The heavens have given Bangladesh the victory of the right party, which Bangladesh needed, at this particular juncture.
The story of the previous occasion when the Awami League were given a chance in 1996, after 21 years absence from power was both good and bad. More specifically it started off good for about 2 years, and then it went down hill after that, for the rest of the 3 years, when the two begums locked horns, and entered into parochial personalized petty party politics (Chota Lauk ganda Rajniti), that misdirected the focus of the Awami League away from dealing with substantive national issues, but instead dealt with personalized issues along with the usual allegations of gross corruption (Mainly related to relatives of Sheikh Hasina's, and her ministers making money on the side etc)
I am not expecting miracles from the Awami league, they after all are a staple stock of Bangladeshi politics, but clearly judging by their victory of 229 seats out of 300, under transparent fair post military elections, the people of Bangladesh are hoping for a miracle of governance from them.
One hopes the Awami League don't waste this extraordinary national mandate.
So what is their program going to be, in government?
I am making some basic suggestions first with external relations, then internal later.
India is the big elephant in the room, and for better or worse Bangladesh must learn to live with the country in a constructive manner that benefits both countries. There are after all 20 million "Bangladeshis" living in India in Assam and West Bengal, and one imagines that number will rise as the years progress, and Bangladesh fails to control its population growth.
- The first and most important requirement is open and free trade between the two neighbors. That means a complete and full FTA with India, which leaves nothing protected from each other. Free trade is the great solidifier of good neighborly relations. I understand within the context of SAARC, there are certain FTA initiatives on going, but that is too slow and incremental. So I urge a signing of an India/Bangladesh FTA, which comes into effect immediately in 2009. This will boost Bangladesh's economy, and possibly legalize the illicit trade of over $3-4 billion between the two countries which is not registered, due to the high tariff and bureaucratic barriers that exist in both nations, but especially in India. Also an FTA will help balance the imbalance of trade between India and Bangladesh, as Bangladeshi businessmen venture into the country for joint projects with Indian firms. FTA's or the like is the normal way of doing business in an increasing number of countries around the world, both rich and poor, both between nations which are neighbors and between nations who are far apart geographically. Besides being an economic agreement between two nations, FTA's also serve as a political statement of solidarity and friendship between two nations, and India and Bangladesh unequivocally should enter into such an agreement immediately. It is long overdue.
- Liberalization and streamlining of customs procedures on the land borders for business specifically. The expansion of facilities of customs for business in a greater number of border posts, and not just the four border posts which currently are empowered to deal with all commodity imports from India.
- Allied to the above we require better road and rail linkages between the two countries, which mainly India pays for financed from the massive $300 billion FCR of India, and Bangladesh also chips in on her side of the border--modern highways between the two nations, and modern freight rail links, commodity depos/warehouses, ports etc; the whole works.
- The streamlining of visas between the two countries--visa waivers for businessmen from both countries.
- The sale of natural gas from Bangladesh to India--$4--5 billions worth annually.
- Bangladesh should be able to construct a barrier on her side of the Ganges river to control the water flow, rather than rely on India to control the valve and water flow.
- The construction of a canal that takes excess water from the Jamuna river into India, AND the supply of water into the Western part of Bangladesh where water levels run short during the non-monsoon season. Joint Indo-Bangladesh canal project.
- Bangladesh can borrow money from India to finance such projects mentioned above and other developmental projects, rather than wait for and rely on the IMF or World Bank. In such a scenario both parties will ensure there is no mismanagement of their funds into the wrong channels which has traditionally been the case with big projects in the past.
These above things need to be done immediately with haste rather than later, when inertia sets in.
- Bangladesh should seek closer military ties with India. What does that mean practically? The signing of a security pact between the two nations. If India goes to war Bangladesh will commit her forces to help and defend India, and vice versa---such a pact irons out security and strategic ambiguities between the two neighbors that might exist, or might be perceived to exist between them. This single act alone moves the relationship of the two countries forward at several levels in different spheres.
- The undertaking of regular joint military exercises between the armed forces of India and Bangladesh: The army, navy and airforce, paramilitary, military intelligence.
- Agreements signed where Bangladesh sends a greater percentage of her cadets for training in India from the army, airforce and navy.
- Foreign military presence in Bangladesh should cease.
- Bangladesh should try and develop her military systems along India's lines, and should accept regular military aid from India.
- There should be regular bi-yearly meetings between the top military brass of Bangladesh and India, after the security pact has been signed by the two countries consecutively in both countries.
- There should be regular bi-yearly meetings between the top intelligence officers of Bangladesh and India (RAW/DGFI), after the security pact has been signed by the two countries consecutively in both countries.
- There should be regular bi-yearly meetings between the top police officers of Bangladesh and India, after the security pact has been signed by the two countries consecutively in both countries.
With internal Bangladesh national policies, oh God where does one start? Ask me later, its new years eve.
Suffice to say a historic opportunity has arrived for both nations, and it should not be wasted, and India should be magnanimous, generous and open minded with Bangladesh, rather than being dictatorial with the perspective that the Awami league as its regional appendage.