Hasina-Modi Summit 2022: Renewed Focus on Connectivity

Connectivity has recently gained popularity, with applications ranging from creating economically advantageous links to enhancing political and cultural ties. Strengthening regional and sub-regional collaboration is highly emphasized and accepted at all levels in the aftermath of globalization’s second wave. Thus, connectivity has become a distinguishing feature of bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India. At the recent Bangladesh-India Summit, held on Sept. 5, 2022 Two prime ministers shared commitments to support each other with the expansion of connectivity between the two countries and the development of trade infrastructure on the border. “Friendship flows like a river and flows around rocks,” Prime Minister Hasina once said. India and Bangladesh share a unique relationship where connectivity plays a significant role. However, uniqueness is overused in political circles but this one is the textbook example of good neighborhood policy. As part of their shared objectives for more linked regions, the two leaders explored opportunities for strengthening collaboration in the areas of roads, rail, inland waterways, and coastal linkages Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said during his meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Sept. 5, 2022 that India would continue to extend all support for the development and expansion of Bangladesh’s railway system. Seven Memorandum of Understandings (MoU) has ben signed covering a wide range of domain of cooperation encompassing connectivity through rail, road and water during the recent summit held on September 5th,2022 between Bangladesh Premier and her Indian counterpart.  

Hasina-Modi Summit: A Headway to Connectivity 

The focus of Bangladesh-India relations is very clear which prioritizes ‘connectivity’ as a substantial area of cooperation. A bridge, one highway, and two rail links were inaugurated in the recent bilateral summit. Amid the summit on Sept. 5, their discussion covers a wide range of areas regarding railway, road, and maritime connectivity.

The two South Asian nations enjoyed railway connectivity during the colonial period and even after the partition. Several railway connections between Bangladesh and India are currently operational. Five of the six rail links that existed between Bangladesh and India before 1965 have been restored with the operationalization of the Haldibari (India) – Chilahati (Bangladesh) train link. Much expected Agartala-Akhura railway is soon to be operational which is a textbook example of cross border railway. During the summit, one rail link is expected to be upgraded which is the Khulna -Dharsana rail link worth 3,012 million dollars. Another is the Parbatipur-Khulna rail link which will receive an investment of 120 million dollars. Both the Prime Ministers welcomed ongoing bilateral initiatives such as the Tongi-Akhaura line’s conversion to dual gauge, the supply of railroad rolling stock, the development of Bangladesh Railway personnel’s capacity, etc. The restoration of the link between Burimari and Changrabandha, the construction of a container depot at Sirajganj, the creation of a link between Hili and Birampur, the upgrading of the track and signaling systems, and the establishment of the Kaunia-Lalmonirhat-Mogalghat-New Gitaldaha link were all welcomed by both parties. Additionally, it was decided by both parties to look into various financing structures as part of the bilateral development cooperation for supporting these projects. The two leaders were pleased that the trial runs required by the agreement on the use of the Chittagong and Mongla Ports (ACMP) had been successful and anticipated its full operationalization as soon as possible. The Indian side reaffirmed its demand that efforts be made to extend the 2015 bilateral Coastal Shipping Agreement to cover Exim goods from third countries. The two leaders also welcomed the progress made on India’s proposal to fund the development of a second freight gate at Petropole-Benapole ICP and directed the officials to complete the work earliest. Both the Prime Minister welcomed starting of regular services of Mitali Express in June 2022, the third passenger train between Bangladesh and India.

At the regional level, the two leaders underscored the importance of implementing sub-regional rail, road, and other connectivity initiatives. The Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN) motor vehicle agreement will be quickly operationalized, and the two leaders decided, to speed up efforts to boost bilateral and subregional connectivity. The Indian side advocated the creation of a thorough project study to initiate new sub-regional connectivity projects, such as a highway connecting Hili in West Bengal with Mahendraganj in Meghalaya through Bangladesh. Bangladesh expressed its desire to collaborate on the ongoing India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway project in the same vein.  

Bangladesh has also received free passage from India to export its goods to Nepal and Bhutan. The Indian government welcomed the Bangladeshi business community to use its port facilities for transshipments to other nations in this respect. During delegation-level negotiations, held at Hyderabad House in New Delhi between visiting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, the Indian side notified it. Additionally, India has been giving Bangladesh free transit so that it can sell its goods to Nepal and Bhutan. The Bangladeshi side asked for rail access to Bhutan via the recently opened Chilahati-Haldibari link. Based on the request’s viability and feasibility, the Indian side agreed to consider it. The Indian side asked the Bangladeshi side to ease port limitations, including at the Chilahati – Haldibari crossing, to make this and other cross-border train lines viable. The two sides underscored the need to work for strengthened regional cooperation through regional organizations. India appreciated the contribution of Bangladesh in hosting the BIMSTEC Secretariat and developing its infrastructure and reiterated its support to Bangladesh in its capacity as the Chair of the Indian Ocean RIM Association (IORA).

The two leaders also talked about strengthening communication and cooperation in the People-to-People domain. The bilateral connectivity also exists and can be expanded much further, for instance, in the public domain. The close culture and people-to-people relations have steadily grown. The cultural ties between Bangladesh and India can be dated back centuries. The Indian state of West Bengal is deeply tied to Bangladesh in terms of familiar bonds, linguistic bonds, and cultural ties, and in bilateral relations, these bonds are priceless. During the Summit, both the Prime Minister looked forward to the early launch o the film on Bangabandhu (Mujib: The Making of a Nation) which is a joint venture of Bangladesh and India. Thus, Prime Minis Sheikh Hain’s recent visit has paved the way for future connectivity as well as the scope for unresolved bilateral connectivity projects both on land, water, and regional.

How to Strengthen Connectivity Strides? 

The implementation of bilateral and sub-regional connectivity projects needs to be accelerated by Dhaka and Delhi as Bangladesh plays a significant role in India’s extensive effort to implement its Act East Policy due to its geographic location and its geographical proximity to India’s northeastern provinces. On the flip side, by boosting its exports to northeastern India and imposing tolls on the vehicles that transport Indian goods across Bangladesh’s land or waters, Bangladesh can also gain significantly. The two sides also take up the prospects of connectivity via the Padma Bridge, the iconic engineering marvel. The inauguration of the Railway bridge over the Rupsha River is a landmark achievement towards enhancing connectivity.  The bridge is an important part of the new railway line being built between Khulna and Mongla port under India’s Line of Credit. Moreover, Indian Premier Narendra Modi opened the “Maitri Setu” (bridge) over the Feni River to support the port’s connectivity with Chittagong, Bangladesh. By agreeing to the second addendum to the treaty on inland water transit and trade in May 2020, the two sides additionally strengthened their inland water connectivity. Protocol-based trade is an economical and ecologically friendly means of transportation. Broad-gauge railway connectivity from Dhaka to Tripura is expected to build as a part of ameliorating railway connectivity between these two neighbors. The necessity of putting into action bilateral and subregional rail, road, and other connectivity efforts was emphasized by the two leaders. 

The India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) Trilateral Agreement could have advantageous effects on the region’s energy development, where Bangladesh aspires to be a partner. This deal can lessen Bangladesh’s reliance on Europe for energy while also increasing its capability in terms of cost and timeliness. 

South Asia is the heart of the neo-geopolitical race. The two competing global power centers are striving to sway nations to their respective positions in light of the escalating rivalry between the West and Russia and China. In light of this, Bangladesh and India should collaborate to address current issues and concentrate on promoting peace and stability to foster stronger friendship and collaboration. Connectivity is the key area of collaboration. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent visit to India which had taken place from Sept. 4 to 8, 2022  will enhance the connectedness that already exists while also igniting the field of collaboration that is of profound relevance for both bilateral and regional solidarity through bolstering the connectivity in bilateral, regional, and public domains. 

[Photo by Prime Minister’s Office (India)]

*Saume Saptparna Nath is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs, Dhaka, Bangladesh. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Granules & Geopolitics: Conflicts over Sand

Sand, the most abundant of all minerals, is present around us. After air and water, it is the most consumed natural resource on earth....

Defence Exports Could Address the Gaps in India’s Foreign Engagements

India is set to export indigenous Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers (MBRL) to Armenia. The cost of this deal is estimated to be $250 million....

UN Working Group on Disappearance Should Rethink Data Collection Method to Avoid Unwanted Mistakes

On Sept. 21, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearance (WGEID) published its annual report. It was the 128th session of...