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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2642

Bangladesh-India Relations: Retired High Commissioners Summit in Dhaka

From R N Trivedi, diplomatic correspondence in Dhaka
Dhaka 16 November, (Asiantribune.com):

The first India-Bangladesh High Commissioners' Summit which aims to broaden the two nation's bilateral ties further begun on 15th November, at 9:00am at Nabab Nawab Ali Chowdhury Senate Bhaban of Dhaka University.The university's Department of International Relations and India-Bangladesh Foundation are jointly organizing the programme.

The events bring together former high commissioners of Bangladesh and India who share their mutual experiences on the current state of India-Bangladesh relations. The participants in this summit are Muchkund Dubey (Oct 1979-Oct 1982), IS Chadha (Oct 1985-Feb 1989), Deb Mukharji (March 1995-July 2000), Veena Sikri (Dec 2003-Nov 2006), Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty (January 2007-Dec 2009) and Rajeet Mitter (Dec 2009-Oct 2011). Former Bangladesh envoys, who served in New Delhi and Kolkata Harun ur Rashid, CM Shafi Sami, Farooq Sobhan, Humayun Kabir, Tariq Karim, and Mostafa Faruque Mohammed, among others, joined them in the summit.

Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali addressed the inaugural session as the chief guest, while it \also be addressed, among others, by Dhaka University Vice-chancellor Prof AAMS Arefin Siddique, Prof Ashequa Irshad and Prof Imtiaz Ahmed of Department of International Relations.

The inaugural session followed by three working sessions where the former high commissioners of the two countries will deliver their speeches on Lessons from the Past, Changes and Hurdles in Contemporary Times, and India-Bangladesh Relations and it’s Future.

“The relationship is on the upswing,” Bangladesh Foreign State Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali said on Friday
India-Bangladesh relations have withstood "the test of time", setting a precedent for other regional countries to emulate, Bangladeshi foreign minister said today even as former envoys of the two nations warned that trust deficit is still a problem in bilateral ties.

"Despite ups and downs (in the past), Bangladesh-India relations now reached such a height, from where it will now only blossom," Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali said at a meeting held at the premier Dhaka University here.

Despite past ups and downs, Dhaka-Delhi ties have now reached an irreversible height, Ali said at the first-ever 'India-Bangladesh High Commissioners' Summit'.

"Relations between Bangladesh and India have withstood the test of time. Today, the entire world is interested in our relationship," Ali said.

"This has set a precedent for other countries in the region to emulate. It also signifies the width, depth and the level of confidence in our bilateral relations," he said.

He, however, said there would always be issues between neighbours, and Bangladesh and India were "no exceptions" but "you have seen how the relationship began and how it evolved and flourished over the years".

"The relationship is on the upswing," the foreign minister said report agencies.

Dhaka University department of international relations organised the first such summit in collaboration with India-Bangladesh Foundation, attended by 13 former high commissioners and three deputy high commissioners of India and Bangladesh. Pankaj Saran, the serving Indian high commissioner in Dhaka also spoke, among others, in the business sessions chaired by DU professor Imtiaz Ahmed.

Former diplomats of both Bangladesh and India on Friday decried India’s feet dragging on the Teesta water sharing treaty and ratification of the land boundary deal singed between the two neighbours in 1974.

Speaking at a two-day India-Bangladesh High Commissioners Summit in Dhaka, the retired diplomats underscored the ‘autonomy’ of the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission to ensure the most effective joint efforts in maximising the benefits from common river systems to both the countries.

They said that the responsibility lay with India that the two issues, which were crucial for Bangladesh, could not be settled yet although New Delhi made commitments several times over the Teesta deal and ratifying the Indira-Mujib Land Boundary Agreement, which had already been ratified by Bangladesh , reports New Age

Muchkund Dubey, who was Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh in 1979-1982, identified lack of trust and confidence in each other as one of the main problems in the Indo-Bangla relationship.He said that time had come to take ‘cautious decisions’ for an economic integration between Dhaka and Delhi.He said water-sharing of cross-border rivers was becoming a major issue for both the countries and so the JRC should be autonomous and empowered so that it could address the environmental issues for the benefit of both India and Bangladesh.

Although the two neighbours share 54 trans-boundary rivers, they have an agreement only on the Ganges water sharing and the JRC is mandated to monitor its implementation.

‘It is sad that we are not responding to the Teesta water sharing and settlement of the land boundary issues…Responsibility must be borne by India,’ said IS Chadha, former Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh.

India should have a domestic political consensus before signing the land boundary deal for which a constitutional amendment is required, according to the retired diplomat, who was posted to Dhaka in 1985-1989.Chadha said, ‘Political will’ was needed for increasing mutual trust between the two neighbouring nations.He also underscored the need for national consensus on bilateral issues.

On the sidelines of the business session, former Indian high commissioner in Dhaka Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty said India expected Bangladesh to return to an ‘ideal democracy’. ‘Everyone wants a good election and an effective opposition in parliament,’ he said while reflecting on the Bangladesh’s one-sided general polls held on January 5 this year.
Speaking as chief guest at the inaugural session, foreign minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali said the relations between Dhaka and New Delhi had gone through ups and downs over various issues in the past. The relations with India got a momentum when the government of Sheikh Hasina went to power in 1996 and in 2009, he added.

Retired foreign secretary CM Shafi Sami, who had also served as Bangladesh high commissioner to India, said bilateral relations had already suffered due to trust deficit between the two countries.

Dubey said that the Indian prime minister should give priority to Bangladesh. He said it was difficult for Bangladesh diplomats in Delhi to draw attention of the Indian prime minister.

The retired diplomats call for sub-regional connectivity between Bangladesh-India-Nepal and Bhutan.
Former foreign secretary Touhid Hossain said Bangladesh expected no Bangladeshi citizens be killed by Indian Border Security Force and the LBA be implemented reports New Age.

The daily Star added : Noted diplomats from Bangladesh and India yesterday called for moving forward with the agenda of comprehensive economic cooperation and integration, building on achievements made in the past.

They said the neighbours in the last six years have made significant improvement in their relations by addressing security concerns, border management and trade, but India has to take the bigger share in responsibility to build trust and confidence.

Over a dozen former high commissioners of Bangladesh and India, who served in Dhaka and New Delhi in the last four decades, also called for developing such a mechanism that will solve bilateral issues based on law and rights.

Veena Sikri, who discharged her diplomatic assignment in Bangladesh between 2003 and 2006, suggested that India and Bangladesh address the bilateral challenges on their own without allowing any third country's intervention.

“We are like brothers and sisters. Don't look for godfathers -- China or US,” she said.

Veena Sikri said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent out a signal to all neighbours by inviting the heads of government to his oath-taking ceremony. This meant he was committed to continuing with the Indian foreign policy for the neighbors.

However, she identified non-compliance of agreed issues as the greatest challenge for improving ties with Bangladesh.

“We don't do what we agreed upon,” she said, blaming both sides for the situation.

She cited examples how progress has stalled in the LBA, the Asian Highways and the container transit deals even after the two countries had already signed them.

“All were agreed but nothing was implemented,” Sikri said.

On the January 5 polls in Bangladesh, she said that India considers the election was necessary for the continuation of constitutional and democratic process in the country.
Former Bangladesh foreign secretary and envoy in New Delhi Farooq Sobhan said despite many achievements, there remained a gap between “reality and perception” while a lack of mutual trust and confidence remained a “big problem”.

Harun-ur Rashid, who served at the helm of the Bangladesh mission in India, said India, being the stronger economy, has to take the small neighbouring countries on board to move forward.

The immediate past Bangladesh high commissioner in Delhi, Tariq Ahmad Karim, echoed Harun and said, “Inter-dependence helps us grow together.”

The future of the two countries would be decided on regional and sub-regional cooperation, he added.
However, former Indian envoy in Dhaka Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty thinks the future of India-Bangladesh relations depends on how the countries deal with security threats and radicalism.

“We, therefore, need to go for intelligence cooperation, and also find ways to combat cyber threats."
Pinak suggested that Bangladesh set up automobile accessory manufacturing plants, provide industrial zone for Indian manufacturers, go for joint maritime exploration, technology-based e-retailing of their products, medical tourism and so on.

Former Bangladesh diplomat Hemayetuddin said India needs to be "careful" about the border killings, as one killing can spoil much of the achievement and create misconceptions among the people of the country.

Indian diplomat Rajeet Mitter said Bangladesh was not being able to cash in on the duty-free access of its products to India, and the reasons behind it need to be studied.

Diplomats at the programme also stressed the need for implementing the Framework Agreement on Cooperation for Development signed in 2011 in Dhaka to take Indo-Bangla relations to greater heights.
Former Bangladesh high commissioners Faruq Ahmed Chowdhury, Mostafa Faruque Mohammed and CM Shafi Sami, and current Indian envoy in Dhaka Pankaj Saran also spoke in the programme.

The inaugural session was addressed by DU Vice-Chancellor Prof AAMS Arefin Siddique; Prof Ashequa Irshad, chair of the IR department; and Prof Imtiaz Ahmed, project coordinator of the department.
Discussions were held in working sessions on three different topics -- Lessons from the Past, Changes and Hurdles in Contemporary Times, and India-Bangladesh Relations and its Futures. Each of the sessions, chaired by Prof Imtiaz, were followed by question-answer sessions.

Former Bangladesh foreign secretary and envoy in Delhi Faruq Sobhan said despite many achievements of bilateral ties, there remained a gap between "reality and perception" while lack of mutual trust and confidence remained to be a "big problem".

Former Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh Deb Mukherji said unless the political consensus was reached, it would be difficult to settle the outstanding issues while he recalled being an envoy how the landmark 1996 Ganges treaty was signed as he had to convince the then Congress and BJP leadership for its necessity while Deve Gowda was the premier.

"Problems (of bilateral relations) are known, answer is known and the way forward is there but the question is how we give substance to what visions are there (to overcome the problems)," he said.

Former Indian envoy in Dhaka Veena Sikri said the Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent out a signal to all neighbours inviting the heads of governments to his installation ceremony which meant he was committed to the neighbours ensuring the continuity of Indian foreign policy.

But she identified the greatest challenge in ties with Bangladesh as non-compliance of agreed issues saying "we don't do what we agreed upon" blaming both sides for the phenomenon.

She cited examples of stalled progress even after the two countries signed the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA), Asian Highways routes and container transits.

"All were agreed but nothing was implemented," Sikri said. Most of his fellow diplomats on both the sides agreed with him that water issue was likely to appear as the most crucial factor in bilateral ties with former Indian High Commission Muchkund Dubey saying "the water issue is crucial, its going to dominate the bilateral relations (in coming days)."

India crucially backed Bangladesh in its Independence War against Pakistan in 1971 while the ties witnessed a low after the assassination of Bangladesh's founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in a coup on August 15, 1975.

The relation picked up again after Awami League returned to power in 1996 general elections, 21 years after political wilderness. The relation, however, is said to have witnessed its lowest ebb during the 2001-2006 tenure of the past Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led regime.

- Asian Tribune –

Former high commissioners who had served in Dhaka and New Delhi in the last four decades, at the first India-Bangladesh High Commissioners' Summit, organised by Dhaka University's international relations department and India-Bangladesh Foundation at the senate building on the campus yesterday. Photo: Star
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