South Asia

Bangladesh, India share visions of connecting South, Southeast Asia

Foreign ministers of the two countries say
Bangladesh's Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen with Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar “NADI Conclave” in Guwahati, Assam today (May 28, 2022). Photo: Collected

Foreign ministers of Bangladesh and India have shared a common vision of connecting South and Southeast Asia through regional projects of water, rail and roadways, as well as sharing of energy, tourism and telecommunication networks.

Regional integration and cooperation are more important than ever, given the challenges of climate change and post-Covid scenarios where supply chains were affected – leaving the lives and livelihoods in jeopardy.

Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen and Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar made these remarks at the inaugural programme of the two-day international river conference titled, "NADI Conclave" in Guwahati, Assam today (May 28, 2022).

Shillong-based think tank Asian Confluence in collaboration with the Union External Affairs Ministry, Act East Policy Affairs Department of the Assam government, North Eastern Council organised the Natural Allies in Development and Interdependence (NADI) conference.

Stating that Bengal was in the height of its richness when the regional rivers were connected and the traders could easily sail through the rivers, Momen said over time, many of these connections were suspended but several are in the process of revival.

He mentioned that over the years, Bangladesh and India have reestablished river, road and railway networks that are also connecting northeastern India to the rest of the country.

Bangladesh, located between South and Southeast Asia, is eager to be the bridge between the two regions including Myanmar and Thailand, and landlocked Nepal and Bhutan, for easing trade, he said. River routes are more important because those are cost effective and environment-friendly.

He said Bangladesh and India have 54 transboundary rivers and common approach of managing the rivers and keeping navigation right can greatly help both the countries.

During a meeting with Jaishankar on the sideline of the conference, Momen also spoke of signing the Teesta Water-sharing Agreement, which could not be signed despite all preparations in 2011 due to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's last-minute opposition.

Dhaka and Delhi are working on the deal of water-sharing of six small rivers. Momen said having a right method of water-sharing of the common rivers will be crucial and something that the future generations can be proud of.

Meanwhile, Jaishankar said an India that is more connected to the northeast and the northeast that is more connected to India's neighbours will mean a complete transformation of the regional economy.

He spoke of the restoration of six historical rail links with Bangladesh, overland movement of goods using 28 notified Land Customs Stations, and the Maitree Bridge over Feni river that connects Bangladesh and Tripura.

Jaishankar also said that the intricate and intertwined cross-border geography is being synergised by agreements on movement of goods from Indian ports through Chattogram and Mongla ports in Bangladesh, and from there overland to Tripura and other parts of the northeast.

"What happens when the northeast, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar get more deeply intertwined? Each of them stands to benefit from more access, opportunities, resources, and markets. These endeavours will literally bring the ASEAN closer to us," he said.

"It is definitely within our ability to overcome geography and rewrite near history if only we can get the policies and the economics right," he said.


At the event, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said more than a million Rohingyas in Bangladesh could turn to extremism and sought help from India and other countries in the region to repatriate them to Myanmar.

"They are temporarily sheltered in Bangladesh for the last five years and they all want to go back to their motherland. Since repatriation has not been started yet, they are getting frustrated and many are getting involved in criminal activities like drugs and human trafficking, violence and crimes," he said.

Momen said that Bangladesh's steps to end extremism and terrorism have improved security and stability of the region and enhanced economic development. He said all should work together to maintain stability and security of this region by repatriating the Rohingyas from Bangladesh to Myanmar.