Just before the Second World War, then Prime Minister of Britain Neville Chamberlain flew to Munich to sign a peace treaty with Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany. At that time, Hitler had already occupied Austria and was preparing a full onslaught on the other European countries. By finalising a peace treaty with Hitler (known as the Munich Agreement), Mr Chamberlain was confident that this would prevent a new World War. When he came back to the London airport he unfurled his famous umbrella and declared that “I can assure Europe that there will be no war at least for the next 20 years.” His assessment of the treaty and his appeasement policy was wrong. It did not succeed and within a very short time the Second World War began.
The Munich Agreement was a treaty between a democratic and a fascist country. Some people argued that this is the reason why the treaty did not last. Recently, several friendship and development treaties were signed in Dhaka between Bangladesh and India. It is a treaty between two democratic countries and people expect that this will bring peace and harmony to the sub-continent and also prevent further aggravation between neighbouring countries.
But there is already suspicion in people’s minds whether the hope surrounding this treaty will be materialised. The failure of the Munich Agreement in the middle of the last century brought war and devastation to the whole world. If the recent treaties between Bangladesh and India are not implement properly then it will not bring war but it will definitely create more problems and conflicts in the sub-continent.
The quarrel between Pakistan and India is still a stumbling block to stabilise the volatile situation in South Asia. There was hope when a democratic government under the Awami League took power in Bangladesh the traditional hostility towards India would gradually disappear in Bangladesh and mutual trust and cooperation would replace it.
There were signs that Indo-Bangla friendship would be stronger after Sheikh Hasina’s last Delhi visit. This year Dhaka and Delhi jointly observed the 150th birthday of Tagore. Then Sonia Ghandi the Congress leader visited Dhaka and Dr. Manmohan Singh’s Dhaka visit was also arranged immediately.
There was heavy media publicity that this time all the major disputes between Bangladesh and India regarding water, electricity, border clash, enclaves and trade and commerce will be fully or partially settled. A new era of strong friendship will soon commence.
There was an indication from the Indian side that Bangladesh’s legitimate claim over the water of the Teesta will be accepted and steps will be taken to settle all other disputes to mutual satisfaction. So everyone in Bangladesh was welcoming the Indian Prime Minister’s Dhaka visit wholeheartedly.
The Indian PM came to visit Dhaka earlier this month along with four chief ministers from four Indian states (i.e. Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram). The new chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, was supposed to be a member of the visiting team. But at the last moment she declined to come to Dhaka on the plea that she did not want to participate in the settlement of the Teesta water. Perhaps in her opinion, Bangladesh should not share almost an equal amount of water with West Bengal.
Immediately Delhi declared that they will not sign any treaty on the Teesta water along with some other major issues. The high hope about the Dhaka summit started to fade away.
Hence the Indian Prime Minister came to Dhaka along with his four chief ministers but there was no Teesta agreement and the other major issues remained unattended. A 65-point joint Dhaka declaration was announced after the Indian PM’s visit which included cooperation on several issues, most of which were promises and people were sceptical whether these promises will be fulfilled in time.
Regarding the agreements some experts say that this could be formalised at ministerial or secretary level conferences, it did not require the Indian Prime Minister’s visit and the presence of four state ministers.
It is not true that Dhaka did not achieve anything from the Indian PM’s visit. There are discussions and agreements about different development projects and a foundation was laid for future settlement of major disputes. However, this visit could not strengthen the mutual trust and confidence because of the last moment U-turn by India.
The high hopes India created in the minds of the Bangladeshi people before the summit, those they themselves diminished unexpectedly and undiplomatically. The high level of propaganda to create high hopes in the people’s minds was not needed before this summit when Delhi could not pursue Mamata Banerjee to join the Dhaka conference. This water dispute has been unresolved for the last 40 years. It remained a stumbling block against the friendship and cooperation between two countries.
It was a real mystery as to why Mamata Banerjee took a U-turn about her Dhaka visit and allegedly sabotaged a historic attempt to establish a real bond between the two countries. This bond is absolutely needed to combat communalism and terrorism and to ensure that democracy will have a strong root in the sub-continent.
Many people suspect that Mamata Banerjee was made a scapegoat by Delhi. It was Delhi that did not want to settle the major disputes and help the democratic government in Bangladesh to get strength and popularity from this treaty.
On the other hand, this was now treated as an unsuccessful visit and India was blamed for helping (knowingly or unknowingly) the undemocratic forces in Bangladesh in their anti-government propaganda. This will not help India in the long run.
In my opinion, India now lacks a strong political central government. The present Manmohan government is not politically strong and when confronting charges of corruption or the movement of Anna Hazare, they display indecisiveness. This weakness and indecisiveness was also proved in the Prime Minister’s Dhaka visit.
The bureaucracy now has the upper hand in the Indian administration and the big businesses are now controlling them. India’s foreign policies are not guided by the idealism of the Nehru-Indira era, but are now guided by solely trade and commercial interests with an ambition to become a regional superpower. Bangladesh should be aware of this change in Indian policy.
Dhaka’s foreign policy is now lacking skill, far sightedness and experience. It was proved in their handling of the Dhaka summit. There is still time to take lessons from the present situation. Dhaka should be more cautious in dealing with India and they should not be over-dependent on India’s goodwill.