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Saturday, January 28, 2023

India tries to win back Bangladesh: Is India scared of shifting regional alliances?

India gifts Bangladesh trains in order to assuage fears that Pakistan and China are making diplomatic inroads there, at the cost of India.

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India has provided 10 broad gauge locomotives to Bangladesh “as a mark of enduring friendship,” an official said. The gift is being seen as a move by India to assuage grievances of its Bangladesh amid fears that Pakistan and China are making diplomatic inroads into the country.

Speaking at a virtual handover ceremony on Monday, Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said it will bring the two countries “even closer.”

India gifts locomotive trains to Bangladesh as goodwill gesture

Terming Bangladesh-India ties as “rock solid” and based on shared values, the minister said: “Connectivity is productivity and our visionary prime minister has been trying to expand our connectivity in roads, rail, river routes and heart to heart with our neighbors.”

He said regional railway connectivity could increase bilateral and multilateral trade, which is vital for development “in a fast changing world, swept by unforeseen challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Read more: Imran Khan speaks with Hasina Wajed: Bold Initiative towards Bangladesh?

“Connectivity in the region will unpack numerous opportunities for the people of South Asia. […] We are happy that India partners with Bangladesh in this endeavor,” Momen said.

The development comes amid changing regional dynamics, and bids to increase influence in the neighborhood, as India is being increasingly threatened by Pakistan and China overtures to Bangladesh.

Last month, China provided Dhaka a huge trade boost by announcing tariff exemption for 97% of Bangladeshi products.

Changing regional dynamics: Pakistan looking to reset ties with Bangladesh

Earlier, Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan expressed his desire for “closer and fraternal” relations with Bangladesh, by speaking to the PM, Sheikh Hasina Wajid.

Mr Khan, in what was his first telephone conversation with his Bangladesh counterpart Hasina Wajed, said: “Pakistan is committed to deepening fraternal relations with Bangladesh on the basis of mutual trust, mutual respect and sovereign equality.”

The telephone contact has come after months of efforts to normalise ties between the two South Asian countries after years of deep freeze.

Islamabad’s initiative for mending fences with Dhaka was launched after current high commissioner Imran Siddiqui assumed office in February this year.

Read more: Pakistan – Bangladesh diminishing hope for better ties?

Observers were caught by surprise when Mr Siddiqui earlier this month met Bang­ladesh’s Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen.

Pak-Bangladesh relationship took a nosedive after Ms Wajed started her second tenure as the prime minister in 2009 and she resumed the so-called 1971 trial of the ‘war crimes’.

Pakistan has always considered the bitter past of the 1971 dismemberment as a closed chapter in view of the tripartite agreement signed in April 1974 for repatriation of war prisoners.

Imran Khan invites Hasina to visit Pakistan 

Mr Khan, in his conversation, underscored the imp­ortance Pakistan attached to closer ties with Bangla­desh and highlighted the significance of regular bilateral contacts and people-to-people exchanges.

He also reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and underlined the importance of both countries working for enhanced regional cooperation for sustainable peace and prosperity.

Read more: Will India, Russia and Bangladesh’s new agreement on civil nuclear cooperation isolate Pakistan?

Mr Khan discussed Pakistan and Bangladesh’s fight against Covid-19 pandemic and extended commiserations on the material and human losses due to the recent flooding in Bangladesh.

He reiterated the invitation to Prime Minister Hasina Wajed to visit Pakistan, the PMO said. However Bangladesh’s PM visiting Pakistan in foreseeable future will be a major regional development, this is something New Delhi will try its best to prevent. India has invested lot of political capital in creating distances between Pakistan and Bangladesh – two Siamese twins separated by Indian intervention in 1971. However SAARC was a creation of Bangladesh and Pakistan and before Sheikh Hasina returned to power in Dhaka, Pakistan and Bangladesh had come closer to each other despite the tragic events of 1971.

China’s mission of isolating India: Bangladesh a key partner 

The contact between the two prime ministers also comes in the backdrop of Delhi-Dhaka ties turning lukewarm following the enactment of controversial Citizenship Amendment Act by India last year. Moreover, growing Chinese influence on Dhaka has also brought Pakistan and Bangladesh closer.

Many analysts in Islamabad – and on Pakistani media – had been predicting that given how Modi regime had treated Bangladesh on CAA issue, China may work upon Bangladesh to take it away from Delhi’s exclusive sphere of influence. These whispers had increased with the Indo-China standoff in Ladakh and with the change in Nepal’s attitude towards Delhi.

Read more: From East Pakistan to Bangladesh: What went wrong?

It was getting obvious – in Islamabad’s diplomatic circles – that China was flexing its diplomatic muscle in the region around India. It is believed that India’s tiny ally, Bhutan, is also fast improving its relations with Beijing. So it was only a matter of time before Bangladesh too becomes part of the way the regional wind is now blowing.

GVS News Desk with additional input by Anadolu and other sources