During his two-day visit to Bangladesh, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid made some promises to address Dhaka’s concerns on a number of long-standing issues.
Khurshid, who had arrived in Dhaka on Saturday to attend the second meeting of the Indo-Bangla Joint Consultative Commission, also assured Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that his government wants to see zero casualties at the border, which often witnesses skirmishes and random shootings.
Khurshid’s visit seems to have laid the groundwork for better understanding between the two neighbours ahead of President Pranab Mukherjee’s Bangladesh visit later this year.
Immediately after landing in Dhaka, Khurshid and his Bangladeshi counterpart Dipu Moni signed two Memoranda of Understanding and one Addendum.
The MoUs are on the construction of the Akhaura-Agartala rail link and the setting up of a think-tank called the Bangladesh-India Foundation, along with an Addendum on India-Bangladesh Avoidance of Double Taxation.
The signing of the instruments took place after holding of the second Joint Consultative Commission meeting in the Bangladesh ministry of foreign affairs on the same day. Also, strip maps were symbolically exchanged, in accordance with the Land Border Agreement of 1974.
The Bangladesh-India Foundation will be established with an objective of enhancing linkages between the two countries, particularly through cultural, economic, educational, scientific, technical co-operation and the promotion of greater understanding between the people of the two countries.
On Sunday, while meeting Hasina, Khurshid handed over a cheque of $50 million. This is part of the $200 million grant from India that was written off from a $1 billion line of credit. Khurshid has assured that India will release 92 percent of the $800 million remaining line of credit that Delhi had offered Dhaka for infrastructural development in 2010.
Till date, the Indian government has approved 13 projects worth $733.84 million, according to a progress report from the finance ministry. Commercial agreements have been signed for nine such projects, with tender documents being processed for the remaining four.
Of the $733.84 million, $48.89 million has already been released, said an official of the Economic Relations Division.
During a joint press briefing on Saturday, following the signing, Khurshid assured that India was committed towards signing a deal on sharing Teesta River water and implementing the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh as soon as possible. He assured that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is very much “on board with the line of thinking” the government pursues on such an agreement with Bangladesh.
“The Indians are not divided on Teesta and LBA issues,” Khurshid clarified while adding that Banerjee is “conscious of her responsibility” as far as India's friendship with Bangladesh is concerned.
He added that the cabinet had recently approved the LBA which would soon be placed at the Parliament for ratification.
“We are hopeful of implementing the LBA as soon as necessary legislation and other formalities are completed,” Khurshid said.
Hasina assured Khurshid that Dhaka is looking forward to Mukherjee’s visit which may lead to resolution of some of the issues.
The external affairs minister also held meetings with Leader of Opposition Khaleda Zia, Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir and Water Resources Minister Ramesh Chandra Sen.
During the meet with Alamgir, Bangladesh and India exchanged lists of convicts to facilitate the hand over of criminals under the extradition treaty signed in January.
At a press conference in Dhaka before returning to India on Sunday, Khurshid was asked about the frequent killings of innocent civilians by border security forces.
Terming such incidents “unfortunate”, Khurshid promised to discuss the issue with Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde.
In reply to a question from a reporter, Khurshid said his government was grateful for what Bangladesh has done to ensure that its territory is not used by terrorists to perpetrate terror in India.
During the conference, Khurshid assured that the Teesta deal will be implemented soon despite the delay of a “few weeks” in West Bengal.
If the dilemmas in Delhi regarding LBA and the Teesta water-sharing deal are actually eased off as per Khurshid’s promises, it is likely that India-Bangladesh ties would experience a new beginning following President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Bangladesh.