As Dhaka holds talks with Beijing, Foreign Secy meets Hasina
ON A two-day visit to Bangladesh at a time that Dhaka is in talks with Beijing for an almost USD 1 billion loan regarding the Teesta river, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Tuesday met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and discussed “security-related issues of mutual interest”.
Sources described their meeting as “excellent”. Receiving her first overseas guest since the Covid-19 pandemic began, Hasina is said to have “greatly appreciated PM Narendra Modi’s gesture in sending someone to touch base and convey how the two sides could take their relationship forward”.
Sources said the two sides also discussed proposals to facilitate travel for business, official and medical reasons.
A Joint Consultative Commission might meet soon to oversee the relationship, especially projects. Both sides emphasised the importance of enhancing connectivity, taking steps for revival of the economy post-Covid, cooperating on measures to fight the pandemic including therapeutics and vaccine, as well as discussed joint commemoration of Mujib Barsho (to mark the birth centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman).
Sources said Hasina raised the Rohingya issue and the possibility of their safe repatriation to Myanmar.
On Wednesday, Shringla is expected to meet Bangladesh Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen and Foreign Secretary Masud bin Momen.
India and Bangladesh have not been able to sign the Teesta water-sharing agreement for the past nine years, with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee refusing to sign off on it. Last week, Bangladesh’s Ministry of Water Resources said it was trying to secure a loan from China to manage the river.
The project summary seeking a $983.27 million loan for a “Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration Project”, points out that floods in the river cause serious erosion of land and destruction of property every year, while in the dry winter months, the country battles a water crisis, as per a report in Bangladesh’s leading daily Daily Star.
Teesta is one of the 54 rivers shared by India and Bangladesh. It originates in India, with around 113 km of its 315-km length in Bangladesh.
Ties with Bangladesh have been strained since the Modi government passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and announced plans for a nationwide National Register of Citizens. Bangladesh had cancelled ministerial visits after the law was passed in December last year. In early March, Shringla had visited Dhaka to assuage Bangladesh’s concerns.
Last month, India handed over 10 broad gauge locomotives to Bangladesh to help it handle its increasing passenger and freight train operations. Sources said that at Tuesday’s meeting, Hasina had expressed her gratitude for the same.
Having served as Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh before, Shringla knows the political and diplomatic leadership in the neighbouring country quite well. It is his first visit abroad since the beginning of the pandemic.