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HindustanTimes Wed,27 Aug 2014

At best, two cheers
Hindustan Times
New Delhi, January 29, 2013
First Published: 21:37 IST(29/1/2013)
Last Updated: 21:39 IST(29/1/2013)

The extradition treaty and visa agreement signed with Bangl-adesh are accomplishments only in isolation. Seen in the entirety of Indo-Bangladesh relations, they represent a partial failure because they don’t reflect what could have been acco-mplished between the two nations in the past few years. If the full spectrum of agreements that New Delhi and Dhaka had agreed on had been approved by both, it would not be too much to say that a full turnaround in the relationship would have been accomplished. It would have been a foreign policy success on the level of the nuclear deal signed with the US, albeit on a regional scale.

The failure to reach the pinnacle lies largely in Indian dome-stic politics — most notably the short-sighted and obstinate behaviour of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee but also, increasingly, the electorally-driven wariness of the BJP. It is a stark reminder that any Indian ambition to a global role will remain a castle in the sky so long as New Delhi is unable persuade regional and state players to sign on the dotted line. While the Sheikh Hasina government is known to be friendly to India, her overwhelming legislative majority in the last election allowed her to consider solving almost every outstanding issue between the two countries — the transfer of land to settle the border, the provision of transit and transport rights to the Northeast — and she also fully cooperated with India over the latter’s security concerns. That the Northeast is experiencing one of its lowest levels of insurgency today is in no small part due to this cooperation. However, Ms Banerjee’s refusal to accept the Teesta agreement and, now, the BJP’s reluctance to consider a land border agreement means that Dhaka’s praiseworthy efforts are in danger of being wasted. The extradition and visa agreements are useful. Terrorists operating from Bangladeshi soil have long been a thorn in the Indian side. The visa agreement is a major step towards rationalising the flow of people between the two countries, an issue that causes friction on both sides but cannot escape the simple fact that the two nations are demographically a single entity.

However, given the size of the opportunity that seems to be slipping away these agreements deserve only two cheers at best. The problem is clearly at home and the Manmohan Singh government should not falter in trying to get the land border agreement through sometime this year.


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