India’s relations with Bangladesh have almost reached an “irreversible plane,” and look set to go “upward,” with Dhaka providing genuine assurances that no acts "inimical to India" would be permitted from there, said Bangladesh’s Foreign Affairs Adviser, Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury.
"While there are perennial ups and downs, we have given them enough signals that we will not permit such acts against India,” he said.
The Indian government has long had concerns that militants and insurgents from the Northeast have been given shelter there, to freely group and plan strikes against India.
"We have assured the Indian authorities that under no circumstances, to the extent possible, will we allow our territory to be used for any activity against India, and we will ensure that this is not done," Chowdhury said.
The two governments plan to establish an "institutional framework" to smoothen ties, including a regular meeting between the Foreign Secretaries to deal with contentious problems and engage meaningfully, said Chowdhury, 60, a career diplomat who assumed the office of Adviser on 18 January, after six years as Bangladesh’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
He spoke exclusively to the Hindustan Times on bilateral relations, SAARC and cricket.
"It shows Bangladesh is capable of springing a surprise," Chowdhury said in a lighter vein, commenting on the cricket World Cup, in which Bangladesh defeated India in the first game. "The way the gentleman’s game is being played there is indicative of the ferment happening in Bangladeshi society."
In their "first real contact" since the Caretaker Administration headed by Fakhruddin Ahmed assumed office, talks between the Indian leadership and Bangladesh’s administrators, on the sidelines of the SAARC summit, have been “very extensive, cordial and meaningful.”
"We discussed all issues including water, the border and trade," Chowdhury said. “We want to engage with India in a meaningful way,” he said, "without going into past history" of the relationship, though he denied relations had always been "mired in mistrust."
Asked whether he was disappointed that the SAARC Declaration adopted on Wednesday was not tough enough on terrorism, Chowdhury gave an apocryphal response.
"The SAARC story is like the story of the seven blind Indians and the elephant. Each gets to feel what he thinks."
He denied that Fakhruddin Ahmed’s inaugural statement at the SAARC summit, at which he spoke of removing the "root causes" that cause violent acts was providing encouragement to terrorism.
"Terrorism is totally not acceptable. This (reference to root causes) is no different from the Non-Aligned and G-77 position. The reason is not to give any kind of encouragement to terrorism, but to eliminate some factors that could be responsible."
Chowdhury, who said his government "will not stay in power a day longer than necessary,” probably not more than “somewhere between one and two years," said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s unilateral announcement to allow duty free access to “our South Asian neighbours who are Least Developed Countries” has been viewed as a very positive development.
“It will go a long way to ease concerns about the large trade imbalance,” he said, calling Singh’s gesture “an act of maturity."