| Khaleda Zia
New Delhi, Dec. 27: The defence agreement signed by China and Bangladesh on Wednesday is being watched in India with cautious interest.
South Block is not sure what the pact would mean for the two countries and for the region. But some in the establishment are worried that the renewed vigour with which China is wooing Bangladesh may be aimed at opening another front against India, this time in the east.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, who is now touring China, signed the agreement on defence cooperation with Beijing. She also held wide-ranging talks with her Chinese counterpart Zhu Rongji and other senior leaders on developments in South Asia and the rest of the world.
China’s attempts to woo the Bangladesh National Party government and broadbase its relations with Dhaka became apparent from Beijing’s financial loan, trade concessions and assurance to help build infrastructure. But the most significant step has been the agreement on defence cooperation.
Officially, India has not yet reacted to the agreement. Foreign ministry officials said they were aware of the developments, but they needed more details about the accord before expressing their views.
The reports in the Bangladeshi media, so far, have been vague because they do not specify what the defence accord aims to achieve.
Media reports from Dhaka suggest it is an umbrella deal that will help institutionalise the existing agreements between the two countries. It will also help enhance cooperation in defence training and production.
The reports are sketchy and Delhi may be awaiting more information on the pact from its mission in Dhaka and other sources, but the developments have clearly sparked concern in South Block.
Experts believe the deal may be China’s attempt to open another front against India to keep it preoccupied in South Asia at the cost of fulfilling its ambitions as a key international player.
“It is clear China has shown Bangladesh the carrot,” former foreign secretary S.K. Singh said. The developments are serious and, unless set right, could affect the eastern front, he said.
China’s close links with Pakistan is well known. India believes that Beijing has contributed to more than 80 per cent of Pakistan’s military hardware and ammunition, and also secretly helped Islamabad develop nuclear and missile programmes.
The Chinese leadership, aware of the hostile relations between India and Pakistan, may thus be deliberately trying to open a front against Delhi in the east.
The agreement’s timing is also suited to both China and Bangladesh. Since the BNP government came to power a year ago, its relations with India have been strained.
It worsened after the Indian leadership openly accused Bangladesh of harbouring terrorists who are responsible for violence in India.
China, aware of these developments, has found an easy and available partner in Bangladesh.
For Khaleda, the agreement is an opportunity to thumb her nose at India and show that Bangladesh has stronger allies to fall back on. Dhaka would not hesitate to cooperate with the stronger ally in the face of any strong-arm tactics by Delhi.