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Daily News Analysis

India and Bangladesh ties

30th November, 2021 International Relations

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The story so far: The India-Bangladesh CEO Forum will meet soon for the first time, even as the two countries work towards finalising a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) to deepen trade and economic ties as partners rather than competitors.

How has India’s relationship with Bangladesh played out over the years?

  • India has a robust relationship with Dhaka, carefully cultivated since 2008, especially with the Sheikh Hasina government at the helm.
  • India has benefited from its security ties with Bangladesh, whose crackdown against anti-India outfits has helped the Indian government maintain peace in the eastern and North-east states.
  • Bangladesh has benefited from its economic and development partnership.
  • Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia. Bilateral trade has grown steadily over the last decade: India’s exports to Bangladesh in 2018-19 stood at $9.21 billion, and imports from Bangladesh at $1.04 billion.
  • India also grants 15 to 20 lakh visas every year to Bangladesh nationals for medical treatment, tourism, work, and just entertainment.
  • For India, Bangladesh has been a key partner in the neighbourhood first policy — and possibly the success story in bilateral ties among its neighbours.

What are irritants in INDO-Bangladesh relationship?

  • Proposed countrywide National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed last year.
  • Bangladesh had cancelled visits by ministers, and Hasina has expressed reservations about CAA. She commented that the CAA and the proposed nationwide NRC are “internal matters” of India, the CAA move was “not necessary”.

How have relations between Bangladesh and China been developing?

  • China is the biggest trading partner of Bangladesh and is the foremost source of imports.
  • In 2019, the trade between the two countries was $18 billion and the trade is heavily in favour of China,”
  • Recently, China declared zero duty on 97% of imports from Bangladesh. The concession flowed from China’s duty-free, quota-free programme for the Least Developed Countries.
  • India has provided developmental assistance worth $10 billion, but China has promised around $30 billion worth of financial assistance to Bangladesh to overcome India assistance.
  • Bangladesh’s strong defence ties with China makes the situation complicated. China is the biggest arms supplier to Bangladesh and it has been a legacy issue. Bangladesh forces are equipped with Chinese arms including tanks, missile launchers, fighter aircraft and several weapons systems. Recently, Bangladesh purchased two Ming class submarines from China.

How has India been engaging with Bangladesh post CAA?

  • In the wake of the Ladakh standoff, India has become more sensitive to Chinese defence inroads into Bangladesh.
  • India and Bangladesh have cooperated on pandemic-related moves. Hasina contributed $1.5 million in India’s regional emergency fund for fighting Covid-19 and India provided medical aid to Bangladesh.
  • The two countries have also cooperated in railways, with India giving 10 locomotives to Bangladesh.
  • The first trial run for trans-shipment of Indian cargo through Bangladesh to Northeast states under a pact on the use of Chittagong and Mongla ports took place in July.
  • However, in recent weeks, Pakistan PM call to Hasina raised eyebrows in Delhi. While Islamabad portrayed it as a conversation on Kashmir, Dhaka said it was about cooperating to deal with Covid-19.

How has India sought to address China’s latest move?

  • During recent diplomats meeting with Hasina, “security-related issues of mutual interest” were discussed.
  • The visit tried to address issues on areas that have emerged as potential irritants in the relationship.
  • Bangladesh expressed “deep concern” at the rise in killings at the Indo-Bangladesh border by “BSF or Indian nationals” during the first half of this year, and the Indian side assured that the BSF authorities have been sensitised of the matter.

Among other issues:

  • The two sides agreed that Implementation of projects should be done in a timely manner, and that greater attention is required to development projects in Bangladesh under the Indian Lines of Credit.
  • Bangladesh sought return of the Tablighi Jamaat members impacted by the lockdown in India, and early release of the 25 Bangladeshi fishermen in custody in Assam. India assured Bangladesh that its nationals would be able to return soon.
  • Bangladesh requested for urgent reopening of visa issuance from the Indian High Commission in Dhaka, particularly since many Bangladeshi patients need to visit India.
  • India was also requested to reopen travel through Benapole-Petrapole land port, which has been halted by the West Bengal government in the wake of the pandemic.
  • Bangladesh told that it is ready to collaborate in the development of a Covid-19 vaccine, including its trial, and looks forward to early, affordable availability of the vaccine when ready.

What is the way ahead?

  • While the Teesta project is important and urgent from India’s point of view, it will be difficult to address it before the West Bengal elections due next year.
  • Now, the test will be if India can implement all its assurances in a time-bound manner.
  • Or else, the latent anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh —, which has been revived after India’s CAA -NRC push — threatens to damage Dhaka-New Delhi ties.