Swaraj’s Dhaka visit
Guwahati, 15 June 2014 (By Dr Rupak Bhattacharjee) - India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Dhaka on June 25-27 along with Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh. This was Swaraj’s first stand-alone foreign trip following taking over the charge of Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Prior to the visit, MEA clarified that the minister would review the current Indo-Bangladesh relations and determine the future contours of bilateral engagement. The foreign trip was termed as a “goodwill visit” aiming at further strengthening the existing friendly relations between the two nations. Swaraj held talks with Bangladeshi counterpart Abul Hassan Mahamood Ali on key bilateral issues including Land Boundary Agreement (LBA), Teesta River water sharing, energy cooperation, trade and illegal migration. A major focus of the bilateral talks had been the identification of areas to enhance economic cooperation.
The two ministers also discussed matters like security, border issues and counter-terrorism. Swaraj reiterated that the Modi government is keen on forging “productive partnerships” with its neighbours. She said, “Building a comprehensive and equitable partnership with Bangladesh is essential for realisation of our vision of a stable, secure and prosperous South Asia”. Swaraj met Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and handed over a letter of Modi inviting her to visit New Delhi. Hasina reciprocated by inviting her Indian counterpart to undertake a trip to Dhaka. Reports suggest that Modi accepted her invitation.
Swaraj’s visit generated huge interest in Bangladesh as it was the first substantive engagement between the NDA government and the Awami League regime of Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi officials were seeking “clear answers” from the Indian side on issues such as LBA and Teesta river. Reports indicate that the external affairs minister and foreign secretary did impress upon the Bangladeshi side of Indian government’s positive approach. India reassured Bangladesh of finalising the LBA soon during the bilateral discussions. It may be noted that MPS belonging to BJP and Asom Gana Parishad blocked the previous UPA government’s efforts to ratify the LBA in the parliament. However, after assuming power, the BJP leadership has decided to maintain the tempo of Indo-Bangladesh friendship which scaled new heights during 2009-13. This has been a welcome development underscoring the time-tested Indian approach to foreign policy making—continuity, especially while dealing with a strategically crucial and economically important neighbour like Bangladesh.