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The Farakka Barrage dispute : conflict and cooperation in Bangladesh-India relations Mamun, Kazi Asadul


The origins of the Farakka Barrage dispute go back as far as 1951 when Pakistan protested against the Government of India's plans to construct a massive barrage across the Ganges River only eleven miles from the East Pakistan border. Pakistan, and since 1971 Bangladesh, argued that Indian diversion of Ganges water would seriously threaten the agrarian economy and the overall ecology of the lower delta. Although two interim agreements on sharing of Ganges waters have been reached between India and Bangladesh, these agreements have not covered all aspects of riverine development. As a result, the conflict has continued and as of 1984, no solution is imminent. Two analytical approaches -- to international river disputes and to power relations between unequal states — are helpful in explaining the Farakka Barrage dispute. The international river dispute literature explains why there is a dispute at all, what hydrologic-economic factors make this dispute difficult to resolve, and why India and Bangladesh have presented the types of proposals they have for developing the river basin. Analysis based on unequal power relationship (the "asymmetric dyad") which exists between these two states reveals the superordinate position of India which, in addition to being the more powerful state, is also the upper riparian. Therefore, the strategies that Bangladesh — as the subordinate state and the lower riparian — can employ are limited. This thesis outlines in considerable detail the political as well as the hydrologic-economic aspects of the dispute and tries to demonstrate the correlation of overall power relations between India and Bangladesh with the political strategies they employ. The main argument is that both India and Bangladesh have acted according to their interpretation of the political costs and benefits involved in resolving the dispute. Bangladesh, for its part, has pursued a variety of strategies ranging from cooperative to retaliatory in an attempt to secure what it considers an equitable solution. Each of these strategies is analysed in turn for its effectiveness. Overall, although periodically Bangladesh has been able to extract marginal concessions from India, the latter, because of its predominant political-economic position, has controlled the direction of negotiations over sharing and augmentation of Ganges waters.

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