India-Bangladesh Reciprocal Affinity or Unilateral Penetration

Cover Story

 by Md. Habibur Rahman

StoryHistorically an acidic conflict between the Hindus and the Muslims led to the partition of the British India. The partition, however, did not resolve the Hindus and Muslim issue. South Asia primarily comprises of the Eight States and Bangladesh and India are two neighboring states. India’s assistance to Bangladesh in 1971 in her war of liberation acquired for her a position of superiority in the country. The geographical location of Bangladesh is such that it suffers from certain natural disadvantages. It is totally surrounded by India. A prominent scholar views that Bangladesh literally India-locked.The South Asia region remained in the throes of small wars and skirmishes. The safe sanctuary provided to Indian terrorist groups of the North East had been a point of bitterness between two countries apart from frequent exchange of fire between the border guards. South Asia’s diversity is also reflected in the many violent inter-state and intra- state conflicts that further distinguish it from other region of the world. Since the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971, the balance of power in South Asia has inferably shifted towards India. The political order is decidedly Indo-centric. There are a number of domestic compulsions which inform Bangladesh foreign policy. Territorial security for example, has become a crucial area for concern after 1975. India is not yet ratified and handed over the “Tin Biga” Corridor which would connect the enclave of Dahagram with Panbari mouza of Bangladesh. The dispute over the maritime boundary has important economic ramifications for Bangladesh because it affects Bangladesh territorial sovereignty over the sea, fishing rights and ownership of sea bed resources. The sovereignty over the island of Talpati remains unresolved and Bangladesh’s failures to vigorously assert its ownership only strengthen India’s claim over the island by virtue of its actual control. Regionalism is as a process provides a mid-level approach to problem solving, between the extreme of unilateralism and universalism. The scope of regionalism differs from one region to another. The process of economic integration has been taken as panacea for conflicts. The concept economic integration’ leads to peace is not workable in every possible setting, however, by taking South Asia as an example. It has been fully realized in South Asia due mainly to inter and intrastate conflicts. Now it will be analyzed about the following things respectively, the ancient and present relations and hatred between Bangladesh and India and scrutinize to answer the question whether reciprocal relation between Bangladesh and India are prolonged to escalate conflict or conducive to peace.
Bangladesh, shares 4094 kilometers of land border with India on three sides, the fourth side being open to the Bay of Bengal. Various issues need to be resolved if the relationship between the two is to be improved, from sharing the water of 54 international rivers that flow from India to Bangladesh to controlling so-called terrorism and promoting economic development. India is often seen as a big power with hegemonistic tendencies amongst its neighbors in the sub-continent. Indian scholars argued that Bangladesh, in relation to India, has to take note of the large anti?Indian sentiments presiding in its soil.
The trade relationship has had a detrimental effect on bilateral relationship. The geographical proximity of India to Bangladesh has made it one of its biggest trading partners. There are pressing concerns in Bangladesh regarding the large bilateral trade deficit with India and the large volumes of informal imports from India across the land border which avoid Bangladeshi import duties. Bangladesh’s bilateral trade deficit with India has been increasing rapidly on average at about 9.5% annually. For Bangladesh, India has now become the largest single source of its imports. Political discontentment in Bangladesh tends to stem from the huge trade gap, supported by the fact that India has a lot of non trade barriers for Bangladeshi exports. Even though exports from Bangladesh are growing at a healthy pace, there is no sign of reducing this trade gap. From the perspective of SAARC countries, including Bangladesh, these changes mean that Indian domestic markets, for most manufactured goods, are highly competitive, and with prices that are close to world prices, and are likely to be difficult to penetrate even with complete exemption from Indian tariffs under bilateral or multilateral free trade arrangements such as those planned under SAFTA.
The list unresolved issues in Bangladesh-India relations is long which includes border demarcation, enclaves and adversely possessed lands in each other’s territories, border fencing, illegal migration, alleged sheltering and cross border infiltration of insurgents, illegal trade, smuggling of illicit arms, drug trafficking, trafficking in women and children, proper sharing of common river waters, push in bids by border security force of India, border clashes, killings and abduction of Bangladeshi nationals, etc. Another major irritant in their relations is the huge trade imbalance in favor of India. These sorts of problems escalate mutual antagonism with each other.

Illegal migrations and infiltration is a major issue in Indo-Bangla relations. There is need to evolve a permanent solution to the problem. The boundary fence is talking too long and would certainly be a good measure but since a large tract continue to unfenced, particularly the enclave’s and adverse possessions by the both sides, provocations will continue. As a result, reciprocal friendships are facing with some complexities.
For centuries, natural resources have been a source of continual conflict between nations, though unlike oil, which still is a major cause of discord between nations, water remains less disputed issue. The water is one of the most contentious issues between two countries. The Farakka Barrage and Teesta River Dispute are two issues of them.
India and Bangladesh share almost 4096 kilometers of land border, whereas official records suggest that only 6.5 kilometers of land along the Comilla-Tripura border is considered as officially disputed by the governments of both countries. But the border disputes between Bangladesh and India are by no means confined to demarcation problems. It is further linked with other problems like illegal migration of people and goods and other cross border criminal activities. Within just six weeks of partition, the border between India and Pakistan was drawn by Sir Cyril Radcliff on the basis of the Two Nation Theory. This provided for India’s control over 112 enclaves and Bangladesh’s control over 32 enclaves based on the religious identities of the inhabitants of those areas. An agreement was signed by the then Presidents of the two countries in 1972 but since it was not ratified by India it could not be put into effect. On the other hand, Bangladesh’s immediate ratification of the treaty and the fulfillment of its obligation gave way to the return of Berubari to India by Bangladesh, while India gave permission to Bangladesh to use the Tin Bigha corridor in 1992 which would work as an entrance to Bangladesh’s enclaves inside India. India did not ratify the respective treaty and Bangladeshi government failed to good job in this regard in foreign affairs,
The boundary dispute between India and Bangladesh in April 2001 worsened relations. It raised questions about the survival of the newly installed Hasina government. Border skirmishes occurred around the village of Padua, also known as Pyrdiwah, in India adjoining the state of Meghalaya and the Timbli area of Sylhet district in Bangladesh. It was held that India had illegal possession of the area since 1971. Attention to the disputed area was drawn to Bangladesh when the Indian forces attempted to construct a footpath from an army outpost in Padua across the disputed territory some 300 meters wide to Meghalaya. The refusal of the Indian forces to withdraw led to the conflict that lasted from 16th to the 19th of April killing 16 Indian and 11 Bangladeshi soldiers and 243 people were killed due to exchange of firing between security forces of both countries, and further led 10,000 Bangladeshi and 1000 Indians to flee from the disputed area because of the ongoing tension.
Illegal immigration is a perennial problem in almost all nations. Problems of immigration considered illegal have even led to the outbreaks of xenophobic violence in certain places. India has completed around 1357 kilometer fencing of the international border with plans to cover another 2429 kilometer of border in the second phase and also plans to illuminate around 300 kilometer of international border to prevent illegal migration. The Parliament of Bangladesh adopted a resolution on 21 October 1992 strongly protesting against the so-called “Push Back” operation, terming it inhuman, and expressed the hope that India would stop its illegal action immediately under the BNP led government. Recently the Indian BJP led government took a crucial initiative to migrate Bengali speaking people in Bangladesh as planned push policy though they are living in India over the decades as Indian citizens. On the other hand, Bangladesh government did not reply to Indian statement up to the mark and failed to take strong position.
As Bangladesh’s closest neighbor, India has been a dominant factor in the country’s foreign policy (as well as in domestic politics) ever since Bangladesh emerged as an independent state in 1971. Dhaka’s perception of India, and consequently its approach toward that country, has varied over time and under different governments: sometimes perceived as a positive factor, it has, at other times, been viewed as a key source of a threat to security. Variations in perception have produced changing patterns of Bangladesh-India relations in the past four decades. The three Awami League (AL) governments (1971-1975, 1996-2001, 2009- to date) have viewed India positively and pursued a positive foreign policy approach toward that country to congress led government, while the non-AL governments military regimes or nationalist-led government invariably perceived, albeit in varying degrees, the country’s biggest neighbor primarily as a source of insecurity.
Bangladesh?India relations over the years reflect the prominence of coercive elements in India’s hegemonic role in South Asia. This perception will affect the development of long term institutional relationships with smaller neighbors of South Asia. This was clearly reflected in India’s aversion towards multilateral cooperation frameworks like SAARC and the lack of reciprocation in trade and economic cooperation with countries, as seen with Bangladesh. But India’s influence in a regional context results in discontentment on the part of weaker states. India, too, should prepare itself to compromise on certain fronts if regional cohesion and peace is to be achieved. India’s relationship with all South Asian countries should not be dictated by its relationship with Pakistan and China, with whom it has undergone prolonged conflict and competition. If India wishes to continue its relationship with Bangladesh, it needs to take a good look at the stand it takes towards other South Asian countries also. A hegemonic stance by India would have significant impact on the Indo?Bangladesh relations.
The attitude of India towards her neighbor in the region has come to be known as the Indian version of the Monroe Doctrine. Bangladeshi scholars and Nationalist led government are naturally critical of India’s “Big Power” attitude towards their country. Critics suggest a joint initiative to be undertaken by India and Bangladesh, to build reservoirs in both the countries that would help in storing the excess water during the rainy season and utilize it during the dry seasons. One must realize that the key to India’s emergence as a regional and global power lies in New Delhi’s ability to standardize a policy that succeeds in improving relations with its immediate neighbors. If Narendra Modi is to rewrite the India story by reviving the economy and accelerating the growth rate, his government will have to make sure India’s neighborhood is politically and economically sound. Both India and Bangladesh can work together for enhancing regional development, peace and security in order to deescalate disputes and conflict and ancient hatred. Otherwise, they will appearance future antagonism and Conflict for long term. Finally, regional peace, development and security will be jeopardized. n

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