Foreign secretary meets Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina in bid to counter China's influence

The Asian Age With Agency Inputs  | Sridhar Kumaraswami

India, All India

Shringla's meeting with Sheikh Hasina was significant since the Bangladesh Prime Minister has not met anyone from abroad since COVID-19

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

New Delhi: In a major step towards further strengthening India’s ties with Bangladesh, sources confirmed late on Tuesday evening that India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla called on Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka on Tuesday, with both countries moving towards convening a Joint Consultative Commission at the Foreign Ministerial level to oversee the bilateral relationship, especially projects being carried out for the welfare of Bangladesh with Indian assistance. The Foreign Secretary  had begun a two-day visit on Tuesday “to discuss and take forward cooperation on matters of mutual interest”.

Sources said the fact that Shringla was granted a meeting with Sheikh Hasina was extremely significant since the Bangladesh Prime Minister — amid the Covid Pandemic — has reportedly not met anyone from abroad and very few in the country in the past few months. Sources added that Sheikh Hasina “greatly appreciated” Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “gesture in sending someone to touch base, convey message and see how the two sides could take relationship forward”.

Interestingly, Shringla is also an expert on ties with Bangladesh and had earlier been posted there as India’s High Commissioner. The visit comes at a time when China has been trying to increase its economic influence in Bangladesh. This also comes at a time when Pakistan has been trying to fish in troubled waters by reaching out to Bangladesh and raking up the Kashmir issue with it.

Security related issues of mutual interest were also discussed during the meeting and also a proposal for travel bubble for business, official and medical travel, sources said. Sources also said the bilateral areas of interest identified during the meeting were “development partnership, enhancing connectivity, revival of economy post Covid, cooperation on Covid assistance, including on therapeutics and vaccine, and the joint commemoration of the ‘Mujib Barsho’.” The ‘Mujib Barsho’ refers to the centenary birth anniversary celebrations of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman-popularly known as Bangabandhu-who successfully led the Bangladesh freedom struggle in 1971. Sheikh Hasina is the daughter of Sheikh Mujib who was assassinated in 1975.

Sources also said Sheikh Hasina raised the issue of the Rohingyas currently staying in Bangladesh and the issue of their possible safe repatriation back to Myanmar which they had fled earlier. Sources said Sheikh Hasina also expressed appreciation on India handing over 10 Broad Gauge (BG) locomotives to Dhaka last month to boost rail connectivity between the two nations, seen by both countries as a “vital element of bilateral cooperation in promoting  trade and connectivity and  in boosting the economic partnership”.

India had last month said it was confident that both nations would “appreciate mutual sensitivity and mutual respect in building further on this relationship”. Last month, in what was seen as an assurance to India, Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen had termed bilateral ties as “rock solid”, adding that in the past few years both countries “have scripted a golden chapter (‘sonali adhyaya’)” under  the leadership of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Bangladesh Foreign Minister had also said that bilateral ties with India were based on “shared principles, values and history  touching almost every sphere of life including politics, culture, trade, security, water, energy and much more”.