Learning lessons from the coronavirus pandemic and climate change fallouts, India and Bangladesh need to work more effectively to boost trade, connectivity and environmental protection while removing all irritants at the soonest, said foreign relations analysts from the two countries.
The two friendly neighbours, which have historical and cultural bonds, should also nurture the values of mutual respect and collaborate on regional integration, they said at a virtual webinar titled “Bangladesh-India Relations: Prognosis for the Future” organised by COSMOS Foundation on Thursday night.
“The pandemic has shown how we should work together. We need to reconstruct our supply chain of both regional and domestic levels,” said former Bangladesh ambassador Tariq A Karim.
The two countries need to go for promoting renewable energy, including hydropower, wind power by involving Nepal and Bhutan, and protect the the Sundarbans and better manage the trans-boundary rivers.
“We need to have a coordinated body to take the initiatives forward.”
Prof C Raja Mohan, director at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, said it was difficult for Bangladesh and India to come to this stage of their relationship following the partition in 1947, and they should not slide back.
The noted global strategist thinks the new area of cooperation can be the Bay of Bengal, and both countries need to work together and use digital technology to find innovative ways.
He suggested that the think tanks come up with a possible solution.
Former Indian foreign secretary Krishnan Srinivasan said the Bangladesh-India friendship has been hostage to the vagaries of politics on both sides of the border. Now is time for looking at trade and connectivity that can lead the development without any detriment to sovereignty and independence.
“In a globalised world, every nation has multiple choices of friends, and India should accept that Bangladesh must have outreached to Southeast and Northeast Asia,” he said.
Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram Kumar Doraiswami said trade will be a key driver of the Bangladesh-India friendship in future, and Bangladesh could provide India a key base for value addition, including in food production, RMG and textile.
He also talked about closer integration of transportation systems, cooperation on renewable energy, blue economy and health.
Bangladesh is interested in having connectivity with Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar through India, he said, adding, “It is a sustainable way to move forward if both sides see benefit in any initiative.”
Doraiswami said there is a need for the two countries to do much on protecting the Sundarbans as well as check river pollution, especially around Dhaka.
Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS) President Maj Gen (Retd) ANM Muniruzzaman said it’s necessary to analyse the current irritants of the bilateral relations and address those.
He said not signing the Teesta water-sharing deal, border killings, India’s role on the Rohingya issue, rise of fundamentalism in India, export ban of vaccine, National Register of Citizenship and Citizenship Amendment Act are some of the issues that developed wrong perception in the public mind and need to be addressed.
Top leadership uttering negative words about the people of another country is also a problem, he said, stressing on mutual respect.
Prof Imtiaz Ahmed, of Dhaka University’s international relations department, said the two-nation theory will not work and this had not worked back in 1971. “Two-nation theory is really bad and we need to keep that in mind.”
He said it will not work if Bangladesh, India or any other country thinks that it will develop alone and will not allow others to develop.
Centre for Policy Dialogue Distinguished Fellow Debapriya Bhattacharya suggested that India continue to provide duty-free, quota-free access of Bangladeshi products to reduce the trade gap.
CPD Executive Director Fahmida Khatun said the potential of trade between the two countries is $16 billion, but it is now less than $10 billion.
India imports products from the world market worth $45 billion, and regional trade could increase to a great extent if there was regional integration.
In response to India’s role on Rohingya repatriation, former Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty said India, which shares a border with Bangladesh and Myanmar, cannot fully support Bangladesh over the Rohingya issue due to its internal problem and national interests.
“On Myanmar, my point is that India’s ambivalence should be understood in the context of India’s national inserts. We can’t swing into absolute support and favour for Bangladesh,” he said.
“We have an insurgency problem in the northeast and we have our own problems and difficulties in dealing with Myanmar on the Rohingya issue,” he said.
On the border killings, Vikram Doraiswami said it is a complex phenomenon that requires a far greater effort, including by district governance and border guards on both sides.
Pinak Ranjan said, “Alleging and pointing fingers at India all the time doesn’t help resolve the problem and doesn’t help create the public perception in India.”
He said the main reason behind border killings is the huge smuggling network and the huge mafia operating on both sides of the borders, which should be addressed jointly.
In reply to a comment that “vaccine diplomacy” is going on in reference to India’s halt of exporting vaccines, Doraiswami said India has tried its best to supply vaccines to its neighbours.
Also, it should be recognised that there is a major crisis underway in India. Alternatively, he said India had offered third stage trial of Covaxin and subsequently its co-production, but that remains on the table. “Of course, this is Bangladesh’s decision.”
Security analyst Brig Gen (Retd) Shahedul Anam Khan and COSMOS Foundation Chairman Enayetullah Khan also spoke at the event chaired by former foreign affairs adviser to a caretaker government Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury.