The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dhaka no. 2 on Delhi mission

New Delhi, May 14: In an attempt to move bilateral relations forward and improve ties with India, Bangladesh finance minister Saifur Rahman arrives here on a four-day visit on Monday.

Rahman is the senior-most minister in the Begum Khaleda Zia Cabinet and the second-most important leader in the Bangladesh National Party hierarchy. India is taking this opportunity to give out the right signal that will help in strengthening ties with Bangladesh.

Finance minister Jaswant Singh will be Rahman’s main host and much of the visit will focus on ways to better economic and trade ties. Rahman will also meet commerce minister Arun Jaitley and disinvestment minister Arun Shourie.

The Bangladesh minister may also call on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but this has not been finalised.

Indo-Bangladesh relations have been bumpy of late. Major irritants like infiltration into India, spurt in the activities of Northeast rebels and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence in Bangladesh and the big trade gap between the neighbours have stood in the way of improved relations.

But in the last four months, there have been regular exchanges between the two countries as they realise that negotiations are the only way to resolve problems.

Bangladesh foreign minister Mohammad Morsheed Khan visited Delhi in February to sort out border tensions. The next month, commerce secretaries of both countries met here to discuss problems. The Indian foreign secretary travelled to Dhaka in April to review the bilateral relations with his Bangladeshi counterpart, Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury. And, Rahman is now slated to arrive here next week.

“All these visits indicate that the two countries have not lost the desire to continue their engagement at a senior political level,” a foreign ministry spokesman said. Such interaction always provides the neighbours a chance to clear the air, he added.

India is attaching a lot of importance to Rahman’s visit and wants to signal that Delhi wants good neighbourly relations. “But we also want to make it clear that for this to happen Bangladesh will have to reciprocate. Good relations cannot be achieved by Indian efforts alone,” a South Block official said.

A foreign ministry official said India would continue to highlight the key security issues of illegal immigration and the activities of Northeast terror groups and the ISI during Rahman’s visit. These key issues stand in the way of improved relations with Dhaka. “They will continue to remain key issues till they are resolved. To show our seriousness, we will continue to highlight them,” a foreign ministry official added.

Steps to promote trade and investment between the neighbours will also be discussed during Rahman’s visit. Dhaka has complained in the past about the balance of trade being heavily tilted in Delhi’s favour.

To narrow the gap, India has offered tariff concessions on 39 items.

Bangladesh has also complained that it does not have ready access to the Indian market. India has suggested a free-trade agreement between the two sides as a way out.

The Indian leadership intends to discuss these issues in detail with Rahman over a series of meetings next week.

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