Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Zia's visit ill timed?

It is after a gap of eight-long years that Khaleda Zia has arrived in India and it is her first visit after taking over as Prime Minister of Bangladesh. While a section describes the visit as purposeful and the "right time to correct old asymmetries" between the neighbours, the underlying question that props up is -- why has Zia planned visit now? Ordinarily, visits of such high profile nature are undertaken when a new government takes charge.


"It is because the hosting government (India in this case) knows that the leader will be in power for some years and can easily implement decisions," Bangladesh paper The Daily Star says. "The visiting leader is also aware that he or she has been endowed afresh with a mandate from people and is confident in dealing with challenging issues," the paper adds. The case with Zia is that her government is in the final year. General elections are due in Bangladesh in early 2007. "The four-party alliance government has in fact chosen a wrong time for such and important visit. In its last year in office, this visit can be considered a 'make-or-break' type of political push," the Bangladesh Observer says.


On her three-day visit, Zia will thrash out a whole range of contentious issues with India relating to security, trade, transit, water and defence exchanges, which have added to years of apprehensions and mistrust between the two neighbours. Even though leading Bangladesh dailies laud Zia’s much-awaited entourage, they agree that an unprecedented positive change in relations is tough. "We will not be surprised if the PM returns empty-handed. In its last year in office, no government can bargain from a position of strength," the Observer says. However, seen from the election point of view, the visit may help Zia storm back to power.

"The premier’s entourage…will try to leave the past behind, and at least for the sake of politics, show some diplomatic coup with India. This will help in its bid to return to power," the Observer says. "It loves to throw spotlight on its domestic success in the fight against Islamic militants, some breakthrough in negotiation with India on any of the important issues will provide it with yet another armour," the paper explains.

(Written for HT on March 21, 2006)

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