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In an effort to 'counter' China, India seeks to deepen defence ties with Bangladesh

By Dr Arpita Hazarika
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who completed her India visit recently, attended a closed-door meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on September 6. After the meeting, the two Prime Ministers attended a press conference. Sheikh Hasina termed the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India as a role model of 'neighbourhood diplomacy'.
She also said that she agreed with Modi to work on various bilateral issues. She added, they had agreed to carry out cooperative efforts to maintain our economic growth and regional peace, security and stability. If Bangladesh and India can work together as partners, it will bring peace and prosperity not only for the two countries but also for the region.
On the other hand, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “We have emphasized on cooperation against terrorism and radicalism”, underlining the need to identify those who want to “hurt our mutual trust.”
Security cooperation, investment, enhanced trade relations, Rohingya issue, water resource management, border management, cooperation in power and energy sector, common river water sharing, prevention of drug smuggling and human trafficking were discussed in the meeting of the two Prime Ministers.
Despite the delayed progress on the line of credit extension in 2018, different types of equipment are being considered at various stages. According to media reports, Bangladesh's capital Dhaka recently shared a wish list of military platforms and systems that its armed forces would like to purchase from India, marking some progress on the delayed implementation of the $500 million defense Line of Credit (LoC) extended by India to Bangladesh. This contains a wide variety of tools, such as an oil tanker for the Bangladesh Navy, a logistics ship, and a floating dock.
India considers the signing of the first contract between Bangladesh and India under the $500 Line of Credit (LoC) to be an "important first step" in bolstering bilateral defense cooperation.
"This week, I believe the first contract under the defense line of credit was signed. You have undoubtedly been paying close attention to this. Despite being small, it was an essential first step", said Vinay Kwatra, the foreign secretary of India, in New Delhi.
According to its "Forces Goal 2030," Bangladesh is modernizing its military by introducing new weaponry and enhancing infrastructure. A large portion of these requirements can be met by India, which will also boost defence cooperation between the two countries.
China has sold Bangladesh weapons, including two traditional diesel electric submarines. China has become one of the world's leading suppliers of weapons, particularly to nations in India's immediate neighbourhood.
India recently greatly increased its military support for capacity building and capabilities development for nations in the Indian Ocean region in an effort to counter this. The "intensification" of bilateral defense ties was welcomed by Sheikh Hasina and Modi.
According to the joint statement released following the bilateral talks between the two leaders, they agreed on the early completion of projects under the Line of Credit for Defense, which would be advantageous for both nations. India looks forward to strengthening bilateral defense ties and welcomed the completion of "first purchase plans" for vehicles for the Bangladesh Armed Forces, it says.
Both parties stressed on the importance of cooperating closely to implement the $500 million Line of Credit offered by India for defense items at the 4th Bangladesh-India annual defense dialogue held in New Delhi in August. 
At the meeting, representatives from Bangladesh and India reaffirmed their commitment to improving interactions between their armed forces and discussed the development of bilateral defense cooperation programmes.
For in-depth conversations, various facets of defense industrial and capability-building cooperation came up. Both nations looked at the possibility of working together on joint production, co-development, and commerce in the defense sector. The Indian side reaffirmed its demand for the 2019 MoU's provision of a coastal radar system for increased marine security to be implemented as soon as possible.
The relationship between Bangladesh and India is long-standing. One can hope that this relationship will become closer in future. But it is also true, even though the two countries have maintained good relations, some issues have not been resolved. These include the Teesta water sharing agreement, border management and trade deficit.
Regarding the Teesta water distribution agreement, Sheikh Hasina expressed optimism and said that the agreement will be signed very soon. Earlier, India and Bangladesh finalised the Teesta water-sharing deal in 2010 and it was likely to be signed in 2011. But it could not be inked due to opposition from West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banarjee.
It may be mentioned that all the formalities of signing an agreement on Teesta was completed but it was not implemented at the last moment. Indian authorities should consider to resolve the matter expeditiously.
Bangladesh also felt, Indian government should be sincere in stopping border killings. Reducing the trade deficit between the two countries was also of particular importance during the talks.
Trade and cooperation between the two neighbours have grown as a result of their special friendship relationship, promising advantages for both nations. To advance their relationship even further, Bangladesh and India signed seven agreements. These agreements covered important topics like water withdrawal from a shared river, railroad development assistance, judicial officer training in Bangladesh, science and technology cooperation, and broadcasting cooperation. These agreements portend a strengthening of the bonds that unite the two nations.
Compared to 2010, India's loan assistance to Bangladesh has now increased tenfold. About 25 percent of India's total foreign aid is allocated to Bangladesh. In the meantime, the country has handed over a billion dollars to Bangladesh, that too at less than one percent interest, a generosity that no other friendly country has shown to Bangladesh.
India's provision of tariff-free transit facilities to Bangladesh for exports to Nepal and Bhutan is considered a major step in bilateral cooperation. Also, since India can use the Chittagong seaport, not only the Seven Sisters of India will benefit from it, Dhaka will also benefit from it. Because, due to this, the South Block of Delhi expects that the export of Bangladesh to Northeast India will increase significantly.
The visit also made it clear where India wants to take its relationship with Bangladesh in the days ahead. Modi announced the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, or CEPA for short, with Bangladesh. As a result, the products of both countries will get duty-free access.
It is expected that the volume of trade between the two countries will increase from the current 1.4 billion dollars to 15 billion dollars in the next ten years. India was also requested to implement CEPA with Japan and China. But it chose Bangladesh.
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*Researcher at Gauhati University, Assam

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