Bangladesh wants to join India-Myanmar-Thailand road belt: Foreign minister

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen talks to media at a post-Summit briefing expressing satisfaction over the Virtual SummitProthom Alo

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, reports news agency UNB.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made the proposals during her 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 then Khaleda Zia-government refused it,” Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told newspersons 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,” 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,” the Foreign Minister said, adding that India showed a positive approach towards Bangladesh’s request.

He said Bangladesh has appreciated India for resuming flight operations under special arrangement but proposed 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,” Momen said.

Border Killing

The two countries stressed that border management is a shared responsibility and both leaders emphasised 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,” 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 have 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.

Trade Barriers

Momen said the Bangladesh side raised the issues of trade barriers, including sudden halt of export to Bangladesh like onions.

“Our businesspersons 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.

Water Issues

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.

Momen said the two countries also discussed the demarcation of rivers.