By Amity Saha
Celebrating 45 years of bilateral ties between India and Bangladesh, Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA), the oldest civil society think tank of its kind, arranged a symposium on the same theme on 18 December 2016. Three keynote papers were presented at the program on different aspects of Bangladesh-India Relations since 1971 into the present times.
The first paper was presented by Dr Amena Mohsin, Professor of International Relations at the University of Dhaka. In her paper, Dr. Mohsin noted that foreign policy is no longer foreign, but draws closer to the home at this time. Social media nowadays is much influential in building foreign relations by way of reflecting common people’s perception. Security concerns, in particular non-traditional security, in the global context has become unpredictable at present. She mentioned about Julian Assange while quoting him that victory of Donald Trump as USA’s next President is discontent of globalisation. Refugee crisis, particularly Rohingya issue in this part of the world, ascending situation of violent extremism in all over the world, economic dysfunctions in many parts of the world, the molding nature of Brexit in near future are manifestations of this discontent; that anyone who is going to analyze current international affairs scenario might easily fall into the trap of being puzzled.
Bangladesh, India and China, these three neighbouring countries can play a very vital role in resolving the Rohingya crisis and she said that for the benefit of the humanity, three countries must come forward and work together.
This year, for the very first time, saw an Indian defence minister visited Bangladesh in 45 years. The goal was to deepen security ties and finalise the Defense Cooperation Agreement that is expected to be signed during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India next year.
She said that Bangladesh should be pro-actively work on building and yielding from the 'ocean economy'. To accumulate ocean resources and to save common ecological zones also could be one of the common grounds for Bangladesh and India to work together. The concept of picking sister-cities between Bangladesh and India could be strong phenomena to connect with each other in more friendly ways.
Dr. Amena Mohsin observed that people-to-people diplomacy is different than that from state-to-state diplomacy. Track-II diplomatic initiatives can play a much vital role. Indian government should take initiatives in opening centres for Indian studies in various Bangladeshi universities. To start joint-water studies program is also an urgent need at this stage for the Indo-Bangladesh relationship. She finished her speech by saying that through contradiction we can move towards cooperation; this is always needed in any kind of relationship between neighbouring countries.
The next paper was presented by former Ambassador to Kolkata M. Humayun Kabir, currently Vice President of Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI). In his paper, the success story of Bangladesh and India’s long-lasting friendship came out in a very compact way. At very first, he refers to the land boundary agreement that solved the border related problem between two, though took much more time. He mentions that three major aspects of Bangladesh-India relations now should be cooperation through the economy, make better connectivity and emphasise on strategic security.
The last paper was presented by Dr Mohammad Yunus, senior research fellow at Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS). The title of his paper was 'Bangladesh and India: Connectivity and Beyond'. He talked about connectivity through economic corridors, road transit corridors, rail and IWD transit corridors, various predicaments on all these types of connectivity between India and Bangladesh. He also mentioned the reasons behind the hindrance of people to people connectivity between both the countries. Barriers are mainly preoccupied mindsets, lack of proper infrastructures, media propaganda, political problems and visa related complexities. Bangladesh and India remain involved in several multi-sect oral forums and processes such as SAARC, BIMSTEC, BCIM-EC, BBIN-MVA, SASEC etc. Through all these regional and sub-regional connecting entities Bangladesh and India can run towards a highly motivating bilateral friendship in future, he expresses that hope in his voice.
Ninad S Deshpande, First Secretary (Political), High Commission of India, Dhaka was also present at the symposium. Deputy Director of BILIA, Dr Lailufar Yasmin gave the vote of thanks at the end of the program. Various academicians, bureaucrats and experts on Bangladesh-India relations contributed their worthful opinions on strengthening this relationship further in the future.
(Amity Saha is Research Assistant at Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA). She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)