India and Bangladesh today discussed the common challenge of terrorism and resolved to fight the scourge together even as New Delhi reaffirmed its status as a reliable development partner of Dhaka. “We are both determined to protect our societies from the threat of ideologies of hate, violence and terror by adopting a zero tolerance policy and a comprehensive approach in fighting violent extremism and terrorism at all levels,” External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said after talks with the Bangladeshi side as part of the fourth Joint Consultative Commission. “We discussed the common challenges that we are faced with today. One such challenge is that of terrorism, extremism and radicalisation and we will continue to fight this scourge together and along with other like-minded countries,” she said. Swaraj, who arrived here on a two-day visit, said “India has been a longstanding and reliable development partner of Bangladesh”. “Totally, three lines of credit amounting to USD 8 billion have been extended by India to Bangladesh so far. This is by far the largest development assistance that India has extended to any country worldwide,” she said. India has also been extending grant assistance for small socio-economic projects in Bangladesh. In the past three years alone, 24 such grant projects have been completed which include construction of students’ hostels, tube-wells, cultural centres, and orphanages among others. Presently 58 projects, including city development projects in Rajshahi, Khulna and Sylhet, are under implementation, she said.
“India is now supplying 660 MW of much needed power to the Bangladesh people and this figure will double, if not triple, in the foreseeable future. We will work together as founding members of the International Solar Alliance, for which Bangladesh has just confirmed its accession. This alliance is expected to make solar energy affordable,” Swaraj said. The two nations have already agreed on the construction of a petroleum products pipeline that will link Siliguri with Parbatipur, for the benefit of the people of northwestern Bangladesh, as a grant in aid project. The setting up of LNG terminal, supply of natural gas by pipeline and investments in the upstream sector are also under consideration, she said. She said restoration of pre-1965 links encompassing road, rail, water and coastal shipping links is being planned to increase connectivity, citing increase in frequency of the Dhaka-Maitri express. The inaugural run with end-to-end Immigration and Customs services for the Maitri Express and the inaugural commercial run of the Kolkata-Khulna Bandhan service are all expected soon, she said.
In order to facilitate people-to-people contacts, she said the Indian Mission and Posts in Bangladesh issued 9.76 lakh visas in 2016 and these are expected to grow to about 14 lakh visas in 2017. Swaraj said India will also offer five-year multiple entry visas for Bangladeshi freedom fighters and is planning a scheme for their medical treatment in India. She will also hand over some memorabilia of the 1971 liberation war to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to be displayed in museums. This is Swaraj’s second visit to Bangladesh and comes after the recent trip of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley during which India operationalised a USD 4.5 billion line of credit to Bangladesh to enable implementation of development projects in key areas, including power, railways, roads and shipping. The announcement of the line of credit was made during Hasina’s visit to India in April. The development is also seen as India’s attempt to counter rising Chinese influence in Bangladesh, where Beijing is trying to make inroads in infrastructure ventures.