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Q&A: Shahara Khatun, Home Minister, Bangladesh

Jyoti Malhotra  |  New Delhi 

Shahara Khatun

Few know it was Shahara Khatun who insisted that the land boundary agreement between India and Bangladesh be signed during the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Bangladesh. Jyoti Malhotra spoke to her in Dhaka last week

What is your assessment of the visit of Prime Minister to Bangladesh?
Everything was very good, but we hoped very much that the agreement on sharing the river waters of the Teesta and Feni rivers would be signed. We are extremely sorry, extremely disappointed that West Bengal Chief Minister did not accompany the Indian Prime Minister to Dhaka. The of Bangladesh were waiting to receive her and to give her our love, respect and affection but, unfortunately, it was not to be.

Did you feel if came, it would have been a historic visit?
We were very disappointed and also surprised that she did not come. I had met her only very recently (on August 27) in the Indian-Bangla border town of Petrapole, when Indian home minister had come to inaugurate the integrated check-post that we are hoping will hugely improve the movement of thousands of Indians and Bangladeshis, as well as cargo across the border. I had met Mamata there and she told me as well as announced in the public rally that she will be going with the Indian Prime Minister to Dhaka.

You must try and understand the gravity and depth of what has happened, apart from the fact that the agreement on the was not signed. Remember that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself called up after the latter’s victory in the West Bengal elections in May and congratulated her. We consider her a daughter of Bengal.

However, I would like to add that we are very hopeful that the river water-sharing agreement will be signed very soon. Bangladesh finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith has already given it a deadline of three months. We would be very happy if Mamata Banerjee came to Dhaka for the event.

The day landed in Dhaka and the talks were being held between the two governments, Bangladesh foreign secretary Mijarul Quayes told me that the land boundary agreement was also in some danger of not being signed. What happened?

Well, it was ultimately signed, so we should not worry about that too much. The land boundary agreement is very significant and I hope both countries appreciate what has happened. Unfortunately, in the disappointment around the Teesta agreement, this has got a bit overshadowed. But if you look at this carefully, for the first time since 1947 when the partition between India and Pakistan took place, the total border, which is more than 4,000 km long, has now been fully demarcated. living on the border had suffered for decades, not only because of adverse possession lands (APL) and enclaves in each other’s territory, but because of several other problems, including the shifting course of rivers that form part of the boundary. But now we have agreed to exchange this contested territory and this has been done in deference to the wishes of the

Foreign secretary Quayes told me that India was not willing to have a time frame for exchanging the enclaves, only for the APLs?
Now the 6.1 km has been finally demarcated, and we have also decided that there will be no time frame for exchanging the adverse possessions and the enclaves, that both governments will carry out the exchange on the same day. Yes, there was some small difference of opinion, relating to the time frame for the exchange.

The Foreign ministry was concerned. But since this is a boundary issue, it is the function of the home ministry. So, as the home minister, I intervened and the Prime Minister took the decision. So, the agreement was signed on that day when the Indian Prime Minister was in Dhaka, and it will be implemented in a short period.

Your government has been extremely brave and courageous in handing over anti-Indian insurgents belonging to United Liberation Front of Asom and other outfits back to India. India is hugely appreciative in this regard. The question is, why did you do this when the previous Khaleda Zia government refused to do so?
Thank you. You know that the Prime Minister spoke about this matter to the Indian government when she went to Delhi in January 2010. We had come to the conclusion that terrorists and insurgents are an international problem and we wanted to work with all countries in eliminating this scourge.

But we also realised that these insurgents or miscreants are creating trouble inside Bangladesh as well, and that because of them, our people are suffering. Our people do not want these terrorists and miscreants on our territory. Now the message has gone (home) that Bangladesh will not tolerate terrorism in any form. We cannot allow the soil of Bangladesh to be used for terrorism purposes. This has had a big impact on the law and order situation inside the country as well.

The Indian government has given you a list of terrorists still hiding in Bangladesh, but do you have a list as well?
Well, when I met Indian home minister Chidambaram, I told him that we believe that two of the killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib-ur Rahman, Captain Majed and Risaldar Moslehuddin may be hiding in India (of the 12 killers, five were killed, two died of natural causes, two-three are said to be hiding in western countries, and the above two, allegedly in India), and he assured us that India would do its best in capturing them.

First Published: Sun, September 11 2011. 00:38 IST