Wednesday, February 2, 2011

One-way concessions to India

In bilateral relations, concessions are given by both parties for mutual benefit. Such benefits may not be mathematically equal but these should be visibly comparable. A bigger country may give more benefits to a small neighbour. The deals between the two countries have to be logical and rational.

India is many times bigger than Bangladesh. It surrounds Bangladesh from three sides. Bangladesh is no threat to India in any sense. It is a least developed country by UN definition and can expect Indian support in all areas. India can assist Bangladesh without any harm to herself. With Indian support Bangladesh can move faster economically and provide a market for Indian goods.

The year, 2010, was in fact a period when all the concessions were given to India unilaterally such as transit, corridor, using Bangladesh in controlling insurgency in the north-eastern states of India and use of Chittagong and Mongla ports. Ashuganj will be used as a port of call by India. All such concessions were given to Delhi by our Prime Minister during her visit to India in January, 2010. During the last year about 50 ULFA leaders were handed over to India. But Bangladesh, in return, appears to have got nothing except assurances. The unresolved issues between the two countries were not addressed.

No concrete measures have so far been taken by India to stop killings in the border, solve water sharing problems of common rivers, complete identification of border areas and exchange of enclaves, demarcate maritime boundary and reduce trade deficit. Although India has agreed to an interim agreement on sharing water of the Teesta river, nothing has been mentioned about the frame-work of the agreement.

In the past, India did not win any business in the power sector in the tendering process. But this time they have been given a project to build a 2,600-megawatt power plant without tender. This will enable India to establish their presence in the power sector. Bangladesh signed a transit agreement on river transport through Ashuganj and prepared rules for transit fees but India has refused to give transit fees. As a result, the government had to suspend the circular on transit rules.

As per rule, no structures can be built within 150 yards of the border. But India requested Bangladesh to allow them to build structures within 150 yards and they have been given this authority to do so. India is reportedly erecting barbed-wire fence around Bangladesh within 150 yards of the border.

Our Prime Minister mentioned in New Delhi during her visit that she had secured the interest of Bangladesh in negotiating deals with India. The arrangements were supposed to be more helpful for Bangladesh. But no explanation was given about the gains of Bangladesh. Our gains are more notional than real.

Because of pro-Indian policy of the government, the Muslim world has distanced themselves from Bangladesh. It is reported that our manpower export to many Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia, has stopped on account of our foreign policy failure. The Middle Eastern countries are recruiting labour from Nepal and avoiding Bangladesh. The Prime Minister has not said anything about foreign policy in her January 06 address to the nation.

According to the wish of India, an agreement on containing terrorism was signed between the two countries. By virtue of this agreement, India is utilising Bangladesh in tackling rebellion in the seven sisters. A committee of intelligence personnel of the two countries is now working on this issue.

India has given loan to Bangladesh on hard terms to build infrastructure for smooth operation of transit facilities, although this money should have come as grant because it will be utilised for the benefit of India. Borrowing money to promote Indian interest is ridiculous.

The last caretaker government gave air transit to India for flying to the seven sisters of India. Agartala -Dhaka bus service is also a one-way consession to India in the sense that few people go to Agartala from Dhaka. The bus service is losing money for want of passengers. The present government has also proposed Dhaka-Agartala train service. This will also be an uneconomic proposition.

The trade deficit with India has reportedly reached a figure of US$ 3.0 billion. But there is no progress in expanding our exports to India. Additionally, the government is going to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) with India. There is a fear that trade deficit with India will grow further after the implementation of the proposed FTA. Border haats are being opened to fulfil the wishes of India. India has proposed for motor vehicle agreement between India and Bangladesh which will allow both Bangladesh and India to ply their vehicles in the two countries. This is a long pending matter. Bangladesh was not enthusiastic about this proposal for many reasons. But the present government is likely to conclude this agreement with India.

It will appear from the above that Bangladesh has liberally given concessions to India without corresponding benefits. It is our hope that India will provide matching benefits to Bangladesh for better relationship between the two countries in the long run. The present government is extremely generous to India. Anti-Indian sentiment may become stronger in Bangladesh if Bangladesh is not compensated properly for concessions already given to India.

There are so many ways in which India can compensate Bangladesh. They can remove non-tariff barriers to increase our trade. They can allow our cheap labour to work in India. India may set up joint ventures in Bangladesh for mutual benefit. India can allow duty-free and quota-free export of our products to India as per World Trade Organisation (WTO) provisions. In matters of trade, Bangladesh should receive special and differential treatment from India as a least developed country. Indian support to Bangladesh in international forum will be valuable. India is capable to provide grant assistance to Bangladesh for implementation of development projects.