No country can deny the importance of neighbors and Geography. Bangladesh is geographically a special neighboring country, unlike other foreign countries which share borders with India from one side, or slightly more than that. Bangladesh is landlocked inside India. Bengal was one state before 1947. The ethnic, cultural and religious ties remain despite the separation.
From a geographic perspective either Bangladesh should have been a state of India, or Bangladesh along with the entire North East India should have been a separate country. This would have been good for the population inhabiting the region. Since this is obviously not possible, the two countries need to develop synergy to benefit the large population inhabiting the region. After all that is what democracy is all about and we are both democratic countries. Let us analyze how we can cooperate for mutual benefit.
India’s North East region is threatened by China. The Silliguri corridor is inadequate for mobilization of troops to the region. India needs transit facilities through Bangladesh. If good relations are maintained and there are no unreasonable restrictions imposed then the deployment of paramilitary forces on our mutual borders, the problems of illegal immigration, the need for border fencing, killings of Bangladeshis trying to enter India would end. Both countries would save a lot of precious human lives and money. Bangladesh faces external land threat only from India. Bangladesh can easily scale down her land forces and focus on guarding herself from sea threat in cooperation with Indian Navy.
Bangladesh is a developing country with the highest population density in the world. 89% of the population is Muslim. The country is susceptible to dangerous influence of Islamic fundamentalists, terrorists and Pakistan’s ISI. During the rule of Khaleda Zia a number of anti India terrorists had found safe havens in Bangladesh. The current regime has halted such activities. Bangladesh and India have to guard against this threat by mutual cooperation.
- Our trade is estimated to be over $7 billion and is expected to be almost $10 billion by 2018. India exports thrice the amount of imports from Bangladesh.
- Bangladesh will greatly benefit from getting free transit facilities to India’s North East and also the West. There is great scope for increase in trade. This will benefit Bangladesh greatly. India’s North East will benefit greatly by getting easy access to other parts of India.
- Well developed sea ports of Bangladesh can be used by India to increase sea trade.
- Bangladesh has 45000 sq miles of coast line providing access to a rich source of hydrocarbons and fish. Bangladesh has estimated gas reserve of 33 TCF (trillion cubic feet). India can invest in oil extraction so that Bangladesh’s domestic needs can be met and any surplus exported.
- Bangladesh is power deficient. India’s North East region in conjunction with Nepal & Bhutan has potential of being power surplus. Thus cheap power can be exported by India to Bangladesh for promotion of industry.
- Primary imports for Bangladesh are petroleum and food products and major exports are jute and textiles. India can help trade by provision of better infrastructure and transit facilities.
- The large population of Bangladesh offers a huge market for Indian goods and services. The North East region has great tourism potential for Bangladeshis.
West Bengal and Bangladesh share a common culture. Common interests in music, art and literature can offer scope for cultural exchange. Both the countries jointly celebrated the 150th birthday of Dr. Rabindranath Tagore. Cultural ties can positively impact trade and security cooperation and must be encouraged by both the nations.
Relations are on an upswing with Modi’s visit on to Bangladesh. Land border agreement is definitely historic for the current Indian government. However, it is shameful for India as a nation that it was not done in 1974! There are several irritants which are being resolved fast.
Both nations stand to benefit greatly from cooperation in defence, strategic, economic and cultural relations. There is a need to move fast by both the countries to resolve past issues. Efforts must be made to increase cooperation at a fast pace as the large population inhabiting Bangladesh and our West Bengal and North East region in particular and India in general must benefit from actions of the democratically elected leaders of the two nations.