Kathmandu, Oct 18: Bangladeshi ambassador to Nepal Mashfee Binte Shams has said that the bilateral relations between the two countries have been very cordial and cooperative. “If you want to describe Bangladesh-Nepal ties in a single word, it is - excellent,” Shams said in an interview to The Rising Nepal.
She elaborated that the bilateral relationship was guided by a lot of commonalities and historical linkages between the two nations. Nepal was one of the first nations to recognize Bangladesh after it was created in 1971.
“We, Bangladeshi people, highly appreciate Nepalis for successfully concluding the prolonged transition and promulgating the new constitution. You have a wonderful constitution which I think is a model document in terms of inclusion and proportionate representation of the people”
Fast growing nation
One of the densely populated countries of South Asia, Bangladesh is a fast growing nation with average annual economic growth of 8 per cent so it is in the dire need of energy to sustain its growth and ever expanding market. Against this backdrop, hydropower is an area where the two nations can work together to their mutual benefits.
Asked about Bangladesh government’s interest in Nepal’s hydropower investment, she said her country was willing to invest in Nepal, especially in hydropower sector and would like to purchase power from Nepal even though former’s power production capacity was more than twenty thousand megawatts.
“Because of the high economic growth rate of Bangladesh, we will need more than 34 thousand megawatts by 2030. We are shifting from thermal, coal-based and gas-based power plants to cleaner sources of energy”.
Regarding Bangladesh’s investment in Nepal’s hydropower, she presented three modalities of investment- the Bangladeshi investors will invest directly in the hydro sector or they participate in joint venture based on the equity sharing or her government can even buy electricity directly from Nepal’s hydropower producers.
She was of the views that there might be some more enabling environment/ instruments in place before the Bangladeshis put their investment here.
“Definitely, there are a lot of positive steps taken by the Nepal government. But we feel that there is a need for a bilateral investment promotion treaty or bilateral investment promotion protection agreement for which we are requesting the Nepali side for long time.” she added.
Bangladesh has offered two ports - Chittagong and Mongla - to Nepal for third country trade route. However, Nepal is yet to fully utilise them.
Nepali cargo transporters complain that there is no instrument allowing the Nepali trucks to go all the way to the ports. That is why they need to take transshipment at the Banglabandha inland port.
“So if there were some sort of a motor vehicle agreement between Bangladesh, India and Nepal that will allow the vehicles from the two countries to move freely. It will be easier for Nepal to utilise Chittgong and Mongla for transit,” she opined.
Bangladesh has emerged as an education hub for Nepali students. Around five to six hundred Nepali students go to Bangladesh for the study every year. Around five thousand students are currently pursuing their higher study there.
“It is a matter of great happiness that Nepali students prefer Bangladesh for study. But we have sometimes seen some students are misguided by some people. We always like to caution that before making their final choice, they should come to her office for consultation,” she suggested. She said that it is a matter of student’s future and huge investment their parents put for their higher study. So before going there, they must check status of the colleges of their choice.
Both the nations have good air linkages. Biman Bangladesh Airlines have regular flights in Nepal. Recently Himalaya Airlines has also started its operation. There is a lot of scope to increase air connectivity because Nepal is a very favourite destination for Bangladeshi tourists.
“More and more Bangladeshi are visiting Nepal every year. Last year, almost 35 thousand Bangladeshis came to Nepal. If Nepal carries promotional activities in Bangladesh, they will be able to double the number of tourists very easily,” she said, adding that Nepali tourism industry should work to capitalise on rising Bangladeshi middle class in view of the Visit Nepal Year-2020.
The two countries share cultural similarities. “Our languages are very similar. Most of time Nepali people understand Bangla language. People from Bangladesh also find easy to understand a lot of words of Nepali language. Especially, Maithili and Rajbanshi languages are very similar to our language,” she stated
Bangladesh and Nepal have ancient Buddhist linkages. One thousand years back, a Buddhist scholar travelled from a place called Bikrampura, an ancient capital of Dhaka, to Nepal. He stayed in Nepal and then went to Tibet. The first written Bangla script, a collection of poetry called Charyapada, was found preserved in a royal archive in Nepal centuries ago.
Relevance of SAARC
In her views, SAARC and BIMSTEC are not rivals to each other. They were created to serve completely two different objectives and boost regional cooperation in different manners. “SAARC was constituted for closer integration and cooperation between the countries of South Asia,” said the Ambassador, adding that there was good economic cooperation between all the small territories all over the South Asian region and that was the main rational behind the SAARC. However, BIMSTEC has been created for cooperation between the countries surrounding the Bay of Bengal which includes Thailand and Myanmar also, she said.
“BIMSTEC covers South Asian region plus part of ASEAN. So SAARC and BIMSTEC should not compete with each other. There is a lot of scope for the two institutions to act together,” she stated.