Special Supplement

Connectivity with the Himalayan nation

Published : 21 Mar 2021 07:57 PM

Nurul Islam Hasib

‘Connectivity is productivity’ is the motto of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as is often said by Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen. With Nepal, Bangladesh wants to make it happen in every possible way from road to air to sea connectivity.

The Himalayan nation Nepal is a landlocked country strategically located between China and India. It shares its borders with the Indian States of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Sikkim in the south, east and west; while it is bordered by China in the north. Nepal is separated from Bhutan by Sikkim.  Bangladesh lies at the south eastern edge of Nepal.

Nepal established diplomatic relations with Bangladesh on 08 April, 1972. It was the seventh country to extend recognition to independent Bangladesh. Since the establishment of diplomatic ties, the bilateral relations between Nepal and Bangladesh are characterised by “cordiality, goodwill, mutual understanding and shared values and aspirations of the people”.

Nepal and Bangladesh share similar views on various issues of common interests and work closely in various regional and   international forums, including the UN, NAM, SAARC and BIMSTEC.  Exchange of visits at various levels has consolidated a close bond of relations between the two neighbours.

Nepal President Bidya Devi Bhandari is coming to Dhaka to attend two historic events at a time– birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the golden jubilee of independence.The current government is giving priority to neighbouring states in terms of cooperation.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last year offered Bangladesh’s airport and seaport facilities to Nepal as part of her commitment for regional connectivity for ‘shared prosperity’. She made the offer when Nepal's Foreign Minister Pradip Kumar Gyawali called on her during a visit in February. But Nepal is yet to make best use of Bangladesh’s offer.

“Soon after entering formal diplomatic ties, Nepal and Bangladesh signed trade, transit and payments agreements in 1976. The Bangladesh government had also allowed Nepal six transit points for entry and exit for trade purposes through Bangladesh. However, till date, it has not become wholly functional. Bangladesh had offered Nepal the use of the Chittagong and Mongla Port in 1997 after opening the Kakarvitta-Phulbari-Bangabandhu route with additional rail route to Nepal Rohanpur in Bangladesh to Singhabad India, but Nepal is yet to make use of them despite Nepalese traders having shown deep interest,” said Sunil KC, founder of the Nepal-based think tank Asian Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs (AIDIA), told Bangladesh Post.

So, the President’s visit is being seen as a way of taking the relations to a new height.

Three issues can be focused during the visit - energy cooperation, connectivity and religious tourism.

1) Energy Cooperation: Bangladesh needs energy to be a developed country by 2040. So, Bangladesh wants to buy 9000 MW power from Nepal and for that Nepal and Bangladesh have to sign the Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (BIPPA). This will also help Nepal to be a net energy exporter to Bangladesh. This will bring Nepal very close to Bangladesh. Experts believe the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model can be created in order to start the cooperation.

2) Connectivity: Bangladesh had offered Nepal to use Chattogram and Mongla port for the third country transit which has not been utilised by Nepal yet. Nepal is also going to start river ways connectivity, but Nepal lacks the technical experiences. Bangladesh could be useful for Nepal in the water ways connectivity. Also railways connectivity can be established with the help of India for the ease of trade in between our two countries. Bangladesh is undertaking improvements to internationalise the northern Saidpur Airport to help promote regional connectivity. The Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, has consistently advocated for transit facilities for Nepal. This was part of her campaign for enhanced regional connectivity under the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) initiative.

3) Religious Tourism: Nepal is known as a Hindu nation and birth place of Lord Buddha. There are many Hindus and Buddhists in Bangladesh. So religious tourism could be another area where two countries can create partnership. Bangladesh is going to set up Buddhist pilgrimage in Lumbini, Nepal by this year which shows the importance of religious tourism.

There are other ways of boosting the relations. Expansion of two-way trade through removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers, simplification of administrative procedures, and facilitating measures at border points can be one of them.

According to the Nepal embassy in Dhaka, there is tremendous potential for expanding and diversifying trade between the two countries. Nepal’s exports to Bangladesh constitute mainly yellow lentils, oil cakes, cardamom (large), wheat, vegetable seeds, handicrafts, pashminas etc. Imports from Bangladesh include industrial raw materials, chemicals, fabrics and textile materials, jute products, electric and electronic items.

But the slow pace of progress is yet to exploit the full potential of this great bonhomie between Nepal and Bangladesh, said Sunil KC.

The visiting President during the bilateral meeting with her counterpart Abdul Hamid will definitely hold talks to take forward the growing relations.