The High Commissioner began by saying
that ideally, relations between India and Bangladesh
should have been very strong and vibrant. But he regretted
that relations remained at low ebb in the post-1971
period due to a host of barriers. But more formidable
than the physical barriers are the ones we create in
our minds, the High Commissioner stated with concern.
Striking a positive tone, he said things are now changing
for the better as a concerted bilateral initiative is
on to remove the barriers and usher in a new era of
bonhomie. The High Commissioner termed the recent visit
of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India
in January 2010 as a watershed as both sides structured
a joint communiqué for the first time to steamroll
all lingering barriers. In the same breath, he identified
the signing of the historic Ganges Water Treaty by Sheikh
Hasina with India in 1996 as one of the initial initiatives
at fostering robust Indo-Bangla ties.
Further, there are factors which force Bangladesh and
India to stand on the same plane. Both countries are
afflicted by the scourge of terrorism, domestic compulsions
require both countries to achieve a higher economic
growth rate in quick time, and both share a long international
border. Therefore, there is no reason why the two neighbours
should not forge closer ties, the High Commissioner
Identifying the border dispute between the two countries
as a formidable barrier, he said this long border is
porous and several stretches are not demarcated. Adverse
possessions on both sides compound the problem further.
And vested interests on either side of the border do
not allow the vexed border dispute to be solved, the
High Commissioner rued.
Speaking of communication barriers, the High Commissioner
said, prior to 1965, unrestrained travel to Pakistani
cities like Karachi from Bangladesh (then East Pakistan)
was possible. Even steamers used to ply regularly to
Dhaka from Indian cities of Guwahati and Allahabad.
The same road, rail & waterway links exist to this
day, but the 1965 Indo-Pak war drew iron curtains on
such travel. As a result, people-to-people contact received
a body blow, regretted the High Commissioner. He also
admitted that a restrictive visa regime followed by
both India and Bangladesh further complicates travel
plans of people.
On barriers of trade, the High Commissioner said that
the most lucrative market for Bangladesh is situated
right next door, that is, India. But restrictions on
Indo-Bangla bilateral trade are such that the Indian
market literally becomes out of bounds for Bangladeshi
traders, forcing them to scout for less lucrative markets
elsewhere. The High Commissioner was categorical in
stating that the time has come to liberalise this restrictive
trade regime. This will not only result in a several
million dollar rise in Indo-Bangla trade, but immensely
benefit the trading community on both sides of the divide.
This is also the dictate of the free market economy
that prevails now, added the High Commissioner.
The High Commissioner also spoke on the issue of water-sharing,
which always emerges as a big barrier in the way of
forging closer Indo-Bangla ties. The debate on sharing
river waters always stokes passions on both sides, as
no country wishes to part with even minuscule portions
of her precious water resources. He said that for several
years, there has been no dialogue between India and
Bangladesh on the contentious issue of water sharing.
But the ice has started to melt now as ministerial level
confabulations have begun on the issue and India has
also shown the intent to make amends and allow greater
concessions to Bangladesh, stated the High Commissioner.
He also informed that the discourse on sharing of river
waters shall soon assume a trilateral character with
Nepal all set to join India and Bangladesh in the process.
This shall have positive ramifications, asserted the
The High Commissioner stated that India & Bangladesh
are lagging behind on several economic parameters and
need to spruce up their infrastructure for higher economic
growth. He cited the power crisis in both countries
as a case in point and said the ever rising energy demand
can only be addressed through joint ventures by both
countries in the energy sector. But the perennial attitude
of looking at its neighbour with suspicion will not
take India and Bangladesh anywhere, the High Commissioner
warned. Citing a few positives in this regard though,
the High Commissioner informed that in their latest
bilateral dialogues, India and Bangladesh have agreed
in principle to reopen all the communication links of
road, rail and water that existed prior to 1965. The
High Commissioner also praised India for providing much-needed
credit on generous terms to Bangladesh to build the
country’s communication infrastructure.
Speaking of cultural barriers, the High Commissioner
said parochialism of the political establishment at
one point was such that even the literature of Rabindranath
Tagore was banned in Bangladesh. This was a deliberate
ploy to erect barriers in the field of culture and vitiate
the atmosphere, the High Commissioner inferred. He also
threw light on the SAARC experiment and commented that
the regional body has failed to take off smoothly mainly
due to mistrust among member countries, including India
The High Commissioner cautioned that global warming
and climate change are emerging as our common enemies
in present times and efforts in isolation by individual
nations to tame them shall prove to be futile. Therefore,
both India and Bangladesh should join hands in right
earnest to tackle the twin problems, he suggested.
The High Commissioner signed off on an optimistic note
by saying that the tone and tenor of Indo-Bangla bilateral
discourse has changed in recent times and this relationship
can safely be expected to stand on a higher plane in
coming days following the attitudinal changes.