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Dhaka team of three raises doubt in Delhi

New Delhi, Feb. 13: Bangladeshi foreign minister Mohammed Morshed Khan arrived here this morning on a three-day official visit. But two dampers accompanied him: one, reports from Dhaka that he will not be the foreign minister for long and, two, he did not have a high-level delegation but only two middle-ranking officials with him.

The telephone conversation between Khan and his Indian counterpart Yashwant Sinha last week, which broke the standoff between the two sides on the border in Cooch Behar, indicated the Bangladeshi foreign minister’s keenness to visit Delhi with a high-level delegation.

Sources said the Indians were given to understand that the delegation would consist of senior officials from the interior ministry in Dhaka and also those who deal with border management.

The “one plus two” delegation has raised doubts in South Block. “It seems he is here on a public relations exercise and not really to address issues that plague relations between the two countries,” a senior Indian official said.

Over the past two days, South Block has been receiving reports from Dhaka that Prime Minister Khaleda Zia may soon change her foreign minister.

The reports stem from the fact that Bangladesh’s relations with two of its most important partners, the US and India, have taken a nose-dive in the past few months. Though Morshed is a leading businessman of his country, he has failed to bring foreign investment into Bangladesh.

Sections in the Indian establishment have now started raising questions about whether Morshed will be the “right interlocutor” with whom Delhi should engage to remove the strains in bilateral relations.

But despite the hiccups, South Block is determined to present the Indian stand in an “unambiguous manner” to Morshed when he starts his interactions with Sinha and other senior officials.

“We have received reports that raise doubts about Morshed’s longevity in office. But for us he is still the foreign minister and we will give him the due respect that we normally show to an honoured guest from a friendly country,” a senior foreign ministry official said.

The official added that irrespective of whether he is removed in the coming weeks or not, India will take the opportunity to make Bangladesh realise the problems that afflict the relations and how they could be sorted out.

India has made it clear that on the trade front — an area where Bangladesh has had complaints of tariff barriers and not enough access to the Indian market for its goods — it was willing to accommodate as much as possible. That includes even a free-trade regime and access to Indian technology.

But in return, Delhi wants a sincere commitment to urgently address Indian security concerns.

There are two issues that the Indians are worried about — illegal immigration and the growing activities of the Northeast insurgents and the Pakistani ISI in Bangladesh.

“ The problem arises out of Dhaka's refusal to address the problem. Once, they recognise it as a problem, we can evolve a common approach to deal with it,” a senior official said.

In 1992, when Begum Zia was the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, the two countries had recognised the problem of illegal immigration in a joint communique. They had even evolved a formula by which any person found illegally crossing the border was to be handed over to the other side immediately. In the event the nationality of illegal immigrant was in doubt, the two sides had agreed to determine it through a joint verification within three days. But over the years this formula is not being implemented by the two sides, causing serious problems in their relationship.

The second is on the growing activities of the Northeast insurgents and Pakistan's ISI in Bangladesh. India had submitted documents detailing the number of training campsÄabout 99, and over 80 insurgents who are in the custody of authorities in Dhaka. “ It is not enough to say Bangladeshi terrirtory will not be used for anti-Indian activities. We want to see some urgent action on ground,” a senior Indian official said.

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