New Delhi, Feb. 9: The standoff on the 213 snake charmers trapped on the no-man’s land near the Cooch Behar border may be over, but irritants in ties between Bangladesh and India remain.
Bangladesh foreign minister Morshed Khan is coming here on a four-day official visit, beginning February 13, in what appears to be an attempt to remove some of the obstacles that stand in the way of improving relations between Delhi and Dhaka.
Khan was scheduled to arrive here tomorrow for a two-day visit, but the dates had to be reworked to give the minister more time in India and not force him to hurry back to Dhaka for Id on February 12. His visit here is important, both in terms of the message it sends out and also in the content that comes up for discussion between him and the Indian leadership.
This will be the Bangladesh foreign minister’s first visit to India. An invitation was extended to him by Yashwant Sinha when the Indian external affairs minister visited Dhaka in last August.
The Bangladesh minister will start his official tour with a visit to the dargah of Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer. On February 14, Khan, who will lead a high-level delegation, will have his main interaction with Sinha and the Indian delegation.
Over the next two days, Khan will meet Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi. He will leave for Dhaka on February 16.
The thrust will be on how bilateral relations can be strengthened. Delhi will stress on security-related issues and Dhaka’s indifference to address them. The level of concern in the Indian establishment can be gauged from Vajpayee’s mentioning at the chief ministers’ conference yesterday that Bangladesh is one of the countries where Pakistan’s ISI has been spreading its anti-Indian activities.
The standoff between the Border Security Force and the Bangladesh Rifles in Cooch Behar last week indicates the strains in Delhi’s relations with Dhaka. The firm stand taken by India against the Bangladeshi “pushback” of the snake charmers also suggests that Delhi will no longer take a soft view on the issue of illegal immigrants.
India’s security concerns vis-à-vis Bangladesh involves two issues — the illegal immigration and the presence of Northeast insurgents and ISI operatives in Bangladesh. A senior foreign ministry official said: “Whenever the issue of illegal immigration is raised, Dhaka refuses to accept the problem. It never shows any interest in entering into a serious discussion on the movement of this huge human traffic from across the border into India.”
However, even if India is willing to give Bangladesh some ground on the issue of illegal immigration, it wants to take a firm stand on the presence of Northeast terrorist groups and the growing activities of the ISI in the neighbouring country. Dhaka has failed to take firm action against them and even refuses to hand over some top leaders of these outfits who are now in Bangladeshi jails.
Bangladesh on its part is likely to draw India’s attention to the huge trade deficit between the two sides in favour of the latter. It also has complaints about the lack of access for Bangladeshi goods to Indian markets.
India has clarified that it is more than willing to accommodate Bangladeshi concerns in this regard. However, at the same time, Delhi insists that Dhaka should also take urgent steps, particularly those relating to India’s security concerns, to show that it is willing to improve bilateral ties.