It is never a good strategy, either for individuals or for countries, to meddle in neighbours’ business. New Delhi’s policy on Bangladesh has not always upheld this simple truth. As a result, India’s intentions and policies have often been misunderstood or viewed with suspicion by influential sections of society in Dhaka. Khaleda Zia’s current visit to India is an opportunity for New Delhi to reduce the trust deficit. India has reasons to monitor closely political and other developments in Bangladesh as much as in other countries in the neighbourhood. There is nothing particularly wrong in New Delhi trying to influence policies in Dhaka. After all, the two countries have many concerns such as regional stability, cross-border and even economic development to share and jointly tackle. But New Delhi cannot — and should not — choose who runs Bangladesh any more than Washington should choose governments in Latin America. Choosing one political party over another in another country cannot be a sensible approach to foreign policy. Yet, India has been seen in Dhaka as biased in favour of the Awami League, the principal rival of Ms Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party. New Delhi should use her visit as an opportunity to change such a perception of its policy on Bangladesh. Addressing issues between the two countries should have little to do with which party is at the helm in Dhaka, now or after next year’s polls.
True, Ms Zia’s last reign coincided with the rise in terrorist activities in Bangladesh that justifiably worried India. At the same time, trade between the two countries expanded considerably during the period. But terrorism or religious fundamentalism should be a matter of grave concern for Bangladeshi society as much as it is for India’s security. For New Delhi, the best way to deal with bilateral issues is to try and engage not only all major political parties in Bangladesh but also other sections of its society. The sharing of the waters of the Teesta river, removing irritants to bilateral trade and freeing the movement of goods and services are issues that the two countries must tackle, irrespective of who rules in Dhaka. New Delhi has recently shown some signs of a more inclusive approach in dealing with Bangladeshi politicians from different parties. It is to be hoped that they too will see the importance of freeing bilateral ties from Bangladesh’s domestic politics.