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B’desh’s $71bn budget bets big on digital economy, cashless society

According to the budget proposal, Bangladesh is targeting an average inflation rate of 6.5 per cent in the next fiscal year….reports Asian Lite News

The Bangladesh government has unveiled a record 7.62 trillion taka ($71 billion) national budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year starting in July.

The government projected an economic growth of 7.5 per cent in the annual budget, reports Xinhua news agency.

With a focus on tackling inflation, job creation, the fourth industrial revolution and “Smart Bangladesh”, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal presented the budget to Parliament.

“On the whole, we expect to return to higher growth trajectory and achieve a 7.5 per cent GDP growth in the coming fiscal year, by way of investing in the productive sectors and stimulating productivity and domestic demand,” Kamal said during the budget speech in the parliament.

As the total size of the expenditure budget has been estimated at 7.62 trillion taka, the outlay is 15.2 per cent of the South Asian country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

“To achieve the growth target, we will gradually come out of the contractionary policy and invest in ongoing and new growth-inducing projects including the mega-projects,” Kamal said.

For this purpose, the minister said the budget of the next fiscal year has set a higher target of raising the public investment to 6.3 per cent of GDP.

He said the government is committed to containing the rising trend of inflation by addressing inconsistencies between supply and demand.


According to the budget proposal, Bangladesh is targeting an average inflation rate of 6.5 per cent in the next fiscal year.

Kamal said there has been a recent spike in prices, mainly due to external factors.

Although inflationary pressure increased due to the Russia-Ukraine war, the government has been making an all-out effort to check the inflation and mitigate its impact on the people, the Minister added.

“Due to the decrease in the prices of fuel, food and fertilizer in the global market, along with the adjustment of fuel prices in the domestic market and government initiatives to keep the food and supply systems normal, the inflation will remain much controlled in the next fiscal year, and the annual average inflation is expected to stand at around 6 per cent,” he said.

Amid geopolitical risks, Kamal said the total outlay of the proposed budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year is up by 12.34 per cent over that of the original budget of the outgoing fiscal year.

According to the proposal, the overall budget deficit will be 2.58 trillion taka, which is 5.2 per cent of GDP.

Kamal said the total estimated revenue will be over 5 trillion taka.

On the expenditure side, he said, the size of Annual Development Program (ADP) for the next fiscal year will be 2.78 trillion taka with transport, power, infrastructure, rural development and education sectors getting the biggest chunk of money.

This is the largest-ever budget for Bangladesh, a long way from the first budget of 7.86 billion taka for the 1972-73 fiscal year.

The theme of the budget has been shaped by the idea of “Smart Bangladesh”, envisioning a 100-per cent digital economy, science and technology-based literacy, and a paperless and cashless society.

ALSO READ: Rajnath reviews ties with Bangladeshi minister

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Rajnath reviews ties with Bangladeshi minister

The Defence Minister and Bangladesh Minister for Rural Development held discussions on several issues…reports Asian Lite News

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who is on a three-day visit to Nigeria, met the Minister for Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperative of Bangladesh, Md Tazul Islam in Abuja on Monday.

The Defence Minister and Bangladesh Minister for Rural Development held discussions on several issues and expressed the commitment of their respective governments towards further expanding and strengthening the bilateral ties. The meeting between two ministers was a testament to the goodwill between India and Bangladesh, an official statement read.

Following the meeting, Rajnath Singh tweeted, “Wonderful interaction with the Minister for Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperative of Bangladesh, Mr Md Tazul Islam in Abuja.”

Earlier in the day, Singh attended the swearing-in ceremony of President-elect of Nigeria Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

In addition to senior officials of the Ministry of Defence, the Defence Minister’s delegation to Nigeria included top executives of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL), the Ministry of Defence said in an official release.

These executives met with military and government personnel from Nigeria in order to determine what needs they had that Indian defence businesses could meet. To improve cooperation, B2B meetings were organised with Nigerian businesses.

Besides high-level political representation from countries across the African continent, including several Heads of State, India was among the select non-African nations that were represented in the ‘swearing-in ceremony’ at the Ministerial level, reflecting the high priority and strength of our bilateral relations with Nigeria, according to the official press release of Ministry of Defence.

Defence Minister Rajnath Sigh reached Nigeria on Sunday as part of his three-day tour. Notably, this is the first-ever visit of an Indian Defence Minister to Nigeria.

The Defence Minister’s visit to the West African nation is seen as an important landmark in building the strong bonds of friendship between the two countries.

Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been sworn in as the country’s new President despite political unrest and a legal challenge to his election from the country’s opposition, CNN reported.

After being sworn into office, Tinubu has become the 16th president of Nigeria.

At the 5,000-seat Eagle Square location in the nation’s capital Abuja, the ceremony was held under extremely strict security in front of foreign leaders and dignitaries like President Kagame of Rwanda and Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, according to CNN. (ANI)

ALSO READ: India launches ‘Operation Karuna’ to help Myanmar

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Hasina meets OIC chief

The meeting reviewed aspects of cooperation between Bangladesh and the OIC, and ways to operationalize joint Islamic action and promote the spirit of solidarity…reports Asian Lite News

Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, H.E. Sheikh Hasina, received the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Mr Hissein Brahim Taha, in Dhaka on Sunday 28 May 2023.

The meeting was part of the Secretary-General’s five-day-visit to Bangladesh from 27 to 31 may 2023.

The meeting reviewed aspects of cooperation between Bangladesh and the OIC, and ways to operationalize joint Islamic action and promote the spirit of solidarity.

The Secretary-General thanked Bangladesh for its efforts in support of OIC’s projects and programmes paid tribute to the Government and people of Bangladesh for their relentless efforts to provide shelters, protection, hospitality, and necessary assistance to Rohingya refugees who have been living in Bangladesh for the past five years.

The Secretary-General, as the Chancellor of the Dhaka based Islamic University of Technology (IUT), thanked also the Honourable Prime Minister for her efforts towards the University, which will be having its 35th Convocation on 30 May.

For her part, the Honourable Prime Minister thanked the Secretary-General for visiting Bangladesh while expressing her country’s constant readiness to support OIC’s efforts.

Both sides discussed issues of interest to the Islamic world and the OIC’s role in resolving conflicts, promoting mediation efforts and the need to do more to overcome the various challenges facing the Islamic world, particularly in political and economic domains.

ALSO READ-Hasina slams sanctions

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Bangladesh key for peace in the Indo-Pacific

Indian Ocean, according to a analyst, is the “epicenter of Indo-Pacific” and any policy regarding the Indo-Pacific will necessarily include the Indian Ocean because it provides opportunities for outreach to Africa on one hand and South East Asia on the other, thereby facilitating the integration of the Indo-Pacific, writes Darakhsha Qamar

The 6th Indian Ocean Conference took place on the 12th and 13th May in Dhaka, Bangladesh. As the current chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, Bangladesh hosted the event and Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, inaugurated it.

The Conference was started in 2016- having being previously hosted in countries like Singapore, Sri Lanka and Vietnam- and has since then become an important platform for all the countries in the Indian Ocean Region to come together, consult and cooperate with one another to ensure peace, prosperity and stability in the region. In fact, it has become instrumental in the implementation of India’s Security And Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) initiative. The theme of the conference this year was “Peace, Prosperity and Partnership for a Resilient Future,” and it was attended by guests from 25 countries.

The strategic importance of the Indian Ocean cannot be stressed upon enough.  Its trade routes have been facilitating the flow of goods, people and ideas between the areas of Asia- pacific and North Atlantic since ancient times. It retains its position of eminence today as an important trade route that has a major portion of the world’s crude oil supply passing through it. The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is also rich in mineral resources as well as a massive drainage basin that is home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world as well as a large chunk of the world’s population. This region is brimful of potential and greater regional integration can transform this region, turning it into a thriving economic hub.

It is, however, this very inability to cooperate effectively with each other as well as the inability to put broader regional and global interests before narrow national interests, that has resulted in the IOR facing security threats from non-state actors such as smugglers, pirates and terrorists.

The Indian Ocean of course has great strategic significance for India, which is the most populous state and one of the biggest powers in the IOR. India has 7500 Km of its coastline in the Indian Ocean and is dependent on it for energy imports through the Indian Ocean route, which is why India has a major stake in the security and development of the IOR. India also realizes that it cannot achieve this vision of a secure and stable Indian Ocean on its own and has been seeking to enhance cooperation and connectivity amongst the states in the region.

In fact, the SAGAR initiative, which serves as India’s policy towards the Indian Ocean, was introduced, just like the Indian Ocean Conference, in 2016, and aims at ensuring the maritime security of the states of the IOR. At the same time, it also promoted economic partnerships as well as collaboration in matters of tourism, infrastructural development and laying the groundwork for sustainable development in the region.

The Indian Ocean Conference thus has become a major facilitator of India’s ambitions regarding the IOR. This was evident during India’s external affairs minister, S. Jaishankar’s keynote address at the conference, where he stressed on the need for enhanced connectivity in the region and the restoration of ancient links between the countries of the region that had been disrupted by imperialism. He talked about the importance of India developing land connectivity with South East Asia and multi-modal connectivity with the Gulf and Central Asian countries. He also emphasised that India is prioritizing connectivity with ASEAN, as that, in his words, “will be a game changer.” Further on in the speech, he said that ensuring maritime security is a shared responsibility and it would require all the countries in the region to exchange information and cooperate with one another for coastal surveillance and collaborating on Maritime domain awareness (MDA).

Most importantly however, Jaishankar stressed on the significance of the Indian Ocean as a central component of the Indo-Pacific region and therefore the challenges being faced by IOR countries cannot be undermined and needs to be dealt with properly, if the vision of a free and inclusive Indo-Pacific is to become a reality. This was reiterated by author, leading South Asian strategic analyst and founder of StratNews Global, Nitin Gokhale, who was a guest at the 2 day conference in Dhaka.

Gokhale told India Narrative that the Indian Ocean is the “epicenter of Indo-Pacific” and any policy regarding the Indo-Pacific will necessarily include the Indian Ocean because it provides opportunities for outreach to Africa on one hand and South East Asia on the other, thereby facilitating the integration of the Indo-Pacific. Further, speaking on the significance of Bangladesh hosting the event, and it’s importance in the overall Indo-pacific, Gokhale said that considering the fact that Bangladesh is “the epicenter of the epicenter (the Indian Ocean), it is but natural that Bangladesh should host the Indian Ocean Conference.”

He also pointed out that having released its Indo-Pacific Outlook last month, Bangladesh has sought to take center stage in supporting a peaceful and inclusive Indo-Pacific for all and can in fact be instrumental for outreach to the pacific as well as the Indian Ocean.

BBIN and South Asian railway network

The Indian railways recently completed the survey for the feasibility of a railway line connecting Kokrajhar in Assam, India, to Gelephu in Bhutan. During the Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s  visit to India, both the countries engaged in talks where they sought to prioritise enhancing connectivity between the two countries, mainly by expediting the completion of the above mentioned rail link. The first stage of the primary engineering work is reportedly complete and there all already talks to connect other regions through the railway network, such as Samtse, Phuentsholing, Nganglam and Samdrupjongkhar.

This news comes amidst the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) countries’ renewed interest in using transnational railway networks as an important tool of regional integration in the sub-region. The pre-requisite to economic development anywhere is good connectivity and the BBIN countries have sought to, over the years build a trans-regional communication and transportation infrastructure. The most significant part of this infrastructure is the building and in some case resuscitation of railway networks between the BBIN countries.

Railways networks connecting South Asian countries is not a new phenomenon since there were many railway routes connecting India and Bangladesh since colonial times. The renewed interest in railways can further, also be attributed to the fact that railways are the most climate-efficient option for the movement of goods and people over long distances. It would lead to reduced carbon emissions for the BBIN countries and therefore the entire sub-region.

Apart from Bhutan, the other 3 countries are connected to each other by at least one railway line and the railways have good connectivity with ports facilitating trade in and through the sub-region. Bhutan, where roadways have been the main mode of transportation, does not have an operational rail network, but has been for some time considering developing a railway network for greater connectivity within the country as well as with its neighbouring BBIN countries. In fact it also signed a MoU with India in 2005 to develop, and set up five railway lines connecting both the countries.

That plan however did not come to fruition all these years, until now.  India’s decision to proceed with the much delayed railway connectivity project with Bhutan, comes at a time when Chinese presence along the Line of Actual Control has been increasing steadily. In such a climate, this railway link could be instrumental in enabling India to secure its borders against China.

The first ever passenger rail link between Jaynagar, India and Kurtha in Nepal too was inaugurated only last year. The only other railway line is between Raxual (India) to Sirsiya (Nepal), but is mainly used for freight movement. Nepal, like Bhutan is a landlocked country and has much to gain through the development of railway connectivity.

It could lead to the relaxation of roadway traffic in these countries and  reduce trade dependency on roadways. Further, access to low-cost railway services would also help both the countries to trade in resources and products that are not feasible to be transported through roadways. Nepal also has plans to develop a 1024km long East-west corridor that would connect, through a rail network, 24 districts spanning the entire length of Nepal,  from Kakarvitta, in Jhapa district to Mahendranagar, in Kanchapur district. This project is expected to produce big economic returns for Nepal, by generating employment and enabling simple and cost effective movement of people and goods across Nepal.

There are currently, five operational railway links between India and Bangladesh and the most recent one to be resuscitated is the Haldibari (West Bengal) to Chilahati line, which had stopped being in operation since 1965. This line is expected to increase railway access to main ports and dry ports in order to bring about economic development and social upliftment of the entire region, including Assam.

Further, it is expected to better connect this region to the rest of the country through the Siliguri Corridor. The other rail lines, used variously for passenger and freight travel, are,  The Petrapole-Benapole line- through which, an estimated 70% of the trade between India and Bangladesh takes place; The Gede-Darshana line, which falls within the proposed route of the Trans-Asian Railways and could help connect North-East India to South-East Asia; the Singhabad-Rohanpur line and The Radhikapur-Birol line.

Furthermore, the recently constructed Padma Multipurpose Bridge in Bangladesh is also expected to strengthen the physical connectivity between the two countries.

The four states making up BBIN, with their geographically contiguous borders and cultural links rooted in a common past and a long history of intra-regional trade and people to people connections, together form a South Asian Growth Quadrangle. Due to the interdependent nature of these states in political, cultural and economic matters, there is immense potential for overall economic development through increased connectivity and cooperation with each other.

Initiatives promoting greater regional connectivity, such as the- in some cases developed, in others proposed- transnational railway are mutually beneficial for all parties involved, providing them with an opportunity to utilise shared resources in a sustainable and rewarding manner allowing skill, as well the possibility of technology and knowledge transfer from more developed states to less developed states.

It also provides a way for smaller countries to hold their own and secure their own interests- with the help of its regional allies- in the midst of great power politics, resulting in the development of the entire region as a whole.  India has long understood this and has, especially in the last decade, made the BBIN initiative a priority and an important part of its sub-regional diplomacy efforts.

Not only does India seek to build sub-regional connectivity through BBIN, it also hopes to leverage this sub-regional partnership to develop connectivity with South East Asia.

The geographical proximity and sharing of borders of these countries with India’s north-east would also provide a way to develop the whole of north-east through cross-border efforts, as well as increase its accessibility vis-a- vis the rest of the country. In such a context, the development and resuscitation of cross-border railway networks is expected to transform connectivity in the BBIN region.  And as we now understand, stronger ties between the states would only lead to greater peace and stability in the region, with each country being able to pursue their individual security interests while prioritising collective economic development.

ALSO READ: Nepal and Bangladesh collaborate on power trading via India

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Nepal and Bangladesh collaborate on power trading via India

The NEA has sent a request to the Indian authorities, asking them to allow the sale of the power generated by the 52.4MW Likhu-4 project to Bangladesh through India’s existing transmission infrastructure…reports Prithvi Shrestha

Nepal and Bangladesh have decided to take a number of measures to forge a trilateral partnership with India, which lies between them to enable the two to trade power with each other.

Though Nepal and Bangladesh are not far away, they are not geographically contiguous. Indian territory falls between the two countries. Consequently, active Indian support is necessary to enable bilateral trade of electricity between Kathmandu and Dhaka.

During the fifth meeting of the secretary-level Joint Steering Committee on energy cooperation between two countries held in Patuakhali, Bangladesh on Tuesday, they decided to start trading power at the earliest, with an export target of 40MW from Nepal to Bangladesh after receiving necessary approvals from Indian authorities.

“For this, the two countries aim to sign a trilateral power sale agreement among the entities including that of India as early as possible,” Nepal’s Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation said in a press statement on Tuesday night.

According to the ministry, there is a plan to sign a tripartite agreement among Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), the Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) and the NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam Limited (NVVN) of India.  The NVVN is the nodal agency designated by the Indian government for cross border power trade with the neighbouring countries.

“Efforts will be made to sign such a tripartite agreement very soon so that Nepal could export power as early as the upcoming wet season (June-November),” Madhu Bhetuwal, spokesperson at the Nepal’s Energy Ministry told India Narrative. “There is a plan to export power from Nepal by using the existing transmission infrastructure of all three countries.”

The NEA has sent a request to the Indian authorities, asking them to allow the sale of the power generated by the 52.4MW Likhu-4 project to Bangladesh through India’s existing transmission infrastructure.

During the 10th joint steering committee meeting on energy cooperation between Nepal and India, the South Asian giant had agreed to grant its approval once Nepal submits the proposal specifying the project whose power will be sold to Bangladesh, according to Nepal’s energy ministry.

If the plan materialises, it will be Nepal’s first export of power to a third country other than India. Since November 2021, Nepal has been selling its excess power to the Indian market after the southern neighbour gave regulatory clearance.

In recent years, India has been prioritising regional integration among South Asian countries, excluding Pakistan. As per the joint vision statement on power sector cooperation between Nepal and India issued in April last year, the two countries agreed to expand sub-regional cooperation in the power sector among Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN).

India and Bangladesh are committed to collaborating on regional connectivity projects such as the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement and the Kolkata-Silchar-Imphal-Dhaka Bus Service, for mutual benefit.

Bangladesh has set a target of covering 40 percent of its power generation with clean energy by 2041 and to import around 9000MW under regional and sub-regional cooperation. Nepal, which is increasing its generation capacity rapidly lately, stands ready to fulfil the part of clean energy needs of Bangladesh.

By the end of the current fiscal year 2022-23 in mid-July, Nepal’s power generation capacity is expected to reach 2,853MW, 4,507 MW by mid-July 2024 and 5,251MW in mid-July 2025, according to NEA. But domestic consumption is expected to be half of the potential generation by 2025 which forces Nepal to sell electricity abroad, it said.

In July 2018, Nepali government issued a white paper targeting the growth in power generation. As per it, Nepal aimed to generate 15,000MW of power in 10 years and 5000MW will be exported.

Nepal has gross hydropower potential of 72,544 MW from three river basins: Koshi, Gandaki, and Karnali which covers 94 percent of the total gross potential of the country, according to a study carried out by Nepali government in 2019.

According to Nepal’s energy ministry, Nepal and Bangladesh also agreed to make joint efforts to create a high level trilateral administrative mechanism between Nepal, Bangladesh and India to forge partnership in the areas of power trade, building cross border transmission infrastructure and overall cooperation in the power sector.

The Joint Steering Committee meeting also instructed the Joint Technical Team (Transmission) under high level mechanism, to explore options of cross border transmission lines to enable trading of power between Nepal and India and submit a report within six months.

The Joint Technical Team had earlier identified two routes—Anarmari (Nepal)-Panchagarh (Bangladesh), and Anarmari (Nepal) to Thakurgaon (Bangladesh) for dedicated transmission lines.

The total length of the first route is 49km, of which a 24km section falls within the Indian territory. The second route has an 83km length, of which a 33km section falls in Indian territory.

Bhetuwal, who was also a delegation member of Nepal, said that two sides now would explore three options of transmission infrastructure to enable trading of power between the two countries in the short, medium and long run.

They include: using existing India-Bangladesh cross border link, enhancing the capacity of existing Baharampur-Bheramara link between India and Bangladesh and developing Duhabi (Nepal)-Purnia (India) and Barapukuria (Bangladesh) transmission link.

During the meeting, the Bangladeshi side also notified Nepal that the Bangladesh Power Development Board would soon sign power sale agreement with GMR, India to sell 500MW of electricity from 900MW Upper Karnali Hydropower Project based in Nepal, according to Nepal’s energy ministry.

The Indian company is working to generate resources to develop a Nepal-based hydropower project and securing power sale agreement would be important for the company to conclude financial closure.

In early May, the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court had paved the way for the Indian company to work towards financial closure of the project enabling it to sign power sale agreement with Bangladesh entity after the court vacated earlier interim order against the Indian company.

The two countries also decided that the NEA and BPDB would sign a   joint venture agreement within the next six months to develop the 683 MW Sunkoshi 3 hydropower project at the border of Ramachhap and Kavrepalanchowk districts of central Nepal, according to the energy ministry of Nepal.

Earlier, the two countries agreed to develop this project jointly but entities responsible for developing the project were not determined.

According to the ministry, Nepal will also take necessary facilitation measures to attract the Bangladeshi private sector in Nepal’s hydropower sector.

(Prithvi Shrestha writes on Nepal affairs from his perch in Kathmandu. Views expressed are personal)

ALSO READ-Nepal hydropower project back on track for India’s GMR

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Hasina slams sanctions

Hasina had earlier slammed the US sanctions on officials of Bangladesh’s special security force unit Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) over alleged rights abuse…reports Asian Lite News

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said that Bangladesh will not purchase anything from countries that impose sanctions against it.

The prime minister made the remarks on Saturday when inaugurating the 60th convention of the Institution of Engineers, Bangladesh (IEB) in Dhaka, Xinhua news agency reported.

“There is now a tendency to impose sanctions, and sanctions on those by whom we contain terrorism. We have made a decision. I have said that I will not buy anything from those who will impose sanctions,” said the prime minister.

Hasina had earlier slammed the US sanctions on officials of Bangladesh’s special security force unit Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) over alleged rights abuse, saying the move was “very condemnable act.”

She said the elite force has immensely contributed to the South Asian country’s efforts in containing militancy and terrorism.

In December 2021, the US Departments of Treasury and the Department of State imposed human rights-related sanctions on the RAB and its seven incumbent and former top officials.

ALSO READ: As Cyclone Mocha nears Myanmar, Bangladesh, thousands evacuated

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Jaishnakar calls on Hasina in Dhaka

Jaishanakar is to stay in Dhaka till May 12 to participate in the 6th edition of the Indian Ocean Conference….reports Asian Lite News

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar called on Bangladeshi Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka on Thursday. Jaishankar is on a two-day visit to Bangladesh till May 12. After that, he will visit Belgium and Sweden.

“Honoured to call on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh. Conveyed personal greetings and warm regards of PM @narendramodi . The guidance and vision of our leaders continues to strengthen India-Bangladesh Maitri,” Jaishankar tweeted. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar reached on Thursday afternoon. EAM was welcomed by the Foreign Minister Affairs Minister of Bangladesh Md. Shahriar Alam. Jaishankar is on a three-nation tour during which he will visit Bangladesh, Sweden and Belgium.

“Reached Dhaka. Thank Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh @MdShahriarAlam for the warm welcome. Look forward to meeting colleagues and friends from across the world at the Indian Ocean Conference,” Jaishankar tweeted upon reaching Bangladesh.

Jaishanakar is to stay in Dhaka till May 12 to participate in the 6th edition of the Indian Ocean Conference. The Indian Ocean Conference will be attended by the President of Mauritius Prithvirajsing Roopun, Vice President of Maldives Faisal Naseem, Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina and several ministers from across the world.

From Bangladesh, Jaishankar will travel to Sweden. This will be his first visit as EAM to the Nordic country and comes at a time when India and Sweden are celebrating 75 years of establishing diplomatic relations. Sweden currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

According to a Ministry of External Affairs release, Jaishankar will participate in the second EU Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum (EIPMF) in Sweden.

He will hold bilateral meetings with foreign ministers of several countries on the margins of EIPMF.

During his stay, he will call on leadership in Sweden and meet with key ministers.

He will also participate in the inaugural session of the India Trilateral Forum (India, Europe and the US) with his Swedish counterpart.

In the last leg of the visit, EAM will visit Brussels for bilateral engagements with Belgian and EU officials. He will also attend the first Ministerial Meeting of the India-EU Trade and Technology Council along with Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal and Minister of Communications, Electronics and Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw.

The TTC Ministerial Meeting is scheduled to be held on May 16. (ANI)

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‘Border Haats’ along India-B’desh border reopens

The four Border Haats, two each in Tripura and Meghalaya, have remained closed since March 2020 after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic …writes Sujit Chakraborty

After three years of closure, one of the two ‘Border Haats’ (markets) in Tripura along India-Bangladesh border resumed trading on Tuesday with the participation of vendors and buyers of the two countries.

District officials of south Tripura and Bangladesh’s Feni districts were present on the opening day of the business of the Purba Madhugram (Bangladesh)-Srinagar (South Tripura) ‘Border Haat’.

Additional District Magistrate and Collector Dhanbabu Reang and Bangladesh’s Feni District’s Additional District Magistrate Abhishek Das said that the ‘Border Haat’ would function on each Tuesday and 27 vendors including women from each side would participate in the border market.

“As per the decision of the officials of the two district authorities, 1200 people each from India and Bangladesh would be allowed to enter into the ‘Border Haat’ after verifying their government identity cards,” Reang told the media.

Bangladeshi vendor Mohammad Tushar said that the ‘Border Haat’ boosts them a lot to maintain their livelihood and prevent smuggling of local produce on either side.

A top official of the Tripura Industries and Commerce Department said that after a recent meeting between the district officials of Feni and South Tripura, it was decided to resume the business of the Purba Madhugram (Bangladesh)-Srinagar (South Tripura) ‘Border Haats’ from Tuesday.”Efforts were on to restart another Border Haat — Kasba (Bangladesh)-Kamlasagar (Tripura) in Sepahijala district,” the official told IANS.

The four Border Haats, two each in Tripura and Meghalaya, have remained closed since March 2020 after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdowns, causing immense loss to the people living in the bordering villages.

Both the Tripura and Meghalaya governments have been pressing the Centre to take up the matter with the Bangladesh government to resume the Border Haats.

The two Border Haats in Meghalaya — at Balat (East Khasi Hills district) and Kalaichar (South West Garo Hills district) – were, however, reopened last year and both are functional once a week now.

The fifth Border Haat between India and Bangladesh was inaugurated on May 6 along Bholaganj under the Companiganj upazila of Sylhet district and East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya.

The opening of the new Border Haat in Meghalaya border was welcomed by people on both sides of borders with great enthusiasm.

The new Border Haat would function on Wednesdays and Saturdays between 10 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon.

Officials of the Tripura Industries and Commerce Department said that the officials in Sepahijala and South Tripura district administrations had on a number of occasions approached their Bangladesh counterparts to reopen the Border Haats as the Covid-19 induced situation has almost been tamed now.

Jaipur-based think-tank CUTS International, which has done several studies on border trade, had also recommended to the Indian government to resume these border markets the necessary precautions against Covid-19, as these markets boost the economy, cement ties between the people of the two countries and also check illegal trade.

These border markets, spread in around 5,625 sq. metre area of the two countries’ territories or “no-man’s land”, operate once a week on a fixed day.

In the weekly market, on an average, at least 25 vendors, including women from both sides of the border, sell their products.

According to the officials, 10 more “Border Haats” were approved along the India-Bangladesh border at Tripura and Meghalaya. Out of them, six are in Meghalaya, and four in Tripura.

‘Border Haats’ along India-B’desh frontiers reopens after 3 yrs.

Both Indian and Bangladeshi governments are keen to reopen more “Border Haats” in the four northeastern states — Tripura, Meghalaya, Assam and Mizoram, which share a 1,880-km border with Bangladesh.

The first Border Haat was inaugurated in 2011 in the West Garo Hills district of Meghalaya at Kalaichar and Kurigram in Bangladesh.

Border Haat may be small in terms of the volume of trade but they contribute immensely in bonding of people on both sides of border, knowledge sharing and deepening people-to-people connectivity which is an essential building block in cementing ties between the two neighbouring countries, said CUTS International Executive Director Bipul Chatterjee.

ALSO READ: ‘New policy in place to boost trade with South Asian countries’

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Japan-Bangladesh: A new Indo-Pacific doctrine is taking shape

Bangladesh took a deep breath to develop a strategic partnership with Japan against Chinese hegemony through the implementation of an ambitious Road and Belt Initiative (BRI) in the region, writes Saleem Samad…reports Asian Lite News

Last week Bangladesh’s Prime Minister met her Japanese counterpart Kishida Fumio in Tokyo, which political observers described as a much-awaited crucial strategic partnership.

Before embarking upon a three-nation tour of Japan, the United States and Britain, Hasina buried months of speculation on the strategic alliance on 26 April.

Bangladesh unveiled its “Indo-Pacific Outlook (IPO)”, and these three nations have crucial roles in pursuing the policy of an open and free Indo-Pacific.

The Indo-Pacific Outlook is based on the dictum “Friendship towards all, malice towards none.” Whether this dictum would be enough to address the Chinese concern about committing to the objectives of rules-based order and a free and open Indo-Pacific has to be seen in the coming days, remarks veteran columnist Kamal Ahmed.

Bangladesh took a deep breath to develop a strategic partnership with Japan against Chinese hegemony through the implementation of an ambitious Road and Belt Initiative (BRI) in the region.

In fact, the two countries have achieved significant progress in bilateral relations based on the “Comprehensive Partnership” established in 2014, the joint Bangladesh-Japan statement said.

The Japanese initiative envisages replacing BRI with the Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B).

Japan was one of the very few countries that extended foreign aid for reconstructing war-torn Bangladesh during the post-independence era. Since then, Japan has become Bangladesh’s single largest bilateral donor.

The ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ has been an all-weather economic and development partner of Bangladesh before China’s inroads into the country.

In the fiscal year 2020-2021, Japan provided more aid to Bangladesh than any other country, amounting to $2.63 billion. Since Bangladesh’s independence, Japan has provided a total of $24.72 billion, almost evenly split between grants and loans, writes Hussain Shazzad in The Diplomat.

Japan’s financial assistance to Bangladesh has been proven mutually beneficial for both countries rather than being exploitative, unlike a few development partners that have been blamed for encouraging corruption in getting approval for mega projects.

Columnist Ahmed writes in The Daily Star: The United States, which originally conceived and floated the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS), has been urging Bangladesh for the last few years to join them in implementing the IPS. Though Bangladesh doesn’t use the term strategy or IPS, the vision it lays out is remarkably similar to the IPS.

Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida also outlined a newly released plan for a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP),” which will strengthen Japan’s efforts to further promote the FOIP vision, with the four pillars of cooperation: “Principles for Peace and Rules for Prosperity”; “Addressing Challenges in an Indo-Pacific Way”; “Multi-layered Connectivity” and “Extending Efforts for Security and Safe Use of the Sea to the Air” and hopes that Bangladesh will also agree with the strategy.

Hasina reiterated Bangladesh’s principled position on a “free, open, inclusive, peaceful and secure Indo-Pacific based on international law and shared prosperity for all” and she believes the international community and global commons will contribute to the development of (the) blue economy in the exploitation of the use of the sea.

The joint statement gave a green signal, which was a blessing for India and G-7 members including the United States, who are partners of the much-talked-about QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue).

Quad was first mooted by former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007 and aims to ensure and support a “free, open and prosperous” Indo-Pacific region is a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan and the United States with a shared but unstated goal of countering China’s growing political, economic and military power in the region.

Hasina could finally, shrug off her ‘Tom and Jerry’ policy with China and lend her diplomatic support to Indo-Pacific countries, despite China’s warning of “substantial damage” to ties if Bangladesh joined the US-led Quad alliance.

Beijing described joining the QUAD, a military alliance against China’s adversaries (India, Japan and the USA) and its relationship with neighbours.

The former Chinese ambassador Li Jiming on 10 May 2021, breaking diplomatic norms in Dhaka, told Bangladesh authorities that relations with Beijing would “substantially get damaged.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang’s surprise “technical stopover” at Dhaka in early January, en route to African nations was in fact not for late midnight tête-à-têtes over coffee between the two leaders.

For Qin, it was his first meeting with his counterpart, Dr Abul Kalam Abdul Momen in Dhaka since assuming office last year. He did not hesitate to vent his frustration over unfulfilled promises from China.

Bangladesh’s lopsided export to China was over $12 billion deficit, which was a special concern to Dhaka in the backdrop of the shaky foreign exchange reserves amid the global economic turmoil sparked by the war in Ukraine.

Momen reminded his counterpart that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 2016 visit to Bangladesh had promised many investment pledges that have not materialised even after over six years. The complaint includes that an agreement to remove duties and quotas on 98 per cent of Bangladeshi goods has yet to see the light of day.

Whereas, Japan is Bangladesh’s largest export destination in Asia, in the last decade, Bangladesh’s exports (mostly apparel and leather products) to Tokyo have almost doubled. Nevertheless, there is still huge untapped trade potential for Bangladesh, which are “pharmaceuticals, agricultural and fishery products”, according to a Japanese diplomat.

The makeover of marginal trade imbalance will be reorganised after the signing of the free trade agreement (FTA).

A fresh impetus for strengthening trusted relations between the two countries could materialise, as Bangladesh is one of the most Japanese-friendly countries in Asia, with 71 per cent of Bangladeshis holding a favourable view of Japan, according to a 2014 Pew Research survey.

Japan’s BIG-B, an initiative for changing South Asia’s economic outlook, can play a key role in transforming Bangladesh into the heart of the regional economy by creating a gateway between South Asia and Southeast Asia, ensuring closer interregional cooperation, and incorporating Bangladesh into regional and global value chains, experts said.

Recently in New Delhi, when Kishida proposed developing an industrial hub in Bangladesh with “supply chains” to the landlocked north-eastern states of India, and to Nepal and Bhutan beyond by developing a port and transport in the region, “to foster the growth of the entire region,” hardly anybody understood the depth of his vision.

He was indicating to a mega deep-sea port under construction in southern Bangladesh would be a key economic hub for Japan and India as the QUAD partners aim to counter Chinese influence.

Development of the port of Matarbari will put a Japan-backed facility just north of Sonadia, another prime location on the Bay of Bengal where China has been eyeing development of  a deep-water port.

In fact, that facility never materialised, and Dhaka reportedly dropped the idea a few years ago on the behest of multi-pronged diplomacy by Delhi, reported Nikkei Asia.

“Geostrategy, much like real estate, is about location, location, location, and with Matarbari one can certainly check off that box,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Centre in Washington.

Japan, Bangladesh’s biggest development partner for decades, has long been aware of its strategic significance, which is why it committed to developing a port there about five years ago, said Kugelman.

The feel-good project to serve as a key port for the landlocked northeast Indian states (also known as Seven Sisters) is expected in 2027. The economic development will immensely contribute to the rich cultural heritage of the millions of vibrant communities living in the region, bordering China on the side and restive Myanmar in the south.

Meanwhile, projects for road and railway connectivity projects to the desired port from the Seven Sisters are almost completed by India and Bangladesh.

(India Narrative)

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Bangladesh detains 4 ARSA militants with huge cache of arms

Though ‘terrorists’ including Chhamiuddin managed to flee the scene, sensing the presence of the law enforcers, the four people including the bullet-hit one were detained with their arms…reports Asian Lite News

Four members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) were detained with a huge amount of arms and ammo in the Ukhiya upazila of Cox’s Bazar, according to United News of Bangladesh (UNB).

Bangladesh-based News agency reported that the Armed Police Battalion (APBN) detained four persons, who were identified as Md Jobayer (20), Nur Mohammad (25), Jamila Begum (48) and Bibi (16). All the detainees are the residents of different blocks of the Rohingya camps in the upazila, according to UNB.

According to the police media release signed by Syed Harunur Rashid, under the commander of 14-APBN, the battalion conducted a drive at block G in camp No.7 on information that 10 to 15 ARSA members including ‘terrorist Chhamiuddin’ were staying there.

Sensing the presence of the law enforcers, the miscreants allegedly opened fire on the APBN members forcing them to retaliate with bullets, it said, adding that a ‘terrorist’ sustained bullet injury in the incident.

As a consequence of the gunfight, the APBN members also conducted another drive at block C in camp No.5 when they came to know that the ARSA operatives including Chhamiuddin were staying there, reported UNB.

Though ‘terrorists’ including Chhamiuddin managed to flee the scene, sensing the presence of the law enforcers, the four people including the bullet-hit one were detained with their arms.

Four locally-made one-shooter guns, 30 rounds of bullets from a Chinese rifle, 27 rounds of pistol bullets, five cartridges of a shotgun, three blank magazines, four walkie-talkies, five mobile phone sets and one knife were recovered from the house, according to the APBN.

A process was underway to file a case against them in this connection at the local police station, it added, according to UNB.

Recenlty, a member of the ARSA militant group was killed along with a woman during a gunfight with Bangladeshi security forces at a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar district, authorities said.

The incident took place on Friday at the Ukhiya Rohingya refugee camp.

Armed Police Battalion (APBn) official Farooq Ahmed said the militant was identified ARSA commander Mohammad Hashim (32), and the woman as 50-year-old Noor Haba.

Both were residents of the camp.

Ahmed said that the APBn members conducted a raid in the area after receiving a tip-off about the presence of 20-25 militants on the hilly slope of Rohingya Camp No 18, Block No 17L.

On sensing the presence of police, the militant group’s members started firing indiscriminately.

Haba was killed in the firing.

One of the militants was caught, but the others managed to escape.

According to Ahmed, Hasim was involved in various crimes including murders, drug dealing, kidnapping and extortion in the Rohingya camp. (ANI/IANS)

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