India’s Corridor Through Bangladesh PDF Print E-mail
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The Indian pressure to access her north-eastern states through Bangladesh, subtly pursued since her birth in 1971, reached peak in recent months. Although India has ostensibly projected expansion of trade and mutual co-operation as the only motive, the corridor is primarily to enhance her defence strategy. The recent armed rebellion in the north-eastern states has soared its importance further. The mountainous contour of the region makes it fit for a long guerrilla warfare. India has already been stranded there in a lengthy war with little gains. Indian stubbornness to chase a safer transit through Bangladesh largely owes to easy susceptibility of her north-eastern logistic conduit to rebel attacks as it trails a narrow mountainous terrain between Bangladesh and Nepal. The presence of China, a potential player of the regional politics, on the very fringes of the troubled spot makes such a lone conduit more vulnerable. The country fought one of her bloodiest war against India for control over the same area in 1962.

China's non-acceptance of the Durrand Line, drawn by the British raj in her colonial era as the formal border between the two countries makes India more apprehensive of her motive. Moreover, the Indian defence policy is hostage to the Chinaphobes, their dominance has recently been exposed when the defence minister George Fernandes labelled China as the number one enemy of India. A straight corridor through Bangladesh will not only save her time and resources, rather will help shift some of her costly security burden like ensuring safe passage of the logistics to the shoulder of this friendly neighbour of China. The comparatively better roads and bridges in Bangladesh - recently built by borrowed money from the World Bank and other international agencies - may have augmented the Indian temptation. India's more than three hundred thousands army personnel are locked in Kashmir, another two hundred thousands or more are stuck in this north-eastern part. This type of war do not really end, rather moves from one level of intensity to another and will cause a long time engagement for India. India, with the largest number of poverty stricken population of the world, can not endure such a costly game for a long time. This is why India wishes to involve neighbourly countries like Bangladesh to share some of her burden, India's demand for a corridor through Bangladesh is indeed an implied message for that. But such involvement will be very costly for Bangladesh, as a collaborator of the Indian defence strategy the country will render herself a soft target for the rebel forces.


India's 25 year treaty with Bangladesh was designed to meet almost the same strategic need; with its ended tenure in 1996, the Indian insistence on corridor reached a new dimension. The Indian demand for a corridor was denied by all governments of the past - irrespective of their diverse political colours. But recently, India succeeded to get the corridor by using a deceptive mask of trans-Asian rail link. In May 1999, ESCAP and Bangladesh railway jointly hoisted a four-day meeting in Dhaka to finally approve the route plan for the trans-Asian railway. The proposed railway -to be financed by Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other international monetary agencies- will link southern province of China with Bulgaria via Burma, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. To turn it into a corridor for her north-eastern states, India vehemently opposed the Bangladesh proposal for Bangladesh Mayanmar direct link through its Chittagong-Cox's Bazar-Mayanmar route. India insisted that the route should enter her eastern state of Assam from Bangladesh, and than to Mayanmar. The meeting ratified the Indian proposal. The Indian success owes to ineffective and inadequate resistance put 2 forward by the Bangladesh team, and the team's step-mother attitude to her own proposal. Whereas, the 53rd conference of ESCAP accepted the Bangladesh proposal, the government disclosed it in the parliament in November 1996. The proposed Indian diversion will not only deny Bangladesh a direct access to Mayanmar, but also will add an extra 900 kilo meter to her road to this adjacent neighbour. Protesting the poor performance of the government in the ESCAP meeting and the acceptance of the Indian plan, the opposition parties announced sharp condemnation. The liaison committee of four major opposition parties - Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of former prime minister Mrs. Khaleda Zia, Jatiya Party (JP) of the former president Hussain Mohammad Ershad, Jama'at-e-Islami and Islamic Oikka Jote (Islamic Alliance) labelled it a total surrender to Indian hegemony and a betrayal of the national interest. The opposition leaders alleged that such corridor will restrict the country's sovereignty to enhance Indian mobility.


After Mrs. Hasina Wajed came to the power in 1996, the Indian aggressive diplomacy to ensure corridor came to the forefront; it was reinforced by a huge public opinion building exercise by the India-phile businessmen, intellectuals and the media. The proposal itself received a sugar coat of regional co-operation and trade to get it easily moved down the throat of the reluctant policy makers. The pro-Indian lobbyists continued to trumpet the myth of huge economic benefits of such corridor, even many non-government organisations like Rehman Sobhan's Centre for Policy Dialogue were deployed to publicise the statistics of economic gains. To add more dramatic boost, a contingent of 30 high profile businessmen were recently sent on a tour to the north-eastern Indian states. A series of visits are also made by the Indian businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats. Now the issue is no more confined to the corridor, it has escalated to demand a perfectly porous and permeable border for the Indian trade - as was in the fateful years of the early seventies. The Bangladesh border, this way, turns increasing a non-entity to India. By this time, scores of organisations and individuals have cropped up to announce such provision for the big neighbour a survival need for Bangladesh. In a recent meeting of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) in Dhaka, the visiting chief minister of Mizorum, Mr. Zoramthang proposed for in-land water transit for India's eastern states. He suggested that the river Karnafuli and the Chittagong port be allowed for transport of Indian mercantile. Such suggestions are always fraught with alluring sops, Mr. Zoram Thanga told the BCCI that the transit facilities through Bangladesh will enormously boost the bilateral trade. Like other Indian lobbyist, however, he did not mention why the present trade - even in absence of transit - overwhelmingly serves only the Indian export. The opposition politicians and academics argue that such permissive border will only help open the floodgates of Indian goods to inundate the growing Bangladesh industry.


Although India has been lecturing on socio-economic benefits of transit for last few decades, but never accepts such logic when it benefits her neighbours. Her 'win-loss' policy towards neighbours - craving 'win' only for herself and leaving 'loss' for the other party - is rife with paranoia against the neighbouring states. Pakistan with her constituent two halves 1200 miles apart, wanted transit through India in 1947, but India out-rightly rejected such appeal. In those early days, having not a single sea port of international stature in her eastern province, Pakistan asked India to give port facility at Calcutta for only 6 months. In reply, Mr. Ballab Bhai Patel - the Indian home minister of those days, boastfully rejected such provision even for 6 hours. After the creation of Bangladesh, the late president Ziaur Rahman made a treaty with Nepal for bilateral trade through India, and also agreed to offer port facility to Nepal. But such venture 3 failed due to the outright rejection of the land transit by India. This way India exhibited that she has incompatible strategic preferences than her neighbours. India pursued a 'win-loss' policy against Bangladesh since her very inception in 1971. Instead of inculcating a climate of mutual trust, co-operation and friendship, instilled a sense of deprivation and mistrust. Which is why India had to pursue her corridor agenda in disguise. Mrs. Hasina Wajed, after coming to power in 1996, relentlessly tried to accommodate Indian positions in the bilateral relation. The Ganges water treaty and the treaty on Chittagong Hill Tracks are the two that have highly satisfied the Indians which they could not taste in the last two decades. India has been given access to the in-land riverine transport system, recently her transit capacity from Karimgonj of Assam to Calcutta and Haldia port in West Bengal has been tripled. After the recent opening of Dhaka-Calcutta bus route, her access to Bangladesh reached a new peak. To explore further transit opportunities and trade in next November, there will be a conference in Dhaka, all chief ministers of the north-eastern Indian states including Joti Basu of West Bengal are expected to participate. But these India-phile steps of the present government have not been reciprocated by India, neither in bilateral trade and nor in the ESCAP meeting.


The increasing permeability of Bangladesh border to India is now eroding her self-esteem. India is now deploying ministers of some of her tiny states to discuss some of the most important bilateral issues - like transit with Bangladesh. The population of the visiting chief minister Zoram Thanga's Mizoram state is less than one of the 64 Bangladesh district. The Indian proposal for creating a regional forum of development with the tiny north-eastern provinces and Bangladesh as member is another example for such denigration. The opposition parties labelled it a Indian ploy to humble down the national self-esteem. They argue that inclusion of Bangladesh in such caucus with Indian provinces gives a wrong massage to the common Indians to deny the equal and sovereign status of Bangladesh. Mrs. Hasina Wajed's humiliation in Calcutta in early this year illustrates such apprehension. While she was inaugurating a book-fair there, the man on the podium addressed her more than once as the chief minister of Bangladesh - the title reserved for the head of an Indian provincial government. Mrs. Hasina Wajed called it a personal mistake. But the opposition leaders, including Khaleda Zia, labelled it a premeditated mockery of the country's sovereign esteem. Whatever be it, Indian demand for the corridor does not seem to be a solo exercise, the big neighbour is stepping in along with other strategic ground works that have other far reaching consequences. Due to her presence inside the larger geographical framework of Indian defence strategy against her number one enemy China, all Bangladesh governments have been the target of constant persuasion or pressure to accept the territorial border as a permeable entity vis-à-vis India. In the context of the recent route of trans-Asian rail way, people now question, is it the subservience of the nation to that status?

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 October 2010 01:28
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