New Delhi: India will continue to add “more depth and momentum” in the defence and security aspect of the bilateral relationship between New Delhi and Dhaka, Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla has said.
According to the foreign secretary, talks to deepen defence cooperation will also figure in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Dhaka on 26-27 March, where he will be holding talks with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina.
“Security and defence is an important part of our cooperation with Bangladesh. We have in recent years signed an agreement on defence cooperation with Bangladesh. … We have undertaken joint military exercises on a regular basis, training and capacity building exercises. It is a regular practice for chiefs of our armed forces to visit Bangladesh,” Shringla said at a media briefing Wednesday.
“We have an excellent defence cooperation between our countries. As we go along, we will continue to add more and more depth and momentum to that relationship,” Shringla added.
Shringla’s remarks come at a time India has given a massive push to enhance infrastructure connectivity with Bangladesh and as New Delhi plans to take Dhaka into its strategic embrace under the umbrella of Indo-Pacific cooperation.
The foreign secretary also highlighted that India has extended a $500 million line of credit to Bangladesh for defence imports from India, and has gifted 18 new 120mm mortars to the Bangladesh Army in December 2020 under army-to-army cooperation.
In January this year, a 122-member Bangladeshi tri-services contingent also participated in India’s Republic Day parade.
Two Indian naval ships — INS Kulish and INS Sumedha — visited Mongla Port of Bangladesh from 8-10 March, marking the first naval visit that India has undertaken for the first time in the last 50 years.
According to Shringla, Modi will be travelling across the length and breadth of Bangladesh, which is going to be his first visit since to the country 2015. This is also going to be PM’s first visit abroad after Covid-19 lockdown last year.
On the issues of Bangladesh being part of China’s Belt and Road initiative and the fact that Dhaka is also keen to be part of the Indo-Pacific strategic initiative, Shringla said Bangladesh continues to be India’s “closest neighbour” and ties with the country have entered a “golden era”.
Progress in talks on Teesta water sharing
Last week, India and Bangladesh agreed to expand cooperation on issues relating to water resources during water resources secretary-level meeting between the two countries.
“There was extensive discussion on all the 56 rivers that flow between our countries. Of course, there are issues not just on water flows but use of water for drinking and irrigation purposes, in all areas we work closely. We will continue our cooperation there,” Shringla said.
He also reiterated India’s commitment to conclude the Teesta Agreement. “We will continue to be engaged in that endeavour … But we should not overlook the fact that we are talking about a large number of rivers and this (Teesta) is only one of them.”
During a trip to Dhaka earlier this month, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had said India’s position on sharing Teesta river water “hasn’t changed”.
The issue has, however, become contentious as water is a state subject and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has always opposed the move to share Teesta water with Dhaka.
The Teesta river flows through Sikkim and then enters West Bengal before finally merging with the Brahmaputra in Assam and the Jamuna in Bangladesh.
During their last virtual summit in December 2020, Hasina had raised the matter with Modi as it has become a contentious issue in Dhaka’s domestic politics as well.
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)