New Delhi. Sept. 20: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will meet his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina in New York next week for bilateral talks where he will reaffirm India’s commitment to key pacts blocked by Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee that are crucial to ties with Dhaka.
But a meet with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will hinge on the outcome of a Saturday visit from Islamabad by a judicial commission probing the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, top diplomats have confirmed to The Telegraph.
Singh will meet Hasina on the evening of September 28, after addressing the United Nations General Assembly in the morning, in a bid to salvage carefully built gains in India’s relationship with Bangladesh that are under strain, the officials said.
The Prime Minister’s programme in New York is officially, “still in the process of being firmed up,” foreign secretary Sujatha Singh said on Friday — largely because of persisting uncertainty over the meet with Sharif.
But the meet with Hasina has been fixed. The meet, diplomats here said, is crucial for India because Hasina’s Awami League is unhappy with the UPA government’s failure to overcome Mamata’s opposition to the Teesta water sharing agreement and a land swap pact between the nations.
“Yes, we hope that there will be a meeting between the Prime Minister and the Bangladeshi Prime Minister in New York,” the foreign secretary said, nodding when asked for a confirmation on the meeting that India has been trying to stitch together as reported first by this newspaper on August 31.
Mamata’s Trinamul Congress blocked foreign minister Salman Khurshid’s efforts to introduce a constitutional amendment in Parliament that is needed for India to implement the Land Boundary Agreement Singh and Hasina agreed to in September 2011.
The border pact, under which India and Bangladesh will swap enclaves of their land embedded in the other’s territory, and the Teesta agreement, are key poll planks for the Hasina government in national elections expected within the next six months.
The setbacks over the boundary pact and the water-sharing agreement have come on the back of unprecedented growth in trade, economic and security cooperation between the neighbours over the past three years.
India wants Bangladesh to recognize these gains, but is also aware that the implementation of the Teesta agreement and the land swap deal remain the cherries the traditionally pro-India Hasina most covets.
“We have such close relations with Bangladesh that our ties span an entire gamut of issues,” the foreign secretary said. “Despite the fact that neither the Teesta waters nor the land boundary agreement has gone through, we remain deeply committed to delivering on these agreements.”
Prime Minister Singh is as keen to resurrect ties with Pakistan, but his government cannot ignore political landmines in an election year after five Indian soldiers were killed by alleged Pakistani troops along their de-facto border just last month.
Sharif has repeatedly extended a hand of friendship to India after his re-election in May, and the Prime Minister has acknowledged his Pakistan counterpart’s initiative.
But, the foreign secretary said, India continues to face acts of terror from across its western border. Terror preachers like Hafeez Saeed who India claims masterminded the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai continue “to roam around freely in Pakistan,” she said.
“And despite repeated commitments from the highest levels in Pakistan and very positive statements, we see very little actual progress in the efforts to bring those responsible for the Mumbai terror attacks to justice,” the foreign secretary added. “These are certain harsh realities we need to deal with.”
One of the commitments the foreign secretary referred to involves a Pakistan judicial commission’s visit to Mumbai, to grill witnesses on behalf of the court where the accused in the 26/11 attacks are facing trial.
The commission, appointed by the court, has twice before confirmed a visit, and then cancelled it. It is now expected to visit on Saturday.
“If it does, it tells us that Pakistan is serious about progress on the trial,” an official here said. “That’s when we will make the decision on the meeting between the Prime Ministers.”