India-Bangladesh Maritime Arbitration: Is it victory or nothing?
By Shorif Hossain
The much awaited judgment on the India-Bangladesh maritime boundary squabble was handed over to the two disputant countries on July 7 and the decision was announced the day after. According to the verdict, Bangladesh own about 19,467 sq km out of 25,602 sq km. At a cursory glance, the verdict seemed relatively favorable to Bangladesh, but it seemed to have opened a Pandora’s Box between two main rival political antagonists.
After such as decision was announced in Myanmar–Bangladesh maritime boundary a while ago. The ruling party here declared unfettered and absolute victory and conversely an utter and crushing defeat for Myanmar. It took full, formidable and entire credit for the success, held many victory rallies and disparaged the rival country and ridiculed local political adversaries. The fact is Myanmar received eight potentially valuable off shore oil and gas blocks in the arbitration, Bangladesh obtained greater oceanic area but Myanmar was awarded these blocks to land.
The same song was sung about the recent maritime judgment. The government similarly declared categorical and absolute victory in the India maritime mediation and started celebrating victory in gleeful and inelegant manner.
The foreign minister said that it was a victory for citizens of both Bangladesh and India and the verdict would improve the mutual bond and rapport between the two countries and it is victory of friendship.
The ruling party staged the usual jubilant and triumphant rally and declared that the victory was possible only because of the knack and skills, prudence and wisdom of the party in power and its absolute leader, the prime minister.
The victory claim was based on that Bangladesh got 19,467 square kilometers of area out of total disputed area about 25,602 square kilometers with India. Now it is big question how two countries are victorious at the maritime verdict.
The opposition BNP and many analysts stated that Bangladesh deserved all 25,602 sq kilometers of the contested water but become government’s misguided, rash and unwise policies, govt. got 19,467 for their subservient and compliant position with respect to India. Unenlightened and egocentric attitude it lost the valuable 6500 sq km of the vital marine area including the strategic South Talpatty and control over Hariabanga River.
At the press briefing, M Khurshed Alam, maritime secretary to foreign ministry, claimed that South Talpatty did not appear in any official Bangladesh Map since 1980 and hence it was difficult to ascertain the claim on the technical ground that sounded pretty unprofessional, inept and amateurish. On the other hand, the prime minister and her colleagues have denied the existence of the South Talpatty after verdict came into light.
It was important before formal application and plea for international arbitration to settle the longstanding wrangle, is it not a simple detail that Bangladesh side should have made sure that it possible possessed? Is not it embarrassing that the country is claiming an island that it ignored or overlooked to display in the official map? It seemed like a frivolous procedural and inept reason to lose it in arbitration.
The independent maritime specialists and BNP claim that the Bangladesh has lost the strategically, historically and emotionally important South Talpatty because of imprudence, narrow outlook, unprepared and submissive bearing carries some weight and credence the small island that caused potential armed confrontation between the neighbouring countries and both countries dispatched respective naval forces cannot be spurned and pooh-poohed as insignificant, irrelevant and minor.
South Talpatty was very important to the Bangladesh. The late president Ziaur Rahman spent a lot of energy, drive and passion to claim it as a part and parcel of Bangladesh. Many think that South Talpatty was among the alleged reason why the popular president was assassinated at the prime of his life and rule. All evidences indicate South Talpatty is a territory of Bangladesh. According to a press report, the existence of South Talpatty is demonstrated in Google Satellite images (Bangladesh Pratidin, July 12). It is located directly under mainland Bangladesh and a bit southeast to India. Naked eye would suggest that it definitely should have been allotted to Bangladesh because of the location and proximity rather than India. But either negligence of government or subservient policy of ruling party to India has played a vital role to lose the strategic region South Talpatty. So India is happy to this verdict. The Indian government views as a significant gain its achievement of the control of the disputed South Talpatty, known as New Moore Island in India and concomitant access to Hariabhanga River through the verdict of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on India Bangladesh maritime border dispute.
The new Delhi based television NDTV in its report headlined ‘on tribunal resolves 40-year old maritime dispute between India and Bangladesh’ on Sunday (13,07,14) said it had accessed an internal note of the Indian government which suggests otherwise so has India lost out?
Even though India believes the delimitation has been done in an arbitrary fashion. It is not the loser. Control of the disputed New Moore Island and concomitant access to Hariabhanga River is a significant gain the TV channel reported.
The Island supposedly rich in oil and natural gas has been a traditional sore point between the two neighbouring countries. The Hariabhanga river flows through the Sundarban in west Bengal and border satkhira district of Bangladesh and the region hold twice the amount the hydrocarbon compared to the Krishna-Godavari basin in Andra Pradesh.
The maritime and political thinkers mentioned that some causes behind the lost of this Island. Such as, they said, in accordance with laws of the PCA every disputed country can appoint a judge according to its choice. India appointed their citizen a member of judge panel, but Bangladesh appointed an Australian as a judge later he was replaced by Ghana’s citizen. Bangladesh could appoint an experienced Bangladeshi as a judge. So Bangladesh did not get any favor what got India.
The most important reason noted by analysts is that the current ruling party, in power as an upshot of a farcical, one sided and voter less election, cannot just claim that the island has been swallowed by the sea and hence is immaterial.