India’s Foreign Policy, Security and Development Strategy. The broad goals of Indian foreign policy are also to create an enabling environment to ensure India’s growth and development. This means ensuring peace and stability in the region so that our energies are focused on development; it means pursuing relations with other countries in a manner that it serves the needs of our people.
India has, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, adopted the ‘Neighbourhood First’ Policy. The goals of Indian foreign policy are linked with that of the neighboring countries. There are synergies that we have that we need to tap on. We also need to move towards enhanced connectivity to allow for seamless movement of goods and people and at the same time protect our strategic and security interests.
Under the present government, India has adopted a pro-active approach to diplomacy to serve our development goals. Our Prime Minister’s Flagship Program ‘Make in India’ is aimed at attracting Foreign Direct Investment in the manufacturing sector to spur growth in the country. For the last two consecutive years, India has been the largest recipient of Greenfield FDI. In 2016, India received close to US$65 billion in Foreign Direct Investment. In the last three years, there has been an increase in FDI to India by over 37 per cent, which is a record. While domestically we have undertaken reforms and policy liberalization to attract foreign investments, externally, the thrust of our foreign policy engagement is closely aligned to this goal of attracting FDI.
On 1 July, India rolled out the biggest tax reform in since its independence. With the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax, we aim to realize the goal of one nation-one tax-one market. The initiative is aimed at making India a common market and eliminating economic barriers to trade. The effort of our policy makers in rolling out this reform was also to enhance the ‘Ease of Doing Business’.
As part of the initiative of the Government to build social and physical infrastructure, we have adopted a number of flagship schemes under the leadership of our Prime Minister. These include Programs like Smart Cities, Skill India, Digital India, Make in India, etc. Our foreign policy is playing a constructive role in implementing some of the key flagship schemes.
The well-being of the millions of Indians settled abroad has also acquired a new center-stage in our diplomacy. Both our countries have a large population of migrant labour living and working outside especially in the Middle Eastern and Gulf countries. During recent periods of conflict, our citizens have been caught in cross-fire in conflict zones. We have evacuated over 80,000 people from conflict zones in the last 3 years from Iraq, Yemen, Syria and our political leadership has been at the forefront of these exercises.
The aim of our foreign policy is also to play a constructive role in setting the global agenda on various issues of common interest-whether it be terrorism or climate change. As a nation, we have been committed to the ethos of environmental protection and conservation, and we are signatories to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. We have committed to achieving 40 per cent of our electricity capacity from renewable sources of energy by 2030 and are well on our way to achieving this with advances in solar energy technology and reduction in costs.
Terrorism is a global challenge which affects all of us and remains one of the most significant threats to peace and stability in the region. The globalization of security threats; the networks of terror-financial or physical which transcend boundaries call for states to pool their resources and co-operate with each other to overcome these challenges. It also calls for the international community to jettison selective or partial approaches to combating terrorism and for early finalization and adoption of Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism by UNGA. The fight against terrorism should not only seek to disrupt and eliminate terrorists, terror organizations and networks but also identify, hold accountable and take measures against States and entities which encourage, support and finance terrorism, provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups and falsely extol their virtues. India has a zero-tolerance approach towards terrorism and we laud your efforts in this direction.
India and Bangladesh have excellent security co-operation at all levels. Our border guarding forces often work under challenging circumstances guarding this 4000 kilometres plus border. The demarcation of the Land Boundary and Maritime Boundary between our two countries has created an enabling environment for our security forces to co-operate and added to their confidence. These include recent rescue operations conducted by the Indian Navy after Cyclone Mora when 32 Bangladesh nationals were rescued by our offshore patrol vehicle INS Sumitra. Joint search and rescue operations conducted by our Coast Guards last year have saved the lives of fishermen stranded at sea. Close co-operation between the BSF and BGB along the land border keeps in check criminal activities and enhances mutual confidence. Security is one of the strongest areas of our co-operation and there are excellent relations between our military and security personnel. With this, I come to the final part of my address and will focus on the recent developments in our bilateral relationship.
Part II: India-Bangladesh Relations: Visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India
Needless to say, our foreign policy like that of any other country is driven by our leadership. The exchange of high-level of political leadership has given a new thrust to our relationship. Prime Minister Modi’s historic visit to Bangladesh in June 2015 saw the exchange of 22 Agreements including the historic Land Boundary Agreement. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent visit in April 2017 provided an opportunity to follow-up on the implementation of decisions taken in 2015. It heralded a golden chapter or ‘Sonali Adhayaya’ in our relationship affirming the fraternal ties between both countries and an all-encompassing partnership going beyond a ‘strategic partnership’. A record 36 Agreements and MoUs were signed during her visit, strengthening our partnership in various areas such as connectivity, development and infrastructure, high-technology areas such as IT, cyber security, space, civil nuclear energy, etc. These included 13 Agreements/MoUs with Indian public and private sector companies aimed to bring over US$10 billion investment to Bangladesh in areas such as power & energy, logistics, education and medical sectors.
Ladies and Gentlemen, India and Bangladesh share civilizational links and are bound by close ties of culture, language, history. People-to-people contacts are at the heart of our unique and special relationship. We have fought together in your liberation war of 1971 for the shared values of democracy and secularism. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s rare and extraordinary gesture of honouring of next of kin of Indian soldiers who laid down their lives during the Liberation war touched a chord amongst 1.25 billion Indian people. Muktijodhas have played an invaluable role in cementing our relationship. In recognition of their contributions and as a special gesture, our Prime Minister announced additional 10,000 scholarship for wards of Muktijodhas (worth BDT 46 crores); free medical treatment of 100 Muktijodhas in Indian hospitals during a year; and long-term multiple entry 5 year visas for them.
The strong defence ties between our countries has manifested in the frequent exchange and interaction between defence personnel of both countries at all levels and in the training exchanges. There has been a significant increase both in qualitative and quantitative terms in the overall profile of our defence and security related engagements. Regular interactions at the level of Service Chiefs and conduct of annual staff talks by the three services has significantly contributed to this. A number of new joint excercises have started and the existing ones have been upgraded. The number of training vacancies for Bangladesh Armed Forces and goodwill visits have also increased substantially. Our Defence Minister visited Bangladesh in December 2016 and this was the first ever visit by an Indian Defence Minister to Bangladesh since Independence.
With the signing of the MoU on Defence Co-operation Framework during the visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister to India, the defence relationship has been institutionalized. Other documents exchanged during the PM’s visit lay a firm basis for Institutional co-operation between the respective NDCs of the two countries; between the Defence Services Staff College here and the Defence Services Command and Staff College in India and the Tata Medical Center in India and the Director General Medical Service in Bangladesh.
Ladies and Gentlemen, India has been a committed development partner of Bangladesh. We fully support your vision of becoming a middle income country by 2021 and a developed country by 2041. During the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, US$ 5 billion dollars was pledged by India in concessional financing in addition to the earlier $3 billion in the first and second lines of credit taking the total up to US$ 8 billion.
The hallmark of the visit and of our recent engagement is co-operation in new high-technology areas which are vital from a strategic and security point of view. These include co-operation in energy security, in space, cyber security and IT. These areas have a strong development dimension since the ultimate objective is to bring the benefits of mutual co-operation to the people. For instance, we launched the South Asia satellite earlier in May, which will offer multi-dimensional facilities including services in telecommunications and tele-medicine and better co-ordination in disaster management to participating nations including Bangladesh.
A thrust area of co-operation between both countries has been connectivity. Connectivity is part of our own neighbourhood first policy as well as critical for sub-regional co-operation and growth; and for development of both countries. We are working towards reviving all the railway links which were snapped in the 1965 War and we are also looking at new railway linkages. During Prime Minister Hasina’s visit, the 4th railway link (of the erstwhile six railway linkages) between Radhikapur and Birol was inaugurated by the two Prime Ministers. By 2018, work on 3 more railway links will be completed. We are looking at new passenger train ‘Maitree Express’ between Khulna and Kolkata with the trial run already completed and to make the existing Maitree express an end-to-end service significantly reducing journey time between Kolkata and Dhaka. A new bus service between Khulna and Kolkata has been launched in addition to the links between Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala; and Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati.
Co-operation in power and energy sector has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years. We are looking at a supply of close to 5000 MW of power to Bangladesh through various kinds of co-operation both in the public and private sector. At present, 660 MW of power is already flowing from India to Bangladesh (From West Bengal and Tripura). We are looking at supply of LNG; gas grid interconnectivity between India and Jhenaidah-Khulna pipeline in Bangladesh; setting up an LPG import terminal by IOCL at Kutubdia; construction of LPG pipeline; and construction of a Friendship pipeline to supply gasoil from Siliguri to Parbatipur to be financed by grant-in-aid.
Civil Nuclear energy is another key and emerging area of co-operation especially as Bangladesh is looking to diversify its energy mix and is constructing its first nulcear power plant at Rooppur. Three agreements were concluded in the area of civilian nuclear energy during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit. We have also initiated discussions for joint investment in hydro-electricity and tripartite co-operation with Bhutan.
We are looking to synergise our flagship development programmes with development projects in Bangladesh. Some recent examples are India’s support for urban development projects in Rajshahi, Khulna and Sylhet in line with our Smart Cities Initiative. We have also signed MoU in energy efficiency and a plan to install 10,000 highly efficient LED bulbs in Dhaka, Rajshahi and Chittagong is in the pipeline.
We will also be jointly undertaking the Buriganga River Restoration Project under the new line of credit which has synergies with our own Namami Gange Project. We are looking at partnership not just in infrastructure development but also social and economic development and plans to construct 36 community clinics in Bangladesh are underway. Ladies and Gentlemen, the potential of our relationship is immense and we are on the right path. Our bilateral relationship is being viewed as a model relationship between two close neighbours. Not only have we amicably resolved all outstanding issues but we have accelerated co-operation in areas which are of mutual interest of both nations and will aid in our growth and development. Our people-to-people ties are stronger than ever. Our initiatives to liberalize visa have shown remarkable results. Today, Bangladesh tourists are the No.1 in India in terms of foreign tourist arrivals. By June this year (in six months), over 1.3 million crossings had taken place at the Benapole-Petrapole land port. The synergies between our two countries in various areas are immense and we are fully committed to tapping these.