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Keen to take advantage of proximity to the North-East: Bangladesh High Commissioner

India has made two remarkable achievements over the last decade. First, militancy was at an all-time low in North East. And second, there was rapid progress in the sub-regional cooperation on the East, with Bangladesh at the centrepiece.

In an interview to BusinessLine, Bangladeshi High Commissioner to India, Syed Muazzem Ali, describes why the two are related and how the future course of cooperation between India and Bangladesh is set to open a plethora of opportunities.

The framework for Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) is in place. The protocol is yet to be signed. What is the road ahead for BBIN (Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal) sub-group?

BBIN is an ongoing process. MVA is one of our priorities. Other areas of cooperation are energy, riverine sector, integrated border check-posts, infrastructure, restoration of railway links etc. These are all moving ahead.

We are waiting for Bhutan to ratify the umbrella MVA to finalise the stand operating procedure. I am hopeful it will be completed this year. In the meantime ,we are setting up integrated check-posts (between India and Bangladesh). Three are already in place. Another one will come up soon.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is keen to restore the six rail links with West Bengal and the North-East which were snapped in 1965. We hope we will be able to complete this process by the middle of next year.

Has Bangladesh granted North-East connectivity to Chittagong port?

Yes. But, the ground infrastructure is not yet ready to implement this. Nepal and Bhutan also wanted to transfer some cargo to Chittagong (from Kolkata port). But, the finer points are yet to be finalised.

What is the possibility of including Myanmar in this cooperation initiative? How about BBIN-M?

BBIN-M will not happen now because Myanmar is not a member of SAARC. However, it is a member of BIMSTEC which is also spearheading some of the cooperation initiatives. We are having BIMSTEC Outreach event in Goa on October 16 just after the BRICS summit. There we will give cooperation a push.

Is security an agenda of cooperation?

Right now, security is the main agenda of our (Indo-Bangla) cooperation. After coming to power, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina decided to stop Bangladeshi territory to be used by any kinds of activities against the neighbouring countries, as it had became a norm since the Pakistani regime.

In return, the land boundary agreement came into place. After 68 years, the entire issue of enclaves was mitigated. The border demarcation is complete, except a small patch in the North-East where we are still working. Hopefully, it will be completed soon. But such initiatives didn’t come free of cost. Those who were engaged in gun-running are now desperate.

Is Bangladesh getting adequate cooperation from India on security issues?

We have very active cooperation. Our Home Minister visited India last month. He had extensive discussions with the Home Minister here. There has been complete agreement on both sides to assist each other. However, there are some problems. We (India and Bangladesh) not merely share one of the longest borders in the world but it is also one of the most difficult to manage. To resolve this, we are focusing on greater degree of border management.

What about trade, investment and energy?

We are keen to take advantage of our proximity to the north-eastern Indian market (that is far from Indian mainland). Traditionally, they are more linked to Bangladesh economy. It would be of mutual interest if Bangladesh meets the regional demand.

Honda is setting up a motorcycle factory in Bangladesh with an eye on the N-E markets. We want more such investments.

Bangladesh is getting 600 MW electricity supplies from India. But the scope is much larger. We have agreement (with India) on coal-based power generation at Rampal. Adani (electricity supply from Jharkhand) and Reliance (LNG based power generation) have also proposed energy ventures.

We have recently entered an agreement with the Russians for nuclear power generation. I hear, India having experience (with Russian reactors), will train our manpower. We are also interested in tripartite arrangement between India-Bangladesh-Bhutan for hydro-electricity.

Finally, the Teesta water-sharing pact. Is an early solution in sight?

We are very hopeful that it will happen soon. Due to the delay, there are many misgivings in Bangladesh. If Teesta happens, the cooperation initiative will get a boost. Actually, connectivity issue suffered in the past due to Teesta logjam.

West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, visited Bangladesh twice since February 2015. On both occasions, she said she would resolve it as early as she can. I met her a few weeks ago and told her, “We have full faith in you. But please expedite the process.”

Source : http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/

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