The symposium speakers emphasized the need for India and Bangladesh to nurture their burgeoning relationship
Speakers at a symposium held in Dhaka have emphasized the need to address two major concerns – water and Rohingya issues – and have sought India's efforts to address these concerns—and boost trust between Bangladesh and India at all levels.
Cosmos Foundation, in collaboration with the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), at the National University of Singapore arranged the symposium titled, “Bangladesh-India Relations: Prognosis for the Future,” at a city hotel on Wednesday.
Recognizing the burgeoning relationship between the two South Asian neighbours, they noted that much has been achieved over the past years, but more needs to be done. The speakers said India has made many declarations but not delivered on them, reports UNB.
ISAS Director C Raja Mohan delivered the keynote address, while ISAS Principal Research Fellow and a former Advisor to Bangladesh's previous caretaker government Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury chaired the inaugural session.
"We want to be treated equally and candidly if they claim that we are friends. Our prosperity will be the prosperity of India as well," said Prof Dilara Chowdhury at the event.
She said Rohingya pose a great security risk to Bangladesh; and that if these people do not go back to Myanmar, Bangladesh will experience repercussions to its: security, society, politics, and economy.
The expert said India has not pressured Myanmar on Rohingya repatriation, despite Bangladesh taking care of India’s security interests.
She said India and China are on the same footing, and want Bangladesh to solve the Rohingya problem bilaterally—which has not been possible.
"International support is needed and India should take the lead from its high moral ground to uphold that humanitarian causes of the subcontinent," Prof Dilara added.
Meanwhile, Prof Dilara identified water as the second greatest security concern; she expressed her displeasure at not seeing Indian civil society play a role on resolving water issues.
"Bangladesh is a riverine country. Rivers are dying in Bangladesh," she said— Indian-built dams and barrages for diverting water flows.
The analyst mentioned that Bangladesh has provided transit and trans-shipment facilities to India that have increased India's presence in Bangladesh—but Bangladesh has not gained much.
"Despite promises, only 1% of India's total imports are from Bangladesh whereas Indonesia, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka have more trade shares with India," she said adding that none of the symposium participants are anti-Indian but what all they want to see is a mutually- beneficial relationship.
Prof Dilara said Bangladesh cannot prosper – regardless of matter how much investment it undertakes – if its rivers dry up.
She, however, said that after lot of ups and downs, Bangladesh's relations with India are better—because as lot of development has taking place since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came to power in 2009. "We can say it has never been better than what it is today."
Delhi-Beijing diplomatic ties
Raja Mohan said one of the most critical elements for their relationship is the rise of Bangladesh itself and transformation of its economy.
He said the growing economy of Bangladesh is going to have significant implications for South Asia.
Raja Mohan said the changing geography around them will have at least five important consequences for bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India—including the argument of Bangladesh being India-locked. "In fact, Bangladesh can be a land bridge between India and China."
Dealing with the govt
Raja Mohan said that Bangladesh is sovereign to do what it wants. "Choices have to be made. Choices are difficult and some of the choices will turn out to be bad while some will be good."
Shedding light on politics, he said, "You are free to elect whom you want. Today in your country you can elect anyone. I have been advocating with India to deal with whoever is in the government. You can't do the management of somebody else's domestic politics."
He thinks large countries have no choice but to deal with whomever is in power— across the border and across the world.
"Sometimes it comes with problems, sometimes it comes with no problem. Democracy is not a gift that somebody else will give you," Raja Mohan said, adding: "Let's be pragmatic."
Krishnan Srinivasan said: "India will soon become the 5th-largest global economy and Bangladesh will beat India to middle income status. Both are growing at almost 7.5 percent of GDP."
"Together we are the giants in BBIN and Bimstec. We can dominate any sub-regional grouping," he said.
The former Indian foreign secretary said through close coordination in all fields, Bangladesh and India can together transform the landscape of the two countries as well as South and Southeast Asia.
Dr Iftekhar highlighted various aspects of relations and said it is always important to talk about the problems to advance the relations.
He said that in the region, India is mostly blessed in terms of size, population, and resources—and special responsibility, therefore, goes to her. "We are confident she will not shy away from it. As India grows, we all would like to grow with her. Let us assist one-another towards progress and prosperity."
Dr Iftekhar said they want to see India as an elder brother not just for its larger size but as a country with the largest heart.
He said two countries need to work together though there will be differences.
Singapore's Ambassador-at-Large and ISAS Chairman Gopinath Pillai highlighted the activities of ISAS and pledged to continue working together with Bangladesh—including Cosmos Foundation on various important issues.
Chairman of Cosmos Foundation, Enayetullah Khan, said India is undoubtedly an emerging power and its importance as an economic and strategic power is growing in the region and beyond.
He said Bangladesh is also gaining its importance as a South Asian and global actor. "It has huge potential."
Khan said Bangladesh and India’s relationship is critical for the progress and prosperity of their people—as well as peace and stability of the region and globally.
Speakers discussed irritants to the growing Dhaka-Delhi relations—like disputes over sharing of waters from common rivers. They pointed out that the bilateral trade has been fantastic, though the export-import trade is heavily tilted in favour of India.
Experts noted that India can help bring some much-needed balance to trade with Bangladesh, by eliminating tariff and non-tariff barriers.
Cosmos Foundation has always recognized the ties between India and Bangladesh as essential— not only in the field of foreign policy or geopolitics, but across a range of fields from art to business.
Singapore's Ambassador-at-Large and Chairman of the ISAS Gopinath Pillai, former Indian Foreign Secretary and Ambassador Krishnan Srinivasan, former professor of Jahangirnagar University Dilara Chowdhury, Chairman of Cosmos Foundation Enayetullah Khan, Cosmos Group Directors Nahar Khan and Masud Khan, former and current diplomats, scholars, and editors addressed the program.