Bhutan first nation to recognise Bangladesh, says foreign secretary

Setting to rest swirling speculations, the foreign secretary has said Bhutan first recognised Bangladesh in 1971 and the acknowledgment came on Dec 6 through a wireless message.

Published : 8 Dec 2014, 12:56 PM
Updated : 8 Dec 2014, 12:56 PM

“There is no controversy about that,” M Shahidul Haque said on Monday at a briefing in Dhaka on the visit of the Bhutanese prime minister soon after his departure.

He said Bangladesh and Bhutan enjoyed “special relations” and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina conveyed to her counterpart that “Bhutan has a special place in our heart”.

“And it emerges from our history,” Haque said, citing the recognition even before Bangladesh’s birth.

Prime Minister Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay arrived in Dhaka on Saturday on a three-day bilateral visit, first after he took office in Thimphu last year.

But during his visit, confusion arose in the media over Bhutan’s recognition of Bangladesh, with some saying it was on Dec 6 and others Dec 7 after India’s recognition on Dec 6.

Social media also had a heated debate.

The foreign secretary dismissed any speculations on the day of recognition and said India also recognised Bangladesh on Dec 6.

“But Bhutan was the first country,” he said, which means there was a difference of a few hours in the recognition between the two neighbours. He did not specify the times.
Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan after nine-month of bloody war on Dec 16 in which India supported Bangladesh from the beginning.
He said Prime Minister Tobgay handed over the transcript of that wireless message, that the then Bhutan King had sent to Bangladesh’s Acting President, to his counterpart during their meeting.
A joint statement issued after his departure also mentioned that Prime Minister Hasina recalled Bhutan’s support to liberation war with gratitude during the talks.
“She also recalled that Bhutan was the first country to recognise Bangladesh on 6 December 1971,” read the statement containing 27 points.

The joint statement documented an entire area of engagement during his visit when both sides signed two agreements including a 10-year extension of the bilateral trade deal.

The foreign secretary said Dhaka-Thimphu relations had reached a stage where Bhutan was ready to start discussion on free trade agreement (FTA).

“We must look beyond,” he said, quoting the Bhutanese prime minister.

Bangladesh also gifted Bhutan a piece of land at Baridhara diplomatic enclave in recognition of its role in 1971.

The foreign secretary said prospects of cooperation on hydropower was one of the areas that received priority during the visit.

Bhutan also proposed for joint investment or direct purchase of electricity. There is also trilateral initiative on this involving India.

Haque said the SAARC framework agreement on energy cooperation has created new opportunities. “We’ll take this (power cooperation) to the Bangladesh-India-Bhutan trilateral platform,” he said.

Tobgay lauded Bangladesh’s “tremendous socio-economic advancements during the tenure of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina”.

According to the joint statement, he also agreed “to work together to enhance collaboration in water resources management and hydro-power and connectivity in the sub-regional context”.

The foreign secretary said when Bangladesh emphasise connectivity, “it goes beyond the usual physical connectivity of roads, railway and air links”.

He said Prime Minister Hasina even at the SAARC summit mentioned that by connectivity Bangladesh also meant “connectivity of ideas, thoughts and working together”.

He said both sides also recognised the need for “basin-wise water management”.

Dhaka and Thimpu agreed to diversify trade which is currently only Tk 1.95 billion and heavily in favour of Bhutan as Bangladesh’s businessmen show less interest in this small market.

Bhutan agreed to enhance collaboration in other sectors like education, health, and human resources development.

It particularly showed interest in the collaboration on autism.

In the joint statement, the Bhutanese prime minister appreciated “personal commitment and leadership” of Prime Minister Hasina’s daughter Saima Hossain, who is a member of WHO’s Expert Advisory Panel on mental health, as far as autism was concerned.

The foreign secretary said the visit had infused further impetus in the bilateral relations.

He said Hasina had asked her counterpart to help with Bhutanese traditional design in building the Rangamati Science and Technology University in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

She also requested Bhutan to build its embassy in Dhaka in their own traditional design.

Both sides recognised the potentials of tourism and agreed “to increase cooperation further”.

The Bhutanese prime minister extended his King’s and own invitation to President Md Abdul Hamid and Hasina to visit the Himalayan kingdom.

According to the joint statement, the invitations were accepted and it was agreed that the dates of the visits would be finalised in due course.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher