PM’s Bhutan visit: Extending opportunities to grow together

The heads of government in both the countries not only signaled their intention to maintain good relations, but also put immense emphasis on greater regional connectivity and cooperation
Anu Mahmud
PM’s Bhutan visit: Extending opportunities to grow together
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has laid the groundwork for greater connectivity in this region during her three-day state visit to Bhutan. In an extraordinary gesture of friendship, the PM agreed to allow the land-locked Bhutan to use Chittagong and Mongla ports to get in connected with Bangladesh and other countries. It’s no doubt that it will open up further opportunities of bilateral trade between the two countries.

In total, the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Bhutanese counterpart, TsheringTobgay signed six agreements and MoUs, which indicate that the ties between the two countries are going to be more cordial in the coming days. Apart from allowing Bhutan, our neighbor to the north, it is a step in the right direction for both the countries to improve ties through the signing of deals relating to agriculture, export and import of goods, quality control of goods and avoidance of double taxation.
The heads of government in both the countries not only signaled their intention to maintain good relations, but also put immense emphasis on greater regional connectivity and cooperation, which is welcome.
The two leaders recognized the importance of BBIN(Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) Motor Vehicle Agreement for regional connectivity and expressed their desire towards an early operationalization of the agreement. They also welcomed the proposed Trilateral Memorandum of Understanding between Bangladesh, Bhutan and India for Cooperation in the field of Hydroelectric Power on the principles of agreed regional framework.
Sub-regional cooperation in the areas of power, water resources and connectivity for mutual benefits is a great opportunity for South Asian countries. In a time when the SAARC cannot function smoothly due to geo-political reasons, enhancing bilateral or sub-regional cooperation among friendly neighboring countries is apparently the only option for greater connectivity in this region.
The people in a majority of the countries in South Asia are in favor of maintaining friendly relations with their neighboring countries. Taking this as the foundation the government of countries in this region should look for new avenue of friendship and cooperation.
Extending the existing relationship
Six agreements and Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) were signed on the first day of the trip of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Bhutan. She has unveiled the floor plan for a new Chancery building of the Bangladesh embassy in Bhutan. It is worth to mention that Bangladesh and India are the only countries to have resident embassies in Bhutan. However, the plans for the embassy’s main office were revealed on the second dayof the Prime Minister’s three-day visit to Bhutan, in the presence of the king of Bhutan, Jigme KhesarNamgyelWangchuck, at the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu.
Bangladesh and Bhutan are regional neighbors. The kingdom of Bhutan was the first country to recognize Bangladesh’s independence during the war of liberation in 1971. Bilateral relations are strong and long-standing. In recent years, the two countries have committed to a strategic development partnership, encompassing hydropower, free trade and transport. They are common members of SAARC and BIMSTEC.
Bhutan and Bangladesh have actively cooperated in the field of flood control. Bangladesh also extended support to Bhutan following the 2009 earthquake. Bangladesh offers one scholarship to the Royal Bhutanese Army for a course at the Bangladesh Defence Services Command and Staff College.
Considering this friendship and long history of cooperation, the PM’s recent visit will extend the existing the relationship and there will be more opportunities to grow together.
To attain more tangible results:
Bangladesh and Bhutan have inked five deals on avoidance of double taxation, agriculture, standardization of goods, cultural cooperation and waterways connectivity during just concluded Bangladesh Prime Minister’s visit to Thimphu. Among the five deals, it is undeniably the connectivity issue that relatively merits more realization of the other four. Particularly, the Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) could not be implemented even though a year and half has elapsed since the signing of the treaty in June 2015. As the roads agreement has immense potential, in terms of ensuring connectivity, so Bhutan as a stakeholder nation, must now run the extra mile for giving it an extra push to materialize it from its respective end. It would have been quite a diplomatic feat if an agreement exclusively focusing on removing the last hurdles of road connectivity could have been inked this time. However, we expect the Bhutanese government to ratify the BBIN agreement in its parliament as early as possible so to pave the way for reaping multilateral benefits. Concerning the signing of the waterways treaty, allowing Bhutan to use our waterways for transportation of goods imported through Chittagong and Mongla seaports should also economically benefit both countries.
Furthermore, at the regional and trilateral level, the two countries had jointly held talks about water resource management at source following cooperation in hydropower projects. Specifically Bangladesh, Bhutan and India had recently come up with a Memorandum of Understanding for Bangladesh to invest in the 1,125 MW Dorjilung project aimed to transport the power through India to Bangladesh. The Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and India also mentioned this in their joint statement during Bangladesh’s Prime Minister’s recent state visit to India. Given the growing demand for cheap energy at home all the tree stakeholders should fast track the completion of this hydropower project.
Lastly, our relation with the Kingdom of Bhutan has so far been pleasant and notably a historic ne. Not to mention, it was the first country to have recognized Bangladesh as an independent and sovereign state. In spite of a smooth and friendly two-sided relation little has actually been realized as strong mutual partners.
Following the five deals inked at Thimphu, we now expect to see a more pro-active approach from our Bhutanese counterparts. The point in fact is that, both Bangladesh and Bhutan will have to come out of the box of symbolic good diplomatic relations and start working jointly to attain more tangible results to the benefit of both the nations.
Work together for greater peace:
Thimphu has welcomed the proposed trilateral deal between Bhutan, Bangladesh and India, which will allow Dhaka to get power from the Himalayan Kingdom after investing in the hydroelectric joint ventures projects.This trilateral instrument will be signed this year in the BIMSTEC summit to be held in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.
They (PM Sheikh Hasina , Bhutanese PM TsheringTobgay) also welcomed the proposed Trilateral MoU between Bangladesh, Bhutan and India for Cooperation in the field of Hydroelectric Power on the principles of agreed regional framework.They expressed the hope that this MoU could be signed at an occasion when leaders of all three countries would meet next.
Recognizing the importance of enhancing regional connectivity, both sides agreed to work bilaterally and sub-regionally towards that end. The two PMs recognized the importance of BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement for the regional connectivity and express their desire towards an early operationalization of the Agreement.
Bangladesh and Bhutan have also agreed to explore cooperation in information technology (ICT) sector, including sharing of Internet redundancy and establishment of data centers.
They emphasized the advantages of sub-regional cooperation in the areas of power, water resources, and connectivity for mutual benefit. They also discussed many areas of cooperation including hydro-power, water resources, trade and commerce, connectivity, tourism culture, education, health, ICT and agriculture.
They reaffirmed that relations between Bhutan and Bangladesh are based on friendly ties and reflective of their common aspiration for peace, collective prosperity and development of the region and beyond. They expressed satisfaction at the excellent state of bilateral relations and reaffirmed that commitments to further consolidate the bilateral relation for the mutual benefit of the two friendly neighboring countries. They noted the expanding bilateral trade between the two countries and acknowledged its importance in future cementing the friendship between the two countries.
The Bhutanese PM thanked PM Sheikh Hasina for taking a number of majors including opening of Land Customs Stations namely Tamabil-Dawki and Nakuagaon-Dalu, Gobra Kura and Koroitoli-Gasuapara and resolving duty exemption issues on Limestone Powder, Gypsum and Calcium Carbonate export to Bangladesh which will further enhance bilateral trade with Bangladesh.
Bangladesh also offered to export more products such as ready-made garments, ceramics, pharmaceuticals, jute and allied products, leather goods, toiletries, agricultural products produced to Bhutan. The Bhutanese side agreed to facilitate entry of this production into its market. They also agreed to further promote trade and investments between the two countries.
The two sides also exchanged views on cooperation in other regional and international forums including BIMSTEC, SAARC, and the UN and noted the commonality of their views and position on all major issues and agreed to continue to work together for greater peace, prosperity and development in the region and beyond.
Approaches for Autism placed:
At the end of the three day International Conference on Autism and neurodevelopmental disorders, eleven countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, North Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste) in the capital, World Health Organization (WHO) South-East Asia region adapted the ThimphuDeclaration for “acceleration efforts” to enable people with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders to lead a productive life. The countries called for integrating the needs of such individuals and their families into national health and socio-economic development plans.
It emphasizes a whole-of-society and whole-of-government approach to address these issues. Specific attention has been suggested to strengthening of national capacities in the health, education, and social care sectors to provide effective services and support people with autism spectrum disorder(ASD) and other neurodevelopmental disorders(NDDs).
The declaration welcomed WHO South-East Asia regions strategy on autism and called for countries in the region to share experiences and best practices, with the focus on the lifespan needs of people with ASD and NDDs. It highlighted the need for focused and concerted efforts to address ASD and NDDs. It discussed community based services, inclusive education programs, employment opportunities, trainings and rights and supported independent living in the community.
Autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders are life-long disabilities that affect brain functions and when left without proper support, can significant impairment in exercising of an individual’s human rights and fundamental freedom.
Most children with autism and other NDDs in low and middle-income settings lead a life inside home, marred by stigma, social isolation and lack of support services and their numbers are increasing, day by day. Inter-country cooperation and partnerships are fundamental to addressing autism in the region member countries are already demonstrating how progress can be forged, providing valuable learning opportunities that must be embraced and adapted to country needs.
The Thimphu Declaration, a collaborative effort of countries in the region was facilitated by the existing collaborative framework autism in South-East Asia. Government at all levels- national, state, and local- should work with civil society including academia, professionals and non-government organizations, as well as the private sector and media to effectively address autism and NDDs. The need for prompting social exclusiveness and remove stigma, which are major challenges that individuals and their families face.
Barriers affecting people with ASD must be identified and removed and legal frameworks supporting the rights of people with ASD, their families and caregivers must be developed. As part of this, involvement of people affected by ASD and NDDs is vitally important, as is a commitment to the Conventions on the Rights of People with Disabilities, as well as previous Regional Resolutions and Declaration.

The writer is a commentator on regional issues