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Sibal on Dhaka peace mission
Sibal

New Delhi, April 14: In a bid to iron out differences that strain the country’s ties with Bangladesh, foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal will visit Dhaka later this month to hold wide-ranging discussions with his counterpart Shamsher Mobin Chaudhury.

The three-day talks, scheduled to begin from April 28, will allow the two neighbouring countries to review the entire gamut of bilateral relations, with special emphasis on issues related to security.

The foreign secretary-level talks will be preceded by a high level meeting between the directors-general of the Border Security Force and the Bangladesh Rifles, the focus of which will be boundary related disputes.

The meeting between Sibal and Chaudhury is of special significance given Delhi’s concerns over the growing activities of Pakistan’s ISI and the Northeast insurgents in Bangladesh.

The fact that BSF and BDR top brasses will also be holding parallel meetings in Dhaka has raised hopes in the two capitals about possible resolution of some of the long-standing disputes.

Relations between Dhaka and Delhi face considerable strain, particularly on the issue of illegal immigration into India from across the border.

In February, a week-long standoff between the security forces of the two sides over the nationality of 213 snake charmers in Cooch Behar ended only after Bangladesh decided to take them back following a failed attempt to push them into India.

Bangladeshi foreign minister Morshed Khan, who arrived in Delhi within a few days of the incident to hold talks and resolve the crisis, met with little success.

The standoff between the security forces ended, but Morshed failed to strengthen bilateral ties.

The Indian leadership, that told the Bangladeshi minister some home truths, felt Morshed’s unwillingness to accept Delhi’s security concerns stood in the way of progress during the talks.

Arguing that Pakistani intelligence operatives were also present in India, the visiting foreign minister had downplayed growing ISI activities and presence of Northeast insurgents on Bangladeshi soil.

South Block hopes that Sibal will have better luck when he meets Chaudhury later this month.

The main thrust of the discussions will be on how to further bilateral relations. The Indian side will highlight security-related issues and Dhaka’s indifference towards Delhi’s concerns.

The standoff between the BSF and the Bangladesh Rifles in Cooch Behar was an indication of the strain in relations between the two neighbouring countries.

The firm stand taken by India to “push back” the Bangladeshi snake charmers also suggested that Delhi would no longer take a soft view on the issue of illegal immigration.

Bangladesh, on its part, is likely to draw India’s attention to the huge trade deficit that exists between the two sides in favour of the latter.

The country also has complaints about lack of access for Bangladeshi goods to the Indian market.

Last month, the commerce secretaries of the two sides identified more items on which India could remove tariff barriers and narrow the wide trade gap that exists between the two sides.

India has made it clear that it is more than willing to accommodate Bangladeshi concerns in this regard.

However, at the same time, Delhi insists that Dhaka should take some urgent steps, particularly those relating to India’s security concerns, to show that it is willing to improve bilateral ties.

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