C Raja Mohan writes | India, Bangladesh, Pakistan: What east can teach west

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Source: The post is based on an article “India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan: What East Can Teach West” published in the Indian Express on 9th August 2022.

Syllabus: GS 2 International relations; Bilateral relations

Relevance: India’s Neighbourhood Policy; India-Bangladesh relation; and India-Pakistan relations

News: India is going to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Independence and mark the partition of the Subcontinent. However, the news from India’s western frontier with Pakistan is rarely positive. There are in fact talks of a 100-year war between India and Pakistan on the Indian Subcontinent. In contrast, India and Bangladesh are celebrating “Swarna Adhyay” or “Golden moment”

What are the issues in the India-Pakistan Relations?

The persistence of cross-border terrorism, the conflict over Kashmir, the militarization of the frontier, little connectivity, poor trade relations, and no formal inter-governmental negotiations between the two countries.

History of reinventing the Indo-Bangladesh bilateral relations

Both India and Bangladesh have reinvented their bilateral relationship through their recent foreign policies.

(1) The resolution of the land and maritime territorial disputes transformed the bilateral relations between the two:

(a) In 2015, the Parliament of India approved the settlement of the land boundary between India and Bangladesh that had been pending for decades.

(b) Bangladesh had moved to the Permanent Court of Arbitration for the settlement of the maritime dispute between India and Bangladesh. The Indian government accepted the award of the international arbitration on settling the maritime boundary dispute between Delhi and Dhaka.

(2) Cross-Border Terrorism: Both are cooperating on cross-border terrorism, which helped build much-needed political trust between the two national security establishments.

(3) Both have reopened the border that was largely shut down after the 1965 war between India and Pakistan. For example, India opened the Indian market for Bangladeshi goods, and Dhaka allowed Indian goods to transit to India’s northeast. Further, transboundary bus services, reopening of railway lines, and the revitalization of waterways are restoring connectivity in the eastern subcontinent that was severed.

(4) Bilateral trade volumes have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, touching nearly $16 billion last year. For example, Bangladesh is one of India’s top export markets.

India and Bangladesh have also developed inter-connected power grids facilitating Dhaka’s purchase of power from India.

(5) Geopolitical: Bangladesh has discarded the temptation to balance India. Instead, It has embarked on a cooperative strategy with India, focusing on its economic growth and lifting itself in the regional and global hierarchy.

Lessons to be learnt from India’s eastern frontier with Bangladesh

(1) Pakistan and India should learn that it is indeed possible to transcend the bitter legacies of Partition and build a mutually-beneficial relationship. For example, Prime Ministers Sheikh Hasina and Narender Modi have proclaimed a “sonali adhyay” or “golden chapter” in Indo-Bangladesh bilateral relations.

(2) There are a number of benefits that both countries are enjoying due to smoothening of Indo-Bangladesh Relations:

(a) The north-eastern states have realized the immense benefits of deeper economic engagement with Bangladesh. These states want to end the geographic isolation of the region, which can be done by deepening economic ties with Bangladesh.

(b) For India, the expansive partnership with Bangladesh has significantly eased its security challenges and laid the basis for peace and prosperity in the eastern subcontinent.

Challenges in learning from Indo-Bangladesh lessons in the India-Pakistan Relations

There were efforts by India to replicate these kinds of moves with Pakistan. But Islamabad and Rawalpindi have not been ready to accept even the simplest of initiatives on trade, connectivity, or transborder energy cooperation.

The Way Forward

Instead of focusing on the western frontier, India should focus on consolidating its “golden moment” in the eastern frontier. A lot of issues are still to be resolved in the east between Delhi and Dhaka. For example, protecting the rights of minorities, sharing the waters of more than 50 rivers, promoting cross-border investments facilitating trade and preventing illegal migration, etc. Otherwise, the issues can threaten to destabilise the growing strategic partnership.

The 75th anniversary of independence offers Delhi and Dhaka a special opportunity to elevate the ambition for their bilateral partnership.

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