Defence, trade in focus as Hasina begins visit

Published on Sep 04, 2022 11:34 PM IST

The two sides are expected to sign several agreements, including on sharing of river waters and on defence hardware, on September 6, the main working day for the visit when Hasina will hold talks with Modi to take stock of bilateral ties

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka on Sunday. (ANI)
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka on Sunday. (ANI)
ByRezaul H Laskar and Rajeev Jayaswal, New Delhi

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will on Monday begin a four-day visit to India for a summit with her counterpart Narendra Modi, with the focus on enhancing trade, connectivity and cooperation in key areas such as water-sharing and defence.

The two sides are expected to sign several agreements, including on sharing of river waters and on defence hardware, on September 6, the main working day for the visit when Hasina will hold talks with Modi to take stock of bilateral ties.

This will be Hasina’s first bilateral foreign visit since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, though she travelled to the US last year to attend the UN General Assembly. Modi made his first foreign trip after the start of the pandemic to Dhaka in March last year to attend celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence.

Bangladesh occupies a central position in India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy and the meeting on Tuesday will allow the two leaders to take a comprehensive overview of bilateral relations and to focus on ways to take ties to the next level, people familiar with planning for the visit said.

The operationalisation of an Indian line of credit of $500 million for Bangladesh to procure defence equipment, which was offered in 2019, and the signing of a memorandum of understanding on sharing of waters of Kushiyara river are expected to be among the outcomes of the visit, the people said.

In a sign of the importance attached to the visit by Dhaka, Hasina’s delegation will include about a dozen ministers and advisers, including foreign minister AK Abdul Momen, commerce minister Tipu Munshi, railways minister Nurul Islam Sujan and power and energy minister Nasrul Hamid.

Hasina will participate in a business forum in New Delhi on September 7, which is expected to see the signing of an agreement between two leading trade bodies. She will also award scholarships to the descendents of 200 Indian military personnel who died or sustained severe injuries in the 1971 war that led to the creation of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia, and two-way trade has grown from $9 billion to $18 billion in the past five years. Bangladesh has also become India’s fourth largest export destination.

During the ministerial meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission last month, the two sides held detailed technical discussions and exchanged data for preparing a framework interim river water sharing agreement for six of the 54 rivers shared by India and Bangladesh, the people said. The Bangladesh side proposed the inclusion of eight more rivers to the priority list, and the Indian side suggested this should be discussed by the commission’s technical committee.

Dhaka has been pushing for finalising a long-pending agreement on the sharing of waters of the Teesta river and Hasina said ahead of her visit that India — a “trusted friend and close neighbour” — should show “more broadness” in addressing this issue. Bangladesh has also been asking India to do more for the repatriation of more than one million Rohigya refugees sheltering on its soil.

In the field of joint work to avert floods, India is providing data from certain terminal stations on the Ganga, Brahmaputra, Barak and other rivers. From this flood season onwards, India has extended the period of flood data transmission up to October 31 (which was earlier up to October 15) to cater for any unforeseen floods, the people said.

Bangladesh has been seeking data from more upstream stations on the Ganga, Brahmaputra and Barak to have more accurate information and increased lead time for flood forecasting. The two sides have also decided that standard operating procedures for flood data sharing will be prepared by a technical committee.

Besides her official engagements, Hasina will visit the dargah of Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya in New Delhi and the dargah of Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer.

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