India-Bangladesh talks tackle same old issues | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 24.07.2012
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India-Bangladesh talks tackle same old issues

Foreign Office Consultations (FOC) between India and Bangladesh are currently being held in New Delhi. Some of the bilateral issues on the agenda are not amenable to a quick solution, however analysts are hopeful.

The ties, as well as the issues between Bangladesh and its giant neighbor, India, are many and derive from their common history as well as from the geography of the subcontinent. To mention but one fact, India and Bangladesh share 54 common rivers.

Diplomatic activity highlights the importance of sharing river waters. The Ganga Waters Treaty was signed in December 1996 to determine the sharing of the waters of the Ganges during the lean season (from January 1 to May 31).

The 37th Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) met in New Delhi in March 2010, to be followed by the Water Resources Secretary-level meeting in Dhaka in January 2011. The subject of discussion at the latter meeting was interim water sharing arrangements in respect of the Teesta and Feni rivers as well as for six other common rivers.

"Water sharing is a very important topic in India-Bangladesh relations," Professor Akmal Hussain from Dhaka University told DW. "The problem created by the Teesta issue has not been solved. It was supposed to happen during the visit of the Indian prime minister last year but couldn't be because of objections raised by Mamta Bannerjee, the chief minister of the state of West Bengal."

Hussain added that India had an interest in settling the Teesta issue to the satisfaction of both parties since a peaceful resolution could further India's economic interests, which include the all-important transit issue - Bangladesh has consistently denied India transit facility to its land-locked northeastern regions.

Borders and trade disparity

The borders between the two countries are still waiting to be demarcated in a final agreement although the transfer of the Teen Bigha Corridor to Bangladesh last September has somewhat eased the pressure. The "adverse possessions" of each country vis-à-vis the other, the adversely held enclaves, have also stopped being a major issue.

Indian Border Security Force soldiers patrol in the early morning fog

The 4,000-km border is a thorny issue

But Hussain was of the opinion that the responsibility lies with the Indian government to offer a complete package, a preliminary protocol having been signed during the Indian premier's visit last year.

He also highlighted the glaring disparity in trade between the two countries: Bangladesh imports far more from India than it exports to its economically powerful neighbor.

Moreover, the problem will not be solved by lowering or removing the tariff barriers, he said: "Even more important are the non-tariff barriers. The import policy related decisions of the Indian government work as hindrance to more exports from Bangladesh."

'Border killings'

Lastly, there is the issue of "border killings," an emotionally charged issue in Bangladesh. Incidents involving illegal immigration or smuggling have all too often ended in Bangladeshis being shot by Indian border guards.

Hussain said that although the Indian government had repeatedly made promises to stop such shootings not enough had been done, adding that the people of Bangladesh reacted very strongly to such incidents.

"I think it goes without saying that neither country is interested in seeing any such incident,” agreed Rajeet Mitter, India's High Commissioner to Bangladesh until last October. "However, the context is that India and Bangladesh share a border which is more than 4,000 kilometers long and it has to be recognized that some criminal and illegal activity goes on along it."

"It is very difficult to police. And unfortunately over 90 percent of these incidents have taken place in the dead of night," he said, adding that not only Bangladeshi nationals were affected.

"Both countries are resolved to minimize these incidents," he insisted. "One of the great achievements last year was the signing of a coordinated border management plan which envisages that border forces on both sides of the border will jointly patrol it and exchange information."

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, right, escorts Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left, after receiving him at the airport in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011

Manmohan Singh made a historic visit to Bangladesh last year

Mitter is upbeat about the future. "Over the last two years there has been enormous progress in the development of friendly bilateral relations. There have been solid achievements in settling the land boundary, in promoting trade and investment, in enhancing connectivity," he said.

"But there are of course outstanding issues. One that could not be decided was the issue of the interim sharing of the Teesta waters. This is still work in progress."

Author: Arun Chowdhury
Editor: Anne Thomas

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