3rd Bangladesh-India Security Dialogue , 20-21December, 2011

As a sequel to the 1st and 2nd Bangladesh-India Security Dialogues held in Dhaka and New Delhi in December 2009 and March 2010 respectively, the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) and the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) organized the 3rd Bangladesh-India Security Dialogue in Dhaka on 20-21 December 2011. This dialogue was particularly significant due to the recent visit of the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh in September 2011. The Dialogue brought together 33 distinguished participants from each country, including government officials, retired diplomats, academics, security experts, journalists and researchers. The goal of the dialogue was to address security issues between Bangladesh and India and deliberate on contentious bilateral issues which have often have acted as barriers to mutually beneficial cooperation. Following decades of mistrust and mutual suspicion, Bangladesh and India have experienced a period of vibrant bilateral relations since the Awami League-led government assumed office in January 2009. Following the visit by Prime Minster Sheikh Hasina to India in January 2010, the visit of the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh in September 2011 was looked upon as a new milestone in Bangladesh-India relations, where the acrimonious relations and disappointments of the past would be replaced by mutually beneficial bilateral relations. However, there was a great sense of disappointment, even frustration on the part of many Bangladeshis because of the failure to sign an agreement on the sharing of the waters of the Teesta River. The purpose of this dialogue was to deliberate on the current state of Bangladesh-India relations, evaluate viable mitigation on long-standing bilateral issues and discuss future security cooperation on key areas of concern including countering terrorism, maritime security and narcotics. Dr. Gowher Rizvi, the International Affairs Adviser to the Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh, was present as the Chief Guest at the inauguration session. Dr Rizvi, in his speech, stated that although the Indo-Bangladesh relationship experienced some success and progress in border demarcation, resolution of the enclave issue, adversely possessed land, access to Tin Bigha corridor and duty-free export of 98 per cent commodities in recent times, signing of the Teesta deal was stalled and this has been widely perceived as a set-back to Bangladesh –India bi-lateral relations. Reiterating the common bond between the two nations, Dr Rizvi stated that India and Bangladesh share common aspirations for secularism, pluralism and peace. In his speech, Mr. Farooq Sobhan, President of BEI mentioned that collaboration in combating terrorism can provide the bedrock of co-operation in other areas. Ambassador MK Rasgotra, President of ORF, in his address at the inauguration ceremony stated that people of both the countries should push their respective governments for open border, free trade and a common currency that would automatically resolve many discords in the bilateral and regional relationship. During the Dialogue, 5 papers on security and bilateral concerns were presented, of which 2 were from the BEI team and 3 from ORF. Mr. Humayun Kabir, Senior Research Director of BEI presented a paper on “The Menace of Narcotics in Bangladesh ” which portrayed the national and regional security threats perpetrated by the use of narcotics. Mr. Faiz Sobhan, Research Director of BEI presented a paper on Indo-Bangladesh Relations, with particular focus on the political repercussions of the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Dhaka. Since co-operation on countering terrorism is crucial to the national security interest of both Bangladesh and India, this subject was given particular importance. Representing the Indian delegation, two members of ORF, Mr. John Wilson, Senior Fellow and Vice President, and Dr. Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, Associate Fellow, presented a paper on “Building a Regional Counter-Terrorism Strategy in South Asia” while Mr. Shahab Enam Khan, Research Director at BEI, presented a paper on the same topic. Dr P K Ghosh, Senior Fellow, ORF, presented a paper on maritime security and the importance of cooperation in mitigating maritime security threats. Overall the Dialogue was successful in creating a platform on which various bilateral contentious issues and security concerns of both nations was deliberated, with active participation by key stakeholders from both countries. The Dialogue ended on a positive note with the consensus that Bangladesh and India have made great progress in their bilateral relation over the past few years and greater initiatives are required to effectively utilize this momentum to mitigate long-standing bilateral issues.