Can Bangladesh-India work together in light of Indo-Pacific Strategy? By Sufian Siddique

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Pakistan has been absent from India’s foreign policy for a long time. As the waters of the Indian Ocean have begun to rise in China’s global dominance over the past decade, the country has been eyeing the eastern shores of the Bay of Bengal from the west. Since Bangladesh has a stable government and a rapidly growing economy, Bangladesh has become an important country in India’s neighborhood policy. Due to the common history and cultural heritage of the two countries, relations between India and Bangladesh have been normal and significant progress has been made in several areas including bilateral trade. At the same time Indian investment in the country has also increased.

Ratnadeep Chakraborty and Ekampreet Kaur: the authors are associated with The Honest Critic, a strategic communications firm; they opined in Asia Times that Bangladesh is foremost in getting line of credit or flexible loan from India. India’s exports to Bangladesh in 2022 were US$ 13.83 billion and imports were US$ 2 billion. Currently, cooperation between the two countries has increased in the fields of energy, communication, science and technology. Bangladesh is importing 1,160 MW of electricity from India. As per the 2017 agreement with the Adani Group, India will supply 1,496 MW of electricity from a coal-fired power plant in Jharkhand for a period of 25 years. Bangladesh has also expressed interest in buying military equipment from India, including Tejas light combat aircraft and Dhruva light helicopters, along with protective gear including bulletproof jackets and helmets. 

The Bangladesh government has recently outlined an  Indo-Pacific Strategy with a 15-point outlook policy document. The foreign ministry published the country's guidelines and objectives for the region at a press conference ahead of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s key visit to Japan, the US and the UK. 

The deep-sea port at Matarbari in Bangladesh is seen to be of great strategic importance to Japan and India. The geopolitical importance of Bangladesh’s first deep-sea port was evident during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to India last March as the port has emerged as an important plank of Tokyo's Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) agenda. 

In the same month, the Japan International Cooperation Agency agreed to give a new loan of 165 billion yen (1.2 billion) to Bangladesh for development of its strategic infrastructure. During his visit to New Delhi, Kishida said that Tokyo wants the development of the region from the Bay of Bengal to Northeast India with the cooperation of both Bangladesh and India in South Asia. 

Embracing the Indo Pacific Strategy

Bangladesh is moving closer to an embrace of the Indo-Pacific Strategy pursued by the US and its Quad partners in the region, which revolves. This move comes as the US and a few key allies have signalled that Bangladesh should be a part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Bangladesh essentially aims to balance relations with rival states. Analysts say that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina does not keep all eggs in one basket. Thus, she wants to maintain diplomatic, economic and strategic partnerships, albeit “unequally”, with the United States, Russia, China, European Union, Arabs and of course India.

The current governments in Bangladesh and India are very close, and New Delhi was likely to have encouraged Dhaka to embrace the strategy. India-Bangladesh relations would reach a new level. Bangladesh could gain trust from the Indian government because India is an active member of the Indo-Pacific alliance. Bangladesh, on the other hand, can handle the Chinese predicament intelligently because its goal is to engage structurally rather than militarily.  Bangladesh essentially sets an example for the other littoral nations by outlining its Indo-Pacific orientation. Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina government has recently set an outlook for peace in the Indo-Pacific through dialogue and understanding. .

The outlook has four guiding principles and 15 objectives. Four principles are mentioned in the outline. The first of these is ‘friendship with all, enmity with none’. The principles emphasize constructive regional and international cooperation for sustainable development, international peace and security, humanitarian action and upholding fundamental rights and freedoms.

It has 15 objectives. One of them is to maintain mutual trust and respect with a view to maintaining peace, prosperity, security and stability for all in the Indo-Pacific region. Expanding areas of partnership and cooperation and emphasizing dialogue and understanding. To contribute meaningfully and of international value to international disarmament, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and counter-terrorism activities in collaboration with relevant partners in the Indo-Pacific region.

Bangladesh has to clarify its position on the Indo-Pacific so that no one can misunderstand or mislead. As a result, Bangladesh has moved to a better position.           Then, India clearly knew Bangladesh’s position on the Indo-Pacific. The country’s relationship with Bangladesh will move forward based on this position.

In South Asia, Bangladesh is an important ally of India. The two nations work closely together on problems like climate change, counterterrorism, and regional security. This visit may serve to cement bilateral defense ties. 

Historically Bangladesh’s foreign policy is based on joint cooperative policy; The country wants to avoid geopolitical tension. The foreign policy of Bangladesh is ‘friendship with all, enmity with none’. On April 24 this year, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen announced the Indo-Pacific outline of Bangladesh. There, he declared a ‘free, free, peaceful, safe and secure Indo-Pacific’ region in the light of the country’s foreign policy. This is in line with Bangladesh’s ‘Vision 2041’ goal of becoming a knowledge-based developed country by 2041. 

India’s vision on this matter is in harmony with the Indo-Pacific outline of Bangladesh. India stands for a free and orderly Indo-Pacific. Although India claims to be neutral; It has western influence. The West has been trying to integrate Bangladesh into the Indo-Pacific strategy and has come a long way in this regard by becoming an important trade and investment partner. 

Bangladesh’s strategic location serves as a gateway to both South and Southeast Asia. Friendly relations with members of the Quad alliance make Bangladesh an ideal partner for the West and India to engage in their Indo-Pacific vision. From India’s side, maintaining the country’s security and ensuring easy access to the critical North-East region and direct access to the Bay of Bengal can only be possible by involving Bangladesh. Along with this, Bangladesh is also important for strengthening India’s ‘Act East’ policy and controlling China’s military rise in the region. New Delhi is aware of this and is actively engaging Bangladesh through SAARC and BIMSTEC. 

Since the G20 summit will be held in India this year, only Bangladesh has been invited from South Asia in line with the tradition of inviting non-member countries as well. Through this, India is giving considerable importance to Bangladesh in its eastern neighbor and Indo-Pacific vision. Beyond India-Bangladesh normal trade relations, India is keen to work with Bangladesh on climate change. After Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Delhi last year, there was also a discussion on cooperation in changing energy sources. Apart from this, the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement-SEPA is going to be signed to further accelerate economic cooperation in various sectors including trade, services, investment between the two countries. 

As the influence of the US dollar declines, both Bangladesh and India have started trading in the Indian rupee as an alternative to reduce their reliance on the dollar for trade and financial transactions. However, the SEPA deal will also open up opportunities for joint production centers and seamless supply chains. Converting this issue of regional connectivity into a business case will increase growth. 

Bangladesh’s interest in maintaining good relations between the Bangladesh-India governments and participating in India’s Indo-Pacific strategy is important. For that, New Delhi will have to go the extra mile to incentivize Indian investment in Bangladesh to realize its own Indo-Pacific.

 

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