The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi cautious on Hasina visit

New Delhi, Nov. 25: After the initial hype, India appears to be making a deliberate attempt to play down the “private visit” of Awami League chief and former Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The former Prime Minister arrived tonight on a five-day visit to the country and will address a seminar at the Habitat Centre tomorrow on ‘Human rights, poverty alleviation and peace in South Asia’. Hasina will also travel to Ajmer to pay homage at the dargah of Moinuddin Chisti.

This is, however, essentially a political visit. Hasina will meet key members of the Indian government. This includes a meeting with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee tomorrow and with deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani the day after. Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha will host a private dinner in her honour tomorrow night at Hyderabad House, where she will get a chance to interact with senior officials from South Block.

The Bangladeshi leader is also scheduled to meet former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral and Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee.

Despite the wide access to the Indian leadership that she is being given, Delhi is now making an attempt to play down Hasina’s visit.

“These are mainly courtesy calls,” a senior official in the foreign ministry said, referring to her scheduled meetings with the Indian leaders. “One should remember she is also the leader of Opposition in Bangladesh and may be the future Prime Minister of the country.”

Hasina’s visit comes at a time when Advani has openly accused the Bangladesh Nationalist Party dispensation in Dhaka for its failure to check the rising activities of al Qaida terrorists and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. To drive home the point, the deputy Prime Minister made it clear that such activities increased after the Khaleda Zia government came to power.

The rivalry between Hasina and Khaleda is well known and the timing of Hasina’s visit was not totally lost in Bangladesh. But if initially India had thought of needling the BNP by using Hasina, serious doubts appear to have cropped up in Delhi on whether this will be prudent.

Delhi is now trying to walk the tight diplomatic rope in its handling of the Awami League leader’s visit.

On the one hand, it wants to ensure that Hasina is given the right access in South Block so that she is convinced that India continues to value her friendship.

On the other, attempts are being made to make sure that Khaleda does not read too much in the meetings that her political rival has in India.

The existence of militant camps of Northeast insurgents in Bangladesh has been taken up by Delhi. The leadership is aware that it needs cooperation from Khaleda and the BNP government in taking care of its security concerns.

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