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India says Dhaka must show intent to improve relations, build confidence

A 19-member delegation of Bangladesh’s Border Guarding Force (BGB) was recently in India’s capital New Delhi for five days to discuss a range of critical issues with India’s Border Security Force (BSF).

India expectedly raised the issue of illegal immigration and asked its South Asian neighbour to take concrete steps to evict insurgents of northeastern Indian origin hiding in the latter’s territory and to check the cross-border movement of smugglers and illegal migrants.

The two nations have signed a series of agreements and memoranda of understanding to manage the unresolved border issues.

Illegal immigration and rampant smuggling along the border, besides insurgency are security issues that have dominated Indo-Bangladesh border talks for long, and analysts feel talks really don’t have any bearing for a future resolution.

Similar agreements have been signed in 1971 and 1975 and the outcomes have been well below par. Unless the Government of Bangladesh takes pro-active measures and is inclined to arrest illegal migrants, such meetings will not lead to a permanent solution.

The ruling Awami League’s continued inability to curb the persecution of Hindu minorities is also a clear sign of her government’s failure to exert authority.

Should India continue to accept false pretensions and promises made by the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League? Perhaps, India’s foreign policy in relation to Bangladesh needs a revisit.

Despite tangible and verifiable evidence, the Bangladesh Government has repeatedly denied any large-scale illegal immigration. India’s soft stance towards such blatant denial thus far is a worrying sign. It confirms the international community’s impression of India being a soft state, a notion which the Narendra Modi-led NDA Government would be very keen to renounce.

Although there is a strong perception that both countries warmed up to each other when the Congress-led UPA regime was in office between 2004 and 2014, the ground reality appears somewhat different. Back in 2011, there was hardly any cheering in Dhaka when the country prepared to mark 40 years of independence. The masses were not roused enough, and it was reported to be, in part, a reaction to the Awami League’s efforts to commandeer the nation’s history for fleeting political goals.

There is mass scale alienation, made much more prominent after the controversial electoral process in January 2014. Analysts say people of Bangladesh feel India could have done more as it is a more resourceful nation, but has fallen short of people’s expectations.

Recent developments in the region potentially spell trouble for India too. India is likely to closely watch as Sheikh Hasina bolsters ties with Beijing to repair dented legitimacy after the U.S. and Europe raised question marks over her authority to form the government under controversial circumstances.

Has this dented India’s aspirations to become a regional super power through its own military and economic capacities? One would not like to think so, but it could be a possibility.

The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on the creation of a Chinese economic and investment zone in Chittagong, Bangladesh’s main deep-sea port, and discussed construction of a highly anticipated second port at Sonadia, a tiny island in the Bay of Bengal Sea.

Sonadia may emerge as a major regional trade hub, as it provides sea access to China’s Yunnan province, India’s landlocked northeastern states, the Himalayan nation of Nepal, and Bhutan.

If China is granted Sonadia’s deep-sea port project, it will gain “further access to the Indian Ocean and an alternative route for its energy imports.

Experts believe China is involved in a ‘shadow war’ through enhancing Bangladesh’s military and naval infrastructure for countering the U.S. and India in the Indian Ocean Region.

A 2014 report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute states that China was the biggest supplier of arms to Bangladesh between 2009 and 2013. The report has claimed that Bangladesh bought anti-ship missiles, tanks, fighter aircraft and other arms from China, resulting in China being the source for 82 per cent of Bangladesh’s total arms imports during the period.

Analysts say Sheikh Hasina’s recent high-profile visit to Beijing, in which she pledged to be an active partner in a China-led century, is bound to affect her country’s relationship with India.

Such diplomatic manoeuvres will not go unnoticed by the Narendra Modi regime in New Delhi, which has already indirectly questioned China’s alleged expansionist designs.

Bangladesh, it appears, has already picked sides, and India is likely to be skeptical of its future affiliation with its South Asian neighbour.

Sheikh Hasina needs to demonstrate clearly how she intends to deal with India on issues like water, transit, trade and North-East insurgents.

Unless a concrete road map is devised, India must tread with caution in dealing with the Awami League Government in Bangladesh. It must show that it means business.



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