After fresh initiatives, India ties with Bangladesh are set to scale new heights

July 1, 2024 2:50 am

After fresh initiatives, India ties with Bangladesh are set to scale new heights

By Harsh Vardhan Shringla

It was not surprising that the first visit to India in Modi 3.0 was of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh. In a short span of ten years, PM Narendra Modi and PM Hasina have achieved more concrete outcomes in the relationship than in the previous 40 years. Little wonder that the two PMs referred to this period in the relationship as a “sonali adhyaya” or golden era.

While PM Hasina’s “state visit” to New Delhi over the weekend was a short one, it packed in enough transformative elements to ensure that the two countries craft a relationship for decades to come.

India sees Bangladesh as a “close and valued neighbour” with rapidly growing capabilities. For India, Bangladesh is the converging point of its “Neighbourhood First” and “Act East” policies besides the SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) doctrine and New Delhi’s Indo-Pacific vision. Bangladesh is also an indispensable partner in the development of India’s northeastern region. On the other hand, Bangladesh values its relationship with India as “a major neighbour,” “trusted friend” (PM Hasina’s words) and a key development partner. India is the largest market for Bangladeshi products in Asia.

During the visit, the two PMs laid the foundations of the next chapter in this dynamic relationship with 10 pacts being signed, providing direction, impetus and substance to strengthen bilateral and sub-regional cooperation.

In PM Modi’s words, the two countries have outlined a “futuristic vision” based on India’s ambition for a “Viksit Bharat by 2047” and Bangladesh’s national development goal of “Smart Bangladesh Vision 2041”. The “India-Bangladesh Shared Vision for Future: Enhancing Connectivity, Commerce and Collaboration for Shared Prosperity” spoke of partnership in areas such as environment and sustainability and blue economy.

With India and Bangladesh sharing 54 rivers and large sections of population of both countries dependent on these rivers, water resources management has been a priority for both nations. During the talks, the two PMs agreed to prioritise exchange of data and formulating the framework for interim water sharing based on the recommendations of the Joint Rivers Commission.

With the Ganga Water Sharing Treaty – signed in 1996 for a 30-year period – coming up for renewal in 2026, the two countries have set up a joint technical committee to initiate discussions for the renewal of this crucial pact. In another watershed development, the two PMs also agreed to undertake conservation and management of the Teesta River inside Bangladesh with Indian assistance.

Joining hands for collaboration in a new area – the space sector – India will help launch a Bangladeshi satellite. There is also a special focus on collaboration in the energy and digital areas to power the economies of both countries. To provide a further fillip to trade, the two countries will start talks on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

The early operationalisation of two Special Economic Zones offered by Bangladesh to India in Mongla and Mirsharai, the opening of new border-haats, trade facilitation to enhance bilateral trade, improving road, rail, air and maritime connectivity and trade infrastructure are some of the other steps under discussion to “transform our geographical proximity into new economic opportunities for our peoples”.

Connectivity has been a cornerstone of India-Bangladesh collaboration. PM Modi noted that the two countries had restored all pre-1965 connectivity and more projects were to be implemented for seamless cross-border movement of people, goods and services. Giving a boost to the defence partnership, the two countries will explore defence industrial cooperation for the modernisation of the Bangladeshi armed forces. Joint military exercises, training and capability development will also be pursued. For more than a decade, Bangladesh has been the largest recipient of India’s development partnership assistance in South Asia. The total quantum of soft loans extended by India totals about $10 billion. The two countries are now working on a new Framework Agreement for Development Partnership that “will expand the reach of our projects and programmes … and our long-term vision of closer connectivity”.

India will also expand its training for civil services personnel, judicial officers and others as part of its capacity building programme. During the recent visit by PM Hasina, India announced 350 training slots for Bangladeshi police officers.

Enhancing people-to-people connect has been a priority for both governments. A welcome and much-needed announcement from India was the extension of the e-medical visa facility to Bangladeshi nationals coming for medical treatment. A new Assistant High Commission of India in Rangpur (on Bangladesh’s border with North Bengal) is also to be opened to speed up consular and visa services for the people of the north-west region of Bangladesh. While PM Hasina’s visit and the relationship appear to be on steady ground, both sides have to be aware of the possible pitfalls. Increasing radicalism, fundamentalism and the ever-present threat of terrorism threaten India – across its borders into West Bengal and Assam – and the region. The more serious concern of an incremental but real Chinese increase in influence in Bangladesh’s polity and economy could lead to adverse consequences for India and Bangladesh.

Given the opportunities and challenges offered by a close and valued neighbour, with rapidly growing capabilities, Bangladesh is an indispensable partner for India. The tried and tested friendship between the two countries will no doubt scale new heights with the new initiatives announced during the Bangladeshi PM’s visit.

(The writer is a former foreign secretary and ex-High Commissioner of India to Bangladesh)

Related Articles

Back to top button