POWER WOMEN: Visiting Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the Prime Minister's Office yesterday when Swaraj came calling. Photo: PMO
The maiden trip of Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj brings no new hope for Bangladesh but makes her government's intention clear about further consolidating the existing cordial relations with Dhaka.
Like the Congress-led UPA administration, the new Indian government headed by BJP leader Narendra Modi has shown willingness to remove hurdles to the land boundary agreement and Teesta water-sharing deal.
But no clear assurance or time-bound indication came during the meeting of the two foreign ministers in Dhaka yesterday.
However, New Delhi's diplomatic message for the press termed the meeting “constructive, productive, fruitful and successful.” Dhaka too considered it very positive and said a new horizon in Indo-Bangladesh relations would open up in the days to come.
Both sides expressed their willingness to further accelerate engagement and strengthen the framework of bilateral relations for setting up a new era of cooperation of connectivity across the South Asian region.
The talks in Dhaka yesterday focused on India-Bangladesh connectivity in terms of people, energy, transport and exchange of ideas.
Highly placed sources said though there was no clear-cut assurance from the Indian side for an early resolution of pending issues, including the ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) and signing of an interim agreement on Teesta water sharing, there was a positive tone toward actively considering the issues.
During the talks, Sushma Swaraj assured Bangladesh that efforts were on to reach a national consensus in India on the Teesta river water sharing deal and LBA ratification.
Swaraj, who arrived here Wednesday night on a 3-day visit, also called on President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
She handed over Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's invitation to Hasina for a visit to India at her earliest convenience.
The Indian minister spoke on the theme of India-Bangladesh Relations: A Framework for Cooperation organised by Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) at Ruposhi Bangla Hotel.
She is due to meet leader of the opposition Roushan Ershad and BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia prior to leaving Dhaka at a little after noon today.
Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali and India's spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin briefed the media separately on the outcome of the meetings.
“We've discussed all the issues of mutual interest in a cordial atmosphere,” said Mahmood Ali, who had an hour long meeting with his Indian counterpart at the foreign ministry in the morning.
He said issues related to political and security cooperation on regional and sub-regional basis, energy, trade, water resources management, people to people contact and cultural exchanges were discussed during the meeting.
The Indian Minister has assured him of working together with Bangladesh to strengthen the existing ties between the two countries. “India is always there for Bangladesh,” he quoted Sushma Swaraj as saying at the meeting.
On the Teesta issue, he said efforts were on in India to build internal consensus on the issue. “She [Swaraj] expressed her hope over a signing of the Teesta deal.”
About LBA, Mahmood Ali said Bangladesh requested the Indian side for the ratification of the agreement. “The Indian minister also expressed hope about its settlement. She also mentioned that the matter was under active consideration in the Rajya Sabha.”
About easing the Indian visa policy for Bangladesh, he said the Indian side had agreed to provide five-year multiple tourist visas to Bangladeshi nationals aged below 13 and above 65.
Indian spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said Bangladesh and other countries would be considered for on-arrival visa if a decision to this effect was taken.
Dhaka and New Delhi also agreed to increase the service frequency of Maitree Express and AC coaches between the two countries, besides setting up four new border haats on the Meghalaya border.
Moreover, he said the Indian side assured of continued efforts to bring down border killings at zero level, introduce Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati bus service on an experimental basis, provide 100-MW more electricity from Palatana plant in Tripura, extradite Bangladeshi criminals from India and hold the meeting of Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) at a convenient time.
In reply to a question, the foreign minister said there had not been any discussion on the issue of illegal migration. “The Indian side did not raise the issue at all during the talks.”
However, he said, extradition of fugitive Narayanganj seven-murder accused Nur Hossain from India and Ulfa leader Anup Chetia from Bangladesh was discussed.
“We have been told to make a formal request and we hope to get back Nur Hossain at an early date,” he said.
Indian spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin at another press conference said, “As far as India is concerned, we're not a sanctuary for criminals. If there are any criminals in India, they will be returned to Bangladesh. It is not our policy to give sanctuary to criminals from Bangladesh.”
He added, “India and Bangladesh as friendly neighbours are committed to address issues of concern to each other.
“There was an understanding that we need to promote exchanges of all types -- exchanges relating to people, relating to goods and services.”
Terming Bangladesh a very important neighbour, he said focus has been on Bangladesh-India connectivity during the meetings between the two sides -- connectivity in terms of people, energy, transport, exchange of ideas.
The spokesperson said Sushma Swaraj had come to Bangladesh with a message of friendship and her conversations here were very cordial and warm.
Responding to a question, he said there had been no discussion on domestic politics. “We have great respect for Bangladesh. We will never ever try to look at it in terms of narrow party politics.”
He added the Indian leadership got an indication from the Bangladesh leadership that Dhaka was uncompromising in its opposition to terrorism in any form and manifestation and that Bangladesh would never allow its territory to be used against India.
Responding to another question, he said the Indian external affairs minister had talked to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. “They had a very pleasant and useful conversation.”
He, however, did not go into details about the discussions between the two. “She [Mamata] wished all success during [Swaraj's] visit to Bangladesh.”
It was Mamata's opposition that led to the postponement of the Teesta deal during the 2011 Dhaka visit of then Indian PM Manmohan Singh.