India’s upper house of parliament passed a bill that will pave the way for resolving an almost seven-decade border dispute with Bangladesh as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to boost ties with neighbors.
The house approved a constitutional amendment that would allow India and Bangladesh to swap pockets of land. The bill still needs to be passed by the lower house before India can ratify the long-pending boundary agreement.
While South Asia is home to 20 percent of the world’s population, it’s the least integrated region as geographic obstacles and political differences hinder trade. Since taking office last year, Modi has emphasized removing such hurdles to boost commerce and connectivity in the region.
The 4,100-kilometer (2,550 mile) frontier is dotted on both sides by almost 200 enclaves, little islets of Indian and Bangladesh territory completely encircled by the other nation and, in some cases, enclaves within enclaves. The geographical anomaly has left tens of thousands of people devoid of education, electricity and medical care along the violent border.
People affected will be allowed to choose which citizenship to take and which country they want to live in, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj told parliament.
“Passage of the Land Boundary Agreement is an act of good faith on India’s part” and will help address issues such as trade and border militarization, said Jason Cons, a research assistant professor at the University of Texas, Austin, who has written on the subject.
India also has border disputes in the north with Pakistan and China. The Bangladesh agreement is unlikely to serve as a model for resolving those disputes, Cons said.
The enclaves date back to the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, when a hasty border was drawn between India and East Pakistan. East Pakistan later became independent Bangladesh in 1971.