BANGLADESH ANXIOUS TO GET TEESTA PACT SIGNED: GOWHER RIZVI
Rizvi, international affairs adviser to Bangladeshi PM Hasina, says India-Bangladesh cooperation is a model for all of South Asia..
New Delhi: The engagement between India and Bangladesh in recent years has undergone a qualitative and quantitative change that can serve as a template for improving relations between other countries in the region, says Gowher Rizvi , adviser on international affairs to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
And this is despite the fact that key pacts like the Teesta riverwater sharing accord have not been signed. Edited excepts from an interview with Rizvi who was in India last week on a visit.
How would you describe the state of ties between India and Bangladesh today?
The relationship between the two countries, which we have developed over the past five-six years, is extremely cordial and that continues with the new government. The reason for that is we have complete unanimity in outlook, we have a shared vision, a shared hope and both the countries benefit enormously from a cooperative, collaborative relationship. And so, what we expect is that not only what we have been doing in past five-six years will continue but it will also be deepened and hopefully quickened.
This, despite key pacts like the Teesta water accord not being signed? You are saying that the delay in signing Teesta hasn’t impacted ties?
A lot has been accomplished—we have now jointly helped fight terrorists, we have opened up transport, communication connectivity, Bangladesh has full duty-free access to the Indian market, we have used the $1 billion line of credit to implement the important projects, our un-demarcated boundaries have been dealt with, adverse possessions have been dealt with; so any number of things have taken place.
Unfortunately, Teesta agreement has not been signed. We hope that will happen soon.
But this should not detract us from recognizing what has been achieved and what will be achieved. For instance, we are buying electricity from India; it could not have been imagined a few years ago. Now, it is such a reality that when we decided to buy an additional 500MW (megawatts), it was not even a subject of discussion in the press because people have now gotten used to this idea that there will be power from one country to another.
Exports to India from Bangladesh have more than doubled and they will go on increasing. So, great many things are happening. So, I would not underestimate it. I would say not only this—India-Bangladesh relations and the way we have resolved our difficulties and the way we have cooperated and are cooperating are a model for the whole of South Asia.
Of course, we are anxious that Teesta is done, very anxious. And we also know that there are some technical complications for the Land Boundary Agreement to be ratified but we are very hopeful that during this winter session (of Parliament) it will be done.
Could you elaborate on your plans to source the additional 500MW from India?
Well, 500MW is already coming. Now that our grids are linked, we will buy it from the Indian power market. India has a private power market, we are coming in to buy like any other buyer in the world or any Indian buyer and we will buy it from whoever can give it to us the cheapest and in the most reliable manner.
You mentioned cooperation in tackling terrorism. There were reports that the plot uncovered in Burdwan (West Bengal) was aimed at Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister, herself?
I don’t know the details except what I have read in the newspapers. Obviously, it is a serious threat. Just as it is a serious threat, one should also notice that our counter-terrorism cooperation between our two countries is working, our intelligence sharing is working—otherwise, how could we have uncovered such a serious, large-scale plot?
How do you see ties evolving in the future? What would be the areas that you would like to see India and Bangladesh work on to consolidate ties?
Firstly, what I would like to see in the next couple of years is joint hydroelectric projects between Bangladesh, Nepal and India; Bangladesh, Bhutan and India as joint ventures so that we can produce power together, share it and sell it as we like—this is my first high priority. Second, would be to improve the transport infrastructure in Bangladesh so that our Prime Minister’s priority of making Bangladesh a hub of connectivity is actually realized.
The 18th Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit is next week in Kathmandu. What are your expectations from the meet? Many criticize the summit as a talk-shop.
What Saarc does at this moment is that it provides a forum for South Asian heads of government to meet not only formally but informally as well in bilateral meetings. So obviously, our Prime Minister, she will have a series of bilateral meetings and these are extremely important to us to move things along.
The other thing why it is very important is that the resolutions that are passed carry legitimacy which is necessary to go forward. And today, without exception, all of us are convinced that if we are really serious about fighting poverty, serious about improving the quality of the lives of our people, bringing about rapid economic and social transformation, dealing with the big issues of climate change, global warming, terrorism, then we have to work together.
And therefore, the compulsions, the choices are stark. Stark in the sense, do we carry on living in the misery that we have been living or do we move on to something nice and new and fresh? I think the choice is clear and that is what we expect out of Saarc: greater vitality, strengthening of the Saarc institutions, so that it can begin to implement many of the resolutions that have been agreed upon.
One of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first actions after he was declared elected was to invite leaders of the South Asian countries to his swearing-in ceremony on 26 May. His first visit abroad was to a Saarc country, he has indicated that the neighbourhood is a foreign policy priority for his government. How does Bangladesh view this?
We have welcomed it and there is a genuine feeling that India’s expression of interest in South Asia has been much greater, deeper in last four-five years than it has been in the past.
What Mr. Modi has signalled is that he is going to keep this as his priority. And that is very hopeful, and we hope to take advantage of that feeling, that sentiment, to build and pursue our South Asian agenda.
NOVEMBER 25, 2014