New Delhi, Aug. 27: Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha’s recent visit to Dhaka may have raised hopes of stronger India-Bangladesh relations, but both sides will have to make a sustained effort based on mutual trust to address each other’s concerns and work towards their speedy resolution to achieve that end.
As a good beginning, a Bangladesh delegation arrived here to participate in two-day talks to put in place a comprehensive treaty that will help harness the waters of the Teesta and other major rivers that flow through the countries. The two sides already have an agreement on sharing the Ganga water, and despite the ups and downs in bilateral ties, the arrangement has been working fine over the past five years. Dhaka is keen on another agreement on sharing the waters of all the other major rivers.
Sinha made it clear during talks with leaders of the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party that India may be a “big brother” in size, but not in attitude.
He argued that the geographical size, market and economy of India were much bigger than that of its neighbours and Delhi should not be expected to be apologetic for these realities. But this did not mean that India was not sensitive to the concerns of others, he pointed out. It was willing to address the concerns of its neighbours, and, in return, expected them to show the same sincerity in addressing India’s concerns.
“The tone at the discussions was frank. There was no molly-coddling. They told us what they felt about us and we, in turn, how we felt about them,” a senior diplomat who was part of Sinha’s delegation to Dhaka said. She pointed out that Sinha addressed several important issues, like the trade imbalance, frequent firings at the border and demarcation of the boundaries between the two countries, pending for years.
The foreign minister apparently gave them a patient hearing, but did not hesitate to clarify that while India was not basing its relationship with Bangladesh on reciprocity, it expected Dhaka to be more sensitive to Delhi’s concerns. His focus was on the presence of northeastern militant outfits on Bangladeshi soil and attempts by Pakistan’s ISI to take advantage of the situation. Prime Minister Khaleda Zia assured Sinha that her government would not allow any activities inimical to India’s interest from Bangladesh.
The foreign minister said the meeting of the Joint Economic Commission — an important body that will take care of the issue of trade imbalance and other subjects related to economic cooperation — will take place in October.
Though the dates will be finalised in the next few days, the fact that it is being revived after years is a clear signal that Delhi means business and wants to address Dhaka’s problems.
Sinha underlined that close economic cooperation was the “bedrock” of the bilateral ties, but made it clear that Bangladesh would have to make serious efforts to make it so.
The hint was clear: if Dhaka expected freer access to the Indian market, it could not do so by closing its market to Indian goods.
One important area of cooperation, which was not discussed in detail but will come up in the near future, is sale of Bangladeshi gas to India, particularly to the Northeast. Dhaka at present is not in a mood to sell natural gas to India. Many experts in India feel that unless Bangladesh agrees, the huge trade imbalance between the two sides will remain.