EVENTS

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Fourth IDSA-BIISS Bilateral Dialogue: Future of India-Bangladesh Relations

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  • July 03, 2013
    Bilateral


    The fourth IDSA-BIISS bilateral dialogue was held in IDSA on July 3, 2013 at the IDSA. The BIISS delegation was headed by Major General Sajjadul Haque, DG, BIISS and IDSA delegation was headed by Dr. Arvind Gupta, DG, IDSA. Over the course of the day-long discussions between the two sides, a number of subjects were discussed, including the dynamics of India-Bangladesh relations in the context of a changing global order, the challenges and opportunities arising out of the relations, the dimensions of economic ties (particularly trade, investment and connectivity), the role played by regional organisations and the potential for widening and deepening relations between the two countries in the future.

    The dialogue began with the welcome address by Director General of IDSA and Director General of BIISS. Both Dr. Gupta and Major General Haque acknowledged the productive exchange of views in the previous IDSA-BIISS bilateral dialogue held in Dhaka last year. They expressed their satisfaction and appreciated the effort of both the institutes for continuing the process of dialogue.

    Director General of IDSA Dr. Arvind Gupta gave an overview of Indo-Bangladesh relationship in the last four years. He described the past four years as a momentous period in India-Bangladesh relations, which has resulted in an atmosphere of hope and positivity. He expressed his satisfaction that both the countries are moving towards the resolution of practical problems and the relationship has been placed in a firm institutional settings. Yet many issues remain unresolved. While On the issue of resolution of water and land, Bangladesh has expressed its dissatisfaction, India also continues to have its concerns on the issue of illegal migration. According to Dr. Gupta, both the countries need to adopt realistic approach to deal with these issues. Noting the importance of the India-Bangladesh relationship, he warned against complacency, arguing that relations should continue to be enhanced and strengthened. It is important for both the countries to deliberate on the ways to make relations better.

    In his welcome address Director General of BIISS Major General Sajjadul Haque said that India and Bangladesh are the two closest neighbours in the region. Both the countries are having common heritage and shared history. Bangladesh acknowledges the sacrifices made by the Indian soldiers for its liberation and pays homage to them. He mentioned that as both the countries share the largest border in South Asia, it is quite natural that they have to deal with large number of issues of concern. But he expressed his satisfaction that both the countries made tremendous progress in crucial areas like connectivity, security and climate change.

    Special address was delivered by High Commissioner of Bangladesh to India Amb. Tariq Karim. Amb. Karim gave a holistic picture of positive developments in Indo-Bangladesh relations in the last four years. Amb. Karim highlighted the following sectors of concerns to both India and Bangladesh where both the countries made tremendous progress:

    Security

    Anti state elements are security concern for both India and Bangladesh. Bangladesh has made it clear that presence of any of these elements in its soil will not be tolerated and addressed the concern resolutely.

    Trade

    Trade between the two countries is phenomenal. India in its greater wisdom opened up its market and allowed duty free access to Bangladesh, not for any charity purpose, but for its own interests. It was however a great gesture and it is based on underpinning principle of regional cooperation in the other region like EU and ASEAN, where bigger power leads the smaller power. In the process, both sides are benefiting. Formal trade between the two countries is going up. Expressing his optimism Amb. Karim said that if Informal trade is converted into formal channel it will further boost up the trade between the two countries.

    Connectivity

    Trade is not possible without connectivity. The Movement of people across the border, region and geographical entity and exchange of ideas are extremely important. Connectivity is taking place in its own pace. Most of 1bn $ line of credit given by India, i.e. 800 mn $ has been put into revamping Bangladesh’s infrastructure like restoration of railways, roads etc. Now Bangladesh is going to re-claim its river. Given the fact that Bangladesh is a river-nation, the High commissioner of Bangladesh emphasised on building river network, rather than focusing only on trans-Asian highways and rail network. Amb. Karim commented that “India’s growth is Bangladesh’s growth because Bangladesh can grow only when India grows”. If Growth is thought of in terms of entire region, regional growth can exceed China’s growth. According to Amb. Karim, even after partition the region was well connected. Visa was not required in the first few years after partition. But Pakistani leaders feared that they might lose East Pakistan, if connectivity with India was not stopped. This severely impacted on the existing regional connectivity. Amb. therefore, stressed that both India and Bangladesh need to work together to restore these connectivity that existed historically.

    Energy

    He also emphasised the importance of co-operation in the energy sector, observing that energy is the fuel for any economy. According to the High Commissioner growth of any economy would require political will and supply of power. Amb. also gave importance to sub-regional co-operation on energy sector. He asserted that Bangladesh and the North-east of India must be central to India’s Look East Policy.

    Water

    Despite the hiccups on the water issue, Amb. is hopeful that it will be resolved amicably by both the countries. He emphasised on the joint harvesting of water.

    Land Boundary

    India shares the most difficult boundary with Bangladesh. In case of Pakistan and China there is a natural barrier, but Indo-Bangladesh border is highly porous. Because of its porous nature, it is very difficult to monitor and control the border. Only possibility in this regard is joint co-ordination between the two border guards. He also emphasized on the importance of operationalisation of the land boundary agreement.

    Avenue for New areas of Co-operation

    According to Amb. Karim coastal shipping is a new area where both the countries can work together. He mentioned the potential both Tamilnadu and Odisha has in coastal shipping. There is a realization now among the Bangladeshi businessmen that they cannot concentrate only on West Bengal and the North East market and need to expand their business to other parts of India. As a result, number of agreements have been signed with other states of India, e.g. four agreements with Mumbai, eight with Chennai whereas only two with Kolkata.

    Agenda for the Future

    Citing the example of Den Xiao Ping’s modernization programme in China, Amb. Karim said that it is very important to bring stability at home and to make peace with neighbours to make progress. Both India and Bangladesh need to work on this regards. Every society can change its direction when it reaches its “ouch point” which is basically driven by the youth and the issues that mobilize them. He mentioned that women, youth and media can play extremely important role in bringing change in the society. Amb. reiterated the point earlier made by President Pranab Mukherjee that the agenda for the future for both the countries has to be sub-regional.

    Ambassador acknowledged the role of institutes like IDSA and the BIISS to develop strategic thinking in all the issues mentioned above and the importance of dialogue like this, but he said that dialogue can be useful if the outcome reaches to the concerned constituencies.
    These opening statements were followed by three sessions of discussion and dialogue, each with an over-arching theme. The first was on India-Bangladesh co-operation in the context of global and regional developments, the second on economic relations between the two countries and the third on the way forward. Some of the main points to emerge from the discussion are as follows:

    Session I: Global and Regional Perspective

    Chair: Maj General Sajjadul Haque

    The first session of the bilateral dialogue focused on the theme of “Global and Regional Perspective.” In this session presenters from both IDSA and the BIISS presented their country perspective on “South Asia and Emerging Global order” as well as “Regional Dynamics with special focus on SAARC, BIMSTEC and BCIM.

    On “South Asia and the Emerging Global Order” Dr. Arvind Gupta presented Indian Perspective and Ms. Segufta Hossain presented Bangladeshi perspective. Both the presenters examined the prospects and challenges of South Asia in the new global order that has emerged in post cold war period and gave an overview of how both India and Bangladesh is coping with these changes. Explaining the current scenario, Dr. Gupta said that West seems to be declining, EU is in crisis, Russia is trying to find its place in this new world order and China has emerged as a kind of super power. Economic financial crisis is recurring. South Asia is also changing in response to these changes in the world. While globalisation has weakened the state, power of social media has expanded. Since the end of cold war, countries have achieved moderate growth rate, yet it continues to face many challenges like poverty, disease, hunger, unemployment, climate change and environmental degradation. Terrorism continues to remain as an issue in South Asia. However, there are some positive developments as well. India economy is growing. It is engaged with its neighbours in the multiple front, Its development assistance to the neighbouring countries and Africa is remarkable. India has emerged as a net security provider. Indian Navy’s role in controlling piracy and relief assistance during natural disaster needs a special mention. Other South Asian countries are also contributing in global stability by providing their personnel to the UN peace keeping force. Migrants are catering to the economic development of the receiving countries and remittances are contributing the economy back home. Bangladesh plays an important role in providing link between South Asia and East Asia. He recommended that further study is required to analyse the impact of the challenges mentioned above and to deal with them. According to Dr Gupta, the footprint and engagement of China in the region has been significant and should be studied for its impact.

    According to Dr. Segufta Hossain end of cold war has brought changes in both global and regional politics. Dr. Segufta Hossain underlined the fact that 9/11 brought significant changes in South Asia. It has changed the security dynamics of some of the South Asian countries by involving extra regional power in the region. With the increase of Chinese involvement in the region, South Asia’s relations with the US have assumed complexity. Four recent developments like the Presidential election in the US, China’s leadership succession, election in Pakistan and democratisation in Myanmar have not only brought changes in their own countries but also in the region. Obama administration’s long term economic agenda can transform South Asia. There is a normalisation of relations of the West with Myanmar. In the context of these global as well as regional changes, Dr. Hossain explained prospect and challenges for Bangladesh. While Bangladesh’s relations with the US and China improved tremendously, its relationship with Myanmar has been experiencing both ups and downs.

    On “Regional Dynamics (SAARC & BIMSTEC, BCIM)” Dr. Anand Kumar, Associate Fellow IDSA gave Indian perspective and Mr. Abu Salah Md. Yousuf from the BIISS presented Bangladeshi perspective. According the Dr. Anand Kumar SAARC and BIMSTEC could not make much progress. While the BIMSTEC is losing its original focus, Dr. Kumar attributed numbers of factors for SAARC not being able to deliver, such as: political instability in the countries of the region, lack of capacity, tendency to look beyond the region, lack of discussions on security and different concerns of different countries. However, Dr. Kumar argued that since Islamabad summit countries of the region are giving emphasis on the need for increase in role of the SAARC. In New Delhi Summit in 2007, India has also shown its willingness to go extra mile. India is no longer unwilling to involve external observer, if it is involved for a genuine reason. In post 2014, with the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, SAARC will have to face new challenges particularly, on the issue of connectivity. Therefore, it needs to be energised. He considered BCIM as a laudable initiative, but still at a nascent form. However, he said that China can be involved in the BIMSTEC, instead of focusing on a separate grouping.

    According to Dr. Abu Salah Md. though there are different arrangements in the region to focus on co-operation on different issues, at times they are overlapping. Yet Mr. Salah gave credit to these groupings for their effort to bring regional cooperation. India and Bangladesh share common perceptions and concerns on issues like economic growth, security interests and shared values. Both India and Bangladesh perceive involvement of external powers in the region with concern. Terrorism, narcotics and human trafficking are issues of concerns for both the countries. They share common values like democracy, peace and stability in the region. Both the countries also want to increase trade and investment as well as energy co-operation. As a result is a growing trust between the two countries. They have initiated different arrangements to solve the bilateral issues. Dr. Salah concludes that the emerging partnership between the two countries will contribute to strengthen the regional arrangements; at the same time improved regional co-operation can reinforce the Indo-Bangladesh relations.

    The main points that emerged from discussion are as follows:

    • Despite of the failure of the regional groupings optimism was expressed on potential of these groupings to make progress in the future. It was argued that overlapping of the institutions and their objectives are not unique characteristics of South Asian region. If there is more number of institutions in South Asia it shows the dynamism of the region. South Asia can follow ASEAN model.
    • Smaller groups are better placed in deepening regional co-operation
    • Though the original focus of BIMSTEC is economic co-operation, it is also important to discuss issues like terrorism, because it can be a threat to economic growth.
    • Concern on growing number of Chinese footprints in South Asia was discussed. India has specific concern of this because of its past experience. It is also concerned about closer relations between China and Pakistan as well as growing dependency of the smaller countries of the region on China. India is also concerned about signing FTA with China. However, this concern are raised not only in India, but has also been raised elsewhere as well. Repayment of loans taken from China is a big problem especially in the countries where China is engaged in building port and other infrastructures. It was also pointed out that linking up with China as such is not a problem, but one needs to question the motivation of China’s growing interest in the region.

    Session II: Economic Dimensions – Trade, Investment and Connectivity in the context of Look East Policy

    Chair: Amb. Rajeet Mitter

    Economic Dimensions – Trade, Investment and Connectivity in the context of Look East Policy
    This session honed in on economic relations between India and Bangladesh. Dr Smruti S. Pattanaik presented India’s perspective on trade, investment and connectivity between the two countries, while Dr Mahfuz Kabir presented the Bangladeshi perspective.

    Dr Pattanaik argued that both India and Bangladesh have versatile Look East Policies, yet a major challenge that needs to be overcome is a validation of their own mutual interests. In other words, aside from looking out to the South-Eastern countries, they need to look at each other as well. Geographically, India connects with Bangladesh and Myanmar before moving outward through to the South East Asian region. Initially, the Look East Policy was designed towards strengthening India’s historical ties with its South-East Asian neighbourhood and beyond. But, over time, it has transformed into a much more integrated policy that seeks to connect India’s North-Eastern states with the region that lies across India’s international boundary (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, and China) and beyond. India’s trade relations with these nations thus inevitably involve those frontier states whose unique inputs manifest themselves in the flourishing inter-state local and informal trade. The total border of the North-Eastern states with Bangladesh alone amounts to 1880 km. Taking this forward, a Look East policy that focuses on Bangladesh and its neighbours could provide a larger market access for North Eastern states and vice versa.

    Nevertheless, a central stumbling block in realising stronger trade relations has been the matter of transit and connectivity. It was hoped that with the transition to democracy in Bangladesh, popularly elected government unlike the military regimes would be more responsive to the issues of connectivity and transit. Further, as the Indian and Bangladeshi economies liberalized in the post 1990 period, their share in bilateral trade also increased. According to Dr. Pattanaik, India and Bangladesh needed to focus on those areas which could improve trade ties in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner. In this regard, both countries have to deal with two basic issues – complementarity of products and protection of the domestic industry. India’s exports to Bangladesh currently constitute about 28% of its total trade with the region, second to Sri Lanka (32%) and higher than Nepal (21%). Some of the major components of India’s exports to Bangladesh are cotton (28%), vehicles (8%), cereal (7.05%) etc., and imports from Bangladesh include vegetable textile fibres (25%), Fish and related (23%), textile articles (12%), edible fruit (7%), apparel and accessories (5.5%). Even though the trade balance is in favour of India, if one looks at the component which Bangladesh imports from India most of them are textile product. These imports feed Bangladesh‘s indigenous garment industries which provide maximum export earning to Bangladesh. The textile industry thus constitutes an important aspect of Indo-Bangladesh trade relations.

    As part of achieving enhanced trade relations, Dr. Pattanaik also illustrated the importance of establishing border haats in both states in their corresponding regions. For instance, while Kalaichar in the West Garo Hills of Meghalaya has a border haat, Bangladesh has yet to provide its own location to facilitate trade despite having bilaterally agreed upon to do so. Multiple locations in Bangladesh like Tuibari, Nunsari, Kamalasagar and Boxanagar have either proposed or undecided border haats in the pipeline.

    Both states must engage the private sector to invest in their respective economies. This inevitably raises the matter of profit viability. Further, to boost investor confidence, the stability of the political environment is certainly important. It additionally helps to have a common market, especially in border regions. This formalises trade that has otherwise a huge illegal component given the demand-supply dynamics of the market. The porous border facilitates illegal trade and benefit the smugglers while the state losses revenue. Establishing integrated check posts and improved border security facilities are in the process and will ensure greater transparency of trade as well as population and labour movement.

    Lastly, sub regional cooperation would be an important aspect between the two states under their respective Look East policies and within regional frameworks like SAFTA, BIMSTEC, and BCIM, in addition to bilateral trade cooperation. The Asian Highway networks certainly go a long way towards enhancing transit connectivity crucial to facilitating access, attracting greater investments and increasing trade volume with lesser costs. Nevertheless, both states need to work on improving their trade infrastructure and build on their strengths if they are to cash on their trade potential both bilaterally and regionally.

    Dr. Mahfuz Kabir, Senior Fellow, BIISS began his presentation by acknowledging that connectivity was indeed a critical instrument to the reinforcement of trade and investment. And, Bangladesh has been one of India’s most trusted partners in trade and investment given its proximity and shared history. Nevertheless, according to him, one of the first challenges that needed to be addressed was the dual versions of the Look East policy in Bangladesh that negatively impacted public perceptions, i.e. an intellectual and scholarly version on the one hand, and a policymaker and diplomat’s version on the other.

    Following the visit of the Indian PM in September in 2011, positive initiatives taken by India have further deepened mutual economic cooperation. In fact, the outgoing year is going to witness India as Bangladesh's 2nd biggest trade partner. As estimated by the author, Bangladesh's bilateral trade has now crossed the US$ 6 billion mark. More than 60% of the total trade between the two countries are conducted through regional organisations (the BCIM economic corridor in total facilitates US$ 6.9 billion in trade in the region). Thus, Bangladesh could enjoy the benefits of its unique location between South and South-East Asia and the two giants India and China if it indulges in the diversification of its exports and maintains greater transit connectivity. Towards this, Bangladesh's 6th Five Year Plan focuses on improving its regional connectivity.

    Tracing the current trends in the trade relationship, Dr. Mahfuz further stated that India is now an almost free market for Bangladeshi products as India has declared duty free access for LDC's to its market. Bilateral trade has been moving upward appreciably -- both in terms of exports and imports -- though this has led to mounting deficit. From 1980 to 2010-11, trade with India grew at 238% per year at simple average rate. Bangladeshi exports to India has grown 182% and from India to Bangladesh by 297%. Currently, finished textile products dominate the Bangladeshi trade basket, aside from jute, hilsa fish etc. Intra-industry trade is a significant aspect of Indo-Bangladeshi trade, and trade with India includes a 30% value addition. Also Bangladeshi exporters enjoy some level of RCA (Revealed Comparative Advantage) in certain categories.

    India's investment into Bangladeshi has resulted in an employment intensive growth in the latter. India’s FDI in Bangladesh took off since 2009-10, so that today India is the 13th largest source of 100% FDI in Bangladesh. Moreover, Dr Kabir pointed out, FDI from India (as well as from China and South Korea) generates more employment per dollar than FDI from many Western countries. This fits in nicely with Bangladesh’s commitment to inclusive development. Moreover, the stock of India's FDI into Bangladesh is highly concentrated in textile, banking, power, agriculture and fishing. Sectors with a potential for an expansion of investment include leather and leather products, ICT's (with Bangladesh possessing an emerging mobile industry as an LDC), chemical industry, electrical and electronic industry, rice seed (focusing on securing food security) and in R&D.

    Some of the suggestions put forth by the speaker related to increasing the financial and developmental scope of the trade relationship. One of the proposals to come from Bangladesh and currently submitted to its government is a report describing a user fee policy to provide passage and logistic support of goods through the well-connected economic corridors. Welfare gains from the BCIM economic corridor could secure a 10% reduction in transport costs. Relating trade to development, 29 extremely backward border districts in Bangladesh could be postured so as to benefit from enhanced investment opportunities and better regional connectivity to the nearest growth centre. This would require extensive transformation in the trade infrastructure in inland water, at sea and on land.

    In terms of its development objectives, Bangladesh aims to be a middle income country by 2020 as articulated in its report ‘Vision 2020’. Realising this hinges on power generation to meet the needs of industry and of course development. Given this objective, the speaker suggested that Bangladesh’s neighbours (like West Bengal in India, Nepal etc) could trade their excess generated electricity. Further, land custom stations and border haats are other aspects crucial to improving trade facilitation.

    Looking at the way forward, the speaker raised the following that needed to be considered -

    • Determining a pragmatic transit fee
    • Realising the economic potential of BIMSTEC
    • Achieving greater connectivity especially with respect to sub-regional transit
    • Overcoming the negative public opinion associated with Indian trade and transit
    • Allowing for the youth in Bangladesh to take advantage of India's economic opportunities, healthcare and education facilities to ensure a reality of benefits over supposed suspicions of India’s unwieldy dominance

    In the concluding discussion, it was argued that greater connectivity will increase people to people contact and it would go a long way in shaping people's perceptions of each other. A change in mindset can only be possible through greater interaction between the people of two countries. It was felt that FTA between the two countries may not contribute significantly to bilateral trade as India has already provided Bangladesh with duty free access to its market. Formalising trade will be crucial if the state is to secure the benefits of the huge informal trade that exist between the two countries. Development of infrastructure would be crucial for economy of the two countries as well as for bilateral trade. Though official trade with India is often publicised, Bangladesh has an even larger informal trade with India. This is larger than China’s trade with Bangladesh. Lastly, it was agreed upon that broad based trade liberalisation measures would facilitate a better trade relationship for Bangladesh than an FTA. Potential sectors for future Indian FDI into Bangladesh are ICTs, electronics, chemicals, rice seeds and R&D. Connectivity, electricity grid connections and reducing the incidence of cross-border smuggling were identified as areas where there is room for improvement.

    Session 3 Role of youth and Media and seeking mutual convergence for further cooperation
    The third session of the bilateral dialogue focused predominantly on the role of the media and the youth in the furthering the relations between the two countries. Significant thought was devoted towards discussing the stability of the bilateral relationship and the role domestic political changes might play in dictating the tone of relations between the neighbours. The meeting was chaired by Prof. Partha Ghosh.

    To begin, Nazmul Arifeen, researcher at BIISS, presented his paper on the role of the youth in bilateral relations, suggesting that greater contact between the youths of the two countries, in varied fields of endeavor such as sports and culture, supplemented by expanded networks and their increased engagement in the bilateral dialogue process, would enhance relations and understanding between the states.

    Dr. Shaheen Afroze, Research Director of BIISS, presented her paper on the role of the media in relations, highlighting what she thought was an “asymmetrical relationship” between the medias of the two countries. In a content analysis of the major dailies, English and vernacular, of the two countries, she said she had found that there was significantly less coverage of Bangladesh in Indian media than of India in Bangladeshi media. The asymmetric nature was compounded by the fact that content from Indian media “flowed seamlessly” into Bangladesh while the reverse was not evident. She said that the focus of the content published in the two countries was different: the Bengali media in India focused on transit issues, water sharing, trade and the bilateral relationship while their English counterparts addressed issues such as illegal migration, terrorism and insurgency while almost completely neglecting transit issues. In contrast, the Bangladeshi media was more balanced, addressing issues across the spectrum listed above. She concluded by remarking that the Medias of the two countries had not contributed positively to a borderless regional ideology and that work could be done in this regard. She highlighted positive changes in the rhetoric of Indian and Pakistani media outlets over the years, suggesting that that could be a good example of how tenor and content could be modified in an attempt to remove an atmosphere of distrust.

    Dr. Smruti Pattanaik, research fellow at IDSA, disagreed on Dr. Afroze’s assertion that Indian media was less focused on their neighbour than Bangladeshi media and argued that while this might be true for the national media outlets in India, it is not for local ones. She pointed out that the national media are focused on national issues, often neglecting events occurring in individual states of the country while media organizations in states bordering Bangladesh were far more sensitive to events across the border. She observed that the biggest change in recent years is the advent of new media, supplemented by greater mobile connectivity that has allowed especially the youth to bypass government and enjoy freedom of opinion and share their feeling with youths across the border. Social media allows the youth to post pictures in the social media and express their opinion and share it with others. She also listed various examples of interaction between the youths of the two countries; from University level student exchanges to youth forums under organizations such as SAARC, asking what the impact of returning youths was on the country and how their perceptions interacted with the overall domestic perceptions of the neighbour. She noted, however, that the number of Indians pursuing education in Bangladesh was less than the number of Bangladeshis studying in India.

    Dr. Ashok Behuria, a Research Fellow at IDSA brought up the distinction between inter-country relations and inter-government relations. He argued that relations between countries should be independent of which government is in power in those countries. He also argued that bilateral relationship should be viewed with words of realism. He warned against having an issue overload in bilateral relations as the two countries were discussing a wide range of issues from trade and economic cooperation to maritime security issues and cooperation between major Universities. He suggested that it was "perhaps too early to take stock of everything that is going on". He spoke about radicalisation that has affected the whole region and stressed that the way forward did not involve only hard security measures but a transformation of the educational sector and a consensus on what kind of Islam should be projected in societies. Regarding points made earlier in the day about the continuity and stability of the bilateral relationship, he asserted that the relationship between the countries would not change in the wake of political changes in their state capitals as governments had become "more sagacious". He pointed out that the relationship between the two countries was not merely the relationship between the two governments and that more should be done to foster interaction and cooperation at the non-governmental level. He pointed out that the results of periodic reviews must be fed to the people to sustain interest and the tempo of the relationship.

    A considerable amount of time in the question and answer period of third session was devoted to discussing the potential fallout of a change in governments in Dhaka and New Delhi in the near future. The consensus was that while the coming to power of parties currently sitting in opposition benches might change the immediate atmospherics of the region, it would be temporary and would do little to reverse the momentum and progress made thus far. The BIISS delegation also emphasised that Bangladesh is a mature democracy and its relations with India would not be affected by a change of government. Prof. Partha S. Ghosh asserted that a BJP government in India would not at all adversely affect ties with Bangladesh, arguing that the BJP has a track record of seeking good relations with neighbours. Regarding the perception of Bangladeshi youth towards India, the Bangladeshi delegation pointed out that it was difficult to paint all the youths with the same brush as there were a variety of opinions on issues across the board. It was also noted by the delegation that anti-India sentiments in Bangladesh were based merely on criticism of Indian positions rather than on malicious emotions. There was also considerable discussion of the role of Indian states bordering Bangladesh had to play on Indian policy, a topic that elicited varying opinions.

    The chair of the session, Prof. Partha Ghosh, concluded by saying the greatest asset prospects for cooperation in the region had was that there were deep cultural and civilizational bonds that would undeniably shape links in the future. Major General Sajjadul Haq, Director General of BIISS stressed that everything that was discussed during the event must be put into action, producing tangible results. Overall, the dialogue covered a vast range of issues and a number of opinions were expressed. There was general consensus that the deepening of India-Bangladesh ties is in the interests of both countries.

    Report prepared by Ms Gulbin Sultana, Malissa Cyril and Aditya Pillai with inputs from Sirish Raghavan

    Event photographs [+]

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