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Bangladesh Prime Minister in India to Improve Ties


Bangladesh's prime minister is on a three-day visit to India in a bid to improve ties between the two countries. Trade and security concerns have strained the traditionally friendly relations between the two countries in recent years.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's visit to the Indian capital follows several sharp exchanges between the neighboring countries in recent years.

India is concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in Bangladesh. It also accuses Dhaka of providing haven to rebel groups waging insurgencies in India - a charge Dhaka denies. And it has been asking Bangladesh to stem the flow of illegal migrants into India.

Dhaka on its part is worried about a massive trade deficit with India.

Both sides are using Ms. Zia's visit to address those concerns, and give a boost to the relationship.

The prime minister wants to assure India that Bangladesh is committed to cracking down on Islamic extremism.

Dhaka had long denied that Islamic militants were putting in roots in Bangladesh. But Ms. Zia's government acknowledged the threat posed by the extremists following a series of bomb explosions and suicide attacks in Bangladesh last year, and has arrested several militant leaders.

An expert on South Asian affairs in New Delhi, S.D. Muni, says Dhaka does appear to be paying more heed to calls by India and other countries to clamp down on Islamic terrorists.

"In the last few years with the rise of terrorism of which Bangladesh itself is becoming a victim, something is dawning on Dhaka that it is time to take some of these issues seriously and seek as much of international and bilateral cooperation to address them," Muni said.

India on its part is assuring Dhaka that it will try to improve market access for goods from Bangladesh, which has a trade deficit with India of $2 billion. The countries also are signing several economic agreements to improve trade between them.

Analysts such as Muni hope the visit will help restore the warmth that characterized relations for years after India helped create Bangladesh in 1971 by backing a freedom struggle in what was then East Pakistan.

"I think if this visit can result into some confidence building, some elimination of mistrust and suspicion it would be good, and that is in the mutual interest of both countries," Muni said.

Ms. Zia's visit, which ends Wednesday, is her first to New Delhi since she assumed power in 2001.

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