Tag Archives: Sheikh Hasina

India-Bangladesh Settle Boundary Dispute

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Bangladesh this week has led to the settlement of the complex boundary dispute that had been festering between India and East Pakistan since the British left in 1947 and between India and Bangladesh since the new country was born in 1971. This is a significant milestone in the troubled history of the relationship between the two countries.

The India-Bangladesh border was always in the news as there were frequent clashes between India’s Border Security Force (BSF) and the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) at places like the Teen Bigha corridor. The border has a peculiar problem that is usually referred to as ‘Enclaves and Adverse Possessions’. There are 111 Indian enclaves (17,158 acres) within Bangladesh with a population of 37,334 and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves (7,110.02 acres) in India with a population of 14,215. 34 tracts of Indian land are under the adverse possession of Bangladesh and 40 pieces of Bangladeshi land are in India’s adverse possession. The demarcation of the boundary was done by signing a protocol to the Land Boundary Agreement of 1974. Though this agreement had provisions for the settlement of the issue of adverse possession, it had not been implemented as the problem was considered politically sensitive. The political leadership of the two countries has at last found the courage to invest time and effort towards resolving this sensitive issue. Now that the border dispute has been settled, unseemly clashes, which do no credit to either side, will no longer occur and spoil relations between the two countries.

The Indian Prime Minister was accompanied by four of the five Chief Ministers (CM) of Indian states bordering Bangladesh. Ms Mamata Banerjee, the CM of West Bengal and the stormy petrel of Indian politics, was reportedly upset at the concessions proposed to be made to Bangladesh ‘at the cost of West Bengal’ in the agreement on sharing of the waters of the River Teesta and dropped out virtually at the last minute. PM Manmohan Singh promised Sheikh Hasina, the Bangladesh PM, that the two sides would continue to discuss the Teesta River issue to reach “a mutually acceptable, fair and amicable arrangement…” However, as a quid pro quo response, Bangladesh retaliated by scuttling the treaty on transit rights that was also on the cards and that would have provided easer access to the rest of the country to some of India’s north-eastern states through Bangladesh.

Some of the other important treaties that were signed included an agreement on Indian aid for development programmes, a pact on overland transit between Bangladesh and Nepal, MoUs on renewable energy and the conservation of the Sunderbans and an understanding on jointly promoting fisheries. India agreed to allow Bangladesh duty free access to 46 textile items to be exported to India. Several MoUs were also signed for cooperation in the fields of education and communications, as also a protocol on conservation of the Royal Bengal Tiger – very few of this majestic species now remain in the wild.

Ever since the government of Sheikh Hasina had cracked down on India’s ULFA insurgents who had been hiding in Bangladesh for long, relations between the two countries had shown signs of thawing. The Hasina government’s policy of counter-terrorism was in stark contrast with the Begum Khaleda Zia government’s policy of providing covert shelter, encouragement and support to various Indian insurgent groups. The signing of the historic boundary agreement has taken the relationship to a much higher trajectory. The two prime ministers deserve to be complimented for their political courage and sagacity in bringing to an end the bitterness of the past.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on India’s Policy towards its Neighbours

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rarely speaks his mind on the major issues of the day. However, on June 29, 2011, in his interaction with five editors from the print medium, he spoke at length on domestic issues as well as the geo-political scenario and relations with India’s neighbours. He noted with concern the deteriorating international economic environment and said India’s neighbourhood was a very uncertain one. He said, “India would have to swim through all this adversity and keep our heads high if we have to come through.”

credit: pmindia.nic.inThe Prime Minster said that the planned draw-down of U.S. and other NATO-ISAF troops scheduled to begin in July 2011, as approved by President Barack Obama recently, was not good for India. “It does hurt us. It could hurt us. No one knows what is going to happen in Afghanistan.” However, he did not spell out India’s options to deal with the emerging situation. He once again emphasised that India supported reconciliation in Afghanistan, “I (had) told the Afghan Parliament that the reconciliation should be Afghan-led. I think (President) Hamid Karzai and other politicians can work on that. You cannot carry the good-bad Taliban distinction much too far.”

Maintaining a cautious approach towards Pakistan, the Prime Minister repeated his earlier statement on visiting Pakistan. He had said that he would visit Islamabad only when he was convinced that there had been sufficient progress in the ongoing talks and there was a substantive agreement to be signed. He was not convinced that Pakistan had done enough to eliminate terrorism emanating from its soil but believed that “India should continue to talk and engage with Pakistan to solve outstanding issues”.

He expressed his satisfaction with the progress in relations with Bangladesh. “The Bangladesh Government has gone out of its way to help us in apprehending anti-India insurgent groups that were operating from Bangladesh for long. And, that is why we have been generous in dealing with Bangladesh. We are not a rich country, but we offered it a line of credit of $1 billion when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came here. We are now looking at ways and means of some further unilateral concessions. We are also looking at ways and means of finding a practical and pragmatic solution to the sharing of Teesta waters. I plan to go there myself…” However, he expressed his unhappiness about extremist forces in Bangladesh and said, “We must reckon that at least 25 per cent of the population of Bangladesh swears by the Jamiat-ul-Islami and they are very anti-Indian, and they are in the clutches, many times, of the ISI. So, the political landscape in Bangladesh can change at any time.” This became an embarrassing faux pas as his words were misinterpreted in Bangladesh to mean that 25 per cent of the population is anti-Indian.

The Prime Minister welcomed the defeat of the LTTE in Sri Lanka. He advised the Sri Lankan government to find an amicable solution to the Tamil problem that is acceptable to the Tamilian people. He said, “The Tamil problem does not disappear with the defeat of the LTTE. The Tamil population has legitimate grievances. They feel they are reduced to second-class citizens. And our emphasis has been to persuade the Sri Lankan government that we must move towards a new system of institutional reforms, where the Tamil people will have a feeling that they are equal citizens of Sri Lanka, and they can lead a life of dignity and self-respect.”

The Prime Minister did not express any views on the continuing political and constitutional stalemate in Nepal or on India’s relations with China and Myanmar. Overall, the Prime Minister’s pronouncements reiterated India’s known position on most issues regarding India’s relations with its neighbours and were marked by a renewed emphasis on continuity. Observers who were looking for some bold initiatives to resolve ongoing challenges would have been disappointed.