Written By Mir Mosharref Hossain
MNA Editorial Desk: Bangladesh is surrounded by India from three sides and obviously our relationship with our greatest neighbor is of much importance as our development and welfare is much dependent on that. Good relationship with the neighboring countries can drive the economic and social welfare of a country. Our honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in her three terms as the head of the government has been successful in establishing a good relationship with the influential neighbor. In spite of our achievement in gaining economic and demographic benefit, there are still several issues to be addressed in different areas to strengthen the relationship of these two neighbors. Hence, the visit of PM Sheikh Hasina on April 7-10, 2017 has created new hopes for a stronger relationship between New Delhi and Dhaka.
India has been friendly to Bangladesh in recent years. Saying that, we must not forget the contribution of India during our liberation war and afterwards. In last ew years, they have settled few long-term issues like ‘Tin Bigha Corridor’ in 2011. On top of that, they have also settled the enclaves issues with Bangladesh which contributed a gain of almost 10,000 acres of land on our part. This also has provided the rights of national recognition and facilities to the people living at those enclaves. India’s current leader of the government, Narendra Modi has been very keen to build friendly relationship with Bangladesh. With his charismatic down to earth personality, he has mobilized the development of good relations among the neighbors of South Asia and Bangladesh has always been on top of his list. His visit to Bangladesh on June 6-7, 2015 had generated a lot of promises. There were several key agreements like $2 billion line of credit, $5 billion investment from Indian firms, Teesta water sharing treaty, transit between India and Bangladesh etc. Despite a lot of promises, not many of them have seen the light of implementation till now. Regardless of that, friendship between Bangladesh and India is at its best right now.
PM Shaikh Hasina’s upcoming visit to India will opt for several agreements between the two countries as well as for settlement of few long-run issues. According to many intellectuals and analysts, the ‘Teesta Water Sharing Treaty’ should get the highest priority as we are looking for our fair share of Teesta water for a very long time. Former government of India almost settled the treating while their Ex-PM Manmohan Singh visited Bangladesh in September, 2011. Though the agreement was signed to exchange 162 adversely held enclaves, his visit was marred by the last minute scrapping of the Teesta water sharing deal due to objections from the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Bangladesh was frustrated but India promised to settle the issue soon.
Teesta water sharing deal will be on the top of the schedule during Sheikh Hasina’s upcoming visit as both Indian PM Narendra Modi and President Pranab Mukharjee may engage themselves to settle this issue with agreement of Sheikh Hasina and Mamata Banerjee. But if this treaty is not completed, there are enough other agenda on the table which if agreed upon can bring great welfare for both Bangladesh and India and will make this visit an excellent success.
Agreement between Bangladesh and India on power and energy sector is get high importance during PM’s visit to India. This is anticipated that a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) will be signed for 60MW from Indian state Tripura under no-electricity no-pay method. Bangladesh is already purchasing electricity from India and this will be an addition. Moreover, two tripartite MoUs on power sector cooperation – one involving Bhutan and the other involving Nepal will be on the table for consideration. Two Power Purchase Agreements for purchasing 1600MW and 750MW of electricity from two business conglomerates of India also will be finalized. All these agreements if come into action the people will enjoy a much better power supply situation in the near future and the economy will boost as the products facilities will be able to utilize a better supply of electricity. Though there is enough debate over the Rampal coal-based power plant project which is already in the process of establishment and being majorly financed by India, will also help the power situation of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement will also be a matter of discussion. This agreement will ensure international connectivity in South Asia though Bhutan is yet to ratify this agreement due to their local trade body’s objection in anticipation of adverse effect on their local trade. But this agreement will definitely boost the trade and tourism of this zone. Moreover, transit for vehicles between Bangladesh and India will be also discussed. This agreement is very important for India as if Bangladesh allows the Indian vehicles through Bangladesh that will enable them to connect to their north-eastern states of India though India is not completely dependent on Bangladesh in this matter as they have a narrow passage alongside the border of Bangladesh for this purpose. Bangladesh on the other hand will enjoy better trade facility as they will be able to export their products to India in a much hassle free and cheaper way. But there is a question about frequent movement of large Indian vehicles on the roads of Bangladesh and the maintenance cost of the damage of those roads after this agreement. To solicit that issue, Bangladesh needs to fix a proper tariff for Indian vehicles using our roads. If we fail to bargain on a proper tariff, we might end up on the losing end.
India will also focus on an agreement to use Chittagong and Mongla ports to transport goods among its states. On another issue, it was discussed earlier that, India might invest for development of our sea port to increase the space and later Bangladesh will rent those spaces to India. Of course, this will provide revenue to Bangladesh as already our ports are not completely used but here also our benefits must be properly discussed in figures and should be finalized with expert’s opinions.
Bangladesh’s main focus during this visit of the Prime Minister should be on reducing the trade gap between India and Bangladesh. Annually, where India exports $5bn worth of goods in Bangladesh, we can only export $500mn to India. This is a huge trade gap in spite of India to be a much larger market than Bangladesh. Here, PM Sheikh Hasina and the delegates with her must discuss on the high tariff of our product’s entry to the Indian market along with so many non-tariff barriers. According to experts, the non-tariff barriers are halting our exports to India the most. Like; for some products, Indian authority does not allow BSTI’s clearance rather they make the clearance from their own authority which is definitely bothering our businessmen to enter the Indian market. Other than that, long clearing time, checkpoint behavior of the authority and many other non-tariff factors are working as a barrier to close the trade gap between Bangladesh and India. If a proper agreement can be reached in these matters, our business and economy will definitely get a boost.
Bangladesh should remind and opt for the private sector investment from the Indian firms. Indian business organizations were supposed to invest $5bn in Bangladesh. Among which, Reliance was supposed to invest $3bn but that did not happen yet. If Indian firms invest in Bangladesh, we can be benefitted in terms of higher FDI and lower unemployment contributing to the overall economic development of Bangladesh. Moreover, there was an agreement that India will provide a $2bn line of credit which Bangladesh did not avail till now and we believe, this line of credit is not necessary as it contains higher interest rates and most importantly, we have better opportunities from other sources like; ADB or World Bank with much lower interest rates and higher grace period.
The most discussed issue relating to Bangladesh-India relation in recent days is obviously a possible Defense Cooperation deal between these two neighboring countries. Many in Bangladesh are seeing this deal as a useless one as they are anticipating several damages from this deal. Some are even saying that, this deal will create disturbance for Bangladesh’s sovereignty. But the fact is, India is a very mighty neighbor for us and we should maintain a good relationship with them at least for our economic welfare. So, we must bring out something good from the acceptation or rejection of this deal. Here keeping a proper balance of power to reach an equilibrium point will be the most vital. We must trust on the wisdom of our honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in making a decision for the best of her country.
Border issues should also be on the agenda as many innocent people are being killed at the Bangladesh-India border mostly by BSF of India. Legitimate actions for these incidents were promised by India but that did not actually happen. This sort of incidents created anti-Indian sentiment in the hearts of Bangladeshi people. Different parties will use this negative sentiment and both India and Bangladesh will face unnecessary stress on the borders. If there are trespassers at the Indian border, they can be stopped by non-life-taking bullets or by shooting them in ways that will not kill someone. If this sort of killings go on, then it will be difficult to create a friendly relationship between these two neighbors. So, this might be again discussed and a proper solution should come out from the discussion.
An agreement on security cooperation is expected to take place. With increasing acts of terrorism in Bangladesh and also in India to some context, this might receive the greatest priority. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy to terrorism has initiated a tight action on terrorists in Bangladesh. But militants from here tend to flee in India when threatened and vice versa. A strong cooperation between India and Bangladesh in regard of security concerns will initiate a strong position against terrorism and other security concerns in this region.
There are several other agreements that might be signed during the Prime Minister’s April 7-10 visit to India like; agreement on investment in ICT sector and technology sharing in ICT, several trade agreements in different industrial sectors etc. Several other issues might be settled. This visit is making us hopeful that the relationship between Bangladesh and India will be much stronger afterwards. We are hoping that this will open the door of huge opportunities. We believe after this visit of Bangabandhu’s daugther our honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the tie between Dhaka and New Delhi will be everlasting and will be based on only actions rather than promises.
Mir Mosharref Hossain is the Chairman of Mohammadi Group of Companies and Director of The Daily Observer.