The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dhaka told to stop migrants

New Delhi, Feb. 1: The foreign ministry has made it clear that Bangladesh will have to take urgent steps to deal with illegal immigration into India if relations between the neighbours are to improve.

The ministry’s argument is simple: Dhaka has to realise that after the December 13 attack on Parliament, there has been a “fundamental change” in Delhi’s security perception.

As the standoff over the “push back” of illegal immigrants continued, both sides stated their position through aide memoires officially to each other. Delhi summoned Bangladeshi deputy high commissioner Shahadat Hussein here yesterday to express its concern.

Bangladesh did likewise, summoning Indian deputy high commissioner Dilip Sinha to protest against India’s attempt to “push back” people across the border.

Though indications suggest that the two sides are looking to politically resolve the crisis with a possible visit by Bangladeshi foreign minister Manzur Morshed Khan to Delhi soon, South Block is firm that no breakthrough can be expected till Dhaka takes note of its neighbour’s concerns.

Tension along the Indo-Bangla border has been simmering for more than a year. Regular reports have been appearing in the Bangladeshi media about alleged firing by the Border Security Force and death of “innocent” people within Bangladesh.

The Khaleda Zia government, after coming to power, also made it clear that it was in no mood to “give in to Indian pressure” and accept those Delhi claims to be “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants”.

Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha visited Dhaka last August to try and resolve the issue amicably at a political level. The Khaleda regime had assured him then that Bangladesh would not allow its soil to be used against any anti-Indian activity. But in subsequent months, there was nothing to suggest that serious steps were being taken by Dhaka to address Delhi’s concerns.

The public allegations by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, followed within weeks by the foreign minister that Bangladesh has become the epicentre of terrorist activities, strained relations further.

But Indian officials are at a loss to explain what the Bangladesh government gains from taking such an “obdurate stand” on illegal immigrants. A section in South Block feels that Khaleda is trying to take advantage of feelings in certain quarters in India, especially after Gujarat, that the “push back” was yet another instance of the anti-Muslim policy of the ruling BJP.

South Block mandarins have dismissed as “rubbish” Bangladesh’s allegation that those who were being pushed back were Indian Muslims. “If that was so, how come none of the Muslim organisations in the country nor the vibrant media in India raised any such doubts'” a senior official asked.

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