Joint Collaboration

The East Asia Study Center (EASC) completed a study on Bangladesh-India Relations and Regionalism in South Asia: A Perspective from Political Elites in Bangladesh in collaboration with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), New Delhi. The study was conducted for the period of 6 months from July to December 2013. Dr. Delwar hossain was the Project Director. The research project has three components of the study – (1) workshop, (2) literature review, and (3) field survey. Overall, the study was based on both archival research and primary information through conducting a survey with a sample of political elites in Bangladesh. The respondents in the survey constituted from all major political parties in the country as well as various professional groups. The output of the study was published as a project report. The study is a collaborative effort of a group of scholars from academic institutions. The study also involved a group of young researchers selected from academic and research organizations.

The critical aspect of the study is empirical findings based on field survey about perspective of political elites in Bangladesh on bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India and regionalism in South Asia. Some observations are pertinent. First, as far as Bangladesh foreign policy is concerned, the decision making process is dominated by political elites from the office of the Prime Minister and ruling party leadership. Ironically, political elites belonging to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have marginal role. Political elites also think that domestic inputs such as public opinion, interest groups, business community have limited role as drivers behind foreign policy making. It demonstrates that the process is centralized and governmentalized with minimum space for diverse actors and interests. Second, on a specific case like Bangladesh-India relations political elites show a positive view about overall bilateral ties. They are supportive to the idea that current state of Bangladesh-India relations is warm and friendly. Contrary to popular view, political elites are not wary of the rise of India as they do not perceive it a threat to national interests of Bangladesh. This is very significant in view of the fact that both the countries have long standing unresolved conflicts on water and border. Third, the survey clearly reflects that political elites think that water and border disputes are the vital issues affecting Bangladesh-India relations. Interestingly, the survey also demonstrates that political elites are quite concerned about the rise of communalism on the both sides of the border.

As far as regionalism in South Asia concerned, political elites in Bangladesh have demonstrated strong support for regional cooperation. It resembles Bangladesh’s pioneering and historic role in building regional cooperation in South Asia since the early 1980s. Ninety six percent of respondents have expressed their full support to emphasize regionalism in foreign policy of Bangladesh. The respondents have shown their firm support for the SAARC process to maintain regional peace and stability. BIMSTEC as relatively a new process has received support, but the respondents are confused about its positive outcomes as far as Bangladesh is concerned. Political elites also think that there can be new initiatives for strengthening regional cooperation in South Asia signifying a pro-active role of Bangladesh. It has also been revealed that political elites in Bangladesh have overwhelming support for sub-regional cooperation process. The main barriers to improve regional cooperation in South Asia include lack of proactive role of India as the pivotal power, India-Pakistan relations, trust deficit, lack of leadership, historical animosities, weaknesses in the SAARC charter and asymmetric relations. Finally, it may be mentioned that political elites in Bangladesh are equally focused on bilateral and multilateral cooperation processes. In this context, Bangladesh-India relations and regionalism in South Asia demand increasing attention in the foreign policy formulation process of Bangladesh.