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Sheikh Hasina’s Visit to India: Unleashing the Potentials of Connectivity

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, (Photo: IANS/PIB)

In light of recent global geopolitical commutes, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s impending visit to India will have a highly beneficial impact and usher in a new era of bilateral and regional cooperation.  It has been three years since the last visit of Premier Sheikh Hasina before the Covid 19 Pandemic in 2019. The visit is significant for both Bangladesh and India, and various agreements and MoUs are anticipated to be signed there incorporating connectivity initiatives in land, water, energy, and sub-regional forms. From strengthening political and cultural ties to fostering economically beneficial associations, ‘connectivity’ has become a buzzword in recent years. In the wake of globalization’s second wave, strengthening regional and sub-regional cooperation is widely appreciated and acknowledged at all levels. Thus, connectivity has emerged as a hallmark in Bangladesh-India bilateral relations in recent times. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, “We need to improve our connectivity. India’s North Eastern provinces – Assam and Tripura – could have access to Chattogram port if the countries’ connectivity is improved”. India and Bangladesh made bold moves to bolster communication via roads, rail, and waterways which would harness the prospects of regional connectivity. The visit is expected to provide a framework for a multimode of connectivity after the two countries resolved major disputes over land and maritime boundaries. Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram Kumar Doraiswami observes that improving trade and transport connectivity between India and Bangladesh, as well as other neighboring countries can be a game-changer not only for the two countries but for the entire region.

Why is Connectivity so Important?

Bangladesh and India have similar historical and cultural roots and a lot of common areas of cooperation which paves the way for a robust strategic partnership. Additional similarities in the bilateral relationships reflect comprehensive cooperation founded on sovereignty, along with equality, trust, and understanding much more than just a neighbor. The implementation of bilateral and sub-regional connectivity projects needs to be accelerated by Dhaka and Delhi as Bangladesh plays a significant role in India’s extensive effort to implement its Look East Policy due to its geographic location and its geographical proximity to India’s northeastern provinces. On the flip side, by boosting its exports to northeastern India and imposing tolls on the vehicles that transport Indian goods across Bangladesh’s land or waters, Bangladesh can also gain significantly. Bangladesh and India share the fifth largest land boundary and 54 joint rivers. Connectivity may offer the routes through which development impulses can be transmitted throughout the region and may increase the dynamism of economic and social advancement in India as well as its neighbors to the east and south. The purpose of the Bangladesh-India connectivity is to resurrect earlier routes that had been in use up until the 1965 India-Pakistan War. Both administrations launched numerous measures to reestablish train connections and other communication ties before 1965. Such advances in India have the prospect of heralding significant changes in its own eastern and northeastern states, including Kolkata.

The expansion of their bilateral connectivity can spill over to the sub-regional level ensuring greater good for the regional countries. India is eager to let Bangladesh use its ports, railways, and other infrastructure, especially for sale to non-Indian nations like Nepal and Bhutan. It is important to look at the greater port, energy, infrastructures, and economic interconnectivity in south Asia.

Domains of Bangladesh-India Bilateral Connectivity Cooperation

At the bilateral, regional, and international levels, Bangladesh and India share heavily prioritized multimodal connectivity plans. An obvious illustration of Bangladesh’s sustained commitment to supporting attempts to increase connectivity and economic integration in the region, notably in the Northeast of India, is the recent opening of the Feni Bridge. On March 9 of last year, Indian Premier Narendra Modi opened the “Maitri Setu” (bridge) over the Feni River to support the port’s connectivity with Chittagong, Bangladesh. Additionally, the recently opened Padma rail-road bridge in Bangladesh may improve the physical ties between the two brotherly countries.

Bangladesh and India share transport connectivity which creates a win-win situation for both countries. To convey Indian commodities to the northeast, Bangladesh has offered India transit and transshipment services. Additionally, it will probably allow the transit problem to benefit from synergies with the recently built Padma Bridge, which connects southwest Bangladesh, including the Mongla Seaport, with the rest of the nation as well as India.

The two South Asian nations enjoyed railway connectivity during the colonial period and even after the partition. Several railway connections between Bangladesh and India are currently in o operational. On December 17, 2020, the freshly rebuilt railway link between Chilahati (Bangladesh) and Haldibari (India) was officially opened by the prime ministers of these two nations. As the COVID-19 pandemic continued, both nations began utilizing side-door container and parcel trains to ensure uninterrupted supply lines. In September 2022, a much-anticipated railway connection between Agartala and Akahura will be completed.  During the upcoming visit, it is anticipated that India will probably propose increasing railway connectivity and restoring three more train services between India and Bangladesh since it views connectivity as

The bilateral connectivity also exists and can be expanded much further, for instance, in the maritime domain.  Bangladesh has expressed interest to be a part of the India-pioneered initiative – Security and Growth for all in the Region (SAGAR). In July 2020, a successful trial run of the transshipment of Indian commodities from Kolkata to Agartala via Chattogram was completed. Tripura will profit immensely from it, especially as it is in the landlocked Northeast. Both the leaders are likely to discuss the opposition Bangladesh has to the establishment of an Integrated Check Post (ICP) as well as other matters about Tripura. Prime Minister’s visit will pave the way for future connectivity as well as the scope for unresolved bilateral connectivity projects both on land, water, and regional. Thus, both countries will be able to unleash their untapped resources and opportunities in terms of bilateral cooperation and connectivity.

Prospects for Regional and Sub-Regional Connectivity

These two nations collaborated to create a wealthy and secure South Asia, placing particular emphasis on regional cooperation. They discussed collaboration and regional institutions on a bilateral basis. For instance, Bangladesh proposed the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and India helped make it happen. Additionally, Bangladesh and India collaborate closely on regional platforms such as the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) Initiative, the Indian Ocean Rim Association, and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). To strengthen and broaden regional economic cooperation, Asia must now encourage infrastructure connection inside the area. Investment in infrastructure connectivity could increase productivity and competitiveness, hasten economic recovery, and support medium- to long-term balanced, sustainable, and inclusive growth. Additionally, the connection could encourage environmental sustainability by fostering the growth of international green transportation and energy networks.

Several regional connectivity projects are expected to be materialized which need Bangladesh-India cooperation that can bring overall development to South Asia. Asian Highway Network Routes (AH 1 &2) can provide for greater trade and social interactions between Asian countries, including personal contacts, project capitalizations, connections of major container terminals with transportation points, and promotion of tourism via the new roadways. Additionally, through the execution of the Motor Vehicle Agreement between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN) and the regional hydroelectricity grid with northeastern India, Nepal, and Bhutan, Bangladesh is also keen on regional connectivity.

India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) Trilateral Agreement has possible positive implications in terms of energy development in the region where Bangladesh is aspiring to be a partner. This agreement can increase the capacity of Bangladesh in terms of time and cost and reduce energy dependency on Europe. Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM) can provide access to numerous markets in Southeast Asia, improvement of transportation infrastructure, and creation of an industrial zone. Bangladesh-India’s robust friendship and cooperation can be a key factor to make these regional initiatives happen.  

Following the Covid pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, global and local politics, the two blocs are attempting to sway nations to their respective sides in light of the growing rivalry between the West and Russia, and China. Against such a backdrop, Bangladesh and India should work together to address the existing challenges and focus on peace and stability to promote more robust friendship and cooperation. Therefore, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent visit can ameliorate the existing arena of connectivity and at the same time, unleash the area of cooperation which have profound significance both in terms of bilateral cooperation and regional solidarity.

The author, Saume Saptaparna Nath, is currently Working as a research associate at the Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs. She was a project coordinator at the "Revive Project " a joint venture of UNDP and Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship Development Center,University of Dhaka. She was also a former intern at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh. She had pursued her post -graduation and graduation degree from Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka

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South Asia

The Taliban and the current Afghanistan

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

After the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, the Afghan state and the public rapidly declined. The country’s territories have become the source of international terrorism and many global problems.

August 15 is the first anniversary since the power in Afghanistan was seized by the Kabul Taliban, and the ex-president of the Afghan state, Ashraf Ghani fled. After a year of the Taliban’s power, their power has not yet been recognized by any state in the world.

According to the UN International Labor Organization, the Taliban’s ascension to power in Afghanistan has led to rapid growth in the unemployment rate among the population. Based on the data of the UN, such a situation in the Afghan labor market was caused by the economic crisis and the prohibition on work for the female population. Over five hundred thousand people in Afghanistan lost their jobs during the first month of the Taliban rule. “The crisis has affected women the most. Thus, their employment level, already extremely low by world standards, decreased by 16% in the third quarter of last year. By mid—2022, it is projected to fall to 28%,” the UN investigation states.

In addition to the economic decline, there has been a rise in drug production in Afghanistan. Drugs are one of the Taliban’s main income zones, and their power has re-activated the production and export of opium and heroin. However, the drug business was also active under the former Afghan authorities. According to the UN, in 2021, Afghanistan’s income from drug exports amounted from 1.8 billion to 2.7 billion US dollars. This profit is from 6 to 11% of the GDP of the Afghan state. As before, the main drug export channels pass through Pakistan. The leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada, issued a fatwa in 2022 to ban the production and distribution of opium and other drug substances in Afghanistan. However, there have been no significant changes in this situation. Nevertheless, the Taliban repeatedly make statements about the cessation of drug production, but they also confirm that the prohibition on opium production will lead to the loss of the only way of earning for peasants, leading to an uprising.

Pakistan acts as the main partner country for Afghanistan. Bypassing sanctions, weapons are coming from Pakistan to Afghanistan. And the majority of Afghan drugs are exported through Pakistan’s western provinces – the southern route. The main patron and sponsor of the Taliban is also the Pakistani military leadership. With the help of Pakistani support, the radicals seized power in Afghanistan and persecuted other alternatives to power.

The Taliban’s first financial income was provided by transportation fees that the militants took from truck drivers on the border of Afghanistan and the state’s territory. The Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan concentrated its forces on extracting natural resources. In February 2022, the Afghan media reported on the negotiations of the new Afghan government with China on the development of copper and lithium by Chinese companies. But even though China, along with Pakistan, is a vital partner of the Taliban regime, mineral development has not yet begun. Without the support and diplomatic assistance of China and Pakistan, the Taliban would not have been able to establish their authority over Afghanistan. However, Beijing still has not officially recognized their power.

Also, summing up the results of the year of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, we can definitely say that the new regime fails to solve the economic and social problems of the state. According to UN research, Afghanistan is on the verge of famine and humanitarian collapse. It is worth noting that during the presence of the United States and NATO in the country, there was no such catastrophic situation. Also, during the period of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the position of terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State has strengthened. The Taliban does not intend to start the fight with the presence of these organizations.

Also, in June 2022, an earthquake with colossal consequences occurred on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The death toll during the disaster was more than 1.5 people, and more than two thousand were injured. The UN has recorded that Afghanistan’s government cannot cope with the threats that the Afghan society is forced to cope with alone.

UNICEF and the World Food Program note the catastrophic situation of Afghan children, and organizations make statements about the high level of undernutrition and that over 3.5 million children urgently need treatment. The UN website says, “Hospital wards are full of malnourished children: many one-year-olds weigh as much as a six-month-old baby would weigh in a developed country, and some are so weak that they cannot move.”

The new government of Afghanistan carries out mass executions, severe human rights violations, and forced disappearances of citizens and previous security forces employees. This is recorded by the United Nations Assistance Organization in Afghanistan. To a large extent, the repression is carried out by two Talib departments – the Ministry of Propaganda of Virtue and Prevention of Vice and the General Directorate of Intelligence. Both organizations are under the auspices of Pakistani security agencies.

UNAMA experts report “arbitrary arrests and detentions of journalists, human rights defenders and protesters.” There were 160 extrajudicial executions, 178 unjustified arrests and 56 cases of torture of former Afghan military and Government employees. In addition, 2106 victims were registered among ethnic and religious minorities (700 killed, 1406 wounded).

After a year, the Taliban authorities, according to international organizations, destroyed the essential state structures in Afghanistan responsible for solving social issues such as jobs and the state’s humanitarian condition. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission premises were also seized, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was closed. Afghan women are deprived of the right to work. Except for some professions, they are not allowed to travel more than 72 km unaccompanied by men and cannot appear on the street with an open face. Responsibility for all violations of the rules of a woman is borne by her father or another close male relative. The punishment is dismissal from work or imprisonment.

Freedom of speech was also seriously impaired. The international human rights organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reports that there are half as many media in Afghanistan as a result of the year-long run of the Taliban. During the year, 219 organizations out of 547 media were closed. Before the Taliban came to power, there were 11,857 journalists in the country. Today only 4,759 of them remain. Female journalists took the first impact. Almost all of them were left without their job.

The Taliban sees the UN’s message about human rights in Afghanistan as propaganda. On July 21, Taliban official Zabiullah Mujahid posted on social media: “There are no arbitrary killings or arrests in the country. If someone kills or arbitrarily arrests, that person is considered a criminal and will be brought before Sharia law.”

In sum, a few conclusions about the power of the Taliban must be noted. The Taliban is characterized by a lack of qualification in the country’s rule, and the leadership cannot organize public service. Also, the Taliban does not fulfil its duties to combat terrorist organizations, which has ensured the strengthening of the position of existing banned groups. The female population of Afghanistan and various social minorities suffered. The Taliban are building strong relationships with authoritarian countries such as Pakistan, China and Russia. Islamabad carries out the actual control of the Taliban and also uses the Taliban in the South Asian region for its geopolitical purposes.

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South Asia

Khalistan Referendum

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Every charter of Human Rights provides a framework for the basic individual rights. Under these civil liberties, all humans are entitled to revel in those privileges. Sikh community residing around the globe is facing heinous behavior from the India’s Modi regime as it is a home for many Sikhs. The episode of unlawful arrest of the UK-based Sikh activist named Jagtar Singh Johal in 2017 with the help of UK government ignited a huge number of protests across the world. According to his lawyers from Scotland, he has been tortured and falsely accused to whom British PM Boris John acknowledged while showing his concern. Most recently, the murder of Sidhu Moosewala who was an active supporter of Sikh rights is an example of India’s unjust activities. Provision of security was denied by BJP government before his murder. In support of Sidhu and separate homeland for Sikhs, more than 17,000 Sikhs voted for Khalistan Referendum in Rome, Italy. Similarly, UK having one of the highest ratio of Sikh diaspora, organized a campaign under the active advocates of Sikh rights “Sikhs for Justice (SFJ)” in which 30,000 British Sikhs voted for referendum on 31st October 2021. Series of Sikh referendums are lined up and SFJ declared that after completing this voting series, it will be a decision of 120,000 Sikhs showing the desire for separate land under the rule and law provided them by International Justice System.  A huge referendum is planned for the Sikhs of Punjab on 26th January 2023.

The roots of these referendum are enrooted into the event of Operation Blue Star happened in 1984. Under this operation, Indian army attached on the holiest place of Sikhs, “Golden Temple” to capture Sikhs whom Indian Army declared as terrorists and claimed that they are hiding weapons inside the temple as well. Many innocent Sikhs lost their lives. The level of brutality not only stopped at killing innocents but also disrespected the sentiments of the followers of this particular religion. A homeland that ought to be safe place for its residents became a threatening region. That’s why a huge number of Indian Sikhs migrated to other states like UK, Canada, Italy and US to seek a safe residence. The fight for the cause of Sikh’s rights is still going on, as there is a referendum on 18th September 2022, Toronto, Canada, in which high ratio of Sikh voters are expected to participate.

Massive genocide and extra-Judicial killings are the major tools of Modi regime against the Sikh community. To deal with all these unlawful activities, Sikh diaspora has organized itself into groups like “Sikhs for Justice (SFJ)” who are arranging referendum, holding protests and advocating Sikhs right at all possible platforms. Specifically for the Khalistan Referendum, Punjab Referendum Commission (PRC) has been designed to have free and fair voting for the basic demand. Through such representation, Sikhs are asking for a legal demand from India’s Modi regime. These organizational setup shows that Sikh community is well aware of its rights, and using the peaceful means to convey their message to the world. 

If India is real democracy and wants to be seen as democratic country, it should accept Sikh referendum results.  The result of referendum can always be leveraged in “Law fare domain” to ask India to hold an official referendum for the purpose.  Democracies are torch holder of freedom, human rights and their liberties. This behavior of India is not acceptable to be an example for the rest of aspiring democratic states where the Modi Regime is having genocidal designs against the specific communities. Khalistan Movement with the aspirations of a separate homeland is the legitimate demand of Sikh community. By overturning these movements and referendums, India is suppressing its minorities and violating their right to self-determination through peaceful means.

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South Asia

Why Pakistan is Swamped with Floods

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Starting mid-June 2022, flooding and landslides caused by heavy monsoon rainfall have brought widespread destruction across Pakistan. © WFP/Saiyna Bashir

Aside from the monsoon coming in waves leaving hapless Pakistan looking like an inland sea, Pakistan also has the mighty Indus serving as a spine and its huge tributaries fanning out through its most productive province of Punjab — the name itself meaning five waters.

The monsoon season is short so the fertile soil is irrigated by means of a network of canals feeding the province. The water is vital and thus the prospect of India building a dam at the head of any of these rivers without an equitable solution for sharing could lead to war.  As it is, the river Ravi runs almost dry as it reaches Lahore close to the Indian border. 

To return to the floods this year caused by an unusual phenomenon:  The normal course of the monsoon takes the moisture laden winds north from the Bay of Bengal, then unable to traverse the high Himalayas, they are pushed west along the foothills, shedding water as they rise all the way across India into Pakistan.  By the time they reach the latter, they have lost most of their moisture leaving Pakistan a very short rainy season … over the latter parts of August and early September.

Global warming has changed things.  This year the moisture laden air from the Bay of Bengal was hot enough to prevent precipitation, jamming it up against the Himalayas.  As more monsoon winds collected in the rear, these were forced on to an alternative route directly westwards, racing across the middle of India without impediment until the Hindu Kush mountains in Pakistan.  So it was that all the collected moisture got dumped on to Pakistan.  If this is a harbinger of the future under global warming, the rich croplands of Uttar Pradesh are in danger.  Do they also have irrigation canals in their future like the Punjab? 

Pakistan’s other source of moisture is the Arabian Sea, and this year a depression i.e. an intense low-pressure system settled in it bringing heavy rain to coastal provinces as early as June; all of which was exacerbated by extreme heat.  Temperatures in May soared as high as 51C in Jacobabad as an example.  Hotter air carries more moisture and this heatwave continued through April and May.  Moreover swollen rivers from greater glacial melt up high in the Himalayas have not helped. 

Pakistan thus must plan for the future.  Flood control measures are not unknown in the country, and perhaps an appropriately irrigated Balochistan could become another granary for the country — if only the politicians can stop quarreling long enough to listen to the cries of the flood victims.

Nettlesome politicians on both sides of the border, and the subcontinent sheds its tears in floods.  A tragedy if ever there was one.

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