Bangladesh-India relations written with blood

By Anwar A. Khan

March - December 1971. Recall those horrific times that we transited then. India stood beside us whole-heartedly during those horrendous months of Pakistani military machine to annihilate us from our own homeland. The Western saying, “A friend in need is a friend indeed” echoes the Russian proverb “a friend is known in a trouble” and the words of Kazakh philosopher, poet and writer Abai, “You can distinguish a good friend from a fake one. Fake friends are like a shadow. On a sunny day you cannot get rid of them. When it is cloudy you cannot find them, no matter how much effort you make.” And we must say we found India and Russia and their people as our true friends in our dire emergency needed times of 1971 to liberate and establish Bangladesh as a sovereign and independent state from the savage military ruler of Pakistan.

During the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, India provided extensive aid, training and shelter for the exiled government of Bangladesh and Bengali nationalist freedom fighting guerrilla force that was fighting the Pakistani Army. 10 million Bengali refugees poured into India during 1971, increasing tensions between India and Pakistan.

At the outbreak of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, the Joint Force including regular army of Bangladesh, Mukti Bahini (Freedom Fighters) and the Indian Military liberated the-then East Pakistan, leading to the establishment of Bangladesh. India's role in the independence of Bangladesh led to the development of strong bilateral relations. The-then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi spoke along with Bangladesh's founding leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman before more than half a million people at Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka.

Bangladesh’s links with India are civilisational, cultural, social and economic. There is much that unites the two countries – a shared history and common heritage, linguistic and cultural ties, passion for music, literature and the arts. The two nations have been strong allies since the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.

From the mid-1970s, however, relations worsened because Bangladesh developed closer ties with Islamic nations, participated in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, and increased emphasis on Islamic identity over the country's ethnolinguistic roots. The two countries developed different Cold War alliances in the 1980s, which further chilled bilateral relations.

With the onset of economic liberalisation in South Asia, both countries have forged greater bilateral engagement and trade. The historic Ganges Water Sharing Treaty was concluded in 1996. India and Bangladesh are close strategic partners in counter-terrorism. We are also the largest trading partners in South-Asia.

From October 2013, India started exporting 500 megawatts of electricity a day to Bangladesh over a period of 35 years. A 125-kilometre Baharampur-Bheramara transmission line, 40 km of it in Bangladesh, connects the two substations. Bangladesh officials believe the export would greatly ease the national shortage once 500 MW flows into the national grid. The two country's Prime Ministers also unveiled the plaque of the 1,320-MW coal-fired Rampal power plant, a joint venture between the two countries. The link is being seen as a major milestone in strengthening the bilateral relationship between the two countries.­­

During Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's state visit to Bangladesh in June 2015 as many as 22 agreements were signed by two sides. During the visit India extended a US$2 billion line of credit to Bangladesh and pledged US$5 billion worth of investments. As per the agreements, India's Reliance Power agreed to invest US$3 billion to set up a 3,000 MW LNG-based power plant (which is the single largest foreign investment ever made in Bangladesh).

During Sheikh Hasina's four-day visit to New Delhi in April 2017, Bangladesh and India signed two defence agreements, the first such agreements between India and any of its neighbours. Under the agreements, the militaries of the two countries will conduct joint exercises and training. India will help Bangladesh set up manufacturing and service centres for defence platforms that both countries possess with the aim of achieving self-sufficiency in defence manufacturing in Bangladesh, and will also provide the Bangladesh military with expert training, and technical and logistic support. India also extended its first ever defence-related line of credit to a neighbouring country, by providing Bangladesh with US$500 million to purchase defence equipment.

The trade is set to go at US$10 billion by 2018 through ports. Bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh stood at US$6.6 billion in 2013-14 with India's exports at US$6.1 billion and imports from Bangladesh at US$462 million, representing more than double the value of US$2.7 billion five years ago.

Given the shared history and commonality of language, cultural exchanges form an important bond of friendship between the people of two countries. Special emphasis has been laid on promotion of exchanges in the fields of music, theatre, art, painting, books, etc. A bilateral Cultural Exchange Programme (CEP) 2009-2012 provides the framework for such exchanges.

The two nations likewise have huge interests in proceeding to work together in battling fear-based oppression. In the event that India will expand its control over its immature upper east, financial network and improved combination with other territorial on-screen characters like Bangladesh, Bhutan, and China is basic. India will have a significantly more noteworthy shot of achievement at keeping up peace in its northeastern states while creating them financially with Bangladesh’s proceeded with collaboration, however, Bangladesh likewise has a solid motivating force to help India.

More prominent local collaboration, particularly in the field of financial improvement to destroy the neediness trap, might be a definitive objective of every single South Asian. Be that as it may, unless some remedial and brilliant measures are embraced right now, the circumstance may move the other way. That would be amazingly unsettling for the large number of destitutions stricken South Asians. They may need to go past the geopolitical impulses and move towards more concrete provincial collaboration like what the Europeans and Southeast Asians are doing. Something else, improvement as such will just evade the South Asians.

Bangladesh’s relations with India have certainly witnessed a significant upswing over the past decade, some persistent challenges notwithstanding. In fact, there have been a number of setbacks. The Teesta river water treaty had to be scuttled at the last minute in 2011, due to pressure from Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal chief minister who has agreed to accompany Modi to Bangladesh but did back out at the last moment from former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s entourage in September 2011, as a protest against the Teesta agreement. The treaty has likely been placed on the backburner. Modi has been trying to build consensus with Banerjee, the West Bengal chief minister, but progress has not been forthcoming.

As many as 1,984 Indian army personnel were killed in the Bangladesh’s liberation war with Pakistan, according to official sources. However, Indian NDTV in a report on December 16, 2011 said around 3,900 Indian soldiers were killed and 9,851 wounded in the war. We salute them, we give salutation to magnanimous Indira government, her true-blue lieutenants and people in general of India.

So, it is aptly articulated that Bangladesh-India relations was written with blood since 1971.

The bilateral trade relationship between India and Bangladesh is currently of special interest to both countries. Both the countries have long shared common objectives for closer economic aspect. Despite some prorogues in the relations between the two countries, recent headlines about the cooperation between the two nations in the South-East Asia demonstrate that the special relationship shows no signs of weakening.

(The writer is an independent political analyst who writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs)