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Dhaka hits back with push-in charge

New Delhi/Calcutta, Jan. 27: The joint working group that met after a gap of two years has done little to improve India’s frayed ties with Bangladesh.

Dhaka summoned deputy high commissioner Dilip Sinha yesterday, two days after the Indian team flew back home, to register its protest against the “forced assembly” of 4,000 “Bengali-speaking Indian Muslims” by Indian agencies manning the border.

Officials in Calcutta said they had received a copy of the protest note, which mentioned “six attempts” by Indian security agencies to push in “Indian Muslims”. Calling the note “false and malicious”, officials said India had — from time to time — apprehended Bangladeshi infiltrators and handed them back to authorities in Dhaka “through the appropriate process”.

Bangladesh’s minister for foreign affairs Riaz Rahman also spoke to diplomats last evening to brief them about the situation on the border.

Indian officials, however, were not surprised by Dhaka’s move. “Ever since deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani publicly spoke of Bangladesh harbouring northeastern insurgent groups, Dhaka has also decided to go public with its concerns. It’s nothing but tit for tat,” said a senior Indian official.

Senior BSF officials in Calcutta said the allegations are “inherently false” and have nothing to do with the situation on the ground. “We have not made any attempt of the kind that has been reported in Bangladesh,” BSF principal staff officer R.P. Singh said. Officials instead alleged that the government in Dhaka was “doing nothing” to stop the “rampant infiltration” into Indian territory.

“We can live with the normal influx of people from Bangladesh. But things have changed drastically since September 11 and the December 13 attack on Parliament. The fear of terrorist attacks has become very real and this is something Bangladesh has not been able to grasp. Our tolerance level has come down as the fear of terrorism has become so much more real,” a senior official said.

“Unless Bangladesh understands our security concerns and changes its current nonchalant position on these vital matters, chances of ties improving are dim,” a senior official said. The official added that this has nothing to do with the change in regime in that country.

There is a general feeling in Bangladesh that India is putting pressure on Dhaka because the BNP is regarded as anti-India by Delhi. Indian officials shrug off these allegations, saying it does not matter who is in power as long as “our concerns” are addressed. “Whether it is the BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) government or the Awami League administration, it does not make a difference to us. We just want some signs of cooperation,” the official added.

Indian officials say they are exasperated by Bangladesh’s repeated refusal to respond to demands for action against northeastern militant camps in that country. Dhaka has been provided all details of the insurgent camps but, so far, there has been no cooperative action.

Indian intelligence agencies have “confirmed news” that ISI agents are using Bangladesh for their anti-India activities in the eastern region, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had recently said in Delhi.

North Block wants Dhaka to send out a signal that it is taking India’s concerns seriously. But nothing has been done by Khaleda Zia’s government, officials say. There are at least 88 Indians in custody in Bangladesh and, despite repeated requests, there has been no attempt to send some of these wanted people back to India. “Months have passed since we gave them the lists. Four reminders have been sent, yet they have not taken action,” an official said.

“If there is some positive response on our security concerns, there will be an overnight change in ties,” the official added.

Sinha has rejected Dhaka’s allegations and expressed concern over Bangladeshis living illegally in India. He has asked Dhaka to acknowledge the gravity of situation and address it in a sincere and pragmatic manner.

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