New Delhi: Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen Friday argued that his country was performing well on a number of economic indicators, and as a result, few were leaving in search of jobs or a better life.
“Bangladeshis are not termites,” Momen told ThePrint’s Strategic Affairs Editor Jyoti Malhotra in an exclusive interview. “The perception that a lot of Bangladeshis are moving to India is not true because Bangladesh is doing pretty well… It is the land of opportunity; it is a vibrant economy. When the economy is good, people will not move out of the country. So that perception is wrong.”
Momen was responding to a question about perceptions in India that Bangladeshis are “infiltrators” in wake of the Modi government having passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The foreign minister, however, reiterated that the CAA is India’s internal matter, adding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had communicated this to his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina in the past.
“Our prime minister had raised it and Prime Minister Modi has repeatedly said that this is their internal issue and that it will not at all affect the India-Bangladesh relationship,” he said.
Although the foreign minister did not mention when the verbal exchange occurred, it is likely that Hasina raised it when she was in Delhi in 2019.
Momen spoke to ThePrint on the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in Dhaka to mark 50 years of Bangladesh’s liberation from Pakistan and to commemorate the birth centenary of the country’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. This is Modi’s first foreign visit since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking of Modi, the foreign minister said that Bangladesh has immense trust in the Indian prime minister. “We believe in him (Modi). We trust him. He’s our confidante,” Momen said.
‘Pakistan failed to show remorse’
On his country’s 50th Independence anniversary, Momen said that Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had written to PM Hasina Thursday but did not express any remorse for events leading up to the Bangladeshi liberation.
“Pakistan would be smart if they expressed their sadness, if they gave an apology to the people of Bangladesh,” Momen said.
“Yesterday, Prime Minister of Pakistan (Imran Khan) sent a message for [Bangladesh’s] golden jubilee. I was expecting him to say he felt bad about the past. Unfortunately, that was missing.”
Bangladesh declared independence on 26 March, 1971, a day after the Pakistan Army allegedly killed several unarmed civilians. It triggered a liberation war that allegedly killed nearly three million people.
On 16 December 1971, the Pakistan Army surrendered to Bangladeshi freedom fighters and Indian soldiers, marking the formation of what was then East Pakistan as the new nation of Bangladesh.
In the interview, Momen said that while he hopes Pakistan will punish war criminals responsible for the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman one day, the country must look forward.
Mujibur Rahman, a leading figure of the Bangladesh freedom movement, was assassinated four years after the liberation, in 1975. Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina is his daughter.
India, Bangladesh exemplary neighbours
The foreign minister also mentioned that Bangladesh and India are an example of how neighbouring countries could resolve all difficult issues, such as those concerning land boundaries and river water-sharing, “without shooting a single bullet”.
New Delhi and Dhaka signed a boundary agreement on 6 June 2015, facilitating a land swap between the two countries to address issues stemming from an undemarcated land boundary. In 2015, Modi had committed to setting up a river water sharing mechanism between the two countries, especially to address the contentious Teesta River issue, however this is yet to be resolved.
Momen also mentioned that the two prime ministers will unveil the Haldibari–Chilahati cross-border rail link as well as other projects during Modi’s visit.
‘Islamic fundamentalism is over’
Asked about Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh such as the 2016 Holey Artisan cafe terror attack, Momen said, “This happened a few years ago. This is over. Since then, there has not been this sort of terrorism.”
In 2019, seven Islamists were sentenced to death for the attack on the cafe in Dhaka, which killed 22 people, most of whom were foreigners.
Momen, however, said that there is still “venom and hatred” in the South Asian region. “You should look at our next door neighbour, Myanmar,” he said, citing the example of the displaced Rohingyas who have fled Myanmar to take refuge in Bangladesh in recent years.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
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