Sunday, November 13, 2011

Teesta Water Sharing Agreement Failure- Pursuing A Wrong Accusation

The failure to conclude Teesta Water sharing agreement with India during the visit in August of the Indian Prime Minister to Dhaka has led to a plethora of accusations against the government. Principal among these are inept diplomacy, fecklessness of leadership, and inadequacy of negotiations on our part, and lack of good faith on the other side. In this barrage of accusations and conspiracy theories, the most astounding is the alleged inability or lack of foresight in the government to enlist the support of the West Bengal Chief Minister to the water sharing deal.

The agreement, as we know, fell apart at the last minute as the West Bengal Chief Minister signaled her unwillingness to accept the water sharing agreement on the proposed principles. The critics argued that Bangladesh should have known about this early on, and we should have prepared the ground for getting the agreement of the West Bengal Chief Minister to the deal. This is as if West Bengal is a sovereign state by itself, and any agreement with Indian Government by us needed to be validated by our government with other stakeholders as well.

The preposterousness of this line of argument is taken a step further when the proponents of the argument suggest that the results could have been different if the West Bengal Chief Minister were to be approached by our emissaries ahead of the planned signing of the water deal. That is to suggest that we should have conducted a parallel dialogue with a State Government of a sovereign country. Would any country allow that?

Treaties that countries go into with each other are between sovereign nations that take full responsibility of getting acquiescence to the treaties of their citizens and regions that are affected by these treaties. Each country follows its own legal process and norms to get ratification of the treaties, but the onus is on the countries themselves to see that the due process has been observed. Some countries may sign a treaty with others pending ratification by its legislature. The responsibility for seeking the ratification from the legislature is, however, with the country signing the treaty. The co-signatory cannot go lobby the legislature of a foreign country to ratify the treaty.

Consider the treaties that the President of the US enters into with other countries. Each of this treaty has to be ratified by the Congress either apriori or aposteriori, sometimes after debates that may last long periods of time. The recent nuclear deals signed by US President with Russia and India went through a considerable period of uncertainty of ratification by the US Congress although both were ultimately passed. In India too, the deal had to be ratified by Indian parliament. Yet, while the ratification process was in progress no one suggested in any of the affected countries that there be a parallel negotiation with the legislature to advance the ratification. Nor were there accusations that elements in the Government of either US or India had mistakes in the process leading to the treaties.

The Teesta water sharing agreement did not take place not because Bangladesh had done its home work. It did not happen because either the Indian Government had not done due diligence, or it was too confident that the interests of the affected state (that is West Bengal) had been met. However, having said that, I also think that we built our expectations too high. We ignored the likelihood of such an eventuality.

If we were prepared for the eventuality, would we have altered our red carpet treatment of the Indian Prime Minister? Perhaps not. The Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Bangladesh brought much more to the bilateral relationship of the two countries than simply agreement on water sharing of a single river. The visit carried more than a friendly gesture. It went to show maturing of a relationship that began forty years ago that has weathered some cold days off and on. The visit has the foreboding of a relationship that would be built on trust, good will, and great mutual benefit.

The Teesta water sharing agreement is among many more agreements we need on water sharing with rivers that flow into Bangladesh from other neighboring states in India. But as in the case of West Bengal I believe the responsibility for carrying the affected Indian states to the bilateral agreement with us lies with the government of India alone. We are not expected to undertake parallel dialogues with each and every neighboring state on India’s behalf on the water sharing agreements. We negotiate with India. Let India negotiate with its States.

By : Ziauddin Choudhury,USA