DELHI TAPS DHAKA'S MUSHARRAF ON STRIFE 

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By FROM PRANAY SHARMA
  • Published 22.10.01
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New Delhi, Oct. 22 :    New Delhi, Oct. 22:  It was a Musharraf meeting with a difference. While South Block continues to be ambiguous about a possible meeting between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf in New York next month, the Indian high commissioner in Dhaka today met Bangladesh minister of state for religious affairs Musharraf Hussein Shahjehan to discuss the attacks on Hindus. Though the meeting was said to be a "courtesy call", sources said the minister assured high commissioner Mani Lal Tripathi that the new regime in Bangladesh was "determined to look into the reports" of attacks on Hindus and take immediate measures to stop them. Yesterday, new Bangladesh Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia, wrote to Vajpayee expressing her government's desire to maintain and strengthen "good relations" with all neighbours. She was replying to the letter written by the Indian Prime Minister a few weeks back, inviting her to visit India. Khaleda said she was looking forward to the visit. The attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh are a fallout of the post-election clashes between supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the rival Awami League. It is, however, not clear whether the Hindus are being targeted because of their support to the Awami League or because of the Islamic hardliners in the new ruling coalition. Vajpayee, in his letter, had given a clear signal that Delhi did not have any favourites in Bangladesh and was looking forward to work with the new BNP-led coalition. He had also made it clear that he was not losing any sleep over the defeat of Sheikh Hasina's Awami League. The Prime Minister had stressed on his meeting with the late President Zia-ur-Rahman and his contribution towards the creation of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc). His highlighting of Zia's role was not lost in the political and diplomatic circles of the two countries, especially Bangladesh. The rivalry between the Awami League and the BNP is not so much about ideology as about their differences on the contribution of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Zia to Bangladesh's development. While Mujib's place in Bangladesh's history is secured and the title Bangabandhu rarely disputed, there are many who do not want to attach the same importance to Zia. Vajpayee's stress on Zia's contribution is seen among Awami League supporters as an attempt not only to offer a hand of friendship to Khaleda but also to tell her that Hasina was not as close to New Delhi as she was perceived to be in Dhaka. Though his comments may not have gone down well with the Awami League, it is clearly an attempt by India to ensure that its eastern borders remain secure and calm and nobody takes advantage of the change of guard in Bangladesh. Stable relations with Khaleda would ensure that no decision inimical to India's interests would be taken in the Saarc. It would also ensure that Pakistan does not get the chance to use the forum for Delhi-bashing.