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Bangladesh celebrations boost South Asia connectivity

Published : 30 Mar 2021 09:47 PM | Updated : 31 Mar 2021 12:55 AM

Bangladesh’s twin celebrations - Bangabandhu’s birth centenary and the golden jubilee of independence – have given the South Asian connectivity a boost with the regional leaders attending the mega-event despite Covid-19 pandemic.

They also promised to expand their ties by opening up new areas of cooperation and connectivity routes.

“It shows the maturity of our leadership. They (South Asian leaders) have high level of confidence on our Prime Minister (Sheikh Hasina),” Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen told Bangladesh Post as the 10-day celebrations ended with the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Nepalese President Bidya Devi Bhandari and Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering also joined the celebrations between March 17 and 26.

All the leaders paid their respects to Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, expressed happiness over Bangladesh’s development and agreed to work together in the field of climate change and Rohingya refugee issue.

In their separate bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, all the leaders discussed how to improve the connectivity of the South Asia which is known as one of the least connected regions in the world, despite geographical proximity. The intraregional trade is one of the lowest in the world, according to the World Bank.

“Overall, the Prime Minister gave this much-needed connectivity a boost with this celebration,” the foreign minister said, referring to the discussions of expanding the connectivity by using all means - rail, road, air and water routes.

Prime Minister Hasina viewed that regional connectivity is one of the most important means of trade and that Bangladesh’s unique geographical location in the region provides an opportunity for all countries in the SAARC, BIMSTEC and BCIM to be connected by road.

During the bilateral meeting with Maldives, she underscored the need to have robust maritime and air connectivity between the countries.

Both leaders decided to establish a direct commercial shipping link between Malé and the three Sea Ports of Bangladesh, and instructed their respective officials to work out a Shipping Agreement at the earliest, according to the joint communiqué.

Both leaders also witnessed the signing of four deals –MoU on the Establishment of Joint Commission for Comprehensive Cooperation; MoU on the Establishment of Bilateral Foreign Office Consultations (FOC); MoU on Cooperation in the Field of Fisheries and Pelagic Fishing; and Cultural Exchange Programme (CEP) for 2022-25.

They also agreed to enhance cultural cooperation, so as to benefit from closer people-to-people contacts.

Bangladesh and Bhutan noted the substantial progress made in the past towards signing a MoU among Bangladesh, Bhutan and India on trilateral cooperation in hydro-electricity.

In order to move forward, they agreed that a Secretary-level meeting among the three countries should take place at an early date. They also decided to explore the possibility of bilateral cooperation in this sector.

She reiterated the offer to Bhutan for full access to Bangladesh’s seaports.

The two Prime Ministers agreed to explore the possibilities of rail connectivity between Bangladesh and Bhutan through the recently inaugurated Chilahati-Haldibari rail inter-link between Bangladesh and India.

Bangladesh and India agreed to continue working together for common objectives in the United Nations and other multilateral fora.

Both leaders emphasised that the regional organisations, such as SAARC and BIMSTEC have an important role to play, particularly in the post-Covid-19 situation.

Both leaders agreed to further cooperate in regional and sub-regional platform on a priority basis.

Towards this goal, they agreed to make BIMSTEC an even more effective vehicle for inter-regional cooperation to achieve the aim of collective prosperity of all member countries.

Both leaders also discussed opening of new connectivity routes between the countries such as allowing additional land ports of Bhadrapur-Bairagi-Galgalia, Biratnagar-Jogmani and Birganj-Raxaul to be connected with Banglabandha-Fulbari and Birol-Radhikapur by road as alternative routes.

With Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Hasina underlined shipping as one of the key areas with potential for mutually beneficial cooperation which should result in improved connectivity and open up further opportunities for bilateral trade between the two countries and beyond.  They agreed to conclude Coastal Shipping Agreement at the earlier possible time to increase the connectivity for trade.

With Nepal, Bangladesh signed four bilateral agreements on tourism cooperation, sanitary and phyto-sanitary cooperation, cultural exchange programme, and letter of exchange to designate Rohanpur-Singabad railway route as an additional transit route.

“Our Prime Minister’s vision is clear. She wants peace. She wants to grow with all the countries. She always helps neighbor in any need. And that’s why she invited all the regional leaders,” the foreign minister said. “They all came in her honour.”

With these twin celebrations, he said, Bangladesh has taken a leadership role in South Asia.

“They came in Covid time. Bhutan PM has to be quarantined for 21 days mandatory. Still he came because our Prime Minister invited him. He has a special regard to Bangabandhu. All leaders had shown their special attractions to Bangabandhu.”

Leaders of 65 countries and international organizations have also issued their messages paying respect to Bangabandhu. They also lauded Bangladesh’s socio-economic progress.

“We are a vibrant economy. We are a land of opportunity that we need to show the world. In the last 10 days, we could show that,” the foreign minister said.