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Indo-Bangla ties turning sour

Indo-Bangla ties turning sour

Author: C. Raja Mohan
Publication: The Hindu
Date: November 30, 2002
URL: http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/stories/2002113004871100.htm

The Foreign Office's decision to go public with its sharp criticism of Bangladesh reflects a growing pessimism here about bilateral relations with its important eastern neighbour. After waiting nearly a year to see if the Khaleda Zia Government is prepared to demonstrate a measure of good faith, New Delhi appears close to giving up on Dhaka.

Within days of Begum Khaleda Zia being sworn in as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, a little over a year ago, the National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister, Brajesh Mishra, flew into Dhaka. The objective was to communicate a simple message to the new Government: India was ready to do business with Begum Zia.

This message was important, given the widespread suspicions in Dhaka that India would have preferred the re- election of Sheikh Hasina's Awami League in last year's general elections. The Vajpayee Government wanted to make it clear that a change of Government in Dhaka would have no effect on India's commitment to improve relations with Bangladesh.

The message was reaffirmed in August by the External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, when he travelled to Bangladesh. Nearly a year after Begum Zia took charge in Dhaka, the assessment here on the future of Indo-Bangla relations has become increasingly negative.

The bilateral engagement on all key issues of concern to India - the question of illegal immigration, transit facilities, border management and energy security - has stalled with no hints of any movement in the near future. This was something India could perhaps have lived with.

The despondent outlook for bilateral relations, however, is based on the fact that Dhaka is seen here as undercutting the central political bargain between the two countries over the last decade.

The approach of New Delhi to Bangladesh was very simple: don't allow activities hostile to India on your soil, and New Delhi would not intervene in the internal affairs of Bangladesh and go more than half way in resolving long- standing bilateral problems.

The Khaleda Zia Government is now seen as breaking that compact. The belief here is that Dhaka has done nothing to prevent anti-India activity hostile during the last year. India has seen a dramatic rise in cross-border terrorist activity in Bangladesh. Dhaka has also acquiesced in increased activity by Pakistani intelligence agencies in Bangladesh.

New Delhi is puzzled by the somewhat gratuitous attitude of the Government in Dhaka and its entirely avoidable provocations. Dhaka's willingness to fool around with terrorist activity on its soil, particularly in the changed international environment after September 11, appears self-defeating.

India conveyed its strong concerns at the growing profile of terrorist activity in Bangladesh, when its Foreign Minister, M. Morshed Khan, came here last June. But that seems to have had little effect on Dhaka, which is stuck in a denial mode. Meanwhile Bangladesh's willingness to tolerate Al-Qaeda activity on its soil has begun to get negative reviews in the U.S. media.

In pandering to the extremists, Bangladesh appears to be squandering the positive image the nation had begun to acquire in the international arena.

In the late 1990s, Bangladesh had increasingly been projected in the West as a likely ``model'' for the rest of the Islamic world given its improved economic performance and democratic framework.

Bangladesh had also the potential to emerge as the second largest economy in South Asia replacing Pakistan. Through the 1990s, Bangladesh was on a faster economic track. It had also had the potential to emerge as a bridge between the Subcontinent and South East Asia.

Yet, Bangladesh has persisted in its opposition to deeper regional economic integration.

Worse still, under Begum Zia, it seems willing to play second fiddle to Pakistan. Unless Dhaka recognises the deep Indian anxieties on growing cross-border terrorism, there is a danger that Indo-Bangla relations will head further South in the coming weeks and months.

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