Dhaka ready to give India transit facilities (Lead)

February 4th, 2009 - 9:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Feb 4 (IANS) Five days ahead of Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s visit here, Bangladesh Wednesday said it was ready to provide transit facilities to India, a move that would help New Delhi trim its mounting trade deficit. Dhaka has had reservations about a transit pact, a long-pending demand of India, for economic and security reasons. But the new government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that took office last month is now pushing the deal.

As a possible quid pro quo, Dhaka may seek transit to Bhutan and Nepal, media reports said.

Bangladesh’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hasan Mahmud said: “Transit between India and Bangladesh should be considered from the perspective of mutual benefit.”

According to him, the transit could be “a tool for Bangladesh to reduce its trade deficit with India”, Star Online paper said.

However, the government faces political challenges for moving ahead with the deal, as opposition leader Khaleda Zia has already threatened to “take to the streets” if the government entered into any “anti-national deal”.

“Some quarters want to link politics with transit. Transit is no longer a political issue. It’s rather an economic issue,” Mahmud was quoted as saying by the United News of Bangladesh (UNB) news agency.

Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty also told the media last week that transit was “an economic one”.

Commerce Minister Faruk Khan Tuesday said: “I see no reason why we should not give transit (to India).”

He blamed the “mentality of the politicians for hindering international cooperation in trade and economic development”, New Age newspaper said Wednesday.

Disclosing Dhaka’s latest position on the two proposed deals with Washington for trade and New Delhi for transit, Khan told a business gathering that the government would not sign any agreements contrary to the national interest.

On whether Dhaka would link the issue of giving transit facilities to India with transit to Nepal and Bhutan through the Indian territory for the use of Bangladeshi ports, Khan said: “All issues can be resolved if political will is there.”

Ostensibly to soften opposition criticism, Dhaka is preparing to sign a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) simultaneously with the US.

There have been reservations on both scores and the issue may get a political nod from the Hasina government after an assurance that any pact with foreign countries would essentially serve Bangladesh’s national interests.

As its northeastern region was bottled up after the partition in 1947, India has for long sought access through Bangladesh.

An agreement was signed in 1974 after Bangladesh’s independence provided it.

Khan pointed out that transit had been covered by an earlier bilateral agreement although it was yet to be made operational.

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