Time for broader connectivity?


    Barrister Harun ur Rashid

     trl-electricityIT is reported that Indian High Commissioner Pankaj Saran, after a meeting with Commerce Minister Tofael Ahmed on January 30, reportedly said: “The concept of connectivity is now becoming broader. It is growing beyond the old fashioned concept of transit, which used to be discussed between India and Bangladesh. Connectivity can be in the form of power, telecom, water and many other areas, and it has direct benefits for Bangladesh and India.”

    The high commissioner has hit the nail on the head because, in these days of economic globalisation and interdependence of states, both nations need broader connectivity. Last year, the Bangladesh finance minister floated the idea of a common currency for South Asia similar to that of the eurozone.
    These are bold and constructive ideas, but to make them happen India has a lot of work to do to convince Bangladesh that it means business.
    Since the landmark visit of the Bangladesh prime minister to New Delhi in January 2010, which opened a new horizon of comprehensive partnership, the Hasina government moved quickly to address Delhi’s concerns on cross-border terrorism (including expelling top ULFA insurgents to India) and connectivity to the North-East.
    Bangladesh agreed to provide temporary transit facility through Ashuganj port for transportation of heavy duty equipment for ONGC Tripura Power Company’s 727 MW gas-based project located at Palatana in Tripura
    In May last year, the Bangladesh government agreed to transport 10,000 tonnes of food grains for Tripura through its territory. It is reported that Bangladesh has agreed to allow 100026 MW electricity generated from 429 dams in north eastern states though Bangladesh to West Bengal and other places in India.
    Overall, Bangladesh-India relations have resulted in positive outcomes in many sectors, such as education, culture, energy, infrastructure, border-haats, river dredging, transportation to each other’s countries, 24-hr access of Bangladeshis to Angorpota and Dahagram enclave, and duty free access of Bangladesh goods to Indian market.
    However, the non-signing of Teesta water sharing agreement, non-ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement and continuing border abduction or killing of Bangladeshis have raised serious questions about India’s ability to uphold the pledges made to Bangladesh.
    Furthermore, there are some other issues, such as while Bangladesh people are able to watch many Indian cable TV stations, Bangladeshi cable TV stations cannot be watched in India for some unknown reasons, and it seems that mutual trust deficit still remains. There is more to be done by both governments in facilitating electronic communication from Bangladesh to India. The issue was reportedly raised recently by the Bangladesh cable TV owners to the commerce minister, who assured them that he would take up the matter with India.
    With regard to broader connectivity, I would suggest  it can be better  established if a sub-regional institution comprising Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and north eastern states of India could be set up to explore and exploit natural and human resources of the region to mutual benefit. Later, the sub-region may extend its links with Asean and China.
    The idea of establishing an “economic corridor” among Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) found a firm footing when the first official-level joint working group meeting in Kunming (Yunnan province), on December 19, 2013, agreed on cooperation in transportation infrastructure, investment, commerce and trade, cultural and people-to-people exchanges and other areas,. The next meeting of officials will be held in Chittagong in June this year.
    It seems that the range of choices available will depend on Bangladesh’s ability to widen the base of its economy as well as on the policy makers’ capacity to take advantage of its geographic location rather than be constrained by it.
    Through the synthesis of challenges and opportunities Bangladesh has been a dynamic nation against all odds. The people are hard-working, resilient, imaginative, innovative and adaptable to new challenges.
    My Indian interlocutors brought this home to me by asking whether India really needed Bangladesh as much as Bangladesh needed India. I don’t have an easy answer to that question, but finding ways to address it should be a major preoccupation of the political leaders on both sides.
    Finally, there is a saying that one can choose friends but not neighbours. Bangladesh and India are destined to live next to each other. Therefore, I firmly believe that there is no reason why Bangladesh-India relations should not be mutually supportive and friendly as both together should fight the common enemy — humiliating poverty — of the people of both countries.
    Living with a bigger India, I am tempted to quote what former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once said, that living with the US “is like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered the beast is, one is affected by its every twitch and grunt.”

    The writer is former Bangladesh ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

    Source : The Daily Star