Dhaka, Mar 26 (PTI) Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Friday urged India to take the lead role for South Asia's political stability and economic upliftment as her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi joined the celebrations of the golden jubilee of Bangladesh's 50th Independence Day and the birth centenary of its founder 'Bangabandu' Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
'We laud Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Neighborhood First’ policy (but) India needs to play a pioneering role in building a stable and politically-economically vibrant South Asia,' Hasina told the ceremony, which was also attended by President Abdul Hamid and diplomats from several countries.
She appreciated India for sending COVID-19 vaccines for preventing coronavirus to the neighboring countries, including Bangladesh, saying the gesture was a 'reflection of that policy'.
'If we move forward hand-in-hand, the development of our people is inevitable,” she said, noting that Dhaka-New Delhi relations by now reached to a 'new height.' She pointed out India's support to Bangladesh's 1971 Liberation War and said, 'India is inextricably linked to Bangladesh's birth'.
Hasina simultaneously paid rich tributes to the Indian Army veterans who fought for Bangladesh's independence alongside Bangladeshi freedom fighters while a number of octogenarian Indian military officials who fought in the 1971 liberation war were present among the audience.
President Hamid, a 1971 war veteran, called India the 'closest neighbour and a trusted friend of Bangladesh'.
'I recall with deep appreciation the unstinting moral and material support of Indian political leaders and people in the 1971 war,” he said.
He also thanked the Indian government for conferring the ‘Gandhi Peace Prize 2020’ on Bangabandhu.
The function drew the conclusion of a 10-day national celebration of Bangabandhu's birth centenary and golden jubilee of Bangladesh's independence. Hasina is the daughter of Rahman, the Father of the Nation.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's congratulatory video messages were screened at the function, while messages from US President Joe Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan were read out.
'We would like to fortify our existing bonds with brotherly Bangladesh and build new ones for our succeeding generations, as we believe the destinies of our two peoples are intertwined,' Prime Ministrer Khan said in a written message, which was read out by Pakistan's Charge d' Affairs at its High Commission in Dhaka Kashif Jameel.
Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Nepalese President Bidya Devi Bhandari, Sri Lankan premier Mahinda Rajapaksa and Bhutanese Premier Lotay Tshering joined in person on different dates during the past 10-day celebrations as invited guests.
During the past 10 days several other world leaders sent video messages congratulating Bangladesh on the twin occasions.
The war broke out after the sudden crackdown at midnight past on March 25, 1971 in the erstwhile East Pakistan by the Pakistani troops and ended on December 16. The same year Pakistan conceded defeat and unconditionally surrendered in Dhaka to the allied forces comprising the freedom fighters and the Indian soldiers.
Officially three million people were killed during the nine-month long war. PTI AR ZH AKJ ZH ZH