Updated: March 26, 2021 7:50:13 am
AS DHAKA waits for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit starting Friday, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s foreign affairs advisor Gowher Rizvi sought to allay New Delhi’s concerns on Beijing and said that his country does not believe in developing a relationship with China at the expense of ties with its “most important neighbour” India.
“Our relationship with China is not a zero-sum game. That if we develop a relationship with China, it must be at the expense of India. Absolutely not…our relationship with China is very much confined to investments and development projects…However, even then we have been very mindful. We do not want to create a situation where we have borrowed more than we can repay…We have learnt from Sri Lanka, we have learnt from Djibouti,” Rizvi told The Indian Express.
In this context, he said: “We know how to guard our sovereignty. We became an Independent State through a war of liberation.”
Over the next two days in Bangladesh, Modi will hold talks with Hasina and participate in the 50th anniversary celebrations of the nation, and Sheikh Mujib ur Rahman’s 100th birth anniversary. He will also visit Sheikh Mujib’s grave outside Dhaka, along with a temple and a shrine for the Matua community.
On the eve of the visit, Rizvi spoke about a range of issues that have brought India and Bangladesh closer – and some that have caused concern.
On the proposed National Register for Citizens (NRC), which had triggered worry in Bangladesh, Rizvi said it is an “internal exercise” in India. “Why should we interfere or raise this in our bilateral relationship? And if even a small percentage of the number that are being claimed, turned out to be Bangladeshis, genuinely Bangladeshis, obviously their home is Bangladesh. We will take them back. However, we will only take them back once we are satisfied as is the normal procedure,” he said.
However, Rizvi also expressed the hope that India will not take any step “forcibly”. “I cannot imagine India will forcibly do what Myanmar is doing — make people stateless. That is not India’s way of doing things,” he said.
On the issue of religious extremism and terrorism in the backdrop of the attack at a bakery in Dhaka over four years ago, Rizvi acknowledged that some Bangladeshis may have been inspired by the Islamic State. “But we never allowed them to infiltrate our society. We were very vigilant,” he said.
While acknowledging bilateral cooperation on terrorism, Rizvi also compared the Dhaka incident to the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. “The way Mumbai shook India, Holey Artisan (bakery) shook us. That form of barbarity, brutality, gory murder of men, women. This had never happened in Bangladesh,” he said.
Setting the tone
On the Rohingya refugees, Rizvi recalled that in 1971, India had opened its borders to Bangladeshis. “India did not know that we would leave India, that refugees will return within nine months. Our experience has coloured our Prime Minister’s outlook. So when Rohingyas came, all the advice to her was — keep the borders locked. She allowed them to come, she said — we will share our food, let them be safe,” he said.
The senior advisor, however, emphasised that “the long-term solution is not in Bangladesh” but “in Myanmar”.
“Myanmar must take its own people back. And we know that Myanmar is not often amenable to reasoning. They make promises, they sign agreements every time. And so far, in three years almost, not a single Rohingya has gone back. We appreciate India’s role. Just as we appreciate China’s role. Both these countries are bringing persuasion on Myanmar to accept their obligations. India has helped us, supported us with material aid for the Rohingya,” he said.
Calling the Teesta river water-sharing issue “an enormous irritant” in bilateral ties, Rizvi said: “Many have made Teesta as a symbol for the failure or unequal relationship between the two countries. Bangladesh knows that we have an agreement, a draft agreement, a formula and we are hoping that India will resolve its domestic problems vis-a-vis West Bengal and sign it. Sooner it is signed, you know, this one remnant will go away.”
On the issue of killings at the border killings, Rizvi said “good fences make good neighbours.”
“Bangladesh has a very special relationship with India. We will be happy if India will complete the border fencing, because we believe good fences make good neighbours. It reduces cross border, all sorts of illegal activities. But at the same time, you have to make a determined effort — one life is too many,” he said.
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