Dhaka wants treaty, New Delhi partnership

Mrinal K Biswas

The Teesta river water sharing will surely dominate the talks between the Bangladesh and Indian Prime Ministers at their April Delhi meet but a final decision concluding in a treaty will remain only a remote possibility. The Indian approach at this venture will be to buy time till West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is ready for such a pact. Bangladesh is impatient as a final Teesta pact strike is hanging fire far too long.
At the two-nation summit Prime Minister Narendra Modi  will no doubt assure his Bangladesh counterpart Sk Hasina Wajed for a positive outcome in the bilateral talks fully knowing that the Teesta is a highly emotive issue for Bangladesh which badly needs Teesta water originating in Sikkim and flowing down through West  Bengal to the riverine neighbouring country.
In the interregnum, Modi is ready with a slew of proposals for the benefits of Bangladesh to assuage the feelings of Sk Hasina and her Awami League government who have already met some of India’s vital needs by curbing anti-India terrorists’ bases and by extending transit facilities for their big neighbour.
Prime Minister Modi is robustly hopeful that because of very geopolitical nature both countries can take mutually advantageous positions to keep at bay a number of elements and forces knocking at the doors. Signing of a defence pact is high on the list. Bangladesh needs foreign investments, a positive balance of trade, wider transit facilities, military training personnel, defence equipment, help on maritime surveillance and even helps on space and civilian nuclear energy technology. India’s main concern is creation of a sound eastern hemisphere security belt in association with Bangladesh.
The Delhi meet will essentially concentrate on give and take by both the sides. Apart from signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) by both the countries India is to offer $500 million line of credit for Bangladesh to purchase defence equipment at a time China is trying to push hard their military hardware in that country. Not long in the past in March 2016 India by signing an agreement had extended $2 billion credit line to Bangladesh.
India is quite watchful of China’s footprints in Bangladesh which has signed 27 agreements worth of billions of dollars in forms of strategic partnership last October. Huge Chinese funding of $24 billion is so far the biggest foreign line of credit for Bangladesh. Japan has also increased investments in the eastern land of Indian subcontinent. India is watchful.
While India is best positioned to help Bangladesh to break new grounds for all-round developments, Chinese inroads notwithstanding the neighbour’s sensitivities on Delhi’s approach on international and bilateral issues may not strike a similar chord with Sk Hasina and her countrymen. Especially when Bangladesh is greatly impregnated with divisive forces. Begum Khalida Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party as the main opposition bloc enjoys the solid support of Jamaat-E-Islami with latter’s clear anti-Indian inclination and pronounced pan-Islamic views. It is no secret that inspiration comes from Pakistan. The continued China-Pakistan bonhomie has definitely raised eyebrows in India. For Sk Hasina it is a highly balancing act being cautiously played by her Awami League government whose pro-India stance is historically established since 1971 Bangladesh liberation war. Her policy of continued engagement with India will come under a severe test in the ensuing summit meet.
Delhi is aware that Sk Hasina has to settle scores with those of her countrymen who had joined the Pakistan army in the mayhem killing millions of Bangladesh population and who later in a violent conspiracy assassinated Bangladesh creator Sk Mujibar Rahman, her father, and his cream layer of leadership throwing up a view of this nascent State how dangerously divided is India’s eastern neighbour. After a long period of tortuous struggle Bangladesh has achieved some form of stability though fear persists that peace and stability will remain fragile unless Sk Hasina can show results for her countrymen.
Achieving a Teesta river water sharing pact will indubitably enable Sk Hasina to further consolidate her power vis-à-vis BNP-Jamaat combine and give her a freer hand to silence critics whose even unsolicited support from Pakistan is a matter of concern. India was transfixed at this point because of her own internal political compulsions, chiefly because of resistance from West Bengal’s maverick Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who fears water resources will be scarcer for the State if adequate safety measures are not included in any Teesta pact. After Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) signed last year the Teesta is the sole point of friction both countries want to remove but could not find a way out so far. Bangladesh appears so inclined for a treaty as to even ready to play the China card to influence Indian position. China’s involvement on Teesta issue was hinted to the discomfiture of Delhi.
Sk Hasina complains her detractors at home conspired even with India government to dislodge Awami League from power in the election of 2001. Recently, before the e League’s women’s wing at Dhaka she made the explosive observation that India’s Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) saw to it that Awami League government was ousted because her regime then refused to supply natural gas to India, finding Khalida Zia’s BNP, in contrast, ready to oblige India. Indian government also looked suspiciously at her government’s ministers frequent Kolkata visits for an extraordinary relationship with the Left Front Government. India’s BJP government allegedly helped Bangladesh BNP combine in the election to prevent two Bengals coming closer to the discomfiture of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government. Bangladesh Awami League enamoured of Indira Gandhi and of the grand old party Congress is not known to be warmly disposed towards the present regime of India, These little known facts may influence the crucial level of bilateral talks between two nations.

Friday, 31 March, 2017