Spotlight

Informal Diplomacy: Reinforcing Bangladesh-India relationships

Young academics and professionals of Bangladesh want friendly relations with India, based on commonness in culture, heritage and political systems despite disputes on water, transit and trade issues. They want Bangladesh to grow hand in hand with emerging India, writes Mohammad Tarikul Islam for South Asia Monitor
Jan 22, 2019
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Informal (Track-II) diplomacy, also known as non-official “people to people” contact, is the only way to help bring change in the mindset of people and enhances better understanding for peace and stability. Track II diplomacy is intended to provide a space where low-key, non-judgmental, non-coercive, environment exists, enabling participants to share perceptions, fears and needs without any pressure.
 
This enables the participants to explore ideas for resolution, free of the constraints of government positions, to achieve sustainable solutions for prevailing complications among nations. Track II diplomacy is an important tool to encourage the formation of mutual understanding of differing perceptions, based on problem-solving relationships.
 
Historical evidence suggests that both India and Bangladesh share common historical and cultural values and social connect. No economic development, improvement of trade and politico-socio-cultural relations is possible without peace and stability.
 
Track-II diplomacy denotes citizen-driven diplomatic endeavours, upholding the spirit of confidence-building between people of both nations. Based on mutual benefit and with mutual respect, both countries are making every effort towards futuristic ties. India's links with Bangladesh are multidimensional- civilizational, cultural, social and economic.
 
In the last over four decades, the two countries have continued to consolidate their political, economic, trade and cultural relations and have built a comprehensive institutional framework to promote bilateral cooperation.
 
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's invitation to SAARC leaders at his inauguration was an unprecedented move that reflected his vision of South Asia. He realizes that if India is to grow as a regional power, it must ensure a friendly neighborhood. His reaching out to the neighbors before engaging with big powers such as the USA, Russia, China and the EU is a clear indication of the priority that he attaches to the region.
 
Apart from the formal diplomatic approach, India-Bangladesh relations have the strong backing of Track II diplomacy. Thus, the momentum of greater regional integration has been re-energized in recent years. Track II diplomacy across levels can bring gains in these areas and help tap into the proximity and demographic dividend South Asian countries enjoy. 
 
These involve the interaction of unofficial or semi-official channels through business elites, major media figures, professors, retired government officials, think tanks, political leaders, legislators, research scholars and socially and culturally eminent persons combined to provide new ideas, shape public opinion and provide lobbies for policy adjustment for mutually beneficial cooperation. India and Bangladesh’s geographical locations complement each other and present an opportunity for both to further develop their connectivity links and economies.
 
Cricket has a great influence over bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India. Bangladeshi cricketers participate in the Indian Premier League, while the Indian government offers 200 scholarships for Bangladeshi students under the ICCR Scholarship Scheme. Indian students also study in Bangladeshi institutions. Bangladesh directly and indirectly contributes to health and medical tourism in India. Bangladeshi patients contributed 50% of the total revenue from medical tourism which is 35% of the contribution of foreign patients.
 
Cultural programmes not only enrich the cultural dimension but also promote cross cultural co-operation between India and Bangladesh. Culture is a very important medium that fosters better understanding and appreciation at different levels. The Indira Gandhi Cultural Centre organizes different cultural programmes featuring both Indian and Bangladeshi artists. Besides, the youth want to work together and emphasize new areas of cooperation, despite having differences in security and migration concerns, from India's point of view.
 
Given the recurrent challenges posed through the wave of globalization, if governments are not actively interacting with each other, their productivity is reduced. Young academics and professionals of Bangladesh want friendly relations with India, based on commonness in culture, heritage and political systems despite disputes on water, transit and trade issues. They want Bangladesh to grow hand in hand with emerging India. Present ties between the two countries are good but interactions need to be institutionalized to deepen the relationship in the days ahead. 
 
(The author is Assistant Professor of Government and Politics, Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh and Visiting Research Fellow, University of Oxford. He can be contacted at t.islam@juniv.edu)

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