The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dual strategy to soothe Dhaka

New Delhi, Jan. 7: After months, India is making a serious attempt to remove the strains in its relations with Bangladesh in a bid to ensure that a new hostile front is not opened up in the east.

South Block is mulling a two-pronged strategy to achieve this: intensifying its dialogue with Dhaka at various levels and increasing and deepening bilateral economic cooperation.

Delhi’s relations with Dhaka suffered a setback soon after Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party came to power at the head of a coalition in which the Jamaat-e-Islami was an important partner. Since it came into being in the backdrop of widespread reports that Hindus were being attacked, it made things a little more difficult for India.

But the worse was yet to come. Though the BNP government denied the involvement of its supporters in attacks on minorities and assured India that they will not recur in future, reports of growing fundamentalism coupled with increased ISI activities in the country started straining bilateral ties.

The nadir was when deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani accused Dhaka of doing nothing to rein in Northeast rebels and Pakistan’s intelligence operatives. Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha repeated the charge within weeks in Parliament.

“Our current relations with Bangladesh is not happy. The growth of fundamentalists there is a cause of worry for us,” a senior government official said. He pointed out that with the ISI trying to “fish in troubled waters” in Bangladesh, matters only became worse.

But Delhi realises the importance of cordial ties with Dhaka and a serious attempt is now underway to repair the damaged relations. On the one hand, India is talking of dialogues between the two sides at various levels, including the prime ministers. This, Indian officials feel, will help ease the strain and create a situation where the two sides are in a better position to appreciate and understand each other’s security concerns better.

On the other hand, India is trying to create the right atmosphere to intensify economic cooperation. This can be done by bringing in more Indian investment into Bangladesh and creating a situation for Dhaka to open up its economy further. India also proposes to take appropriate steps to give Bangladesh more access to the Indian market. If this is done in the right spirit and without much delay, it will help remove the huge trade gap between the two sides.

But officials feel it is easier said than done. The pulls and pressure of the various domestic lobbies will have to be taken into account before Dhaka is given freer access to the Indian market.

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