Indo-Bangladesh ties are best served by full openness
The sudden two-day visit of Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla came to an end on Wednesday.
It is still too early to opine as to the outcome of the visit, but one can conclude that it was an important one, seeing as it took place amid the coronavirus pandemic.
However, what was more noteworthy about the visit of the top Indian diplomat, his second this year, was how confidential it was kept – something that can certainly be seen as somewhat out of the ordinary.
It is well known that the relationship between the Bangladesh and Indian governments is one that is under constant scrutiny here in Bangladesh.
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Given this background, the governments in Dhaka and New Delhi playing this visit so close to their chests was bound to attract comment.
No one can deny that the visit was quite surprising and unusual in some aspects, including the suddenness of the arrival of the dignitary.
Quoting unnamed sources, the media reported on Monday that the Indian foreign secretary would arrive in Dhaka the next day.
But there was no official announcement from either the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, which is not usual.
The Indian High Commission in Dhaka issued a one-sentence statement on the day of Shringla’s arrival.
“Sh. Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary of India is on a visit to Dhaka from August 18-19, 2020 to discuss and take forward cooperation on matters of mutual interest,” it said.
There was nothing from the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry, although Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen said after his counterpart’s arrival that it was not a sudden visit.
Such confidentiality was maintained that an official of the Indian high commission in Dhaka, who deals with the press, would not disclose the schedule of the foreign secretary during his time in Bangladesh. He even declined to say who received him at the airport, and if the top diplomat would leave on Tuesday or stay overnight.
The approach of the Foreign Ministry and the Bangladesh High Commission in Delhi appears to be similar.
The greatest confusion the visit produced was with respect to the foreign secretary’s meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Quoting Indian diplomatic sources and Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Riva Ganguly Das, the media reported that a meeting had been held on Tuesday evening.
But as late as 11pm on Tuesday, the prime minister’s press secretary told Dhaka Tribune that he was not aware of any meeting.
Even journalists who cover the prime minister could not confirm the meeting until long after it had been held.
Nor was any photo of the meeting released, which is usually done.
On Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Masud hosted a working lunch for his Indian counterpart at a city hotel, where Shringla was checked in. Both of them told the media after the lunch that they had talked about different aspects of the relationship.
The Indian foreign secretary did not meet Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen, as the latter was in Sylhet.
Bilateral relations between any two countries flourish if transparency and openness are ensured by the respective governments.
This is even more important with respect to the relations between Dhaka and New Delhi.
One trusts that future high-level meetings between Dhaka and New Delhi will not be shrouded in such secrecy.
The best thing for the strong bilateral relationship that both countries prize is for there to be full openness when it comes to such official visits.