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News analysis

More concessions to India again without solving pending issues

By Special Correspondent
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A unilateral move is at work again to give India more tactical and connectivity advantages while a similarly reciprocal move from the Indian side is not visible to resolve pending issues in which Bangladesh has the biggest stakes.
Issues like Teesta water sharing agreement or implementing the land boundary agreement and swap of enclaves are hanging in the air although these are the pressing issues from the Bangladesh side.
Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh  agreed to resolve these issues during his visit to Bangladesh in September 2011 while Bangladesh offered overland and riverine transit connectivity to Indian northeastern states.
India is using the Ashuganj river port for transshipment of food grains, equipment and such other unspecified cargoes using roads and railways. These facilities will be further extended under the new initiatives. Bangladesh has agreed in principle to  open up for regional connectivity. But the question is what would be our reciprocal benefits.   
The new initiative appears a kind of sell out without viable justifications and we wonder as to why the Sheikh Hasina government is hastily moving to grant further concessions without having achieved the fulfillment of earlier promises made by India.
Meanwhile, news reports on Wednesday said the Indian Prime Minister Dr Singh at a meeting in Myanmar capital Nay Pyi Taw with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the sideline of the BIMSTEC summit  regretted for failing to deliver the Teesta waters or land boundary agreements.
The UPA government in Delhi is facing new elections from April and snaps poll reports said it is heading towards a big defeat to the major opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. In this background, the Congress led government in Delhi is working hastily to take more concessions from the Hasina government.
But why the Bangladesh government is in equal haste to fulfil the Congress government shopping list knowing it well that it has to deal with a different government in few months from now is unknown. Many people tend to believe that Delhi is using Sheikh Hasina's gratefulness to take new concessions as it helped her to return to power in the January 5 unilateral election which shelved the major opposition to  the sideline.
It may be noted that both the Prime Ministers met for the first time after the January 5 elections and talked about greater cooperation but that excluded any major gains for Bangladesh except a promise of 100 MW electricity from Tripura in the near future.     
It is a known fact that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Benarjee is not taking any interest to share the Teesta waters with Bangladesh while the Congress led UPA government in Delhi has also failed to secure the ratification of the land boundary agreement with Bangladesh to exchange the enclaves and other adversely possessed land.
But to Bangladesh these are obligations of the Indian central government and any progress on further extending transit and connectivity concessions to India must have similar progress on the issues which bite Bangladesh all the more.
But as news reports said the Hasina government is taking the unilateral moves to grant further advantages to India even without achieving delivery on earlier promises. We are for a constructive and reciprocal bilateral cooperation to bring the region to a new level of socio-economic development in a free trade zone.  But most people wonder why the government is moving to the second phase of enhanced connectivity by road, rail, river and air without securing free trade and investment and also before resolving the pending issues. Indian exports is over $ 5b against our $65million exports to India and India is not opening its market in a significant way. Moreover Indians working in Bangladesh are taking home over $3.5b a year.
Reports said Bangladesh and India have taken about a dozen initiatives including discussing the opening of more rail links, land ports and river ports of call and a second air route from Dhaka to Guwahati.
Different ministries are already working to implement them. An inter-ministerial meeting on Tuesday reviewed the progress in all those fronts. News reports said the new move surfaced following Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed's recent visit to Delhi.  Bangladesh High Commissioner has also asked the government recently in a letter to expedite the moves. The Indian government in a letter to Dhaka last month also recommended 23 specific steps in this regard.
It includes improving land ports and rail links, setting up several river ports of call and border haats, and a new air route to Guwahati. The joint working group of Bangladesh and India is set to discuss these initiatives at a meeting scheduled for this month.

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