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Delhi soft on Dhaka, tough on minister

New Delhi, Feb. 16: Delhi might have been disappointed with Bangladesh foreign minister Mohammed Morshed Khan’s attempt to play down its security concerns, but is not yet willing to label Dhaka a “hostile neighbour”.

Instead, South Block has started raising doubts on whether Morshed is the “true representative” of Bangladesh.

The benefit of doubt India is giving Bangladesh indicates Delhi is not convinced Morshed “reflected” the policy of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) government towards India.

“He may have come here on a self-preservation agenda and, therefore, we would not like to jump to any conclusion that his views are that of the Khaleda Zia government’s,” a senior South Block official said.

On the eve of Morshed’s arrival here, reports reaching from Dhaka suggested that he might be on his way out. When Morshed landed with only two “middle-level” officials from his ministry in tow, Delhi began doubting his intentions.

In a 24-hour flip-flop, Morshed raised hopes by acknowledging that “illegal immigration” was a problem, and later, on the advice of his delegation, went into a elaborate exercise involving the media to play down the issue.

He argued that illegal movement of people was taking place from both sides of the border and watered down India’s security worries by saying that the number of Inter-Services Intelligence operatives in India were at least “20 times more” than in Bangladesh.

South Block is trying to ascertain whether Morshed was playing to his domestic audience or took the stand on Dhaka’s instructions. India-bashing is an important plank for political parties in Bangladesh. Over the years, the BNP, which dubbed rival Awami League a “stooge” of Delhi, flogged the issue to expand its base. But this time it seems to have gone a bit too far.

One reason why Morshed is feeling the heat in Dhaka, even within the BNP, is because Bangladesh appears to have antagonised two of its main partners, the US and India. Reports in the western media about the presence of al Qaida activists in Bangladesh raised concerns in Washington. It was reflected during Morshed’s recent visit to the US when he failed to get any “concession” from the Bush administration for Dhaka.

The strain in relations with India, reflected in the crossover row that culminated in a border standoff over 213 nomads, has put more pressure on the BNP government. Questions are now being raised about Bangladesh’s tough foreign policy.

India is trying to make Zia aware of its concerns — as enunciated to Morshed — and hoping the BNP will take measures. If Delhi’s policy works, the coming meeting of the two foreign secretaries in Dhaka could show results. Otherwise, Delhi will perhaps have to rethink its policy of engagement with Bangladesh.

Morshed airs views

On reaching Bangladesh, Morshed said the neighbours agreed not to use force to solve bilateral differences and work together to address the problem of illegal movement of people.

“Since there is nearly two-billion dollar (worth) illegal trade (smuggling into Bangladesh), there is also some illegal movement of people (illegal immigration),” PTI quoted Morshed as saying.

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