South Asia

Indian PM Singh ends Bangladesh trip without key deals

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, right, escorts Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after receiving him at the airport in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011.
Image caption The two leaders say they made progress on the water issue

Indian PM Manmohan Singh has concluded a historic visit to Bangladesh by signing a series of protocols but without agreement on two major issues.

The two countries failed to sign an accord on sharing river water after objections from the chief minister of the Indian state of West Bengal.

There was also no deal granting India overland access across Bangladesh to its land-locked north-eastern states.

But there was good news for tens of thousands of "stateless border people".

The two countries agreed "to put in motion" a deal that allows about 50 Bangladeshi enclaves inside India to be integrated within Bangladesh and about 100 Indian areas inside Bangladesh to become part of India.

Officials say that under the terms of a protocol between the two leaders - the details of which will be worked out at a later date - residents of these areas will have the right to decide whether they want to become Indians or Bangladeshis.

BBC Bengali editor Sabir Mustafa says that the failure to reach agreement over sharing water from the Teesta river is a big setback for Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina, who has staked much of her personal reputation on securing a deal.

It has also taken some of the gloss off the first visit to Bangladesh by an Indian prime minister for 12 years.

All the two sides could agree on this issue was a commitment to revisit it at a later date.

Prime Minister Singh told reporters after the talks that "substantial progress has been made on sharing water of common rivers". He said further discussion was needed.

It is widely thought that the deal fell through because of last-minute objections to it from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who was reported to believe that India was in danger of supplying too much water to Bangladesh.

Bangladesh expressed its "frustration and dissatisfaction" over Ms Banerjee's "sudden u-turn", which it said had kept the two countries from signing two very crucial deals.

Correspondents say that the failure to implement the water-sharing deal probably led to them also not agreeing on an Indian overland transit route through Bangladesh because Dhaka has long argued that the one is dependent on the other.

They say it will come as a big disappointment to Delhi which is eager to have better transport links with its north-eastern states.

The two sides did, however, agree to extend trading ties, with Delhi granting Dhaka tax concessions on textile imports it receives from Bangladesh.

Ties between the two countries have been strained in recent years following a series of border clashes and Indian concerns that Islamist militants have been using Bangladesh as a base.

On Tuesday the leaders agreed

  • a comprehensive framework agreement on "bilateral co-operation"
  • a memorandum of understanding on renewable energy
  • to conserve the Sundarban mangrove forests, home of the Royal Bengal tigers
  • an addendum to facilitate overland transit to Nepal from Bangladesh

Correspondents say Mr Singh's two-day visit was partly aimed at countering growing Chinese influence in the region.

The prime minister was returning a visit to Delhi by his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina in January last year.

On Sunday, Bangladesh's Foreign Minister Dipu Moni described the visit as historic, saying it would "pave the way for a prosperous future for the whole region".

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