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Delhi reaches out to Dhaka for ties beyond ‘strategic partnership’

Indicating the frank conversations he had with his Bangladesh counterpart, Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen, Jaishankar said: “Our comfort levels are now so high that we have shown that there is no issue that we cannot discuss and resolve through amicable dialogue.”

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi |
Updated: March 5, 2021 8:10:43 am
S Jaishankar, Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka on Thursday. (PTI)

Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh later this month, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar made a strong outreach to Dhaka Thursday on his bilateral visit, describing the country as a “key neighbour” and a “valued partner” not only “in South Asia but also in the broader Indo-Pacific region”. He said India’s ties with Bangladesh “transcend even our strategic partnership”.

The visits have been timed with celebrations to mark 50 years of the 1971 liberation war that led to the birth of Bangladesh.

On his first visit since the CAA-NRC issue became a sticking point between the two countries, Jaishankar reached Dhaka Thursday morning and framed Bangladesh’s importance as being central to India’s “neighbourhood first” policy and its growing relevance in the “Act East” policy.

Indicating the frank conversations he had with his Bangladesh counterpart, Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen, Jaishankar said: “Our comfort levels are now so high that we have shown that there is no issue that we cannot discuss and resolve through amicable dialogue.”

Later, he also met Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at her residence. She told him that problems between neighbouring countries should be resolved through discussions and negotiations.

“There might be problems among neighbouring countries. We believe that problems should be resolved through discussions and negotiations,” the PM’s Press Secretary Ihsanul Karim quoted Hasina as saying, according to Bangladesh media.

Hasina’s International Relation Affairs Advisor Gowher Rizvi, Principal Secretary Ahmad Kaikaus and Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram K Doraiswami were also present at the meeting.

Jaishankar, after his meeting with Momen, said: “It is a matter of satisfaction that despite the Covid pandemic, our interactions and consultations continued unabated.”

India and Bangladesh had a Virtual Summit in December last year, a Joint Consultative Commission between the two Foreign Ministers last September, meetings of Foreign Secretaries, Power Secretaries, Home Secretaries, Police chiefs, BSF and BGB, and defence visits.

“Our Commerce, Water Resources and Shipping Secretaries are due to meet soon. This demonstrates the commitment of both sides to progress the relationship,” he said.

Jaishankar also praised the Bangladesh PM, and described the country’s socio-economic progress as a “reflection of the statesmanship and leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina”.

With Modi scheduled to visit Dhaka around March 25-26, Jaishankar said they were working to make it a “very memorable visit” — it would be the Prime Minister’s first visit outside India since the pandemic and his second as Prime Minister to Bangladesh.

He will be visiting Bangladesh as both countries mark the Mujib Barsho, 50 years of Bangladesh’s Liberation and 50 years of bilateral relations.

Explained

Diplomacy at work

A year after the CAA-NRC issue strained the robust ties between the two countries, quiet diplomacy appears to have worked. The Prime Minister's visit later this month is timed with the celebrations to mark 50 years of Bangladesh. And with Bengal polls coming up, Kolkata and Dhaka will watch the visit carefully.

“These truly highlight the importance we attach to these three anniversaries, as well as the enormous regard that all of us have for your Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and for Bangladesh. Our relations actually transcend even our strategic partnership, and I believe that our bonding is central to the realisation of a dream of a peaceful, prosperous and progressive South Asia,” Jaishankar said.

“Every outcome and achievement in our relationship resonates through this region. It is no secret that we cite it to others as an example for emulation,” he said.

Calling it a “fruitful” meeting, Momen said they discussed a wide range of ongoing bilateral issues as well as bilateral interests that they can take forward in the days ahead.

“We have focused on possible ways to materialise our commitments and how to prioritise and accommodate each other’s priorities in a mutually beneficial manner,” he said, outlining Covid cooperation, connectivity, trade, water, security, border and lines of credit as some of the areas of discussion.

Jaishankar too outlined Delhi’s priorities. “We are working so hard to expand our relationship in all dimensions, ranging from security, trade, transport and connectivity, culture, people-to-people ties, energy, joint development of our shared resources and defence,” he said.

Momen mentioned the cooperation during the pandemic, and on the vaccines. “We thankfully acknowledge the collaborative initiative of the two countries in implementing the vaccination programme against the ongoing pandemic. As you all are aware, Bangladesh has purchased the Covid vaccine from Serum Institute of India, and the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is implementing the nationwide vaccination programme, free of cost, very efficiently and effectively.”

On the issue of vaccines, Jaishankar said Bangladesh is the largest recipient of Made-in-India vaccines.

“Our recent activities go beyond consultations and gestures, however important they might be,” he said, and recalled “practical progress on the ground” — conducting a trial run of container cargo through Chattogram port to Agartala, adding two new Protocol routes to inland waterways connecting Tripura to Bangladesh national waterways, handing over 10 broad gauge locomotives, commencing movement of container and parcel trains and forming a joint venture in the energy sector.

“May all your dreams come true and I can assure you that India will always be there by your side, as a reliable friend. Your marching contingent at our Republic Day Parade this January 26 may have been a reaffirmation of our shared history. But I can also say that it is an expression of our deep solidarity that will always guide this relationship,” he said.

On the long-pending deal on the sharing of Teesta waters, Jaishankar said: “We did discuss it and you know we would have a meeting of our Water Resources secretaries very soon. I am sure they will discuss it further. You know the Government of India’s position, that has not changed.”

Responding to a question on the killing of Bangladeshis, allegedly by the Border Security Force along the border, he said: “We have talked about it. Many of the deaths take place inside India. Every death is regrettable.”

“But the problem is because of crime. So our shared objective should be there will be ‘no crime, no death’ on the border. I am sure if we can get it right — no crime, no death — we can together address the problem effectively,” he said. — With PTI from Dhaka

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