Dhaka opposition warns against transit deal with India


Dhaka : As Bangladesh prepares to ink a deal Feb 9 to allow transit of Indian goods through its territory, its main opposition has warned that “a blank cheque” to New Delhi would be “suicidal” for Dhaka.

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Seizing the first major issue to fight the government after its poll debacle five weeks ago, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by two-term prime minister Khaleda Zia Friday said it preferred, for the greater interest of the country, multilateral regional transit facilities rather than giving “corridor to India in the name of transit for passage of goods”.

Shiekh Hasina’s government, which is set to sign the trade and transit treaty, retaining all the clauses of a 2006 deal that was signed by Zia’s government, has said it would do nothing that jeopardises Dhaka’s interests.

“We are against the signing of a deal allowing India a corridor in the guise of transit,” BNP secretary general Khandaker Delwar Hossain was quoted assaying by New Age newspaper.

“Signing an agreement that will give India a blank cheque for transit through our territory will be suicidal for us. Above all, the proposed transit treaty will jeopardise our sovereignty, national security and economic backbone. It will also invite many socio-political problems,” Hossain said.

“Instead, Bangladesh can weigh the idea of a multinational regional transit network covering all South Asian countries and China, Myanmar, Iran and Central Asia. It will benefit the economies of all (regional) countries.

“A regional network would help Bangladesh enhance its trade, commerce, investment and international communications by safeguarding its national interest in the changing global scenario,” he added.

Hossain said the Indian side was insisting that transit was “a commercial, not a political issue”, and that the current trade gap would be reduced and Bangladesh would earn huge revenue if corridor was given to them.

“But the reality is that our weak communication infrastructure cannot sustain the Indian heavy vehicles. Besides, we cannot make large investment in the development of infrastructure or bear the maintenance cost,” he argued.

However, BNP vice president M.K. Anwar has said the party was not opposed to the deal per se.

Anwar had told told reporters Thursday that only Bangladeshi vehicles should be allowed to transport Indian goods to the Indian points in the northeastern region.

Anwar saw this as a means of reducing Bangladeshi trade deficit but Hossain feared that the trade deficit would actually widen further “as Bangladesh will lose India, especially its north-eastern states, as a market”.

Hossain further argued that rebel groups in the northeast Indian states may target highways and railway tracks in Bangladesh territories, to be used by Indian goods carriages transporting arms and ammunition to contain insurgencies in the states concerned.