07 June 2004

Interview with Morshed Khan, Foreign Minister of Bangladesh

7 June 2004
The Times of India

Border Music

Interview with Morshed Khan, Foreign Minister of Bangladesh

After the distrust and suspicion that marred relations with Dhaka during the Vajpayee years, Indo-Bangladeshi ties seem finally to be looking up. Bangladeshi foreign minister Morshed Khan , who was in Delhi last week, tells Siddharth Varadarajan that given the right chemistry and warmth, all outstanding issues between the two countries will be resolved.

You came as a special envoy of prime minister Khaleda Zia to congratulate the new Indian government but your visit — and meeting with external affairs minister Natwar Singh — seems to have opened a new chapter in bilateral ties after the difficulties of the past few years. Were you surprised by the friendly attitude of the new government?

No, not at all. Well, first of all I would say that from the Bangladesh point of view, we are dealing with India. We are not dealing with a particular party as such. And it's a government in continuity.

If you ask me what we have achieved, may be in concrete terms we have not achieved anything. But it seems the chemistry is working all right. And there's a great deal of warmth in my reception, and very frank exchange of opinions. Both sides did not shy away from the issues involved.

For the first time, it has been recognised that there are security concerns on both sides that need to be addressed. It is not an allegation from one side to the other side.

So this kind of understanding and mutuality definitely takes us a long way in building confidence, rather than just keeping on accusing somebody for something, which is unfounded, or hiding something under the carpet.

You mentioned Bangladesh has security concerns vis-a-vis India. What are these?
I have not sought to spell these out in detail because I don't want to create a misunderstanding, but we have genuinely been trying to convince New Delhi about our concerns.

Our top terrorists from Bangladesh, they have all found their way into India, either on the Agartala side, or the West Bengal side, north Bengal side. This is not an accusation as such, because this is not with the knowledge of the Indian government.

It is not our view that these people are harboured by the Indian government, that the government has to be blamed. But we have to address these issues together. There are people. Like General Hazari and others who have 20-30 murder cases.

Unfortunately, we find that they are all very comfortably living there. Today, the rapists, the dacoits, the outlaws of the country, they commit a crime and run away. One of the reasons is that we have a very porous border with India, 4,600 km long.

Therefore, there has to be some kind of coordinated effort from both sides to address these issues. And this is what we have decided. We are very grateful and glad that the political decision-makers have spoken. My talks with Natwar Singh went off very well. I found a great air of openness.

And with prime minister Manmohan Singh and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi?

This was mostly a courtesy call, as a special envoy of Khaleda Zia. I have handed over an invitation letter. Mr Singh has accepted very kindly. We will fix up the dates soon.

But we feel that with the CMP prominently highlighting SAARC and ties with Bangladesh, we have reason to believe that Dhaka should be his first foreign destination. For Mrs Gandhi too, we want her first destination abroad should be Bangladesh.

And not Pakistan?!

I didn't say that!

There is a perception in India, in our official circles, that militants from Assam and elsewhere have received a kind of sanctuary in Bangladesh. One of the Ulfa leaders was even handed over to the custody of the wife of a minister and then released.

Bangladesh is not a sanctuary. We have caught two of these persons, Anup Chetia and Sanjib Deb Burman. We filed a case against Burman, he went to the high court along with some human rights organisation which helped him in his case against the government.

Now the high court in its wisdom gave possession of Burman to the human rights group, released him to their custody, because a concrete case against him could not be established.

Now we understand that he has run away from that custody, but Chetia is definitely with us.

Officials here are not certain you will hand him over to the Indian authorities once his sentence is over. Have you given any assurances on this?

I don't give assurance through the newspapers. I give assurances to the leaders whenever assurances are needed. Anyway, we have addressed this issue, that both sides need to have a hands-on approach and address this security situation.

And at the same time, we have also discussed about the Shadin Bangabhoomi movement or the Purva Bangla Hindu Bhoomi, all these kinds of anti-state activities in Bangladesh being carried out by groups which have their printed addresses in Kolkata and West Bengal and other places.

So both sides have agreed that this kind of nonsense should come to an end. We must be realistic. We must create an ambience of togetherness.

Can you give us an update on the investigation into the massive arms haul at Chittagong? Where did the arms come from? Whom were they meant for?

The seizure is of such a serious nature, the only thing I can say is that we will get to the bottom of it. Therefore, I cannot explain beyond this. It is a very serious threat to our own security and we must get to the bottom of it.

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