NEWSLINE

The un-popularised bargaining

Khawaza Main Uddin | Update:

Bangladeshis still haven’t heard any official words as to whether a defence deal would be signed between Dhaka and New Delhi, days before probable signing.

Those who are vocal about the possible Indo-Bangladesh defence deal, have mainly expressed their concern. Unnamed officials, not foreign or defence minister, hinted at their preference to memorandum of understanding on defence cooperation, in place of a pact, with Delhi.

Whatever the name of such a deal, it is opposed by most of the political actors in the country, except one - the ruling party and its allies.

However, the wording of reservations of such a critical foreign and defence policy decision varies, depending on one’s profession and line of doing politics.

The foreign minister said on Tuesday that the contents of deal, if signed during the prime minister’s visit to India on 7-10 April 2017, will be made public. It appears that his government is unwilling to consult with anyone outside the realm of power who matters in democratic policymaking, before signing a deal which is already termed by some as unnecessary or as detrimental to national interests.

Reports say India’s establishment is more interested in striking such a deal and no one denies China factor in the thinking of the defence deal.

Unfortunately, we have hardly any scope to know the Bangladeshi line of thinking, upholding our national interest. Born through one of the bloodiest wars in the 20th century’s history, Bangladesh is not supposed to be a pawn in rivalry between two or more powers.

Fairly, a former foreign secretary suggests, the country equally needs friendship of both India and China. Some others maintain that the respective interests of the two powers in Bangladesh do not clash. Any debate or discussion on such issue is not held in any of the platforms of current state, including Jatiya Sangsad.

Is the Awami League government missing something in pursuing national policy, if I may ask in the light of textbook knowledge -‘Foreign policy is the extension of domestic policy’?

Hardly any of the beneficiaries of the regime is coming up with thoughtful comments on how the likely deal would be for Bangladesh and Bangladeshis. Our campuses, under the grab of the AL supporters,no longer offer anydissents or at least a suggestion in this regard.The ruling party has innumerable associate bodies, but none has a say on this issue.

It is rather the opposition forces and the civil society members who are denied the space to act and speak are doing it a favour offering a strong opinion, practically a bargaining point for the government.

Be it in diplomatic encounters or on negotiation table, are Indian authorities not conscious of the kind of mandate the ruling Awami League had at home? The BNP has announced that it would announce protest programmes should the AL government sign such a deal.

So, India support to the 2014 general elections boycotted by all parties save the AL and its allies might have certain bearing on the policy of the government in Dhaka. Understandably, any bargaining with the mentor is never an easy thing.

This is such asituation that the AL itself did not have to face in 1996 when the controversial 25-year Friendship Treaty between Bangladesh and India expired but Delhi refrained from insisting on renewal or striking of fresh treaty.

After assuring India of almost everything it wanted, the Sheikh Hasina regime has been denied a water-sharing of Teesta despite its poor relevance nowadays in terms of availability of water. Dhaka gave a security gift to India in its north-eastern region but killing of Bangladeshis along the border has not stopped. In spite of rising trade imbalance, Delhi created fresh barriers by imposing ‘anti-dumping duties’ on jute exports from Bangladesh.

As the country’s oldest political party, the Awami League should have realised why its bargaining with external powers - with India in this case - has come to such a state when it cannot express its political position publicly.

 

Khawaza Main Uddin is Head of ProthomAlo English (Content). He can be contacted at khawaza@prothom-alo.info.

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