- India is getting permissions from Bangladesh to use Chittagong and Mongla seaports during Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit on June 6-7.
- The matter of giving permission of use of two ports was discussed in all the inter-ministerial meetings held so far on Modi’s visit. An inter-ministerial meeting will be held on Sunday in the Shipping Ministry to take the final decision regarding the matter.
- An agreement to this end was due to be signed by the two close neighboring countries during former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit in 2011.
- It was held for non-signing of Teesta Water Sharing Deal because of the vehement opposition of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
- Bangladesh at that time did not agree to sign the consent paper on approval of using the two ports by India.
China-Bangladesh-India: Geopolitical Aspects
- During Hasina’s visit to China in June’14 she not only signed a number of agreements with China – some of them being militarily uncomfortable for India – but the tenor of her speech during meetings with Chinese political bigwigs as well as her official press briefing after coming back to Dhaka also raised skepticism.
- She also signed an agreement by which China would not only support the Bangladesh military but would provide training facilities for army personnel. For the last five years China has been the largest arms supplier to Bangladesh.
- Strategically, the most important agreement has been in regard to construction of a dual gauge railway line from Chittagong to Cox Bazar wherefrom the proposed deep sea port at Sonadia will not be far away.
- To her, Sino-Bangladesh relations are not only a matter of a closer comprehensive relationship of cooperation, but a dynamic process which has metamorphosed from the stage of economic partnership into the realm of strategic partnership.
- Hasina Wazed is trying to capitalize on the geopolitical advantage that Bangladesh enjoys as a country which overlooks the strategically important sea lanes of the Indian Ocean linking China with the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, thus playing a role in securing energy supplies for Beijing.
- But rather than establishing an independent identity for Bangladesh in South Asian politics, this fundamental change in perception – away from an India-centric foreign and internal policy long cherished by Hasina Wazed’s party, the Awami League – is likely to entangle Dhaka in the vortex of troubled South Asian waters.
- But for Bangladesh, doing business with China will have its own connotations. As strategic experts believe, Beijing has its own theory of ‘string of pearls,’ meaning bases by which China can encircle India in South Asian politics.
- Hasina’s grudge with New Delhi lies in the fact that the previous Manmohan Singh-led UPA government failed to deliver to Bangladesh the quantum of waters from the river Teesta.
- There are some other minor issues like the settling of the land boundary between the two countries, which has been stalled due to opposition from several state governments and regional parties of India.
- But the Teesta issue has been rankling in the minds of the prime minister of Bangladesh and her talk of strategic partnership with China assumes significance in this context.
- It is true that Hasina Wazed has reason to be dissatisfied with India.
- She cooperated with New Delhi so far as tackling the insurgency in northeastern India, handed over to India several dreaded terrorists who had taken shelter in Bangladesh and expected, in return, that India would accede to her request of enhanced water flow from the river Teesta.
- That India could not live up to Bangladesh’s expectation was entirely due to the folly of India’s former National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon, who failed to convince Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal, an Indian state through which the river Teesta passes before entering Bangladesh.
Strategic Importance of the Port
- Among all the Chinese footprints in Bangladesh, the most contentious ones are the Chittagong port and the proposal to build a deep-sea port in the Sonadia Island off Cox Bazar.
- Chittagong port is now being developed and modernized with Chinese investment and help.
- It is widely believed that China will retain the right to use this port according to its plans and needs.
- Strategically more important will be the deep-sea port at Sonadia which will also come up in a similar manner i.e. with Chinese investment and direct participation.
- It will provide China with an excellent base to monitor and control situations in the shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean.
- In addition to the Gwadar port in Pakistan, control over these two ports in Bangladesh will not only be very important feathers in China’s ‘string of pearls’ cap, they will also greatly reduce the distance of sea connections for China’s remote western and northwestern parts.
Good days ahead for India
- India has settled the four-decade-old land boundary issue and also showing positive attitude towards Teesta water sharing issue.
- At this moment, it is normal that Bangladesh would show some liberality towards use of ports.
- A bridge on the Feni river is being constructed at an estimated cost of Tk 100 crore to make direct connectivity with Sabroom of land locked Tripura from Chittagong port.
- Railway connections will be set up directly from Akhaura to Agartala.
- It will be convenient to carry goods by rail from Chittagong to Agartala.
- The ‘seven sister’ states of Nort-Eastern India will also enjoy the facility of export and import of goods by using the Chittagong port.
References Banglanews24 and Geopoliticalmirror