Sheikh Hasina’s visit - Outcomes From A Shared Past For A Common Future
The visit of B’desh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed to India (April 7-10) was significant by all means what with 22 agreements on a host of issues at the government –to-government level and another 14 in the field of private investment and MoUs.
After having put off her visit to India on two occasions in the past due to domestic compulsions, Hasina chose to travel to New Delhi knowing fully well that the long promised agreement on the Teesta would not be signed. This however, did not take away anything from the visit; this is clear her statement on her return to Dhaka that she was ‘satisfied’ with the outcome of the visit.
The Modi-Hasina joint statement reflects mutually shared concern; the dangerous threat of terrorism that is fast spreading all over the region. A few years ago, the Islamic State’s magazine Dabiq had claimed that it was going to target Bangladesh and use it as a base to enter South Asia.
While the Bangladesh government has taken steps to ensure that the threat is minimized, the potential for trouble remains particularly from radicalization of some sections. The Hasina government pursues multiple strategies to address the threat of domestic extremism and terrorism. With the help of international organizations and local religious scholars, the Awami League led government has also launched grassroots and counter-narrative programmes at the community level.
While ISIS has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks including the July 2016 attack at a Bakery in Dhaka, there remains doubt about who is really responsible for such strikes. The government avers that terrorist actions in Bangladesh are those of home-grown terrorist organizations and those affiliated to the AQIS.
This indicates that India and Bangladesh need to have a more robust intelligence sharing mechanism to better understand the trans-national nature of terrorist activity. Specifically, both nations need to cooperate on sharing information of transnational nature of terror outfits, and in relation to both home-grown and international groups. This is because increasingly proxies are functioning as the agents for the mother organization in South Asia.
Another outcome of the Hasina visit relates to defence cooperation. This is relevant in as far as the geography of both countries is concerned. Analysts have argued that what drove India in this direction was China’s recent arms sales to Bangladesh. This contention ignores the fact this practice - weapons buy from China dates back to the days of President Zia-ur-Rahman, and in that sense there is nothing new in such deals.
There is nothing new in the newest India-B’desh defence cooperation pact either. It simply formalizes existing agreements and adds something to the kitty in that India has offered Bangladesh a sum of US $ 500 million for arms purchases; this allocation is made out of the Line of Credit of US$ 5 billion, which is the largest such LoC India extended to any country so far.
The MoU on a framework for defence cooperation formalized defence exchanges, military training and high-level defence visits, while the agreement of cooperation on peaceful uses of nuclear energy endorsed the existing training programmes for Bangladeshi scientists at Indian facilities. Thus, there are a range of issues, on which both nations will engage but under a more robust umbrella.
India and Bangladesh have a history of cooperation and India can enhance this by offering its indigenously manufactured equipment, aircraft and ships as also electronic equipment. There is also scope for repair and maintenance of military equipment of the Bangladesh armed forces. What is necessary is a time bound and mission mode cooperation that goes beyond the Ministries of Defence in both countries. Such a process has to be driven right from the top.
As The Hindu said editorially (April 12, 2017), in a context where connectivity is the new currency to extend one’s influence and where China is taking the lead with its Belt & Road initiative, India has chosen well to extend funds to rebuild old railway lines, and construct bridges, power plants, ports and roads in Bangladesh. Plans to revive inland waterway channels are also under way, and hold the potential to increase connectivity with Nepal and Bhutan. These measures also address India’s plans to connect to itself, “to the benefit especially of the northeastern States”.
The emerging new contours of India-Bangladesh cooperation fits in well with the call of the day in South Asia that nations have to rejig their partnerships and development agendas based on their national interest; this call assumes significance because of the presence in the neighborhood of China which has used its economic might to create aid dependencies in several countries.
Viewed against this backdrop, Prime Minister Sheik Hasina can be said to have opted to work towards a ‘win-win’ situation by developing bonds with South Asian nations on a mutually beneficial basis.
Well, it is a vision that one must applaud.