The Financial Express
Swasti Lankabangla Swasti Lankabangla

Hasina\'s Delhi visit: Speculations over a defence treaty

| Updated: October 18, 2017 10:57:03

Hasina\'s Delhi visit: Speculations  over a defence treaty

A recent posting on my Facebook page gave me a great deal of food for thought. This was an article in a journal about world's 10 biggest economies in 2017. It ranked the United States at number one with a GDP (gross domestic product) of US$ 18 trillion or 24.32 per cent share of the world GDP. China followed at number 2 with a GDP of US$ 11 trillion or 14.84 per cent of the world GDP. India ranked 7th with a GDP of US$ 2 trillion. By 2050, China will become the number 1 economic power followed by India at number 2 and the USA at number 3.
These figures are very thought-provoking for Bangladesh because, by 2050, the world's two strongest economic powers would be its neighbours. And these two neighbours have significant problems between them with India claiming a large territory in the west of their borders - the Aksai Chin - controlled by China as its while China claims another large territory on the east - in the Arunachal Pradesh - as its. The two countries had fought a war in 1962 over their unresolved border issues and conflicts on the Indo-China border between the two countries occur regularly.
Both the two world powers also have strong strategic interests in Bangladesh. India has won for itself a permanent place in Bangladesh for its support for the country's liberation and for looking after the 10 million refugees who had fled there in 1971 to escape the Bangladesh Genocide. China that did not support the Bangladesh liberation war nevertheless made amends for that mistake and has since become its biggest trading partner, its most important source of defence supplies and has been involved in the building of its economic infrastructure in a big way.
Secessionist groups are active in some of the states in India's Seven Sisters (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura) bordering Bangladesh. Strategic analysts consider Bangladesh as the soft underbelly of Indian security.
In the run-up to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to New Delhi, scheduled to begin from April 07, the media there is widely speculating about the signing of a defence pact between Bangladesh and India. Little of the proposed defence treaty has, however, been leaked to the media. In Bangladesh, the official circles are tight-lipped on the subject.
Such a treaty, nevertheless, does not go along with the ethos that brought the country into being in 1971. The dream of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was to make Bangladesh, the 'Switzerland of the East' with neutrality the very soul of its statehood.
Upon coming to power in January 2009, Prime Minister Hasina unilaterally decided that she would fight terror at any cost. She had assured New Delhi that Bangladesh would not allow Indian secessionists and terrorists in the Seven Sisters to use Bangladesh as a sanctuary for their terrorist attacks. Bangladesh handed over to New Delhi seven top ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) terrorists, who were hiding in Bangladesh, were handed over to India. All this demonstrates Bangladesh's commitment to fight against terror and its resolve not to allow its territories to be used to carry out terrorism in India or any other country.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh has allowed transit facilities to India for connectivity with the Seven Sisters. Bangladesh has also agreed to allow the Seven Sisters to use the Chittagong and the Mangla Ports.
Bangladesh had expected reciprocity from India and signing of agreements on sharing the critically required waters of the cross-border rivers starting with the Teesta. Nevertheless, the Teesta agreement was withdrawn from the table at literally the 11th hour when Manmohan  Singh, the then Prime Minister and now President of India had visited Dhaka in September 2011. Six years have passed since then during which the Congress yielded power to the BJP in 2014. India has not yet given Bangladesh the Teesta deal and discussions on sharing the waters of the other cross-boundary rivers have not even started.
Bangladesh has, meanwhile, fought terror and terror groups and won praise from the United States and Europe. India too praised and helped Bangladesh fight terror.
There is hardly any reason to argue that Bangladesh is now in need of signing a defence pact with India for fighting terror in the country. The country is also in no need of a defence pact because no external power is really threatening Bangladesh.
But a Bangladesh-India defence pact may make sense if China is brought in the equation. The Seven Sisters, claim on parts of which is disputed between India and China, are sandwiched between China in the north and Bangladesh on the south.
China is, therefore, likely to take umbrage to any possible defence pact between Bangladesh and India. At a time when China is on the way to becoming the world's number one economic power, it would be very unwise to anger it having so painstakingly and successfully built with it mutually beneficial and successful bilateral relations. And China is also building its military might to match its economic strength that every concerned party should keep in mind.
Prudence suggests that during her forthcoming visit to India, Prime Minister Hasina should assure New Delhi of full cooperation on security as she has done since 2009 and push for the Teesta treaty, but politely decline the proposed defence pact if India insisted on it.

[This is an edited version of the original write-up.]
The writer is a former Ambassador.


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