Terror, defence, energy and a line of credit: Sheikh Hasina’s fruitful India visit
The Teesta water sharing issue, an irritant in the important India-Bangladesh bilateral relationship, will likely be resolved soon as Bangladesh has reportedly, demanded a time bound resolution.
According to reports, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is in New Delhi on a three-day visit, is hoping to resolve it before the crucial 2019 elections.
“I firmly believe that it is only my government and Excellency Sheikh Hasina, your government, that can and will find an early solution to Teesta Water Sharing,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured Sheikh Hasina, after the delegation level talks.
The long 62-point joint declaration released after the talks notes “Prime Minister Modi reiterated that his Government is working with all stakeholders in India for an early conclusion of the Agreement.”
Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal Chief Minister, who had raised a red flag over Bangladesh's demand for more water, was in New Delhi where she attended a function with Hasina and was later present during the lunch.
“This (Teesta) is important for India, for Bangladesh and for India-Bangladesh relationship. I am very happy that the Chief Minister of West Bengal is my honoured guest today. I know that her feelings for Bangladesh are as warm as my own,” Modi said in the statement.
Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, who later briefed the media, said he was not aware if any discussions took place between Hasina and Banerjee over lunch. Both may again meet over dinner at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, where Hasina is staying, as a special gesture by President Pranab Mukherjee.
The two Prime Ministers, according to the joint statement “also directed concerned officials to meanwhile conclude discussions on various aspects relating to sharing of waters of the Feni, Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar rivers.”
On the Ganges Barrage issue on Padma (as the river is known in Bangladesh), where Bangladesh has been insisting for India's cooperation, “Both leaders directed the concerned officials of the ‘Joint Technical Sub Group’ to meet soon and hoped that the matter would be further taken forward through continued engagement of both sides,” the joint statement says.
A fruitful day
The packed day saw 22 agreements and MoUs signed between both the countries, strengthening the ”fraternal friendship.” Some more MoUs are expected when Hasina meets business leaders on 10 April.
Before travelling in the same car to the Maneckshaw Centre in Delhi Cantonment to honour the families of Indian soldiers who took part in the Liberation War of 1971, Modi and Hasina signed agreements on a host of issues ranging from trade, civil nuclear energy, science and technology to financing for construction of 36 community clinics in Bangladesh.
The list also include five important MOUs in the field of defence including a Line of Credit amounting to $500 million specifically in the defence field and another framework agreement.
“For some reason we had not disciplined un it into a framework. It was a lacuna waiting to be corrected,” Jaishankar said about the framework agreement even as he elaborated that Bangladesh is yet to decide how it wants to use the line of credit, which would ease defence procurement.
With aggressive Chinese outreach in the neighbourhood, India also consolidated its presence in the neighbouring country by announcing another big line of credit amounting to $4.5 billion. This is third line of credit which India has extended to Bangladesh.
Both countries have also already identified 17 big ticket infrastructure projects including construction of two ports, upgradation of the Mangla port, upgradation of an airport and building of new rail and road network.
India and Bangladesh also signed three agreements in the field of civil nuclear energy including the inter-governmental agreement on cooperation in peaceful uses, and an arrangement between the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority. While the latter would faciliate exchange of information and capacity building, the first one is just an enabling first step for nuclear coopeartion, the foreign secretary informed.
Keeping the peace
Even as illegal immigration from Bangladesh has been a cause of concern, Jaishankar said how talks between both the leaders saw a lot of discussion on legal movement.
“We need to find ways to make it more effective and accountable so there is less illegal movement,” he says. It is not clear if the issue of Rohingyas, who have been coming to India via Bangladesh came up in the discussions.
In her statement, Hasina said her government has promised to take all necessary steps to ensure peace and security along the Indo-Bangla border and reasserted that there will be zero-tolerance against terror.
“It is a very progressive, pluralistic, secular and liberal government in our assessment,” says a top diplomat, talking of the Sheikh Hasina government. India had gone out on a limb to support the Awami League government in 2014, when the opposition BNP was out to scuttle the polls citing procedural issues.
India had also supported the International War Crimes Tribunal which was constituted by the Hasina government to try the 1971 war criminals which has left the Islamists upset. The tribunal has also come under criticism from not just the opposition in Bangladesh, but also the international community for they claim it does not adhere to international standards and may have been used by the government to go after opposition leaders.
In yet another endorsement, India has promised to support Hasina government's demand that the UN recognise March 25 as Genocide Day. “The two Prime Ministers condemned the genocide that occurred in Bangladesh in 1971. They solemnly acknowledged the atrocities and called upon the international community to recognize and preserve the memory of those who lost their lives and those who suffered during the genocide,” the joint statement notes.
Harmony, not violence
Bangladesh has reciprocated India's support by going after anti-India terror groups and robust cooperation between the security agencies.
“We have had a very positive experience in countering terrorism with the current government,” Jaishankar said, while adding “how results were there for everyone to see how law and order situation in eastern and Northeasters states is far better.”
Meanwhile, PM Narendra Modi, while speaking at the Maneckshaw Centre where Hasina felicitated seven families of soldiers who were part of the 1971 War of Liberation, yet again, launched a veiled attack on Pakistan and its support to terror and how both India and Bangladesh continue to be its victims.
“ We want development of the entire region. But there is a mentality in South Asia against this mindset. A mindset that promotes terrorism, which has a value system which is not based on humanity, but on violence and extremism," the Prime Minister said.
The joint statement further seeks to call out Pakistan on the issue of terror.
"(Both leaders) expressed their conviction that the fight against terrorism should not only seek to disrupt and eliminate terrorists, terror organizations and networks, but should also identify, hold accountable and take strong measures against States and entities which encourage, support and finance terrorism, provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups, and falsely extol their virtues," the statement reads, adding how Modi and Hasina "shared the view that there should be no glorification of terrorists as martyrs."
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had called terror outfit Hizbul Mujahideen Commander Burhan Wani, whose encounter by the country's security forces led to an violence in the Kashmir valley, a martyr.