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Statement by Foreign Secretary at the meeting with Editors in Dhaka

December 04, 2013

I am delighted to be here, and to have the opportunity to meet the leading Editors of the media in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi media has a well earned reputation for its fierce independence, diversity of opinion and professionalism. So, as much as I speak to you this evening, I also look forward to hearing from you.

This is my first visit to Bangladesh as Foreign Secretary. I am deeply impressed by the progress Bangladesh has made in all spheres. In many areas, we have a lot to learn from Bangladesh's achievements and development model. Dhaka is a modern and vibrant city, and a reminder of the historical links between our two countries.

I have had a very fruitful set of meetings. This morning I called on His Excellency Foreign Minister AH Mahmud Ali following which I had the opportunity of calling on Her Excellency Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In the afternoon, I called on the Leader of the Opposition and Chairperson of the BNP Her Excellency Begum Khaleda Zia and Chairperson of the Jatiya Party General Ershad. I am scheduled to meet my counterpart, Foreign Secretary M. Shahidul Haque, later this evening.

I conveyed to the Prime Minister the high importance which India attaches to having good relations with Bangladesh and to peace and stability in Bangladesh. Both these are essential elements for ensuring the larger good of our region. This is a region which is connected by history, culture and civilisational ties. We share not just common borders but common challenges. The welfare, prosperity and security of our people are organically linked.

We therefore cannot remain indifferent to or unaffected by developments in each other's countries. India's consistent view has been that a strong, stable, independent and well developed Bangladesh is in the interests not only of the people of Bangladesh but also in the interests of the people of the region.

We proceed with our relations with Bangladesh on the principles of mutual respect, mutual benefit, non-interference and respect for each other's sovereignty. Based on this, we have made concrete progress in our relations in the last few years. This includes cooperation in the areas of political understanding, security, trade and economic relations, economic development, energy and people to people exchanges. Substantial progress has been made in the following areas :
· Energy (500 MW intergrid connectivity and commencement of work on a 1320 MW power plant in Rampal);
· Sub-regional cooperation in power and water and trade and connectivity;
· Development assistance (US$ 800 million credit line well on its way to implementation and US$ 200 million untied grants-in-aid)
· Trade (Unilateral zero duty quota free access to all Bangladeshi products except 25 tariff lines that has led to significant increases in Bangladesh’s exports to India, particularly in garments);
· Border Haats;
· Cultural cooperation and people-to-people exchanges;
· Security (for which we are most grateful to Bangladesh);
· Border Management; and
· Border infrastructure (ICP at Akhaura-Agartala)

We want to build upon these successes.

My meetings with the Leader of Opposition and Chairperson of the Jatiya Party were part of our ongoing dialogue with major political parties in Bangladesh. The opposition has an important role to play in any democracy, and Bangladesh is no different. We want our relations with Bangladesh to be broad based and inclusive. The test of our success is when the partnership between our two countries benefits all sections of society and translates into results on the ground, making it is durable and sustainable over the long term.

This is an important time for Bangladesh. Elections are an intrinsic part of the democratic process. The people of Bangladesh, like anywhere in the world, deserve the right to choose their elected representatives freely and fairly. Political parties are the pillars of democracy. As a fellow democracy, India hopes that the forthcoming elections will strengthen democratic institutions, practices and processes in Bangladesh. We hope that the forthcoming elections will respond to the aspirations of the people of Bangladesh and that they will be free, fair, impartial and peaceful and find wide acceptability.

Democracy also means the ability to resolve differences through dialogue and peaceful means, without recourse to violence. We are concerned by the ongoing violence and we hope that wisdom and maturity will prevail. Experience has shown that violence impacts most on the vulnerable sections of society. This is in no one's interest.

In conclusion, let me say we have deep respect for the wisdom and achievements of the people of Bangladesh. Theirs has been a history of sacrifice, courage and pride. We wish Bangladesh well at this time. India will remain an honest and enduring partner in your nation building efforts.

I thank you. I would now be happy to listen to your views.

December 4, 2013


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