Just in a few months Bangladesh and India will be celebrating their 52 years of historic relations. So, it is time to evaluate the relations between the two countries, which have been identified as a “multidimensional fraternal relationship” over the years. From the Bangladesh War of Independence in 1971 to more recent times, the two countries’ historical connections have grown stronger, and they have expanded their areas of collaboration. Meanwhile, Bangladesh has become India’s most valued neighbor thanks to its geopolitical proximity and economic potential, which has made the nation a hub for South Asian connectivity and trade.
Indo–Bangladesh cooperation began on the battlefield in 1971. The fact that India was one of the major factors behind the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent state cannot be denied. Bangladesh received wholehearted support from the government and the people of India during those critical days. India generously supported the exiled government of Bangladesh and the Bengali nationalist Mukti Bahini guerrilla group that was battling the Pakistani Army during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 by offering them aid, training; and shelter to those who fled during the war. Bangladesh has time and again paid homage to the brave Indian soldiers who sacrificed their lives for its independence. This unprecedented support was then solidified with the India-Bangladesh Friendship Treaty, a treaty of peace and cooperation signed between India and Bangladesh on March 19, 1972, for a term of 25 years.
However, as military governments in Bangladesh changed their foreign policy stances after 1975, Bangladesh’s relations with India deteriorated. Following Sheikh Hasina’s election as president in December 2008, relations between Bangladesh and India markedly improved. Since that time, India has always considered Bangladesh to be a reliable ally. The two nations have collaborated in a variety of fields throughout the years and have plenty of room to do so in the future. Bangladesh is India’s largest trading partner in South Asia and a fundamental tenet of the Neighborhood First program. Bilateral trade between the two nations has been increasing at an unprecedented rate over the last few years.
After a bilateral agreement on coastal shipping was signed on June 6, 2015, Bangladesh-India maritime connectivity is now a reality. The coastal shipping agreement, which aims to facilitate commercial maritime activity for both parties’ mutual advantage, represents a significant step in the development of maritime connectivity between the two nations.
The main component of bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India has been security cooperation. Bangladesh has dealt with major Indian insurgent organizations and maintained close cooperation with New Delhi in terms of intelligence sharing and security issues, as Bangladesh is seen by India as the closest partner in ensuring security in its geographically disadvantaged northeast states. Sheikh Hasina’s government has proved its commitment to ensuring the security of India through the arrest and transfer of top leaders of the organization United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), which has long waged a secessionist war. More than six key ULFA leaders were transferred by the Bangladeshi government between 2009 and 2015.
The recent recovery of a sizable arsenal by Bangladeshi security forces, as well as the prosecution of a high-profile arms smuggling case, show the Bangladeshi government’s continued support for the safety and stability of Northeast India. At least three sets of connectivity projects have been approved by Bangladesh, all of which clearly benefit Northeast India. Transit options for the Northeast, sub-regional road connections with Bhutan, India, and Nepal, and cross-regional connections with China, India, and Myanmar are some of them. These economic initiatives for Delhi work in tandem to realize the full economic potential of its northeastern states. The transit and road connectivity projects agreed upon by Bangladesh and India indicate a clear shift in Dhaka’s past policy.
Bangladesh and Tripura have bartered electricity for internet connectivity. In March 2016, Tripura began exporting 100 megawatts of electricity to Bangladesh. In return, Bangladesh started sharing 10 GBPS of internet bandwidth with Tripura to expand internet connectivity in the Northeast.
Bangladesh is the 4th largest remittance source for India, remitting over $10.00 billion since 2017. Indian workers are mostly deployed in different garment and textile factories, mainly dealing with sensitive issues such as merchandising and buyer handling. Cultural exchange between the two countries has always been the strength of bilateral relations. The people-to-people connection has thrived through the Border Haat initiative. The Enclave exchange program and a more coordinated border management approach have helped sort out border and security problems in both countries.
As geopolitics increasingly determines the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region, both China and India have been keen on making other countries tilt toward their side. In particular, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is one example of China’s strong pursuit of economic connections with Pakistan. In spite of Pakistan’s current National Security Policy stating that it does not wish to participate in “camp politics,” increased economic cooperation shows a continuous turn towards China. Accepting Chinese funding is supported by all of Pakistan’s main political parties, and, more crucially, the country’s military is heavily dependent on Chinese arms. Nepal’s ties to China have grown in recent years. China benefited from the anti-India sentiment among the Nepalese government and people during the recent constitutional turmoil and tried to grow closer to Nepal.
But Bangladesh has always remained loyal to its closest neighbor, India; and made a point by maintaining a rather neutral position in this geopolitical game. However, one can argue the country is rather bound to tilt toward India when push comes to shove. Although disputes over maritime boundaries between the two countries have very often created tension, Bangladesh continues to be of paramount importance to India, both economically and geopolitically. New Delhi should adopt a foreign policy based on brotherly ideals to ensure that its one trustworthy ally in the area is never alienated, and acknowledge the unquestioned cooperation Bangladesh offers. In order to accomplish this, it must refrain from actions that can jeopardize Dhaka’s interests and handle urgent problems to show that it is committed to the interests of its nearest neighbor.