Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart held a Summit in virtual format on December 17, setting a very positive tone on all aspects of bilateral relations, and exchanged views on regional and international issues.
Bangladesh is celebrating the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman which will continue till December 2021; and will celebrate 50 years of Bangladesh’s War of Liberation, and the establishment of India-Bangladesh bilateral diplomatic ties in year 2021.
The two time-tested friends look for joint celebrations of mega events in 2021 and stronger collaboration in post-COVID era. Bangladesh and India will chart out plans to take the "rock-solid and historic" Dhaka-Delhi relations to the next level expanding areas of cooperation between the two countries.
Considering its strategic interests, Bangladesh wants to join a road belt with India, Myanmar and Thailand as the two countries set a “very positive tone” during the virtual Summit to broaden the bilateral relations and explore regional connectivity in an effective way.
Bangladesh also wants to see Bangladeshi goods-laden trucks enter Bhutan and Nepal through India, and sought cooperation from the Indian side in this regard.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made the proposals during the virtual Summit with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Thursday.
“A road belt consisting of India, Myanmar and Thailand is under-construction. India proposed to us earlier to join it. But the then Khaleda Zia-government refused it,” Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen told reporters at a post-Summit briefing expressing satisfaction over the virtual Summit.
He said though the then ministry concerned positively responded with a summary on the Indian proposal, Khaleda Zia unilaterally rejected it.
“Our trade and commerce will see a boost if the road is built. We need to be involved in the road belt considering our strategic interests,” Dr Momen said.
He said the Bangladesh side requested India to include Bangladesh in the initiative and India said it will consult two other countries.
Bangladesh and India discussed ways of cooperation to expand transportation solutions within the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) region; also cooperation in cross-border energy trade, being facilitated by new Indian Cross Border Energy guidelines. Bhutan is yet to join the BBIN process officially.
“We want to see our goods-laden trucks enter Bhutan and Nepal. We want more connectivity,” Dr Momen said, adding that Indian showed a positive approach towards Bangladesh’s request.
He said Bangladesh has appreciated India for resuming flight operations under special arrangement but proposed India to open up rail and road communications so that people can resume visiting India on a larger scale.
The Foreign Minister said Bangladesh sought India’s support for a power grid development arrangement so that Bangladesh can sell surplus electricity to Bhutan, Nepal apart from India.
“We’ll sell when we’ll have surplus electricity, and we’ll purchase when we’ll have shortage,” Dr Momen said.
The two countries stressed that border management is a shared responsibility and both leaders emphasized the need for coordinated and joint patrols to create a crime-free border.
For its part, India’s BSF will continue to exercise maximum restraint and follow a strict protocol of escalation of actions, with the commitment that the use of lethal force would only be in the last resort, in self-defence.
“Like you, it (border killing) frustrates us. We want no killing along the border. We’ve very nice relations. It creates a stigma in our friendly relations. We don’t want to see any stigma in our friendly relations,” Dr Momen said.
He said in some cases people from Bangladesh go deep inside the border, carry arms and bombs. “So, it’s not a one-sided problem. It’s our fault too. We’ve to reduce criminal activities.”
The Foreign Minister said India is committed to zero death along the border and more actions need to be taken through a coordinated border management plan.
Dr Momen said the Bangladesh side raised the issues of trade barriers, including sudden halt of export to Bangladesh like onions.
“Our business people say India suddenly stops exporting products and Bangladesh suffers for that. Our Prime Minister raised it and said if you do any rules, do it in a predictable and transparent way so that we can think of our line of import,” he said.
The two countries termed jute as an environment-friendly product and stressed on promoting jute addressing the barriers.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated India’s commitment and continued efforts to complete the interim water-sharing arrangement for the Teesta river.
The two leaders underscored the need for early conclusion of Frameworks for Interim Agreement on sharing the waters of six other joint rivers, namely, Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar.
In this regard, the two leaders agreed to schedule the Joint River Commission meetings at the earliest. Dr Momen said the two countries also discussed the demarcation of rivers.
Bilateral documents signed virtually
Bangladesh and India signed seven bilateral documents at the first virtual Summit between the two nations, with the aim of elevating relations to the next level through deeper cooperation and solidarity.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her India counterpart Narendra Modi witnessed the signing of the documents virtually.
Besides, the resumption of the Chilahati-Haldibari rail link, a pre-1965 connectivity line, was jointly inaugurated.
The documents signed are the Framework of Understanding on Cooperation in Hydrocarbon Sector; Framework Agreement on High Impact Community Development Projects; Protocol on Trans-boundary elephant conservation; MoU on Supply of Equipment and Improvement of Garbage/Solid Waste Disposal Ground for Barishal City Corporation; MoU on Cooperation in the Field of Agriculture; an MoU between the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum, Dhaka and the National Museum in New Delhi; and lastly the Terms of Reference for an India-Bangladesh CEOs Forum.
A commemorative stamp issued by the Postal Department of India in honour of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was also launched.
Moreover, the two leaders jointly inaugurated the Bangabandhu-Bapuji Digital Exhibition, that is being hosted from New Delhi to honour the contributions of the two nations' respective fathers –Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Mahatma Gandhi-- and the mark they left on the history of the 20th century.
Ties to Get Better Only
India has conveyed that Bangladesh remains "one of the most important pillars" of its foreign policy and the relations between the two countries will keep growing on all fronts.
“It’s (the relationship) as good as it was and it’ll only get better,” said Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram K Doraiswami after the virtual Summit between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.
During the Summit, both sides exchanged views on the situation of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic in their respective countries and expressed satisfaction at the manner in which sustained engagement between the two countries has been maintained during this ongoing crisis.
Reiterating the highest priority India attaches to Bangladesh under India’s ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured that vaccines would be made available to Bangladesh as and when it is produced in India.
Both leaders also noted the ongoing bilateral collaboration between the private sectors in this area, said the High Commissioner.
He also said they have been quietly having discussions with Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Mauritius and sharing the experiences and best practices.
Responding to a question, the Indian envoy said India supports Bangladesh’s objective to see a sustainable repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar.
He said they understand it is a complex social issue in Myanmar and India is providing support with other countries in Asean and Japan for development facilities in Rakhine to create a condition for a “speedy, safe and sustainable” repatriation of Rohingyas.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appreciated the generosity of Bangladesh in sheltering and providing humanitarian assistance to the 1.1 million Rohingyas from the Rakhine State of Myanmar.
Both the Prime Ministers reiterated the importance of their safe, speedy and sustainable return, according to a joint statement.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina congratulated India on its election as a member of the United Nations Security Council.
She expressed Bangladesh’s expectation to see India assist in the repatriation of the forcibly displaced Rohingyas back to Myanmar.
The Indian High Commissioner said it is perfectly reasonable to put Rohingyas in better facilities developed in Bhasan Char.
He said it seems Bangladesh Navy has done something extraordinary in building required infrastructure in Bhasan Char.
The Indian side requested Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to consider Bangladesh joining the BRICS’ New Development Bank and Bangladesh takes it positively. The bank is built by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Sheikh Hasina appreciated the work of the New Development Bank and thanked India for inviting Bangladesh to join it.
She welcomed the work of the Bank in multiple sectors, including infrastructure development and expressed Bangladesh’s willingness to be a part of the initiative.
The Bangladesh Prime Minister requested the Indian side to consider Bangladesh’s proposal to name the historic road from Mujib Nagar to Nodia on Bangladesh-India border as "Shadhinota Shorok” commemorating the historic significance of the road during Bangladesh’s Liberation War.
Stronger Global Value Chain
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said Bangladesh and India can strengthen global and regional value chains through further integration of their respective economies to take advantage of available synergies.
“I believe both our countries can move up the global and regional value chains by further integrating our economies taking advantage of available synergies,” she said.
“Our ongoing connectivity initiatives are catalysts in this regard,” said Sheikh Hasina adding that a prime example is the resumption of Chilahati-Haldibari rail link which was inaugurated at the summit.
“We happily recognise the growing mutual dependencies between the economies of Bangladesh and India,” she told her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.
A good number of Indian nationals are employed in the manufacturing and service sector of Bangladesh and are remittance earners for India. On the other hand, India receives its highest number of tourists and medical patients from Bangladesh, she added.
Sheikh Hasina conveyed her sincere gratitude to the Indian PM and his government for spontaneously coming together to mark the important occasions with joint celebrations. “We have chalked out joint programmes throughout the coming year in cities worldwide, to commemorate our inseparable linkages in Bangladesh’s Liberation War of 1971.”
“The crowning glory of our joint commemoration would be your presence in Dhaka for the celebrations on 26th March 2021,” she said.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said the legacy of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is clearly reflected in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s excellent leadership.
“Also, your personal commitment to our bilateral relations is very clear,” he said adding that "Mujib Chirantar" - Bangabandhu's message is eternal. “And it is in this spirit only that we honor his legacy too.”
He said it is a matter of pride for him that he got an opportunity to release a stamp in honor of Bangabandhu, and inaugurate a digital exhibition on Bapu and Bangabandhu with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Modi hoped that the exhibition on Bapu and Bangabandhu will inspire two countries’ youth, wherein a special section have also been dedicated to Kasturba Gandhi and revered Bongmata.
Indian Prime Minister Modi said following the Victory Day, their meeting was of even more special significance. “It is a matter of pride for us to celebrate the historic victory of Bangladesh over Anti-liberation forces as the Victory Day with you.”
He paid homage to the martyrs of both the countries who sacrificed their lives when Bangladesh is celebrating forty nine years of independence.
“On the occasion of Victory Day, I paid tributes at the National War Memorial in India and lighted a 'Golden Victory Torch'. These four 'Victory Torches' will tour all over India and will be taken to all the villages of our martyrs,” Modi said.
He said, “Since 16 December, we are celebrating the 'Golden Victory Year', during which many events will be organized across India.”
The Indian Prime Minister congratulated his Bangladesh counterpart on behalf of all the Indians on the occasion of ‘Mujib Borsho’,
“Thank you for the invitation to visit Bangladesh next year. It would be a matter of pride for me to pay tribute to Bangabandhu with you,” Modi said.
He said Bangladesh is a major pillar of India’s 'Neighborhood First' policy. “From the very first day, strengthening and development of relations with Bangladesh has been a special priority for me.”
Modi said it is a fact that this year has been challenging due to the global pandemic but it is a matter of gratification that India and Bangladesh had good cooperation in this difficult time.
“Whether it be medicines or medical equipment, or working with health professionals. We are also having good cooperation in the field of vaccine. We will also take special care of your needs in this regard,” said the Indian Prime Minister.
He thanked Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for the contribution of Bangladesh under SAARC framework. “Other than health, this year our special partnership has been steadily advancing in other areas as well.”
“We reduced hurdles in land border trade, expanded connectivity between the two countries, and added new means. All this reflects our intentions to further strengthen our relationship,” said the Indian Prime Minister.