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Hasina Due in India

This will be the first incoming bilateral State Visit after the formation of the government in India following the 18th Lok Sabha elections…reports Asian Lite News

At the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina will pay a State Visit to India on 21-22 June 2024, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a press release.

This will be the first incoming bilateral State Visit after the formation of the government in India following the 18th Lok Sabha elections.

“During the visit, apart from holding bilateral consultations with the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is scheduled to call on the President Droupadi Murmu and Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar,” the release added.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is scheduled to call on the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was among the international leaders who attended the swearing-in ceremony of the Prime Minister and the Union Council of Ministers on June 9.

Over the years, India and Bangladesh have forged a multifaceted relationship, marked by a shared history, culture, and geographical proximity. The two neighbours enjoy warm ties, which have further expanded under the leadership of PM Modi and Sheikh Hasina.

The year 2023 witnessed a spur of bilateral activities between both countries as an embodiment of the strength of the relationship. Both Prime Ministers jointly inaugurated the India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline on 18 March in a virtual format.

PM Sheikh Hasina also participated virtually in the Inaugural Session of the Voice of the Global South Summit on 11 January 2023 and the second Virtual Voice of the Global South Summit on 17 November 2023.

As a Guest Country invited to India’s G20 Presidency in 2023, Bangladesh participated under various tracks at the Ministerial level including the former Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, AK Abdul Momen in the G20 Foreign Ministers Meeting and G-20 Development Ministers Meeting in March 2023 and June 2023 respectively

Both Prime Ministers jointly inaugurated three Indian-assisted development cooperation projects in Bangladesh on 1 November 2023 virtually. The projects are the Akhaura-Agartala cross border rail link, Khulna-Mongla Port rail line and Unit II of Maitree Super Thermal Power Plant, according to the MEA. (ANI)

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Strengthening Regional Bonds

Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Seychelles reaffirmed their strong friendship with India by attending the June 9 oath-taking ceremony, writes Keshav Pradhan

One image that caught attention within and outside India when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) headed by the BJP assumed office on June 9 was that of the guests from seven countries spreading from the east African coast to the Indian Ocean and to the Himalayas.
Seated in the forecourt of the majestic Rashtrapati Bhavan, the venue of the swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi, were Sheikh Hasina, Tshering Tobgay, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Pravind Kumar Jugnauth (Prime Ministers of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and Mauritius respectively), Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mohamed Muizzu (Presidents of Sri Lanka and the Maldives respectively) and Ahmed Afif (Vice-President of Seychelles).
Like India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives are part of the eight-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Owing to various reasons, the two remaining SAARC nations, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, were not invited to the ceremony.
Guiding stars: Neighbourhood First & SAGAR
For quite some time, India has been trying to develop, nurture and strengthen its relations with its neighbours under the banners of Neighbourhood First and SAGAR (Security and Growth of All in the Region). SAGAR is aimed at fortifying India’s ties with its maritime neighbours.
As part of the twin diplomatic campaigns, New Delhi has introduced the practice of inviting heads of friendly neighbouring countries to witness the assumption of power by a new government at the Centre. The first time it did so was in 2014 when the NDA assumed office under Modi’s leadership.
It had then invited heads of all SAARC nations, including Pakistan and Afghanistan. The presence of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the Modi government’s first take-over ceremony created considerable optimism about an improvement in Indo-Pak relations that had nosedived after the Kargil conflict in 1999.
New Delhi invited heads of nations belonging to the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) to witness the ascension of the Modi-led NDA to power for a second consecutive term in 2019. The BIMSTEC comprises India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand. 
Hosted in accordance with the same diplomatic tradition, the June 9 ceremony seemed to have generated considerable positivity between India and the seven invitee countries.
This became evident the moment the Maldives President accepted New Delhi’s invitation amid the turbulence he himself had created in his country’s traditional ties with India by getting closer to China last year.
The arrival of Hasina, Tobgay, Dahal and Wickremesinghe and their subsequent public statements indicated their countries’ growing affinity with India’s Neighbourhood First Policy.
New Delhi maintains that it accords paramount importance to its neighbours to promote both bilateral and multilateral ties in South Asia and the region extending from the Bay of Bengal to the western end of the Indian Ocean.
India’s confidence emanates from the fact that it’s the only country that is connected to all nations in the region either by land or sea, or by both. Without its support, trade, and commerce between different SAARC, Southeast Asian and Indian Ocean countries will either be very difficult or extremely expensive.
Continuity as friendship propeller
Most of India’s friends hope that the continuity of rule by the same dispensation in New Delhi may significantly help in promoting economic growth and people-centric friendship under landmark initiatives like Neighbourhood First, Act East Policy, BIMSTEC, Bangladesh-Bhutan-India Nepal (BBIN) and SAGAR.
Besides, SAARC-run economic systems such as the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (Safta) and SAARC Preferential Trade Agreement (SAPTA) are already there to boost bilateral as well as multilateral trade.
Such continuity of rule in Bangladesh, where Hasina took charge for a fourth successive term earlier this year, is believed to be one of the key reasons why Dhaka and New Delhi have moved so close to each other in recent years.
Likewise, Bhutan recently elected Tobgay, known to have a soft corner for India, as its PM again after a gap of five years. He has the distinction of attending all three swearing-in ceremonies of Modi, whom he fondly calls his guru. Between 2014 and 2019, the Bhutanese PM was serving his first term in office.
In Nepal, Dahal managed to retain power by replacing his partner, the Nepali Congress, with his friend-turned-foe, Kharga Prasad Sharma Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) last month.
If the Nepali Congress is known for its pro-Delhi leaning, Oli is considered to be soft towards Beijing. Despite this, Dahal attended the assumption of power by the NDA government amid controversy over his government’s recent decision to include Kalapani in maps on Nepal’s currency notes.
Both Kathmandu and New Delhi claim Kalapani, close to the Uttarakhand-Tibet-Nepal tri-junction, as their own. The dispute hit the headlines in 2020 when India built a road in Kalapani and Nepal under Oli put it on its map in retaliation. Dahal, in power since December 2022, has refrained from taking up this matter with India.
In view of all this, S. Jaishankar’s appointment as India’s External Affairs Minister for a second consecutive term may come in handy for Delhi while dealing with neighbourhood leaders, most of whom he is familiar with.
Marching along highway of hope
Modi had once described as ‘Sonali Adhdhaya’ (golden chapter) the present phase of India-Bangladesh ties. Bhutan may go even farther as far as proximity to India is concerned.
Occasions such as the June 9 ceremony may encourage every invitee country to discuss matters of bilateral or multilateral importance in a forceful, cordial, and constructive manner.
Almost all of them recognise New Delhi’s rapidly growing regional and global importance. India is a key member of QUAD, G20 and many other influential international security and economic groups.
India’s neighbours, which are bound by a common history, culture, heritage, geography and economy, acknowledge trade, energy, infrastructure, connectivity, defence, science, and security as pillars of their friendship with New Delhi.  
(The author is an ex-editor of The Times of India who writes on diplomatic/SAARC affairs, Nepal, Bhutan, and China-Tibet issues; views expressed here are his own) India News Network

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World Bank Reaches out to Rohingya Refugees

Around 1 million displaced Rohingya people from Myanmar are currently living in Bangladesh…reports Asian Lite News

The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors has approved two projects totalling 700 million US dollars to provide basic services and build disaster and social resilience for both the host communities and the displaced Rohingya population in Bangladesh.

The 350-million-dollar Inclusive Services and Opportunities for Host Communities and Displaced Rohingya Population Project and the 350-million-dollar Host and Rohingya Enhancement of Lives Project will together provide support to the Bangladeshi host communities and the Rohingya people as this crisis enters its seventh year, the Washington-based lender said in a statement on Tuesday.

Around 1 million displaced Rohingya people from Myanmar are currently living in Bangladesh, according to the statement, reports Xinhua news agency.

“We greatly appreciate the Government of Bangladesh’s generosity in supporting nearly one million Rohingya people. We also recognise the enormous pressure placed on the host communities,” said Abdoulaye Seck, World Bank country director for Bangladesh and Bhutan.

“With the crisis entering its seventh year, long-term planning and sustainable solutions have become critical while also addressing short-term, urgent needs. We are fully committed to supporting the Government of Bangladesh to address this complex crisis and support the wellbeing of both the Rohingya and host communities,” said the World Bank country director.

The Inclusive Services and Opportunities for Host Communities and Displaced Rohingya Population (ISO) Project will build on active investments in livelihoods and essential health, nutrition, family planning, gender-based violence response and prevention services for at least 980,000 people in the Rohingya and host communities.

The project will prioritise investment in human capital development, with the aim of supporting the education of 300,000 Rohingya children under the age of 12.

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Cab driver Arrested in Bangladesh MP death case

The cab and its driver were identified through CCTV footage from the New Town residential complex, leading to the detention of the driver by CI sleuths for further inquiries….reports Asian Lite News

The Criminal Investigation (CID) of West Bengal Police detained a cab driver on Thursday in connection with the mysterious death of Bangladesh MP Anwarul Azim who was residing in a rented flat in a posh residential complex in New Town, Kolkata.

Azim, a three-time MP in Bangladesh, was missing for the last eight days. He came to Kolkata for some medical treatment purposes on May 12 and initially, had put up at the residence of his long associate and friend in the city Gopal Biswas at Baranagar.

However, on May 14 he went out of Biswas’s residence and informed the latter that he would be returning the same day.

State police sources said he went missing since then and his mobile phone was also switched off.

Sources aware of the development said the investigating CID sleuths got specific information that on May 14, the deceased Bangladesh MP reached the posh residential complex at New Town from Baranagar through an app-cab. Both the cab and its driver, sources said, have been identified from the footage of the CCTV cameras installed at the New Town residential complex. Hence, the CI sleuths detained the cab driver to get more details on this count.

CID sleuths have also got CCTV footage of some people leaving the housing complex by the same cab. The driver is being questioned on which number the cab was booked and where those people were dropped off, said sources.

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Missing Bangladesh MP Found Dead in Kolkata

Bangladeshi MP Anwarul Azim, who entered India on May 12, was last seen on May 13 in Bidhannagar near Kolkata for a medical check-up…reports Asian Lite News

The Member of Parliament (MP) from Bangladesh’s ruling party Anwarul Azim, who allegedly went missing on May 18, was found dead in Kolkata on Wednesday.

Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan in a news conference in Dhaka said that the MP was killed in Kolkata. Speaking to reporters at his residence on Wednesday, the minister said that Bangladesh Police have arrested three persons in this connection, reported Bangladesh Newspaper Daily Star.

“So far, we have come to know that all the killers involved are Bangladeshis. It was a planned murder,” the Bangladesh Home Minister said. Asked about the whereabouts of the body, he said that they were yet to know about it.

“We will soon inform you about the motive,” the minister said, adding that Indian police are cooperating with the case.

Anwarul Azim, the Bangladesh MP, who entered India on May 12 was last seen on the afternoon of May 13 when he went with friends to a home in Bidhannagar near Kolkata for a medical check-up.

According to a family friend in Kolkata’s Bidhannagar, the MP mentioned he would be travelling to Delhi, but there has been no physical presence or direct contact with him since May 13. Only mobile messages have been exchanged with his family in Dhaka and his friend in Bidhannagar, indicating his intended journey to Delhi.

Concerned by the lack of communication and his sudden alleged disappearance, the MP’s family friend, Gopal Viswas, who was informed by the MP’s daughter of her inability to contact her father, lodged a missing person complaint at the Baranagar police station in Bidhannagar. Kolkata.

“On the morning of May 16, he (Anwarul Azim) called his assistant, but could not connect. Later, when his PA called him back, he did not answer,” according to the complaint dated May 18, 2024.

“His daughter called me (Viswas), and said, I can’t communicate with my father. Then I (Viswas) contacted all his (Anarul Azim’s) acquaintances on the phone, but it was not possible to contact him,” it added.

“I was then requested to come to Baranagar police station on May 18 to register the complaint in the missing diary,” a copy of the complaint said.

Azim was the Awami League lawmaker from the Jhenaidah-4 constituency. Further updates on the circumstances surrounding the MP’s death in Kolkata are anticipated as the situation unfolds. (ANI)

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Bangladesh Takes Firm Stance, Seeks Israel’s Accountability for War Crimes

The minister said the OIC should continue initiating dialogue with the governments and inter-governmental bodies…reports Asian Lite News

Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud has called for immediate cessation of the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict, ensuring humanitarian access and holding Israel accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“We, the members of the OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference), should be part of a multi-tracked international engagement to end the Gaza crisis,” he said while speaking at the 15th OIC Summit Conference in Banjul, capital of The Gambia, according to a Bangladeshi foreign ministry.

The minister said the OIC should continue initiating dialogue with the governments and inter-governmental bodies like the United Nations, European Union and other organisations to counter Islamophobia and foster tolerance, Xinhua news agency reported.

Israel launched a large-scale offensive against Hamas in Gaza on October 7, 2023, following Hamas’s surprise attack on southern Israel that killed about 1,200 people.

The ongoing Israeli attacks on the Gaza strip have killed more than 34,600 Palestinians and wounded over 77,800 others, according to Gaza health authorities. The attacks also led to massive destruction of homes and infrastructure in Gaza.

As part of the latest mediation efforts, Hamas, which abducted some 250 people from Israel on October 7, was presented with a proposal for a ceasefire in exchange for the release of remaining hostages. A response is still pending.

During a six-day truce in November, more than 100 hostages were released. It is unclear how many of those remaining in captivity are still alive.

As of Friday, the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry said the death toll in Gaza from Israeli attacks launched in response to the October 7 attacks stood at 34,622.

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Bangladesh Joins Non-UN Force in Haiti

The other countries in the Kenya-led force are the Bahamas, Barbados, Benin, Chad, and Jamaica….reports Arul Louis

Bangladesh has agreed to join an international force that will operate independently of the UN to help restore order in Haiti, which has spiralled into gang-fuelled chaos, according to a UN Spokesperson.

Bangladesh is one of the six countries that have written to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that they will contribute personnel to the Multinational Security Support Mission in Haiti (MSSM), Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Monday.

Invoking the UN Charter provisions for maintaining peace, the Security Council authorised the creation of the MSSM mission to help ameliorate the situation in Haiti by helping its national political force.

Having been burnt by its earlier forays into the Caribbean nation, the UN is taking a hands-off approach this time, authorising a force that will operate independently and not as a UN peacekeeping mission.

The other countries in the Kenya-led force are the Bahamas, Barbados, Benin, Chad, and Jamaica.

Bangladesh is taking a bold step in joining the mission after the catastrophic end to the previous UN mission with military peacekeepers ended in 2017 amid accusations that Nepali troops introduced a strain of cholera from South Asia that, according to the World Health Organisation, killed 9,792 Haitians and sickened more than 810,000.

The mission, known as MINUSTAH from its French initials, was ineffective in bringing peace to the country contributing to its demise.

A smaller mission without the military component that followed ended in 2019.

Armed gangs run several parts of the country, including the capital Port-au-Prince, and several thousands have perished in the violence that has destabilised the country.

More than 362,000 Haitians have been displaced by gang activity, according to the UN, and 1.4 of its 11.5 million people are threatened by famine, and four million face “acute food insecurity”.

There were few takers because of the history of ill-fated international interventions in Haiti.

Kenya finally offered to lead the mission but had to overcome court challenges within the country before it could take charge.

The latest twist in the tragic saga of Haiti, Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who fled the country in February, resigned last week while in exile in the US.

A National Transitional Council with representatives of political parties and civil society groups was immediately created with Finance Minister Michel Patrick Boisvert as interim Prime Minister to find a more enduring solution.

The assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021 was one of the milestones in the descent into chaos of Haiti which suffered under decades of brutal dictatorship under the Duvalier family, and after its overthrow in 1986 has gone through a military coup and violence that punctuated feeble attempts at democracy.

The UN set up an ambitious $400 million trust fund to help the victims of the cholera epidemic blamed on Nepali peacekeepers but it has collected only about five per cent of that amount.

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DISINFORMATION FROM DHAKA: Towards an Inclusive Solution

The trend gathered steam when the main opposition party, the Bangladesh National Party lost the elections and blamed India for interfering in the elections. The trend was motivated by the anti-India campaign in Maldives that followed PM Modi’s efforts to boost tourism in Lakshadweep … writes  Dr. Shujaat Ali Quadri

In a complex society like South Asia, which is characterized by cultural commonalities and political flashpoints at the same time, disinformation campaigns are increasingly influencing the region. Over the last decade, new regional initiatives and transit corridors are easing travel between India, Bangladesh and Southeast Asia but these efforts could be threatened if India’s neighbourhood remains gullible to online social propaganda targeting a specific nation or community. A recent online trend was in the news in Bangladesh that called for boycotting India and Indian products. Fortunately, the campaign remained limited to social media only and did not spill over to the real world as it could have undermined the bilateral relationship that is leveraging physical connectivity to develop interdependencies.

The trend gathered steam when the main opposition party, the Bangladesh National Party lost the elections and blamed India for interfering in the elections. The trend was motivated by the anti-India campaign in Maldives that followed PM Modi’s efforts to boost tourism in Lakshadweep.

In Bangladesh, both BNP and the Jamaat have a more tech-savvy cadre which also adept at trending political content with the intent to mobilize social media users on anti-India campaigns. A lesser-known fact to both Indian and Bangladeshi people is that the Jamaat has a well-knit international cadre composed of wealthy businessmen and service sector professionals in the West that fuels its manipulation machinery. Several activists mobilizing social media users against India happen to be based in the West. Their access to global newspapers, sophisticated media tools and information networks allows them to legitimize and amplify their opinions irrespective of their credibility. Such acts of intervention, wherein external forces influence domestic public opinion in Bangladesh must be scrutinized by the civil society as they interfere with the the day to day state of affairs.   

The opposition parties of Bangladesh have successfully infiltrated global human rights organisations and advocacy institutions over the past decade, which gives them much-needed international legitimacy. 

The Awami League, despite its successive victories, remains a party of the masses with its core support base in the rural areas of Bangladesh. One of its biggest flaws is its inability to get internationally acknowledged for its role in giving a strong foundation to the economy, its poverty eradication schemes and its commitment to integrate Bangladesh with regional supply chains and infrastructure projects.

The Jamaat/BNP circles on the other hand have tapped the urban sections that predominantly shape the national opinion due to their visibility. The city-dwelling nuclear families, youth and professionals, once disconnected from their social moorings are an easy target for ideological parties like Jamaat to build their legitimacy by convincing its followers about the flaws of democracy. Ties between BNP and Jamaat have indeed frayed over the years and the former considers the Jamaat as an institution with political baggage, their criticism of India and its regional initiatives also puts the region’s collective developmental efforts at stake. Every year, South Asia adds millions of new social media users to its population who are also the primary targets of anti-India campaigns. The content as well as the spread of this trend must be monitored and appropriate response mechanisms must be built that are youth-centric and most importantly inclusive, that is, they should be designed to engage the youth more attractively through informative and impartial content.

(The Author is the Chairman of Muslim Students Organisation of India)

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ADB’s $71M Loan for Bangladesh’s Water Projects

The ADB said the project is expected to benefit more than 600,000 people …reports Asian Lite News

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) on Wednesday said it approved a loan of 71 million US dollars to improve flood control, irrigation, and water resources management in Bangladesh.

The project in rural communities in Gopalganj and Madaripur districts will strengthen their preparedness and resilience to the effects of climate change, the bank said in a press release.

Based on the Global Climate Risk Index, Bangladesh is ranked seventh regarding vulnerability to climate risk, the bank said, adding that the country “faces increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather and slow-onset climate events.”

Without effective adaptation measures, the country could lose about 30 per cent of agricultural gross domestic product by 2050 because of climate variability and extreme events impacting rural communities, especially women, who depend on climate-sensitive agricultural practices and natural resources for their livelihoods.

The ADB said the project is expected to benefit more than 600,000 people and will introduce climate-resilient flood control, drainage, and irrigation measures to reduce saline intrusion, Xinhua news agency reported.

The ADB support “will further boost economic growth and productivity, increase incomes and sustainable livelihoods, especially for women and vulnerable groups, and reduce poverty in rural areas of southwest Bangladesh,” said ADB Senior Project Management Specialist Pushkar Srivastava.

It will adopt nature-based solutions to strengthen FCDI infrastructure and improve drainage in four subbasins.

The project will develop and enhance integrated water management plans, construct training centers for water management organisations, and other community infrastructure.

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India-Bangladesh Pact Targets Crime, Trafficking

Delegations agreed on sharing real-time information to ensure that incidents of deaths at the border will be brought down to zero with active cooperation from both sides….reports Asian Lite News

Curbing trans-border crimes, human trafficking, and enhanced joint-patrolling were some of the issues discussed at the 54th India-Bangladesh Director General-level border coordination conference from March 5-9 in Dhaka.

While the Indian delegation was led by Nitin Agrawal, Director General of Border Security Force (BSF), the Bangladesh side was headed by Major General Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman from Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB).

“Both sides appreciated each other’s concerns and committed to settle border issues amicably through continued, constructive, and positive engagements at all levels,” a statement from the BSF said on Saturday.

They also agreed to implement the decisions of the conference at the ground level “in true spirit” during the talks that are held twice every year — once in India and once in Bangladesh.

On the incidents of assaults/attacks on the BSF personnel by Bangladesh-based trans-border miscreants, both sides agreed to increase coordinated patrols, especially during late night hours to early morning in vulnerable areas, and educate people living on either side of the international border.

Reiterating the need for “synergistic efforts” to uphold human rights and curb violence on the border, both sides agreed to enhance joint patrolling and vigilance, intensifying public awareness programmes and undertaking appropriate socio-economic development initiatives.

They also agreed on sharing real-time information to ensure that incidents of deaths at the border will be brought down to zero with active cooperation from both sides.

Highlighting the importance of the Coordinated Border Management Plan (CBMP) in curbing trans-border crimes, human trafficking, and illegal crossing, both sides agreed to pursue and share real-time information and investigation reports of traffickers (if any).

In addition, they agreed to aid victims of human trafficking and facilitate their rescue and rehabilitation at the earliest as per the law of the land.

Both BSF and BGB have decided to go ahead with six developmental works on the Indian side and the same number on the Bangladesh side.

As a goodwill gesture, BSF agreed to BGB’s proposal of construction for preserving the 18 graves of martyred freedom fighters at Tamabil and Sylhet.

The two sides reiterated their commitments to work jointly to maintain peace and tranquility at the border and provisionally agreed to hold the next DG-level conference in New Delhi at a suitable time in September or October 2024.

The last BSF-BGB conference was held at BSF Camp Chhawala in Delhi from June 11-14, 2023.

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