Bangladesh foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen greets his Indian counterpart Harsh Vardhan Shringla at Dhaka airport on 2 March, 2020
Bangladesh foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen greets his Indian counterpart Harsh Vardhan Shringla at Dhaka airport on 2 March, 2020Collected

Indian foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla paid a two-day visit to Dhaka, conveying a special message from the Indian prime minister Nardendra Modi, to consolidate ties with Bangladesh.

He met prime minister Sheikh Hasina with several proposals to strengthen cooperation between the two countries in the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic. During a lunch meeting with foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen, he discussed various issues related to relations between the two countries.

The Indian foreign secretary had arrived in Bangladesh on Tuesday on a two-day visit, following much speculation in local and foreign media about relations between the two countries.

During the visit, Harsh Vardhan Shringla conveyed the message that India’s relations with Bangladesh were specially considered among the other countries of the neighbourhood. He highlighted that all official meetings had been halted due to coronavirus and under such context his courtesy call on prime minister Sheikh Hasina reflected the special relations between the two countries.

India has given priority to relations with Bangladesh among all other neighbouring countries. Bangladesh too gives special consideration to its relations with close neighbour India and that is why during discussions between the two foreign secretaries concerning the present and future ties between the two countries, Bangladesh raised the issue of certain irritants. India took cognizance of the issues, stressing the importance to resolve these.

Foreign minister AK Abdul Momen was in his constituency in Sylhet during Shringla’s Dhaka visit and so no meeting was held between the two.

Speaking to former and present diplomats of Bangladesh, it seemed that India was reviewing its neighbourhood policy in context of the recent geopolitical circumstances. During his Dhaka visit, Harsh Vardhan Shringla spoke to various persons to assess the direction of relations between the two countries.

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Arriving in Dhaka on the two-day visit on Tuesday, Shringla met with prime minister Sheikh Hasina in the evening of the same day. He held a lunch meeting with foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen on Wednesday afternoon. He also held separate meetings with politicians, diplomats and persons of various levels and professions. These included foreign secretary Md Shahidul Haque, Jatyia Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) president Hasanul Haq Inu, Ekattor Television managing director Mozammel Haque Babu, Bangladesh Protidin editor Naem Nizam and others.

The Indian media in recent times has been carrying various concocted stories about Bangladesh that have given rise to questions in the mind of the Bangladeshi people concerning the good relations between the two countries. The Bangladesh foreign secretary pointed out that this did not bode well for relations between the two countries.

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen was in his constituency in Sylhet during Shringla’s Dhaka visit and so no meeting was held between the two.

A sense of ambiguity prevailed over the visit with both sides remaining silent at the outset. However, on Wednesday the Indian high commission released a brief note regarding the visit.

The Bangladesh foreign ministry also released a note, saying that Shringla had reiterated that Bangladesh remained first in Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s ‘neighbours first’ policy.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina has not been meeting with foreign guests since the outbreak of coronavirus and so Harsh Vardhan Shringla expressed his deep gratitude for being able to pay a courtesy call on the prime minister.

Priority for Covid vaccine

Masud Bin Momen said that at the lunch meeting they reviewed the positive developments that have taken place between the two countries during the coronavirus outbreak.

Harsh Vardhan Shringla said, “Once the COVID vaccine is manufactured, Bangladesh will be on priority list of countries because Bangladesh is always on our priority list. India is on the third phase of developing the vaccine.”

Masud Bin Momen said preparations were on in India to manufacture the vaccine. “We have said that Bangladesh is ready for the trial of the vaccine. India responded positively, saying that the vaccine manufactured there was not just for them, but will be provided to Bangladesh too,” he said.

Border killings

The Bangladesh foreign secretary, during the meeting with his counterpart, raised the issue of Bangladeshi national’s being shot dead by Indian border security forces.

He said. “We spoke about the irritants in the relations between the two countries. We spoke about the border killings. These killings have been higher in the first seven months of this year than any time in the past. We expressed our concern and said that the two sides had decided not to use lethal weapons on the border.”

Indian media’s concocted stories

The Indian media in recent times has been carrying various concocted stories about Bangladesh that have given rise to questions in the mind of the Bangladeshi people concerning the good relations between the two countries. The Bangladesh foreign secretary, at the meeting, pointed out that this did not bode well for relations between the two countries. Both the foreign secretaries emphasized the importance of a positive and responsible role of the media in the relationship between the two neighbours. They expressed hope the media would duly consider this matter.

Visa for patients

Large numbers of Bangladeshi nationals travel to India every year for medical treatment. But all sorts of travel were closed down after the outbreak of coronavirus. In this regard, Masud Bin Momen requested the Indian high commission’s visa centre in Dhaka to open on an emergency basis to facilitate Bangladeshi nationals who needed to go to India on medical treatment.

Rohingya problem

The foreign secretary said, “India will take up responsibility as non-permanent member of the Security Council from 1 January next year. The Rohingya issue is a matter of concern for us. We made another attempt at the Security Council to pass a proposal in this regard. This did not come through due to opposition from a few permanent members of the Security Council.”

This report, appearing in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten by Ayesha Kabir for the English online edition of the daily.

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