One of India’s most senior diplomats Rajiv Sikri has described Bangladesh as ‘India’s most important neighbour’.
Rajiv Sikri retired as the Secretary (East) in India’s Ministry of External Affairs. His wife, Veena Sikri, was India’s Ambassador to Bangladesh.
Delivering the keynote address at a seminar on “BIMSTEC: The Way Forward”, Sikri described China as ‘expansionist’ and Pakistan as a ‘source of constant trouble and threat’.
“It is because of Pakistan and the problems it creates that the SAARC cannot really go forward. India has much better chances of developing strategic space to the East than to the West,” Sikri said at the start of the two-day seminar that brought together diplomats, military officials, academics and businesspeople.
Consul-generals of the member countries of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, or BIMSTEC, also participated, with each of them chairing a session.
The seminar was organised by the Centre for Studies in International Relations and Development (CSIRD) and the Institute of Foreign Policy Studies (IFPS) of the Calcutta University.
Sikri said India must develop close relations with the ASEAN, which was one of the world’s fastest growing regions.
“BIMSTEC, with Bangladesh in it, is the bridge between South Asia and South-east Asia. India will have to move ahead with its Look-East policy but for its success, it needs total support from Bangladesh,” he said stressing that Bangladesh could also use ‘India’s northeast to develop its own links with south-east Asia’.
Sikri said that Bangladesh appeared more comfortable dealing with India in a regional group rather than bilaterally.
“We can understand why that is so. But India must understand Bangladesh’s concerns and address them,” he said.
Lieutenant General JR Mukherjee, former Chief of Staff of India’s eastern army command, said Delhi had to give Bangladesh what it was looking for if it wanted Bangladesh to oblige.
“Why can’t we go ahead with the Teesta water sharing treaty right now” Mukherjee asked, adding that Bangladesh’s current government had already addressed India’s security concerns in a meaningful way by cracking down on the insurgents from the Northeast.
“If India expects to get transit to Northeast through Bangladesh, it should be prepared to give Bangladesh a fair share of river waters,” Mukherjee said in response to several presentations at a session chaired by Bangladesh Deputy High Commissioner Abida Islam.
Former Calcutta Port Trust Chairman Bikram Sarkar said there was ‘no justification for anyone’ to oppose the Teesta water sharing treaty between India and Bangladesh.
‘We have nothing to lose but much to gain. I can’t understand why some are resisting the Treaty,” Sarkar said during ‘informal interactions’.