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Just like India, Bangladesh is free to pursue its own policies

Published : Friday, 31 July, 2020 at 12:00 AM  Count : 627
Syed Badiuzzaman

Just like India, Bangladesh is free to pursue its own policies

Just like India, Bangladesh is free to pursue its own policies

Almost half a century ago, Bangladesh emerged as a completely sovereign and independent nation on the world atlas at the cost of much blood and sacrifices. But sadly some people both outside and within the country still tend to forget about that.

These folks appear to ignore the fact that it was primarily Bangladeshi men and women-none other-who made the supreme sacrifices over a nine-month period of the Liberation War in 1971 and that the hard-earned independence and sovereignty of Bangladesh is non-negotiable.

However, India did play a significant role in the liberation of Bangladesh for which Bangladesh has always been and will ever remain thankful to India. India opened its border to millions of Bangladeshis and sheltered them for several months and eventually directly participated in the war to help Bangladesh earn its independence.

These are historical facts and there is no dispute about them. After independence, Bangladesh and India became natural allies and trusted next-door neighbours. The new nation of Bangladesh and India also signed a 25-year treaty which was known as the "Mujib-Indira Treaty" for peace, friendship and cooperation between the two countries.

Although both Bangladesh and India declined to renew the treaty after it expired in 1997, its first article clearly declared that "there shall be lasting peace and friendship between the two countries and each side shall respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the other and refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of the other side."

An analysis of the 1972 Bangladesh-India treaty suggests that both Bangladesh and India are completely two separate independent and sovereign nations and they are free to pursue their own domestic and foreign policies. None has the right to interfere in any shape or form in the internal affairs and dictate what will be the domestic or foreign policy of the other.

However, after the recent improvement in Bangladesh-China bilateral trade relations, a section of Indian media has launched an orchestrated smear campaign against Bangladesh. First, came up the Kolkata-based Bengali daily Anandbazar Patrika calling China's zero tariff offer to 97 per cent Bangladeshi exports to China as a "charity". Even though the newspaper apologized later, it became offensive first with Bangladesh.

In fact, India itself had been the largest recipient of what Anandabazar Patrika called "charity," a program that allowed some Indian goods to enter the United States with zero tariffs. Let us put it more clearly, Washington's Generalized System of Preferences or GSP program for India, which has been recently cancelled by President Donald Trump, allowed $5.6 billion worth of Indian exports to enter the U.S. duty-free.

The latest salvo came from the Hindu, an influential Indian newspaper. Making an apparently intentional mistake, the newspaper recently published an article against Bangladesh with an outrageous headline "Sheikh Hasina failed to meet Indian envoy despite requests." I have been in journalism for 45 years. It simply couldn't have been an inadvertent mistake. Even though the headline was later changed, it was a disgruntled editor's expression of anger against the Bangladesh prime minister.

The reason? The paper itself spelt it out - Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina did not meet Indian High Commissioner in Bangladesh despite repeated requests in the last four months. So what? What was the issue here? Was the head of the government of Bangladesh obligated to meet a foreign envoy whenever he or she would seek an appointment? Let's put it this way: is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi under any obligation to meet a Bangladeshi envoy whenever he or she will seek a meeting with him?

No, of course not. Such a meeting will happen as per the convenience of the head of the government of any country and also at a time of their choosing--plain and simple. So, again what's the confusion here? If the prime minister of a country thinks that it is not the appropriate time to meet envoys of such and such countries, doesn't he or she have the power to delay or even cancel those meetings? Many heads of government or state of many countries wait for years to meet with their counterparts.

The Hindu also took issue with the alleged slowing down of "all Indian projects since the re-election of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since 2019." But on this the critics raised the question that did the government of Bangladesh ever make any written promise to India that all Indian projects would be implemented on a fast track? Every national government of every country has their specific ministries to decide about the priorities of their projects and accordingly they are implemented and also as per the needs of the nation.

If the Chinese infrastructure projects are considered as priority projects by the Bangladesh government in view of certain factors, why shouldn't they receive higher support from Dhaka? Implementation of various projects depends on their priority. Doesn't India also follow the same policy on project implementation? The Hindu complained that "despite India's concern, Bangladesh has given the contract of building an airport terminal in Sylhet to a Chinese company�"

Now the question is: can't Bangladesh independently decide as to which country to give a contract for a major infrastructure project like building an airport terminal? The Indian paper implicitly said that Bangladesh shouldn't have awarded the Sylhet airport terminal building project to China since India expressed its concern about it." Then hypothetically, will India ever listen to Bangladesh and refrain from awarding a major Indian contract, for example to the Philippines if Bangladesh expresses its concern about it?

Interestingly, the Indian newspaper raised all these issues against Bangladesh quoting so extensively a Dhaka daily that it found its place even in the headline of the article. Taking the same side against the Bangladesh government, both the Chennai-based and Dhaka-based dailies raised all these grievances. But behind their bashing of Bangladesh was clearly an effort for lobbying on behalf of India. When an individual or a newspaper promotes businesses or other interests on behalf of a country, they do lobbying.

Lobbying is basically an attempt by individuals or private interest groups to influence the decisions of the government. If another Bangladeshi newspaper, instead of the Dhaka daily as referred to by the Hindu, would complain about slowing down of projects of China or Pakistan, for example in Bangladesh, that newspaper would also be doing the same thing-lobbying-on  behalf of those countries to influence the decision of the Bangladesh government.

The Hindu also mentioned about the recent phone call made by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Does any Bangladeshi newspaper ever write about who Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi either takes or makes a phone call from or to and why? No, because that is an entirely internal affair of India. By the same token, this is also an absolutely internal affair of Bangladesh when Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina either takes or makes a phone call from or to any head of the government or state of any country.

Newspapers like the Hindu and Anandabazar Patrika are not promoting Bangladesh-India relations. They are rather openly acting against it with their ongoing smear campaign against Bangladesh. These papers forget that Bangladesh is a completely sovereign and independent country like India. Also, just like India, Bangladesh is absolutely free to pursue its foreign and domestic policies independently to advance its own national interests.
The writer is a Toronto-based journalist who also writes for the Toronto Sun and Canada's Postmedia Network

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