Jaishankar’s statements regarding Bangladesh’s importance in the context of Indo-Pacific connectivity were significant. His observations were significant on several aspects. Firstly, Jaishankar came to Dhaka and raised the issue of Indo-Pacific cooperation just less than a week since foreign minister AK Abdul Momen returned from his Washington trip. Earlier, during his stay in Washington, Abdul Momen spoke over the telephone with special assistant to the US president Joe Biden and senior director South Asian affairs at the US National Security Council, Sumona Guha. Sumona Guha had discussed the US Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) with Momen.
While discussing Bangladesh’s importance in the Indian Ocean region, Jaishankar raised a proposal regarding Japan’s involvement too. The Indian foreign minister referred to the Matarbari power project as part of the Bay of Bengal connectivity, hinting at links between Japan’s Big B (Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth) initiative and the US IPS.
Foreign minister AK Abdul Momen said he and his Indian counterpart had fruitful talks over how to take forward relations between the two countries, highlighting each other’s priorities and related efforts for cooperation. The talks also covered assistance to tackle Covid-19, water-sharing, security, border management and implementation of the credit agreements.
Border ‘deaths’, not killing
Border killings are a matter of serious concern for Bangladesh. When asked what India was doing to end the border killings, S Jaishankar replied that basically these deaths took place within Indian territory. He said they had discussed the issue just as neighbours and friends should. He said, we both agree that every such incident in unfortunate, but we also asked ourselves wherein the problem lay. He said the reason for these deaths was criminal activities, adding that both sides should aim at ensuring such criminal activities do not take place at the borders so no more deaths occur.
Replying to a question about the Teesta water-sharing deal, Jaishankar said the matter had been discussed. A meeting of the water resource secretaries of the two countries would be held soon. He said that the Indian government’s stand on the Teesta water-sharing issue hadn’t changed.
Diplomatic sources said that Bangladesh has urged for a meeting at a water resource secretary level, to discuss the finalisation of the draft for an interim agreement regarding water sharing of six other rivers. India said that this meeting can take place in Delhi on 16 March or in April.
Future lies in connectivity
Over the last few years, relations between the two countries have reached a special height. This year the two countries will jointly celebrate 50 years of diplomatic ties. When asked which areas would be given more importance in future relations, S Jaishankar replied to Prothom Alo, saying there was no area of cooperation where the two countries were not working together. Fifty years of relations have passed. As to what can be done in the next 20 years, I would say connectivity, the Indian foreign minister said.
The Indian foreign minister exchanged views with members of the civil society Thursday evening... They also discussed why and in whose interest connectivity was being expanded
He said that he and his Bangladesh counterpart had focused much of their discussion on connectivity. We also discussed involving a third party in the process, he said. Japan’s name came up as a possibility as both countries have good relations with Japan.
2021 an important year for relations
Jaishankar said, this is an important year as both countries are commemorating Mujib Borsho, 50 years’ of Bangladesh’s independence and 50 years of bilateral relations. He said as closest neighbor and friend, India was proud that Bangladesh was emerging from its LDC status. He said they had respect for Bangladesh’s extraordinary socioeconomic advancement and prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s leadership.
Acceleration of credit agreement
India has been providing Bangladesh with assistance under credit agreement since 2010. India has spoken about credit totalling eight billion US dollars so far. However, implementation of the credit agreement hasn’t been satisfactory. The two countries have been discussing the matter for the past couple of years. At the Thursday meeting, the two countries agreed about accelerating the project implementation. They also agreed on either side making concessions as far as possible regarding project implementation.
Meeting with the PM
BSS reported that the Indian foreign minister paid a courtesy call on prime minister Sheikh Hasina at Gonobhaban Thursday afternoon. Quoting prime minister Sheikh Hasina, press secretary Ihsanul Karim said, “There can be problems between neighbouring countries. I think these problems must be resolved through talks and understanding.” Jaishankar said that Bangladesh’s emerging from the LDC status under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina was a huge achievement.
Exchanging views with civil society
The Indian foreign minister exchanged views with members of the civil society Thursday evening. They spoke of expanding bilateral cooperation as well as sub-regional and regional cooperation. They also discussed why and in whose interest connectivity was being expanded.
At the meeting with civil society, it was mentioned that river routes were the main mode of communication before the partition of the subcontinent. There was need to pay attention to these historical routes regarding connectivity, it was observed. Present at the civil society’s meeting with Jaishankar were former foreign secretaries Farooq Sobhan, Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury and Md Shahidul Huq, former high commissioner Tariq A Karim, distinguished fellow of CPD Mustafizur Rahman and CPD executive director Fahmida Khatun, DBC chairman Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman, Daily Star editor Mahfuz Anam, Ekattur TV’s chief editor Mozammel Babu, Bangladesh Pratidin editor Naim Nizam and others.
Later, Jaishankar inaugurated the Indira Gandhi culture centre at the India House in Gulshan. He exchanged views with the civil society members at the Indian high commission in the evening. At the end of his visit, he left for India by a special flight Thursday night.
* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir