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Sheikh Hasina defends agreements with India

Haroon Habib

DHAKA: In response to a threat of a agitation by a combined Opposition, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has strongly defended the outcome of her recent visit to New Delhi and said the country would get the maximum benefit out of it.

Addressing newspersons on Saturday, accompanied by Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, senior party leaders and her grand alliance’s leaders, she narrated what she termed ‘advances’ made in the Bangladesh-India relations in trade, connectivity, power and water-sharing.

The Opposition, led by the Khaleda Zia-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami launched a scathing criticism of what they described as the ‘surrender of national interests to India’ by the Prime Minister in signing five deals on various vital issues. The former Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, Khaleda Zia, is scheduled to announce a ‘united movement’ against the government on Sunday.

Explaining the outcome, Ms. Hasina said that a Joint River Commission would meet “immediately” to address water sharing of trans-boundary rivers. Maritime boundaries also would be determined without delay.

“We will take initiatives develop the Chittagong and Mongla ports so that India, Nepal and Bhutan can start using them this year,” the Prime Minister said while the Opposition claimed that by allowing these two sea ports to India, the government had made Bangladesh unsecure and sacrificed national sovereignty.

Replying to questions on whether the ‘sovereignty’ of the country would be jeopardised if the two sea ports were used by India, Ms. Hasina said that Bangladesh could not remain isolated in this modern age.

Bangladesh was using only 40 per cent potential of these ports, she said and added, “If we can make 100 per cent use of them, we will be significantly benefited.”

She also highlighted a crucial power agreement with India in which India would provide Bangladesh 250 MW of electricity to meet the country’s chronic shortfall. She said talks were held on constructing a joint power plant.

Replying to a question on highly debated Tipaimukh issue, Ms. Hasina, also the Awami League chief, told the media that India assured her that it would not do anything that would harm Bangladesh.

She also urged the Opposition to participate in Parliament sessions instead of making comments on her India visit outside of the House.

In another issue that routinely discussed, the Prime Minister told the media that the government asked India to take initiatives to stop killing BDR personnel and innocent Bangladeshi people on the borders.

The news conference virtually turned out to be a grand affair attended by senior government and its alliance leaders, understandably to show support for the “success” of Ms. Hasina’s India tour which the Opposition alliance had repeatedly called a “failure.”

The ruling alliance leaders, including the former president and Jatiya Party chief, H.M. Ershad, Workers Party president Rashed Khan Menon and JSD president Hasnaul Haq Inu also attended the news conference to lend vital support to the government.

Ms. Hasina went on defending each and every deal with India, saying that her trip was successful in the areas of trade, connectivity and power.

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