Recognizing the inertia within Bangladesh's bureaucracy, the Prime Minister (Hasina) entrusted her own office with preparations for the visit, and her advisors tell us they expect the results to ""transform"" Indo-Bangladesh relations.
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E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/10/10 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PINR, ETRD, PTER, KDEM, BG, IN SUBJECT: BANGLADESH'S PRIME MINISTER PREPARES FOR ""TRANSFORMATIONAL"" VISIT TO INDIA
Classified By: Ambassador James F. Moriarty. Reasons 1.4 (B) and (D)
1. (C) Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed will arrive in New Delhi January 10 to begin her most important foreign visit since assuming office in early 2009. Recognizing the inertia within Bangladesh's bureaucracy, the Prime Minister entrusted her own office with preparations for the visit, and her advisors tell us they expect the results to ""transform"" Indo-Bangladesh relations. Hasina and her team believe that New Delhi would like to use improved Indo-Bangladesh relations to send a message to other neighbors regarding India's willingness to take a new approach to regional issues. The Prime Minister does not, however, seem to have sufficiently focused on the need to sell any agreement to a skeptical audience at home. Improved India-Bangladesh ties would serve U.S. interests by bringing greater stability and prosperity to a region that can use more of both.
PM's Office Finalizes Preparations for Hasina's India Visit
2. (C) Dr. Gowher Rizvi, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Foreign Affairs Advisor, met with the Ambassador early January 10 and reported that preparations had been completed for the PM's visit to New Delhi later in the day. Rizvi returned from Delhi January 8, concluding his fourth round of discussions with Indian interlocutors to prepare the ground for the PM's visit. While Rizvi confessed that the Indians had initially been skeptical of what the visit could achieve, he told the Ambassador the stage had been set for agreements to ""transform"" Indo-Bangladesh relations. Rizvi told the Ambassador that negotiations had been kept very close hold within the GOB, with the Foreign Minister only being brought into the loop within the past week. PMO Advisors H.T. Imam and Mashiur Rahman had been drafted in the final stage to help push through implementing agreements that had stalled within the bureaucracy. Rizvi was dismissive of the Foreign Ministry bureaucracy, which he said lacked creativity and vision.
Focus on Implementing Old Agreements
3. (C) While the Bangladeshi press has focused on new, relatively minor, agreements (extradition, prisoner transfer, electricity sharing, etc.) that would likely be signed during the visit, Rizvi told the Ambassador that he and his Indian interlocutors had instead focused primarily on the need to implement long dormant agreements on transit and interconnectivity. According to Rizvi, there would be agreement on enhancing interconnectivity between India and Bangladesh focused on both expanding rail networks as well as water transport. The two sides would agree to allow access to Chittagong, Mongla, and Ashuganj ports in Bangladesh to India. (Note: Rizvi said of the three, Mongla had proved to be the most controversial given sensitivities in West Bengal to diversion of trade from Kolkata's port.) Rizvi said that border markets would also be authorized, which would cut down on smuggling.
And Bilateral and Regional Trade
4. (C) Rizvi saw enormous opportunities for enhanced trade, particularly with India's northeastern states. He said the agreement would also allow for transit of goods from Nepal and Bhutan through India and into Bangladesh. Rizvi said he had talked with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Aluwalia about the possibility of a future free trade agreement. According to Rizvi, the Indian leadership was committed to opening trade with Bangladesh, in part to provide competition for domestic industries. While the Indian States' interests would have to be taken into account, Rizvi said he was confident that the Indians were serious about removing trade barriers.
Maritime Boundary and Teesta Water Sharing Remain Problematic
5. (C) Rizvi said the one bilateral issue that had proved most complicated during the discussions was demarcation of the Indo-Bangladesh maritime boundary. Rizvi told the
DHAKA 00000027 002 OF 002 Ambassador the Indians had been disappointed when Bangladesh unilaterally referred the maritime boundary dispute to international arbitration. He was slightly more optimistic on water sharing from the Teesta River. According to Rizvi, both sides had agreed that the first step would have to be a meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission and an agreement to conduct joint hydrological surveys of the river to establish the current water flow. Rizvi was optimistic that some water sharing would begin even before a final agreement was negotiated.
PM Neglects Need for Communications Strategy
6. (C) Rizvi told the Ambassador he thought the PM was making a mistake by delaying her return to Dhaka until January 13, following a one-day pilgrimage to Ajmer. Rizvi confided that he had ""sabotaged"" the PM's plan to prolong her stay in India further by adding an additional stop in Kolkata. Rizvi had argued in favor of an immediate return to Dhaka following the conclusion of bilateral talks on the 12th. At Rizvi's insistence, the PM will address Parliament upon her return to outline the results of the visit. Rizvi shared his fear, however, that this 24-hour delay would allow the media and the opposition to put their spin on the visit before the PM had a chance to address the nation. According to Rizvi, the PM believed that the agreements would sell themselves. We discussed with Rizvi the possible benefits if the Government were to offer to take the Opposition into confidence and provide a separate briefing on the results of the visit. We also discussed the value of continued Indian engagement with the Opposition.
7. (C) One of the Awami League's priorities since taking office has been to improve relations with India. The February 2009 Bangladesh Rifles Mutiny dealt a temporary setback to these efforts. In recent months, however, preparations for the PM's visit to India have been her office's primary focus. The decision to hand over several high profile Indian insurgents in late-2009 helped to create a favorable atmosphere for the visit. As a result of the groundwork that has been laid, it appears that the results of the visit could well exceed the Bangladeshi public's expectations and provide a boost to the Government. In a recent poll, 80 percent of Bangladesh's population expressed support for improved Indo-Bangladesh ties. At the same time, the political opposition can be expected to criticize the Government for failing to protect Bangladesh's interests. (Poor strategic communications weakened the 2007 - 2008 Caretaker Government's hands as it tried to implement reforms. It appears that Sheikh Hasina's government has not learned this lesson from its predecessor.) That said, a positive transformation of the Indo-Bangladesh relationship could help bring greater stability and prosperity to a region that could use more of both.