A new beginning in Bangladesh-India ties | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, September 11, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, September 11, 2009


A new beginning in Bangladesh-India ties

The momentum must be used to address the core issues

THE agreement reached in Delhi by Bangladesh and India through bilateral talks between the Foreign Ministers of the two countries is clearly a breakthrough. We welcome the many positive signs coming out of the talks. From an economic and political perspective, the results are pivotal for both the countries. The broad agreement reached on some key issues sets the ground for more positive development in the near future. The agreement on transit to Nepal and Bhutan, and the commitment of 100 MW of power are two immediate steps that are likely to benefit Bangladesh in the very near future. There are several other areas, where detailed planning and quick follow-up are necessary.
Despite the positive outcome of the talks, we note that trade imbalance, a key issue affecting Indo-Bangladesh ties, has not been tackled at the talks. Given that Bangladesh has for a very long time been asking for an entry of its goods into the Indian market, this persistent reluctance on India's part to open its doors to Bangladesh's goods serves as a damper to mutually beneficial relations. Over the years, much discussion has gone on at the government-to-government and trade delegation levels. We have also heard of a track-2 approach. Against this background, the issue should have been resolved at the talks in Delhi.
We thank the Indian side for agreeing to facilitate Bangladesh's transit to Nepal and Bhutan. However it has to be recalled that such an agreement was reached earlier but could not be implemented.
Another significant issue we feel has not been dealt with is Tipaimukh. To be sure, there have been all the blanket assurances from the Indian side about keeping Bangladesh's interests in mind. But the real need is for Delhi to share information with Dhaka on the issue fully and comprehensively and let such information be disseminated to the general public in both countries. This is important as even in such Indian states as Meghalaya the issue has been exercising people's minds. It is critically important that on Tipaimukh nothing be done that can undermine the new opening the Delhi talks have made for the two countries. While on the subject, we fail to understand why such long-standing issues as Angorpota and Dahagram are still in the discussion stage. The problem, which should have been resolved long ago, now must be approached in earnest.
Everything said, however, we welcome the results of the Delhi talks and look upon the agreement as an important first step towards a fresh new beginning in Indo-Bangladesh ties. It is essential that from here on the two nations do not go back to the old standoffish positions on issues of mutual concern. Additionally, the deal should lead to a relaxation in other areas. Increasing people to people contact, especially through an exchange of visits by journalists, is of the essence. Here we urge relaxation of visa restrictions on journalists. Bangladesh is known to be very restrictive, with India being so in many cases. We must also point out that a change in mindset, especially among the Indian media vis-à-vis Bangladesh, is a must. The continuous coverage of Bangladesh as a hub of terrorism has patently harmed relations between the two countries. For our part, we have noted how a number of criminal elements have come from India and engaged in terrorist activities here. That Bangladeshis are by and large a secular people and that religious extremism has no place in this country have conclusively been demonstrated by successive elections, including the one in 2008. The results were a severe blow to extremism and were clearly a rejection of religion-based politics.
We look forward to a greater and more positive understanding of Bangladesh and its people from India. In the days ahead, we expect that the visit by the Bangladesh prime minister to Delhi in the near future will result in a reciprocal trip to Dhaka by India's prime minister. Such reciprocity will, we hope, lead to more positive and concrete developments in Dhaka-Delhi ties.

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