He said: ‘Would the media on both sides please give India and China a chance to develop normal relations?’ What did that indicate? That the media is unfairly reading too much in whatever China in doing that is detrimental to the establishment of friendly relations between it and India? That China wants peace with the rest of the world and too much negative should not be read in any action it takes? That the media is only adding to tension without any rhyme or reason? China, for instance, has in recent times been courting countries close to India like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, making many wonder what it is up to. It may be argued that this is an unfair reading.
China is financially upbeat. It has over $2.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves. It can afford to be generous in helping developing countries. In the circumstances, why should anyone get suspicious of its intentions, if it volunteers to help countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka? The trouble is that Banglatesh at one time was hostile towards India and was deliberately harbouring terrorists from ULFA and some of the North Eastern states, like Asup Chetia and his top colleagues. Any help given to Bangladesh, under the circumstances, came to be naturally suspect.
But things have changed. Following the visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to New Delhi eighteen months ago, Dhaka has taken almost a 180 degree turn in its policy towards India. UPLA terrorists have been arrested and handed over to India. From what little one knows, the criticisms of Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and others of her like the Jamiat-e-Islami that Bangladesh was selling out to India no longer are taken seriously. There is a sense of growing fraternity between India and Bangladesh that did not exist before. Sheikh Hasina herself declared at the end of her visit to Delhi that she is ‘cent per cent’ satisfied with the result of her visit. India has promised her aid to the extent of one billion dollars on Asian Development Bank terms. That may be dismissed as chicken feed but it indicates a healthier and more positive development in Indo-Bangladesh relations. Both nations are showing that cooperation between them is more paying than confrontation.
On India’s part it has made promises like showing readiness to construct the Akhaura-Agartala rail link, providing 250 megawatt per day from a near-by power grid, removing some 47 commodities from the negative list (that could result in fiscal loss to India to any thing between $ 15 to $50 million) but if one remembers that some 4,700 items are on the duty-free list already and Bangladesh business men have not been exploiting them, one can look forward to improved Bangladesh-India trade relations to mutual benefit. India has shown itself to be more than accommodative.
It has deferred plans to construct the 1,500 MW Tipaimukh hydroelectric dam on the Barakh river in Manipur which Bangladesh felt would affect it adversely. Dhaka’s fears thus have been met. India has shown no desire to hurt Bangladesh in any way. It has also come to a mutual understanding to set up border markets along the Bagladesh-Meghalaya border and Land customs posts on the Mizoram border. But this bon homie is not one-sided. Bangladesh on its part has promised India access to the Ashugahj inland port to India, and to India, Nepal and Bhutan, all three, access to the deep water ports at Mongla and Chittagong. The trouble is, as Haroon Habib, a Bangladeshi political commentator wrote recently, the Sheikh Hasina government has to face up to reality. The war criminals of 1971, many of whom had fled the country at the dawn of independence, but returned to be rehabilitated, thanks to the then military rulers are now organised and powerful and have strong backing from Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
They are the ones who don’t want any rapprochement between Bangladesh and India. Bangladesh-India relations can be harmed by the pro-pakistani elements which supported the Pakistan Army that committed horrendous crimes such as killing three million people, raping half a million women and forcing ten million people to flee. Those elements are still around. Now Sheikh Hasina has decided to put those known for their crimes to be tried. It is a major development. The trial is meant to bring to, justice those collaborators who fought with and not against the Pakistan Army and see that justice is done.
It is a bold move. Already, the Dhaka High Court has ordered that land that once belonged to Hindus which pro-Pakistani elements had confiscated, be returned. Sanity is at last being restored in Bangladesh. Bangladesh-India relationship could reach fresh heights of prosperity, if financial connectivity is improved, and, as a former Foreign Secretary of India, Krishnan Srinivasan has noted, joint Ventures with Indian companies for exports to India, such as investment by Bharti Airtel in a Dhaka telecommunication company and 100 percent export-oriented projects by Tatas for manufacture shoes and cycles ,are undertaken.
Dhaka has requested Tatas to resume talks on their proposed investment in steel, fertiliser and power which was stalled by the earlier India-hating government. A Rs.5,000 crore joint venture in China, comprising a 1,320 MW coal-based thermal power plant is to be commissioned in two years. It is not that any Chinese contribution towards Improving the infra-structure of Bangladesh should be rejected out of hand. The important thing to remember is that the anti-India forces in Bangladesh should not be allowed to be exploited by China, even if it says that its intentions to aid Bangladesh are well-meant, especially to reduce trade deficit which was around 1.56 billion around June 2005-2006.
At that time China replaced India as Bangladesh’s largest trading partner. China has given Bangladesh 84 of its products duty free access to its markets. Now India is wisely following suit. India must do better; the recent Indo-Bangladesh talks should be the beginning of a new approach that would unite the two countries into an economic entity. It is possible and what is possible should be pursued with courage and determination.