The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bangla reunion diplomacy

New Delhi, July 1: Bangladesh army chief Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed wants to meet Indian heroes of the liberation war when he visits the country from August 22 to 26.

Highly placed sources said Bangladesh had put in a request to meet Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw as well as General J.F.R. Jacob, who helped East Pakistan defeat its western oppressor and emerge as independent Bangladesh in 1971.

The sources said the Bangladesh army chief, a mukti-joddha or freedom fighter, is keen to pay respects to both war heroes. He may travel to Wellington near Ooty where Manekshaw lives and Calcutta, where Jacob is said to divide his time with New Delhi.

Ahmed has also asked for a meeting with Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

In the wake of the foreign secretary-level talks in Dhaka last week, where both sides declared their intention to end the bitterness of the past, the Bangladesh government is keen to re-signal a special relationship with Bengal.

Considering the army is the power behind the caretaker president, Ahmed’s keenness to meet the heroes of the Bangladesh war as well as the Bengal chief minister has sent a ripple of excitement through the Indian establishment.

The visit is no ordinary one, the sources said, and cannot be limited to meetings with the Indian army establishment and the defence minister. That is why foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon met the general in Dhaka last week.

“This is a political-military visit, let us not make any mistake about it. The most powerful man in Bangladesh is visiting India,’’ a source said.

Delhi remains particularly keen to figure out the extent of Ahmed’s interest in holding on to power in Bangladesh. Although caretaker president Fakhruddin Ahmed has announced that elections would be held by the end of 2008, India wants to know whether the army chief will really relinquish power by then.

Former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s considerable antagonism had put ties under strain, but the new government’s zeal to improve relations is not lost on India, the sources said.

The Moitreyee Express, a train between Sealdah and Dhaka Cantonment, is ready to make its first trip. Tracks on the Bangladesh side have already been upgraded and Indian Railways is giving the final touches this side.

The Bangladeshi train is fitted with a special prayer car, besides chair cars and sleeping cars, according to media reports there.

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