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Will India accommodate Bangladesh?

With Khaleda Zia set to visit India on March 20, there are speculations if she will respond to New Delhi's concerns.

india Updated: Mar 17, 2006 10:43 IST

With Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia set to begin a visit to India on March 20, there is considerable interest in New Delhi if she will respond to New Delhi's concerns on bilateral issues.

The first encounter between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Zia in 2004 saw the latter denying all suggestions about illegal migration from her country or the involvement of Bangladeshi militants in terror acts at home and on Indian soil.

After that meeting in Bangkok, India's then external affairs minister K Natwar Singh, who was at the talks, recalled that to every polite suggestion from Manmohan Singh, Begum Zia would turn to her Foreign Minister Morshed Khan and senior officials, engage in prolonged conversations in Bengali and then deny everything.

"The discussion was a non-starter," Natwar Singh said.

Things have only worsened in the two intervening years.

It is not clear yet if she will be in New Delhi as chairperson of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) or as the Bangladesh Prime Minister.

Undeterred, Manmohan Singh is understood to have directed his sides to try make the three-day visit substantive and successful.

Her itinerary will include a meeting with President APJ Abdul Kalam at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

There will be a one-on-one meeting with Manmohan Singh and delegation level talks.

Zia will also attend a luncheon with select Indian business leaders.

Three agreements are being negotiated for signing. Dhaka has conveyed it is not very keen on a pact on inland water transit.

Agreements will most likely be signed on preventing illegal trade in psychotropic substances and on trade.

Begum Zia's Office has said in Dhaka that she has been briefed on the entire range of bilateral issues.

She would be at liberty to choose the issues for discussion in New Delhi.

These include enclaves in "adverse possession", unmarked stretches of the border, an Indian proposal for a bus service between Kolkata and Agartala through Bangladesh and the signing of a mutual extradition treaty.

Other delicate issues include border security and the presence of Indian insurgents in Bangladesh.

These are prickly issues and much would depend on how the talks go, external affairs ministry sources said.

A Bangladeshi official told Dhaka's Daily Star it was hoped the meeting between the two prime ministers would usher in a new era in India-Bangladesh relations.

Her visit to Pakistan last month was slated as that of the SAARC chief but extensive bilateral talks were conducted.

Zia's visit to India is with an eye on her country's general election scheduled for January.

She wants to send a message to the opposition that she has a good relationship with New Delhi.

South Asia experts say that the challenge before New Delhi lies in accommodating her, without allowing Zia any political mileage.

By terming it as a goodwill visit, Dhaka has made it clear the aim was not to resolve substantive issues with India but to create a virtual image.