x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

India to host former Bangladesh PM Zia to boost relations

Ahead of the elections in Bangladesh next year, India is hosting its former prime minister for a week - part of New Delhi's outreach attempt to engage the influential politician known for her anti-India posturing.

NEW DELHI // Ahead of the elections in Bangladesh next year, India is hosting its former prime minister for a week - part of New Delhi's outreach attempt to engage the influential politician known for her anti-India posturing.

Begum Khaleda Zia, the leader of opposition and chairwoman of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and expected national candidate, will be visiting India until Saturday. She met the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and other high-ranking officials, a series of high-level meetings underlines New Delhi's political will to maintain "the positive momentum in India-Bangladesh relations", the external affairs ministry said.

Ms Zia last official visit to India came in 2006 when she was prime minister. That came at a low point in India-Bangladesh relations over New Delhi's treatment of Bangladeshi migrants. New Delhi's policy of shoot-on-sight orders for its border guards against illegal migrants from Bangladesh. At the time, more than 1,000 Bangladeshis were thought to have been killed since India instituted the policy in 2001. India blames illegal migrants from Bangladesh for a rise in ethnic violence in its border states, including riots in Assam this year that killed 77 and displaced around 400,000 people.

Analysts see Ms Zia's visit as part of her attempt to mend relationships with countries ahead of the election. She has embarked on several diplomatic visits, including a recent return from China, as part of her exercise to strengthen ties.

Ms Zia will seek to convince the Indian leadership that she has shed her party's anti-India image and will promise to clampdown Indian insurgency groups who take shelter in Bangladesh, analysts say.

In the event that the BNP returns to power following elections in Bangladesh, this visit will "be the endeavour of the Indian authorities to gauge the likely posture of Begum Khaleda Zia," said Gautam Sen, a political analyst with the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses.

"A second channel of dialogue at the political party level between the major parties of India and those of Bangladesh including the BNP would have been a reinforcing factor for improving relations between the two countries in the event adequate headway cannot be made at the governmental level."

Indian authorities are likely to discuss a broad range of issues including trade and transit, the control of militants across the porous borders.

"India will have to use all its tact to achieve this," said Mr Sen.

The visit also comes as the countries are involved in a tug-of-war over a water-sharing agreement. The Teesta river water-sharing agreement was stalled by West Bengal's chief minister Mamata Banerjee last year. She said she had reservations about the amount of water being directed to Bangladesh, which was more than what India was getting. There were efforts to sign the agreement during the Indian prime minister's visit to Dhaka last year.

Ms Zia is also likely discuss the Land Boundary Agreement, which would settle border disputes with Bangladesh in the Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram. The agreement has been stalled in the Indian parliament since 2011.

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae