Statement by Hon'ble Foreign Minister on Second Bangladesh-India Track II dialogue at BRAC Centre on 07 August, 2005


My esteemed colleague and friend, Mr. Natwar Singh,
Minister for External Affairs of India,

Professor Rehman Sobhan, Chairman,
Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD)

Ambassador Deb Mukharjee, Co-Convenor of this series of
discussions on issues of concern to Bangladesh and India;

Distinguished participants,

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.


I deem it befitting, that this concluding session of the Second Bangladesh-India Track II dialogue, should be addressed by the Foreign Ministers of our two countries. We have just come out of a constructive and fruitful Track I dialogue. I am sure my friend will agree with me that this Track II meet close on the heels of our bilateral discussions is a remarkable confluence of events highlighting the importance of his first ever visit to Bangladesh.

We are bound by geography as the closest of neighbours. We share a huge common boundary. We are irrevocably tied by history, culture, shared traditions and ideas. We fought together in our Liberation War. We have both chosen our national anthems from the works of Tagore. We are committed to pluralism and both countries have functional democracies. We share a multitude of common rivers whose waters serve as a lifeline. We face common challenges to alleviate poverty and bring development and prosperity to the doorsteps of our people. In short our lives, hopes and aspiration are intertwined.

Yet even the best of neighbours have differences between them. The important thing to emphasize is that none of these differences are beyond resolution as long as we keep our dialogue open, remain engaged with each other and move forward if need be incrementally.

Today, the CPD and the India International Center are meeting once again, as part of a continuous process, to consider issues of common concern to both Bangladesh and India. We are conscious of the relevance of this dialogue particularly because the participants have a direct stake in promoting good neighbourly relations between our two countries as many have served as Cabinet Ministers, former High Commissioners and Foreign Secretaries.

Mr. Chairman,

As we take stock of our unique history, age-old interactions and multi-layered cooperation, the pre-eminent question that arises is whether we have fully exploited, the true potential of our relations. While we need to remain constantly engaged in serious soul searching in this regard at the government level, our civil society, academia, professionals and people's representatives have a key role to play. You can lay the groundwork and encourage the forces of co-operation through objective analysis of issues to be addressed. In particular, you can highlight priorities and their relative importance, cost and benefits of policy options and the best possible way to further strengthen our friendship in a constructive and positive manner. In this last respect, the value of the type of discussions you can undertake with your insight, expertise and positive commitment is unquestionable.

It is therefore, only natural, that we look to you for relevant and pragmatic ideas, creative suggestions and a pro-active role to shore up support at all levels for sustaining the process of cooperation between India and Bangladesh. We also need your important support and serious work to enrich the contents of our cooperation.

Mr. Chairman,

I would like to touch on four areas that can outline broadly the scope of our interaction. These are (i) Political interactions and people to people contact (ii) Economic cooperation (iii) Other areas of cooperation and (iv) The SAARC process.

POLITICAL INTERACTIONS AND PEOPLE
TO PEOPLE CONTACT

Since the present government assumed power in 2001, it has been our priority to build close relations with all our neighbours particularly India. The Hon'ble Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia had therefore, instructed me to proceed to New Delhi as her Special Envoy and to convey to His Excellency Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Her Excellency Sonia Gandhi and my good friend Natwar Singh our government's strong commitment to maintain close and friendly relations with India, as well as our desire to remain engaged in a constructive dialogue.

I had occasion once again to visit India as the Prime Minister's Special Envoy in the context of the 13th SAARC Summit when I had a series of meetings with the Indian leadership. The visit was followed up by a spate of high-level visits including those by the Ministers of Finance, Health, Commerce, Women's Affairs, Information and the State Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism respectively. On each occasion we were touched by the warm reception and hospitality and the common expectations of strengthened friendship and cooperation.

At the Civil Society level there has been a ferment of activity and widespread interaction at many levels including SACEPS, the meeting of former Foreign Secretaries and former SAARC Secretary Generals, meetings at the India International Centre and the meeting on SAFTA organized by the Council for Social Development and the Commonwealth Business Council. Their outcomes provide a fertile base for follow-up by governments.

At the people to people level there has been widespread contact and interactions by citizens of both countries for a variety of reasons including tourism, medical treatment, professional employment, business, pilgrimage and for educational purposes. There is substantial cross cultural and sporting interaction. The list goes on and on. Contacts at all these levels have created special bonds which need to be consolidated.


PROMOTING ECONOMIC COOPERATION

Mr. Chairman,

The real catalyst to promote Indo-Bangladesh relations is, of course, strengthening economic co-operation. I am glad to know that in your present round of discussions you have devoted considerable attention to this question. Both our countries, despite the difference in their size and in terms of vital economic endowments, have made some remarkable economic achievements in the past few decades, which they have a right to feel proud of. However, they are still faced with some major economic challenges. Both countries are yet to successfully overcome the scourge of poverty. Social exclusion of large segments of our populations from the benefits of growth poses another challenge. The task of enhancing the capacity of our countries to benefit from globalisation without unduly exposing us to the uncertainties inherent in the process also remains a formidable challenge.

I am convinced that increasing two-way trade between our two countries and significantly narrowing the large imbalance that characterizes it now, is an objective worth pursuing seriously by both our countries. Bangladesh is the largest SAARC trading partner of India. We must take due note of this reality. Our action in this vital area should naturally be such, that traders and industries from both the countries feel confident about shared benefits from further enhancement of economic cooperation between our two countries. Enhancing access of Bangladeshi products to India, through concrete steps, will certainly be welcomed to us. Bangladesh has one of the most liberal investment regimes in South Asia.

Within this framework, we shall continue to encourage trade creating investment from India that may play its own important role in increasing trade between our two countries. A number of projects are now under consideration between our two countries for Indian investment in Bangladesh and they are now receiving serious consideration. An altogether new dynamics of cooperation can be created once we succeed in our discussions on them. However, on matters, relating to trade there is a need for a fresh outlook as to how to materialize progress, which is feasible. In this regard, bureaucratic procedures and a narrow perception of what could be the most profitable option in the short run should not cloud the vision of what could be achieved on a much larger scale in the long run. This is particularly so, if the stakeholders in trade, commerce and industry in our countries agree to cooperate and feel confident about the benefits of such cooperation. There is no other option that holds out a better promise for the future.

OTHER AREAS OF COOPERATION

Trade and investment are the only two areas where we constantly need to take stock as to whether we are doing enough. But there are also a host of other areas where cooperation between India and Bangladesh is of vital importance. I include here the issue of protecting the delicate ecological balance in our common home, South Asia; sharing of water from our common rivers and ensuring energy security of South Asia as a whole in the context of a massive projected increase in our energy requirements. Many of these issues are complex and often have been the object of protracted consultations at various levels. Here too, there is a need for constructive appreciation of forward movement that highlights the value of cooperation. I am sure we shall spare no effort at all levels to work on the basis of mutually beneficial agreement in these areas. There is no dearth of goodwill, I can assure you, in Bangladesh in this regard.


SAARC PROCESS

Mr. Chairman,

Bangladesh also values the SAARC process as an important arrangement to imaginatively complement our bilateral efforts. This is especially so, to address economic challenges facing the member states. We have a shared stake in strengthening the SAARC process not only for the opportunities it opens up for addressing issues which are amenable only to a regional approach but also because the spirit of cooperation generated by it can be a plus factor. A successful SAARC Summit in Dhaka next November, heralding the beginning of the third decade of SAARC activities, will be from this perspective a major watershed. The deliberations that were conducted around certain core economic issues during the present round of discussions in this forum will not only be examined by us for their relevance to Indo-Bangladesh economic cooperation but also for their possible relevance to intra-SAARC economic cooperation. I would once again like to complement you for your sustained interest in Indo-Bangladesh relations. I assure you of all our best wishes as you endeavour in your own important way to create the understanding and environment for positive progress in our friendly relations which can be further strengthened with commitment and goodwill at all levels.

Mr. Chairman,

I would like to convey my sense of appreciation to you once again for inviting me to address your closing session today, in the august presence of my esteemed friend Mr. Natwar Singh, the Minister of External Affairs of India. Our joint presence here only shows the importance that we attach to your deliberations. I hope you will continue your important work with positive results.

I thank you all.

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