The Bangladesh Government has its fair share of merits and disasters but no one can fault the country for having a very mature, well-balanced foreign policy that has started to pay dividends.
There are a number of large and small players in the region that specifically matter to Bangladesh’s national interests. Those include China, India, Myanmar and to a lesser extent Pakistan.
There is no doubt why China and India matter the most for Bangladesh’s economic and security fields. Bangladesh imports heavily from the two Asian giants and maintains varying levels of defence cooperation with these powerful neighbours.
Chinese and Indian army troops clashed in the Kashmir region during mid-June leading to heavy casualties on the Indian side. Bangladesh opted to remain quiet about the incident but this silence shook Indian foreign policy mandarins to the core because they took it as a sign of Bangladesh moving away from India’s sphere of influence.
They have a good reason to be worried because apart from the 2015 Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) Bangladesh did not acquire meaningful advantages by maintaining “good relations” with India.
India continued to kill Bangladeshi civilians on the frontier, Bangladesh of course never received its fair share of water from the common rivers and nor has India seized its hegemonic attitude against Bangladesh in matters of trade, defence and politics.
One only needs to scroll through the comments section on Bangladesh related topics on Indian newspapers and forums to read the shocking, contemptuous attitudes Indians have towards Bangladesh and Bangladeshi people in general to get an idea of their malicious intent. This is echoed in the Indian political establishment with India’s now Home Minister Amit Shah calling Bangladeshis “termites”!
Moreover Indian media no doubt toes the chauvinistic lines of their political gurus by routinely disparaging or belittling Bangladesh. Volumes could be compiled with the collection of utterly disgraceful writings in the Indian press about Bangladesh.
Its mind boggling to see that Bangladesh is categorised with the likes of Pakistan. Is it simply because Bangladesh is a Muslim majority country? Nepal will disagree, as the Hindu-majority Himalayan nation also experienced its fair share of bullying by India.
Social workers the world over will tell you if a husband is beating up his wife, it is time for the wife to quit that relationship.
Since 2019 the Indian government has been trying to undermine the Bangladesh government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. After acquiring what it needed, the Indians felt it’s time to work towards the replacement of the Awami League chief with a more subservient leadership because in recent times the Awami League and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was seen to be too close to the Chinese.
After all, Chinese investment in Bangladesh are at an all-time high. They are undertaking most of the important national infrastructure projects in Bangladesh including airport, sea port, major bridge and tunnel construction works all across the deltaic country.
India successfully got the Chinese deep sea port project at Sonadia dismissed much to the anger of the Chinese authorities. The Bangladesh government appears to have however repaired the ties strained due to the cancellation of the Sonadia deep sea port project. Now in 2020 the Chinese are back with plans to build a deep sea port elsewhere in Bangladesh, possibly near Sonadia Island itself.
Several Chinese companies also received contracts for expanding airports in Sylhet and Cox’s Bazar. Both are sensitive locations in relation to India’s interest but this was a calculated move on the part of Bangladesh to ensure it can tap in to these pressure points if push comes to shove.
Bangladesh also procured submarines, frigates, corvettes, tanks and air defence systems from China. The Bangladesh Air Force is also scheduled to replace its aged F-7 single engine-powered fighter aircraft with J-10 fighters from Chengdu. Interestingly India tried to “encourage” Bangladesh to purchase MiG-35’s to ensure it could establish some ingrained cooperation with Bangladesh’s defence establishment in hopes of further undermining Bangladesh’s sovereignty.
For Bangladeshi strategic planners the Chinese offer up a useful counter-balance against India. The Chinese moreover bring with them billions of dollars’ worth of investment and technology that can uplift Bangladesh. Bangladesh also appreciates the fact that Chinese do not directly interfere in Bangladesh’s internal affairs. It is something India has never been able to resist even before the actual independence of Bangladesh, as a sovereign country.
Bangladesh has requested $64 billion in investment from China to ensure its economy maintains the stellar growth it experienced over the past decade.
India is also backing Myanmar in the Rohingya crisis. The exodus of Muslim minorities from Myanmar in to Bangladesh resulted in one of the most serious problems to Bangladesh since 1971.
By playing the lives with millions of hapless Burmese nationals India illustrated exactly why Bangladesh or other neighbours of India can’t trust it to act in their best interests as a friendly country.
Apart from Bhutan there is no nation is South Asia which is in India’s camp.
Bangladesh has its reasons for drifting away. India’s zero sum thinking foreign policy is undoing its own strategic gains.
Bangladesh’s high trajectory economic growth and development is a nightmare for India. It wanted the country to be poor, dependent and unstable so Indian agencies can control it like they control Bhutan.
In sharp contrast China never feels threatened by the development of Bangladesh and its other neighbours. Chinese believe if Bangladesh develops in to a well-off nation it will be able to ensure greater trade, therefore profiting China ultimately. It remains committed to Bangladesh and this is best described by the fact that they recently dropped tariffs on 97% of products imported from Bangladesh.
In truth Bangladesh and China’s relationship can be best described as a mutually respectful one. One that is based on trust and patience but more importantly it is one where Bangladeshi people are witnessing tangible benefits, be in those Chinese-built power plants that light up homes or those naval frigates can safeguard Bangladesh’s territorial integrity.
India cannot even aspire to match China in this massive investment spree and so therefore continues to dig itself deeper in to its own pit of troubles. India lacks the foresight and deep coffers to compete with China even at a regional level.
Trouble and India are becoming synonymous. The whole world found out India talks more than it does. After losing scores of troops in border clashes with the Chinese, the best it could offer up was to ban Chinese products such as Tik Tok. Yes, that will teach those Chinese!
Why would anybody want to bother with a relationship with a country like that?
Current problems with India as incurred by Bangladesh:
- Water sharing (Bangladesh wants its fair share of inland water resources from the common rivers);
- Border killings (Indians killed more Bangladeshis than terrorists or any other nation since 1971);
- Trade (India continues to maintain unfair tariffs, frequent bans and excessive red tape that curtails Bangladesh’s exports to the Indian market);
- Cultural (Indian TV channels flooded Bangladesh, whereas Bangladeshi channels are prevented or not offered in the Indian market even though there are millions of Bengali audiences in India);
- Hinduvta extremism (Hindu-based right wing extreme ideologies are widely prevalent in Indian society to the point where racism is normalised);
- Transit (Unfair deal allows Indian goods and machinery to use Bangladesh’s territory without any significant financial benefit for Bangladesh. At the same time Bangladesh’s road network suffers, its businesses suffer and new social and security issues arise with allowance of Indian citizens and products to enter Bangladesh).
India must ensure these problems are resolved because it really does take two to tango otherwise at this rate India will be isolated from its neighbours.
Bangladesh for its part has always sought friendly relations with its neighbours. Its track record as a responsible member of the international community is unparalleled. To this end it would be in India’s interest to cooperate with Bangladesh in a manner that is befitting India’s stature.
If India loses the confidence of Bangladesh in its entirety then it will be a matter of time before New Delhi suffers irreparable setbacks to its economy and security concerning its North Eastern region.
No matter what, no country can afford to fend off three large populated foes. The future will be dictated based on economic prowess and political intellect instead of weapons of war. China showed it can drub India without firing a single shot.