My thoughts on Victory Day
The celebration of Victory Day is a joyous and glorious occasion for Bangladesh. On this day, December 16, 1971, the Pakistan occupation army had surrendered to the joint command of our Mukti Bahini and the Indian army in the victorious conclusion of the nine-month War of Liberation.
We achieved our liberation under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of the nation. On this momentous day we pay our homage to Bangabandhu, the greatest Bengali of all times who will always remain in our hearts and the source of inspiration as we devote ourselves to the task of building Sonar Bangla or Golden Bengal, which he had dreamt, but did not live to see as he was assassinated by some misguided elements on August 15, 1975. It is indeed gratifying to note that our government has decided to celebrate his birth centenary next year in a befitting manner.
We also fondly remember our independence martyrs who sacrificed their lives during the War of Liberation. Moreover, we pay our tribute to the Indian soldiers who died in our battlefields in the fight along with the Mukti Bahini, the liberation army. Our Prime Minister has already honoured family members of the martyred Indian soldiers through an unprecedented 'Sammanana' programme.
Ever since our independence, Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in its often-difficult journey towards democracy, political stability and socio-economic development. But the gains on diplomatic front, especially in forging our very friendly relations with closet neighbor India, has been quite impressive.
Our multifaceted relations are rooted in our shared history, geographical proximity and commonality in our culture and heritage. Let me recall here that our first Bangladesh-India bilateral cooperation had started in the battle field of 1971. As a freedom fighter diplomat, I recall, with deep appreciation and gratitude, whole hearted support which we had received from Government and people of India, during the critical period of our Liberation War. Bangladesh-India relations have been the "role model" and ideal example of "Neighborhood Diplomacy" in the region.
Since assumption of power for the second time in 2009, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has consistently tried to restore mutual trust and cooperation and has brought a change in our mindset and our bilateral ties. There is now a greater recognition on both sides that the destinies of our two neighbouring countries are inescapably intertwined and we must grow together. Our stability and prosperity are inextricably linked with each other. Given our geographical proximity and objective condition on the ground, our long-term benefit can best be served by strengthening relations. On the other hand, a strong and stable Bangladesh provide the best security guarantee for India which surrounds Bangladesh on all three sides with a huge maritime boundary on the south. Happily, on the other hand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after assumption of office two years back, had also expressed his keen desire to promote our bilateral cooperation. Premier Narendra Modi himself has underscored that Bangladesh-India relations is passing through a "Golden Chapter". We are confident that the re-election of both the Prime Ministers with landslide victories in the latest respective national elections will enable us to further consolidate and expand the ever-increasing bilateral ties, based on shared vision and mutuality of interest.
Signing of land boundary agreement and settlement of maritime dispute
Sixty-eight years after the partition of 1947, and forty-one years after the conclusion of the Indira-Mujib Border Accord of 1974, the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) between the two countries was concluded and ratified. Premier Narendra Modi had demonstrated how a long-standing complex bilateral issue could be resolved unanimously through consultation, compassion, and consensus-building. The successful conclusion of the LBA also signaled fulfillment of the vision of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who had taken the initiative soon after the independence of Bangladesh.
Coincidentally, the longstanding maritime boundaries between the two countries were also resolved in July of 2015 through UN arbitration.
High Level Visits
There have been 9 VVIP visits at the Prime Ministerial and Presidential level between the two countries in last 5 years of my tenure. The latest one was in last November when our Prime Minister visited Kolkata to attend the inauguration of first day-night test cricket match between Bangladesh and India at Eden Garden stadium. Before that – just a month back – Prime Minister visited New Delhi from October 3-7, 2019. All these visits are the manifestation of the current level of our partnership, which is "all encompassing" and goes "far beyond a strategic partnership" touching upon "virtually all areas of human endeavour".
Connectivity has got a big push in the Indo-Bangladesh relations. The two prime Ministers have worked hard to restore the rail connection that had existed in the pre-partition period and most of them have been restored. New bus routes have been launched.
Trade & Investment
Trade and investment between Bangladesh is growing steadily. Last year for the first time, Bangladeshi export crossed the 1 billion dollar mark, which is a significant achievement. The trade deficit is largely in India's favour though, there has been some progress.
Amid all these development and progress, there remains some unresolved issue also. The Teesta Water Sharing Deal is yet to be concluded. However, we have been reassured by Premiere Modi that this will be signed soon and we look forward to that.
It is natural to have bilateral problems with one's neighbors, more so, for India and Bangladesh which share huge land and maritime boundaries, and also use common rivers, rail, road and river networks. However, it is heartening to note that the earlier mistrust and tensions between Bangladesh and India have been largely cleared. The only way to resolve the outstanding issues between them is through sustained dialogue with an open mind.
Synergy between the 2 NATIONS
As developing countries, both India and Bangladesh share common challenges. We still have teeming millions living below the poverty line who we must free from the shackles of poverty. We face the onslaught of climate change, scourge of terrorism and extremism that continuously worry us. So there is no alternative to moving forward unitedly if we have to prosper.
Some Other Major Areas of Bilateral Cooperation
Security and Terrorism
It may be recalled that the security issue had bedeviled Indo-Bangladesh ties in the past. Since assumption of power in 2009, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has firmly controlled the situation and did not allow any terrorist activities, or any terrorist group, to use Bangladesh soil to launch any attack against India or any other neighboring country. Likewise Bangladesh received full cooperation from India. Since then, security cooperation has been the high point of our cooperation and it is based on our reciprocal desire not to tolerate terrorism in any form and not to allow our soil to be used for this purpose.
Cooperation in the energy sector is the hallmark of our renewed engagements. There is a positive momentum in cooperation between our two countries in the power sector and the achievements in the past six years have been highly encouraging. Currently, India has been supplying 1160 MW of power to us. We have also started cooperation on renewable energy and nuclear power. Several projects in the power sector have been included in the new line of credit of $4.5 billion which was announced during the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India in April 2017. Agreements worth nearly $13 billion of Indian investment were also signed during the visit, which is mainly in the power and energy sectors of Bangladesh. In addition to these various bilateral initiatives, we are also working on sub-regional cooperation on energy sector in our existing sub-regional and regional platform like BBIN, SAARC, BIMSTEC etc.
It is heartening to note that Prime Minister Modi has not only expressed his interest in strengthening Bangladesh-India bilateral ties but has also viewed these cooperative ties as a catalyst for regional and sub-regional integration, progress and stability. Bangladesh also figures prominently in Prime Minister Modi's 'Look and Act East' policy and both countries are working on strengthening sub-regional connectivity among Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and North-East India under the BBIN as well as inter-regional cooperation with South East Asian countries under the aegis of BIMSTEC and ASEAN.
Lines of Credit
India has offered three Lines of Credit to the tune of US$8 billion at a highly concessional rate to Bangladesh. The First line of credit (LoC-1) has been fully utilised, while implementation of various projects under the Second Line of Credit (LoC-2) is underway. These credits have enhanced capacities in vital areas such as roads, railways, bridges, inland waterways connectivity. Under the 3rd Line of Credit (LoC 3), the Indian government has given 5 billion US$ to Bangladesh. In the meantime, infrastructural development of Land Customs Stations/Land Ports is continuing for boosting exchange of goods.
Defence Engagement between Bangladesh and India has been steadily developing in the recent years. During the visit of our Prime Minister to India in 2017, five MOUs were signed on Defence cooperation, covering fields of general cooperation, training exchange and procurement of equipments, defence financing, medical cooperation and knowledge sharing between the top defence institutes of both the countries.
People-to-people contact between Bangladesh and India has increased manifold during recent years and the highest number of tourists coming to India in 2017 were Bangladeshis. Likewise, a large number of technically qualified Indian nationals are currently engaged in Bangladesh's health, IT, banking and other service sectors. Cultural teams from both the countries do participate in various cultural programmes, book fairs, film festivals in each other's capital. A good number of Bangladeshi students are also studying in India.
Today we are one of the fastest growing economies in the world, second largest garment exporter, third largest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions in terms of sending troops, third largest inland fish producer, fourth largest fresh water fish producer, fourth largest rice producer, fifth largest supplier of migrants in the world, seventh in ICC oneday cricket ranking and eighth largest remittance earning country. All our socio-economic achievements would provide Bangladesh with an opportunity to further consolidate its economic cooperation with the emerging global economic power, India. For us it's a great advantage and opportunity that our biggest neighbor and trusted friend India is fast emerging as a global economic power with strong economic growth coupled with scientific and technological advancement, which offers enormous opportunities for Bangladesh to further her own economic development. India now stands as the world's sixth-biggest economy and the third largest economy in Asia after China and Japan. A fast developing Bangladesh also offers opportunities to India to further deepen its economic relations.
The recent developments have taken our bilateral ties to a new multi-dimensional, multi-faceted and comprehensive platform and we have to proceed with a view to establishing a win-win equation for the benefit of our two countries and for the entire region.
(Syed Muazzem Ali is Bangladesh High Commissioner to India)
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