Across the fence
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The visit of Begum Khaleda Zia, former prime minister and currently the leader of the opposition in Bangladesh, this week marks an important moment in the new engagement between New Delhi and Dhaka. For decades now, the relationship has been strained by the deep political divide in Bangladesh on attitudes towards India. It has been widely held in both capitals that the current prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, is "pro-India" and that Zia, who leads the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is "anti-India". This fracture, real and perceived, has deep roots in the political evolution of Bangladesh and is reinforced by the intense animosity between the Awami League and the BNP. It has profoundly complicated Delhi's ability to build a long-term relationship with Dhaka on the basis of shared interests.
That Zia chose to come to Delhi raises hopes that the recent attempts by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sheikh Hasina to transform the bilateral relationship might yet elicit bipartisan support in Dhaka. Bangladesh is due to go to polls at the end of next year and the BNP's victory is very much in the realm of possibility. In her meetings with the Indian leaders, Zia has suggested that she is not averse to sustaining the current momentum in bilateral relations. She has reassured the Indian leaders that her party will not allow anti-India activities on Bangladeshi soil. After Hasina's visit to India in January 2010, the two governments have worked hard at resolving all outstanding bilateral issues — including water sharing, boundary settlement, trade and connectivity — and deepen bilateral cooperation, especially against terrorism.
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