Hasina, Modi meet today in Kathmandu

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Asianbangla Desk : Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who leaves Dhaka for Kathmandu this morning to attend the fourth Bimstec Summit, will meet her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the event.

Diplomatic sources in Dhaka and New Delhi said Hasina-Modi meeting, scheduled for 6:45pm today, is crucial in the run-up to Bangladesh’s national election, likely to be held in December.

The Summit is set to witness the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of Bimstec Grid Interconnection, which will pave the way for buying and selling electricity among the seven Bimstec member states once the cross-country energy grids are put in place.

Diplomatic sources said the MoU will open the door for energy cooperation among seven South and South East Asian countries and will also facilitate promoting efficient, economic, and secure operation of power system through the development of regional electricity networks.

A senior Bangladesh foreign ministry official said, “The Bimstec member states have already finalised the MoU, and now it is ready for signing. The accord will provide a broad framework for the Bimstec members to cooperate towards implementing grid interconnections for the trade in electricity with a view to promoting rational and optimal power transmission in the Bimstec region.”

The main theme of the fourth Summit is “Towards a Peaceful, Prosperous and Sustainable Bay of Bengal Region”.

Dhaka hosts the secretariat of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec).

Foreign ministry officials said apart from meeting Modi, the Bangladesh premier is also likely to hold bilateral meetings with the participating heads of state and government, including Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. The chief justice of Bhutan and chief adviser to the Bhutanese interim government, Dasho Tshering Wangchuk, will also call on Hasina.

It was not yet confirmed whether the Bangladesh PM would hold any bilateral meeting with Myanmar President Win Myint.

A VVIP flight of Biman Bangladesh Airlines carrying the PM and her 57-member delegation will depart Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport at 8:00am today and is scheduled to touch down at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu at 9:15am (local time).

Briefing reporters at the foreign ministry about the Kathmandu Summit and the PM’s two-day official visit, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam yesterday said the Bimstec Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters would also be signed during the Summit, aiming to curb crimes and terrorist activities in the region and promote mutual assistance in carrying out investigations.

Replying to a question from a journalist, he said the Rohingya crisis would not affect the Bimstec process as it solely deals with economic and technical cooperation. He said Bangladesh was always mindful about the bilateral relations with other counties so that it was not harmed due to a crisis.

“One of the outcomes of this Bimstec Summit will be the signing of an MoU on grid connectivity which is already agreed to by all the member states, including Myanmar,” he said.

It was unlikely that the Rohignya issue would be discussed in the Summit, Shahriar said, adding the leaders can discuss the issue during the retreat session.

Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali attended the Bimstec foreign ministers’ meeting in Kathmandu yesterday. The previous day, Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque led a Bangladesh delegation to the senior officials’ meeting.

After the Islamabad Saarc Summit, scheduled for November 15-16, 2016, got stalled, India started actively pushing Bimstec as an alternative to the platform, according to diplomatic sources.

Pakistan on Sept 30, 2016 announced postponement of the Saarc Summit after India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka had pulled out of the event, indirectly blaming the host country for creating a “discouraging environment”.

Soon after the postponement, India hosted the Bimstec leaders during the BRICS Outreach Summit in Goa in October 2016.

The Bimstec members are Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. It came into being on June 6, 1997, through the Bangkok Declaration.

The grouping has focused intensely on trade and investment, technology, energy, transport and communications, tourism, fisheries, agriculture, cultural cooperation, environment and natural disasters, public health, poverty alleviation, people-to-people contacts, counter-terrorism and climate change.

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