India now needs an economically developed and strong Bangladesh for its own sake. One hopes the Indian government will appreciate the urgency of a deal on a sharing of the waters of the Teesta during Sheikh Hasina’s stay in Delhi.