India and Bangladesh sign border deal

India and Bangladesh signed a raft of agreements on Tuesday during a visit to Dhaka by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, including one to resolve long-running border disputes.The South Asian neighbours concluded a land boundary agreement to demarcate their 4,000 kilometre (2,500 mile) shared border and sort out 162 “enclaves” — small pockets of one country’s territory surrounded by the other.”Both of our countries have now demarcated the entire land boundary and have resolved the status of enclaves,” Singh said at a ceremony with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the Bangladeshi capital.

Relations between the two nations have been marked by decades of mutual mistrust and low-level border clashes that have prevented the development of substantive trade and political ties.More than 50,000 people live in the enclaves, cut off from their respective governments and without access to many basic services.The enclaves date back to ownership arrangements made centuries ago between local princes, and they survived the partition of the sub-continent in 1947 after British rule and Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence with Pakistan.Hasina said the deal was a “historic understanding” which would resolve the countries’ lingering border issues.

“For neighbours, borders cannot have walls, but windows for collaboration and exchange. This is why relations with our neighbours require special focus,” she said.Singh’s two-day visit comes after an embarrassing slip-up in June, when remarks he made claiming that many Bangladeshis were “very anti-Indian” were posted on his official website before being swiftly removed with the explanation that they were “off the record”.Nevertheless ties have improved since the traditionally pro-Indian Awami League party, led by Hasina, swept to power in Bangladesh’s 2009 polls.Last year India gave Bangladesh a billion-dollar soft loan, the biggest credit package New Delhi has ever earmarked for any nation.

In a bid to address the two countries’ large trade imbalance, Hasina and Singh said India had agreed to grant duty-free access to 46 Bangladeshi products, mainly textiles.But the countries failed to agree on a key deal to share water from the Teesta river, after opposition from the chief minister of India’s West Bengal — the largest Indian state bordering Bangladesh.Mamata Banerjee pulled out of Singh’s delegation to Dhaka, saying the proposed new treaty conceded too much.”

We have decided to continue discussions to reach a mutually acceptable, amicable and fair agreement on the sharing of the… river water,” Singh said at the ceremony in Dhaka.Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, won independence in 1971 with Indian military help, but relations have been patchy ever since.India is currently seeking to improve ties with its close neighbours, partly in a bid to counter the growing regional influence of China, which is Bangladesh’s largest trade partner. – Yahoonews