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Big Two bitter pill for Dhaka
- Atal and Advani mince no words

New Delhi, Feb. 15: As Bangladesh foreign minister Mohammed Morshed Khan today appeared to back off from his admission of illegal immigration, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told him that relations between the two countries would improve only if Dhaka addressed Delhi’s security concerns.

Morshed had raised hopes yesterday by acknowledging that “illegal immigration” was a problem that stood in the way of improving ties. But in less than 24 hours, aware perhaps that the admission would not go down well in Bangladesh, the visiting foreign minister had changed his tune.

Throughout the day — during his interaction with the media in the morning and his meetings with Vajpayee and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani in the afternoon — Morshed tried to play down the migrants problem and the growing anti-India activities on Bangladeshi soil.

At the meetings with Advani and Vajpayee, Morshed argued that “illegal immigration” was a two-way traffic and a large number of Indians had crossed over to Bangladesh. When the issue of activities of the Inter-Services Intelligence was put before him, the foreign minister said that while there were such elements in Bangladesh, their number in India was at least 20 times more.

The Prime Minister brushed aside Morshed’s arguments, saying: “What we are talking about is not only the presence of the ISI. We are trying to raise our concerns over the growing anti-India activities that it is indulging in.”

Vajpayee told Morshed that adopting “an ostrich-like stance” on illegal immigration would not help. “We want good neighbourly relations with Bangladesh. But this can only happen if our neighbour takes care of our security concerns.”

Chastised, Morshed tried to lighten the atmosphere by telling Vajpayee that Prime Minister Khaleda Zia would be “pleased” to see him in Dhaka at the earliest. In response, the Prime Minister only smiled.

The “diplomatic fireworks” had started even earlier, at the meeting with Advani. He, too, had made it clear to Morshed that Delhi expected Dhaka to take urgent steps to address the security problems.

When Morshed tried to argue that more ISI elements were present in India, Advani told him that even if this were true, Delhi had taken several steps to deal with them. The same, however, could not be said about Bangladesh.

What appeared to have peeved India was Morshed’s attempt to use the media here to score diplomatic points. Not only did he try to play down India’s security concerns, he also made “unnecessary” references to the postponement of the Saarc summit because of the hostility in India-Pakistan relations.

During his discussions, Morshed submitted a list of Bangladeshi criminals who, he said, were hiding in India.

Though the two countries have agreed to accept the joint communique of 1992 as the base for moving forward on illegal immigration, South Block appears to have lost much of its confidence in Bangladesh to seriously deal with the situation.

“We got the opportunity to tell him (Morshed) what is standing in the way of improving bilateral ties. There are two options before him. He can either convey our concerns to his government. Or, he can use this visit as a public relations exercise to bolster his own image back home,” a senior Indian diplomat said.

 

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