Bangladesh-India relations at a fork in the road

Bangladesh-India relations at a fork in the road

Bangladesh and India share a very complex and multi-faceted that is rooted in the Independence of Bangladesh.

The Babri Masjid demolition in India and subsequent NRC, CAA that analyst’s identified will be a source of major conflict between Bangladesh-India relations however don’t hold much truth.

We believe Bangladesh’s diplomacy is mature enough to compartmentalise those things and act according to the interests of the country.

The Babri Masjid tragedy is not a tragedy for Bangladesh to bare. It was an act that harmed the foundations of national unity in India. Bangladesh is lucky that extremists never became powerful enough to erode the nation’s strong secular foundations.

The second point is the more important NRC and CAA. These two botched up acts epitomise India’s internal problem. Finally it was found that those so called “millions of illegal Bangladeshis” were actually Hindus. BJP, which rides on the back of Hinduvta fanaticism found itself in a quagmire. It is neither unable to round up millions of “illegal Hindus” nor does it have the wherewithal to fight Bangladesh – because that’s exactly what would occur if India tried to push-in its Hindus to Bangladesh by force or pressure notwithstanding the kindness showered upon India by the ruling Awami League government in Dhaka.

Another aspect analyst’s pointed out was the matter of Kashmir. Overall Bangladeshi’s fully sympathise with the plight of the Kashmiri people who are under repression of New Delhi. However from a diplomatic perspective Bangladesh won’t move a muscle to interfere with India’s internal affairs. It simply has other more serious pressing concerns.

At this point of time Bangladesh wants India to immediately ratify the water sharing agreements including Teesta issue. Since India has been dragging its feet on the matter the Bangladesh government has turned to China to finance a Teesta river water management program. China’s involvement in the project is a matter of grave concern for New Delhi. In fact there is very little India can do now to sway Dhaka from this course of action.

The proposal to China was sent at a time when China and India are on the cusp of all out military conflict over dirt patches along the de factor border in Kashmir’s Ladakh. Dhaka was encouraged after China agreed to duty free access to 97% of all Bangladeshi exports.

Chinese companies are outbidding others in winning development projects across Bangladesh. This is because these Chinese companies have the proven experience and financial clout to undertake the projects. Whereas India’s flagship joint-venture coal power plant project in Bangladesh has been hobbling since Day 1.

But China doesn’t always have its way in Bangladesh and this is proven by the fact that the Bangladesh government cancelled the Sonadia deep sea port project and the contract for the Cox’s Bazar international airport project that were won by Chinese firms.

Instead the Bangladesh government awarded a separate deep sea port and power generation hub project to a Japanese conglomerate who are constructing the Matarbari project modelled on the basis of Kashima port in Japan.

There is another prickly issue that concerns Bangladesh. It is of course the unabated killing of Bangladeshi citizens along the shared international border by India’s security forces and even civilians. The matter is taken up during every bilateral meeting but is unlikely to be resolved until Dhaka itself takes measures to protect the lives of its own citizens. Bangladesh is currently constructing border security fence, various watch towers and border patrol roads to thwart cross border crimes, trespassing of Indian citizens, narcotics and weapons.

Bangladesh has also raised the matter of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority influx in to its territory with New Delhi, which has become a partner of Myanmar and has invested significantly in the Rakhine state.

Dhaka is concerned about India selling weapons to the Myanmar military and providing training to Burmese military personnel that could potentially be used to commit further acts of genocide and destabilise the region.

Bangladesh has to ensure it acts and uses language that India understands to ensure it is not exploited further. As years go by Bangladesh grows stronger both economically and militarily to resist India’s grip.

While the Bangladesh government is unlikely to join the Chinese bandwagon under present circumstances the relationship with India remains very fragile. Any major unilateral steps taken by India, which may adversely impact Bangladesh will force Dhaka to recalcutate how it deals with India permanently. As India stopped the export of onions to Bangladesh, the country has found alternatives in Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan.

The country’s government can also find alternatives to India in other areas of trade, security and investment if India is not reticent about its relations with Bangladesh in a positive way.

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