Event ReportsPublished on Apr 02, 2014
During the recent "5th India-Bangladesh Dialogue" organised in Delhi, there was consensus among all participants on the need for strengthening further cooperation on border management and counter terrorism in order of tackle threats which are common to both the countries.
Delhi, Dhaka need to strengthen further ties on border management, counter-terror

The fifth round of the annual "India-Bangladesh Security Dialogue" was organised recently in Delhi by Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in partnership with Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI), Dhaka. The first round was held at Dhaka in December, 2009. The dialogue not only provides opportunity to discuss various issues relating to security between the two countries but also to discover areas of cooperation which would work as a framework to strength security cooperation.

The primary objective of the dialogue has been to bring together all major stakeholders, both within the government and outside, on a common platform to facilitate a free and frank discussion on security issues as well as other contentious bilateral issues which have often acted as barriers to a stronger cooperation.

This year’s dialogue, organised on April 2 and 3, was important as it coincided with political transitions in both the countries. While in Bangladesh, the Awami League has returned to power after elections in January and has formed a new cabinet with many first time ministers, India is in the process of electing a new government.

The two-dialogue brought together 31 participants from both the countries. They included former diplomats, academics, journalists and government officials. It discussed important specific areas like counter terrorism, border management and security, radicalisation in South Asia and measures to counter it, maritime security in the Indian Ocean, etc. The dialogue also discussed a range of options on border management cooperation based on global best practices.

Delivering the keynote address during the inaugural session, India’s Foreign Secretary, Ms Sujatha Singh, said Bangladesh is one of India’s most important partners. Describing Indo-Bangla relations as "a mature relationship borne out of shared experiences", she said the last few years had marked a remarkable transformation in Indo-Bangladesh relations and but still have a long way to go.

The Foreign Secretary said India and Bangladesh are now working towards signing a Memorandum of Understanding to tackle the problem of fake currency. She said the Task Force on Fake Currency had conducted its first meeting in January this year and now working on a MoU to be signed between the two countries.

She said the trade between the countries has risen to 5.3 billion dollars in 2012-13 from 3.7 billion dollars in 2007-8. However, "we still have a long way to go and much work need to be done as trade volumes are still very low," she said.

Noting that Bangladesh has already replaced Sri Lanka as India’s largest trading partner in South Asia, the Foreign Secretary said if we were to increase trade volume, we need to work on trade and investment in conjunction. "This is one of the pillars on which our future relationship needs to be built," she said.

The foreign secretary said many Indian corporate are keen to invest in Bangladesh and there is potential for Bangladesh investment in India. She suggested that the next ORF-BEI conference can focus on specific areas and projects looking at new models of cooperation that would create greater trade and investment.

Saying cooperation in the power sector is progressing well, the Foreign Secretary envisaged grid connectivity to North East region and a power grid traversing North East, Bangladesh to West Bengal. "Both sides need to work on it. This is not something which will benefit only India, but will benefit Bangladesh as well," she said. The Foreign Secretary said the Sub-Regional Cooperation Joint Working Group on water and power and trade and connectivity will hold its second meeting soon. "It has great potential. It needs to be explored further," she said.

BEI President Farooq Sobhan, former Bangladesh High Commissioner to India and a former Foreign Secretary, said how the India-Australia Dialogue, started in 2009 in Dhaka, had contributed to improving relations between the countries. He said that despite India playing a big role in the formation of Bangladesh, the bilateral relations between the two countries have remained unconsolidated as both the countries have often pursued divergent security objectives. He further identified counter-terrorism measures as a matter of the highest importance for both countries. Acknowledging the presence of radical extremist forces in Bangladesh and insurgency movements in North-East India, Mr. Sobhan emphasised the need for the two nations to work together closely in order to tackle the problem of terrorism and extremist violence, endemic to both countries.

ORF Director Sunjoy Joshi said his organisation, along with BEI, is working towards new areas of cooperation to see that both the countries and the region overcome the baggage of history for socio-economic integration and development.

Besides the inaugural and valedictory sessions, the dialogue had five plenary sessions where topics like bilateral relationship, counter-terrorism cooperation, border management cooperation, threat of radicalism and maritime cooperation between the two countries were discussed.

The first session, chaired by Dr C Raja Mohan, Distinguished Fellow and Head of Strategic Studies at ORF, dealt with the overall bilateral relationship between the two countries. In this session, two presentations were made by Mr Faiz Sobhan, Research Director, BEI, and Mr Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, former High commissioner of India to Bangladesh. Mr Sobhan highlighted Bangladesh’s perspective on the state of bilateral relationship. Mr. Chakravarty put forward India’s view on the bilateral relationship. Ms Veena Sikri, former Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, and Mr Humayun Kabir, Vice President BEI and a former Ambassador, were the discussants.

The second plenary session discussed the issue of counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries. This session was chaired by Mr. Farooq Sobhan. The session had two presentations by Air Commodore Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury, Registrar, East West University, Dhaka and Dr Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow, ORF. Air Commodore Choudhury put forward Bangladesh’s view on the subject. Dr Joshi spoke on India’s concern about the problem of terrorism in the region and how the two countries can cooperate. Mr Wilson John, Vice President and Senior Fellow at ORF, and Commodore Nurul Absar, Bangladesh Navy, were the discussants.

The third plenary session was chaired by Mr Humayun Kabir. It focussed on the issues of border management. Discussing "Border Management and Security," the participants compared and contrasted Indian and Bangladeshi perspectives on the issue and also considered challenges such as the proliferation of cross-border illegal activities. The two presenters Mr Shahab Enam Khan, Research Director, BEI, and Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, Associate Fellow, ORF. Giving Bangladesh’s perspective on the issue of border management, Mr Khan stressed on the need for India to ratify the Land Boundary Agreement signed between the two countries in 2011. Dr Bhattacharjee, while discussing India’s position on the border management issues, stressed on the need for the two countries to take up the issue of illegal migration and work out a solution in this respect. The discussants were Mr. RK Shukla, former Special Director General, Sashastra Seema Bal, and Brigadier General Shahedul Anam Khan, Strategic Affairs Editor of The Daily Star, Dhaka.

The fourth Session was chaired by Mr. Vikram Sood, Advisor, ORF. In this session, participants discussed the issue of radicalisation in Bangladesh and also in the region and ways to handle this problem. The presenters were Mr. Humayun Kabir, and Dr Smruti Pattanaik, Research Fellow, Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi. Mr. Kabir discussed about the de-radicalisation initiatives in Bangladesh. Dr Pattanaik highlighted on the threats of radicalisation in the South Asia region and the challenges it is posing to peace. Mr. Hiranmay Karlekar, Senior Journalist and Consulting Editor of The Pioneer, Delhi, and Major General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed, Director General, Bangladesh Institute of International & Strategic Studies, Dhaka, were the discussants.

The fifth session chaired by Ambassador Leela Ponappa dealt with the theme of maritime security in the Indian Ocean and strengthening bilateral cooperation between India and Bangladesh. The two presenters were by Mr Humayun Kabir, and Dr PK Ghosh, Senior Fellow, ORF. Mr Kabir discussed in detail issues and challenges facing Bangladesh’s maritime security. Dr Ghosh gave an exposition of possible areas which India and Bangladesh undertake in strengthening maritime cooperation. Two discussants were Commodore Rajeev Sawhney, Director, International Business Development, Defence Space & Security at Boeing India and Commodore Mohammed Abdur Razzak, Director, National Security Intelligence, Bangladesh.

The free and frank discussions during the dialogue not only provided an opportunity for the participants to engage in extensive discussions but also contributed in greater understanding of one another’s concerns regarding security issues. There was an overall agreement that India-Bangladesh cooperation on security has progressed significantly. However, both the sides expressed the need for strengthening it further to maintain the growth trajectory in the relationship. There was consensus among all regarding the need for strengthening cooperation on border management and counter terrorism in order of tackle threats which are common to both the countries.

(This report is prepared by Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, Associate Fellow, ORF with inputs from Sarah Hassan, Anahita Mathai (Junior Fellows), Taruni Kumar, Research Assistant, and Pranay Ahlluwalia, Aakash Tolani and Archana Roth (Research Interns).

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.