Saturday, March 2, 2013

Pranab will not engage in political negotiations

NEW DELHI, March 2, 2013

India's commitment to settle unresolved issues with its eastern neighbour will be underlined as President Pranab Mukherjee makes Bangladesh his first foreign destination after assuming office last year.

Even though Mr. Mukherjee's three-day visit to Bangladesh, packed with a host of ceremonial occasions — Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai emphasised on Friday — "is not designed to engage in political negotiations… the President will convey to the top Bangladesh leadership the Indian government's commitment to take bilateral relations to a higher level and resolve unresolved issues." The visit is "reflective of the highest importance attached by India to its relations with Bangladesh," he added in his briefing.

During his stay, starting March 3, Mr. Mukherjee will call on Bangladesh President Mohammad Zillur Rahman. He will also meet Bangladesh Prime Sheikh Hasina, Leader of the Opposition and Chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party Begum Khaleda Zia, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni and Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith.

To a question whether it would be prudent for the President to visit Bangladesh at a time when the country is seeing widespread violence in the wake of the death sentence awarded to a top Jamaat-e-Islami leader there, Mr. Mathai said: "We have done a great deal of preparation for the visit. We feel it would be appropriate to carry on with the visit." The situation in Dhaka, he said, is "calm and we are looking forward to a productive visit."

Asked to comment on India's position on the momentous events in Bangladesh, the Foreign Secretary said he had nothing to add to what Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid had articulated a few days ago.

"We are looking at the situation [in Bangladesh] as arising out of a legal process as also in the backdrop of an upsurge in Bangladesh," he said.

Jamaat violence

In recent weeks, Bangladesh has been rocked by violence unleashed by activists of the Jamaat and its militant student wing, Islamic Chhatra Shivir, and huge demonstrations in Dhaka, largely by students, who have been demanding the death penalty for Jamaat leaders who had collaborated with occupation Pakistani troops during the liberation war in 1971.

Mr. Mukherjee, will be accompanied by wife Suvra Mukherjee, Minister of State for Railways Adhir Ranjan Choudhury, four MPs and senior officials. The MPs are the Communist Party of India (Marxist)'s Sitaram Yechury, the Bharatiya Janata Party's Chandan Mitra, the Congress' Bhuvaneshwar Kalita and the Trinamool Congress' Mukul Roy.
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