The last one month has seen Indo-Bangladesh ties hit a new low. First, deputy prime minister L.K. Advani alleged that after the regime change in Dhaka last year there has been an increase in the activities of the isi and Al Qaeda. Then, foreign minister Yashwant Sinha backed Advani's claim in Parliament. In an interview to V. Sudarshan, Bangladesh high commissioner Tufail K. Haider rubbishes the charges. Excerpts:
How much is India responsible for the current poor state of Indo-Bangladesh ties?
Well, I would not like to answer that question directly because I think it takes two hands to clap. It's not an issue of responsibility. But neither is calling names and blaming each other a starting point.
Can you amplify this?
The media overall in India as well as Bangladesh has been agog with these reports, charges and counter-charges—that's a war of words. And somewhat intermittently, the leaders on both sides, government officials, public leaders have also got involved. By and large, discussions should be carried through official channels and not through a war of words nor through the media. How does it come to the media? It comes through leaks. All classified information from some government agencies reaches the media before it is presented to us.
Yashwant Sinha said on November 26 that Indian insurgent groups in the Northeast have taken shelter in Bangladesh, that this has been brought to your notice.
It was mentioned in our discussions and in various forms in official communiques. But we have said we do not shelter anti-Indian elements nor do we give them training. Now if the insurgency problem has spilt over into Bangladesh—unwittingly from our side—it is certainly not part of our official policy.
During the DG-level meeting between the Border Security Force and Bangladesh Rifles in September/ October this year, a list of 99 training camps in Bangladesh was handed over. Have you conducted a probe to ascertain the claims?
The government is engaged in the process. What happened in the past was, as far as I know, some cases have been investigated on the basis of intelligence supplied by India. Our security forces have gone there and checked and found nothing.
Yashwant Sinha says the Pakistani High Commission in Dhaka is the hub of ISI activities?
That is his point of view. But how can you go into such a claim? I think his comment was unfortunate because here he was talking about the mission of a third country. What would you say if the new foreign minister of, say, Pakistan says in the National Assembly that the Indian mission in Dhaka is now the hub of such and such agency. Would you like it? We would have our reservations. It ought not to have been said.
Sinha was completely off the mark?
If India had credible evidence, it should have shared it with the Bangladesh government, instead of going public.
Back to the subject of leaks...
Leaks mean premature leaks.
So have you seen any mature leak in Indo-Bangladesh relations?
(Laughs) No it's yet to come. I think we have to handle this relationship with more maturity. For Bangladesh, a smaller country, anything coming from India has a much, much greater, magnified impact. That is why I call for sensitivity in dealing with Bangladesh.
So, on November 26, Yashwant Sinha wasn't being careful about Bangladesh's sensitivities.
No. I suppose he had to say what he did.
Neither was Advani?
Mr Advani? Well, he partly retracted later on. And the retraction was not tangible. It was untenable. Whatever he said in Haryana must have been recorded because he was on TV and radio, I believe.So how can he take words back from television? (laughs)
What do you say to reports in both the western and Indian media that coincidental with the emergence of the new government in Bangladesh there is more intolerance in the air.
This construction is absolute nonsense.
What is the correct construction?
I don't have all the information, nor do I now live there, I live abroad. To the best of my knowledge...my perception is that like any country we have fringe elements. Whether or not the fringe elements are increasing, or to what extent they are increasing, I don't know.
There is unhappiness here that Bangladesh has never unequivocally, unambiguously condemned cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, especially since 9/11.
Why are you linking 9/11 with Kashmir?
Can there be good terrorists or bad terrorists or only terrorists?
No. They are all terrorists.
So can you cite one single instance since September 11 of the Bangladesh government coming out unambiguously against terrorism in J&K?
We don't necessarily comment on every incident as such.
Do you recall even one statement?
No, not specifically as such. No. But do you have anybody else who says Pakistan is doing cross-border terrorism and should stop it and condemn it?
Yes, the United States does it, Putin when he came here, he did it, ditto France and the UK, uniformly after every incident. Even Musharraf himself sometimes condemns it ...
(Laughs) Musharraf himself does, huh?
Let's leave aside training camps that are difficult to verify. What about the instance when the Bangladeshi authorities themselves informed the Indian authorities last December that they have three self-confessed Naga militants in their custody?
Why three? There are more. They are precisely those who are in custody and against some of whom there are legal proceedings. One is serving term. There are different stages in judicial, or quasi-judicial status...
Exactly, there are two broad categories. One is the instance of ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia..
Exactly, he is serving a term.
But what about terrorist Sanjid Deb Barman who, after serving his term, applied for political asylum? This was turned down by Bangladesh courts. Yet there is no word whether Dhaka intends to send him back.
Bangladesh doesn't have an extradition treaty with India.
Can you name one initiative that your PM has taken to address the fundamental sources of differences between India and Bangladesh?
That's a very pointed question. There have been a lot of initiatives. For instance, I know that there was a conscious effort when Gujarat happened and the follow-up reactions, there was a tremendous effort on her part (Prime Minister Khaleda Zia) to keep peace in Bangladesh. It could have blown up anytime. You know how communal things spread. There was not a squeak from Bangladesh. As much as you sometimes are concerned about your (Muslim) minority, don't forget that we also can be concerned about our (Hindu) minority. There is no manifestation of that, especially at this critical time. Have you seen a single incident starting from Godhra? Was there any reaction in Bangladesh? Were there any killings? Was there any burning? Not a single event! I give her full marks.
Considering India's role in liberating Bangladesh, many here feel let down by the bad vibes between the two countries. Can you explain it?
I explain it this way: the less you raise this issue, the better. You don't remind people even in personal dealings that 'I did you this favour, don't forget it.' You will be surprised that an administrative service lady, about 70 years old, once asked me, 'Shouldn't Bangladesh be eternally grateful to India?' It's a stupid question.I said, 'What do you want us to do? Tie ourselves by the neck to you? (laughs)....These are not good reminders. People have not forgotten. Bangladesh has not forgotten. But today's business is today's business. You cannot have an eternal or permanent reference point. Then again, to a great extent, the media moulds this opinion. A large section of our people have been brainwashed into an anti-Indian stance. Same way here. Imagine a newspaper like The Statesman writes an editorial that Bangladesh has become a nuisance. Look at the audacity of the man. If I could find him, I may beat him with my shoes. I don't know who has written it. Can you see the insensitivity? Bangladesh has become a nuisance, it writes in the second editorial! So do you wish Bangladesh away?
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