- India will make its potential Covid-19 vaccine available for Bangladesh on a priority basis
- Bangladesh and India agreed to introduce an air travel bubble during this pandemic
- India reiterated its position on safe, secure and sustainable Rohingya repatriation
- Next month, BGB and BSF will discuss border issues and unexpected border killings
The foreign secretaries of Bangladesh and India have described the bilateral relations between the two friendly nations as more cemented than ever before.
"I had a very satisfactory visit and a short one," Indian External Affairs Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told reporters after a meeting with his Bangladeshi counterpart at Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel in the capital today.
He wrapped up his unannounced whirlwind two-day visit with this meeting.
During the meeting, both sides discussed wide-ranging areas of the ongoing bilateral cooperation with a specific focus on ways to address issues arising out of the Covid-19 situation.
Further, bilateral issues like introducing an air travel bubble during this pandemic situation were also prioritised at the meeting.
Shringla reiterated that Bangladesh comes first for India in Prime Minister Modi's "neighbourhood first" policy.
Shringla said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent him to Dhaka to carry forward the excellent India-Bangladesh relations even during the pandemic.
"The reason I came here is that our prime minister felt during the time of Covid-19, there is not much contact, but the [India-Bangladesh] relationship must continue," Shringla said.
He also said on Tuesday, he briefed Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina about various measures that India undertook to contain the Covid-19 pandemic there.
Even though Bangladesh's Prime Minister's Office did not issue a press release or statement regarding the discussion, Indian influential daily The Hindu wrote that Bangladesh and India had a discussion on the two-year road map for bilateral ties.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was conveyed that her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi wanted to ensure "even in the Covid-19 situation" that India and Bangladesh should remain in "direct communication", a highly placed source said, reported The Hindu.
Shringla further told the reporters, "We must continue to move forward towards our strong bilateral relations, and I came primarily to look at that point".
He said New Delhi will make its potential Covid-19 vaccine available for Bangladesh on a priority basis; once it is produced in partnership with its developer Oxford University, which appears to be a major forerunner in the global race for developing the inoculation.
"For us, Bangladesh is always a priority," Shringla commented.
He said India produces 60 percent of global vaccines and has now reached the stage of trying the Covid-19 vaccine; with an objective to produce it on a massive scale.
Like India, he said Bangladesh also has a large population and it needs to take measures to fight off the deadly virus.
Luckily, the fatality rate is low and the recovery rate is high in both the countries, the Indian foreign secretary added.
Masud Bin Momen, Bangladesh's foreign secretary, said, "When countries around the world have been stagnant in terms of diplomatic relations amid the ongoing pandemic, the Indian foreign secretary has come to our country to discuss and take forward cooperation on matters of mutual interest."
In response to India's assurances that it will provide vaccines to Bangladesh on a priority basis, he said Bangladesh offered cooperation that India may require regarding vaccine trials.
Bangladesh also sought collaboration with Indian pharmaceutical companies to involve Bangladeshi ones in developing the vaccine.
He said they also discussed measures and cooperation regarding economic recovery during and post-pandemic period.
The two foreign secretaries discussed 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]," Masud Bin Momen said adding that both sides wanted to hold the JCC meeting in the shortest possible time.
Bangladesh's foreign secretary said both sides agreed to introduce an air travel bubble, during the pandemic, to allow treatment aspirants and business people to travel between the two neighbouring countries.
Under the air bubble mechanism, air connectivity will be restored between just Bangladesh and India; no third country will be involved.That means the airlines will not take any transit passengers.
India has already introduced such an air bubble with France, Germany, the UAE, and the Maldives, an Indian diplomat stationed in Bangladesh said.
The two foreign secretaries also discussed the latest situation of the Rohingya crisis while India reiterated its position on safe, secure and sustainable Rohingya repatriation.
India is all set to join the United Nation Security Council from the beginning of 2021 as a non-permanent member, for which Bangladesh had extended its support.
"Since India shares strong diplomatic ties with Myanmar, we hope India will be able to persuade Myanmar about peaceful Rohingya repatriation," Momen said.
He further added, "Border killings were one of the issues that we drew attention to during the bilateral meeting. Following that, next month, BGB and BSF will come together to discuss border issues and unexpected border killings."
Both foreign secretaries agreed that greater attention is required to accord more impetus to the development projects in Bangladesh under the Indian Lines of Credit.
Both sides discussed firming up plans for organising joint events to celebrate "Mujib Borsho" and the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh's independence as well as establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries.
They also expressed interest in hold programmes at select capitals across the world, as well as at the UN Headquarters, through close coordination between the diplomatic missions of the two countries
Shringla, who served as Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh before, visited Dhaka in March last after assuming office of the Indian foreign secretary in January this year.
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.
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.