Friday, 9 September 2011

India and Bangladesh sign border deal, but fail to agree on water resources

A deal between the leaders of India and Bangladesh has resolved one of the world's most convoluted borders, swapping over 150 enclaves and agreeing on the demarcation of their 4,000km boundary, although they failed to agree on sharing water resources.

In Dhaka on 6th September, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina signed the long-awaited border agreement, which has been a point of contention between the two neighbours since Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan in 1971. It settles the status of 162 enclaves (111 Indian enclaves within Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves within India), in which approximately 200,000 people live in a state of limbo without proper citizenship of either state.

The deal is a net loss of around 40 km2 for India; insignificant for a country of its size, but one which has led to accusations by the opposition that the government is abandoning Indian territory. Such criticisms are closely connected with fears about illegal immigration from Bangladesh and the associated danger of infiltration by Islamist militants. These fears, and the torturous and unclear nature of the boundary, have led to border guards killing hundreds over the past decade.

The simplification of the boundary line will help to reduce cross-border tensions; at Dhaka University, Singh said that he is “acutely conscious of the problems that arise due to the incidents on the border. We have now put in place mechanisms which we hope will greatly reduce the scope for such incidents and strengthen mutual trust and goodwill”.

Some of the other deals which Singh and Hasina signed will also help to improve bilateral ties. Under the new accords, India will allow the duty-free import of Bangladeshi textiles; both sides will improve border infrastructure to facilitate trade (while India will assist in providing a rail link between Bangladesh and Nepal); and they will work towards connecting their power grids.

Just as important, however, are the deals which Singh and Hasina did not sign. They failed to agree on the sharing of water resources from the Teesta river. In principle India had agreed to a deal which gave Bangladesh 48 per cent of the river's water, but West Bengal's Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, said the deal would harm farmers in the state and cancelled her plans to accompany Singh to Dhaka.

Bangladeshi officials have privately expressed anger at the collapse of the deal, and Singh expressed his disappointment. He was also at pains to point out that India would work to ensure that its Tipaimukh dam project on the Barak river would not harm Bangladesh, as many have feared.

Sources: The Hindu, Voice of America, The Tribune

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