‘India must foster regional ties’

India and Bangladesh share a rich tapestry of historical, cultural, and political ties, rooted in their shared heritage and mutual support.

‘India must foster regional ties’

Shammi Ahmed

India and Bangladesh share a rich tapestry of historical, cultural, and political ties, rooted in their shared heritage and mutual support. Over the years, this relationship has evolved significantly, reflecting a deepening bond based on trust, cooperation, and shared aspirations. Abhijit Deb from The Statesman, in an interview with Awami League Foreign Affairs Secretary Shammi Ahmed talks about the Indo-Bangla relationship and the way ahead.

Q: What are the steps that can be taken to strengthen the India-Bangladesh partnership?

A: The relationship between India and Bangladesh has been nurtured by pivotal moments in history. India’s support during Bangladesh’s liberation war in 1971 laid the foundation for a lasting friendship. This bond was further cemented when India provided asylum to Sheikh Hasina, the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh, during periods of political turmoil. Such acts of solidarity underscore the mutual trust and respect that define Indo-Bangla relations.


Q: What do you think is India’s role in strengthening bilateral ties in South Asia?

A: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s assurance that Bangladesh will not allow its territory to be used for activities against India is a testament to the strong political will to maintain and enhance this relationship. This commitment has paved the way for collaborative efforts to address common challenges, from regional security to climate change.

Q: What should be done to enhance economic cooperation and cultural exchanges?

A: To further strengthen their bond, India and Bangladesh have prioritized enhancing economic cooperation and cultural exchanges. Trade between the two nations has grown steadily, with both sides exploring new avenues for economic integration. Joint initiatives in infrastructure, technology, and education are seen as vital steps towards fostering deeper ties. Cultural exchanges play a crucial role in this relationship, bridging people-to-people connections that have historically been the bedrock of Indo-Bangla ties. Festivals, academic exchanges, and tourism are avenues through which both nations celebrate their shared heritage, fostering goodwill and understanding among their people.

Q: What can the countries do to address their shared challenges?

A: India and Bangladesh face several shared challenges, notably climate change and regional security. Collaborative efforts in these areas can significantly enhance bilateral relations. Joint initiatives to combat climate change, such as developing sustainable energy sources and protecting the Sundarbans, can serve as models for regional cooperation. Regular high-level dialogues between the two nations are essential for addressing regional security concerns. These dialogues can facilitate better coordination in counter-terrorism efforts and border management, ensuring that both countries remain safe and secure.

Q: Your comments on India’s leadership role in South Asia.

A: India’s role in strengthening bilateral ties in South Asia extends beyond its relationship with Bangladesh. As a regional leader, India is expected to foster positive relationships with its neighbors, including Nepal and Bhutan. By adopting a supportive and inclusive approach, India can enhance regional cooperation and integration. Revitalizing initiatives like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and promoting infrastructure development and trade facilitation are steps in the right direction. Collaborative projects, capacity building, and addressing common regional issues can help India solidify its position as an international power, backed by the support of its neighbours.

Q: Is there anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh due to the proximity between Awami League and NDA?

A: Despite the strong ties between the Awami League government in Bangladesh and India’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA), there is some anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh. This sentiment is largely fuelled by a small anti-Bangladeshi and pro-Pakistani lobby with historical roots against Bangladesh’s independence movement. However, the overall impact of such sentiments remains minimal. Continuous engagement, transparent communication, and addressing mutual concerns are crucial for mitigating these sentiments. Strengthening people-to-people ties and ensuring that bilateral initiatives are inclusive and beneficial to all can help counter negative narratives and reinforce the positive aspects of IndoBangla relations.

Q: What do you have to say on China’s growing influence in Bangladesh?

A: Bangladesh’s engagement with China, similar to India’s, is primarily driven by economic interests. While China is a significant economic player, Bangladesh maintains a balanced approach in its international relations. The country collaborates with a diverse set of partners, including Russia, France, Europe, and Japan. The narrative of China exerting undue influence in Bangladesh is often overstated. Bangladesh’s commitment to balanced and diversified international relations ensures that no single country, including China, dominates its foreign policy.

Q: India and Bangladesh are grappling with illegal migration and the issue of Rohingiya refugees. How do we tide over this situation?

A: The Rohingya refugee crisis is a significant humanitarian issue that both India and Bangladesh are navigating. Bangladesh hosts about one million Rohingya refugees under stringent security measures, ensuring minimal impact on neighboring countries. The claim that refugees are sneaking into India through Bangladesh is largely unfounded, with most refugees entering through the Myanmar border. India and Bangladesh can work together to manage the refugee situation, advocating for a peaceful and sustainable resolution to the crisis and ensuring that the humanitarian needs of the refugees are met.

Q: What are the challenges we need to overcome in the IndoBangla relationship?

A: One pressing issue in IndoBangla relations is the delay in granting visas to Bangladeshi citizens, particularly medical patients seeking treatment in India. Streamlining the visa process would not only strengthen bilateral relations but also boost medical tourism in India. Addressing this issue promptly can enhance goodwill and trust between the two nations.

Q: Can you talk about the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement and its impact on South Asia?

A: The Bangladesh-BhutanIndia-Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement is poised to revolutionize regional connectivity. By facilitating free movement of goods and people, this agreement will boost trade and strengthen people-to-people connections. Implementing a visa-on-arrival policy within these countries could further enhance regional cooperation and economic growth.

Q: Your comment on Teesta water sharing agreement and how Bangladesh looks at it.

A: The Teesta River water sharing agreement remains a critical issue for Bangladesh. Successful negotiation of this agreement is essential for equitable water distribution and maintaining bilateral trust. Continued dialogue and cooperative water management strategies are necessary to resolve this long-standing issue and ensure the sustainable use of shared water resources.

Q: Lastly, your thoughts on the crucial 2024 Lok Sabha polls in India.

A: We have a relationship with India and people-to-people connect. Whichever party comes to power, our relationship will remain the same.