Talk delivered by HE Tariq Ahmed Karim, High Commissioner of Bangladesh in India
INDIA-BANGLADESH RELATIONS: BEYOND BARRIERS
Guwahati, 7 April 2010

 

  HE Tariq Ahmed Karim, High Commissiner of Bangladesh in India, is delivering the Talk organized by CDPS
 

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 stated emphatically.

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 High Commissioner.

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 and Bangladesh.

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.

 

INTERACTIVE SESSION

 

(Below is an excerpt of the opinions expressed by the High Commissioner on various issues during the interactive session)

 
  Dr Jayanta Madhab, Economic Advisor to the Chief Minister of Assam, interacting with the High Commissioner after the Talk
 

VISA REGIME: The visa regime is indeed obtrusive and a restrictive visa regime always comes in the way of greater people-to-people contact. Restricting travel on trivial security grounds is uncalled for and correctional measures need to be taken to remove despondency which marks the visa regime now.

EDUCATIONAL EXCHANGE PROGRAMMES: Educational exchange programmes are being encouraged by both countries. Both Indian and Bangladeshi students have gone to the other country for studies in different fields upon securing educational scholarships.

CROSS-BORDER INFILTRATION: Infiltration stems from economic factors like poverty & lack of sustainable livelihood opportunities. Unless compelled by circumstances, no human being wishes to part with their motherland to settle and die in an alien land. Therefore, the solution lies in uplifting the socio-economic conditions of the deprived sections and of those residing in the border areas.

FRIENDSHIP TREATIES: The days of friendship treaties are over as promises made on paper may fail to withstand the present global forces. Countries should instead go for pragmatic workable arrangements which can be sustained and are in sync with present global trends.