India and Bangladesh have agreed to resolve the long-standing issue of enclaves, but a host of other issues – ranging from river water to the mouth-watering Hilsa fish – remain sticking points between the two nations.
The most contentious perhaps among the unresolved issues is the sharing of Teesta river water. New Delhi and Dhaka had agreed on a 50:50 water sharing agreement in 2011, but the deal could not be sealed in the face of opposition from West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
Banerjee felt the volume of water in Teesta was inadequate to fulfill demands of both the countries. She did not accompany then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Dhaka in September 2011 for signing of the Indo-Bangla Teesta Water Sharing Treaty.
A disappointed Sheikh Hasina described it as “unfortunate”.
The disappointment is shared by many in Bangladesh, fuelling nagging suspicion in the country that ‘Big-Brother’ India was depriving its smaller neighbor of its rightful dues.
“The Land Border Agreement is through. The security of the region and Teesta are going to be the principal bilateral issues now. The rise of terrorism should also be a common concern,” said National Research professor Jayanta Kumar Ray of Institute of Foreign Policy Studies, Calcutta University.
Bangladesh’s commerce minister Tofail Ahmed agreed, saying that apart from the LBA, Teesta, duty-free trade and removal of tariffs and para-tariffs are important Indo-Bangla issues that need to be addressed.
India and Bangladesh share a 4,096-km border. As many as five Indian states - West Bengal (2,217 km), Assam (262 km), Meghalaya (443 km), Tripura (856 km) and Mizoram (318 km) - have a border with the eastern neighbour. Issues of infiltration from Bangladesh, especially into Assam and West Bengal have been cause for concerns between two countries.
Trade imbalance, terrorism and cross-border smuggling are also major irritants.
A concerned Sheikh Hasina raised the issue of cross-border terrorism with Banerjee recently. The Burdwan blasts on October 2, 2014, caused tremors in Dhaka. The discovery that Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) operatives were involved in the blasts and that they had spread their tentacles in Bengal shocked the Sheikh Hasina government.
Bangladesh writer and intellectual Shahriar Kabir said Sheikh Hasina is fighting against terrorism and fundamentalism. She has also handed over militants to India.
Dhaka expects that Bengal should not allow its land to be used for terrorism against Bangladesh. “We don’t support Jamaat-e-Islami. They should not get support from Bengal. Hasina and Mamata should end terrorism in this region,” said Shahriar Kabir.
“We expect Indo-Bangla bilateral talks to resolve the crucial issues. As neighbours, we want Bengal to check terrorism on its soil,” added Awami League’s Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Haque Hanif. “
Then there is also the matter of tasty Hilsa fish that currently is the cause of much bitterness. Possibly miffed over the inability to seal the Teesta water deal, Hasina banned the export of Hisla to India in 2012.
Bengalis on the Indian side of the border love their Hilsa from Padma river and want the ban revoked.
With palate influencing geopolitics, Hasina has held out hope: She told Banerjee recently that once the Teesta water starts flowing to Bangladesh from India, the Hilsa of River Padma would find its way to the Ganges of Bengal.
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