Dhaka, April 16 (Reuters): Bangladesh, feeling the pinch from an increasingly powerful India on its borders, has launched a diplomatic and trade offensive to win new friends in the east, including New Delhi’s old rival, China.
Also topping Dhaka’s wish list for closer ties are Thailand and Myanmar.
Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has already visited Beijing, Bangkok and Yangon this year and has hosted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Myanmar military leader General Than Shwe.
Direct air links between Bangladesh’s major port city of Chittagong and Thailand’s Chiang Mai have been established and a road link to facilitate trade and commerce with Myanmar is being considered, officials say.
But the big question is whether Bangladesh can pursue the new initiative without upsetting India, its neighbour on three sides and the country that helped it break away from Pakistan in 1971.
Pakistan and Bangladesh, part of colonial India, became West and East Pakistan in the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. The two were always an uneasy nation-state, separated by thousands of miles and united by little more than religion and the national airline.
But after some 30 years of smooth relations, Delhi and Dhaka have found quite a bit to squabble about in the past two years.
Bangladesh sees India as an unfair trade partner and wants to reverse a $1-billion annual trade gap favouring New Delhi.