Indo-Bangaldesh ties need stand alone attention, says ex-Bangladesh Foreign Secretary

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New Delhi, Mar. 12 : Former Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Farook Sobhan today appealed to Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to seriously consider appointing a third Minister of State in the External Affiars to look after Indo-Bangla relations alone.

"You have two ministers in the Ministry of External Affairs. You need one more MoS for Bangladesh," Ambassador Sobhan said while delivering a lecture at Observer Research Foundation (ORF) here on "India-Bangladesh relations: Past, Present and Future".

The talk was chaired by former Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Veena Sikri.

Saying that the Foreign Ministers of India and Bangladesh have met at least six times in the last six months, Sobhan, who is now the President of the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, promised "a new, better relationship between the two countries within six months".

"My feedback from talks with Pranabda and the Foreign Secretary is that the talks are moving forward satisfactorily and soon things going to improve," Sobhan said referring to his meetings with Pranab Mukherjee and Shiv Shankar Menon in Delhi yesterday.

He said Dr. Manmohan Singh is also taking keen interest in improving relations with its neighbour.

Sobhan suggested various measures to improve relations between the two countries. He said both the countries, especially India, should revisit their visa policy to improve connectivity with the North East and between peoples who were once part of one country. He said the system of visas should be abolished to help better movement between Bangladesh and the North East. Besides benefiting both the countries, it would also help in the development of North East as well, he said.

He said there was "enormous scope" for improving trade between the two countries and greater Indian investment in Bangladesh.

"It was a sad day for Bangladesh when the planned huge investments by Tatas, in which I was very much interested, did not materialize," Sobhan said.

Blaming the frustrating domestic politics in Bangladesh, especially between the two lady leaders, and the failure of Parliament to play the role of a watchdog resulting in the "dictatorship of Prime Minister" for many of the irritants in the relations between the two countries, Sobhan said the present Indian government's shift to the neighbourhood and increasing focus on regional and sub-regional forums like SAARC would help improve relations with Bangladesh.

He said while Bangladesh is geopolitically and economically far more important to India, it is ironically "obsessed with Pakistan" and in that process, Bangladesh always got marginalised.

Sobhan suggested fast track investment processes, improved cooperation in the field of energy, trade, education, and interaction between business communities and business leaders of the two countries.

Sobhan said the changed international relations and end of cold war and "the cold war of sorts in Asia" would help in improving relations between the two countries. He said he was sure that improving India-US relations would also help in better relations between India and Bangladesh.

Sikri stressed upon the need to build trust and confidence between the two countries to take the relationship further. She said Bangladesh should take India's concern over insurgents operating from its soil seriously and should address the problem.

She also said that while the Indian government would deal with the incumbent government, India is always for a fully democratic government which takes of the people's interests.

Sikri agreed with Amb. Sobhan that implementation and follow-ups of summit meetings of Prime Ministers were always a concern.

Replying to questions on Bangladesh buying Chinese military hardware, Sobhan said: "If you want to buy Indian military hardware, you will have to compete with Chinese prices. They offer cheap and sometimes free weapons, and you get hooked on to it."

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