Daily News Analysis


21st June, 2022 International Relations

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Context:  Foreign Minister of Bangladesh AK Abdul Momen arrived in India on a three-day official visit. He will attend the 7th Round of Joint Consultative Commission, JCC between India and Bangladesh. The JCC will be co-chaired by External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar and Mr Momen. This will be the first physical JCC meeting after the Covid-19 pandemic. The previous edition was held virtually in 2020.

The JCC will review the entire gamut of bilateral relations, including cooperation in the wake of Covid-19, border management and security, trade and investment, connectivity, energy, water resources, development partnership and regional & multilateral issues.

How has India’s relationship with Bangladesh played out over the years?

  • The friendship between India and Bangladesh is historic, evolving over the last 50 years.
  • India’s political, diplomatic, military and humanitarian support during Bangladesh’s Liberation War played an important role towards Bangladesh’s independence.
  • Post-Independence, the India-Bangladesh relationship has oscillated as Bangladesh passed through different regimes.
  • The relationship remained cordial until the assassination of Bangladesh’s founding President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in August 15, 1975, followed by a period of military rule and the rise of General Ziaur Rahman who became President and also assassinated in 1981.
  • It thawed again between 1982-1991 when a military-led government by General H.M. Ershad ruled the country.
  • In the last decade, India-Bangladesh relations have warmed up, entering a new era of cooperation, and moving beyond historical and cultural ties to become more assimilated in the areas of trade, connectivity, energy, and defence.

Major Achievements of Indo-Bangla cooperation:

  • Bangladesh and India have achieved the rare feat of solving their border issues peacefully by ratifying the historic Land Boundary Agreement in 2015, where enclaves were swapped allowing inhabitants to choose their country of residence and become citizens of either India or Bangladesh.
  • The Bangladesh government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has uprooted anti-India insurgency elements from its borders, making the India-Bangladesh border one of the region’s most peaceful, and allowing India to make a massive redeployment of resources to its more contentious borders
  • Bangladesh is India’s biggest trading partner in South Asia with exports to Bangladesh in FY 2018-19 at $9.21 billion and imports at $1.04 billion.
  • India has offered duty free access to multiple Bangladeshi products. Trade could be more balanced if non-tariff barriers from the Indian side could be removed.
  • On the development front, cooperation has deepened, with India extending three lines of credit to Bangladesh in recent years amounting to $8 billion for the construction of roads, railways, bridges, and ports.
  • Bangladeshis make up a large portion of tourists in India, outnumbering all tourists arriving from western Europe in 2017, with one in every five tourists being a Bangladeshi.
  • Bangladesh accounts for more than 35% of India’s international medical patients and contributes more than 50% of India’s revenue from medical tourism.

What are irritants in Indo-Bangladesh relationship?

  • Proposed countrywide National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed last year.
  • Bangladesh had cancelled visits by ministers, and Hasina has expressed reservations about CAA. She commented that the CAA and the proposed nationwide NRC are “internal matters” of India, the CAA move was “not necessary”.

How have relations between Bangladesh and China been developing?

  • “China is the biggest trading partner of Bangladesh and is the foremost source of imports.
  • In 2019, the trade between the two countries was $18 billion and the trade is heavily in favour of China,”
  • Recently, China declared zero duty on 97% of imports from Bangladesh. The concession flowed from China’s duty-free, quota-free programme for the Least Developed Countries.
  • India has provided developmental assistance worth $10 billion, but China has promised around $30 billion worth of financial assistance to Bangladesh to overcome India assistance.
  • Bangladesh’s strong defence ties with China makes the situation complicated. China is the biggest arms supplier to Bangladesh and it has been a legacy issue. Bangladesh forces are equipped with Chinese arms including tanks, missile launchers, fighter aircraft and several weapons systems. Recently, Bangladesh purchased two Ming class submarines from China.


How has India been engaging with Bangladesh post CAA?

  • In the wake of the Ladakh standoff, India has become more sensitive to Chinese defence inroads into Bangladesh.
  • India and Bangladesh have cooperated on pandemic-related moves. Hasina contributed $1.5 million in India’s regional emergency fund for fighting Covid-19 and India provided medical aid to Bangladesh.
  • The two countries have also cooperated in railways, with India giving 10 locomotives to Bangladesh.
  • The first trial run for trans-shipment of Indian cargo through Bangladesh to Northeast states under a pact on the use of Chittagong and Mongla ports took place in July.
  • However, in recent weeks, Pakistan PM call to Hasina raised eyebrows in Delhi. While Islamabad portrayed it as a conversation on Kashmir, Dhaka said it was about cooperating to deal with Covid-19.

How has India sought to address China’s latest move?

  • During recent diplomats meeting with Hasina, “security-related issues of mutual interest” were discussed.
  • The visit tried to address issues on areas that have emerged as potential irritants in the relationship.
  • Bangladesh expressed “deep concern” at the rise in killings at the Indo-Bangladesh border by “BSF or Indian nationals” during the first half of this year, and the Indian side assured that the BSF authorities have been sensitised of the matter.

Among other issues:

  • The two sides agreed that Implementation of projects should be done in a timely manner, and that greater attention is required to development projects in Bangladesh under the Indian Lines of Credit.
  • Bangladesh sought return of the Tablighi Jamaat members impacted by the lockdown in India, and early release of the 25 Bangladeshi fishermen in custody in Assam. India assured Bangladesh that its nationals would be able to return soon.
  • Bangladesh requested for urgent reopening of visa issuance from the Indian High Commission in Dhaka, particularly since many Bangladeshi patients need to visit India.
  • India was also requested to reopen travel through Benapole-Petrapole land port, which has been halted by the West Bengal government in the wake of the pandemic.
  • Bangladesh told that it is ready to collaborate in the development of a Covid-19 vaccine, including its trial, and looks forward to early, affordable availability of the vaccine when ready.

What is the way ahead?

  • While the Teesta project is important and urgent from India’s point of view, it will be difficult to address it before the West Bengal elections due next year.
  • India should implement all its assurances in a time-bound manner to avoid China tilt.
  • Anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh, which has been revived after India’s CAA -NRC push need to be managed carefully as it threatens to damage Dhaka-New Delhi ties.