In a major breakthrough, India on Thursday said it has picked “connectivity” with Bangladesh as a big goal for the years to come that might change the entire logistics and whole geo-economics of the region giving the Bay of Bengal a very different look.
“Connectivity between the two countries can change the face of the region. Connectivity is productivity,” said Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar adding that India is keen to take as its major focus the India-Bangladesh connectivity issue for next 20 years to change the region’s geo-economic scenario.“I would say most of all – let’s look at connectivity. If we get connectivity right between India and Bangladesh, I can tell you, the entire logistics and whole geo-economics of the region will change and the Bay of Bengal will look very different,” he said while speaking at a joint press briefing after a bilateral meeting with his Bangladesh counterpart AK Abdul Momen at state guesthouse Padma.
“Fifty years of India and Bangladesh’s bilateral relations are over….Let’s now think about next 20 years,” added.
The Indian minister said they talked about involving a third country, preferably Japan, to be a major stakeholder in the bilateral engagement in terms of connectivity as both Dhaka and New Delhi have “very good” relations with Tokyo. “Japan is involved in connectivity projects in the Bay of Bengal region.”
Jaishankar, who arrived in Dhaka on a day-long visit to Bangladesh to prepare ground for the upcoming visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 26-27, held bilateral meeting with the Bangladesh foreign minister. He also called on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at Ganobhaban.
He also inaugurated Indian Cultural Centre at India House in Gulshan and later exchanged views with editors and senior journalists at the High Commission premises.
Addressing the joint briefing at state guesthouse Padma, Momen said during the talks “we have committed to continue to work together to take our bilateral relations to newer heights under the leadership of two honorable prime ministers— Sri Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina.”He said the two sides discussed a wide range of ongoing bilateral issues, including Covid-19 cooperation, connectivity, trade, water, security, border and lines of credit (LoC). “We 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.
Momen said preparation for the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Bangladesh at the end of this month has been a key element of our discussions.
“We’re very pleased that Modi will join us for the Mujib Barsho celebrations as well as the golden jubilee celebrations of Bangladesh’s independence and 50 years of Bangladesh-India diplomatic
relations. This is a landmark year for our two countries. We discussed some important activities that we plan to undertake jointly to celebrate the historic occasions,” he said.
Responding to a question from the Daily Sun correspondent, the Indian external affairs minister said from New Delhi’s viewpoint, matters related to people-to-people contact, education, health and culture immediately followed the connectivity issue and “I think we should have a much more people-led relationship”.
Jaishankar said he is very convinced that would actually give an additional impetus to the India-Bangladesh cooperation and there is no domain where Bangladesh and India were not working today but yet New Delhi envisaged numerous possibilities in bilateral ties.
“Our relationship is really 360 … and the more we do the more possibilities open up,” he said adding “When I look up India Bangladesh ties, I see economic possibilities, I see huge connectivity possibilities, I see a lot of people to people possibilities.”
The Indian external affairs minister said that the “comfort levels” of Dhaka- New Delhi relations were so high that there was no issue that both sides cannot discuss and resolve through amicable dialogue.
“Our comfort levels are so high now that we have shown that there is no issue that we cannot discuss and resolve through amicable dialogue.”
Jaishankar was happy particularly over the Dhaka-Delhi cooperation on the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery endeavors while he pointed out Bangladesh was the only foreign country where India shipped nine million vaccine doses — the largest volume of inoculates so far, produced in its Seram Institute.
Replying to another questioner about border killing, which is a major irritant in bilateral relations, the Indian Minister said every death along her frontier is regrettable while some of such casualties were taking 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,” he said adding “I am sure if we can get it right — no crime, no death — we can together address the problem effectively.”
Asked for comments on possible developments of the long pending Teesta water sharing agreement, Jaishankar said India have already in principle agreed to sign the agreement but its internal problems barred New Delhi from signing the deal.
“We did discuss it and you know we will 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,” he said.
India praises Bangladesh’s “miraculous” progress
Jaishankar said India highly appreciate Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s statesmanship in achieving “miraculous socio-economic progress”.
“It’s a tribute to your miraculous socio-economic progress, and the statesmanship of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina,” he said expressing India’s admiration and pride, as Bangladesh’s closest neighbour and friend, at Bangladesh’s expected graduation from LDC status.
He wished all friends in Bangladesh the very best as Bangladesh marks key anniversaries – the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and 50 years of independence.
“May all your dreams come true and I can assure you that India will always be there as a reliable friend,” said the Indian minister.
He said Bangladesh’s marching contingent at Indian Republic Day Parade January 26th may be a reaffirmation of shared history. “But it’s also an expression for deep solidarity that will always guide our relationship.”
Even the pandemic has provided an opportunity to reaffirm friendship, he said adding that Bangladesh is the largest recipient of “Made in India” vaccine, also the largest gift of vaccines (2 million) is also appropriately to Bangladesh.
“It’ll be a very memorable visit as it is Modi’s first travel outside India since the Coronavirus pandemic as well as his second as prime minister to Bangladesh,” Jaishankar said and added that this is a very special year, when both countries mark the Mujib Barsho, 50 years of Bangladesh’s independence and 50 years of bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India.
“This truly highlights the importance we attach to these three anniversaries, as well as the enormous regard we’ve for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Bangladesh. Our relations transcend orthodox partnerships,” he said.
Jaishankar said he believes their bonding is central to the realisation of the dream of a peaceful, prosperous and progressive South Asia.
“It’s in pursuit of this vision that both sides have made remarkable progress in this relationship, especially since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assumption of office in May 2014.”
The Indian minister also said the significance of their relations with Bangladesh lie in its centrality for ‘Neighbourhood First’ and its growing relevance for India’s ‘Act East’ Policy.
“We see Bangladesh as a key neighbour and a valued partner not only in South Asia but also in the broader Indo-Pacific region,” he said adding that every outcome and achievement in the relationship resonates through the region. “It’s no secret that we cite it to others as an example for emulation.
After completing his day-long visit, Jaishankar left Dhaka last night.