Bangladesh's Foreign Policy Approaches to India

Pakistan was born out of the partition of India in 1947 by the outgoing British colonial regime which had decided to let go of its most prized imperial possession as a response to the circumstances that emerged after the end of the Second World War. The British frustrated by the violent communalism and communal riots unleashed by the Muslim League under Jinnah to demand a separate state of Pakistan as a homeland for Indian Muslims, hastened India's independence by a year. Pakistan came into existence in August 1947, with two separate wings separated by over a thousand miles of Indian territory. West Pakistan was dominated by Pakistan Punjabis in terms of numbers over the Frontier Province, Sindh, and Balochistan. East Pakistan was dominated by Bengalis who in terms of numbers were the overwhelming dominant population of the new state of Pakistan.

Bangladesh emerged as an independent state in 1971, ironically, as a partition of the new state of Pakistan. A civil war had emerged in Pakistan in early 1971 as a result of the military government being pressurized by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto not to honor the National Election results in which the mandate had gone in favor of a government to be led by the East Pakistani Bengali Awami Party. On denial of the electoral mandate the Bengali masses in Pakistan's eastern wing undertook massive protests. What followed thereafter was an unprecedented ethnic genocide launched by the Pakistan Army against the hapless and unarmed Bengali Muslims.

Millions of refugees flowed into India and millions of Bengali Muslims were butchered by the Pakistan Army, the defenders of Jinnah's new Muslim state. This created a threatening military and political situation for India on its Eastern flank. With the US Nixon Administration heavily tilted towards Pakistan and unmindful of the ethnic genocide taking place, India undertook a military intervention on the invitation of a Free Bangladesh Government-in-exile and aided by the Mukti Bahini (Bangladesh Liberation Army). An independent state of Bangladesh so emerged in December 1971 from what was the erstwhile East Pakistan.

India never hoped that the new state of Bangladesh should be eternally grateful to India for its liberation. But India did hope that the new state of Bangladesh would be a friendly and cooperative country on India's eastern periphery . This hope did not emerge from the shared endeavors for Bangladesh's liberation, but arose more because of the factors of geographical and economic independence and shared secular and social beliefs.

But it was not to be, as borne out by the present state of relations between Bangladesh and India. Over the years, Bangladesh's foreign policies have adopted contours that are not decidedly friendly and could be termed as more adversarial. This can be attributed to two factors, one external and the other domestic, and both of them getting hopelessly intertwined by the Islamic tinge.

Pakistan and China, both singly and in unison, can be said to be the external stimuli for Bangladesh's adversarial foreign policy stances towards India. Their objectives are entirely strategic in nature. Pakistan's strategic objective is to strategically distract India from the Pakistan front by creating Bangladesh as a counter-pressure point in the East. China's strategic objective while similar to Pakistan has the added content of cultivating Bangladesh to provide it with a naval base at Chittagong which would facilitate a Chinese naval presence in the Bay of Bengal to militarily discomfit India. To facilitate achievement of their objectives, both these countries which as it is are adversarial to India have roped in Bangladesh as the third adversary to India in South Asia by preying on Bangladesh's contentious issues with India and projecting India as a threat to Bangladesh's security.

Bangladesh's misconceived threat perceptions from India stand reflected in the Defence Cooperation Agreement with China and providing bases to Pakistan's ISI for launching its proxy war and terrorism against Eastern India. Bangladesh itself hosts sanctuaries to insurgency outfits operating against India. Bangladesh enjoys close and proximate military links with Pakistan and China.

Regrettably, in the absence of any worthwhile political or developmental electoral issues in Bangladesh's domestic politics, India'baiting and India'bashing become the dominant features of Bangladeshi politics. The most serious charge leveled in domestic politics is to be India'friendly.

Whereas, interdependence has become a globalized phenomenon, the foreign policies of Bangladesh towards India do not seem to reflect the same. Sooner or later Bangladesh will have to realize that the pivot of Bangladesh's prosperity revolves around India which geographically bounds it on three sides and not on its present external patrons who have no territorial contiguity with it. 


More by :  Dr. Subhash Kapila

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