Connectivity a priority
The foreign ministers of Bangladesh and India share a common vision of connecting South and Southeast Asia through regional water, rail and roadways projects, as well as through sharing energy, tourism and telecommunication networks.
Regional integration and cooperation are more important than ever before, given the challenges of climate change and the post-Covid situation, in which supply chains have been affected.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen and Indian External Affairs' Minister S Jaishankar made the comments at the inauguration of a two-day international river conference, titled "NADI Conclave", in Assam's Guwahati in India yesterday.
A Shillong-based think tank called Asian Confluence, in collaboration with the Union External Affairs Ministry, Act East Policy Affairs Department of the Assam government, North Eastern Council organised the NADI (Natural Allies in Development and Interdependence) conference.
Momen said, over time much of the connectivity the two countries had between their rivers had been suspended but a lot of it is in the process of revival.
He mentioned that over the years, Bangladesh and India have re-established river, road and railway networks that are connecting India to Northeastern India.
Bangladesh, located between South and Southeast Asia, is eager to be the bridge between the rest of South and Southeast Asia, including Myanmar and Thailand, and landlocked Nepal and Bhutan, to ease the means of trade, he said.
"River routes are more important because they are cost-effective and environment-friendly."
India and Bangladesh have been facing similar natural disasters, Momen said, citing examples of recent flash floods in Assam and Sylhet that have caused havoc to much of the infrastructure and crops.
"We can have a strong regional weather forecasting system to take measures well ahead of time," Momen said.
He added that Bangladesh and India have 54 transboundary rivers, and a common approach of managing the rivers and navigation can greatly help both the countries.
While meeting Jaishankar on the sidelines of the conference, Momen also spoke of signing the Teesta Water-sharing Agreement, which was left hanging due to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's last-minute opposition.
Dhaka and Delhi are working on the water-sharing of six small rivers.
Meanwhile, Jaishankar said an India more connected to the Northeast and a Southeast more connected to India's neighbours will mean a complete transformation of the regional economy.
He also 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 the Feni River that connects Bangladesh and Tripura.
Jaishankar added that the intricate and intertwined cross-border geography is being synergised by agreements on the movement of goods from Indian ports through the 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.
"It is definitely within our ability to overcome geography and rewrite recent history if only we can get the policies and the economics right."
DHAKA SEEKS DELHI'S HELP
At the event, Momen said there are more than a million Rohingyas in the country, many of whom may turn to extremism. He sought help from India and other neighbouring countries to repatriate them to Myanmar.
"They have been temporarily sheltered in Bangladesh for the last five years and they all want to go back. Since repatriation has not yet begun, they are getting frustrated and many are getting involved in criminal activities."
He said all should work together to maintain stability and security of this region by repatriating the Rohingyas from Bangladesh to Myanmar.