Tuesday, 26 October, 2021

Bright Possibility of Hasina-Modi Dialogue on UNGA Sidelines

Jayanta Ghosal

Bright Possibility of Hasina-Modi Dialogue on UNGA Sidelines

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session is imminent. The massive UN Headquarters is situated on the bank of the Hudson River in New York City of the United States of America. At this headquarters, there is a bright possibility of talks between Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the UNGA session. The diplomats of both the countries are active enough for holding the talks. Such bilateral dialogue on the sidelines of the UNGA session is a regular phenomenon for the past few decades. But, the significance of this year's dialogue is quite different from the earlier ones.

The dialogue has become more important to both India and Bangladesh due to various events that took place in the region. In recent times, the Taliban have formed a government in Afghanistan after capturing power there; the China-Pakistan axis has become strong enough; a bleak possibility of deployment of US army after its withdrawal from the region and possible recognition to the new Taliban administration in Afghanistan by countries like Iran and Turkey. At this moment, it will be much harmful for India to keep Bangladesh displeased.

Although China remained beside Pakistan during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, but from the 'pragmatic' point of view, it has gradually established ties with Bangladesh. Bangladesh has signed a bilateral defence pact with China in December 2002 when Khaleda Zia was in a state power to Peking. She also visited China when she signed the Umbrella Defence Cooperation Agreement heralding a new era of the Sino-Bangladesh ties. Now, Khaleda is not in power, but Sheikh Hasina has been maintaining the ties with China. However, the relationship is different from the one that existed during the rule of General Ziaur Rahman.

With passage of time, China's interest over Bangladesh has increased. Specially, China needs help from Bangladesh to make effective its 'Belt and Road Initiative.' Meanwhile, the new maritime area has been handed over to Bangladesh after the verdict of the 'ITLOS' creating a new prospect. A possibility of export of energy to Bangladesh from China has been created. In this regard, China has signed an accord with Bangladesh.

Like with China, Bangladesh has a comprehensive defence relationship with India. According to defence analysts of Bangladesh, this is used to purchase military hardware from the 'strategic point of view.' The price is not a major factor. Defence analysts think that in weapon system modernisation China is much ahead of India. Still, India has been importing foreign arms. But, India should be self-dependent in this respect. It will have to increase its defence materials by decreasing dependency on the US, Russia and France.

There has been a history behind Sino-Bangladesh diplomatic and defence ties. India has signed a number of maritime pacts with Myanmar. In the field of defence, there has been an understanding between India and Myanmar. Bangladesh has its border with Myanmar and India. Bangladesh will have to give due importance to its defence to sustain as a sovereign state. And, that is why, Bangladesh allots a major part of its budget for defence purpose. Presently, different forces have become active in Pakistan after the formation of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. In the defence sector, Bangladesh needs to strengthen itself. Since ascension to power, Sheikh Hasina has been relentlessly trying to eliminate the militant outlaws like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), Huji and JMB from the country. And, India has lent a support to her in this task. Sheikh Hasina also issued an assurance to this effect that no anti-Indian activities would be allowed on the territory of Bangladesh. She also stressed on formation of a Counter Terror Task Force. Following her victory in the parliamentary elections in December, 2008, she paid a visit to India in 2010.

Sheikh Hasina has been moving forward Bangladesh as per her plan. But, a sort of concern has been created in the sub-continent after the takeover of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Under the circumstance, India deems it a necessity to improve ties with Bangladesh.

In 2014, Narendra Modi assumed power in India. After tabling the Citizenship Bill in parliament, India's cordial relationship with Bangladesh has, no doubt, been tainted even to some extent. Bangladesh has always extended its hands of cooperation towards India. During the West Bengal Legislative Assembly election, the Government of Bangladesh organised a hurried visit of Narendra Modi to Matua shrine at Orakandi in Gopalganj district despite adverse criticism in Bangladesh. It is true that Bangladesh's vaccination programme got severely disrupted by India's decision to halt the export of vaccines made by the Serum Institute of India. Consequently, Bangladesh had to collect vaccine from China, Russia and some other countries. Similarly, truck-loaded onions got stuck in the border sending rotten onions to Bangladesh. The people of Bangladesh are psychologically under pressure due to indiscriminate killing of their sisters and brothers along the Indo-Bangladesh border by the members of the Indian Border Security Force (BSF). Despite all odds, Sheikh Hasina has been maintaining a friendly relation with India.

It has been learnt that China would increase its defence and financial assistance to Bangladesh by manifold. At this stage, India has expressed its keenness to sit in dialogue with Bangladesh in an effort to sign a long term defence pact. India has offered a proposal of providing 55 million US dollar Line of Credit to Bangladesh. It includes a military cooperation agreement. With it, military hardware as well as craft and radar will be purchased to facilitate Coast Guard patrolling. A discussion is underway over the issue. There is a probability of signing of a 'Memorandum of Understanding' in this regard and India wants its formal signing. Bangladesh signed a defence pact with China in 2002. Afterwards, enough waters flowed along the Padma/Ganga Rivers. Now, India has been trying its best to make a major defence export and credit line. It has been a long time that India and Bangladesh have launched a joint military exercise. The first of its kind was held in Jorhat of Assam. India wants to move forward with such exercises in large scale.

Lastly, India should not in any way harm its relationship with Bangladesh. The Indian administration must have to understand this. I believe that Narendra Modi had been able to realise this. Finally, I like to conclude by saying: 'Better late than never.' We are eagerly waiting to know the issues of the Hasina-Modi discussion on the sidelines of the UNGA session and the direction in which the Indo-Bangladesh ties moves.         


The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi

Translated by Z A M Khairuzzaman