by Nadeem Qadir in Dhaka
The much talked about virtual summit between Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi by all account signalled the much needed dented ties significantly repaired between the “time-tested friends.”
Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. AK Abdul Momen in a post-summit briefing appeared to be very content with the outcome, although concerns remained when the killings on the border would end and long awaited Teesta river water sharing agreement will be inked.
“I am very happy on the overall talks between the two leaders,” he said.
Separately, the pro-active Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka, Vikram Doraiswamy, was asked at a briefing at his office how he would summarise the summit after a dent earlier this year.
Echoing Prime Minister Narendra Modi about Bangladesh’s importance to India, he said the ties between New Delhi and Dhaka “message that comes through this summit … relationship will only get better and I am pleased to to emphasize the that no relationship is more important to us than Bangladesh.“
Analysts are of the opinion New Delhi’s emphasis on “Mujib Barsho,” the birth centenary of Bangladesh’s founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is an important gesture for Dhaka as his daughter is Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Foreign Minister Momen had fair opinion on the border killings. “Like you, it (border killing) frustrates us. We want no killing along the border. We’ve very nice relations. It creates a stigma in our friendly relations. We don’t want to see any stigma in our friendly relations,” Dr Momen said.
He acknowledged in some cases people from Bangladesh go deep inside the border for criminal activities and it is “not a one-sided problem. It’s our fault too. We’ve to reduce criminal activities.”
The Foreign Minister said India is committed to zero death along the border and more actions need to be taken through a coordinated border management plan.
Momen’s concerns over the border killings and Teesta river issue have been addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his personal commitment is expected to bring early solutions.
The summit itself taking place amid COVID-19 pandemic despite several other telephone conversations between the two leaders do indicate the importance of the bilateral ties along with the sensitivities linked to it.
Following what was described earlier this year as a “dip” in bilateral ties with Bangladesh getting closer to China and Pakistan trying for a rapprochement, the Hasina-Modi summit came at a much needed time.
Analysts feel that the summit helped to repair the dent in bilateral ties to a great extent if one analysed the whole exercise.
Both Hasina and Modi had picked up lines which also indicate the burial of the issues that caused a brief dip in ties and the two South Asian neighbours have nearly returned to their usual status of “time-tested friends.”
Modi told Hasina that “Mujib Chirantan. Bangabandhu’s message is eternal and it is with this sentiment that we honour his legacy.”
He later tweeted that “Next year, India and Bangladesh will jointly commemorate Mujib Borsho and 50 years of establishment of our diplomatic ties. I look forward to visiting Dhaka for paying my homage to the life and ideals of Bangabandhu.”
In turn Hasina said “India is our true friend … I pay tribute to the members of the Indian armed forces martyred in the war and to their families. I pay my gratitude to the government and the people of India who extended their whole hearted support for the cause of our nation.”
The historical warm ties dominated the summit with Hasina recollecting India’s support to the Bangladesh’s 1971 Independence War against Pakistan.
Meanwhile, India Today magazine said that New Delhi needs to renegotiate the Teesta river deal as China is entering the scene with One billion dollar for the river’s water management.
“China’s entry in the Teesta river is significant as the country has been using water as a weapon to target its rivals. China considers India a rival. It has planned around a dozen projects on the Brahmaputra river in Tibet.”
The widely circulated magazine added that “In the post-Doklam period, China had denied sharing hydrological data in the Brahmaputra to India but it shared the information with Bangladesh.”
“What has worked for India during this period is the presence of the Awami League government. Sheikh Hasina’s party has a history of being favourable to Indian concerns unlike her rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), during whose reign in the pre-2009 period, India saw support to the insurgency in the Northeast,” India Today said on Thursday.
According to the joint statement of the Summit said “Both the leaders also agreed that loss of civilian lives at the border is a matter of concern and directed the border forces concerned to enhance coordinate measures to work towards to bring such border incidents to zero.”
Both the issues needs immediate settlement as it makes Sheikh Hasina’s life difficult the value she gives to ties with her “true friend” against political elements like the BNP, its ally the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami and like-minded groups.
BNP’s jailed chief Khaleda Zia, under whom Indian separatist groups were harboured in Bangladesh, had once warned the electorate that her home district Feni will become India if Hasina comes to power.
Joyeeta Bhattacharjee of the New Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation had the following analysis: “The India and Bangladesh relationship is considered to be a copybook example of a neighbourly relationship. India considers Bangladesh a close partner in its neighbourhood first policy, its major outreach to the countries within its immediate vicinity.”
“India and Bangladesh working together could shape a new South Asia,” she added.
Pundits believe that for the people of Bangladesh and India, the two leaders have to perform.
New Delhi being a regional power has to take the larger steps to make the ties permanently cemented for the interest of both the neighboring countries.