Sunday, September 16, 2012

Anniversary of Indian PMs visit: Bangladesh awaits India to deliver

Published in The Daily Sun

The first anniversary of thedisappointing visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Dhaka has passed last week without any acknowledgement from the Bangladesh government. Not surprisingly though because India has failed to deliver on their commitments on the Teesta and the land boundary agreement (LBA) even a year after that visit despite repeated assurances from Bangladesh government that India would deliver “soon”. Still, the best the Indians can do is to keep on telling Bangladesh that delivery is round the corner.

The paradigm shift for improvement of Bangladesh-India relations for which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gave India full commitment on security and offered it trial run on land transit has not just become stuck on India’s failure to deliver on its commitments; it has
placed the ruling Awami League in an
adverse political spot in the domestic politics of Bangladesh.

Never before in the country's
history has a government faced such problems at home and abroad as those facing
the present government. India’s failure to deliver on commitments has contributed
its share to put the AL led government in its current predicament. When Sheikh
Hasina made unilateral commitment to India on the latter’s vital security needs
and a provided it a trial run for land transit, it was expected, or so the
Prime Minister’s negotiating team told the nation, that India would help make
Bangladesh the regional connectivity hub with vast economic prospects together
with meeting Bangladesh’s expectations on water sharing, trade needs and land
boundary demarcation and on other outstanding issues.

The Prime Minister sent two of her
Advisers to New Delhi last week because she is running out of patience and time.
Their visit has been described by New Delhi as one undertaken to discuss issues
related to the Tippaimukh dam. Dhaka described the visit as routine.
Nevertheless, it was neither. The Advisers went to New Delhi to convey the
growing signs of impatience in Dhaka. The Prime Minister met her Indian
counterpart only recently in Tehran on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Summit where Manmohon Singh advised her to wait. Thus Dhaka knew that
New Delhi is still in no position to deliver. Yet the Advisers went to New
Delhi to put pressure on India and to be seen in Bangladesh that it is doing
its best to force India to deliver.

Of the two Advisers, Dr.
Mashiur Rahman is in the centre of a major
controversy involving the World Bank. There is an issue
of credibility concerning him. Although he has not been formally charged of any
wrong doing, in the Bangladesh media he has been named as one that the World Bank
would like to resign to reactivate the loan for the Padma Bridge. With a cloud
hanging over his good name, he should not have been sent to negotiate for the
government. In conduct of relations between governments at the ministerial
level, it is enough to rule out anyone from negotiating for his government even
if there is a slight doubt about his/her credibility. The one hanging over Dr.
Mashiur Rahman is a serious one.

The other Adviser in the team that
went to New Delhi, Dr. Gowhar Rizvi was constantly in the
media harping upon the benefits of cooperating with India prior to the visit of
the Indian Prime Minister to Dhaka. When a pall of gloom descended upon Dhaka after,
first, Mamata Banarjee withdrew from Manmohon Singh’s delegation, and second,
Teesta was withdrawn from the talks, Dr. Gowhar Rizvi cheered the nation stating
that no harm was done by either of these to the
visit. He gave a positive spin in the media to what was certainly
anything but positive that Mamata Banarjee would come on a separate visit to
Dhaka later He together with the Foreign Minister informed
the nation that the Teesta water sharing agreement would be signed during the
PM’s visit no matter what.

In retrospect, both Advisers need
to do some soul searching and look into their past negotiations if they want to
help themselves and Bangladesh. Dr. Gowhar Rizvi needs to reflect that while he
was informing the nation that Mamata Banarjee would be invited to Dhaka that
she would happily accept, the latter had already made up her mind to deny
Bangladesh the Teesta deal and to use Bangladesh as a bargaining chip with New Delhi.
He also did not seem to be aware that someone had given instruction to the
Foreign Secretary to summon the Indian High Commissioner while the Indian Prime
Minister had landed in Dhaka to be told that Bangladesh would not exchange the
letters to give India land transit on a permanent basis.
Clearly there was a serious
disconnect among those who were conducting relations with India. It was hard to
tell whether there was any coordinating mechanism in the so-called negotiating team
leading to the visit of Manmohon Singh to Dhaka. Therefore when the visit ended
in a fiasco, it did not surprise many in Bangladesh. It exposed the
over-eagerness of the Bangladesh negotiating team to please India that many
found difficult to comprehend. In
particular, many were curious why Dr. Mashiur Rahman thought it would be
“uncivilized” for the Bangladesh Government to charge India fee for using land

The Government of Bangladesh would
also need to accept a few hard facts. First, its negotiating team failed to deliver
because they were negotiating from a conviction that they could trust India and
did not bother to check the history of Bangladesh-India relations and facts.
Second, the Advisers who led the negotiations had no prior experience in
diplomatic negotiations and had no institutional support to guide them. They
negotiated by deliberately keeping the Foreign Ministry outside the loop for
which Bangladesh suffered as the MFA had the facts and figures and could have
helped the Advisers in their negotiations if they worked as a team that they
did not.

Unfortunately, the Government is
still going about doing business with India with the same mindset and strategy.
The dispatch of the Advisers to New Delhi shows that it still does not see the
need to change its negotiating team although bipartisan view about the team is
that it does not have confidence of the nation. Meanwhile, at least one member of
the team has also become controversial.

Meanwhile both the issues that the
AL led Bangladesh Government needs to be delivered to get out of its current
predicament have become inextricably intertwined in the dynamics of India’s
domestic politics. When Sheikh Hasina had made the unilateral concessions on
India’s security needs and given it land transit on a trial basis, times were
better and our negotiators should have move moved quickly
to seek reciprocity instead of harping the Indian song to the people of
Bangladesh and wasting valuable time.

They should have also talked with
Mamata Banarjee and other stake holders instead of trusting New Delhi blindly. In retrospect, while the Advisers were singing
Indian praises and counting chickens from connectivity, Indian domestic
politics was changing with our negotiators blissfully unaware. Our negotiating
team, enamoured by the courtesies and warm words of New Delhi, did not feel the
need to look at Indian domestic politics. In the end, as the Indians had done
with the Indira-Mujib Agreement of 1974; it merely used the excuse of domestic
compulsions to retract on its commitment.

The two Advisers and the Foreign
Minister should now do themselves a favour. They should look back upon their
roles and ask themselves on what basis they made the promises to the people of
Bangladesh on India’s good will. If they
are sincere to themselves, they will find out that despite the Prime Minister’s
loss of patience and the difficult predicament of AL on the “India factor”, India
really did not make the commitments categorically on either Teesta or the land
boundary agreement. Our negotiators
assumed that India had made the
commitments for reasons they alone can explain.

India now wants to deliver the
Teesta deal and ratify the land boundary agreement because it desperately needs
the land transit and continued cooperation on security where Bangladesh has
withdrawn land transit and no longer as enthusiastic on security cooperation as
before. Unfortunately, in the last one year, the dynamics of India’s domestic
politics have weakened the hands of New Delhi to deliver on either of the two major
commitments to help the AL Government out of its present predicament on the
“India factor”. No wonder then that
neither in Dhaka nor in New Delhi the anniversary of Manmohon Singh’s visit to
Bangladesh was news for any optimism.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan.

Anniversary of Indian PM’s visit: Bangladesh awaits India to deliver

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