Bangladesh’s Struggle for Water: Diplomacy on the Dock


It is apparently quite clear now that traditional diplomacy of Bangladesh for now has failed to ensure that India inks a deal allowing Bangladesh its right to share water of common rivers, mainly Teesta now on top of the agenda. Dhaka has been trying hard while there was apparent goodwill on the other side of the border, which later turned out to be shifting.

How far a Bangladeshi or Indian citizen thinks if the entire gamut of Indo-Bangla relations hinges on signing of Teesta river water sharing by the two neighbouring states? There has been huge public outcry over the issue in Bangladesh side while media bashing the Indian government for turning down Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the issue added a fresh impetus when visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took on the issue from a serious global agenda.

After her visit to Dhaka, Clinton in Kolkata spoke of her interest on Teesta issue. According to Indian media (Hindustan Times), Clinton said the US had no interest in how the water-sharing pact was arrived at. But she said US wanted the issue to be amicably resolved as “these will become hot issues, literally hot issues in the future.”

However, Clinton could feel the pulse, quite right.

“Water is an issue that will increasingly become contentious… The alternative will be perhaps a conflict, which will lead to dislocation, refugee problems and destabilisation that we are seeing in places in North Africa. We have to work together,” she was quoted in the Hindustan Times report.

West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee might have different agenda in dealing with the Central Government of India.  However, what she has missed by now is that the Bangladeshi media which had once given her respectable impression to their public now turning their back. But I don’t think they need to demonise Mamata at all as she has already been omitted from the people’s mind here. One does not need to see any proof but letters to the editors of The Daily Star and the Prothom Alo newspapers will justify such notion.

For America, the issue is China-centred. With the Myanmar opening up gradually and giving an impression of democratic wings, the US sees a golden opportunity in connecting the South Asia with South East Asia bypassing China. The bargaining chip for Bangladesh is reportedly a transit agreement and as long as Teesta deal is not signed, the transit issue will remain pending as per newspaper reports. The question is also there what Bangladesh had received in exchange for eliminating anti-Indian elements working from inside Bangladesh territory once, which was a major headache for New Delhi for years.

Now, during her latest visit to New Delhi, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni has become more open which I did not see her in the last three years. In an interview with Time of India newspaper, she said India-Bangladesh relations “will take a huge hit” if India cannot deliver on the Teesta agreement. She was visiting India for the first joint consultative committee meeting with foreign minister SM Krishna.

“On Teesta there is a huge expectation in Bangladesh. I think if India cannot deliver on that expectation, our relations will take a huge hit. I’m not sure our relationship can afford it. I believe people’s representatives understand this. They will do what is right,” Moni’s remarks explains everything as she indicated what might be the aftermath.

In his joint press interaction, Krishna said, “We are trying to develop a political consensus in India. It is important that the views of all those who are dependent on the waters are taken into account and the burden is shared fairly and equitably. Meanwhile, there is no change in the ground situation. The waters are flowing, and in the last technical level meeting held in Kolkata in February this year, both sides exchanged data at Dalia in Bangladesh and Gazaldoba in India.”

Although Moni expressed her satisfaction over the trajectory of the bilateral relationship and said “Lot of things are moving ahead. From our point of view, our trade has nearly trebled in the last three ears. We’re very happy. We will see more investments from India,” a day later Indian government officials told BBC that the Teesta deal is uncertain. And that is what the Indian government told Moni during her visit which had instigated Moni to be open in her ToI interview.

Now it is Bangladesh which has to do what it should have started long ago. Apart from traditional diplomacy, they should have transmitted the feelings of its public to those on the other side of the border. The sky is locked for Dhaka as no Bangladeshi channels are broadcasted by Indian cable operators. This is another important issue which Dhaka so far failed to do. Most Indian newspapers were supportive for Bangladesh’s cause on Teesta. That’s a positive side. What about engaging with West Bengal’s public? What about the old friends of the previous government along with a proper carrot for Mamata?

(Photo credit: The Hindu)


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Neha Writes
    May 13, 2012 @ 15:38:06

    Hey Farid,
    The water sharing issue is a tricky one. The Central government in India the West bengal state government need to work together on this one. As you said, we never get to hear the Bangaldeshi side of the story. No one really talks about the Teesta issue in the mainstream so much.


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