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Love thy neighbor: The India-Bangladesh Dynamic

By Apoorva Mandhani

The Indian Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to Bangladesh concluded with a promise made by the country’s PM to visit India in April. Though Ms Hasina has visited India thrice already, this will be her first official visit as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.   

The visit, therefore, holds great importance for further strengthening the bilateral ties between the two countries, with as many as 20 articles, including defence and connectivity agreements on the cards. Besides, it calls for a re-examination of the relationship shared by the neighbours, as well as the future that lies ahead.

The Rough Patch

The Teesta Water dispute is arguably the primary point of contention for the two nations, with negotiations going on since 1983. In 2011, efforts to come to a settlement were stalled by West Bengal’s Chief Minister who felt the deal would harm the interests of her State.  In 2013, an agreement was drafted which allowed for the 50:50 allocation of Teesta waters during the lean season. 

Thus, we observe that the agreement has been stalled several times due to a lack of consensus between the Centre and the State. It is, therefore, imperative for that this issue is addressed and resolution is agreed upon.

The Game Changer

India-Bangladesh relations have improved since the two countries completed procedures for the ratification of the 1974 Border Pact. The implementation of the Land Boundary Agreement enables the two countries to exchange lands known as enclaves or chhitmahal and aids in resolving the long-standing problem of land possession.

With border management having been a cause of friction between the two countries, the implementation of the Agreement is believed to be historical and is expected to increase security cooperation and trade.

Trade and the BBIN initiative

Bangladesh harbours major concerns regarding the bilateral trade deficit with India, and the large volume of informal imports from India that avoid Bangladeshi import duties. This discontent is warranted as India has non-trade barriers for Bangladeshi exports. The issue has now transformed into a political one, with the belief that this vast deficit remains because of India’s protectionist policies.

PM Hasina has reportedly sought more discussions on the implementation of the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) motor vehicle agreement, which is believed to be a significant symbol of sub-regional unity. Land-locked north-east India needs to be opened to Bangladesh to achieve economic development. 

Energy Sector Cooperation

Cooperation in this sector has increased significantly since the meeting between Bangladeshi Energy Adviser Tawfique-e-Elahi and India’s Petroleum Minister in February 2016. They explored ways for strengthening cooperation in the areas of petroleum exploration and trade. They also discussed the possibility of shipping petrol and diesel to Bangladesh, from the newly-built IOCL refinery in Odisha which is geographically closer to the country. Moreover, India underscored the need for expanding commercial ties between the two nations via sea, by connecting the ports of Chennai and Paradeep, with its counterparts in Chittagong and Mongla in Bangladesh.

Hence, we see a growing realisation that greater cooperation in the arena of oil and gas will create a win-win situation for both the nations. It is expected that the political leaders of both nations would accommodate each other’s energy needs.

Key Issues to Deliberate

It is common knowledge that India needs proactive support from the Bangladesh government and increasing incidents of cross-border drug trafficking and counterfeit currency only strengthens this argument. Further, the Look-East policy adopted by India under PM Modi’s leadership has reignited the idea of the 21st-century Silk-route through Bangladesh, India, Myanmar and China (BIMC), which remained forgotten for almost 14 years. The BIMC route brings together the all the exclusive benefits of the intra-ASEAN FTAs. There are therefore several issues to be discussed during PM Hasina’s visit.

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