Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla’s visit signified friendship and trust
The visit of the Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla to Dhaka has led to some uninformed speculations on the purpose of the visit and also its timing.
Now, some of these reports (in some print media and also social media) have completely ignored the detailed press release issued by the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the statement of the spokesperson of the Indian Foreign Ministry.
To put things straight, the fact is that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had a long meeting with the Indian Foreign Secretary, who is no stranger to Dhaka. That he was the first foreign delegate to be meeting her since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic amply reflects that the relationship is truly based on mutual trust and warmth.
There is a grace in this relationship and friendship and therefore, to make an off-the-cuff remark regarding the PM making the foreign secretary wait for four and a half hours is a lack of understanding of this close relationship. In fact, sources convey that the foreign secretary had meetings/calls slotted during the day, including a meeting with the Ministry of Shipping before meeting the PM.
Foreign Secretary Shringla carried the greetings of PM Modi, who has been unable to visit Bangladesh for Mujib Borsho inaugural celebrations. He also reiterated PM Modi’s message of continued cooperation and support to Bangladesh during these difficult times.
I gather that the Indian foreign secretary also had a detailed meeting with his counterpart Masud bin Momen and both sides took stock of progress in bilateral ties, while some specific proposals have been discussed.
These include a few pertaining to Mujib Borsho and commencing an air travel bubble between the two sides on demand of the business and student community, and those requiring medical treatment in India. This would also constitute a high level monitoring committee to monitor the progress of the projects.
Meanwhile, India has also offered its support to Bangladesh in the area of Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics -- which is being viewed widely as a real gesture of friendship and cooperation.
A decision has been also taken to hold the next meeting of the joint consultative commission soon. The JCC that gets co-chaired by the foreign ministers of the two countries has proven to be a useful mechanism in reviewing progress in the bilateral relations.
In defiance to the special procedures in place due to the pandemic at Bangladesh Prime Minister’s Office, the visit was organized with minimum protocols. Reception at the airport was not held in view of the pandemic. There was also a requirement of undertaking Covid tests both before the departure and after the arrival in Dhaka.
The onset of the pandemic has disrupted the usual diplomatic practices. India is fully appreciative of the need to follow these health protocols, and to suggest something more to these special procedures is a poor understanding of the relationship.
Some media reports have incorrectly tried to portray India’s relations with a “third country” as the focus of the visit of the foreign secretary. India and Bangladesh share a unique relationship, which is not only rooted in our cultural ties, but most importantly, it is forged in the Liberation War of Bangladesh.
Defining the state of the relationship on the basis of specific issues does not do justice to the depth and maturity of the bilateral relationship, which transcends the boundaries of strategic partnership. Any suggestion, therefore, that the visit was linked to relations of Bangladesh with a third country is presumptuous.
Yes, there is a burning issue that the people in Bangladesh now expect the much-awaited Teesta river water sharing treaty in place, without any further delay. Let us hope that the visiting Indian foreign secretary took stock of the ground realities in Dhaka and conveyed the same to PM Modi in materializing the deal.
AK Faiyazul Huq Raju is a political activist and media personality.