Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s foreign policy adviser speaks on the upcoming election, the China factor and the unresolved river-sharing issue Gowher Rizvi, foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, discusses a plethora of issues, including those connecting Bangladesh and India, days before the country’ general election on December 30. Excerpts: Bangladesh-India relationship has taken a giant leap forward. But many issues remain unresolved and it is often argued in Bangladesh that India has not done enough. Close and cooperative relations between the countries are not just a choice but also an imperative.
This unique relationship cannot be defined or measured in a language of profit and loss. In the last decade, the relationship has reached new heights — virtually almost all outstanding issues have been amicably settled, including demarcation of boundaries, resolution of adverse territorial possessions; cross-border purchase of electricity; and untied line of credit amounting to nearly $8 billion. Buses are running from Shillong and Guwahati to Kolkata via Dhaka; direct passenger and goods trains have started to operate again; and waterways are being renovated to enable commerce through riverine routes. Connectivity is fostering sub-regional cooperation and bringing benefits to India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. There are unresolved issues like Teesta. The Teesta water agreement has not yet been signed.
But it is important to understand that an agreement on water sharing has been arrived at; and as far as we are concerned, there is no question of re-negotiating the agreement. It could not be signed because of India’s domestic reasons. However, we have been repeatedly assured by the Indian Prime Minister that the treaty will be signed soon. Regarding elections, Awami League has done a lot of developmental work, but still it seems that the party is under huge pressure.
Why? Elections in Bangladesh are hugely competitive; and it would be surprising if the government did not face a strong opposition. Elections in the subcontinent are noisy and it is good that people can do this. It indicates that there is a democratic space. It is wrong to think that the Awami League promoted development at the expense of democracy. The Awami League is committed to liberal democracy, a secular society, and social justice. Will the election will be free and fair? Free and fair elections depend on political and constitutional institutions, and they take time to mature. Sadly, we have been under military regime for long periods which has emaciated our political institutions. Until the institutions are rebuilt, there will be lack of confidence. It takes time for the institutions like the Election Commission to mature.
In India, for example, T.N. Seshan played a significant role to give the EC a global stature. We aspire to achieve the same objective. Jamaat contesting together with Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) seems to be a matter of great concern for Awami League and in India. Jamaat is an integral part of BNP. The two are one and the same. When the Opposition coalition, the Jatiyo Oikya Front, was formed, its chief Kamal Hossain promised that Jamaat will be excluded. But Jamaat members are still contesting.