New Delhi, Dec. 3: Foreign secretary Sujatha Singh will visit Dhaka tomorrow for talks with Bangladesh’s top leaders cutting across parties, in India’s most direct attempt to broker an end to the violent stalemate that has beset its eastern neighbour.
Singh will meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed, Bangladesh Nationalist Party chief Begum Khaleda Zia and former President Hussain Muhammad Ershad during her two-day trip, her first to Dhaka after taking over as India’s top diplomat, senior officials said.
The ministry of external affairs has been stitching together her visit for weeks, and officials had indicated that she would likely visit Dhaka this month. But the trip was finalised amid growing political tensions in Bangladesh, which has had a rocky relationship with India.
Hasina’s Awami League government has announced parliamentary polls on January 5 under a transitional government that she invited Khaleda and other Opposition leaders to join.
But Khaleda, who demanded that an apolitical caretaker government conduct the elections, has declared her party will boycott the polls.
Ershad, whose Jatiya Party is the single largest ally of the Awami League in the ruling coalition and the third largest party in Bangladesh’s parliament, today declared that his group would also boycott the elections.
Officially, Singh, who will also meet her Bangladesh counterpart Mohammed Shahidul Haque, will only communicate India’s concerns over the crisis in Dhaka. But she will also tell her hosts that India stands ready to assist in getting the battling political platforms to a negotiating table, officials said.
“The foreign secretary’s visit comes at a critical juncture for Bangladesh, and so for our relations with our neighbour,” a senior official said. “We will partner Bangladesh irrespective of who is in power, but we would not like a return to military rule or a democratic void in our neighbourhood.”
With neither Hasina nor Zia appearing willing to negotiate a compromise, the possibility of a military-inspired resolution cannot be ruled out, the officials here said. Bangladesh has suffered from repeated military coups — some failed, other successful, including the bloodless 1983 takeover by Ershad, then the army chief. Ershad ruled as President till 1990.
India agrees with Hasina’s argument that an all-party government is best equipped to ensure smooth, free and fair elections. But its traditional proximity to the Awami League is viewed by Opposition parties with suspicion — India helped in the 1971 liberation of Bangladesh that saw Hasina’s father Sheikh Mujibur Rehman become the nation’s first Prime Minister.
In her meeting with Hasina, the Indian foreign secretary will also reiterate New Delhi’s commitment to the introduction of the Land Boundary Agreement in the winter session of Parliament starting Thursday.
The agreement allows India and Bangladesh to swap land tracts they claim but that are embedded inside the territory of the other nation.
The pact is politically critical for Hasina, who promised the agreement to her nation, ahead of the polls.