Living with the neighbour

Published: January 4, 2013

The writer is a public policy analyst and former interior secretary

Living with a neighbour, especially an oversized one, is like walking a tightrope. Varying perceptions and different sets of objectives may put a smaller neighbour under constant battle for space and survival. Despite an occasional gloss of convergence in many areas, a sense of unease is common to their relations. The South Asian subcontinent is an apt example of this phenomenon. However, this underlines the need for a meaningful framework to address these issues for a better future. These sets of issues are not unique to India and Pakistan alone. In this regard, Bangladesh also offers an interesting case study.

Bangladesh’s political geography makes for an interesting reading. Its land mass bulges into Indian territory, squeezing the oversized neighbour to a tenuously thin 20 to 40-kilometre strip in the north, known as the ‘Siliguri Corridor’ or the ‘Chicken’s Neck’. It is the only passage that helps access the seven insurgency infested north-eastern states from the Indian mainland. Indian concerns to make these insurgency-ridden states a part of the mainstream are on the rise. No meaningful development can take place through the Siliguri Corridor alone. This peculiarity has placed Bangladesh at a unique locational advantage as a natural corridor offering multimodal transportation access through its navigable rivers and road network. Bangladesh is well aware of this leverage and sees it as a source of revenue in the form of transit duties.

The two countries have signed an inland transit trade agreement, which enables Indians to avail Bangladesh’s rivers and road network for cargo movement. In exchange, India has agreed to share some maintenance costs for the dredging of the rivers and for keeping the roads in shape. There is, however, growing pressure by India to seek a waiver on the transit fee and other duties.

There are hosts of other issues, which have put the regional framework under stress. Nearly 56 rivers flow from India into Bangladesh. As a lower riparian, the country has been facing hard times in terms of a regular and designated flow of river water from upstream. India is in full control of the mighty Ganges and its tributaries. About 100 dams of different descriptions have been built in upstream India, which has affected the flow of discharge downstream.

Bangladesh’s alluvial rivers continue to pile up huge silt deposits along the coastline and, on occasion, give rise to small islets. At times, they make a seasonal appearance depending on the behaviour of the tides. During the 1970 cyclones, an island emerged along the coastline of the two countries. Bangladesh named it Talpatti, while the Indians hastened to name it the New Moore Isle, a u-shaped, one-square mile islet. Reportedly, India missed no time in moving its vessels and occupied the uninhabited spot.

The two countries face yet another standoff in Bangladesh’s north. The history of the issue goes back to the subcontinent’s Partition and the controversial Radcliffe Boundary Award, which demarcated the boundaries between India and Pakistan in Punjab and Bengal. There were glaring omissions while drawing up the map and, at the same time, the written text did not tally with the position on ground. The Berubari territory, which became part of India, was surrounded on ground by the erstwhile East Pakistan. Likewise, two small enclaves of Angorpota and Dahagram, forming part of the then East Pakistan, were surrounded by Indian territory. Accessibility to these areas had been a nightmarish experience for the people living in these enclaves. A serious move was made to resolve the issue once and for all. Bangladesh showed equanimity and handed over a corridor in perpetuity to India to enable it to access its encircled territory. In return, India was required to provide similar access to Bangladesh for its enclaves of Angorpota and Dahagram. India did not comply with the agreement, resulting in sufferings for Bangladesh’s encircled population.

The Radcliffe Award not only sowed the seeds of perennial conflict in the western part of the subcontinent but also in the eastern region. Bangladesh continues to nurse the wounds of this iniquitous award.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2013.

Reader Comments (19)

  • Junaid
    Jan 4, 2013 - 1:16AM

    All this proves is that East Pakistan ought never to have seceded… the Qaid knew the mentality of these people who are now inflicting suffering on our eastern brothers.

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  • sabi
    Jan 4, 2013 - 3:24AM

    Such news indeed put India’s immage as untrustworthy state.Indians should worry about that.If immage is lost every thing is lost.

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  • Feroz
    Jan 4, 2013 - 4:19AM

    These are all minor issues and should be treated as such. When the people and Governments are on friendly terms all issues get settled amicably over time. Bangladesh is well positioned to be the bridge between India and the rest of SE Asia, its geography being to its advantage. It is well poised to make rapid progress on all fronts as long as it succeeds in keeping Religion out of Politics.

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  • varuag
    Jan 4, 2013 - 4:38AM

    @author
    I think the author has chosen a topic that requires thorough research and presented a poorly researched partisan view of the issues between India and Bangladesh. Let me put my two cents in…….

    Radcliffe boundary commission most certainly acted in haste. South Berubari was given to India after Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman signed an agreement in 1974. The handing over of the piece of land (teen bigha) was delayed abnormally due to prolonged constitutional and legal controversies in India. Teen Bigha is actually the narrow corridor that connects the Dahagram and Angorpota enclaves. In September 2011, MMS and Sheikh Hasina signed a historic agreement regarding the major issues between the two nations. On October 19, 2011 Sheikh Hasina declared the Tin Bigha Corridor formally open for 24 hours ending the isolation of the Dahagram and Angorpota enclaves that was a sore issue since the partition and not since 1971. The issue of enclaves has been resolved more or less to the satisfaction of all. There is an issue with transfer of land due to the Beruberi union case of 1960 in India and the bitter experience of transferring Katchatheevu island to Sri Lanka in 1974. The rise of provincial parties with parochial interests is severely constraining the hands of the federal government to negotiate these issues effectively in India. Katchatheevu was given to Sri Lanka but since the dismantling of LTTE, there are issues regarding fishing in its waters between the two nations. The issue that was dead for decades is alive since LTTE insurgency is crushed and Sri Lankan fishermen can now venture out in the formerly troubled waters surrounding Katchatheevu. I hope a solution is found to share the fishing grounds sooner but this experience is going to color Indian perspectives and going forward it may lease land rather than outright give it away.

    The nomenclature of an island decides which side a person favors. Calling the island New Moore indirectly means author accepts Indian claims as it was called South Talpatti by Bangladesh. It is similar to the Senkaku/Diaoyu, Dokdo/Takeshima or the other multitudes of claims and counter claims that dot the South China sea. It was claimed by both the nations and the games that nations play in such situations is nothing new. There are reports of its disappearance due to global warming, which will kill the issue for the common good of all. Submerged islands are not anybody’s claims as per the UNCLOS (UN convention on the Law of the Sea) so I think the issue is dead as a door nail.

    Regarding the rivers, the problem with the Ganges is not the hundreds of dams as the author puts it but more precisely the Farakka Barrage. The concerns of the Bangladeshi government have to the included when any major project is undertaken henceforth. I hope that Bangladeshi government is taken into confidence when Tipaimukh and other major dams are constructed. There is an effort to address Bangladeshi concerns in Tipaimukh but it should be mentioned that this does not always happen as China did not share Indian and Bangladeshi concerns during construction of Zangmu dam. In this case it is prudent to also point out that India and Bangladesh are sharing hydrological data on their common rivers. Its rather too technical for the reader but suffice to say that this sharing is built on mutual trust because there is no sharing of hydrological data between India, China and Bangladesh on Brahmaputra or between the lower riparian nations of China with respect to the Mekong and other rivers. In 2011, the water sharing agreement was in place for Teesta and Feni rivers but for the intransigence of Mamta Banerjee, the Teesta agreement could not see the light of the day. The agreement on these two rivers will serve as template for all future agreements on shared rivers is the hope.

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  • wonderer
    Jan 4, 2013 - 9:15AM

    @sabi:

    ….. put India’s immage as untrustworthy state.Indians should worry about that.If immage is lost every thing is lost.”

    Well said Sir. Good advice for India, which they will, most probably, quietly accept. Do provide an equally sage advice for us, considering the “image” enjoyed by the land-of-the-pure.

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  • Praful R Shah
    Jan 4, 2013 - 9:42AM

    @Junaid:

    What was common with west Pakistan except? None. What did they gain? poverty

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  • Optimist
    Jan 4, 2013 - 9:53AM

    This reminds me the words of Ahmed Faraz. In an interview about friendship with India, he answered:
    .
    “Each time India cuts a part of your country, it doesn’t forget to extend the hand of friendship soon after”.
    .
    That’s the best description of Indian diplomacy anyone has ever done!!!

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  • David_Smith
    Jan 4, 2013 - 3:08PM

    @varuag: excellent, there are other things that could be added.
    @author: a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!

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  • G. Din
    Jan 4, 2013 - 5:12PM

    @Optimist:
    ““Each time India cuts a part of your country…”
    Each time? How many times has India cut “a part of your country”? Just once, and that too because you forced 10 million of your citizens into India. Ahmad Faraz’s hatred for India seems to be pathological!

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  • Uzair Baloch
    Jan 4, 2013 - 5:44PM

    Hindu Regime will never have good relationships with its neighbors if it kept going on the path of usurping territories and did not resolve birder disputes. China has gained lots of influence and ground because Indian Neighbors simply do not like Hindu regime’s Policies. Good thing is that Hindu Regime can not go all out war with Pakistan without guaranteeing Mutual destruction and Hindu Regime knows it well. In short term, We do not see any improvement of relationships with the Hindu Regime with its Neighbors and China will keep gaining grounds economically and Politically, which is good for Hindu Regime’s Neighbors after all.

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  • wonderer
    Jan 4, 2013 - 6:40PM

    @Uzair Baloch:

    You Sir, appear (wrongly) to be a very well informed and wise person. I presume by “Hindu Regime” you are referring to the Indian Government. If I may be permitted, I shall like to point out that India is not a Hindu Nation in the sense Pakistan is a Muslim Nation. India happens to be a secular country according to its constitution.

    I am sorry, I cannot agree with your comments about “Hindu Regime”, which only a Najoomi will make. And you know Najoomis are always wrong despite what they claim.

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  • sabi
    Jan 4, 2013 - 6:46PM

    @wonderer:
    Well said Sir. Good advice for India, which they will, most probably, quietly accept. Do provide an equally sage advice for us, considering the “image” enjoyed by the land-of-the-pure.
    India is a democracy and is governed by people without any interference from non democratic forces.Therefore it make sense to advise or expect proper behaviour from India as a sovereigne state.

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  • sabi
    Jan 4, 2013 - 7:02PM

    @wonderer:
    Well said Sir. Good advice for India, which they will, most probably, quietly accept. Do provide an equally sage advice for us, considering the “image” enjoyed by the land-of-the-pure.
    India is a democracy and is governed by people without any interference from non democratic forces.Therefore it make sense to advise or expect proper behaviour from India as a sovereigne state.Any behaviour,good or bad, of India as a state, is therefore, a reflectionof Indian nation mindeset.
    For Pakistan,state is not governed by people but more often by non democratic forces.Non democratic forces require warnings not advise.Let Pakistan first be governed by its people with free hand.Hope politicians will not dissappoint neither their people nor neighbours.

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  • wonderer
    Jan 4, 2013 - 7:07PM

    @sabi:

    Many thanks Sir. You have got me wrong. You can keep on advising India as much as you like. I was eager to find out your advice for us unfortunate Pakistanis.

    You remind me of this bumper sticker. YOU CAN TAKE MY ADVICE. I AM NOT USING IT.

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  • sabi
    Jan 4, 2013 - 7:55PM

    @wonderer:
    I was eager to find out your advice for us unfortunate Pakistanis.
    The only advise I can give to the people of Pakistan is,not to trust mullah.Mullah has become pir tasma paa.This mullah has thousands faces and every face in the end is decieving.Pakistan will have to get rid of mullah from politics viz a viz religion.
    As a side not I assure you that this is going to happen.The destiney of hypocrites is well defined and has its logical end.The band wagon of hypocricy is almost at the point of exhaustion.It is singing swan song.Pakistan has bright future but some more bloodshed.This time not people but hypocrites’s turn.

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  • Arijit Sharma
    Jan 4, 2013 - 8:38PM

    @Uzair Baloch: ” … In short term, We do not see any improvement of relationships with the Hindu Regime … “

    I find the words “Hindu Regime” such as aphrodisiac.

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  • wonderer
    Jan 4, 2013 - 10:28PM

    @sabi:

    Thanks again. You had said, “If immage is lost every thing is lost.”

    Does this apply to Pakistan? Have we lost every thing? What do you think about our own ‘image’?

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  • sabi
    Jan 5, 2013 - 12:48AM

    @wonderer:
    This is an India centric article therefore I gave my opinion on Indian attitude without draging Pakistan.As for as Pakistan immage is concerned there is no doubt it has lost every thing.International community doesn’t trust Pakistan anymore.But good news is that,international community is also fully aware that today’s Pakistan doesn’t represents people of Pakistan but a tiny,yet very powerfull minority that has hijacked Pakistan. .I,you and millions of other Pakistanis have nothing to do with the stupidities of ruling elite and its allies,crossing every moral limits to get to the power corridors.

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  • G. Din
    Jan 6, 2013 - 12:08AM

    @Uzair Baloch:
    I like your post. Hindu…Hindu…Hindu everywhere. I love it. Goes to show Hindu regime is proving to be a nightmare for many! That is how Hindus would like it because that keeps the miscreants grounded in their gutters!

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