By Mahfuz Anam, The Daily Star/ ANN
Bangladesh — Sheikh Hasina’s upcoming visit to India during April 7-10 is turning out to be perhaps her most important bilateral visit to a country that surrounds Bangladesh from three sides, making it the only neighbor in all but physical sense.
It is now known that the Bangladeshi leader turned down the Indian request for a 25-year defense treaty. In its place there will likely now be a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on several related issues including purchase of equipment and weapons needed for U.N. peacekeeping, disaster response and management, land mine detector, spare parts for Russian Migs, etc. For all this India appears willing to extend US$500 million in credit. Indian leaders, policymakers and even the media agree that Sheikh Hasina’s government has gone far beyond the extra mile possible to improve Bangladesh-India relations. In The Times of India, Subir Bhaumik, a former BBC correspondent and a frequent commentator on India-Bangladesh relations, wrote, “Hasina has been steadfast in her support of Modi government’s “isolate Pakistan” drive, her government has cracked down hard on northeastern rebels and Islamist militants, on fake currency rackets and Pakistani agents to address Indian security concerns. She has cleared transit for Indian goods to the northeast through Bangladesh territory and addressed most of India’s connectivity concerns seen as crucial to success of India’s “Look East” policy. As Hasina prepares for her Delhi visit, Indian and Bangladeshi officials are trying to finalize a deal to allow Indian use of Chittagong and Mongla ports for accessing the northeast.”
Changing the Narrative What Bhaumik did not mention, and one that India truly needs to be grateful to Sheikh Hasina for, is her determined and successful effort to dismantle all the camps of the insurgents from the Northeast that Khaleda Zia’s government had allowed in a mistaken policy to keep “pressure” on India. Over time these insurgents had become a genuine worry as their destructive power rose with sanctuary on Bangladesh’s side of the border. Thankfully, that is now history. Not to be forgotten or its importance underrated is how Sheikh Hasina’s government has changed the narrative from “India, the hegemonic oppressor” to “India, the development partner” ever since she came to power in 2009. I was a part of the entourage to the Indian capital in January 2010, when the Awami League chief risked her political future and took a leap of faith and signed a very comprehensive agreement with India in which, in one go, she responded to most of India’s important demands without getting any of Bangladesh’s demands met. Her faith has so far worked only partially in terms of duty free access of Bangladeshi goods in the Indian market, a major demand from our side. The story on energy cooperation is also good.