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India, Bangladesh to fight terror, boost trade

Manmohan and Zia exchanged views on a wide range of issues, including terrorism, trade, illegal migration and border security.

india Updated: Mar 22, 2006 11:13 IST

India and Bangladesh on Tuesday took significant steps to boost bilateral ties and regional stability by agreeing to jointly fight terrorism and to enhance trade and transportation links.

"We believe it is in our fundamental interest to see a strong, stable and economically strong Bangladesh making its full contribution to regional development," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at a banquet held at Hyderabad House in honour of his Bangladesh counterpart Khaleda Zia.

Following talks between the two leaders, the two sides signed a revised trade agreement and another pact on mutual cooperation for preventing illicit trafficking in narcotics and psychotropic substances, setting the stage for a further improvement in bilateral relations that have witnessed certain strains in recent years.

These agreements, Manmohan Singh hoped, would provide "the right framework for guiding and expanding economic and commercial cooperation between our two countries".

Manmohan Singh and Zia held "an intensive and useful exchange of views" on a wide range of issues, including terrorism, trade, illegal migration, border security, water sharing and the need for more confidence-building measures between the two countries.

The two countries agreed to operationalise the Sealdah-Jaidevpur train link to improve transportation links between them.

They also narrowed their perception gap on terrorism and resolved to tackle this scourge through joint cooperation.

"India and Bangladesh are both victims of terrorism. That was all recognised and terrorism by its very nature is a kind of phenomenon which can be best tackled by joint cooperation," India's external affairs ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said after the talks.

"They are aware of our concerns. There was a very constructive exchange of views on all these issues which are matters of mutual concern," he said.

Manmohan Singh captured this new mood of optimism in India-Bangladesh relations in his banquet speech in which he underlined "huge reservoirs of goodwill" for Bangladesh in India and spoke about an "ever stronger friendship between India and Bangladesh".

In her banquet speech, Zia said: "Destinies of the two countries are interlinked." She also spoke about robust trade ties between the two countries.

Manmohan Singh and Zia also agreed to strengthen institutional mechanisms for resolving water and security issues. They agreed to have more frequent home secretary-level meetings to address security issues and to hold regular meetings of the Joint Rivers Commission.

Discussions on trade - a touchy issue with Dhaka - also showed forward movement.

"There is still trade imbalance which we recognise and are sensitive to Bangladesh's concerns and there was a desire to address this issue with flexibility and with pragmatism," Sarna said.

He also pointed out that Dhaka's exports to New Delhi have steadily risen and underlined the need for promotion of Indian investments in Bangladesh.

The current trade deficit between the two sides is over $1 billion. The revised trade agreement signed on Tuesday will replace an earlier pact signed in 1980 that has expired.

The new pact takes into account the asymmetries that exist between the two countries and provides for "mutually beneficial arrangements" for use the waterways, roadways and railways of both countries for commerce and the "passage of goods between places in one country through the territory of the other".

Dhaka agreed to examine various proposals for $2.5 billion worth of investments by India's Tata Group in Bangladesh. "Certain matters need clarification and they were waiting for those," Sarna said.

Most importantly, the discussions were marked by a spirit of understanding and focused on expanding the constituency of goodwill in both countries. "There is a huge reservoir of goodwill for Bangladesh in India," Manmohan Singh said.

In his banquet speech, Manmohan Singh couldn't resist reciting a couplet from Bangladesh poet Kazi Nazrul Islam that speaks about "overcoming the dark night" and "ushering in a new morning."

Earlier in the day, Zia, who arrived here Monday on a three-day visit, was accorded a ceremonial welcome in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan.

"A strong and prosperous Bangladesh is in the interest of India, South Asia and the Asian region as a whole," Manmohan Singh told reporters at the presidential palace.

First Published: Mar 22, 2006 11:13 IST