From Sheikh Hasina, an invite to 7 chief ministers to visit Dhaka. Delhi is game – Hindustan Times

Updated on Sep 26, 2022 07:53 PM IST

New Delhi has accepted Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina’s proposal in proposal and work is underway to decide on a suitable time for the visit

Bangladesh's prime minister Sheikh Hasina floated the proposal during her meeting with the minister for development of the northeastern region, G Kishan Reddy, in New Delhi on September 7 (Bloomberg File Photo)
Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina floated the proposal during her meeting with the minister for development of the northeastern region, G Kishan Reddy, in New Delhi on September 7 (Bloomberg File Photo)

NEW DELHI: The Bangladesh government has proposed that the chief ministers of India’s seven northeastern states should visit Dhaka for talks on enhancing cooperation in connectivity, trade and security, people familiar with the matter said.

The matter came up during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s meeting with the minister for development of the northeastern region, G Kishan Reddy, in New Delhi on September 7. Hasina visited India for the first summit with her Indian counterpart since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Indian side accepted the proposal in principle and work is underway to decide on a suitable time for the visit, which will involve coordinating the schedules of seven chief ministers, the people said.

Bangladesh plays a key role in India’s “Neighbourhood First” and “Act East” policies and has been a key recipient of aid and credit under New Delhi’s development partnership programme. Many connectivity initiatives undertaken in recent years, especially in the area of rail links and riverine transport, are aimed at benefiting the northeastern states.

A sizeable portion of the 4,096-km border between India and Bangladesh is located in the northeastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura. The security situation in these states has benefited from the Sheikh Hasina government’s crackdown on anti-India groups such as the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa), which for long had bases in the neighbouring country, and elements supplying arms to these groups.

Under the proposal discussed during Hasina’s meeting with Reddy, the talks with the chief ministers of the northeastern states will focus on further enhancing cooperation in connectivity, trade and security, the people said. A formal invitation for the chief ministers will have to be routed through the external affairs ministry, which will also have to clear such a visit.

During a recent interaction with Indian reporters in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s minister of state for foreign affairs Shahriar Alam described the meeting between Hasina and Reddy as “very promising”. He also said the issue of direct trade with the northeastern states could be discussed when the chief ministers visit Dhaka.

Alam also noted the steps taken by the Bangladesh government ensured calm in India’s northeastern region.

Bangladesh is India’s biggest trading partner in South Asia, and two-way trade has grown from $9 billion to $18 billion in the past five years. Bangladesh also accounts for the highest number of tourists coming to India; many of them visit the northeastern states, both for leisure and medical treatment.

Some recent connectivity initiatives have focused on using Bangladeshi rivers and ports for the trans-shipment of goods from Kolkata to the northeastern states.

Four trial runs have been conducted in the states of Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura under a bilateral agreement on the use of Bangladesh’s Chattogram and Mongla ports for the movement of goods to and from the northeastern states, though officials have said more needs to be done in terms of infrastructure and alignment of customs and other procedures for the operationalisation of these routes.

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    Rezaul H Laskar is the Foreign Affairs Editor at Hindustan Times. His interests include movies and music.

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