Peace and development in India is possible, if there is peace and stability in the immediate neighbourhood. India, being the major economy in South Asia is of course the main driver of growth in the region with its output of about 70 per cent, but the performance of other countries in the region is the contributing factor.
Notwithstanding the continuing global slowdown, the aggregate growth in the economy of South Asia had remained steadfast after suffering an initial dip. It is expected to grow at 4.9 per cent in 2014 as per latest UN survey and is projected to grow at 5.4 per cent.
Let us not forget that though India is a major economy in the region, two of its immediate neighbours - Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are growing at a much faster rate. While India is slated to grow at 5 odd percentage points, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have maintained a strong growth rate of 7.8 per cent and 6.2 per cent.
After the recent political developments in Sri Lanka, the Sirisena government is on the job of pushing for more political and economic reforms to ensure the island country's stability.
Comparatively in Bangladesh, the recent happenings of a series of street protests that began from January 5 leading to violence like hurling of petrol bombs, cocktails at buses and trains, uprooting railway tracks, derailing trains, attacks on other vehicles and firing at law enforcement offices have raised definite concerns. The attacks were led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Begum Khaleda Zia and Jammat-e-Islami who boycotted the January 2014 polls that brought Begum Sheikh Hasina's Awami League to power.
In reference to the developments across its borders, India has expressed its intention not to interfere in the matter and has left it to the government and the people of Bangladesh "to determine what sort of a society they want and what are the issues that they face." That said India wants peace, stability and democracy in Bangladesh.
But India cannot just wash off its hands and remain a mere spectator. It has to honour its longstanding commitments to Bangladesh like the Land Boundary Agreement that envisages the transfers of enclaves and lands held in adverse possessions on the 4,156 km border and also sharing of Teesta waters. The Bill on Land Boundary Agreement is cleared by the department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee to be passed in both the Houses of the Parliament. There is a need to pass this Bill!
Similarly, the sharing of Teesta waters should be immediately implemented. The main opposition in the country to sharing of Teesta has come from the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who seems to have a different political agenda and vote bank politics in her mind. It seems there are a similar inimical political forces working in the Indian side in West Bengal that are preventing Mamata Banerjee from going ahead with the accord on sharing of Teesta waters.
However, it is the responsibility of the central leadership of Prime Minister Narendrabhai Damodardass Modi to overcome the hurdles posed by Mamata Banerjee & co and go ahead on sharing of Teesta waters.
India had shown its extraordinary statesmanship and diplomacy in agreeing to the verdict of the international body on the settlement of maritime dispute between the two countries, even though it had to part with some of its rights. Similar statesmanship is needed to be demonstrated by India in this hour of crisis for Shiekh Hasina, who is perceived to be a friend of India. It pertinent to note, in context, the recent utterances of Prime Minister Modi - "Bangabandhu created Bangladesh and his daughter Sheikh Hasina saved Bangladesh." If Modi means to live up to his utterances, he needs to honour his commitments!
Apart from river Teesta there are 53 common rivers between the two countries. There should be agreements between the two countries for adequate water sharing and for facilitating trans-border water transport.
Peace and stability in Bangladesh is crucial for peace and stability in the region including India. Let us not forget the recent Burdwan blast that has Bangladeshi connection. The Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri had declared to bring Indian sub-continent, including Bangladesh within the ambit of the outfit's operation. Several home grown Bangladeshi militant outfits like Harkatul Zihad, JMBA, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Ansarullah, Taleban and Hizbut Tahrir are already active and are giving Sheikh Hasina challenging moments.
Dhaka and New Delhi took significant steps to formalise security arrangements during the visit of Sheikh Hasina to India in January 2010 by inking agreements on mutual legal assistance on criminal matters, transfer of sentenced persons and on combating international terrorism, organised crime and illicit drug trafficking and also signed a coordinated border management plan. Subsequently Extradition Treaty was signed in January 2013 between the two countries. There are two joint task forces in operation, namely for combating smuggling of fake currency notes and for curbing human trafficking.
With such agreements in place the two countries are better placed to handle terrorism. India should help Bangladesh in tracing the war criminals of 1971 Liberation War if they are illegally taking shelter in the country. Bangladesh should also crackdown on insurgent elements, if they are taking shelter on its soil and operating their activities in northeast India. It should also speed up the extradition process of the insurgent Anup Chetia.
Bangladesh has adopted Vision 2021 Document to transform the country into a middle income, science and technology based society and a Digital Bangladesh. It has miles to go. Cooperation with India and it's all round connectivity in the region including India, Nepal and Bhutan as stipulated by Sheikh Hasina is crucial. The Palatana Power Project in Tripura and export of 100 MW power to Bangladesh is an unique example of cooperation in power sector. Also there are three border haats to facilitate land route trade, namely at Kalaichar (India)-Baliamari (Bangladesh), Balat (India)-Dolora (Bangladesh) and the latest one linking Purba Madhugram in Bangladesh. The two countries can explore the possibilities of reviving old road and rail links that were in vogue in the British colonial regime. Bangladesh can explore possibilities of investing in generation of hydro-power in north-east India and subsequently its export.
Let us not forget that most of the positive developments in the region took place between the two countries when Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his daughter Sheikh Hasina were in power. To name a few are the sharing of Ganga waters in December 12, 1996. India also helped Bangladesh in the signing of peace accord with the tribals of Chittagong hills in December 2, 1997.
Peace and stability in Bangladesh is crucial for the progress of both India and Bangladesh While the cooperation under SAARC is held up in hostage due to political differences between India and Pakistan, the prospects of sub-regional cooperation under BIMSTEC looks brighter. Here peace and stability in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand are vital. India should, therefore, play a proactive role in bailing out Sheikh Hasina by honouring its commitments.
Ashok B Sharma is a senior columnist based in New Delhi, India. He writes on strategic and policy issues in several Indian and international newspapers and magazines. E-mail: [email protected]