Friday, August 26, 2011

Uncertainty Looms Large Over Transit Deal

As the arrival of the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is coming closer, conflicting signals are becoming thick in the air as to whether or not a framework agreement on transit will be inked on this occasion.

Latest news reports and comments by people at high places are only adding credence to this confusion indicating difference of opinion among the Prime Minister’s advisers and between some cabinet ministers on some basic points before inking the deal.

There is nothing clear as the government remained tight lipped keeping the nation in the dark on the latest situation. Prime Minister’s adviser Dr Moshiur Rahman told the press recently on return from Delhi that he was not aware of whether the transit deal would be signed during the forthcoming visit of Dr Manmohan Singh.

His disclosure took political observers here aback with total surprise. However, the next day foreign secretary Mijarul Quais made similar comments to reporters saying he did not know whether a deal on transit is in card when the Indian minister is scheduled to sign several agreements in Dhaka with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Quais said he can only say about it seven to ten days from now, that is only few days before Dr Singh actually arrives. It is really confusing. To a question whether the ministry of foreign affairs is marginalized on this issue and sitting in a limbo, the foreign secretary however replied in the negative. 

Big delegation   
News reports meanwhile said, the Indian Prime Minister is coming with a big delegation comprising of several cabinet ministers, top advisers, members of the press and on top of it five chief ministers of the Indian states having common border with Bangladesh. They include Chief Minister of West Bengal Momta Benarji, Chief Minister of Tripura Manik Sarkar, Chief Minister of Assam Tarun Gogoi, Chief Minister of Meghalaya Mukul Sangma and Chief Minister of Mizoram Lalthanhawla.

It is going to be gala event to highlight a turning point in the regional politics with the two neighbours entering into strategic understanding of cooperation in almost all fronts. Monmohan is therefore taking the chief ministers of the neighbouring states to become part of the celebrations.

But the latest disclosure that the draft of the transit agreement may not be ready by that time and that the differences need to be sorted out among top policy makers and may be also with India on some issues may thus delay the signing of the agreement.

News reports said Bangladesh’s Prime Minister’s adviser Dr Rahman who is exclusively dealing with the transit issue favours a quick deal even by making short cut to the standard protocol of signing agreement. But some others want a comprehensive deal with the provisions to be settled with India be equally applicable on transit to and from Nepal and Bhutan. Some cabinet ministers moreover, remain sceptical of the opening of the road communications to transit.

They may have become concerned after the recent break down of the country’s roads and highways largely from lack of maintenance and especially from down pour of monsoon rains which is a regular phenomena in Bangladesh. Some cabinet ministers reportedly favour transit by railways and waterways in view of the deplorable road conditions and its capacity which is not enough to sustain loads of heavy Indian vehicles.  
There are also indications that basic disagreement on water sharing of Teesta River may also be working as a dissuading factor. Others say it may be a ploy to dump peoples’ interest on transit as it may be agitating their mind.  People wonder at this stage, why the government is moving blindly on transit issues ignoring protest from all quarters which also include Awami Lerague leaders and workers, besides protest from the major opposition BNP and other left and right wings political formations.

Only the Prime Minister and her inner policy makers appear firm to entertain the Indian desire and political analysts say and wonder why she stands to be so adamant. What is her compulsion?

Revolutionary Communist Party of Bangladesh echoed similar concerns when it wrote in its regular broadsheet publication The Peoples’ Democracy saying “the daily bitter experience of people reminds us how incapable and insufficient is the country’s present road communication system in carrying passengers and cargoes.”

It then raised the question about the likely scenario when hundreds of Indian vehicles would enter daily into Bangladesh to use the same poor infrastructure. Why the policy makers are not thinking and speaking out on it, it wondered. It said especially when big Indian container vehicles will take on the road local 
motor vehicles may be required to keep off the road to make room for them. How far the country is prepared to face such a situation, it wondered.

Moreover who will pay for the big roads and other communication facilities and port infrastructures for which Bangladesh will have to take loans. How the fuel supply will be ensured to the Indian vehicles which local motor vehicles use at subsidised rate provided by the state. When gas supply is running short, should Bangladesh open gas supply to Indian vehicles at the same low rates is yet another question, it said.

Transit or corridor, it questioned and made various speculations on the country’s security risks involved. The protection of environment and how to save human habitation from adverse impacts of pollution will also be a big challenge, it said pointing to 10 to 12 transit routes India is going to secure under the deal.

Another issue relates to health hazards especially from the spread of AIDS for which Indian truckers remain the worst carriers. It said the Indian states of Nagaland, Monipur and Mizoran, sitting on Bangladesh border are highly AIDs infected regions and the risk for Bangladesh will only become endemic.

The Party raised the question what Bangladesh is going to get back by making it so much vulnerable to challenges and dangers. It said when Bangladesh is opening up almost everything, India is closing it from all sides raising barbed walls; this is only compares to Israeli wall to block out Palestine.

How come it happen from a perceived friend, the party mouth piece said and urged the government to try and secure satisfactory settlement of all outstanding disputes with India like maritime boundary, a peaceful border free from killing, water sharing and resolution of Farakka and Tipaimukh dam.