New Delhi: Dhaka has said it has no “immediate reason” to be concerned about the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019 as it has been “assured” by New Delhi that it is India’s internal matter and will have no impact on them, according to Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen.
In an interview to ThePrint, Momen said Dhaka is in touch with New Delhi on this matter, nevertheless.
“We have been assured by India that this is an internal matter of India and we should not be concerned. But of course, in the press we see some expressions of concern and we are in touch with Indians. So far we don’t see any immediate sort of reason to be concerned,” he said.
The CAA became a huge cause of concern between India and Bangladesh when it was passed by the Parliament in December 2019, with Dhaka seeking a written assurance from New Delhi.
Compounding the matter is India’s National Register of Citizens (NRC), an exercise that lists the legal citizens of India according to the Citizenship Act, 1955. The list, which was updated and published in August 2019, became controversial for leaving out over 19 lakh names.
Momen was visiting India for the India-Bangladesh Foreign Office Consultations (FOC) that took place Friday, and was co-chaired by Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla. During the visit, he also called on External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.
‘Both countries need to look at the big picture’
According to Momen, India and Bangladesh need to see the “bigger picture” in order to “gain” from the two-way trade in goods and services.
“There’s so much potential if both countries can increase trade volume and get rid of some of the small irritants like non-tariff barriers, counter-veiling duties and some regulatory framework, especially in customs and other departments. If we see the bigger picture we both can gain,” he said.
According to him, the concept of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant India) will also be “beneficial” for Bangladesh since it is also a growing economy. Momen also said that Bangladesh had registered a 5.3 per cent growth during the pandemic. “We can do better with the help of the regional countries, particularly India … Thus connectivity is very important.”
India and Bangladesh are also planning to have a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
Bangladesh has also asked India to streamline some of the bureaucratic procedures to cut down on delays in the execution of infrastructure projects.
“With India, the problems are mostly about procurements, banking regulation, when to start and how to start … so there are some bureaucratic processes which need to be streamlined from both sides,” he said, adding that both countries have now decided to have a regular dialogue mechanism on this issue.
He said projects that are being run by China in Bangladesh are also facing delays — about six months to a year — due to the Covid pandemic.
‘Indo-Pacific an economic opportunity’
According to Momen, Dhaka is planning to soon come out with its own strategy for the Indo-Pacific even as it sees this framework to be more of an economic opportunity than a security grouping.
“We are evidently interested in Indo-Pacific because we are in the Bay of Bengal area and part of the blue economy. For us, getting part of any security alliance as such is difficult because we believe in the non-aligned policies and we would like to keep it that way,” he said.
He added, “We have told this to India and also to the Americans. We are, of course, still discussing all these issues. Maybe in the coming days, we would come out with our Indo-Pacific strategy … But we are waiting to see how America takes this forward, they have changed the terminology a bit.”
Momen noted that while Bangladesh is a “close friend of Japan, Australia, India and the USA”, it is more open to economic groupings. “That’s why we are also part of the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative), which was mooted by China. But under BIMSTEC also, we have so many economic integration policies … BIMSTEC is better than SAARC, which is not moving at all. So let’s see,” he said.
On enhancing defence cooperation with India, he said Dhaka is looking to procure key defence items from India even as they also continue to source equipment from China.
India had extended a line of credit (LOC) of $500 million to Bangladesh in 2018 for enhancing the defence partnership.
“India has already offered a $500 million line of credit … We can diversify our procurement that we get for our three forces and also police and hopefully, we can utilise this LOC,” he said.
He also said Bangladesh’s Air Chief Marshal Masihuzzaman Serniabat will be on a visit to India next month to attend the ‘Aero India 2021’ in Bengaluru.
“We have multiple sources of procurement. China is one of them. India can be another, as long as they can give good items at competitive prices,” Momen added.
Better border management
During the FOC, both countries held extensive discussions on better management of border areas.
“We discussed the need to have more tranquil border management. Sometimes people get killed on both sides by BSF (Border Security Force) or BGB (Border Guards Bangladesh). We feel this number should be brought down to zero because this does not really reflect good neighbourliness if we have these kinds of incidents,” he said.
He said fencing of the border is almost complete and that Bangladesh got an assurance from India that the BSF will “not use” lethal weapons even as he highlighted there were “unscrupulous businessmen on both sides” and that activities such as smuggling and trafficking take place in the border areas.
In October 2019, a BSF constable was allegedly shot dead and another was critically injured after their patrol boat came under fire from the BGB.
Rohingya a ‘big’ issue for Bangladesh
Presently, 1.1 million Rohingya refugees are living in Bangladesh, following the 2016-17 genocide in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. However, Bangladesh is now planning to repatriate them to Myanmar in batches.
This issue had also come up during discussions between prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Narendra Modi in their last summit meet held in December 2020.
Apart from India, Dhaka had also reached out to Japan and other countries in the ASEAN region to ensure the safe crossover of refugees. Meanwhile, China is facilitating a trilateral negotiation with Myanmar and Bangladesh on the issue.
“Rohingya is a big issue for us. So we can seek help from any of our friends. Myanmar is also our good friend and I think they are in a good position to extend help. If China is helping us right now to move forward these trilateral negotiations, we feel that once we are ready with repatriation, with the first few batches, then India, Japan and ASEAN can help the Rohingyas to crossover to Rakhine, ensuring their safety and give them confidence,” he said.