Formulation of a country’s foreign policy and its implementation, in principle, depends on that country’s political philosophy and the equation of its relationship with other countries. Though the basic elements of foreign policy are rarely changed, but the implementation process might differ with the change of political party in the government. Being a member of the world community, Bangladesh is not exception of that system.
Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned to his beloved motherland on 10 January 1972 once freed from Pakistan. He did not take even a day to shoulder the responsibility of the country and its people. Actually he was overwhelmed with his dream of building the golden Bengal. That’s why the heavy burden that he shouldered on that day was only possible for a patriotic leader like him. The self-confident and farsighted leader Bangabandhu began his works to build a country that had always been very close to his heart. Writing of the Constitution for the country was completed. Foreign policy of Bangladesh was formulated. Bangladesh’s relationship that has developed today with the world society is based on the fundamental principles of his foreign policy - friendship with all, malice to none; and peaceful co-existence. Following that policy, Bangladesh has been maintaining very friendly relations with all countries of the globe.Another important point of foreign policy is the degree of relationship that exists among countries. The variation is normal and it happens due to various reasons. This is not only applicable to Bangladesh but to the whole world. In fact, the difference in the implementation process of our foreign policy might happen due to the democratic and undemocratic governments in power. As the internal policy is reflected in the foreign policy, there is no way to avoid the ultimate impact of this and we had to experience.
Bangladesh’s relationship with India was established on the base of our War of Liberation. During that war, blood of the martyrs of both Indian soldiers and freedom fighters of Bangladesh was merged together. How can we forget those Indian soldiers who had sacrificed their lives for the cause of our independence? In fact, Bangladesh’s relations with India are bound by blood.
We know, Bangabandhu had a stop-over at New Delhi while he was returning to Bangladesh on 10th January 1972 from London after being released from Pakistan’s jail. His first foreign visit was also to India (Kolkata) on 6 February 1972. This testifies the importance Bangladesh has been attaching to its relations with India. By this time, the relationship has been turned into multi-dimensional, multi-faceted and ever evolving. Following the directives of the Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, multifarious diplomatic initiatives and activities have been undertaken with a view to strengthening and intensifying the relations. As a result, the two countries’ relations have now reached a new height.
In January 2010, during the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India, the two Prime Ministers agreed to devise a framework of comprehensive cooperation and development covering all sectors of bilateral interest. Their visions were materialised by signing of the Framework Agreement on Cooperation for Development in September 2011 when the Prime Minister of India visited Bangladesh. During that visit, a Protocol to the Land Boundary Agreement - 1974 was signed detailing out the modalities of the agreement.
The Indian President Shri Pranab Mukherjee visited Bangladesh in March 2013. This was his first visit after assumption of the highest office in India and also the second Presidential visit from India to Bangladesh.
Following the assumption of office by the current government in Bangladesh after its re-election in the January 2014 elections and the assumption of office by BJP-led NDA government in India in May 2014 after Lok Sabha elections, two countries’ relationship continued to strengthen. Smt. Sushma Swaraj, External Affairs Minister of India, visited Bangladesh in June 2014 which was her first bilateral visit abroad. Foreign Minister Mr. A H Mahmood Ali visited India in September 2014 in connection with the 3rd meeting of the Bangladesh-India Joint Consultative Commission. The Hon’ble President of Bangladesh Mr. Md Abdul Hamid paid a goodwill visit to India in December 2014.The Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi paid a visit to Bangladesh in June 2015. During that visit, 22 agreements & MoUs were signed between the two countries. In July 2015, as a part of the implementation of Land Boundary Agreement, 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh became Bangladesh territory and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India became the territory of India. This exchange of enclaves gave more than 50,000 enclave residents the opportunity to be either country’s citizen bringing to a peaceful end of the 68 years’ outstanding humanitarian crisis.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina paid an unscheduled visit to India on 19 August 2015 to attend the funeral of Smt Suvra Mukherjee, lady wife of President Pranab Mukherjee. At that time, Sheikh Hasina also met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his residence. The Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and India had a bilateral meeting in September 2015 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh visited India in March 2016 to attend the ‘Raisina Dialogue’ held in New Delhi. He had also a bilateral meeting with his Indian counterpart during that visit. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had also a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach Summit held in Goa, India in October 2016.
In April 2017, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina went on a state visit to India after seven years. This visit has elevated the two countries’ relations to higher level. In fact, we observed the rare incidents of receiving Sheikh Hasina by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the airport and arranging her stay at the President’s residence. During the visit, 36 contracts and MoUs were signed between the two countries. A road has been named in the heart of Delhi in memory of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the Hindi translation of Bangabandhu’s unfinished autobiography. She honoured the family members of the Indian soldiers who sacrificed their lives during our War of Liberation. Indian Prime Minister also announced Indian scholarships for the successors of freedom fighters as well as free medical treatment and visa facilities for freedom fighters of Bangladesh. The two Prime Ministers inaugurated the fourth railway connection between Radhikapur and Biral.
More than 120 bilateral documents in different sectors such as security, power, trade & commerce, investment promotion, boundary demarcation, connectivity, development cooperation, infrastructure development, environment, education, culture, blue economy, health and taxation defence, etc. were signed since the assumption of office by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2009. Besides, there have been numerous bilateral institutional mechanisms such as Joint Working Groups between Bangladesh and India. These documents and mechanisms are making two countries’ cooperation more specific and fruitful. Undoubtedly, all these are the testimony to the overall dimension of our two countries’ relationship.
Though Bangladesh was expecting to sign an agreement on sharing of water of Teesta, but it could not be realised. We know that the next national elections in Bangladesh and India might be held at the end of 2018 or in early 2019. Considering the political impact, the parties in power in both the countries might seriously think about the Teesta issue and would thus resolve it before the next national polls. Long live Bangladesh-India relationship with new dreams of friendship and cooperation – is our prayer from the heart.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary