New Delhi/Calcutta, May 30: Continuity may be the theme of ties with Pakistan, but the new government in Delhi is not losing any time turning up the heat on Bangladesh.
Ahead of Bangladesh foreign minister Morshed Khan’s “goodwill” visit beginning tomorrow, the Manmohan Singh government has sent out two signals that are suggestive of a hard attitude towards Khaleda Zia’s regime.
Yesterday, the Indian high commissioner in Dhaka, Veena Sikri, held a two-hour meeting with Opposition leader Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League, with which the Congress has had a close relationship going back to the time of Bangladesh’s liberation.
Armed with an intelligence report, defence minister Pranab Mukherjee claimed in Bengal’s Jangipur, from where he has been elected, that northeastern extremists are hiding in Bangladesh.
“Although the Bangladesh government was informed several times… and even handed a list of centres where the extremists are running their camps, no positive response has so far come. We will tell them once again not to entertain any terrorist activities,” Mukherjee said.
Combined with this, Sikri’s decision to meet Hasina on the eve of Khan’s departure for Delhi has caused widespread speculation in diplomatic circles in the two countries.
Officially, the meeting was described as a courtesy call by Sikri since she wanted to thank the Awami League leader for her congratulatory letter to the United Progressive Alliance government on assuming office in Delhi. But the timing of her meeting with Hasina and the duration of the talks have unsettled the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party leadership.
The message from India to the government in Dhaka is clearly to act — and act urgently — on its security concerns.
Mukherjee posed the Bhutan government’s co-operation in driving out Indian extremist groups from its soil in contrast to the lack of action by Bangladesh. “We want the Bangladesh government to take a lesson from it,” he said.
The objective of Khan’s visit to Delhi is to deliver a personal letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from his Bangladesh counterpart and express Dhaka’s desire to work closely with the new coalition government. The foreign minister is expected to call on the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi and hold a meeting with his Indian counterpart K. Natwar Singh.
Officials in the Indian external affairs ministry pointed out that the “goodwill” Khan is carrying with him is not quite in sync with the state of bilateral relations. ( )
The Bangladesh foreign minister wanted to be the first foreign envoy to come to Delhi to congratulate the new Indian government. But India’s past experience with Khan has not been too pleasant and many in Delhi feel that Khan, instead of focusing on concerns raised by India, seems only interested in a public relations exercise.
This is one of the reasons India agreed to Khan’s visit after it had cleared the Sri Lankan foreign minister Lakshman Khadirgamar’s travel plans.