Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Defense pact between Bangladesh & India in front row, while Teesta water-sharing takes backstage


India eyes a comprehensive defence pact with Bangladesh, while Teesta water-sharing is off the radar during the official visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India's capital New Delhi in early April.

Bangladesh is nervous on the outcome of the India visit, which is expected to further take the bilateral relations to new heights, said a top official of the Ministry of Foreign Ministry on Monday. She is also slated to visit Ajmer to pay homage to Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti.

Political hype on the crucial issue of twice postponed the Teesta water-sharing treaty has caused much embarrassment to the government and ruling political allies. For Hasina, inking another sensitive military pact will not be easy to keep afloat in rough weathers, observes former Bangladesh envoy to Delhi Ambassador Liaquat Ali Chowdhury.

The anti-Indian political lobby, both ruling Awami League's arch rivals Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami, is likely to make noise to the government's getting closer to India, "but Hasina is not afraid of the wolves", said Chowdhury.

Since Hasina returned to power in 2009, she walked extra miles in addressing India's concerns over north-east India's insurgency and connectivity. Nevertheless, India understands that a military pact with Bangladesh  would be beneficial for the two neighbors.

If the pact comes through, India will offer highest ever credit line for defence cooperation with other friendly counties. Delhi is also willing to commit up to 500 million USD in line of credit for military cooperation with Dhaka, writes Jayanth Jacob in Hindustan Times.

Earlier, India had not given line of credit for defence hardware purchases, a source told The Asian Age. On the other hand, the crucial parleys on the outlines of the defence pact is going on, which comprises training, sale of military hardware and military to military cooperation.

Hindustan Times confirms that the "discussions for a defence pact is progressing and yet to reach a final shape". Unfortunately, Delhi is unable to keep pace with Hasina in reciprocating her political desires from her largest neighbor.

The much-awaited Teesta water-sharing deal and two neighbors to share 54 rivers remains a far-cry. Negotiations on Teesta were on for the past 18 years, Chowdhury noted. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi opined for water sharing of all 54 rivers during his maiden visit to Bangladesh two years ago.

The good offices of an elderly politician and President of India Pranab Mukerjee in Delhi are trying to break the ice to resolve the Teesta water sharing issue at a parley between Sheikh Hasina and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been planned.

Bangladesh is confident that she will not return home with empty hands, said a Foreign Office official. The draft agreement prepared by Delhi in 2011 was not signed due to opposition from Mamata, the two sides agreed to share the river's water 50:50, the same as the 1996 Ganges (Padma) water-sharing pact.

First published in The Asian Age, March 21, 2017

Saleem Samad, is an Ashoka Fellow (USA), an award-winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He is Special Correspondent, The Asian Age
Twitter @saleemsamad

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