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Millennium Post

Beyond borders

The decision to relax visa restrictions for Bangladeshi nationals above the age of 65 and below 13 is a welcome first step towards a more ambitious and robust South Asian regional cooperation. While the idea of ‘visa-free travel’ to and from India within the subcontinent is still a distant dream, far beyond possibility of implementation, a relaxed regime of border crossing for economic, educational and leisure purposes takes the bilateral relationship to the next level. While the MEA has been mulling visa-free travel within the SAARC nations, the home ministry has rejected such a liberal arrangement since concerns over national security and cross-border terrorism happen to be real and present dangers.  Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Bangladesh can therefore be seen in this precautionary yet optimistic light. The easing of visa norms is certainly a well-meaning prologue to a slew of high-level consular consultations that are in the pipeline, including those over land border agreement and Teesta water sharing agreement.

      Even though Swaraj and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had preliminary deliberations on these crucial issues, they need to be teased out and debated at a wider platform, with mutually arrived at decisions on these important and urgent matters. The land boundary agreement not only awaits ratification in Parliament, thorny concerns like water sharing of River Teesta, which would affect the West Bengal and Assam economies substantially, need to bring under an umbrella of consensus chief ministers Mamata Banerjee and Tarun Gogoi. In addition, worries over illegal immigration from our eastern neighbour and porosity of our shared border necessitate nuanced arguments on both sides to build better relations between the two countries, as well as set a precedent for others within SSARC to emulate in future. Given that Indian citizens do not need visa to travel to some of the SSARC countries, including Maldives, Bhutan and Nepal, a little bit of reciprocity wouldn’t be a bad idea in the interest of the subcontinent.
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