New Delhi, March 31: India and Bangladesh agreed to cut through their political hostility of the last few decades to agree today that officials from either government would undertake the first-ever survey of enclaves and adverse possessions in the other’s territory.
In a bilateral meeting here between foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee and his Bangladesh counterpart Iftekhar Choudhury, Delhi promised to speedily work through a series of tariff and non-tariff barriers that were not only impeding trade but had created such serious misperceptions in Dhaka that they were seen to be jeopardising the entire relationship.
Today’s discussions were dominated by the intention to keep up the positive momentum witnessed after the army-backed government took over in Dhaka and initiated steps that Delhi believes will help remove bilateral misgivings.
New Delhi did not raise the issue of insurgent camps, although Mukherjee said India complimented the Fakhruddin Ahmed government for its efforts at improving “peace and security’’ in the country.
Both sides are hoping that the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and chief adviser Ahmed on April 2, on the eve of the Saarc summit, will take the agenda significantly forward.
The decision to undertake “very soon” the first-ever survey of the 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India will possibly come as a huge relief to the few thousand people who have been living there in abysmal conditions since Partition in 1947. There is little development in these small, congested enclaves where access is limited.
There will also be a joint survey of the adverse possessions — little bits of territories citizens have illegally occupied in each other’s country.
The foreign secretaries will meet regularly to discuss all issues, opening a forum that is common between most countries but hadn’t been held between Delhi and Dhaka for the last two years.
There was no mention, though, of any joint intention to demarcate the remaining 6.5 km of the boundary in today’s talks.
Analysts said a joint survey of the enclaves and adverse possessions will only show what is already known: that there is no contest over either the territory involved in the enclaves or the number of people who live there.
It’s only after the boundary is fully demarcated that the enclaves can be absorbed into each other’s country, as had been envisaged by the Indira Gandhi-Mujibur Rahman Land Agreement in 1974.
The former high commissioner to Bangladesh, Deb Mukherjee, pointed out that both India and Bangladesh were “equally culpable of not moving’’ all these years.
Some analysts felt that political issues in Bengal, where many Bangladeshi enclaves lie, as well as in the Bangladeshi districts where the Indian enclaves are located, had prevented the resolution of the matter.
On paper, those living in the Indian enclaves are Indian citizens. During elections, the Indians have the right to cast their vote in ballot boxes that are carried with considerable difficulty through neighbouring territory that is mostly hostile.