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Strengthening of ties with India indicative of successful approach to foreign relations

Article - October 9, 2015

A giant leap forward in cooperation between the two countries has generated substantial dividends for both sides


Since Bangladesh became independent in 1971, there has been hardly any country of more strategic importance to policy makers in Dhaka than India. Both were allies during the struggle for independence.  Since 2009, under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, relations and cooperation between the two countries have gone from strength to strength and now have reached a new height. In fact, the governments of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are on very good terms. As many as 52 bilateral documents have been signed between the two neighbors in the past six and half years alone, covering areas as diverse as energy, trade, investment, connectivity, development cooperation, infrastructure, education as well as the blue economy and environmental protection. This speaks of the depth, dimension and evolution of the relationship – a relationship that has never been better.

Successful resolution of boundary issues
Both governments have successfully worked together to tackle the long-standing boundary demarcation issue, a legacy from colonial times. This has set in motion a sustainable and effective solution for maintaining security and stability along the 2,598-mile border. As evidence of the success of this cooperation with India, as recently as July 31 this year, the two countries peacefully exchanged 162 enclaves along their shared frontier.
By virtue of this remarkable diplomatic endeavor more than 50,000 stateless residents received their citizenships. This amicable settlement of borders has also extended to the sea, where long-standing issues over maritime border limits have been resolved, opening up vast economic opportunities.
Through peaceful resolution of these land and sea boundaries, Bangladesh and India have proven that issues between neighbors, however difficult and complex they might seem, can be resolved through effective diplomacy, building goodwill, and establishing mutual trust. The pragmatic and far-sighted leadership and policy consistency of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been instrumental in this regard.

Robust security and law  enforcement cooperation
In today’s world of dangerous non-state actors and terrorist groups, the improvement of border demarcation, management and control between Bangladesh and India has resulted in important security gains and the buildup of mutual trust for both countries. It was Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s uncompromising stand and ‘zero tolerance policy’ against terrorism and extremism that has brought in this wholesale change in the security scenario.   Her government has taken concrete steps to improve security control.  
Following on this, enhanced Bangladesh-India security ties achieved through high-level agreements have led to the implementation of effective measures against trans-national crimes. Resolution of the long standing boundary demarcation issues, and effective security cooperation have had a deep, salutary effect on other areas of cooperation.

Management of shared water resources
Hydro-politics is becoming increasingly discussed across the world, and South Asia is no exception. The sharing of water resources, mostly consisting of the 54 rivers that course through India and Bangladesh, is extremely important and sensitive for both sides. On this topic, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government is looking forward to signing an agreement between the two countries on sharing the waters of the Teesta River. Resolution of this long-running issue will improve the livelihoods of millions of people in Bangladesh.
India is currently examining the Bangladesh-proposed Ganges Barrage project which would see Bangladesh retain approximately 2.9 billion cubic meters of water for use in the dry season to the benefit of both the countries.  
 The movement towards comprehensive development of common water resources indicates that basin-wide collaboration in the management of trans-border waterways is the best solution for sharing this precious, life-giving endowment.

Excellent power sector cooperation
Bangladesh finds a major partner in India to complement Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s untiring efforts in improving the power situation in Bangladesh. As a part of this, India began exporting 500 megawatts of electricity to Bangladesh through grid interlink as recently as 2013 which is a unique kind of operation in this part of the world. There has been continued and diverse developments and cooperation in the power and energy sectors between the two countries and several important joint power sector schemes are in the pipeline. These include the provision of an additional 600 megawatts of electricity to Bangladesh through a grid link and connection to a power plant in India.
The Indian government is favorably disposed to allowing Bangladesh import electricity from countries in the sub-region. This means that Bangladesh would be able to benefit from hydropower projects in countries such as Nepal and Bhutan. Surplus electricity generated from hydropower projects in these mountainous regions could transit through India to reach homes and businesses in Bangladesh.

Bright future for connectivity and trade
Existing cooperation, as well as emphatic declarations from Mr. Modi to work “saath-saath (together)” with Bangladesh is further proof that the country is continuing to enjoy excellent relations with India. These enthusiastic sentiments have been echoed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who recently stated, “Bangladesh and India will be able to do ‘great things’ if their big markets could be tapped together.”
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is an ardent proponent for establishing seamless connectivity for collective prosperity and economic development of the region. The recent visit to Bangladesh by Prime Minister Modi in June resulted in 22 agreements being signed between the two countries. Some of these were related to bolstering connectivity via land and sea to reduce the cost of bilateral trade, which stands at approximately $6.6 billion and continues to grow at a steady pace.  
Connectivity initiatives include the signing of the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement to improve the ease of movement for overland transport, as well as an agreement on Coastal Shipping for two-way coastal port trade and renewing the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT). An increase in trade through water ways could take the pressure off land transport infrastructure linking the countries.