Narendra Modi

Hasina’s India Visit: A Balance Sheet of Diplomacy

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On Sept 5, India welcomed one of the closest friends in the neighbourhood, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who visited India on a four-day visit. During the course of her trip, she hold a bilateral meeting with PM Narendra Modi as well as interacted with President Droupadi Murmu. The immediate outcome of the visit was the signing of the seven memorandums of understanding (MoUs) in various fields, including the withdrawal of water from the cross-border Kushiyara river, cooperation in space technology, collaboration on IT systems used by railways in areas such as movement of freight, science and technology cooperation, training of Bangladesh Railway personnel and Bangladeshi judicial officers in India, and cooperation in broadcasting between Prasar Bharati and Bangladesh Television, aimed at boosting ties between the two countries.

Among the seven pacts signed on September 6, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on withdrawal of 153 cusecs (cubic feet per second) of water from the Kushiyara by Bangladesh is most welcomed by Dhaka. It is the first such deal the two countries have inked after the Ganges River water-sharing agreement in 1996 and is seen as a breakthrough in addressing an issue that has cast a shadow on their otherwise close ties. The deal came to the Sylhet region as blessings that are expected to help alleviate some of Dhaka’s concerns. A pact to share water resources from transboundary rivers that run downstream from the Himalayas from India into Bangladesh has long been a priority for Bangladesh, a lower riparian state that suffers from crippling water shortages. Earlier, India and Bangladesh finalised the Teesta water-sharing deal in 2010 and it was likely to be signed in 2011. But it could not be inked due to opposition from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banarjee.

The agreement will benefit southern parts of Assam state in India and the Sylhet region in Bangladesh. According to the agreement, the withdrawal of 153 cusecs of water from Kushiara river through Rahimpur canal will bring major changes in dry season farming in Jokiganj upazila bordering Bangladesh. At the same time, the farmers of Kanighat and some parts of Biyanibazar Upazila will benefit.

The two leaders engaged in talks on connectivity, trade, flood management, counter-terrorism, food security, and nuclear energy partnerships. In a bid to help Bangladesh deal with the energy crisis, the two leaders unveiled the first unit of the Maitree Thermal Power Plant, a 1320 MW supercritical coal-fired thermal power plant at Rampal in the Khulna division of Bangladesh. The project is being set up at an approximate budget of $2 billion out of which $1.6 billion was Indian Development Assistance that will enhance Bangladesh’s power generation capacities. Experts believe that the Maitree Power Plant will give citizens of Bangladesh access to affordable electricity, boosting Bangladesh face the difficulties that the country is facing in because of the growing energy prices worldwide.

Both leaders also discussed the issue of counterterrorism. “Today we also stressed on cooperation against terrorism and fundamentalism. To keep the spirit of 1971 alive, it is also very necessary that we face such forces together, who want to attack our mutual trust,” PM Modi said. In flood management, India has extended the period of sharing flood water-related information in real-time which will help Bangladesh counter the annual floods.

Connectivity boost

An important project that was inaugurated was the Rupsha bridge. The 5.13 km Rupsha rail bridge is a key part of the 64.7 km Khulna-Mongla Port single-track Broad Gauge rail project, connecting for the first time Mongla Port (Bangladesh’s second largest port) with Khulna by rail, and thereafter to Central and North Bangladesh and also to the India border at Petrapole and Gede in West Bengal. “The inauguration of the railway bridge over the Rupsha river is a remarkable step towards enhancing connectivity. This bridge is an important part of the new railway line being built between Khulna and Mongla Port under India’s Line of Credit” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a statement during a joint media appearance with Hasina.

An announcement was also made that India would supply road construction equipment and machinery in 25 packages to the road and highways department of the Bangladeshi government. The Khulna-Darshana railway line link project was also announced to upgrade the existing (doubling of broad gauge) infrastructure, linking the current cross-border rail link at Gede-Darshana to Khulna and thereby augmenting the rail connections between the two countries, especially to Dhaka, but also in future, to Mongla Port. The project cost is estimated to be USD 312.48 million. Another project, Parbatipur-Kaunia railway line, will see the conversion of the existing metre-gauge line to dual-gauge line at an estimated cost of USD 120.41 million. The project will connect the existing cross-border rail at Birol (Bangladesh)-Radhikapur (West Bengal) and enhance bilateral rail connectivity. The connectivity initiatives are part of the ongoing projects in Bangladesh that are aimed at converting the country into a major connectivity hub of South and Southeast Asia.

It is mentionable that, India has provided concessional loans worth $9.5 billion for development projects in Bangladesh, especially connectivity initiatives. These initiatives include improving rail connectivity between Khulna and Dhaka, Chilahati and Rajshahi and connecting Mongla port with Darshana-Gede at a cost of $312million, the Parbatipur-Kaunia rail project to facilitate the transportation of fuel that is being built at a cost of $120million, and the supply of road construction equipment and machinery worth $41million to repair and maintain Bangladesh’s road network. With the expansion of connectivity between our two countries, and the development of trade infrastructure on the border, the two economies will be able to connect more with each other.

Trade prospects under CEPA

It is true that While India is Bangladesh’s largest trade partner in South Asia, with bilateral trade reaching a record $18 billion in the last financial year, there has been a significant trade imbalance between the two countries. To narrow the trade gap and to further accelerate this growth, two sides agreed to begin negotiations on a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) this year. When the CEPA is operationalised, bilateral trade potential would be USD 40 billion. Moreover, the CEPA will boost bilateral and sub-regional connectivity that Bangladesh is championing in its policy initiatives.

During this trip, PM Hasina met with Indian industrialist Gautam Adani, who recently became the world’s third-richest person, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index. Adani Power, a subsidiary of Adani Group, will supply power to Bangladesh from its upcoming 1,600 MW thermal power plant in the Godda area of Jharkhand. The project is significant as Bangladesh has been recognised as an important partner under India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy.

Finally, it is observed that the cooperation during the visit extended to all fields, including trade and commerce, power and energy, transport and connectivity, science and technology, rivers, and maritime affairs. The visit will act as a catalyst for closer coordination and cooperation in resolving all issues, including Teesta river water sharing. It is also expected that Indo-Bangladesh ties will touch new heights and will continue to add more depth and momentum in the coming days.

Strategic Importance of Hasina’s Sojourn to India: A Post Script

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Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who completed her India visit recently, attended a closed-door meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Tuesday (September 06). After the meeting, the two Prime Ministers attended a press conference. In this conference, Sheikh Hasina termed the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India as a role model of ‘neighbourhood diplomacy’.

She also said that she agreed with the Prime Minister of India to work together on various bilateral issues. Sheikh Hasina said, we have agreed to carry out cooperative efforts to maintain our economic growth and regional peace, security and stability.

If Bangladesh and India can work together as partners, it will bring peace and prosperity not only for the two countries but also for the region. On the other hand, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, we have emphasized on cooperation against terrorism and radicalism. He said, those who want to hurt our mutual trust.

Security cooperation, investment, enhanced trade relations, Rohingya issue, water resource management, border management, cooperation in power and energy sector, common river water sharing, prevention of drug smuggling and human trafficking were discussed in the meeting of the two Prime Ministers.

Despite the delayed progress on the line of credit extension in 2018, different types of equipment are being considered at various stages. According to media reports, Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka recently shared a wish list of military platforms and systems that its armed forces would like to purchase from India, marking some progress on the delayed implementation of the $500 million defence Line of Credit (LoC) extended by India to Bangladesh. This contains a wide variety of tools, such as an oil tanker for the Bangladesh Navy, a logistics ship, and a floating dock.

India considers the signing of the first contract between Bangladesh and India under the $500 Line of Credit (LoC) to be an “important first step” in bolstering bilateral defence cooperation.

“This week, I believe the first contract under the defence line of credit was signed. You have undoubtedly been paying close attention to this. Despite being small, it was an essential first step “said Vinay Kwatra, the foreign secretary of India, in New Delhi

According to its “Forces Goal 2030,” Bangladesh is modernizing its military by introducing new weaponry and enhancing infrastructure. A large portion of these requirements can be met by India, which will also boost defence cooperation between the two countries.

China has sold Bangladesh weapons, including two traditional diesel-electric submarines. China has become one of the world’s leading suppliers of weapons, particularly to nations in India’s immediate neighbourhood.

India has recently greatly increased its military support for capacity building and capabilities development for nations in the Indian Ocean Region in an effort to counter this.

The “intensification” of bilateral defence ties was welcomed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi.

According to the joint statement released following the bilateral talks between the two leaders, they also agreed on the early completion of projects under the Line of Credit for Defense, which would be advantageous for both nations.

India looks forward to strengthening bilateral defence ties and welcomed the completion of “first purchase plans” for vehicles for the Bangladesh Armed Forces.

Both parties stressed the importance of cooperating closely to implement the $500 million Line of Credit offered by India for defence items at the 4th Bangladesh-India annual defence dialogue held in New Delhi in August. At the meeting, representatives from Bangladesh and India reaffirmed their commitment to improving interactions between their armed forces and discussed the development of bilateral defence cooperation programs.

For in-depth conversations, various facets of defence industrial and capability-building cooperation came up. Both nations looked at the possibility of working together on joint production, co-development, and commerce in the defence sector.

The Indian side reaffirmed its demand for the 2019 MoU’s provision of a coastal radar system for increased marine security to be implemented as soon as possible.

After the meeting between the two leaders, 7 MoUs were also signed between the two countries. These are – MoU on withdrawal of 153 cusecs of water from Kushiyara River under Surma-Kushiyara Project, MoU between BSIR of Bangladesh with Council of Science and Educational Research of India on Scientific Cooperation, MoU between Supreme Court of Bangladesh with National Judicial Academy at Bhopal, Indian Railway Training Institutes, an MoU between the Railway Ministries of the two countries for the training of Bangladesh Railway staff, an MoU between the Indian and Bangladesh Railway Ministries for information technology cooperation in Bangladesh Railways, an MoU between Bangladesh Television with India’s state broadcaster ‘Prasar Bharti’ and an MoU between BTCL and NSIL on space technology cooperation.

The relationship between Bangladesh and India is long-standing. We hope that this relationship will become closer and closer in the future. But it is also true, even though the two countries have maintained good relations, some issues have not been resolved yet. These include the Teesta water sharing agreement, border management and trade deficit. Regarding the Teesta water distribution agreement, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed optimism and said that the agreement will be signed very soon.

It may be mentioned that all the formalities of signing this agreement have been completed but it was not implemented at the last moment. Indian authorities should consider to resolve the matter expeditiously. Indian government should also be sincere in stopping border killings. Reducing the trade deficit between the two countries is also of particular importance. We hope that the relations between the two countries will be strengthened through the settlement of the outstanding issues in the coming days.

Trade and cooperation between these two close neighbours have grown as a result of their special friendly relationship, promising advantages for both nations. To advance their relationship even further, Bangladesh and India signed seven agreements on Tuesday. These agreements covered important topics like water withdrawal from a shared river, railroad development assistance, judicial officer training in Bangladesh, science and technology cooperation, and broadcasting cooperation. These agreements portend a strengthening of the bonds that unite the two nations.

Compared to 2010, India’s loan assistance to Bangladesh has now increased tenfold. 25 percent of India’s total foreign aid is allocated to Bangladesh. In the meantime, the country has handed over a billion dollars to Bangladesh, that too at less than one percent interest, a generosity that no other friendly country has shown to Bangladesh.

India’s provision of tariff-free transit facilities to Bangladesh for exports to Nepal and Bhutan is considered a major step in bilateral cooperation. Also, since India can use the Chittagong seaport, not only the Seven Sisters of India will benefit from it, but Dhaka will also benefit from it. Because, due to this, the South Block of Delhi expects that the export of Bangladesh to Northeast India will increase significantly.

The visit also made it clear where India wants to take its relationship with Bangladesh in the days ahead. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, or CEPA for short, with Bangladesh. As a result, the products of both countries will get duty-free access.

It is estimated that the volume of trade between the two countries will increase from the current 1.4 billion dollars to 15 billion dollars in the next ten years. India was also requested to implement SEPA by Japan and China. But India chose Bangladesh as its fourth largest trading partner before Japan or China. Besides, in the coming days, the area of ​​cooperation between the two countries is going to expand in space as well.