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How does Bangladesh’s socio-political situation affect India?

Question submitted by Chaitali Phadke, January 27, 2014

Answered by: Alyssa Ayres, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia


Bangladesh is a critically important neighbor for India, and one with great impact on India—both positive and potentially negative. On the positive side, Bangladesh is a country of approximately 160 million people making great progress on human development, with an economy consistently growing between five and six percent, and with ambitions to reach lower-middle income levels by 2021.

It is India's largest trading partner in the region, the geographic gateway for land connectivity with Southeast Asia, and a bridge to India's northeast. Bangladesh's brand of moderate Islam and the country's highly successful, empowered women have been notable in the region.

On the flip side, the recent violence in Bangladesh surrounding the national elections—with sustained days of strikes, attacks on buses and trains, and transportation blockades called by the opposition BNP and their ally the Jama'at-e-Islami—has aroused concerns in India. Also worrisome for New Delhi: during 2013, a new radical Islamist force with an avowed "anti-secular" agenda—the Hefazat-e-Islam coalition—seemed to strengthen.

Should radical elements gain ground in Bangladesh, the potential threat of terrorism emanating from Bangladeshi terrority could be a great concern, along with attacks on the Hindu minority in Bangladesh, and the lost opportunities for increasing trade and connectivity.

Despite India's support for Bangladeshi independence in 1971, the two countries have had a complex and at times difficult relationship. Both Delhi and Dhaka, under Sheikh Hasina's Awami League government, sought to overcome longstanding distrust in recent years, with reciprocal state visits in 2011 and 2012, and the negotiation of some important agreements to advance trade and commercial ties, resolve long-standing border disputes, and facilitate river water sharing and land connectivity across Bangladesh. The border and river sharing agreements still face obstacles in India but relations are at present the best they have been in years, with robust economic ties, and strong counter-terrorism cooperation underway.