Saturday, July 30, 2011

What message Sonia Gandhi left behind for Sheikh Hasina

A closer tie between Bangladesh and its big neighbour India is always a top priority from both sides but the most critical issue is how to build the foundation of the pyramid on which the framework of relations would be based.

The issue came to the fore once again following the just concluded visit of Indian National Congress president and the chief of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Sonia Gandhi to Dhaka last week.

It was basically a show of unity of the two ruling parties of India and Bangladesh on critical issues, but the major opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) here has welcomed the visit though Sonia Gandhi did not find time or the opportunity to meet BNP chairperson Begum Zia during her brief stay here.

Strategic analysts here say it is understandable why Sonia failed to avail of the opportunity given the nature of Bangladesh politics, but such a gesture could have made the building of future ties more smooth and workable.
Family ties 
Prof Mahbubullah of Dhaka University speaking on the issue has in fact divulged the dominating factors behind the guarded visit. He said the foreign relations between Bangladesh and India is essentially working at the moment based on party to party, not on state to state basis. So other political parties are not involved here or even not welcomed while the fate of Bangladesh is being negotiated.

Mahbubullah said even one may say that the present Bangladesh India relations has been largely dominated by a close family ties between the Gandhi and the Sheikh families of the two countries in which Indians are seemingly benefited immensely and Bangladesh stands to lose on critical issues.

He said it is feared that Sheikh Hasina is compromising vital national interests on personal ground as part of a deeper and far reaching political objectives, part of which may come to light after Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan's Dhaka visit in September next. To understand its overall ramifications one has to wait a bit longer.

Referring to a whole lot of outstanding issues with India like transit, water sharing, Tipaimukh dam, maritime and land boundaries, border killing, terrorism etc, Prof Mahbubullah said their solutions need extensive homework exercise and consensus building.

A single meeting of two powerful ladies or closed door negotiations dominated by a powerful party will not deliver any lasting results. One cannot expect any dramatic development in state to state relations without taking the nation on board, he emphasized.

BNP standing Committee member and former Army Chief Gen. Mahbubur Rahman believed high profile meetings like the one held between Sheikh Hasina and Sonia Gandhi is always welcomed because their understanding on basic issues can only find the path to resolving problems.
'Hidden agenda' 
But the way this meeting has been organised it has created more suspicions than hopes. This is because of total secrecy on the core issues of discussions is being maintained while the opposition has deliberately been kept in the dark.

Speculations suggest that both the ladies had 'hidden agenda for discussion' has is breeding even more suspicion. It is being speculated that Sheikh Hasina had signed a 'hidden defence agreement' during her visit to Delhi in January last year. Rahman said BNP hoped these are mere speculations but lack of transparency and the absence of government's initiative to remove suspicions to restore confidence are feeding more suspicions.

Gen. Rahman said responsibility to make things transparent lies not only on Prime Minister Hasina, it lies equally on the other party to make it known to the people and assure them that nothing is amiss.

He said Sonia's visit is a prelude to Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan's visit here and her exchange of views with Sheikh Hasina on critical issues may make Manmohan Singh's visit smooth. He is scheduled to sign a number of important agreements including the transit one while in Dhaka.

Indian home minister P Chitambaram and water resource minister and communication minister are also is expected to come to Dhaka before the Singh visit. Earlier Indian foreign minister SM Krishna visited Dhaka to prepare the ground work of his prime minister's visit. He had however met BNP chairperson Begum Zia on that visit.
Gen. Mahbub said Bangladesh wants a 'win-win' solution to all problems but the way it is moving appears to be 'win for one and loss for the other.' This may prove counterproductive at the end. This is especially true in case of transit, he said suggesting that Bangladesh should not make hurry; it should carry out extensive home work on financial and strategic maters and agree on anything on the basis of a national consensus. It should not compromise on basic issues.
Prof Mahbubullah and CPD fellow Dr Debapriya made similar comments demanding more cautious moves on transit issue.

They ask why Sheilh Hasina is in such a hurry?

Only last month Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh voiced concerns on Bangladesh's 'changing political landscape' meaning the looming danger of a regime change. Sheikh Hasina was even warned of 'unknown consequences if she ever closed her eyes' indicating the danger lying ahead.

This may partly explains why both sides are in hurry. But Bangladesh politics has already become volatile throwing challenges to the Sheikh Hasina government in all fronts. Kolkata's Anandbazar Patrika commented that Sonia Gandhi's visit may just bring some oxygen to the embattled Hasina regime.

This is why analysts wonder what message Sonia Ghandi may have left for Hasina when she faces troubled days ahead. It is not unusual for friends and well-wishers in global politics Mahbubullah said, especially in view of the family ties both have developed in the meantime.

It may be recalled that during the February 2009 BDR mutiny Hasina made the first phone call to the then Indian foreign minister and present finance minister Pranab Mukherji for help. India had also acted quickly at internal level, however keeping watch on development. This is how Sheikh Hasina may have built her response mechanism against any terrorist attack on her or her government from home and abroad, they say.