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14 January, 2020 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 14 January, 2020 12:19:00 AM


Bangladesh foreign policy vis-à-vis South Asia

Both India and Bangladesh share common civilizational and cultural values. There is a huge potential for the expansion of bilateral trade
Dr. Mohammad Tarikul Islam
Bangladesh foreign policy vis-à-vis South Asia

The fundamental foreign policies of Bangladesh originate from the article no. 25 of the Constitution of Bangladesh. Foreign policy of Bangladesh comprises of personal circumstance techniques picked by the constitution of the nation to defend its national advantages and to accomplish objectives inside its worldwide relations milieu. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs details and executes the strategies as indicated by the direction from the important segment of the constitution of Bangladesh. “Friendship to all, malice to none” what Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman articulated in 1972 constitution is very much relevant still now and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is maintaining diplomatic relations with the world following the policy.

A scope of points of view is applied so as to offer profundity to the investigation and to limit predisposition however much as could reasonably be expected. These points of view consider what is occurring inside and outside the locale for the most part; just as what's going on inside Bangladesh. An investigation of Bangladeshi international strategy shows that the local viewpoint requires more prominent accentuation than it has been given until now. Therefore, the territorial perspective goes before the residential in consequent parts managing Bangladesh's most basic relationship: that with India. In this article, Bangladesh foreign relations with India and Sri Lanka will be discussed.

Both India and Bangladesh share common civilizational and cultural values. There is a huge potential for the expansion of bilateral trade, which helps maintain peace and harmony on both sides of the border. In the past five years, the two nations have shown impressive development and perseverance in settling complex pending issues, like demarcation of the land boundary. In recent 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. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited India from October 3 to 6, 2019. The visit occurred barely months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi formed his government for the second consecutive term. The visit underscored the unique bond that now exists between the two nations. During the visit, a 53-paragraph long joint statement was issued, featuring the key issues discussed between the leaders. The report is significant as it provides an outline to further deepen India-Bangladesh relations, upholding the spirit of mutual trust and confidence.

The statement featured seven agreements in sectors encompassing transport, connectivity and culture. The agreements included a MoU to provide a Coastal Surveillance System; Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) on the utilization of Chittagong and Mongla ports for movement of merchandise to and from India; a MoU on withdrawal of 1.82 cusecs of water from the Feni River by India, to provide drinking water supply for Sabroom town in Tripura, India; an agreement concerning implementation of the Lines of Credit (LoCs) given by India to Bangladesh; a MoU between the University of Hyderabad and University of Dhaka; renewal of Cultural Exchange Programmes and a MoU on cooperation in Youth Affairs.

The visit also saw the launch of bulk LPG imports from Bangladesh; opening of a Vivekananda Bhavan (for novitiate monks) at the Ramakrishna Mission, Dhaka, and initiation of the Bangladesh-India Professional Skill Development Institute (BIPSDI) at the Institution of Diploma Engineers Bangladesh (IDEB), Khulna. The visit reasserted the levels of trust and affinity between the two nations. However, people in Bangladesh expressed anger and dissatisfaction over the outcome of the visit, since expectations from the visit were high, particularly relating to the sharing of waters from the River Teesta. It was felt that India, as the bigger neighbour, ought to have given more concessions. The issue of sharing the waters from the Teesta has been pending since 2011 when the agreement could not be signed and had to be deferred during then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Dhaka, after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee refused to sign off on the draft agreement and dropped out of the Indian delegation.

Undoubtedly, Bangladesh and India relations should be a multi-party, multi-stakeholder affair. Because, at the end of the day, a consensual vision of this particular relationship, with such an important neighbour, has to be created, for better regional integration. Apart from formal relations between the Indian and Bangladeshi governments, members from different cross-sections of society must become stakeholders in the relationship. Young scholars in Bangladesh need amicable relations with India, which are dependent on normalcy in cultural and political frameworks, notwithstanding questions on water, travel and exchange issues. They need Bangladesh to develop a ‘being connected at the hip’ relationship with a rising India. While present relations between the two nations are great, increasing cooperation would further develop that relationship.

What we observe, over the decades, both neighboring South Asian nations have undergone remarkable foreign policy changes and have immense scope to deepen this multifaceted close friendship to flourish. The two South Asian nations have been historically in friendship since before the sub-continent's colonisation by the British. Indeed, Sri Lanka has had fruitful relations with Bangladesh since its creation in 1971. Among the eight SAARC nations, Bangladesh is important for Sri Lanka as a bilateral partner while placing high emphasis on positive bilateral engagements. The economic, political and cultural partnerships between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have strengthened their traditionally friendly relations in order to make them significant players in the South Asia region.

Regular high-level visits in both directions serve to cement and expand bilateral relations that are mutually beneficial in all spheres. The two South Asian nations are also signatories to regional trade agreements namely the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA)giving Bangladesh and Sri Lanka preferential market access to over 1.6 billion people. Building on the great traditional friendship the two nations are able to work closely through the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) to unleash closer cooperation.

In addition to air connectivity, both countries are exploring means of enhancing maritime connectivity to boost their economies. The ports of Chittagong in Bangladesh and the ports of Colombo and Hambantota in Sri Lanka are located nearly 1515 nautical miles from each other. Robust connectivity and linkages between these ports would facilitate shipping, tourism and investments between the two countries. Education and sports are other areas of collaboration between the two nations.

Bangladesh is host to around five hundred Sri Lankan students studying in its medical and dental colleges. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are a clear example of South-South cooperation which is essential for the developing world. This is a blessing in disguise for developing countries who should give preference to trade and cooperation among themselves instead of looking to the traditionally rich countries for conventional OECD assistance. Surprisingly, 14 instruments signed between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka during the President’s visit has been instrumental as an impulse to South-South and intra-SAARC cooperation. Cooperation in coastal shipping; agriculture; education; investment; information and communication technology; and cooperation between the two central banks have gained momentum.

Bangladesh and Sri Lanka should take the lead in reinvigorating intra-region trade, even though the two countries compete for trade with the outside world in categories such as garments.People-to-people contact is also another factor that contributes to a positive relationship. SriLankan Airlines already flies to Dhaka, but Biman Bangladesh should also begin flights to Colombo. The eventual easing of visa regulations on both sides will also facilitate travel between the two countries. As neighbouring members of the Bay of Bengal region, both countries have many commonalities. Our common cultural affinities and historical links have immensely nourished our modern day inter-state relations.

Bringing up their commitment to multilateralism, both nations have acknowledged increased interaction and cooperation between the two countries on contemporary multilateral issues like climate change, disaster management, migration, health, peacekeeping, etc. at the UN and other regional and international platforms.

They further agreed to share respective knowledge, ideas, innovation to effectively realise the Agenda 2030 in the name of sustainable development goals (SDGs). We earnestly believe, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will keep the momentum forward to “consolidate the already excellent” relations for the benefit of their people. With the rise of Asia, the partnership between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh can be taken to a whole new level by being a model to be emulated by other South Asian countries for enhanced economic growth leading to economic development in the region. The writer is an Associate Professor of Government and Politics at Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh and Visiting Research Fellow (Trinity term-2018) at the University of Oxford. Email: t.islam@juniv.edu




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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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