Transit to India
SECRETARY level talks on various Indo-Bangladesh issues have just concluded in New Delhi recently. Both sides put forward their agenda of interests. The Bangladesh foreign secretary was hopeful of positive results relating to economy and border. He said that Bangladesh would not give any concession regarding transit but would be willing to discuss strengthening security to tackle the terrorists on both sides of the border. He also took up issues of reducing trade gap (removal of non-tariff barriers, duty-free access, exporting more products from Bangladesh) border demarcation in remaining 6.5kms, unfettered access through Tin Bigha corridor, exchange of enclaves, and unsettled territories.
There are many other issues for Bangladesh to discuss with India such as Talpatti, land transit with Nepal, stoppage of push-in, indiscriminate killings of Bangladeshi by Indian BSF, etc. But by keeping the agenda small, Bangladesh has done well. Meetings with limited agenda are more effective. The issue of transit to India is highly sensitive as we may have to go even to referendum and parliamentary discussion to determine the acceptability by the people. Moreover, the CTG is not competent to take any final decision on such an issue.
It is true that Bangladesh could make adequate progress in transit issue after signing of the Indo-Bangladesh Trade Agreement on March 28, 1972 which provided for "mutually beneficial arrangements, for the use of their waterways, railways and roadways for commerce between the two countries and for passage of goods between two places in one country, through the territory of the other."
The then Indian trade minister's observation in this regard is significant. His observation was: "Excellency, we would be too happy to provide the necessary transit facilities to Nepal and our friends in Bangladesh." With the passage of time the question of transit facilities to Nepal appears to have been forgotten by India. Bangladesh does not appreciate this kind of attitude of India.
There has been enough discussion about the talks, and, broadly speaking, there were a few observations from the leading economists, eminent politicians, and prominent citizens. They were: (a) CTG is not competent to handle a highly sensitive issue like transit to India, (b) the issue is also political,(c) we cannot extend concession to India sacrificing our own interest, and (d) our experience of agreements with India in past is not happy.
Secretary level discussion is expert level meeting. As such there is no scope for dictation by any emotion or sentiment. It has to be confined strictly to economic cost and benefit. However, Bangladesh should be straight in expressing its attitude that solution of the issue of transit depends on solution of some other critical issues. However, serious discussion on the issue of transit is not appropriate at this stage.
Though agreement of October 4, 1980 had similar proviso for surface connectivity as included in 1972 agreement, successive governments of Bangladesh could provide the facility due to: (a) very sensitive nature of the matter, (b) taking a decision on an issue that might be seen as providing special dispensation to India, (c) depriving Bangladesh of the benefit of access to enclaves like Dahagram and Angorpota on permanent basis, (d) non-fulfillment of promised sale of half a million tons of rice to Bangladesh, and (e) permanent settlement of sharing Ganges water.
We do understand that transit facility to India is of great importance for India because it enables India to control and develop its states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland, Mizoram, Monipur, and Arunachal.
However, easy access to these states through Bangladesh means too much pressure on our weak infrastructure (particularly on roads and culverts), the possibility of entry of narcotics, possible complications vis-à-vis anti-insurgent activities across the border, etc. The railroads may have to be brought up to international standard, the rivers to be used by Indians should be dredged to increase their navigability. The government of India should bear the entire cost of improving river transport, roads, and railways.
India may assist in promoting trade between Bangladesh-Nepal and Bangladesh-Bhutan through allowing small corridors. In extending transit facility to India, we must be careful about the interest of our traders and industrialists.
Right from the independence of Bangladesh its people were eager to extend concessions to Indians. But for certain acts of India they have become suspicious. The worst act was the Farakka barrage. Bangabandhu's trust in India was not honored properly. We are suffering from less supply of Ganges water than committed. BSF are killing Bangladeshis without adequate reasons. Maritime boundaries need to be finalised, issues like Talpatti, demarcation of 6.5kms borders, stoppage of push-in, and Bangladesh-Nepal and Bangladesh-Bhutan corridors can be solved without much difficulty. But so long as the Bangladeshis are skeptical of Indian motives, no Bangladesh government will dare to solve the transit issue. Thus it is up to India whether it settles the issue the quickly or allows it to continue to drag on for an indefinite period.
In improving the image of India in Bangladesh it appears to be relevant to point out the role of media in India. It has been observed that the Indian media is not very friendly toward Bangladesh. Before concluding this analysis, it would be appropriate to say that the governments of Bangladesh did not pay due attention in drafting earlier international agreements. This caused loss to the nation. In future the government may seek the assistance of eminent lawyers of the country in this matter.