Vol. 5 Num 382 Fri. June 24, 2005  
Front Page

Series of talks soon to resolve disputes
Indo-Bangla thorny issues left unsolved as Delhi meet ends

The foreign secretary level consultation between Bangladesh and India, which concluded in New Delhi Wednesday, apparently failed to bring any tangible development as no concrete decision was taken to resolve the differences and irritants.

Issues like barbed wire fencing within 150 yards of the border, sky-high trade gap, removal of tariff barriers, water sharing, steps regarding Bangladeshi miscreants being provided consular access in India, push-in of Bangla speaking Indian nationals etc were not resolved in the two-day talks.

On most long-standing issues, India stuck to its earlier position and just assured to look into the matters. The Indian side did not consider Bangladesh's argument to follow the 1975 border guidelines, which prohibited construction of any installation within 150 yards of the frontier, and emphasised the need for border fencing within and up to 150 yards of the international border.

Foreign Secretary Hemayetuddin, speaking at a press briefing on his arrival at the Zia International Airport, however, said, "The talks were held in a very positive and constructive manner and now both the sides can move forward to resolve differences and further enhance bilateral cooperation."

Hemayetuddin, who led the Bangladesh side in the June 21-22 foreign secretary level consultations, told reporters that this talks are not for immediate implementation but they facilitated the talks of various joint working groups, which will resolve differences through discussion.

In this context, he said a series of talks between the joint working groups and committees of home, commerce, communications, science and technology, agriculture etc will start within next couple of months to resolve issues as well as enhance cooperation between the two neighbouring countries.

The foreign secretary said both sides laid importance on exchange at all levels, especially high profile regular exchange visits at both political and official levels, and consensus has been reached on visits of parliament members of the two countries.

"We are hoping that Indian commerce and water resources ministers will visit Bangladesh soon to hold talks with their counterparts for resolving issues," he said, adding, "some trade related agreements will also take place soon."

Our New Delhi correspondent adds: Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Hemayetuddin yesterday said his country could examine the idea of exploration of its natural gas jointly with India and said there was no mindset in Dhaka that relations with New Delhi should not improve.

"India is central to Bangladesh's foreign policy," he said, adding that the visits by Foreign Minister Morshed Khan and Finance Minister M Saifur Rahman to India "demonstrated how committed we are to developing relations with India. It will be wrong to assume that there is a mindset."

Replying to a question about the possibility of Bangladesh exporting gas to India, Hemayetuddin said, "We are yet to assess how much gas reserves there are--if at all there would be exportable surplus."

Bangladesh is a developing country with an economic growth of 5.5 percent and it needs gas as a source of energy, he said, adding that when the Tata Group makes investments in power, steel and fertiliser plants, "they will be using our gas."

Commenting on the outcome of his three-day visit to India, Hemayetuddin said there was a "lot of forward movement" and a "positive frame of mind on both sides to address each other's concerns and issues and take forward bilateral ties."

He pointed to the agreement between the two countries to revive the separate joint working groups on the issues of boundary demarcation, adverse possession of enclaves, and trade under which para-tariff and non-tariff barriers to entry of Bangladeshi products to India will be considered.

Indian insurgents

Replying to a question, Hemayetuddin ruled out Bangladesh providing shelter to northeastern Indian insurgents. "Northeastern militants cannot find shelter in Bangladesh… our main priority is development. There is no time for all this. We will make sure no militant finds shelter in Bangladesh."

Asked about the allegation of presence of ISI operatives in Bangladesh, he shot back, "We have better things to do than giving shelter to them. Tell me why should we allow ISI? Tell me what is our interest?"

Water sharing

Referring to sharing of waters of common rivers, Hemayetuddin said, "There was a lot of concern in Bangladesh over India's proposed inter-linking of rivers but it should not be seen as anti-India but only as an expression of our view on the question of our survival."


Meanwhile, on a question about Bangladesh's opposition to erection of fencing by India along the border during the press briefing in Dhaka, Hemayetuddin said this should be within the 1975 border guidelines which have "served as a useful mechanism to maintain peace. Both sides were unanimous about having a peaceful border."

The foreign secretary said the joint working group on boundary issue will have to find "an acceptable solution, and once this is done, other problems along the border will be solved."


Regarding trade imbalance with India, Hemayetuddin said, "Right now what we are thinking is to come out with a basket of goods for which India can provide duty-free or lower duty access under the Bangkok agreement among BIMSTEC countries for Least Developed Countries."

He added, "The Indian side expressed sincerity to address the trade imbalance and the first thing would be to discuss how to bring down para-tariff and non-tariff barriers to Bangladesh's exports to India."

He said Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath made certain proposals on the issue of trade imbalance between the two countries which Bangladesh will examine.

Asked about a bilateral Free Trade Agreement between India and Bangladesh, he said, "We are not averse to FTA. But we need to convince ourselves about the benefits of FTA. We want to be assured that it will not be detrimental to us." He, however, did not mention any date as to when Dhaka can agree to it, adding that the movement towards FTA could be paved if the para-tariff and non-tariff barriers to export of Bangladeshi products to India were removed.

He said the joint working group on trade will examine the goods to be imported from Bangladesh free of duty or at lower duties because there was no point in having a big range of goods from which Bangladesh can export only a few.

Hemayetuddin told reporters that he apprised the Indian side of Bangladesh's concern about India's river-linking project and that the Indian side gave assurance that it will not implement any project that will be harmful for Bangladesh.

On another question, he said the Indian side sought Bangladesh's support for India's candidature for the permanent membership in the UN Security Council. "I replied that this is still in fluid condition and Bangladesh will consider the request," Hemayetuddin said.