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Sushma Swaraj shouldn’t meet Khaleda Zia, says Awami League leader

Swaraj is visiting Bangladesh during October 21-22 to co-chair the fourth meeting of the Joint Consultative Committee, which is expected to undertake a comprehensive review of bilateral ties.

india Updated: Oct 21, 2017 16:00 IST
Probir Pramanik
Probir Pramanik
New Delhi
Sushma Swaraj,Awami League,Khaleda Zia
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia waves to activists as she arrives for a rally in Dhaka in this file picture taken January 20, 2014. (Reuters)

A section of the top leadership of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League is upset about external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s plan to meet former premier Khaleda Zia during her visit to Dhaka this weekend.

The Awami League leaders believe Swaraj could meet a delegation from Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) as recent actions of the widow of president Ziaur Rehman were not conducive to bilateral relations.

“We can’t understand why the Indian foreign minister should meet Khaleda Zia,” a top Awami League leader, who did not wish to be named, told Hindustan Times.

“She (Zia) cancelled her scheduled meeting with Pranab Mukherjee when he visited Bangladesh as the Indian president and snubbed him,” said the leader familiar with decision-making at the highest level of the Awami League.

“She is not even the leader of opposition in Bangladesh anymore,” he added, explaining the rationale within his party on why a meeting between Swaraj and Zia would be inappropriate.

Zia’s BNP boycotted the January 2014 general election.

“Swaraj can surely meet a BNP delegation but not Khaleda Zia, who has been proclaimed guilty in two criminal cases pertaining to corruption and anti-state activities,” the leader said.

Swaraj is visiting Bangladesh during October 21-22 to co-chair the fourth meeting of the Joint Consultative Committee, which is expected to undertake a comprehensive review of bilateral ties.

Protocol allows any visiting foreign minister to meet top leaders of the opposition parties as well as ruling members, and Swaraj meeting the BNP chief will send a positive sign that India believes in democratic practices, said a Dhaka-based political observer.

Swaraj met Zia during her last visit to Dhaka in June 2014 after the Narendra Modi government came to power, he said. At the time, the Modi government was making efforts to reach out to all sections of Bangladeshi society.

The impact on Bangladesh of an unprecedented influx of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar is expected to come up in Swaraj’s discussions with top Bangladeshi leaders, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina whom she will meet on October 22.

The scheduled meeting between Swaraj and Zia has come as a surprise to many in Dhaka and lend grist to rumour mills as the BNP leader had been in London since July 15 for medical treatment.

Zia, who returned to Dhaka on Wednesday, reportedly met senior Inter-Services Intelligence and Pakistan Army officials along with her son Tarique Rahman, the senior vice-chairman of the BNP, while in London.

The meetings were extensively reported in the Indian and Bangladeshi media and photos showing Zia attending Pakistan’s Defence Day celebrations in the country’s high commission in London as a special guest went viral on Facebook.

Zia and three others have been accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable funds. Prosecutors say she and the others took 31.5 million taka (about $400,000) from the Zia Charitable Trust, named after her late husband who was assassinated in 1981.

Zia and four others, including her son, have also been accused of embezzling 21.5 million taka, money which prosecutors say should have gone to an orphanage set up in the memory of her husband. Zia has dismissed all the charges against her.

Bitter political rivals, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia have alternated in power for most of the past two decades.

First Published: Oct 21, 2017 15:59 IST