On mission Dhaka, foreign secretary hands over PM Modi’s message to Sheikh Hasina | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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On mission Dhaka, foreign secretary hands over PM Modi’s message to Sheikh Hasina

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Aug 18, 2020 09:54 PM IST

Bangladesh foreign minister AK Abdul Momen recently described bilateral ties with India as “rock solid” and said they couldn’t be compared with Dhaka’s relations with Beijing.

Indian foreign secretary Harsh Shringla met Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka on Tuesday to deliver a message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he began a previously unannounced visit aimed at boosting bilateral ties.

Foreign Secretary foreign secretary Harsh Shringla handed over a personal message from PM Narendra Modi to Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday(Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)
Foreign Secretary foreign secretary Harsh Shringla handed over a personal message from PM Narendra Modi to Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday(Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)

Both sides were tight-lipped about Harsh Shringla’s two-day visit, with the external affairs ministry saying in a brief statement after the foreign secretary landed in Dhaka and that his trip was meant to “discuss and take forward cooperation on matters of mutual interest”.

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People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that Shringla had carried a personal message from PM Modi which he handed over during a one-on-one meeting with Sheikh Hasina at her official residence on Tuesday afternoon.

The Bangladeshi premier “greatly appreciated” PM Modi’s gesture of sending a senior official to “touch base, convey his message and see how the two sides could take their relationship forward”, said one of the people cited above.

The people described the meeting as “excellent” and said the issues discussed were enhancing connectivity, revival of the economy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, cooperation on countering the virus, including joint work on therapeutics and a vaccine, and the joint commemoration of “Mujib Barsho” or the birth centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh and the father of Hasina.

There was a proposal to convene a virtual meeting of the joint consultative commission at the level of the foreign ministers to oversee the relationship, especially bilateral projects. A proposal for creating a travel bubble for business, official and medical travel was also discussed, the people said.

Security-related issues of mutual interest also came up at the meeting, and Sheikh Hasina spoke about the issue of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and their possible safe repatriation, the people added.

Bangladesh has called on India several times in recent years to use its influence with Myanmar to facilitate the repatriation of Rohingya refugees. Bangladesh currently hosts almost one million Rohingya, who fled a crackdown by the Myanmar military.

This is Shringla’s first trip abroad since the Covid-19 outbreak. It is also the first visit to Bangladesh by a senior Indian official since travel restrictions were put in place due to the pandemic.

On the Bangladeshi side, Hasina has not met anyone from abroad in the past few months. She has also held meetings with very few people within the country.

Harsh Shringla, who earlier served as the Indian envoy in Dhaka, is also expected to meet foreign minister AK Abdul Momen and minister of state for foreign affairs Shahriar Alam. He will meet foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen on Wednesday.

Also Read: Sheikh Hasina at helm, India-Bangladesh economic cooperation sets a new milestone

The visit comes at a time when India is shoring up relations with key neighbours amid a dragging border standoff with China. In recent weeks, India has unveiled a $750-million aid package for the Maldives, extended a $400-million currency swap facility to Sri Lanka and handed over 10 railway locomotives to Bangladesh as part of efforts to strengthen connectivity.

Hasina expressed her gratefulness for the supply of the locomotives, the people said.

Foreign secretary Momen told the media in Dhaka that he intends to discuss the conducting of trials in Bangladesh of a Covid-19 vaccine expected to be produced by India.

The Serum Institute of India plans to produce the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine if ongoing trials are successful. Momen said he will make an offer to Shringla about conducting trials for the vaccine in Bangladesh when they meet on Wednesday. He said a similar offer had already been made to Britain’s AstraZeneca.

The Oxford University vaccine is seen as one of the most advanced and promising in the world, and has entered its third phase of trials, during which it is being tested on thousands of volunteers.

“Different producers in India are dealing with the commercial side of the vaccine. We have been discussing with everyone about the availability of probable Covid-19 vaccines…so we will also discuss it with the Indian side,” Momen said.

Shringla’s visit also comes against the backdrop of reports that China is set to provide a loan of nearly $1 billion to Bangladesh for a project to maintain the level of the Teesta river during the dry season. Reports have cited Bangladeshi officials as saying that China has agreed to finance the Teesta river comprehensive management and restoration project.

Ties between the two sides have been under strain since last year, when Bangladeshi leaders were irked by comments from BJP leaders about deporting illegal migrants from Assam. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the implementation of the National Register of Citizens also hit ties. Bangladesh PM Hasina had questioned the need for CAA during an interview earlier this year.

Hasina visited India last October, while Modi’s planned visit to Bangladesh in March to participate in events marking the birth centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was called off due to the pandemic. The two leaders have spoken on phone several times this year, most recently in May.

After taking over as foreign secretary in January, Shringla visited Dhaka in March. Shringla had met Hasina during his last visit to Bangladesh.

Bangladesh foreign minister Momen recently described bilateral ties as “rock solid” and said they couldn’t be compared with the relations with China.

“We must not compare the relationships...our ties with India are historic, rock solid. It is a blood relation, while economic issues mainly [determine] our relations with China,” he had said.

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