Indian Foreign Secy travels to Dhaka, meets B’desh PM

By   |  Sumi Khan  |  Published: 19th Aug 2020  4:17 pm

Dhaka: Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla has met Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka. He conveyed Delhi’s message that the Government of India has special relations with Dhaka, and will continue to be its development partner.

Shringla called on Hasina at her official residence Gono Bhaban on Tuesday evening and discussed post-Covid-19 economic recovery and assistance.

Hasina appreciated the visit, adding she was happy that Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent a top official to convey the message.

Besides, the Bangladesh Premier also appreciated the introduction of 10 Indian locomotives for transport of goods during the pandemic, an official told IANS.

On the Hasina-Shringla meeting, officials said India proposed an air travel bubble, meaning that flights will operate only between India and Bangladesh during the pandemic for medical patients and businesses.

They also discussed a possible virtual meeting of the Joint Consultative Commission, a Foreign Ministerial level meeting of the two countries.

The meeting also touched upon the connectivity and cooperation in post-Covid-19 economic recovery, assistance, including therapeutic and in vaccine, celebration of Mujib Borsho and the 50th year anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence and Bangladesh-India diplomatic relations next year, said officials

“India has special and close relations with Bangladesh. Therefore, the foreign secretary has come to meet the prime minister with this message in an unofficial visit even during this pandemic,” Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Riva Ganguly Das told the media.

An Indian diplomat said it was an “unofficial” visit by Foreign Secretary Shringla, who is a former Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh. After joining as the Indian Foreign Secretary in January, he came to Dhaka in early March this year ahead of Modi’s scheduled visit to Dhaka to attend the inaugural of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s birth centenary. Modi, however, could not come due to the pandemic.

“Our PM could not come and we cannot stop all our visits due to the pandemic. So, Secretary Shringla came for a visit. This shows the depth of our relations,” the diplomat said.

This is the first visit by a high-level Indian official to Dhaka since the Covid-19 pandemic began in mid-March. Shringla is also expected to meet Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam and Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen on Tuesday.

Both the neighbouring countries have been reportedly discussing ways to further strengthen trade ties in the aftermath of the corona vaccine. Dhaka is set to discuss the trial of Oxford University’s Covid-19 vaccine, millions of doses of which will be produced by India’s Serum Institute if successful in tests, in Bangladesh.

The Foreign Secretaries of Bangladesh and India will meet on Wednesday to discuss the overall issues of bilateral co-operation in the fight against the pandemic.

Bangladesh will explore all the avenues to get quick access to Covid-19 vaccine and choose one which will be safer and useful for the country, said Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen.

“As part of discussions with others, we’ll discuss the issue of the vaccine with India. We should have all options and we’ll head for that one which will be safer and useful for us,” he added.

Momen said Bangladesh would discuss with India whether there is any scope for trial of the vaccine. Momen said Bangladesh also communicated with Britain’s AstraZeneca via the High Commission in London with the offer for the trial to be held in Bangladesh.

Developed in collaboration with British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, Oxford University’s vaccine candidate is leading the race for a vaccine seen as the only viable option to get the world out of the coronavirus pandemic.

Bangladesh, with 282,344 coronavirus cases and 3,740 deaths, is also trying different ways to secure a vaccine.

The Bangladesh Medical Research Council recently approved late stage trial of a vaccine candidate developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd, but the government has delayed a decision on the issue due to its sensitivity.

“Different vaccine producers in India are dealing with the commercial sides of the vaccine. This is the reason driving our efforts. We are in discussion with different countries that have developed vaccines, be it the Americans or Oxford,” Momen said.

“The vaccines are under trial in India. We will have the discussion (with India) as part of our efforts to get quick access to all of those. We will discuss how we can cooperate with all,” Momen added.

The Bangladesh Foreign Secretary also said that he would have visited India more than once if the Covid-19 epidemic situation was not there and if the situation was normal.

“Relations between Bangladesh and India are multifaceted. There are many things inside a collaborative relationship. There may have been such visits at different times and in the past,” said Momen.

Momen added: “The Indian Foreign Secretary was in Dhaka about six months ago also and it was time for his second visit naturally. But the issues are not stopping because of coronavirus. In addition, Covid-19 is a big issue and there is cooperation.”