In the last few weeks, India's eastern neighbor is being wooed by not just China but Pakistan also, even as India is mending its relations after last year's downswing owing to the controversy over the National Register for Citizens. While Pakistan is trying to improve its rock-bottom relations with Bangladesh and China is giving concessions through its Belt & Road Initiative, India is now bettering its ties with a friendly country.
Earlier this week, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan telephoned his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday afternoon in a rare effort to patch up long-fraught relations. Though the Bangladesh government called it a "courtesy call," it is seen as a proactive effort by Islamabad to warm up to a country which has remained suspicious of Pakistan right since Bangladesh's birth in 1971.
Pakistan is believed to have played a role in the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first leader of the newly-formed Bangladesh, and the father of current Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina.
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<strong><a href="https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/news/improving-bangladesh-pakistan-ties-apology-must-heal-wounds-1935777">Bangladeshis remember bitterly</a> </strong>the genocide perpetuated by the Pakistani Army under the orders of General Yahya Khan through Operation Searchlight, which targeted Bengali students, university teachers, women, activists and minorities including Hindus. The leaders and supporters of the Awami League party bore the brunt of the Pakistani armed forces genocide on the Bengalis.
Even though Pakistan and Bangladesh bilateral relations improved over decades, Pakistan tried to use its High Commission in Dhaka for anti-India activities—infiltrating fake Indian currency and supporting terror activities from Bangladeshi soil. For these reasons, the Hasina government kept an arm’s distance from Pakistan after she became Prime Minister in 2009. Though Dhaka acquiesced to speak with Islamabad, Dhaka preferred to keep the talks low-key while a jubilant Islamabad went ahead with a longish press release.
China has been upping its economic and military game all around India including in Bangladesh. It has undertaken several core projects under the BRI in India's eastern neighbor, which includes building ports, strengthening its defence infrastructure and the navy. China has been supplying submarines and ships to Bangladesh and is upgrading its naval facilities. However, it goes to the credit of Bangladesh that it has not been swayed by Chinese investments and <a href="https://www.dhakatribune.com/opinion/op-ed/2020/06/26/op-ed-tilting-one-way-or-another-is-not-an-option-for-bangladesh"><strong>continues to remain neutral</strong></a>.
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Having witnessed the growing Chinese imprint in the neighborhood and also its unreliability as a bilateral partner, India is now looking back at Narendra Modi's 'Neighborhood First' policy which he had kick-started in 2014 at the time of taking over as the Prime Minister. However, as the policy unraveled five years later in 2019, India is beginning to look around its neighborhood with a sense of urgency and responsibility. Bangladesh is in India's economic and bilateral crosshairs as are other South Asian countries.
Historically, India and Bangladesh have enjoyed close relations right from 1971 onwards. Modi and Hasina have affirmed those ties in the last six years through bilateral visits. As recently as March 2019, Modi had launched a number of projects in Bangladesh during his visit. Even during Hasina's visit to India in October 2019, <strong><a href="https://mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/31911/IndiaBangladesh%B1Joint%B1Statement%B1during%B1Official%B1Visit%B1of%B1Prime%B1Minister%B1of%B1Bangladesh%B1to%B1India">the two countries signed</a> </strong>a number of projects related to improving infrastructure in Bangladesh as well as joint efforts at improving border management and the coastline.
Warm relations between the two countries are a pointer to the maturity of successive governments and the importance they have placed on high-level visits to maintain mutually-beneficial and friendly relations.
The two countries are hoping to improve their connectivity rail, road, air and water connectivity which seeks to benefit both and also improve India's linkages with its North-East regions. India has identified eight routes to Bangladesh for improving trade and economic connectivity between mainland India and the North-East, which will bring prosperity to Bangladesh and help save time and money for India.
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Significantly, the first shipment of iron rods and pulses from Kolkata to Agartala began earlier this week as a ship left Haldia port for Bangladesh's Chattogram port. The iron goes to Tripura while the pulses will reach Assam.
Spokesperson for India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Anurag Srivastava commented: "With this, the distance and time taken in the transportation of goods for India particularly the northeastern states will get reduced. It will enhance business services and revenue generation in Bangladesh. The logistical sector will also get a big boost."
The MEA has also thanked Bangladesh for its consistent stand over supporting India over Kashmir as a bilateral issue and nipping terrorism in the bud.
As with many other developing countries, India's relations with Bangladesh also focus on development projects that aim at building not just the infrastructure but also social and human development resources. India has been developing schools, colleges and cultural centers in the country and Bangladesh remains one of India's largest trading partners in South Asia.
India and Bangladesh have walked the last five decades with a sense of mutual-respect and have erected their bilateral relationship on the foundations of trust and a shared common culture. They have successfully fixed tenacious issues like <strong><a href="https://thediplomat.com/2014/09/resolving-the-absurd-indo-bangladesh-border-complexities/">land enclaves and sorted out border</a></strong> issues. An unreliable China and an unstable Pakistan will find it difficult to change that equation for Ind0-Bangla relations..