Bangladesh and India come closer

New relations between the two neighbors could be effective to combat terrorism and militancy.

by Uttam Das

Diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and India are gathering new momentum following the recent visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to New Delhi. Hasina took the office of premier for the second term last January. She heads the Awami League party, which fought for national independence from Pakistan against a Muslim political establishment in the post-war era in western Pakistan. East (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan had been one country until 1971. India and Pakistan became independent countries from greater India in 1947 following the withdrawal of the British from the sub-continent, according to popular mass demand. The British, under the East India Company, colonized the region for 200 years. According to professor Delwar Hossain of the University of Dhaka Department of International Relations, feelings between India and Bangladesh had been cold following the 2001 election victory of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. According to influential Indian news magazine Frontline, âÄúIndia expected Bangladesh to be a docile or a quiescent neighbor,âÄù which was made apparent following its independence in 1971. On Aug. 15, 1975, the situation changed. Then-Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, his wife and three sons were assassinated in a coup, which inevitably soured relations with India. After successful negotiations with her Indian counterpart last month, Sheikh MujiburâÄôs daughter, Hasina, left New Delhi with a host of new bilateral projects, including terrorism and militancy prevention, the expansion of electric power generation and the promotion of cultural exchanges. Like other parts of the world, South Asia has also been facing a growing threat from terrorism and militancy. Afghanistan has been suffering from a decade of terrorist activities led by al-Qaida and the Taliban. American and NATO coalition forces have been struggling hard to root them out. The problem has destabilized PakistanâÄôs politics. Though India and Bangladesh are not immune from religion-based radicalism, both have healthy governments, considering their active democratic culture. In many ways, the bilateral anti-terrorism initiative is also a strategic need for the United States and could speed up the war on terrorism in the region. Both India and Bangladesh have emerged as reliable U.S. allies. Hossain believes that the recent agreement between Bangladesh and India will be instrumental in preventing the impact of the terrorism in the regional socio-political arena and will help in the extradition of individual terrorists who have been crossing borders after illegal activity. Of course, the final results will depend on how the agreements are implemented. According to a former Bangladesh Ambassador Sirajul Islam, both Bangladesh and India have significant âÄústakes for developing and sustaining friendly bilateral relations.âÄù Bangladesh, a small territory of 55,000 square miles, neighbors India on the north, east and west sides. India also needs BangladeshâÄôs support for its own economic and geo-political gains. Transit through roads and riverways and use of the Chittagong Port in Bangladesh would make things easier for India in terms of importing and exporting goods for the landlocked seven northeastern states. The anti-Indian groups in Bangladesh, including the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Parties and its allies, believe India is attempting to seize Bangladeshi sovereignty. They are critical of India, saying it âÄúhas been conscious about its role as a regional power, however, insensitive about its responsibilities toward the neighbors.âÄù At the same time, India has mistrust of Bangladesh as well. âÄúThis ill-feeling has enhanced further in the Indian mind because she has played a major role in BangladeshâÄôs liberation struggle during which she has also looked after 10 million refugees from Bangladesh who had fled to India to escape the Pakistani genocide,âÄù wrote Ambassador Islam in The Daily Star newspaper in Bangladesh on Jan. 24, 2010. India has major security concerns arising from its belief that Bangladesh allows its territory to be used as sanctuary by Indian militants who are fighting for independent countries in the northeast India. The beginning of effective relations between the two neighbors is a start of an important alignment and is likely to create a shift of dimensions in bilateral relations. Ambassador Islam feels that it is important to note that to achieve any fruitful outcome, both sides are expected to show political will. For this, each of the countries needs to take into consideration concerns of the other. There has been a strong anti-Indian sentiment in Bangladesh, even by the present opposition party. However, there is a way to offset this as The Times of India newspaper quoted Bangladesh Hasina, âÄústrong anti-India sentiments have always been there, but if the common people benefited from India-Bangladesh relations, negative forces would be subsumed.âÄù Uttam Das welcomes comments at [email protected]