Stepping up cooperation in the fields of connectivity, energy and defence, India extended lines of credit worth $5 billion to Bangladesh after a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as the two countries exchanged 22 agreements here on Saturday.
However, despite the presence of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at the ceremony that included the inauguration of a trans-border rail line, the two sides were unable to make any progress on the contentious Teesta water sharing agreement that Ms. Banerjee has opposed.
“This (Teesta) is important for India, for Bangladesh and for India-Bangladesh relationship,” Mr. Modi said after the meeting. He added, “I firmly believe that it is only my government and Excellency Sheikh Hasina, your government, that can and will find an early solution to Teesta Water Sharing.”
Talks on trade
Apart from the water issues, both sides agreed to work together on ways to advance issues like trade, connectivity, and regional cooperation. “The two Prime Ministers emphasised the advantages of sub-regional cooperation in the areas of power, water resources, trade, transit and connectivity for mutual benefit. In this context, they noted the progress made by the Joint Working Groups on Sub-Regional Cooperation between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) on Water Resources Management and Power/Hydropower and on Trade, Transit and Connectivity,” the Joint Statement issued at the end of bilateral discussion stated.
A major aspect of the visit has been the defence component which includes an MoU on defence framework, and a $500 million Line of Credit for defence procurement for the Bangladesh military forces.
Explaining the military Line of Credit extended by India, Bangladeshi foreign secretary Shahidul Haq said, “The line of credit for military procurement is friendly, flexible and liberal and we are not bound to use it to source our supplies only from Indian companies.”
Explaining the details of the framework agreement, Mr Haq said in a press briefing that the framework agreement would include, “annual consultations”.
That apart, two different MoUs were signed between defence training institutes of India and Bangladesh. Both sides also sealed an MoU coastal route and protocol route.
Bilateral technology cooperation also was boosted by the commitment to support civil nuclear research between two sides. “the leaders welcomed the signing of the inter- Governmental Agreement for cooperation in the field of Civil Nuclear Energy and other agreements related to nuclear cooperation”, the Joint Statement stated.
A highpoint of the bilateral talks held on Saturday was the Line of Credit. “This time around, the LoC is for the amount of $4.5 billion. It is the largest, or perhaps among the largest we have done for a country on a single occasion,” informed foreign secretary S. Jaishankar explaining that the LoC would be used to build 17 projects including port upgradation work in Mongla, Chittagong and Paira ports.
The government also took the opportunity to showcase the bilateral ties as a testimony to India’s official policy of “neighbourhood first.” “If there is one example where the neighbourhood first policy has yielded good result, it is in case of Bangladesh,” said Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar saying that India wants to share prosperity with its South Asian neighbours.
Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Hasina also spoke of increasing security cooperation between two sides. “We will work for peaceful borders and zero tolerance of terrorism,” said the Bangladeshi leader while Mr Modi indicated at Pakistan in his speech in his speech in honour of the Muktijoddhas of 1971.
“There is a mentality in South Asia opposed to the approach of India and Bangladesh, to promote development; this mentality nurtures and inspires terrorism,” said Mr Modi criticising the policy that promotes terror as a state policy
Both sides also supported international campaign against terrorism under the umbrella of the United Nations General Assembly. “They (India and Bangladesh) called on the international community to end selective or partial approaches to combating terrorism and, in this regard, jointly called for the early finalization and adoption of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism by the UNGA.