A prominent newspaper of Bangladesh has said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina did not meet India’s High Commissioner despite repeated requests for a meeting in the last four months.
Bhorer Kagoj, a prominent daily, has reported that all Indian projects have slowed down since the re-election of Prime Minister Hasina in 2019 with Chinese infrastructure projects receiving more support from Dhaka.
“Despite India’s concern, Bangladesh has given the contract of building an airport terminal in Sylhet to a Chinese company. Indian High Commissioner Riva Ganguly Das tried for four months to get an appointment with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh but did not get it. Bangladesh has not even sent a note of appreciation to India in response to Indian assistance for the COVID-19 pandemic”, said the newspaper’s editor Shyamal Dutta in an article on the recent tilt of Dhaka towards Pakistan and China.
Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG) has received the contract for building a new terminal in MAG Osmania Airport of Sylhet that borders India’s northeastern region and is, therefore, considered a sensitive area for New Delhi.
A diplomatic source from the Bangladesh High Commission here has confirmed that the Indian envoy had sought an appointment with Ms Hasina but it did not materialise. However, neither India’s High Commission in Dhaka nor the Ministry of External Affairs(MEA) responded to questions from The Hindu. A diplomat from the Indian mission said Ms Ganguly Das has gone out of Dhaka on a tour.
Imran Khan’s call
The comments about the state of bilateral diplomatic ties is timely as Ms Hasina received a phone call from Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan on Wednesday. Though Dhaka refused to give more details of the conversation, Pakistan’s official news agency reported that Mr. Khan informed Ms Hasina about the situation in Kashmir and sought “resolution” of the dispute. India, in response on Thursday, appreciated Bangladesh saying that Dhaka considers Kashmir an internal matter of India.
Ms Ganguly Das has been appointed as the next Secretary in charge of the eastern hemisphere in the MEA and she is expected to take her new post in the coming days. She was met by foreign minister Dr. A K Abdul Momen on July 14 for a farewell meeting.
The article in Bhorer Kagoj said that a section of Ms Hasina’s office is actively supporting stronger ties with China. This angle was visible in the rapid improvement in ties with China’s ally Pakistan in the last 10 months. Bangladesh opted for Pakistan’s onion supplies in November 2019 after India imposed a ban on its export.
This was the first time that Bangladesh imported agriculture items from Pakistan in the last 15 years. Dhaka-Islamabad ties went cold after Ms Hasina’s government hanged Jamaat E Islami Bangladesh leader Motiur Rahman Nizami for the 1971 war crimes in 2016. Pakistan had angrily protested against the execution and for two years (2018-’19) Dhaka did not host a Pakistan High Commissioner.
NRC, CAA issues
India’s ties with Bangladesh in the meantime was also hit by the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which aims to give amnesty to minority religious groups from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Dhaka has maintained that instances of religious bigotry has gone down in the country and that the NRC and the CAA are internal matters of India.
The issue, however, has created a wave of concern in Dhaka, as prominent leaders of the ruling BJP spoke about “sending back” undocumented citizens to Bangladesh. In recent weeks, media in Dhaka has also been vocal about increased number of casualties along the India-Bangladesh border because of reported firings by the Border Security Force (BSF). Growing differences with India were viewed as opportunity for groups that are aligned with Pakistan and Chinese interests in Dhaka.
In this backdrop, Bangladesh-Pakistan diplomatic ties resumed earlier this year with the arrival of new Pakistan High Commissioner Imran Ahmed Siddiqui in January. Mr Siddiqui secured a special meeting with Dr. Momen on July 1.
The article in Bhorer Kagoj also said that a section of officials in Bangladesh was trying to use cricket to normalise relations between the two sides that continues to be vitiated by the memory of widespread human rights violation and war crimes committed by the Pakistan military against the people of the erstwhile East Pakistan that led to the revolt and ultimately the creation of Bangladesh in December ’71 through the Indo-Pak war.
Ms Hasina’s increasing diplomatic interactions with Pakistan and Pakistan’s traditional supporter China is also being viewed as a move to bargain with India on issues of Dhaka’s special interest, especially the CAA, which remains a sticking issue for Bangladesh as it is weary of hosting more refugees in addition to the 1.2 million Rohingya from Myanmar currently residing in Chittagong’s Kutupalong.