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EU and Bangladesh hold fourth Diplomatic Consultations

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The European Union and Bangladesh met for their fourth Diplomatic Consultations on 26 October 2021 in Brussels.

The Consultations were held in a constructive and cordial atmosphere against the backdrop of the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s Independence and the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Both sides welcomed that EU-Bangladesh relations have deepened over more than four decades and thus aimed at broadening the EU-Bangladesh engagement beyond the current priority areas of trade, migration, human rights, Rohingya humanitarian crisis and development cooperation. The EU and Bangladesh agreed to step up cooperation on climate action, digitalisation, connectivity and security, taking into account the EU Strategy for cooperation in the Indo Pacific. In this regard, both sides discussed initiating a regular political dialogue for providing strategic guidance and intensifying foreign and security policy cooperation.

COVID response and post-COVID recovery were also discussed. Team Europe mobilized €334 million for COVID-19 response and recovery in Bangladesh aiming notably at safeguarding the livelihoods of workers in export-oriented industries. Bangladesh appreciated the EU’s support for the direct COVID-response in the form of medical and personal protective equipment, and the supply of vaccines through the global COVAX facility. Individual EU Member States donated an additional one million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Bangladesh. Bangladesh highlighted its call for making the COVID vaccine a globally available public good and stressed the need for promoting vaccine production at affordable price for the benefit of low and lower-middle income countries.

The EU commended Bangladesh’s leadership of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) and of the V20 Climate Vulnerables Finance Summit. The discussion covered a range of topics and priorities in the field of climate change adaptation and mitigation, with the EU signaling, inter alia, interest to support renewable energy, notably regional hydropower generation, and energy connectivity. Both sides underscored the  importance of updated Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement and the need for mobilizing adequate funding for mitigation as well as adaptation. The EU invited Bangladesh to consider a Green Partnership with the EU, which both sides will discuss in detail at the climate dialogue in Dhaka in early 2022. Bangladesh commended the EU’s commitments towards climate action and the EU provided further information regarding its proposed Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism.

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Democracy and human rights are shared values between Bangladesh and the EU. The EU raised the issue of the Digital Security Act (DSA), expressing concerns that some of its provisions risk going beyond the stated purpose of fighting digital crime and also inquired about certain ongoing trials in this context. The EU encouraged Bangladesh to implement the recommendations made during the last Universal Periodic Review. The Bangladesh side provided updates and shared its perspectives in this regard. Both sides agreed on the need to strengthen democratic governance in post-COVID recovery and condemned communal or sectarian violence and discrimination in any form or manifestation, anywhere.

The EU commended Bangladesh for its continuing success as the by far largest beneficiary of the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) unilateral preferential trade scheme. In this context, the EU welcomed the finalisation and publication by Bangladesh of its National Action Plan on the Labour Sector and stressed the need for its comprehensive implementation as per the stipulated timelines. Bangladesh reiterated the need for ensuring fair prices, especially in view of the investments being made in safer and greener factories.

The EU reiterated its appreciation for the generous role and action of the people and Government of Bangladesh for continuing to temporarily host a million forcibly displaced Rohingyas from Myanmar for more than four years. The Bangladesh side thanked the EU for its political and humanitarian support in the aftermath of the crisis. Both sides stressed the need for voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of Rohingyas to Myanmar and welcomed the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Bangladesh and the UNHCR relating to Bhasan Char. The EU raised the importance of providing perspectives to the largely young population of the forcibly displaced Rohingyas, especially in terms of education, improved livelihoods and of ensuring safety and security. 

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In the context of the ongoing implementation of the mechanism under Article 25a of the Visa Code, the EU welcomed the progress that Bangladesh has demonstrated in implementing the Standard Operating Procedures for the Identification and Return of Persons without an Authorization to Stay. The EU urged Bangladesh to continue its commitment and demonstrate further concrete results, including on clearing the backlog of cases, and meeting the commitments set out in the Standard Operating Procedures. Bangladesh proposed that the EU look at opportunities to widen legal pathways for migration by creating employment for skilled and semi-skilled workforce from Bangladesh.      

Cooperation under the Multiannual Indicative Programme (MIP) of the EU was discussed with a view to enhancing cooperation, particularly in the areas of strengthening health systems and green inclusive development.

The EU presented its new Strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. Both sides discussed the political and security situation in the region, including in Myanmar and Afghanistan, maritime security, as well as counter-terrorism and cooperation within the UN fora.

Both sides agreed to work on this common agenda with a view to reaching concrete progress and deliverables, which will be reviewed in the course of the next consultations, to be held in Dhaka in 2023.

The EU delegation was led by the European External Action Service Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific Gunnar Wiegand (pictured), and the Bangladesh delegation was led by Foreign Secretary (Senior Secretary) Ambassador Masud Bin Momen.

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Embassy of Bangladesh celebrate the Bangla New Year 1428

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The Embassy of Bangladesh in Brussels virtually celebrated the Bangla New Year 1428 this week (12 April 2021) with the participation of more than eight thousand Bengali and foreign guests from Europe and different corners of the world.

Noted and acclaimed singer from Bangladesh Nobonita Chowdhury performed songs from different regions and genres of the country in the event. She rendered songs including Rabindra, Nazrul and Lalon Sangeet, songs of Hasan Raja, Vijay Sarkar, and Bhawaiya, which showcased the richness of Bengali songs to the world. There was a narration in English by the singer on the theme and background of each song for foreign guests.

Ambassador Mahbub Hasan Saleh referred to the Pohela Baishakh as the biggest festival emanating from the heart of Bengali people above all differences. He wished everyone a Happy Bangla New Year. He expressed hope that the pandemic situation would be over soon and it would be possible for all to celebrate the next Bangla New Year in person. He also remembered with respect three million people who have perished from the COVID-19 pandemic around the world in last one year.

Ms. Louise Haxthausen, UNESCO Representative to the European Union and Director of the UNESCO Liaison Office in Brussels joined the celebration and wished all Happy Bangla New Year. She mentioned the recognition of the Mangal Shobhajatra - the centerpiece of the Pohela Baishakh observance- as an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ by UNESCO in 2016, categorized on the representative list as a Heritage of Humanity. In a video message, Brussels Mayor Philippe Close described Brussels as a multicultural city, very open to all communities, which has more than 184 nationalities including Bengali community. He greeted all the members of the Bangladesh community living in Brussels in Bangla by saying, 'Shubha Bangla Noboborsha'.

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Ms Themis Christophidou, Director-General, Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (EAC), European Commission, and the Department of South & East Asia and Oceania of the Federal Public Service, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Kingdom of Belgium wished a Happy Bangla New Year to the members of the Bengali community.

Ambassador Saleh also said that 2021 is a momentous year in the history of Bangladesh as the country is celebrating the Birth Centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and the Golden Jubilee - the 50th Anniversary of Independence of Bangladesh.

The event was organised at a virtual platform (Zoom webinar) following the local Covid-19 local guidelines. The virtual event was live-streamed on the Facebook page of the Embassy. The event will remain available on the Facebook page of the Embassy (https://www.facebook.com/bangladeshembassybrussels/ ).

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Pakistan should offer formal apology to people of Bangladesh, says scholar

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Referring to the general elections of 1970 in the-then Pakistan and the Pakistan military, internationally renowned scholar from Pakistan now living in the United States Husain Haqqani, who served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011, said: “The military’s reaction in the form of imprisoning Sheikh Mujib and initiating genocide against the Bengalis ...To this day, no apology has been forthcoming and I think the people of Pakistan should urge the government of Pakistan to offer a formal apology to the people of Bangladesh for all the atrocities that were committed in 1971 ... an apology is the most courteous thing ...”.  He made these remarks in a virtual talk on ‘Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: An Iconic Leader of People’s Struggle for Freedom’ organized by the Embassy of Bangladesh to Belgium and Luxembourg, and Mission to the European Union in Brussels on 29 March, writes Mahbub Hassan Saleh. 

Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, Dr. A K Abdul Momen, MP, joined the event as Chief Guest while Bangladesh Ambassador in Brussels, Mahbub Hassan Saleh, moderated the event.

Ambassador Husain Haqqani, currently a Senior Fellow and Director for South and Central Asia at Hudson Institute, a top think tank in Washington, D.C., United States, said that Bangabandhu is not only the greatest Bengali of all time, he is one of the greatest leaders emerging out of South Asia and a great leader in the history of the world, and an iconic figure of struggle for freedom that the world has seen throughout the 20th century. He said that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is in the same league of great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. 

Ambassador Haqqani divided the struggle of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s into five distinct phases: 01) struggle of the young Sheikh Mujib against the British colonialism; 02) post-1947 protest against the imposition of Urdu as the only state language of Pakistan and movement to establish Bangla as one of two the state languages and then the electoral victory of ‘Jukto Front’ in 1954; 03) Dissolution of the ‘Jukto Front’ Government and Bangabandhu’s continued struggle for secular and inclusive approach on the part of the state; 04) Imposition of martial law by Pakistani rulers and Army Chief Ayub Khan taking the control in 1958; 05) Genocide committed by Pakistan military from 25 March 1971 and Bangabandhu’s image, ideas and words were inspiring the Bengali people to fight the War of Liberation. He said that Bangabandhu had created the sense of freedom among the Bengali nation during his long struggle for independence and gave all the directives to his people to prepare for a war in his historic speech on 07 March 1971 in Dhaka. 

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He added that the then East Pakistan was the ‘Golden Goose’ to the Pakistani ruling elites as most of the foreign exchange was earned from the eastern part (Bangladesh). He also said that the feudal Pakistan rulers never considered Bengalis as equals and were not ready to hand over the power to the elected representatives of then East Pakistan after the electoral victory of Bangabandhu’s party, Awami League, in the national elections of 1970.

Ambassador Haqqani said that now Bangladesh is one of the fastest growing countries in the world and the most successful country in South Asia. Today’s prosperous Bangladesh is the contribution of Bangabandhu and his able daughter, the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. 

Foreign Minister Momen said it was expected that Pakistan would apologize formally for the Genocide committed by its military in 1971 on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee - the 50th Anniversary of Independence of Bangladesh this year. Though Prime Minister of Pakistan sent a message at the last minute on the occasion but unfortunately, he did not apologize for the Genocide committed by Pakistan military on the unarmed Bengali civilians of Bangladesh in 1971. He highlighted that Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Shiekh Mujibur Rahman was a peace-lover during his entire struggle for freedom and Independence, and even today Bangladesh is promoting the culture of peace in every aspect all around the world under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina including introducing a resolution on “Culture of Peace” every year in the United Nations General Assembly, which is adopted by all the members states. 

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Dr. Momen expressed his hope that Bangladesh would realize the dream of Father of the Nation - the 'Golden Bengal', a prosperous, happy and non-communal Bangladesh, a developed Bangladesh by 2041. 

Ambassador Saleh said that 2021 is a momentous year in the history of Bangladesh as the country is celebrating the Birth Centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and the Golden Jubilee - the 50th Anniversary of Independence of Bangladesh. He added that the words of Ambassador Haqqani would help the friends in the international community, academics and researchers to understand better the struggle for freedom of Bangabandhu. 

The event was organized at a virtual platform (Zoom webinar) following the local Covid-19 local guidelines. The virtual event was live-streamed on the Facebook page of the Embassy. A large number of participants from Europe and different corners of the world joined the virtual event. The event will remain available on the Facebook page of the Embassy

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Bangladesh and India consolidate ties

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been invited to be the ‘honoured guest’ on Bangladesh’s 50th Independence Day on 26 March, the day when the marauding Pakistani forces launched Operation Searchlight and allegedly perpetrated the worst form of brutalities and genocide in the erstwhile East Pakistan. Modi’s presence in Dhaka on the day will revive memories of India’s all-out support to the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971when on the face of horrendous cruelties meted out to the hapless people, more than 10 million refugees had to flee and take shelter in India where they were extended all cooperation and assistance by the people and government of India.

Modi’s visit to Dhaka will be in connection with three epochal events – Mujib Borsho (birth centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman); 50 years of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Bangladesh and India; and 50 years of Bangladesh liberation war. The visit of the Indian Prime Minister will be his first visit to any foreign country since the outbreak of Covid pandemic. This shows the importance India attaches to Bangladesh.

Bangladesh-India relations are multifaceted in nature and rooted in a shared history, geographical proximity and commonality in their cultures. The emotional bonds stemming from contribution of India towards liberation of Bangladesh remain a dominant factor in the country’s political, social and cultural web. Economically and commercially, the two countries are becoming increasingly closer. Besides, the dependence of Bangladesh on the common river waters remains an ever present reminder of the umbilical links between the two countries.

Economics has played a significant role in improving bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India. Economic relations between these two countries have over the last couple of years become multifaceted, embracing trade transactions, joint ventures, transit facilities and transport development.

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Bangladesh happens to be the recipient of India’s largest ever financial assistance. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his last visit to Dhaka (June 6-7, 2015) announced that India would provide Bangladesh a Line of Credit of US $ 2 billion. Bangladesh can use the credit in any way it wants. The credit carries lowest ever one per cent interest rate with a repayment period of 20 years and a 5-year grace period.

Earlier, in August 2010 India gave Bangladesh $ 1 billion Line of Credit to be used in specific sectors especially railways. The first portion of this Line of Credit was used in infrastructure and transport. $ 200 million of $ 1 billion Line of Credit was later converted in to a grant. Virtually, barring a negligible portion, the entire amount has already been paid to Bangladesh. India has made it clear that no interest would be charged for $ 200 million that has been converted in to grant. The rest $ 800 million carrying one per cent interest is being used to implement 14 projects, seven of which have already been completed. These include 11 projects valued at about $630m in the railways sector for the supply of locomotives, tank wagons, flat wagons and brake wagons to Bangladesh.

The private sector initiative comes in parallel to the Indian government’s effort to bolster relations with Bangladesh. India’s External Affairs Ministry has made it clear that India continues to see Bangladesh as a “very, very important partner,” and it would like to take forward plans for investment, trade and joint ventures between the two countries. 38 Indian investments had been registered with the Board of Investments (BoI) in Bangladesh for about $183m in the preceding years.

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Major Indian companies such as Bharti Airtel, Tata Motors, Sun Pharma, Asian Paints, Marico, Godrej, Venky’s Hatcheries, Parle Products, Forbes and Marshall have invested in Bangladesh in the recent past. At the Bangladesh Investment and Policy Summit  held in Dhaka in 2016, two big industrial groups of India, Reliance and Adani, committed to make huge investment in Bangladesh to the tune of US dollar 1,100 crore.

In addition, Indian companies plan to invest more than $100m in various projects in Bangladesh. A number of Indian and Bangladeshi companies signed proposals to set up projects in sectors such as limousine services, manufacturing three-wheelers and software development during road shows held in Chennai and Mumbai recently.

There are a number of Indian investments in ready-made garment (RMG) sector like Ambattur Clothing, a Chennai-based company that started operations in Bangladesh in 2007 and later set up its own manufacturing units through acquisitions. Helix Garment started operations in Bangladesh more than a decade ago. Consumer brands like Marico and Godrej have consolidated their position in Bangladesh. Indian tire manufacturing giant CEAT has tied up with Bangladesh’s A.K Khan Group to form CEAT Bangladesh.

The growing resilience of Bangladesh economy continues to attract Indian investment. The average economic growth rate in the country has been over 7.0 percent for the last couple of years. The country has graduated to lower-middle income league from lower-income status. The middle class is rising steadily and creating demand for consumer goods and services. The country has also graduated as developing nation.

This change in Bangladesh economy has not gone unnoticed by Indian businessmen and entrepreneurs and some of them have come with direct and joint investments in selected service and manufacturing sectors. Bharti Airtel, for example, acquired 70% stake in Warid Telecom Bangladesh. It has further injected some $ 300 million in subsequent years and renamed it Airtel Bangladesh.

‘Regional connectivity is not only strengthening friendship between Bangladesh and India but also proving to be a strong link of business’, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina remarked while inaugurating ‘Maitri Setu’ (Friendship Bridge) virtually with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 9. The Indian Prime Minister expressed the view that connectivity between Bangladesh and India will prove to be very important for the north-east region of India and Bangladesh trade as well.

Sheikh Hasina lauded India for ‘building a prosperous region together’ and wished for a ‘successful operation and utilization of the Maitri Setu’. The opening of the bridge is a “testimony to Bangladesh government’s continued commitment to support our neighbor India in strengthening connectivity in the region”, she said.

During the Indian Prime Minister Modi’s last visit to Dhaka in 2015, two MoUs were signed to produce 4,600 Mega Watt (MW) electricity. Reliance Power signed MoU with Bangladesh Power Development Board to produce 3000 MW by investing $ 3billion. Adani Power would set up two coal-fired plants with a total capacity of 1,600 MW by investing $ 1.5 billion.

Bangladesh and India have signed MoU to construct a pipe line for supply of high speed diesel from Numaligarh in Assam to Parbatipur in Bangladesh under a joint venture project between Numaligarh Refinery Limited and Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation. As a goodwill gesture an initial consignment of 2,200 tons of diesel has been transported from Siliguri in West Bengal to Parbatipur by 50 wagons of Indian Railways.  The decision to construct pipe line was taken during Modi’s last visit.

India’s state-owned Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) is set to sign an agreement to construct the 1,320 megawatt (MG) thermal power station in Khulna. BHEL outbid Larsen and Toubro (L&T) and two Chinese companies to bag the contract for building $ 1.6 billion power plant having a final capacity of 2,640 MW. The Indian concern has emerged as the lowest bidder for this ‘Maitri’ (friendship) project.

The Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company Ltd (BIFPCL), a joint venture between Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) and India’s power generation major National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), had invited bids for turnkey construction of 2 x 660 coal-fired super thermal power plant coming up near Mongla river port at Rampal, district Bagerhat, Khulna. This project, known as “Maitri Super Thermal Power Project”, is set to be the largest in Bangladesh. The power plant is a partnership between BPDB and NTPC which will share fifty-fifty ownership of the plant as well as electricity it produces. The project is, however, presently facing opposition from some environmentalist groups.

On security aspects, Bangladesh-India relations have never been better. Bangladesh has already addressed major issues that remained matters of concern from India’s security point of view for a long period. Bangladesh has handed over to India a large number of North East Indian insurgents who had been camping and executing anti-India operations from Bangladeshi soil. Bangladesh government did this even though there was no extradition treaty between the two sides. Anup Chetia, a major United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) insurgent and a constant headache for Indian security establishment, has also been handed over to India by the country.

Bangladeshi security forces have seized huge stockpiles of explosive materials, broken up numerous camps and apprehended a number of Indian insurgents. The arrests and seizures bear witness to wide spread reach and presence of Indian insurgents in Bangladesh. During BNP-Jamaat rule, Bangladesh state machinery continued to indulge in activities endangering India’s security by actively supporting and assisting the ULFA that operated in Bangladesh with ISI backing and patronization.

Bangladesh was being viewed as a hot destination by the ISI in its attempt to wage a full-fledged battle against India. Pakistan wants North East India to remain in perpetual instability so that it becomes easy for Pakistan to intervene and sever north eastern part from the rest of India, thus fulfilling Pakistan’s long-cherished desire to avenge its defeat and subsequent loss of its eastern part in 1971.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has delivered on all of India’s concerns ranging from security to connectivity. India on its part has done its best to reciprocate by giving priority to supply Covid 19 vaccine to Bangladesh.

Many of the long outstanding problems that had existed since the partition of India in 1947 have been resolved. The most important of these being strengthening connectivity between the two countries through resuming the long suspended rail, road and waterway links. The exchange of enclaves and the long standing border disputes were also solved and the Indian Parliament showed a rare gesture of good-will when both houses of the Indian Parliament unanimously voted to ratify the Mujib-Indira accord of 1974 agreeing to exchange adversely located enclaves and demark the boundaries.

Although most of the bilateral disputes between the two countries have now been resolved, Teesta river water sharing continues to remain a nagging problem. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has time and again indicated that the problem will be resolved during his tenure. He pointed out that India works on a federal system and does not take any decision bypassing the concerned state government. West Bengal government which is a stakeholder has to be convinced before taking decision on the Teesta water sharing.

Both the countries have improved not only their diplomatic ties but also deepened their bonds on all fronts including security and border management, trade, commerce and investment, connectivity, energy and power, space, developmental projects, culture and people-to-people exchanges. For the sake of deepening their ties, the two countries have signed about 100 agreements in the last couple of years. Most of these agreements are not merely renewal of previous agreements but also initiation of cooperation in high technology areas such as space, civil and nuclear energy, IT and electronics, cyber-security and blue economy to name a few.

There will be joint monitoring by the foreign offices of the two countries to oversee implementation of all the accords and agreements. Earlier there had been many agreements but not all of them reached the implementation stage. Now both the countries have decided to engage in close monitoring of the implementation process to ensure materialization of the agreements.

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