M A I N   N E W S

Khaleda Zia arriving today
To sign two pacts, but no breakthrough likely
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 19
As Bangladesh Prime Minister sets foot here tomorrow afternoon on a state visit, there are no signals here of a thaw in Indo-Bangla ties which have remained frosty since Begum Zia came to power in October 2001.

No breakthrough is expected in bilateral ties between New Delhi and Dhaka during Begum Zia’s India visit, key sources told The Tribune this evening. This is mainly because the latter has chosen to follow in the footsteps of its erstwhile tormentor, Islamabad, on the twin issues of fundamentalism and jihadi brand of terrorism.

The Begum’s visit is not tipped to have any substantive outcome. This is despite the fact that the two sides are likely to sign two bilateral agreements on March 21 when Begum Zia holds talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The two agreements that are likely to be inked during the visit would be: (i) revised trade agreement; and (ii) prevention of smuggling of psychotropic drugs between the two countries. India and Bangladesh have had a trade agreement since 1981. The current arrangement expires on March 31. Official bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh is a little over two billion US dollars and the unofficial trade (read smuggling) is another 2.5 billion dollars. The trade volume is quite good despite cold political relations between the two countries.

One can count on one’s fingers the number of countries with which India has a total trade of over four billion dollars. This number is not even in two digits. The balance of trade has traditionally been in India’s favour — a perennial complaint from Bangladesh. India’s imports from Bangladesh are worth just about 57 million dollars while its exports to Bangladesh are more than 1.5 billion dollars. This is one area which would inevitably come up for discussion during the talks between the two Prime Ministers.

From the Indian side there would be two main talking points: (i)continued presence of terrorist infrastructure on Bangladeshi soil; and (ii) transit rights through Bangladeshi territory for trade and transport. On both points, Dhaka’s intransigence is well known and Begum Zia is not expected to make any departure from her country’s stated policies. Dhaka has consistently dismissed Indian allegations regarding terrorism.

From Bangladesh’s perspective, two issues will be put across forcefully: water and trade. India and Bangladesh share 54 rivers. Dhaka’s grouse is that there is a water-sharing accord with regard to just one river (Ganga). Bangladesh has been pressing for similar accords with regard to the other 53 rivers as well.

On the issue of trade, Dhaka wants India to step up its imports from Bangladesh substantially, though it does not favour granting India transit rights for reaching out to other countries in the region.

Among all its neighbours, India shares the longest border with Bangladesh — more than 4000 km. This poses another big problem — illegal migration from Bangladesh into India. To check this, India has been working on the border-fencing project. But given the difficult topography of the border areas, only 2500 km of India's border with Bangladesh can be fenced and this work will be complete by December 31 this year. The rest cannot be fenced because it is largely riverine border.

Sources said the two Prime Ministers would cover the entire gamut of bilateral relations in their talks. There is no fixed agenda. Much would depend on the frame of mind of Begum Zia who is also SAARC Chairperson currently.


HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Mailbag | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |