From the Editor-in-Chief: Cementing the special relationship

Enayetullah Khan
Wednesday, April 5th, 2017
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Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is heading to New Delhi on April 7 on an official visit of immense significance. The India Bangladesh relationship is one of critical importance not only for the two countries but also for the region as a whole.

 

There are high expectations on both sides that PM Hasina’s visit will deepen the cordial and cooperative relationship between the neighbours and build on the warm goodwill that obviously exists between the leaders.

 

Although we don’t know the details of the deals that will be signed, reports from India say at least 17 agreements and bilateral MoUs will be inked during the summit. We are hopeful that Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina, having consolidated power in the domestic political arena, will deliver on the bilateral stage, taking into account the interests of their respective nations.

 

PM Hasina’s visit to India, her first official bilateral trip since 2010, gives us cause for optimism. It is also a time to take stock of achievements and to reflect on issues yet to be resolved.

 

Relations between India and Bangladesh have been on an upswing since 2009, when the Awami League-led government came to power in Dhaka, promising to mend ties. In the last few years, we have seen significant cooperation in the areas of security and border management, connectivity, power, energy, shipping, railways and so on.

 

One of the fruits of this era of closer cooperation was the long-awaited implementation of a 1974 boundary pact to exchange border enclaves following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Dhaka trip in 2015.

 

For Bangladesh, the most coveted prize, and the most elusive one, continues to be a deal on sharing the waters of the Teesta and Feni rivers. India and Bangladesh were expected to sign the river water-sharing pact in 2011, but the plan fell through after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee objected to it. Reports from New Delhi suggest that there is still no consensus on how to resolve this critical issue.

 

Bangladesh would also like to see the lowering of tariff and non-tariff barriers that would allow Bangladeshi exporters to access the market in India, Asia’s third-largest economy.

 

On the Indian side, there is strong interest in signing a defence deal with Bangladesh. The two countries are already cooperating closely on security matters. Bangladesh has acted against Indian insurgent groups along the border and has cooperated with India on combating Islamist militants. If a defence deal consolidates this cooperation in the spirit of equality and mutual respect, it will be welcomed on both sides of the border.

 

The people of India and Bangladesh have always shared a special bond. India intervened in favour of Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, during our war of liberation in 1971 and played host to roughly 10 million refugees.

 

Since then, however, Bangladesh has grown, developed and changed to become a nation of 160 million people, boasting GDP growth of close to 6% and with realistic ambitions of becoming a regional hub. Both the neighbours are significant contributors to each other’s economies. Now is the time to make sure that the special relationship is cemented in a way that yields tangible results for the people of both countries.

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