This year marks the 40th Anniversary of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Nepal, and the relations have been excellent. There have been exchanges of visits at the highest political level between the two countries in strengthening bilateral relations.
Nepal has gone through a rapid and unprecedented transformation in its political history. For the first time, the Himalayan nation turned into a Republic from the monarchy since 1768. For the first time, a re-ordering of society seems to be in the offing, dismantling hierarchical society in which feudal lords and caste discrimination have been dominant.
Nepal is separated from Bangladesh by only 22 kilometres of Indian territory between them. The interactions between the people of Bangladesh and Nepal go back to thousands of years.
Nepal's attitude during Bangladesh's War of Liberation in 1971 was cautious. Although it did not wish to publicly offend Pakistan, the Nepalese government supported the cause of freedom of Bengalis in discreet ways. When a Bengali diplomat left the Pakistan Mission in Kathmandu in 1971, the government allowed the person to stay in Nepal and work unofficially for Bangladesh. The people of Nepal, including Nepali Congress leader B.P. Koirala expressed support and sympathy for the people of Bangladesh during the difficult period.
The late King Birendra visited Bangladesh in 1978. Bangladesh and Nepal set up a Joint Economic Commission and signed an Agreement on cultural, educational and scientific exchange between the two countries in 1978 following the King's visit.
Nepal is a land-locked country situated between two of Asia's giants -- India and China. It is a $20 billion economy with 29 million people. Trade and joint collaboration in economic fields are growing. During 2010-11, two way trade was around Tk.500 crore (Bangladesh's exports were worth Tk.350 crore and Nepal's were Tk.150 crore)
On May 28, 2009, a four-member delegation from Nepal visited Bangladesh and had talks on increasing trade and other relations. The meeting considered the movement of goods between the two countries in trucks transiting through India's territory. It also discussed the use of Mongla port in Bangladesh for transporting goods to and from Nepal at a concession rate. To promote tourism, travel agents and tour operators of both countries would jointly coordinate necessary steps.
Bangladesh transport experts note that following the visit of Bangladesh prime minister to India in January 2010, India agreed to provide transit facilities to Nepal by road and rail. Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Railway is working to find the most convenient route for rail transit to Nepal after India's positive response, according to Bangladesh Railway officials
People-to-people contact has increased. Cultural and technological co-operation have developed between the two countries. A few bilateral co-operation agreements have been concluded. Both countries have proposed bus service between Dhaka and Kathmandu to facilitate trade, tourism and contacts among people. The official and institutional ties are endless and grow as time passes.
Nepal has a huge hydropower potential. In fact, the perennial nature of Nepali rivers and the steep gradient of the country's topography provide ideal conditions for the development of some of the world's largest hydroelectric projects. Current estimates are that Nepal has approximately 42,000 MW of economically feasible hydropower potential.
Bangladesh and Nepal may cooperate to harness the hydropower, a part of which may be sold to Bangladesh. Some energy experts say a South Asian energy grid could be established with hydropower from Nepal and Bhutan (about 23,000 MW potential hydropower) in cooperation with India and Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is the home of the Royal Bengal tiger and both countries co-operate in the preservation of tigers under the Tiger Project. Bangladesh-Nepal co-operation is needed to curb the smuggling of cannabis and to monitor terrorism in the region.
Bangladesh seeks Nepal's co-operation in the management of environment and waters resources in the region. What Nepal does with respect to environment and water management has an impact on Bangladesh. There is a saying that if "Nepal sneezes, Bangladesh is sure to get flu."
Nepal and Bangladesh are members of Saarc, BIMSTEC, and NAM and co-operate closely on international and regional issues. The armed forces of Nepal and Bangladesh participate in peace-keeping exercise under the auspices of the UN. Furthermore, both countries are LDCs and are working together to design a new international strategy for the LDCs to come out of the group.
Economic globalisation is a reality in a competitive world and both countries have been adjusting themselves to the new de-regulated economic environment. Trade liberalisation has been both an opportunity and a threat to them because of competition. At the Saarc level, both countries try to take a common approach on issues of mutual interests.
China has been building a rail link between Tibet and Nepal since 2008, and it is reported that a railway line from Tibet's capital Lhasa to the border town of Khasa (80 kilometres of Kathmandu) will be built. During the visit of the Chinese prime minister in January of this year, Nepal requested China to extend the railway line to Kathmandu and also up to Lumbini. The Chinese premier reportedly said such an extension was highly possible. If the railroad reaches Kathmandu from Lhasa, Bangladesh may find another route to send its products to China.
Both countries have common approaches to many political issues. Both nations want a peaceful South Asia for economic growth and wish for diplomatic settlement of disputes between India and Pakistan.
The relation between Bangladesh and Nepal is based on mutual trust and respect. They are bound to grow as both countries have similar goals, which could be achieved by cooperative efforts. There appears to be a solid basis on which to build on a wide range of relationship for benefit to both countries. Both countries need to reflect on the direction which their great potentials will take in the 21st century.
The writer is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.