Border killings shameful for India as well as for Bangladesh, says Dr Momen
The sixth meeting of the Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) between Bangladesh and India concluded on Tuesday, without any progress on the signing of much-awaited Teesta water-sharing agreement and the killing of Bangladeshis along the border.
Similar to many previous occasions, there were only assurances from India with respect to the two most contentious issues between the two neighbours.
The JCC meeting, the highest political platform between the two countries to discuss every aspect of the relationship, was co-chaired by Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen and his Indian counterpart, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar.
Secretaries and high-level representatives from a large number of ministries and divisions of both the countries joined the meeting as well.
Although it was Dhaka’s turn to host the meeting, due to the Covid-19 situation, the meeting was held on a web platform.
The fifth JCC meeting was held in February 2019 in New Delhi.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the two ministers reviewed and discussed the entire gamut of bilateral relations including cooperation on connectivity, security, political issues, development, trade and investment, power and energy sector, and people to people contacts, according to a press release issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“We are always hopeful,” Foreign Minister Momen told a briefing after the virtual meeting, replying to a question on the Teesta deal that was supposed to be signed more than nine years ago.
Responding to other questions regarding the impending deal, he said: “We have emphasized on the implementation of the agreement. We also called for solution in relations to six more rivers. And they have shown enough interest about this. (The) JRC meeting was held in 2010. We hope there will be another one where the issue will be resolved.”
However, he could not provide any timeframe as to when the deal might be struck.
Despite repeated requests from Bangladesh, no JRC meeting has taken place for a decade.
“Both sides underscored the necessity of early resolution of the Teesta water sharing, and early resolution of agreements on sharing of all common rivers,” said the Foreign Ministry press statement. “The two sides also agreed to hold the long pending Joint Rivers Commission meeting soon at the Ministerial level to address outstanding issues on water resources cooperation.”
Asked if the Indian side raised the issue of the involvement of China regarding the Teesta River, the foreign minister told the briefing: “We have heard about the issue. We don’t know.”
Dhaka is waiting for the implementation of the Teesta agreement, the draft of which was initiated by the officials concerned from both the countries, he said.
About the killings of Bangladeshis by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) along the border, Dr Momen said: “We raised the issue. It’s shameful for us. And it’s shameful for India as well. Our solid relations are hurt by these incidents.”
Both the countries will conduct joint patrolling along the border where Bangladeshis are killed, he said.
The press statement said: “The two ministers stressed on the need for strengthening effective implementation of the Coordinated Border Management Plan. Bangladesh side highlighted that the entire nation is deeply concerned at the rise in killings of Bangladeshi nationals by Indian border forces. Indian side agreed that the loss of civilian lives at the border is a matter of concern. Both sides urged the concerned border forces to enhance coordinated measures to bring down border incidents to zero.”
Dhaka seeks Delhi’s help on Rohingya crisis
During the meeting, Foreign Minster Momen expressed hope that as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, India would play a more meaningful role for a lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis, including their early repatriation to Myanmar in a safe and sustainable manner.
However, he would not say what the response from his Indian counterpart was.
Dhaka wants Hasina-Modi meeting to be meaningful
The JCC meeting agreed that a meeting between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi would be held in December.
When asked about the meeting, Dr Momen said that both the prime ministers would meet virtually.
“The exact agenda (for the meeting) has not been fixed yet. We want the meeting to be meaningful,” he said.
Agreement on air bubble arrangement
Both sides positively reviewed the possibilities of resuming air connectivity, during the ongoing pandemic, through special air bubble arrangement with equal share of frequencies and routes by the carriers of the two countries, said the foreign minister.
The Bangladesh side requested the Indian side to reciprocally ease visa and land border restrictions for Bangladeshi nationals, particularly for medical patients and students enrolled at various educational institutions in India, he said.
Asked about the air bubble arrangement, Dr Momen said that the officials concerned of both the countries had already been instructed to start the process, including formulation of the modalities.
Monitoring for projects implemented under LOC
“The issue related to the Indian line of credit was a big one (in the meeting). The progress of the implementation of the projects has been very slow,” Dr Momen said, stressing the need for removal of the bottlenecks and relaxation of conditions, if necessary.
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“Both sides discussed implementation of the development projects under the Indian Lines of Credit in a timely manner,” he said.
“A high-level monitoring committee was agreed to be formed, with the secretary of ERD and the Indian high commissioner in Bangladesh leading the committee on each side,” Dr Momen said.
Trade, business and investment
Enhancing cooperation on energy and power sector through facilitation of tripartite power-energy cooperation among Bangladesh-India-Nepal and Bangladesh-India-Bhutan was also discussed, said the minister.
“Bangladesh thanked India for the concessions being provided under Safta [South Asian Free Trade Area]. However, various non-tariff barriers and lack of adequate trade facilitation is impeding flow of Bangladeshi products into India, particularly the northeast,” he said.
“Bangladesh requested the Indian side to address issues of accreditation, certification, standardization, port restrictions and developing port infrastructure to enable exports into India,” said Dr Momen.
He requested his Indian counterpart to look into the export of essential commodities, such as onions, as this impacts the domestic market of Bangladesh.
In this regard, the minister said that the solid relationship between the two countries is hurt by the recent Indian decision to stop onion export to Bangladesh.
Bangladesh also put stress on the equitable application of investment policies by India.