As tension rises at the Kashmir border that India shares with Pakistan, Dhaka has said it will support Delhi if war breaks out between the two South Asian nations.
Earlier, Bangladesh followed Afghanistan and Bhutan in boycotting the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit that was scheduled to be held in Islamabad next month. Sri Lanka, Maldives and Nepal followed suit leading to the total isolation of Pakistan among SAARC nations.
International experts in Bangladesh feel Dhaka’s support of New Delhi is a reflection of the “mutual understanding” between the two nations over the past eight years. Both nations are facing terrorist attacks and their resolve to jointly fight this menace is boosting their already strong bilateral ties.
While talking to local media at his office in Dhaka on October 4, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said Bangladesh will “stand by India if it comes under attack” by Pakistan, stemming from the recent conflict between the two nations over Kashmir.
“We have no borderline with Pakistan and their area is 1,200 miles away from us. So their roar has no effect on us. We already defeated them and sent them back in 1971, so we do not want to think about them now,” Khan said, when he was asked about the preparations taken by the government.
A day earlier, India’s external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said India and Bangladesh have become model neighbors and that their premiers share “a very good chemistry.”
Swarup was talking to a group of Bangladeshi journalists who were visiting Delhi at the invitation of the Ministry of External Affairs of the country.
He also mentioned that Delhi is looking forward to welcoming Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during the upcoming BRICS summit to be held in Goa from October 15.
All leaders of the seven-member BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) regional grouping have been invited to the summit that connects South Asia with Southeast Asia.
Swarup said: “We have one of the strongest partnerships with Bangladesh … The two prime ministers have met a number of times. They share a very good chemistry.”
Earlier, immediately after the terror attack at Uri army base in Kashmir that claimed the lives of at least 18 Indian soldiers, Hasina told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that Bangladesh “firmly stands beside India at this difficult hour.”
The Uri attack followed months of unrest that began in Kashmir after the death of Burhan Wani, a commander of the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen.
The ensuing unrest led to the deaths of 68 civilians and two security officials while around 9,000 people were reportedly injured over 50 days of violence.
On September 29, India carried out “surgical strikes” against suspected militants along the de-facto border with Pakistan in Kashmir. Rejecting the surgical attacks, Pakistani defense minister also threatened to launch nuclear attacks against India.
Commenting on the home minister’s statement backing India, international relations expert Dr. Delwar Hossain said this is “most likely a personal statement” and not Bangladesh’s national stance.
The professor, who was chairman of the department of international relations of Dhaka University, told Asia Times: “The two neighboring nations’ mutual understanding is at an all-time high. We can see India promoting Bangladesh in international forums.
“Also, India is mulling over providing transport to Bangladesh while the latter is also hoping to have some of the long-standing commitments like Teesta river water sharing and border killings addressed by India,” he said.
Hossain said the BIMSTEC can be beneficial to both countries in international trade and economic growth.
“Also, regionally, Pakistan was criticizing Bangladesh’s war crimes trial. Although India did not essentially comment on the trials till recently, they are also facing similar interventions from Pakistan right now, in the form of the recent Kashmir conflict. This is another common ground for Dhaka and Delhi.”
Indian has also hailed Dhaka’s success in foiling attacks by extremists.
Dr. Md. Tanzimuddin Khan, associate professor, department of international relations of Dhaka University, felt the current bilateral strength of Bangladesh and India has been possible through the convergence of “national and regional interests.”
“India has been on guard ever since the 10 truck arms haul smuggling incident in 2004,” said Khan.
On April 2, 2004, police seized 10 trucks full of weapons and ammunition on the state-owned Chittagong Urea Fertilizer Ltd jetty in Chittagong. Around 1,500 wooden boxes containing arms and ammunition were being offloaded when police seized the cache.
It was later revealed that the arms were smuggled through Bangladesh into India to reach the northeast separatists, the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA).
The incident caused uproar. Eventually, a Bangladeshi court sentenced 14 people to death for their involvement in the smuggling case. The 14 accused included recently executed Jamaat-e-Islami chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, former BNP state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar and ULFA’s military wing chief Paresh Barua among others.
“That incident drove Delhi to look for trustworthy regimes in Bangladesh,” Khan said.
He noted that the present ruling party has had a very good history with India since Bangladesh’s liberation war in 1971.
“At the national level, the grenade attack on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on August 21, 2004 was another incident” that raised the trust between the present ruling party and Delhi, he said.
At the regional level, “US, being a declining hegemon, is seemingly handing over their power to the dominant force in this region at the moment, which is India. This is US policy at the moment in a bid to contain China,” he said.
Besides these factors, the “fight against religious extremism” has brought Bangladesh and India together, he said.
But will the strong ties between Bangladesh and India affect Dhaka’s bond with its longtime partner China?
Hossain said: “I believe not as China has a very pragmatic perspective about Asia. The Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to visit Bangladesh around end of this year. The visit does bode well for better trade and development for Bangladesh, with the country.”
Also, he said, “China has recently changed its stance on Kashmir.”
Khan agreed with Hossain. “China is globally inward looking. Unlike the US, they prioritize economic interests over political motives.”