Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram Kumar Doraiswami has said trade will be potentially a key driver of Bangladesh-India friendship in the future with focus on value addition to products but the environment will remain an important issue to look at.
“We should look at trade and a whole new framework. I believe trade will be potentially a key driver of our friendship in the future,” he said, adding that the two countries need to be futuristic about how to deal with the next generation of issues.High Commissioner Doraiswami made the remarks while delivering a keynote speech at a symposium titled ‘Bangladesh-India Relations: Prognosis for the Future’ which premiered on Thursday night on Facebook.
An array of experts from Bangladesh and India – former Ambassador Tariq A. Karim, Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore Prof C. Raja Mohan, Dhaka University Prof Imtiaz Ahmed, former Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS) President Maj Gen (Retd) A. N. M. Muniruzzaman, CPD Executive Director Dr Fahmida Khatun, Brig. Gen.(Retd.) Shahedul Anam Khan and former Indian Foreign Secretary Krishnan Srinivasan - were brought together for the online symposium to assess the state of relations between the two countries and identify the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the effort to take it forward.
Renowned scholar-diplomat and adviser on foreign affairs to the last caretaker government Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury chaired the event hosted by the Cosmos Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Cosmos Group. Chairman of Cosmos Foundation Enayetullah Khan delivered the opening remarks at the event.
For future trade, High Commissioner Doraiswami laid emphasis on some areas in which Bangladesh could provide India a key base for value addition, including to food production and RMG and textile.
The envoy said there is a need for the two countries to do much on the Sundarbans and better cooperation between the two countries. “I think the environment is an important area for us to look at.”
He also talked about closer integration of transportation systems, greater connectivity, power and energy sector cooperation, including renewable energy; blue economy cooperation and people-to-people connectivity and health sector cooperation that he says can bring about a win-win situation for the two countries.Doraiswami said both sides will benefit from closer integration of the transportation system and in that Bangladesh will benefit more.
He said Bangladesh’s economy is growing faster than the economy of surrounding Indian states and Bangladesh has the capacity to provide many of the services and goods that many of Indian states use. “There is an immediate benefit for Bangladesh.”
The envoy said connectivity needs to be seen as a regional and sub-regional issue, not just a bilateral one.
He mentioned that Bangladesh is interested to have connectivity with Nepal and Bhutan through India, most recently to Myanmar through India. “It’s a sign of how much the narrative has changed, it’s a sustainable way to move forward if both sides see benefits in any initiative.”
Dr Iftekhar said the two countries are now interacting with the external actors as well like China and the United States, adding to the historical complexities of the relationship.
“The challenge for both Bangladesh and India is to transform the geographical compulsions into mutual benefits and for Bangladesh in particular, to evolve a pattern, in which it can live and conquer with but distinct from its powerful neighbours,” said Dr Iftekhar.
Prof Raja Mohan said it is very important for the current and the next generations to remember how challenging the circumstances were, how difficult it has been to overcome some of the persistent and bitter legacies of partition that have troubled the relationship across the subcontinent.
Ambassador Krishnan Srinivasan said Bangladesh-India friendship has been hostage to psychological and physical impediments, and the vagaries of politics on both sides of the border. “Every regressive action on one side results in a reaction on the other side.”
He said in a globalised world, every nation has multiple choices of friends, and India should accept that Bangladesh must have outreached to Southeast and Northeast Asia. “In any asymmetrical relationship, it’s a given that failures in delivery by the larger party will always loom larger than its accomplishments.”
Muniruzzaman said Bangladesh and India have been passing through the honeymoon period of bilateral relationship as it is now at its peak.
“But all relationships need to be nurtured and that’s a way we should follow. As we look at the future which is extremely difficult to predict, we’ll have to pave a way for a smooth relationship in the future. So, it’s necessary to analyse the current irritants in the relationship that can become obstacles as we move towards the future for bilateral relations,” he said.
He said the relationship has to be built with the people of the two countries in a more holistic and comprehensive way.
Muniruzzaman said the perception of people is the basic foundation on which bilateral relationships are built and sustained. “This is something we’re faltering and this is something we need to address on an urgent basis because we need to have a more solid foundation of a sustainable relationship.”
He said Bangladesh and India will have to work more closely on climate change issues as the frontline states to the challenges of climate change, including the sea-level rise.
“We need to work together on disaster management which will become a more critical issue as climate change progresses further. There are issues of great cooperation potential for ecological balance maintenance and biodiversity,” the former army official said.
Stating that both countries are vulnerable to cyber-security threats, he thinks cyber-security cooperation is needed between the two nations to deal with the problem.
Tariq Karim said Bangladesh and India can never dream of having an adverse or a hostile relationship with each other due to their geographical positions.
“It’s unimaginable that the two neighbours we're integrated geographically as we're by God and nature… we’ve to learn how to live with each other, and the sooner we can learn how to do that productively for the benefits of people on both sides, the better it is for both the two countries,” he said.
The veteran diplomat thinks Bangladesh’s phenomenal success, particularly in the last decade, has become possible as the country could manage to get its regional relations right after a long time.
“How do we manage our commons like the water and shared forest we have? The Sundarbans today is a fraction of what it was 100 years ago and it was one of the largest most significant carbon sinks in the world. “
Prof Imtiaz Ahmed said the two-nation theory will not work as this had not worked back in 1971. “Two-nation theory is really bad, that we need to keep in mind.”
Talking about the policies of singularity, he said it will not work if Bangladesh, India or any other country thinks that it will develop alone and will not allow others to develop.
Prof Imtiaz said time has come to focus on abundance. “We need to focus on two abundances -- one is people and another is ocean.”
He hoped that this pandemic would create opportunities and laid emphasis on cooperation in the areas of science and technology. “Prognosis of the future should be credible so that we can make good use of it.”
Enayetullah Khan said Bangladesh and India have diligently forged a warm and friendly relationship that has been described as a textbook example of a neighbourly relationship.
“Even so, it would not be incorrect to say that recent years have witnessed what has been described as a ‘golden age’ in the relationship. And Prime Minister Modi’s attendance as the most honoured chief guest during Bangladesh’s Golden Jubilee celebrations of independence just last month, served to underline that fact,” he said.