Dhaka, Aug. 24: A month ago, when he visited Bangladesh, Pervez Musharraf had apologised for the excesses committed by the Pakistani army during the 1971 war.
Today, foreign minister Yahswant Sinha highlighted the “courage and sacrifice” of the Mukti Joddhas to underscore India’s strong bonds with Bangladesh.
Sinha, here on a “goodwill” visit, drove straight to Savar — the National Memorial for Martyrs of the liberation war, soon after reaching the Bangladesh capital this afternoon. Musharraf had done the same thing.
“The determination with which the people of Bangladesh waged a relentless struggle for freedom, dignity and the inalienable right to protect and preserve their language, culture and rich heritage is an unforgettable saga of our times,” Sinha wrote in the visitors’ book while paying tribute to the martyrs.
“Motivated by the justness of your cause and a common commitment to the ideals of freedom and democracy, we in India lent support to your struggle. In the process, the blood of many young Indians mingled with that of the Mukti Jodhas on the sacred soil of Bangladesh,” he said.
“We were comrades-in-arms then,” the foreign minister reminded Bangladesh. “We are brothers in peace and partners in progress today.” He added: “May this memorial inspire future generations in both countries to preserve our unique friendship.”
Sinha is staying at the same presidential suite of the Sonargaon Hotel that the Pakistan President had occupied. India is aware of these facts and also the impact that Musharraf created.
Sinha’s visit is part of the exercise he undertook soon after taking over as foreign minister — to build strong bonds with Delhi’s neighbours. Bangladesh is his last stop. Over the past month he has visited the other five countries in South Asia, barring, of course, Pakistan.
“The basic purpose of my visit is to reaffirm our abiding commitment to this valued relationship of cordiality and good neighbourly cooperations between Bangladesh and India,” Sinha said.
He added that he was aware of many issues that the two sides wanted to raise during his visit, but made it clear that between two friends, everything can be discussed and amicable solutions found through talks.
In the evening, Sinha led the Indian delegation for talks with his Bangladeshi counterpart, Morshed Khan. The trade imbalance between the two sides, and that it is heavily tilted in India’s favour, was one of the main points of discussions.
The progress of the Ganga water sharing treaty and cooperation between the Indian Border Security Force and Bangladesh Rifles to keep the border incident free were some of the other important issues. Tomorrow, Sinha is scheduled to meet Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and leader of the Opposition Sheikh Hasina.
According to observers, what Bangladesh will be looking for from Sinha are gestures that would prove that India not only cares for the progress and development of its neighbour but that it would deal with the same warmth with any party that comes to power.
They feel there is a perception in Bangladesh that India has a clear bias towards Hasina’s Awami League. They expect Sinha to clear the air on such “misconceptions” so that there are no apprehensions in Bangladesh about India meddling in Dhaka’s internal affairs.
Bangladesh today submitted its “list of 20” criminals to India and sought help in their arrest and hand-over. Most of those who figure on the list are said to be “fugitives from justice” and are alleged to be hiding either in West Bengal or Tripura.
Bangladesh officials say these criminals, who allegedly enjoyed political patronage during the Awami League government, took advantage of the long and porous border and crossed over to India weeks before Begum Zia came to power.