Has Dhaka’s sovereignty been undermined

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by M. Shahidul Islam

If India is aiming for a slice of the global leadership pie, Prime Minister Noredra M0di had started the sojourn through an inexorable pursuance of Delhi’s strategic goals and focused efforts to removing protracted geopolitical hindrances by bringing Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives into India’s unquestionable sphere of influence.
For Modi, that journey began in the neighbourhood; following his visit to Dhaka after Nepal and Bhutan. In Dhaka, the dynamic and dashing Indian PM had inspired many and frustrated many more.

The inspiration brewed from Modi’s seemingly sincere intent to live peacefully with Bangladesh as an intimate neighbor. The frustration, on the other hand, stemmed from his unwillingness, or the inability thereof, to offer Bangladesh what has been long on demand in return for all that India had taken by signing over a dozen MoUs relating mostly to bilateral connectivity.

Looping the region
The deals signed with Bangladesh will enable Delhi to loop the region of South Asia, excepting Pakistan, into a single Indian playground for political, military, economic and social domination.
More alarmingly, despite being mindful that Bangladesh occupies the geographic under valley of eastern India, Modi offered little to Bangladesh and took an enormous bite from it. He also had undercut the indivisible issue of Bangladesh’s sovereignty either through emotional exuberance, or, by using wrong phraseology and wording.
Before dealing with how Modi had undermined Bangladesh’s sovereignty, what our own cabinet did deserve a brushing. Frustration compounded following the incumbent Awami League regime’s hurried approval on June 8 in the cabinet of a decision to establish road connectivity between Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Bhutan for commercial and individual carriers.
For all practical purposes, the cabinet decision, taken within 24 hours’ of Modi’s departure from Dhaka, is a hoax in the absence of any binding agreement between Bangladesh and India that would allow flying of Bangladeshi vehicles through Indian territory to Nepal and Bhutan on one hand, and, the absence of any such binding bilateral agreement(s) between Bangladesh and Nepal and Bangladesh and Bhutan.
It seems the cabinet decision aimed at deflecting criticism within Bangladesh that Delhi had gained unfettered corridor facilities in Bangladesh through land and sea by virtue of Bangladesh’s signing of the connectivity-related MoUs while not a single deal having been signed to allow Bangladeshi vehicle with export commodities to enter India.
In crude economic terms, India would now be able to meet all its market necessities of goods and services in seven northeastern states by ferrying those products through Bangladesh; elbowing out in the process over $100 million worth of export market that Bangladeshi businessmen had painstakingly created in those neighbourly India states.

Economic and military threats
The emerging spectacle will also tilt the balance of trade more in India’s favour and, flood Bangladesh market with much more Indian goods to destroy our internal economic bases. Historically, trade balance often weighs in favour of small neighbours while, as of now, Dhaka’s import from India stands at over $6 billion and export is yet to reach $600 million.
Besides, Indian ferrying of military-grade hardware through Bangladesh to the insurgency-infested Northeast Indian states will make such vehicles vulnerable to insurgent attacks within Bangladesh and create a security nightmare from the law enforcers of both nations.
Those who feel exceptionally zealous about Dhaka’s achievement in obtaining the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) from Delhi also have it all wrong. The deal’s ratification was long overdue since 1974 when Bangladesh almost instantly ratified it following its signing. But, the Indian lawmakers took 41 years to play their part. The bravado being displayed in this regard by the incumbent regime and its loyalists is totally misplaced. The parallel here is: if someone had returned defaulted loan after four decades, offering of thanks becomes discretionary.
As well, the cruelty of the West Bengal chief minister Momta Banerjee is another aspect of the India-Bangladesh relations that must be brought to spotlight. Indian media reports suggest the West Bengal chief minister had agreed to visit Dhaka to join Modi on one condition that the long outstanding issue of Teesta river water sharing will not be in the agenda.
Yet, PM Modi could not bypass this thorny issue and had promised anew that a deal would be forthcoming in this regard.
Bangladeshis feel that the signed connectivity deals should have been deferred until the conclusion and the closing of the Teesta water sharing deal first because of the serious harm being caused to Bangladesh’s agriculture, economy and the ecology by the impact of the withdrawal and diversion of Teesta water in the Indian upstream.

Whither sovereignty?
That notwithstanding, Modi had exuded business-like confidence and statesman-like dynamism through his candid display of pragmatism and peculiarity while being in Dhaka. At times, however, he seemed a bit weird and obsessed with child-like emotionalism in informal jests and quips. The most discussed aspect is his saying: “The world knew us as moving side by side. Now it’ll know us as moving together.”
The statement is far-fetched and only euphorically factual due to the cemented India-Bangladesh ties constituting a unique strategic partnership based on wobbly political foundation and untenable economic goals.
Despite India and Bangladesh sharing many things, they also differ in many more. While geography had made them neighbours, history had sowed enormous seeds of antagonism through records of bloodshed, ethnic-linguistic antagonism and, a slew of other entrenched socio-political issues that had prompted the division of Bengal in 1905 and the Bangladeshis’ joining of Pakistan in 1947.
That’s why many have been fumed and jolted by this particular comment by Modi as its innate implication hits home a dreaded message that there is no border between Bangladesh and India any more. The charismatic Indian PM perhaps did not imply or mean that, and, wanted to impress upon that Bangladesh and India would connect in a manner so as to blur the existence of any functional boundaries. It could as well be that he meant it literally.

Too late to be one
We must remind that Indian building of barbed wire fences across the entire 4,200 km Bangladesh-India border is hardly indicative of such a utopian vision coming to reality. Besides, we feel that opportunity has been missed long ago due to (1) Indian irritating delay in signing the Teesta-water sharing deal, (2) not signing a mutually beneficial pact to allow flying of vehicles with goods from both countries in each other’s territory, (3) bringing together Nepal and Bhutan first, and China and Myanmar later, in making the regional connectivity a source of future prosperity, fraternity and inter-dependence. That is what would make a moving as one more realistic through the multilaterally imposed checks and balances to offset any negative geopolitical comprehension of smaller and militarily weaker nations.
If Asia must rise and lead the next century, it must do so in concert. Most importantly, the nagging geopolitical concerns must be set aside for the greater interest of peace, security and prosperity of the region. Playing concealed geopolitical tune under the garb of sterile economics is hardly the way to break the walls of mistrusts that had bedeviled the region for centuries.

Source: Weekly Holiday