The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hasina tips for Pak peace

New Delhi, Nov. 26: Former Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today alleged that “religious intolerance and repression of minorities” had increased in her country since the Bangladesh Nationalist Party government came to power in Dhaka nearly a year ago.

“Religious intolerance, repression of minorities and excesses by law enforcement agencies marked the one-year rule of the BNP headed by Prime Minister Khaleda Zia,” she said, adding, “the government seems to have blatant disregard for human rights and in the name of purging the society of criminals, they are targeting political opponents.”

Hasina made these allegations while delivering a lecture on cooperation in south Asia here this evening.

If her attack on the BNP was somewhat predictable, her argument that strains in India-Pakistan relations were holding back progress in south Asia came as a surprise to her hosts in Delhi.

“We have to understand that the resolution of common problems seems to be hostage to disputes between India and Pakistan, which have to be solved bilaterally,” she said, adding that a third country should take the initiative only if the two countries failed to resolve their disputes bilaterally.

To support her argument, Hasina referred to her 1998 initiative when she travelled to Delhi and Islamabad to break the “deadlock” between the two countries and said that her efforts had been widely acclaimed.

But irrespective of the reaction in India and Pakistan, Hasina seems to have overlooked the fact that Delhi is not at all keen that a third country plays any role in its dispute with Islamabad.

In the afternoon, she met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at his 7, Race Course Road residence and discussed some recent developments in the region as well as in Bangladesh. South Block, not too keen on publicising the contents of her talks, described it as “a courtesy call.”

A dinner was hosted in her honour by foreign minister Yashwant Sinha tonight at Hyderabad House.

Hasina is scheduled to meet President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam tomorrow and other senior Indian leaders, including deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, over the next few days.

She criticised the law and order deterioration in Bangladesh under the Khaleda Zia regime and said the international community should not turn a blind eye to these “dark developments” and strongly condemn it. She also claimed that her Awami League government had upheld democratic principles, maintained religious harmony and ushered in all-round development.

Referring to a spurt in crime — such as terrorism, drug trafficking and smuggling — faced by Saarc countries, Hasina said these could be addressed only by an agreed programme of action and time-bound implementation.

“So far, the role of Saarc has not been encouraging in this regard,” she said, adding, “terrorist groups find safe recruits in poverty. If you find food, jobs and decent living for them, the youth will not fancy terrorism.”

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