Thursday, June 20, 2024
28 C
Brunei Town

A walk down memory lane

Lyna Mohammad

After completing his three-year term as a representative of the Indian government in Brunei Darussalam, outgoing Indian High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam Ajaneesh Kumar will be leaving the Sultanate mid-January.

He shared some of the milestones in his three-year tenure in the Abode of Peace by first noting the significant ties at ASEAN level, highlighting the special relations between Brunei and India, where Brunei plays an important role in strengthening India’s relations with ASEAN, particularly during 2012-2015 when it was the country coordinator for India.

“I am happy to share that 2022 will be commemorated as ASEAN-India Friendship Year to mark the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-India relations,” he said.

He added that the Sultanate’s role as the Chair of ASEAN for 2021 and as host of the 38th and the 39th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits themed, ‘We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper’, during the COVID-19 pandemic and its focus on highlighting mental health during COVID-19 times was appreciated by ASEAN member states as well as its dialogue partners, including India.

He said Brunei Darussalam, under the wise leadership of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, chaired ASEAN in a befitting manner.

As ASEAN Chair 2021, His Majesty appreciated India’s support for ASEAN’s recovery efforts from the pandemic during the 18th ASEAN-India Summit on October 28, 2021 including India’s role in supplying vaccines to the region and its contribution of USD1 million to the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund.

Outgoing High Commissioner of India to Brunei Darussalam Ajaneesh Kumar. PHOTO: IZAH AZAHARI

His Majesty also welcomed the decision by ASEAN and India to exchange information on medicine and medical technologies for COVID-19 response while encouraging ASEAN and India to work together on sustainable economic recovery by exploring new opportunities for cooperation under the Blue Economy.

Opportunities include developing key industries that can generate employment and enhance connectivity such as fisheries and maritime transport, said the high commissioner.

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi highlighted that ASEAN centrality and unity have always been an important priority for India, and is enshrined in India’s Act East Policy and Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR).

“There are numerous avenues for cooperation between India and ASEAN: India’s well-established pharmaceutical industry in promoting human resource development in the health sector as well as strategic research and development of vaccines: digital transformation, digital economy; science, technology and innovation; connectivity; and biodiversity,” he said.

The high commissioner also shared some of the major outcomes in the bilateral relations between Brunei and India.

India has been appreciative of Brunei’s support for India’s candidatures to various positions and posts in the United Nations (UN) and other international organisations and India looks forward to a continuous support.

A memorandum of under-standing (MoU) on defence cooperation, signed in February 2016, valid for five years, was renewed for another five years in May 2021.

Over the past several years, the relations and cooperation between the two countries in the area of defence have been expanding, which include regular official level defence exchanges, visit of naval and coast guard ships, training and joint exercises and participation in each other’s defence exhibitions and expositions.

There have also been several visits by Indian naval ships including Indian Coast Guard Ship ICGS Shaunak that made a logistic stop at Muara Port in January 2019; Indian naval ship INS Jalashwa’s visit in May 2021 to ferry humanitarian aid donated by the Indian community in Brunei; and Indian Naval Ships INS Shivalik and INS Kadmatt making a port call at Muara Port in August 2021 for PASSEX.

A three-member delegation from the Royal Brunei Armed Forces and Ministry of Defence participated in the DEFEXPO-2018 at Chennai. Sqn Ldr Kunal Simpi participated in the staff and command course in 2021 and another officer will attend command course for the 2021-22 session, said the high commissioner.

“The foreign office consultations (FOC) between our two countries have given us an opportunity to take stock of our bilateral relations and plan the road map for the future.”

In the 7th round of FOC between both countries held in June 2019 in New Delhi, the meeting reviewed cooperation in political, economic, defence, commercial, energy, space, culture and tourism, human resource development and health and so forth. Various areas for cooperation were also identified including in agriculture, education, energy, healthcare, investments and IT.

During a Bilateral Relations Review Meeting on virtual platform between India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar and Brunei’s Minister of Foreign Affairs II Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Erywan bin Pehin Datu Pekerma Jaya Haji Mohd Yusof in February last year, the two ministers reviewed the entire spectrum of bilateral relations as well as exchanged views on regional and global issues of mutual interests.

Brunei played host to the 1st Joint Trade Committee (JTC) meeting in September 2018 and the two sides are working on convening the second meeting of the JTC this month.

A number of events and conferences were organised to encourage interaction between the business communities of the two countries including a virtual meeting between India’s Agricultural Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) and Brunei’s Department of Agriculture and Agrifood in April 2021. Additionally, the Federation of Indian Export Organization (FIEO) held a virtual meeting with local trade chambers/bodies in the following month. In August 2021, a “country session with Brunei on engineering partnership” virtual platform hosted by the Engineering Exports Promotion Council of India (EEPC) was well received and saw the attendance of representatives of prominent businesses and trade bodies and engineering companies located in Brunei. At the session, a number of companies expressed a keen interest in collaborating and developing linkages with Indian companies in specific engineering sectors.

Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Minister of Finance and Economy II Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew bin Abdullah participated in the Confederation of Indian Industry (CIl) Summit and Expo 2021, where the minister joined the Special Plenary with ASEAN Trade Ministers – ‘Building Vibrant Supply Chains Through Deeper Trade and Investment Relations’ on October 8, 2021.

The Indian High Commission has also taken some other initiatives to promote economic engagements to develop collaboration in the pharmaceutical industry and facilitate development of linkages between local and Indian companies.

“Similarly, the mission is also in contact with relevant authorities for resumption of import of meat products (buffalo meat) from India, which has been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another area, which offers good potential for collaboration is e-vehicles, where renewable energy offers great potential for collaboration and India’s expertise in the field, especially in solar energy, can be utilised by Brunei to develop the Sultanate’s renewable energy sector.

National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), India’s largest power utility company, has proposed to initiate a project for joint development of 30 MW solar PV project development and the proposal for Brunei to join the International Solar Alliance.

The Indian High Commission has also been working on facilitating linkages between relevant agencies of the two countries for collaboration in the field of digital payment and financial technology.

In spite of the disruptions caused by the pandemic, a lot of importance has been placed on bilateral interaction between the two countries on the virtual mode.

The first meeting of the Joint Working Group (JWG) on Health was held virtually in June 2021 where, adding to issues of mutual interest, the two sides also discussed the renewal of the MoU on health for another three years.

Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme is one of the major programmes for South-South cooperation and provides technical assistance and capacity building programmes to its partner countries; and Brunei has been an important partner for India.

To date, 51 Bruneians have attended various ITEC courses in India. In October 2020 alone, 14 officials from the Ministry of Development participated in a three-day e-ITEC course on housing.

In order to facilitate the repatriation of stranded Indian nationals in the Sultanate, the High Commission organised 15 chartered flights from Brunei to Coimbatore in India, operated by Royal Brunei Airlines (RB).

Moving on to the achievements in the cultural and social milieu, the Indian community in Brunei contributed for the dispatch of 1,050 cylinders (45-50 L) filled with compressed medical oxygen as humanitarian aid to strengthen India’s fight against the second wave of the pandemic in August 2021.

The high commission also handed over 44 boxes of COVID-19 relief material to the Ministry of Health comprising scrubs, face masks and sanitisers during the second wave.

As a token of appreciation for the contribution of the frontline workers’ COVID-19 fight, the high commission delivered 200 packed meals for frontline staff at Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha (RIPAS) Hospital.

To further foster cultural relations between the two countries and increase people-to-people linkages, an Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR)-sponsored cultural troupe, comprising an eight-member Punjabi folk music and dance group ‘Punjabi Sabhyachar Kender’ visited Brunei and had five performances during India’s Independence Day celebrations in August 2019.

The high commission, in association with the Indian community associations in Brunei, also organised a cultural event, ‘Utsav…. The Celebration’, under the government of India’s initiative of ‘Promotion of Cultural Ties with Indian Diaspora’ to commemorate the 72nd Republic Day of India.

The Indian High Commission participated in the Brunei Darussalam from the Eyes of Foreign Diplomats and their Families photo exhibition, organised by the Diplomatic Corps in December 2020, and collaborated with Mahakarya Institute of the Arts Asia to facilitate the screening of four widely acclaimed movies during the 4th Brunei Film Blitz.

The celebration of World Hindi Day in partnership with Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah School (YSHHBS), meanwhile is an important event in the calendar.

Following the launch of the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav – India@75 on March 12, 2021, which is a series of cultural events and digital initiatives undertaken by the Government of India to commemorate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, the high commission has been organising various events including blood donation drives, beach cleaning campaigns, drive, free health camps, book donations and painting competitions.

The high commission will soon have its own property in the Diplomatic Enclave with the project work first commenced on December 17, 2020 and is scheduled to complete this in June.

“The list is long and points only in one direction – the strengthening of our bilateral relations for the mutual benefit of our two peoples,” the outgoing envoy said.