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Exclusive interview of Nepal Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali

Published : Sunday, 23 February, 2020 at 12:00 AM  Count : 316

Shahriar Feroze

Shahriar Feroze

Bangladesh - Nepal bilateral ties has reached new heights in 2020. Nepal Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali was in Dhaka on a three-day visit , scheduled to review the overall aspects of the bilateral relations and exchange views on various topics of mutual interest such as energy, trade, transit, connectivity, tourism and cooperation on regional and multilateral issues. During his visit he gave an in depth exclusive interview to Daily Observer's Assistant Editor Shahriar Feroze.

Daily Observer: Welcome to Bangladesh Foreign Minister Gyawali, would you give an overview of your trip to Dhaka?

Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali (PKG): Thank you for your warm welcome, the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Nepal are excellent. All of us are well aware about the traditional and historical context behind it. Nepal was the seventh country to have recognised independent Bangladesh. There is a deep emotional attachment between the two countries. We are geographically closely located and have similar types of development challenges.

We also share similar types of values. Altogether the similarities make our relationship unique and close. Despite the proximity and closeness, we must acknowledge that, we have not been able to fully unleash the possibilities especially as far as our economic partnership is concerned.

My latest visit to Dhaka is primarily focused on forging stronger and deeper ties on the economic field which consists of trade promotion, partnership in energy sector, promoting tourism, strengthening connectivity including transit and transport and increased people-to-people contact.  I must mention that we are grateful to Bangladesh for allowing us transit facilities for using the domestic ports. Additionally, Bangladesh government has also opened up the Saidpur airport for having regular flights from Nepal. It has strengthened connectivity between the two countries.

I believe our economic ties will get stronger since both countries have political stability and also visionary leadership in place. Furthermore, despite all the challenges and the massive earthquake in 2015, Nepal has managed to achieve over 6.5 % economic growth and last year we achieved 7.1%.

On the other hand Bangladesh economy has been robustly growing. So this potentials and opportunities are favourable to give a boost to strong bilateral economic partnership. It can also contribute to a greater regional and sub - regional partnerships encompassing the framework of SAARC. However, to that happen it is also very important to have a very active SAARC. Bangladesh, India and Nepal have been proactive and the Motor vehicle agreement is an example to that. Last year and this year too has been significant for the two countries for multiple high level meetings.

Nepal Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali

Nepal Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali

Daily Observer: Bangladesh has shown interest on investing as much as $ 1 billion in Nepalese hydropower projects. What are the hurdles and developments? Would you also say a few words on transmission of power related issue discussed between India, Nepal and Bangladesh?   

(Nepal Energy and irrigation ministry official) on behalf of PKG: We have a bilateral mechanism starting with a cooperation agreement between energy ministers concerned of the two countries. The recent visit also includes two mechanism meetings for exploring ways and means for Bangladeshi entrepreneurs investing in Nepal energy sector.

We are equipped with two technical teams, one responsible for power generation while the other responsible for transmission. The technical team for generation has already identified a few clauses in the first week of last December, and in upcoming March we also have another bilateral mechanism meeting. We have also identified candidate clauses but we don't know yet what would be the mode of cooperation - whether it will be in the G-TO-G format or if the private sector will get engaged in project developments. Nepalese business entities may also jointly develop the project. However, this issue will be sorted out as times go by.

Regarding the transmission interconnection, recently the GMR project agreement is being promoted concerning the generation of 900 MW of electricity in the western part of Nepal. The PPA or purchase agreement is about to be finalised for 500 MW and the power will be transmitted through Indian power infrastructure entering Bangladesh. We are also in the joint mechanism meetings with our technical team for transmission and discussed another alternative for getting power from Nepal to Bangladesh by using the Chicken's-Neck Corridor ( Siliguri Corridor). One would be to use the existing infrastructure through India and another would be through a direct line.  

It will be a kind of tripartite arrangement since India is in a key position here. We have had cooperation for the GMR project with India, so an infrastructure exists. However, the transmission will be either through a dedicated line or by using Indian infrastructure. Possibilities will be analysed in all future joint technical meetings as we will keep maturing on the issue.

On the subject of timeframe, it will take around 5-6 years for constructing the transmission lines. Meanwhile we are also analysing the possibility for using the Indian infrastructure as it is a robust one for transmitting power to Bangladesh.  

Nepal has two, regional and sub - regional arrangements on trans-border power trade or transmission and during the fifth BIMSTEC summit we have signed in the BIMSTEC power grid interconnection that gives us one opportunity and secondly, in BBIN framework there are two components. First is the road and second is the grid. So we believe we can develop an option and the Indian response I believe will be positive. If we pay Indian transmission lines we will pay the fee charge and if India provides us with a dedicated line we would either take lease of that line or whatever that arrangement may be.

Daily Observer: Can you give us a hint about the unit price of power?      

PKG: It is too technical and too early to comment. But on a positive note it will definitely be a win-win deal.

Daily Observer: Can you please clarify Nepal's stance on the Rohingya Crisis? And why Nepal has never taken side on Bangladesh's favour in the UN general assembly or at the Human Rights Commission at Geneva?

PKG: We perfectly understand what difficulties Bangladesh is facing while accommodating over a million refugees. Nepal has long experience regarding handling refugees. Nepal is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. However, from time to time we have hosted refugees and gave shelter to some 20, 000 Bhutanese refugees for over two decades.

We are still hosting over 20, 000 Tibetan refugees. There are also few hundred Rohingya refugees in Kathmandu. While a country is struggling to address the necessities of its own people it is not so easy to welcome uninvited refugees. Nepal's firm and consistent policy in this regard is every refugee has the right to be repatriated in his or her motherland with dignity. The best way to end the crisis is to relentlessly engage in bilateral dialogues. Second is to, Myanmar leaders must take the issue seriously. Our geographical proximity with India or China is not a factor for determining our foreign policy.  We have an independent foreign policy and every country has its own perspective an attitude. And to that option, Nepal always maintains its stance, not in favour or against but on country specific resolutions.

Daily Observer: The year 2020 is very significant for Nepal's tourism industry, since the year has been dedicated to observe Visit Nepal year - targeting two million foreign tourists amounting to a $ billion in tourism revenue. Some private tour and travel operators in Bangladesh are also promoting visit Nepal Year. How is your tourism industry doing to meet its target?  

PKG: a very important year for Nepal tourism and we are drawing tourists from all over the world. The tourism target became a little challenging for a short while. As you may know, China topped in the list of all foreign tourists arriving in Nepal for two consecutive years. The country is the second largest source for our tourism. Unfortunately, due to the outbreak of Coronavirus our tourism industry has been hit because of lesser number of Chinese tourists. Now the situation is gradually improving as it has come under control. We are optimistic to get more tourists from China in the remaining year. We hope to meet our target successfully.
Daily Observer: Bangladeshi overland tourists travelling to Nepal frequently faces visa related complexities while taking lengthy trip to enter Nepal. Our geographic proximity is not coming to our mutual advantage. In many cases valid Indian visa of our tourists are cancelled by Indian visa authorities. What should be done and how can we engage India on resolving this issue?

PKG: We are well informed about the bottlenecks faced by overland tourists from Bangladesh. We had a discussion on this topic with the Bangladesh commerce minister. He also appeared quite sensitive. I don't think there is any rationale behind impeding easy access for Bangladesh tourists to Nepal via any mode or route. Since India is located in the middle of our two countries, it too has a role to play for simplifying travelling and visa related issues for Bangladeshis travelling to Nepal.

We will discuss the issue with Indian Government and expect a positive outcome in this regard. People-to-people contact is crucial for strengthening bilateral, regional and sub-regional ties and these cannot be hampered for complex and irrational bureaucratic procedures.

Daily Observer: Shifting our focus from economy to security and defence, we have seen the Nepal Army chief visiting Dhaka recently while seeking support to establish a national defence college in Nepal.  How do you assess the two countries defence cooperation programmes? Does your government plan to engage in joint military exercises with Bangladesh any time soon?   

PKG: The two countries have witnessed stable defence cooperation in the past years and the understanding between respective defence establishments is very good. One important aspect of our relations is that both countries are major troops' contributors to UN Peace Keeping missions.

Armies of both countries are skilled and have extensive experience in disaster risk management, disaster response and many more. Sharing and exchange of knowledge and experience helps to make our defence establishment more professional. These programmes also help in tackling conventional and non - conventional security challenges and they have become manifold in recent times.  

Visits of NDC cadets from Bangladesh to Nepal and from Nepal to Bangladesh have been a regular affair. We want these visits to build on further momentum. We currently don't have any specific military partnership. We are at the preliminary stage for establishing the National Defence University and a guideline was recently passed to make all the preparations. We will be very pleased on the knowledge sharing part, so to say, on how we can turn our planned national defence college into a centre of excellence.

We have noted that there are a number of geopolitical interests of big powers and regional powers in South Asia. Our priority is to establish it on our own and all doors are open for technical cooperation.

The interviewer is Assistant Editor, News & Editorial, The Daily Observer

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