India, Bangladesh ink 7 pacts; restore cross-border rail link

New Delhi:  In a reflection of their rapidly growing ties, India and Bangladesh on Thursday sealed seven agreements to further broadbase cooperation in a plethora of sectors, and restored a cross-border rail link snapped by the 1965 war with Pakistan.

The restoration of the Chilahati-Haldibari railway link and signing of the pacts, providing for cooperation in areas of hydrocarbons, agriculture and textiles among others, came at a virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina.

In his opening remarks, Modi said the holding of the virtual summit immediately after celebration of the Vijay Diwas (Victory Day) assumed “special significance” and noted that Bangladesh is a key pillar of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.

On Wednesday, India began the 50th anniversary year celebrations of its victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war that led to the birth of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh celebrates December 16 as ‘Bijoy Dibosh’ (Victory Day).

“It is a matter of pride for us to celebrate the historic victory of Bangladesh over the anti-liberation forces. Today, when Bangladesh is celebrating 49 years of independence, I pay homage to the armed forces personnel of both the countries who laid down their lives,” Modi said.

The two prime ministers also jointly inaugurated a digital exhibition on Bangladesh’s founder Mujibur Rahman and Mahatma Gandhi in an effort to celebrate the life and legacies of the two iconic leaders.

The inauguration of the Chilahati-Haldibari rail link is expected to enhance connectivity to Assam and West Bengal from Bangladesh. It was part of the broad gauge main route from Kolkata to Siliguri till 1965.

However, the war of 1965 effectively cut off all the railway links. Both sides have already restored four other rail links that were suspended in 1965. Initially, the Chilahati-Haldibari rail link will facilitate the movement of goods and cargo. Passenger movement will also commence after the development of required infrastructure on both sides.

In his comments, Modi said strengthening and deepening India’s relations with Bangladesh has been a special priority for him since he took office, adding cooperation between the two countries has been “good” notwithstanding the coronavirus pandemic.

“It has been a challenging year due to the epidemic. But it is a matter of satisfaction that India and Bangladesh had good cooperation in this difficult time,” the prime minister said.

“We are also having good cooperation in the field of vaccine. We will also take special care of your needs in this regard,” he said about the coronavirus vaccine.

Modi also thanked Hasina for inviting him to visit Bangladesh next year.

“Thank you for the invitation to visit Bangladesh next year. It would be a matter of pride for me to pay tribute to Bangabandhu with you. Bangladesh is a major pillar of our ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy,” he said.

In her statement, Hasina described India as a “true friend”.

She also commended the way India confronted the coronavirus crisis and hoped that it would contribute significantly in recovery of the global economy that has been severely hit by the pandemic.

In the summit, Modi also thanked Hasina for the contribution of Bangladesh under the framework of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

“Apart from health issues, this year our special partnership has been steadily advancing in other areas as well. We reduced barriers in the land border trade; expanded connectivity between the two countries…All this reflects our intentions to further strengthen our relationship,” Modi said.

The ties between India and Bangladesh have witnessed a significant upswing in the last few years. Both sides have scaled up trade and economic engagement besides implementing a number of connectivity and infrastructure projects.

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