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Protest continues against India’s pressure for transit
July 17, 2008, 10:43 am
Filed under: Bangladesh

Protest continues against India’s pressure for transit


Protest continues against India’s pressure on Bangladesh to give transit facilities as on Wednesday, different organisations, Educ-ationists, politicians and freedom fighters warned the government saying ’14 crore people of Bangladesh will launch tough movement if the government responds to India’s demand positively’.(The BD Today )

Leaders of Bangladesh Jatiyatabadi Freedom Fighter Group (BJFFG) warned the government that they would resist if it shows keen interest to provide transit facilities to India ignoring mass people’s opinions.

Addressing a press conference held at Khandoker Delwar Hossain’s Nam flat residence in the city, leaders of BJFFG said that India is putting on Bangladesh for a long time to provide the country with transit facilities for its own interest.

“But the present caretaker government is yet to make its stand clear whether it will provide transit facilities or not during the bilateral meeting of Bangladesh-India foreign secretaries level scheduled to be held Thursday,” they said.

“During the regime of different political governments, India had tried several times for getting approval of transit from Bangladesh but those governments did not respond to their demand. As the country is now under the state of emergency, the people would not be able to raise their voice against the government’s move. Taking this chance, India again has started putting pressure on the caretaker government. If the government responds to India’s call positively specially in transit issue, no emergency rule will be able to stop the people’s movement,” they said.

They further said “after a nine-month long liberation war, we achieved victory in 1971. If it is needed we will fight again to save our country’s interest and sovereignty to foil the evil design and blue print of India.”

Besides, if India is facilitated with transit by the caretaker government, Bangladesh will be attacked by ULFA activists and Seven Sisters who are engaged in fighting for freedom from India.

They said soon after independence, Bangladesh had made a request to India for using Kolkata port but India did not respond to Bangladesh call. “As both our sea ports Chittagong and Mongla had become unfit during the liberation war, our government had requested to India to use Kolkata port for six months but in reply India had said India would not give permission even for six hours,” they said.

“The main job of the caretaker government is to hold the general election but ignoring the main responsibility, the government has been trying to divert the peoples attention from the election in many ways”, they said at a discussion meeting on “Transit, Freedom, Sovereignty and National Security” at the National Press Club in the capital on Wednesday.

Terming the transit as corridor, Professor Emajuddin Ahmed, former Vice-Chancellor of the Dhaka University said, the caretaker government has no right to take any decision on transit issue. As it is a very sensitive issue, so the next elected government will take the decision in this regard.

“I think that India has been demanding transit facilities from Bangladesh for military purposes but it has been saying that it would boost economic and trade ties between the two neighboring countries”, said Major General (Retd) Fazlur Rahman news-02


Opinion: Transit : Who gains most?

M.T. Hussain

The seventeenth July (08) meeting of the Foreign Secretaries of
India and Bangladesh to be held in Delhi is known to deal and
possibly settle issues among others one for making provision of
direct land transit for Indian transports west of Bangladesh through
to eastern territories of India. The Indian High Commissioner in
Dhaka Mr. Pinak R. Chakravarty stated to local reporters as well as
to the VOA on the 9th July in Dhaka that as the transit would
economically benefit both Bangladesh and India, it should be taken
as such and is nothing to do with politics. On the BBC Radio Bengali
program held at 07:30 a.m. next day in Dhaka, a former Bangladeshi
diplomat went further on to assert that the transit, if acceded to
India, would accrue a gain for Bangladesh as much as Taka 5,000
crore or 50,000 million in the first year, and in five years the
gain might go up to 150,000 million Taka. The Bangladeshi diplomat
further argued that the transit has to be done by the present
Caretaker Government (CG) that is certain to close their term by
December this year for the reality that no political government
would do it.

Well, there are points for good gain for Bangladesh. The gain would
not only be in terms of some employment but also in revenue earning.
The question, however, would be of its worth in terms of possible
losses, inconvenience and strategic vulnerability of defense.

Since independence, Bangladesh has been running at losses on many
accounts due to many engineering from the Indian side. The imbalance
of huge trade deficit against Bangladesh is a staggering matter.
Among other huge losses went on recurring is in the account of ill
effects of the Indian Farakka Barrage that was put into operation in
1974 that according an estimate stood at 49 lakh Crore Taka in terms
of agricultural productivity losses, employment losses of fishermen
and navigational boatmen, environmental degradation along the once
mighty river Padma and its tributaries etc. Smuggling along the
2,500 KM long border between the two countries that goes on and on
that not only cause recurring revenue losses but also adversely
affect Bangladesh’s many promising growing industries. In sum, India
keeps on every possible pressure having had her bigger muscle power
to make the Bangladesh economy supplementary and complementary with
India. The land transit would only increase India’s advantage
further in money terms and hegemony with it.

Permitting land transit to India by Bangladesh should be preceded by
transit question from Bangladesh to all countries in the
subcontinent even extending up to the Middle East through
Afghanistan just as the European countries have for mutual benefits.
However, there is a lacuna in the proposition in that that if the
roads and railway trucks are sufficiently strong enough in space and
strength of construction feature to withstand the increased traffic.
Whether Bangladesh’s roads and also the railway tracks built mainly
on alluvial soil infested with heavy rainfall during monsoons could
stand the additional heavy truckers and traffic. The Jamuna Bridge
connecting west and east of Bangladesh that the proposed transit
route would obviously need to use has already shown cracks, and so
would be vulnerable to heavier and additional traffics from Indian
side. Some conscious men reasonably fears that the transport drivers
from India would quite likely spread HIV /AIDS to Bangladesh that is
wide spread among Indian drivers than the Bangladeshi counterparts
who are still almost free of the vices of the killer disease. This
is not only a matter of cultural item but also impinges on economy
for additional burden as medical expenses.

On top of all these negative issues, transit to India is certain to
be a still bigger threat to the sovereignty of Bangladesh. It would
not be so for only India’s possible movement of arms from her west
to the eastern Seven Sisters’ region though Bangladesh territory but
also the issue itself might put Bangladesh into difficulties with
all anti-government parties and groups including those underground
ones who continue to claim to have been fighting for independence
from big India. Why should Bangladesh take on her the additional
burden on this account?

The transit issue could partially be an economic issue but in no
case anything divorced from politics of Bangladesh, and as such, it
should be taken up and decided, if anything to decide upon, by the
next political and duly elected peoples’ government, and not by the
CG of Bangladesh.


The economics and politics of transit

Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (Retd)

THE issue of transit to India has propped up again, this time with a
renewed and very firm demand from India for allowing Indian goods
and passenger transport ingress into, and egress out of Bangladesh,
from and into Indian territory. The request has been lying with the
Bangladesh government since mid-2007.

In this context, one ought to go back a bit into history to put the
matter in perspective — to address the issue more objectively,
driven by the head rather than the heart — and see if we can put it
into purely economic terms.

The fact that both the countries were connected by road and rail
link up to 1965 is well known. Rail links existed between the two
countries prior to September 6, 1965, and were discontinued after
the outbreak of the war between India and Pakistan. Three trains ran
between the two countries, carrying goods and passengers — East
Bengal Express between Sealdah and Goalandu Ghat via Gede; East
Bengal Mail between Sealdah and Partbatipur via Gede; and Barisal
Express between Sealdah and Khulna via Petrapole.

There were three road links connecting India with Bangladesh.
National Highway No. 35 connected Calcutta to Barisal and Bongaon to
Dhaka. National Highway No. 35 connected Petrapole to Barisal, and
National Highway No. 40 connected Siliguri and Guwahati to
Chittagong and Dhaka via Comilla.

After 1971, both the countries had expressed political will to
utilise the economic complementarities for mutual benefits. And in
the spirit of mutual cooperation, Bangladesh had, in fact, agreed to
accord “transit” facility through the signing of the Indo-Bangladesh
Trade Agreement on March 28, 1972, and Bangladesh could, by the same
token, use the facility for its own benefit.

Article V of the Agreement provided for “mutually beneficial
arrangements for the use of their waterways, railways and roadways
for commerce between the two countries and for passage of goods
between two places in one country through the territory of the
other.” What is of significance is the Indian foreign trade
minister’s comment at the signing ceremony that
Bangladesh’s “railways and its roads can once again be used by India
for the benefit of the Indian people on either side of Bangladesh.
We, on our part, Excellency, would be only too happy to provide the
necessary transit facilities to Nepal and our friends in

Many in India perceived Bangladesh as an “economic bridge” between
India’s north-eastern states and the rest of the country. For India,
it makes extremely good economic sense to be able to use a corridor
to its northeastern states. It would spare them constructing a long
and tortuous road through hostile territory, infested with
insurgents of many hues. It had been estimated — in the ’90s —
that construction of new tracks would cost Rs. 2 crore per
kilometre. It would cost many times more that amount now.

The 1972 agreement was for one year. A new trade agreement signed on
October 4, 1980 had similar proviso for surface connectivity, but
that the surface links, except by river routes, did not come about
has to do with everything other than economics.

Why did the successive Bangladesh governments not provide the
facility agreed upon? Even the Awami League government, which had in
principal approved the proposal (June 1998) for the passage of goods
between places in India via Bangladesh — “provided they are
conveyed by Bangladeshi carriers,” had not provided this facility
during its tenure. In fact, a committee headed by the then commerce
minister Tofael Ahmed, to study all aspects of the proposal, had
managed only to agree to further study the economic and strategic
implications of allowing a corridor to India.

My impression was that it was merely to hedge the issue — being
aware of the very sensitive nature of the matter; the government was
wary of taking a decision on an issue that might have been seen at
home as providing special dispensation to India, when India did not
deliver on some of its commitments.

Insofar as the economic return is concerned it, too, was an
undetermined element in the transit discourse. There was no
gainsaying what would be the economic benefits for Bangladesh, and
what opportunity costs that we might have to count by allowing India
the transit facility. One is not certain whether the government or
any non-government think-tank has as yet indulged in a serious cost-
benefit analysis of the proposal and get a clear approximation of
our gains from it.

While it is not for this government to take a policy decision on the
transit issue — and it has made the position clear — it must be
treated more dispassionately. For us, geography is not a curse but a
boon. It has lent us strategic significance regionally, the
significance of which cannot be lost on our policy planners. We must
bring this advantage to work for gaining strategic dividends. It
must also be kept in mind that multi-modal connections have a great
advantage for the South Asian countries, which we cannot afford

While it is immoral to deal with issues on a quid pro quo manner —
when it relates to one’s national interest all other considerations
come second — one’s neighbours would go by the same motivation.
Also, there are serious security issues that are associated with the
matter that must be brought into consideration in any future
negotiation, and if there are economic dividends that we can derive
that are positively proportional to the investment, so much the
better. This must be made amply clear to India.

Transit has never been a forgotten issue, at least not for India.
But I guess it has become a rather embarrassing matter for
Bangladesh — not knowing perhaps how to convey to India that there
are other compelling factors that influence policies. It is futile
to compare a similar situation obtaining in other parts of the world
with this. It is would be erroneous to see such issues in merely
economic terms — in any case economics do not drive politics in
South Asia, in fact the reverse is true.

Had that not been so, Bangladesh would have had the benefit of
access through a piece of Indian territory the size of a football
field into its enclaves of Dahagram and Angorpota on a permanent
basis — the issue of sharing Ganges water would have been earnestly
addressed long before 1996, and the much publicised promised sale of
half a million tons of rice to Bangladesh following “Sidr” would
have been fulfilled without Bangladesh having to suffer the
shenanigans of some of the Indian rice traders.

Posted by Isha Khan


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