Update August 20, 2020

Dhaka 10-16 am, 24-September, 2020

Indian FS describes his Dhaka tour as “very satisfactory”

Mirajul Moin Joy

Indian external affairs secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla today called his Dhaka tour “very satisfactory” as he wrapped up the two-day visit holding bilateral meeting with Bangladesh foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen with COVID-19 vaccine issue appeared to have largely featured the meeting.

“I have a very satisfactory visit, a very short visit,” he told newsmen emerging from the meeting with his counterpart at Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel in Dhaka.

He said New Delhi would make its potential COVID-19 vaccine available for Bangladesh on priority basis once it was produced in partnership with its developer Oxford University, who appeared to be a major forerunner in the global race for developing the inoculation.

“When (COVID) vaccine is developed, friends, partners and neighbors will get it without any saying . . . for us Bangladesh is always a priority,” Shringla said.
He said India, which produces 60 percent of global vaccine, was now reached the stage of trying the vaccine with an objective to produce it in a massive scale.

Shringla said yesterday he briefed Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina about various measures India took to contain COVID-19 pandemic there.

But Shringla said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent him to Dhaka to carry forward the excellent India-Bangladesh relations even during the pandemic situation.

“Reason I came here is that our prime minister felt during COVID time there is not much contact, but the relationship (India-Bangladesh) must continue,” Shringla said.

He said “We must continue to move forward towards our strong bilateral relations and I came primarily to look at that point”.

Later, a Bangladesh foreign ministry statement said “Shringla expressed deep gratitude for the kind gesture of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to grant him an audience in spite of her not having met any foreign dignitaries since the start of the COVID pandemic”.

In a different media briefing the Bangladesh foreign secretary said that India assured that Bangladesh would be its first priority in providing the prospective vaccine it was developing.

He said Shringla assured him that India was not developing the vaccine only for them, “Bangladesh will get it at the initial stage (of the production)”.
“We (Bangladesh) offered any cooperation that India may require regarding vaccine trial. . . Bangladesh is ready to cooperate,” Bin Momen said adding that Indian side took it “positively”.

Bin Momen said Bangladesh also sought Indian cooperation to involve Bangladeshi pharmaceuticals in developing COVID vaccine in collaboration with Indian pharmaceuticals.

Terming the Indian Foreign Secretary’s visit amid pandemic as a breakthrough regarding Indo-Bangladesh tie, Masud said they also discussed about measures and cooperation between Dhaka and New Delhi regarding economic recovery during and post pandemic period.

JCC meeting

The two foreign secretaries discussed about a possible virtual meeting of the Joint Consultative Commission (JCC), the foreign minister level meeting between Dhaka and New Delhi.

“Maybe I will visit New Delhi before the JCC meeting (to fix the agendas),” Bin Momen said adding both sides wanted to hold the JCC meeting in shortest possible time to advance further the Bangladesh-India relations.

Air bubble

The Bangladesh foreign secretary said both sides agreed to introduce air travel bubble during this pandemic situation for allowing treatment aspirants and businessmen to travel between the two neighboring countries.

He hoped that air bubble the JCC meeting will help expediting Bangladesh-India projects in various areas including power and infrastructure sectors under the line of credited as these have been slowed down amid flight suspension due to pandemic.

Under the air bubble mechanism air connectivity will be restored between only Bangladesh and India where no third country will be involved that means the airlines will not take any transit passengers.

India has already introduced such air bubble with France, Germany the UAE and Maldives, an Indian diplomat stationed in Bangladesh said.

Border killing

Bin Momen said Bangladesh side expressed its concern over the increasing incidents of border killings along the two countries’ frontier in last six-seven months by Indian Border Security Force (BSF) nationals.

Bangladesh flagged that this is in violation of all bilateral agreements and that BSF must be duly urged to exercise maximum restraint.

Bin Momen said the meeting decided that Dhaka would host a BGB-BSF Director General (DG) level meeting next month over the issue.
“He (Shringla) assured us that he will give necessary instructions to the new BSF DG so that we, all together can able to avoid this sort of unexpected deaths (along the border),” he said.

Rohingya issue

Bin Momen said Dhaka sought India’s enhanced cooperation over the Rohingya crisis particularly after its election to the UN Security Council this year as a temporary member while Bangladesh extended its support to New Delhi in securing the status.

He said India would start attending UNSG meetings from January next while Dhaka sought the neighbours support in line with current deep Bangladesh-India relation.

Bin Momen said India reiterated its position on safe, secure and sustainable Rohingya repatriation while New Delhi previously put in its effort to get passed a resolution in UNSG regarding the Rohingya crisis while some permanent members were opposed to the proposal.

“So, we requested Indian cooperation here (resolution from UNSG),” he said adding India today promised to cooperate Bangladesh over the issue.

Repatriation and Visa resuming

The Bangladesh foreign secretary sought Indian support to repatriate remaining Bangladeshis including some Tablig members who were stuck in India since the lockdown due to the pandemic.

He also requested for early release of 25 Bangladeshi fishermen who are in custody in Dhubri district of Assam while the Indian side assured all Bangladeshi nationals would be able to return soon.

Bin Momen requested for urgent reopening of visa issuance from the Indian High Commission in Dhaka, particularly since many Bangladeshi patients need to visit India for availing critical and emergency medical treatment.

The Bangladesh foreign secretary said the two sides also drew each other’s attention about some recent misleading media reports in both the countries and they decided to provide regular briefing regarding ongoing excellent Bangladesh-India ties to mainstream media of both sides.

He said they also discussed about the pending joint celebration programme of ongoing Mujib Barsha as well as Bangladesh’s 50 years independence anniversary next year that also marks the 50 years of Bangladesh-India bilateral tie.

They also expressed interest to hold joint programmes at select capitals across the globe as well as at the UN headquarters, through close coordination between the diplomatic missions of the two countries marking the occasions.

Both sides expressed satisfaction that even during pandemic situation, the two countries maintained a high level of engagement on various cooperation especially over the connectivity issue.

Bin Momen reiterated Bangladesh’s appreciation for India for providing medicines and other medical items to contain the pandemic as well as handing over of 10 locomotives by Indian Railways to Bangladesh.

“The visit showed the commitment of both sides (India-Bangladesh) to take the relationship more forward”, Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Riva Das Ganguly told a select media group last night.

Shringla, who was served as Indian High commission to Bangladesh before, visited Dhaka in March last after assuming office of the Indian Foreign Secretary in January this year.

According to officials this is Shringla’s first overseas tour since the outbreak of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

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