On June 15, 1971, a 36-year-old Member of Parliament from Bengal initiated a discussion in the Rajya Sabha urging that India should accord recognition to the Bangladesh Government in exile. The man was none other than the present President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee.
At a function held in March 2013, when the visiting Indian President was conferred the second highest award of Bangladesh, ‘Bangladesh Muktijuddho Sanmanona‘ (Liberation War award), Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, described Mukherjee as a ‘real friend of Bangladesh’ and said, “He, braving all obstacles from different quarters stood with us when the war was waged at the call of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and played a big role in mobilising support of the international community for our independence.”
As Prime Minister Hasina visits Delhi in her first bilateral visit during 7-10 April 2017 after seven years (she last visited in January 2010), there are a lot of issues that will be haunting her and her team as they meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi to iron out longstanding issues. While the landmark Land Boundary Agreement signed during Modi’s 2015 visit to Dhaka has already been executed, thus fulfilling 41 year promise made to Hasina’s father Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, which helped improving lives of almost 50,000 people on both sides of the fence. Yet, there are a lot of issues that have been bothering the Bangla PM and she wouldn’t like to return empty handed.
It is true that Bangladesh acknowledges the fact that victory in 1971 war could have given Indira Gandhi the power to keep the then East Pakistan as an extended enclave of India, but India and Indira had stood steadfast in their commitment to Sheikh Mujib’s battle for Bangla, much to the amazement of international community. But as a sovereign, politics and geo-strategy demands bargaining with a friendly neighbour and that’s where the China toy will play heavy on the minds of both the teams.
While some issues are very India specific, like porous border, terror and longstanding Teesta water deal, there are economic and trade issues that need to be addressed as well.
Porous border, smuggling and terror concerns
A porous border has been the biggest hurdle for social development on both sides of the fence. Bangladesh and India share a 4,096-kilometer long international border, which is the fifth-longest land border in the world and passes through some of the most difficult terrain including 262 km in Assam, 856 km in Tripura, 180 km in Mizoram, 443 km in Meghalaya, and 2,217 km in West Bengal. India has suffered immensely because of illegal migrants, which naturally flows from a poorer economy to a richer economic zone. These illegal migrants have been exploited politically and economically by the big operators but have triggered social discord and even riots.
In fact, in the last State Elections of Assam, pushing back the illegal migrants back to Bangladesh was a major poll promise and people of the State want to see how the party in power is going to execute this. These illegal migrants have also given terror operators, drug peddlers and smugglers of illegal currency and livestock to thrive thus making both nations bleed.
According to Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), approximately INR 850 Crore was sent abroad from West Bengal and a major chunk of this money was syphoned out from the Saradha ponzi scheme which was transferred through hawala route to the Bangla terror group Jamat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB) via the Islamic Bank Bangladesh. There are a lot of terror modules in India which are affiliated to JMB.
Sheikh Hasina has been known to have come down heavily on these terror groups since it has affected the harmonious environment in her country. Being the daughter of the father of the nation of Bangladesh, she firmly believes that as a nation created with language as its core identity, religious politics has to be shunned and this is where National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who is respected globally for his understanding of terror operations and funding chains, is going to be a key influencer in the discussions that take place during these talks.
The Bangla PM also knows technology will be the fundamental element in dealing with the porous border issue and that is where she expects India to play the leader. Recently, Home Minister, Rajnath Singh had stated that all international border running from Pakistan to Bangladesh will be sealed by 2018 using laser walls. This could surely help both countries bring the menace to controllable proportions.
(Remaining issues will be addressed in the next part of the article. The author is a geo-strategic observer and commentator and can be contacted at email@example.com)