Teesta pact: Bangladesh pushes for China's intervention
To resolve the Teesta river water sharing agreement with India, Bangladesh has proposed a unique idea to include China in the river water management programme. Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina's advisor HT Imam, who holds the rank of a cabinet minister, said that China should be brought into the picture and all the three countries should discuss the matter. Immediately, after saying so he clarified that it was his personal opinion.
Excerpts: On the proposed defence deal, Imam said, "it is not really a defence treaty or agreement in the traditional sense, more about defence cooperation, which as a matter of fact we have been doing for some time for example in security, terror, which we had first started when the Awami League came back to power in January 2009."
Will there be an agreement on joint production of defence equipment?
This is something I cannot comment on, as that is still under wraps. The PM is the defence minister, and with the foreign ministry they are handling this. Cooperation would mean, naturally, against external aggression, and within the country, if there are threats to the security of India or Bangladesh, naturally we will cooperate with each other.
How about the Teesta river agreement and the issue of 54 shared rivers between India and Bangladesh? Has there been any progress on the agreement inked in 2011?
You see, for domestic purposes, we have seen in the past too that water has been used as a political tool. It was the same with the Farakkha barrage and the Ganges water treaty. But when Sheikh Hasina first became PM in 1996, it was the first thing she did, and since then we haven't had much trouble with that. We have heard the interview of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee where she has said that she hasn't been consulted on the issue yet, but that perhaps she has been invited now, and she has no problem sharing water with Bangladesh, but for her, the interest of West Bengal comes first.
Apart from all of this, I also wonder if we can approach the upper riparian region of Teesta and Brahmputra…that is China. We hear often from reports in India that China has built barrages and diverted water of these regions…so we can discuss these. China should also be brought into the picture and we should speak with them.
Have you discussed the possibility of involving China in your talks with India yet?
No. This is my personal opinion only. We have been discussing this. But it will need discussion with India at the political level.
Have you had any response from India about whether they are willing to discuss the Teesta agreement during this visit? Has there been any movement since 2011?
They had discussed Teesta at the Joint Rivers Commission about two months ago. They discussed all the rivers. Even the most intractable problems have been resolved when they are discussed at the highest levels, so we hope that can happen. There is much speculation, but what you are seeing is the tip of the iceberg, wait until the visit to see the whole iceberg.
Are you expecting PM Hasina would meet CM Mamata Banerjee who could mediate a resolution to the Teesta logjam?
If there is an occasion to meet I am sure they will meet. I think it is significant that PM Hasina will be staying at Rashtrapati Bhawan and I know personally that Ms. Banerjee's relations with the President of India is very cordial. She is treated like his daughter. When I visited India in 2010 ahead of PM Hasina's last bilateral visit, I called on Mr. Mukherjee as Finance Minister. He immediately called her and in Bangla said,"Tui," and added, "Mamata, please come and meet someone.
" When she came I told her that as railway minister she could help us rebuild the railway lines from Bangladesh to Sealdah to Siliguri, that I remembered taking as a child. India is now a big supplier of railway infrastructure, rolling stock etc., and Ms. Banerjee was instrumental in starting our railway cooperation.
Have you contacted her directly now?
No, I had visited Kolkata in December 2016, but didn't get the chance to meet her. Thrice in the past few months, PM Hasina has postponed her visit for various reasons. Is the atmosphere now right for her visit?