By Amit Agnihotri
New Delhi: In order to counter China’s growing influence in its neighbourhood, India has decided to speed up development assistance projects in Bangladesh and address its concerns.
To demonstrate the priority India accords to Bangladesh under its ‘Neighbourhood First‘ policy, the South Asian giant rushed its Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla to Dhaka on Aug. 18 to reassure the neighbour.
The trigger was a report claiming China is ready to invest $1 billion in the Teesta River project, which is a long-standing sticking point between India and Bangladesh. China recently offered huge tariff concessions to Dhaka’s exports.
The sudden high-level visit of an Indian diplomat to Dhaka signalled the need to address some pressing issues.
“In the last few years, India and Bangladesh have amicably resolved complex issues including land and maritime border issues, and taken steps to boost connectivity and trade,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.
“The visit of the foreign secretary was useful in discussing specific initiatives and key areas of mutual interest. It also reflects the priority India accords to Bangladesh as per of its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy,” he said.
To begin with a high-level mechanism will soon be set up to monitor the progress of India-assisted development projects going on in Bangladesh. The foreign minister-level joint consultative commission between the two countries too is expected to meet shortly.
During Shringla’s meeting with Momen, various India-aided projects like Rampal Maitri power plant, India-Bangladesh friendship pipeline, and rail link between Akhura and Agartala came up for discussion among others. These projects are likely to be completed by next year.
As part of the discussions related to security cooperation, fencing along the India-Bangladesh border and joint efforts to prevent cross-border crimes were also discussed. The issue of safe repatriation of internally displaced persons from the Rakhaine state was also discussed.
Shringla has invited his Bangladesh counterpart Momen to visit Delhi at his earliest convenience.
Of late, India has been pushing the economic diplomacy route with Bangladesh to counter China, with whom the South Asian country is locked in a bitter border dispute along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh.
“Very few countries in the world share such close fraternal ties as those of ours. Our partnership today stands out as a role model in the region for good neighbourly relations,” India’s Minister of External Affairs Dr S. Jaishankar had told his Bangladesh counterpart Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen in July after India handed over 10 broad gauge locomotives to the eastern neighbour. The delivery of locomotives was committed when Sheikh Hasina had visited New Delhi last year.
Recently, the two countries signed the Second Addendum to the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade in May 2020 has increased the number of Protocol routes from 8 to 10 and the number of Ports of Call from 6 to 11, besides including two extended Ports of Call.
Add to this the successful completion of the trial run of the container cargo from Kolkata to Agartala through Chattogram in Bangladesh. This landmark development not only reinvigorates the traditional waterway connections between the two neighbours but brings mutual economic benefits as well.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the business community of the two countries started utilising freight trains for transporting commodities and raw materials for manufacturing industries. Parcel and container train services have recently been introduced between the two countries.
India remains a committed development partner of Bangladesh and this is demonstrated by its concessional lines of credit worth $10 billion, the largest the South Asian giant has extended to any country.
India’s Prime Minister Modi had earlier congratulated Sheikh Hasina as the eastern neighbour is commemorating 50 years of its liberation.
India’s partnership with Bangladesh will be key to building a prosperous and peaceful South Asia, Dr Jaishankar noted, as he pointed out that it will be a befitting tribute to the vision of Bangladesh’s first President and later first Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, fondly remembered as Bangabandhu.