Cover interview: Rehman Sobhan
Political opposition: The Bangladesh-India communiqué was a welcome departure, but a key challenge is the political opposition in Dhaka, which would want to extract mileage from this issue. Sheikh Hasina has given significant concessions to India on transit, and she will be asked what was received in return.
Market access: The promise of unrestricted market access to India raises expectations, for it would be a game-changer. Hitherto, restrictions such as non-tariff barriers and ‘sensitive list’ items have vitiated the realisation of full market access. A lot also depends upon how quickly transit and access are activated, and it will take at least two to three years just to build the necessary infrastructure.
Indian responsibility: Indian big business, fortunately, does not have hang-ups on allowing access to Bangladeshi goods and services. But much will depend on whether the Government of India makes its bureaucracy follow the political decisions contained in the communiqué. How responsible India will be, and how it implements the agreement, will be key. A political decision might be needed at the highest level by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Nepali prospects: In the European vocabulary, no one uses the term ‘landlocked’; Hungary and Switzerland regard all European ports as their own. The agreement would make it easier for Nepal to access the sea through Bangladesh. I would tell the Nepali decision-makers: Stop thinking of your country as landlocked, and treat Mongla as your port. With such a change of vision all over, Chittagong will be a Southasian port rather than a Bangladeshi port.
Rehman Sobhan, the prominent economist and civil-society stalwart of Dhaka, is a Southasian thinker with deep interest in the eradication of poverty.