New Delhi: Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary Ambassador Masud Bin Momen, who was in India for the foreign office consultations, has called ties with India “deep and historic”. Speaking to WION, Ambassador Masud lauded India’s vaccine diplomacy, saying, “India has made available not only to Bangladesh but also to other Neighbours, as part of the Neighbourhood first policy of India and we are deeply appreciative of this.”
Earlier this month, India gifted 2 million Covid-19 vaccines to the country. From January 20, 2021 onwards, New Delhi has gifted over 55 lakh doses of vaccines to 9 countries part of its neighbourhood and extended neighbourhood.
During the foreign office consultations and his meeting with India’s External affairs minister Dr S Jaishankar, Ambassador Masud also discussed the Rohingya issue. He said, Dhaka is “hopeful, maybe by the second quarter of this year, we can start repatriation (of Rohingya), maybe in small batches”. Adding, “It should start and it can start provided Myanmar has the necessary political will.”
WION: How were your conversations with the Indian counterpart?
Ambassador Masud Bin Momen: We had a very fruitful discussion with Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla and earlier he visited Bangladesh and had a brief conversation with him. This is more of a regular contact at the foreign secretary-level. We discussed a lot of issues, but the meeting was also about the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Bangladesh to take part in Independence Day celebrations and also 50th anniversary of ties. This year is very important for us, this year we are celebrating Mujib Barsho, the 100th birth centenary of our father of the nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, silver jubilee of our Independence, and the establishment of ties. India was one of the first countries to recognize Bangladesh, on 6th December. So we like to have year-long programs, it will start with PM Modi’s visit to Bangladesh, but it will not be a one of thing. Throughout the year we will have joint programmes, in Delhi, In Bangladesh and also in other parts of the world–jointly by our high commissions. So that was something, we shared a tentative programme with my counterpart with PM Modi’s proposed visit. We would like to make it a special one. Other than that, we discussed trade and commerce issues, connectivity issues, water issues, border management issues, so we have so many mechanisms between Bangladesh and India. We have, from time to time kept track and coordinated and integrated so that we have results from these interactions. Very soon we will have a home secretary-level meeting, water secretary-level meetings, all these before PM’s visit. So hopefully, we will have more concrete developments to report. During PM’s visit, we are identifying a few deliverables which would be important for both the countries, mostly connectivity related issues also symbolic. We have Swadhinata Sarak road between the first place where our govt in exile was sworn in, its in Meherpur. A small patch has been prepared before the summit.
WION: How do you see India’s Covid-19 vaccine diplomacy?
Ambassador Masud Bin Momen: From early days we are cooperating, and PM Modi convened the SAARC summit level meet digitally to discuss covid cooperation and time to time we have received valuable supplies. Now we have a new chapter of vaccine cooperation and India has made available not only to Bangladesh but also to other neighbours, as part of the Neighbourhood first policy of India and we are deeply appreciative of this. 2 million vaccines India has made available to Bangladesh. The administering of which has already begun in Dhaka but will also spread to other cities. We have also purchased 30 million from Serum Institute and some of it has already arrived and we are expecting rest of it to come in phases so that sequencing is done in a manner so that the first shots, 2nd shot get in time. Also, the shelf life of this vaccine has to be taken into consideration. The next stage is India’s own Bharat Biotech. They have also offered Bangladesh to have some 3rd stage of human trial which is under process in Bangladesh. We are also looking at co-production. Some of our pharma companies, they are capable to handle production as well. Thereby joint initiative can help us and help out other countries in Africa, Latin America. As far as Bangladesh is concerned, we are happy to start vaccination in Bangladesh. India, Bangladesh, Nepal the prevalence of Covid is coming down, that is good news. May be by March or April we will win over the crisis if new strain doesn’t come.
WION: Bangladesh-India ties going through “golden age”, but how do you see ties between Bangladesh and China?
Ambassador Masud Bin Momen: Our ties with Bejing are mostly economic and we import from China billions of dollars of worth of goods, which is true for many countries. India used to import from China but during Covid, we have seen interruption of supply chain and it has given us the realization that countries in the neighbourhood should cooperate more, in terms of helping each other, enhancing trade relations. thereby, China is helping us economically and we have some big projects which are currently done through Chinese contractors. Therefore, I don’t see our relations with China should have any serious implications for our very deep and historic relationship with India. We should not compare the two.
WION: If you can update us on the Rohingya Crisis.
Ambassador Masud Bin Momen: This is a major problem for us. You have seen it personally, both in cox’s Bazar and now we are relocating some of them in Bhashan char island. This is a temporary solution because Bangladesh landmass size is a very small country. 1.1 million Rohingya in a small place like cox’s bazaar fraught with all sorts of challenges and risks. We would like to see the early resolution of the crisis and only permanent solution is if these people can go back from where they came, that is the Rakhine province of Myanmar. We have restarted our discussion with Myanmar with the help of China though a trilateral arrangement. We are hopeful, maybe by the second quarter of this year, we can start repatriation, maybe in small batches. It should start and it can start provided Myanmar has the necessary political will. Once these people are identified, verified and ready to cross over to Myanmar, India and countries like Japan, who have good relations with Myanmar can really help. I raised the issue with my counterpart and also EAM Jaishankar, they promised, they already working towards that and when the time comes, they will be more active, especially, another side of the border to ensure safety, security and ensure the sustainable livelihood of these people. In other words, to give them more confidence in going back.