‘Sushma has told us Mamata positive on Teesta water deal’

Bangladesh Foreign Minister A H Mahmood Ali speaks to Shubhajit Roy in Dhaka about External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj's three-day visit that concluded Friday.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | Published: June 28, 2014 12:54:31 am
Interview: Bangladesh Foreign Minister A H Mahmood Ali Interview: Bangladesh Foreign Minister A H Mahmood Ali

How do you describe Sushma Swaraj’s visit?  
We deeply appreciate the visit of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Dhaka, which was her first standalone bilateral visit abroad and also the first visit by any leader of the new BJP government to Bangladesh. This visit, as we see it, was the vindication and extension of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s keenness to further enhance relations with India’s immediate neighbours. We take it as the demonstration of importance that the new government in India attaches to fostering good and cooperative relations with Bangladesh. We are absolutely delighted.

How do you rate it on a scale of 1 to 10?
We diplomats cannot give ratings; academics can.

The Bangladesh government is dealing with a new BJP leadership after dealing with a Congress government for a decade. How are the two different?
The new government in India has just assumed office. Even at this stage, there are indications that their policy towards Bangladesh would be unchanged. The expression of commitment by PM Modi to maintain and build upon the momentum that has characterised India-Bangladesh relations in recent years exhibits an approach of such foreign policy continuity. The expression of goodwill from their side is very much there. The commitment from both sides is to take it to new heights.

The BJP during election campaign raised illegal migration from Bangladesh. Do you see a hardening of stance by the new Indian government? How do you reassure them on this?
During our talks, there was no mention about this by the Indian side. So, it is absolutely irrelevant.

But, during her speech at a think tank, she talked about a legal and administrative regime to discourage illegal movement of people?
Yes, of course, she talked about it there. We are also against illegal movement of people. But look at the visa liberalisation that has been announced.that indicates they are going to welcome people from Bangladesh.

The land boundary agreement has not been ratified by India, and the BJP is also under pressure from its Assam leaders from not ratifying it. What assurance did you get on this?
Indian Parliament is dealing with it and the Indian External Affairs Minister has expressed her resolve to get it through. She said new members will be appointed for the parliamentary committee. We hope it will get cleared very soon. And the BJP has a overwhelming majority, so it will not be a problem.

The Teesta issue has been blocked by West Bengal government. Do you think the Indian government, which is not dependent on West Bengal parties, is capable of signing the treaty?
The Indian government has started work on building internal consensus and hopes to get it through soon. She indicated to us that (West Bengal Chief Minister) Mamata Banerjee is positive. She told Sushma to convey her best wishes to PM Sheikh Hasina. There are positive signs from Mamata also.

But internal consensus building was talked about by UPA government also.
But they couldn’t do it.

Has Swaraj told you Mamata is positive on Teesta?

India has always been wary of anti-Indian elements in Bangladesh. What are you doing to overcome it?
Let me reiterate the unequivocal and uncompromising stand of PM Sheikh Hasina against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. We ourselves have been targets and victims of terrorism. We will not tolerate terrorism or any anti-state activity and will not allow our soil to be used against the interest of any country, particularly India. We have amply demonstrated this in the last five years.

Your top five priority areas of future cooperation between two countries.
Water resources sector through basin-wide management, power sector, security, trade & commerce, and people-to-people contacts.

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