DHAKA (The Statesman/ANN News Desk) - Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina begins India visit, both countires condemn Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and radicalism without naming the South Asian nation.
India and Bangladesh signed 22 pacts on Saturday, including five in defence and three in civil nuclear energy sectors, even as the contentious issue of sharing the Teesta river waters between the two countries continued to elude them.
The two countries condemned Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and radicalism without naming the South Asian nation, even as India scaled up political and strategic ties by announcing the extension of a US$4.5 billion line of credit for development projects in Bangladesh and another US$500 million for defence hardware purchases for Dhaka.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina began her much-anticipated three-day India visit on April 7 - seven years after her last visit to New Delhi in January 2010 and almost two years after India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Bangladesh in June 2015.
Modi talked of "an early solution" to the Teesta water issues - indicating that no consensus was reached.
Teesta is just one of the 54 rivers shared by India and Bangladesh, but it has been described as one of the most “emotional issues” for the latter. Several rounds of talks have been held between the two countries, but a consensus over the sharing of the river waters has been elusive, so far.
Bangladesh has a total of 230 rivers, of which 54 flow through India. The Teesta pact has been under discussion since 1983, and was almost finalised in 2011 when it was agreed that India would use 42.5 per cent and Bangladesh 38 per cent of the water.
Hasina was expected to travel to India in December last but the visit was postponed due to scheduling issues and also because it was felt that any progress on the sharing of Teesta waters – a rather emotional issue for Bangladesh - was unlikely in view of the ongoing stand-off between the Modi government and the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal, the state through which the river flows.
Bangladesh has for long been urging India to bring the West Bengal government on board in order to the sign the Teesta water-sharing agreement, but the Modi-led government had not been able to make much headway in this regard till December owing to a spat between Modi and Banerjee over the devaluation of high-value currency notes in November last.
In an indirect endorsement of India’s stand against Pakistan on the issue of terrorism, the joint statement by the two Prime Ministers strongly condemned the recent barbaric attacks in India and Bangladesh and expressed their conviction that the fight against terrorism should not only seek to disrupt and eliminate terrorists and terror organisations but also take strong measures against states which support and finance terrorism, provide sanctuary to terrorists and falsely extol their virtues. They shared the view that there should be no glorification of terrorists as martyrs.
Prime Minister Modi said, "There is one thought in South Asia which breeds, inspires and encourages terrorism. The thought whose priority is not humanity, but extremism and terrorism.”
Ties with Bangladesh have warmed up since Hasina assumed office in 2009. Her government helped crack down on anti-Indian insurgent groups with bases in Bangladesh.
On the trade and investment front, the two leaders noted that during the course of Hasina’s visit, the private sectors of the two nations would sign agreements that would result in investment of more than US$9 billion in Bangladesh.
The tone for making Hasina’s four-day visit successful was set by Modi in the afternoon during the talks between the leaders.
"While our partnership brings prosperity to our people, it also works to protect them from forces of radicalisation and extremism. Their spread poses a grave threat, not just to India and Bangladesh but to the entire region," Modi said at a joint media interaction with Hasina after talks between the leaders.
What was quite perceptible during the brief media event at the majestic Hyderabad House was the personal chemistry between the two leaders. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who too was present on the occasion, appeared quite relaxed as she joined the two PMs in formally launching rail and bus services between the two countries. However, there was no word on whether the Teesta issue figured during her interaction with Hasina over the lunch hosted by Modi.
But the Prime Minister Modi did not disappoint the Bangladeshi delegation on the contentious issue, saying he firmly believed that "it is only my government and Excellency Sheikh Hasina, your government, that can and will find an early solution to the Teesta water sharing.’’
The US$4.5 billion Line of Crdit (LoC) announced by Modi for projects in priority sectors in Bangladesh bring India’s resource allocation to the neighbouring country to US$8 billion over the past six years. The US$500 million LoC to support defence-related purchases by Bangladesh is clearly aimed at reducing Dhaka’s dependence on China for meeting its defence requirements. However, Modi emphasised that India would be guided by Bangladesh’s needs and priorities in implementing this LoC.
In her brief remarks to the media, Hasina described India as the most important neighbour of Bangladesh, adding her government’s firm resolve to further strengthen ties with New Delhi.
Speaking about defence accords, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said, "We had a fairly extensive cooperation in the water and on the ground between our forces but there was some lacunae which has been corrected now.''
The other agreements relate to cooperation in areas like civil nuclear energy, cyber security, judicial services, passenger and cruise services, mass media, motor vehicle passenger traffic and trade.
Jaishankar said the two countries were expected to ink 12 business agreements to the tune of billions of dollars during Hasina's visit, taking the number of accords to 34.