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West heat sets Bangla tone

New Delhi, Nov. 17: India’s tough line on Bangladesh may have been prompted by the pressure put by the US and other western nations on the Khaleda Zia regime in Dhaka over the rise of religious fundamentalists and the presence of al Qaida activists in the country.

The issue of camps of northeastern militants in Bangladesh has been taken up by Delhi with successive governments in Dhaka. But such discussions used to take place behind closed doors. Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani’s recent remarks that ISI and al Qaida activities have been growing in Bangladesh since the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) came to power a year ago marks a departure from the practice. It has also put fresh strain on the sensitive Delhi-Dhaka ties.

South Block officials, however, are not apologetic. They feel it is about time India made its concerns public. But they also pointed out that Advani’s remarks came at a time when many in the West have focussed on the rise of fundamentalist forces in Bangladesh.

Nearly 50 per cent of Bangladesh’s development budget comes from the western nations. Over the past few months, these countries have made their concerns known to Dhaka through the various non-government organisations active in the country.

The fact that some western countries have questioned whether India was against global terrorism or only cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan may have also led to the toughening of Delhi’s stand.

For some years now, the rise of fundamentalists in Bangladesh has been worrying India. To add to this worry, the Jamaat-e-Islami has now joined the BNP coalition. A section of the western media has also reported the presence of al Qaida in the country.

The Bangladeshi Prime Minister has not helped matters either. She called in the army last month to maintain law and order, inadvertently admitting that the situation in Dhaka was worsening.

These are some of the main issues that the Indian leadership will discuss with Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina when she arrives on Saturday on a five-day visit. It is being described as a private visit — the former Bangladeshi Prime Minister is scheduled to address a seminar on South Asian cooperation and visit Moinuddin Chisti’s dargah at Ajmer. But a meeting with foreign minister Yashwant Sinha is being chalked out. Chances are that she will get to meet a few more senior Indian leaders during her stay in Delhi.

Foreign ministry officials argued that India wanted to have good neighbourly ties with Bangladesh, but made it clear that this was not possible till Dhaka took serious steps to address India’s security concerns.

India’s main disappointment stems from the fact that Bangladesh is not even willing to act against militants arrested there.

Dhaka has released several of them instead of handing them over to India, though Delhi had repeatedly sought their repatriation.

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