India on Thursday pressed for a “legal and administrative regime” to discourage “illegal movement of people” across the border with Bangladesh.
After a day full of meetings with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, President Abdul Hamid and Foreign minister A H Mahmood Ali, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said, “We owe it to our people to put in place a legal and administrative regime which encourages adherence to rule of law and discourages illegal actions, be it smuggling, trafficking or illegal movement of people.
“Our objective must be to not only reduce incidents on the border but also enhance peace, stability and goodwill.”
Swaraj was addressing an audience of the Bangladeshi elite, organised by the Dhaka think tank Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies, where the Bangladesh foreign minister was present.
Earlier in the day, Mahmood Ali said that the issue of illegal immigration was not raised by the Indian side. But the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said it was discussed, since it was a “staple” issue.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had referred to the illegal immigration from Bangladesh repeatedly during the Lok Sabha election campaign, and Swaraj was widely expected to take up the issue strongly.
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In a letter to Hasina — which Swaraj handed over to the Bangladeshi Prime Minister — Modi said without referring to any particular issue: “We should meet frequently so as to better understand each other’s priorities, perspectives and concerns, and thereby take our relations to greater heights.”
Bangladesh raised the issue of the Teesta water-sharing pact and land boundary agreement. Swaraj did not offer any categorical assurance, and reiterated that consultations were on to build a national consensus. Her conversation with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on the eve of the Dhaka visit on Wednesday was described as “very, very pleasant and useful”.
In her speech in the evening, Swaraj said, “I am aware that there are issues of concern to Bangladesh which remain unresolved, such as the sharing of the Teesta waters, implementation of the Land Boundary Agreement and its Protocol, and better border management. My government is committed to addressing all these in a manner that improves the welfare and well being of both our peoples.”
India on Thursday announced the easing of the visa regime for minors and the elderly, proposed a special economic zone in Bangladesh, agreed to send back a fugitive murder accused from Kolkata, decided to provide an additional 100 MW power from Tripura, and offered to increased the frequency of Maitreyee Express and start buses between Dhaka and Guwahati and Shillong.
Swaraj conveyed Modi’s “in-principle approval” of the invitation to visit Bangladesh at an early date, and invited Hasina to India.
Bangladesh, in return, indicated its “unequivocal” and “uncompromising” opposition against terrorism. “PM Hasina’s tough stance against terrorism was appreciated by the External affairs minister,” Mahmood Ali said.
In her talks with Mahmood Ali, Swaraj mentioned the shared histories of the two countries in the context of the 1971 war. “We shed blood together…, our destinies are interlinked,” she said. “India is always there for Bangladesh. We will support Bangladesh’s development.”
Swaraj, who invited Mahmood Ali to visit India for the Indo-Bangladesh joint consultative commission in the next few months, will meet with the BNP’s Khaleda Zia and Jatiya Party leader Roshan Ershad on Friday before leaving for New Delhi.