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India and Bangladesh: calculus of territorial dispute settlement February 8, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, Guest authors, India , comments closed

Guest author: Sourabh Gupta, Samuels International

This article was first posted in East Asia Forum on 10 October 2011.

On 7 September 2011 in Dacca, the prime ministers of India and Bangladesh signed a landmark protocol to their 1974 Land Boundary Agreement, providing for final settlement of their long-pending boundary issues.

Given that instances of territorial dispute settlement in this sovereignty-conscious region have been few and far between, this exercise in statesmanship is both commendable and long overdue. A review of the principles and processes underlying the compromises reveals useful insights into territorial dispute settlement at New Delhi’s end.

The India-Bangladesh boundary is no ordinary one. Hastily constructed in the dying days of British colonialism, it was the longest international boundary created during the age of decolonisation. The border was intended to separate a contiguous majority area of Muslims from that of non-Muslims — but for only about a quarter of its length does it separate a Muslim-majority in Bangladesh from a Hindu-majority in India. As many as 162 tiny enclaves (111 Indian and 52 Bangladeshi) dot a section of the frontier: in the extreme an Indian enclave sits within a Bangladeshi enclave, itself situated within a larger Indian enclave, all surrounded by Bangladeshi territory!

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