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Bonhomie drive takes in Dhaka

Jakarta, April 24: Improving relations with neighbours is the flavour of the month. After Pakistan and Nepal, India is setting about repairing relations with Bangladesh by expressing readiness to attend the Saarc summit.

In February, India had refused to take part in the summit in Dhaka in the backdrop of the king-led coup against democracy in Nepal and attacks on Opposition leaders in Bangladesh.

Delhi communicated its change of mind in a meeting external affairs minister K. Natwar Singh had with his Bangladesh counterpart Morshed Khan on the sidelines of the Asian-African Conference here yesterday.

'The issue of re-scheduling the Saarc summit was raised by the Bangladesh foreign minister,' a brief statement issued by the Indian foreign ministry said. According to it, Singh told Khan that India would accept any date proposed by Bangladesh 'provided it was acceptable to the other five Saarc members'.

Relations with Bangladesh have been under strain since Begum Khaleda Zia took charge in Dhaka. In the latest incident last week, a Border Security Force officer was killed and two jawans injured in exchange of fire that India called 'pre-planned' by Bangladesh Rifles.

Although good relations with neighbours may be desirable in most situations, India's recent drive ' spanning China, whose Premier recently concluded a successful visit, and the South Asian region ' could also be placed in the context of its push for a UN Security Council seat.

If Delhi cannot sort out its ties with neighbours, questions may be asked by opponents of its Security Council bid whether it is prepared to take an international responsibility.

The Saarc summit in Dhaka had to be postponed twice. First, it was scheduled for early January, but was called off because of the December 26 tsunami. The second time it was India that declined to participate to make a statement of dissatisfaction with developments in the region.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met King Gyanendra and agreed to resume arms supplies, snapped after declaration of emergency in Nepal.

If that step signalled India's move to normalise ties, developments in Nepal have obviously ceased to be the reason to not share a platform with the king.

India's assessment of the situation in Bangladesh is harder to gauge, but its willingness to attend the summit indicates a shift in its position. Delhi also wants to do business with Dhaka by laying a pipeline through Bangladesh to bring gas from Myanmar.

Clearly, India is not making the border firing an issue, though it did warn that the incident would have a strong negative impact on relations.

The statement after their meeting said Natwar Singh told Khan about India's 'commitment for a sustained and constructive engagement with Bangladesh to resolve all outstanding issues'.

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