DHAKA, Bangladesh

Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Tuesday reached Bangladesh on a two-day visit.

The visit is being seen as a last-ditch effort by New Delhi to consolidate its regional position amid growing influence of China.

India and Bangladesh have traditionally been strong allies, with a common opponent in Pakistan. Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan in 1971 after a months-long armed struggle.

Nuclear powers India and Pakistan were partitioned in 1947 — and have since fought three wars.

But recent weeks have seen the ice melting between Pakistan and Bangladesh with a phone call held between the heads of states.

Observers say Beijing is mediating between Islamabad and Dhaka as both countries are partners of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative project which will connect Asia to Europe through a network of roads and railways.

The Indian authorities, however, have mentioned the tour as part of its routine work to develop diplomatic ties with closest neighbors, including Bangladesh.

“Sh. Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary of India is on a visit to Dhaka from August 18-19, 2020 to discuss and take forward cooperation on matters of mutual interest,” said a statement issued by the Indian High Commission in Dhaka Tuesday evening.

Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen also termed the sudden tour of his Indian counterpart as a routine visit and said Shringla will meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. He will hold meetings with Bangladeshi officials including the foreign minister and foreign secretary on Wednesday.

“We will discuss the Rohingya crisis issue. India has already assured us to cooperate in resolving the Rohingya crisis,” said Momen.

– Critical visit

Experts see the sudden visit to Bangladesh as part of the Indian government’s policy to resolve the prevailing crisis with the neighboring states and curbing the growing Chinese influence in the region.

India and China in mid-June had border clashes which left over a dozen Indian troops dead.

Tareque Shamsur Rahman, professor of International Relations in Jahangirnagar University, said: “India is now passing through critical courses in terms of diplomatic ties with its neighbors including Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives, and Bhutan and [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi’s government has taken an initiative to develop the ties.”

“India has already talked with Nepal […] and wants to remove the confusion in relations with Bangladesh,” Rahman said, adding that New Delhi is uncomfortable with China’s growing presence in the region.

“India is investing in Maldives and also trying to develop relations with Sri Lanka,” he added, advising Dhaka to keep a balanced approach in diplomacy.

India and Bangladesh have an ongoing water dispute due to a stalemate on the River Teesta which flows from the Himalayas and merges with the Rivers Brahmaputra and Jamuna in Bangladesh.

China, on the other hand, has offered a loan of nearly $1 billion to Bangladesh for maintaining the water level of the Teesta during the dry season, according to sources in Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry.

Moreover, India’s controversial citizenship law has strained relations with Bangladesh, which fears a wave of refugees streaming into the country.

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