Interview with Begum Khaleda Zia, Member of Parliament and Leader of Opposition, Bangladesh Parliament | Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses 1. How do you look at the future of Bangladeshâ€™s relations with India? Begum Zia: Bangladesh-India relations are important and historic. With the right mind set and political will, it is very possible to strengthen these relations for the benefit of our people. 2. What, in your opinion, are the current challenges to the further development of India-Bangladesh relations? Begum Zia: The main challenge to further development of our relations is the lack of confidence and trust among our people in our relationship. 3. What according to you the two countries need to do to strengthen their relations? Begum Zia: I believe that early resolution of our outstanding problems on the basis of mutual benefit and pursued with mutual respect should be the main goal. The issues that are most important and deserve highest priority are sharing of the waters of our common rivers, killing of unarmed civilians in the border areas and a satisfactory resolution of our land boundary demarcation and understanding each otherâ€™s security concerns. 4. What are the steps you think the two countries need to adopt to manage their border? Begum Zia: Bangladesh and India share more than 4000 kilometres of land boundary. There is a lot of distortion in the way this boundary was drawn by our colonial rulers. We must resolve this. There is a lot of movement of people through these borders. This is a historical fact. There are prevailing international laws, conventions and practices that guide management of international boundaries and the movement of people through them. The same laws, conventions and practices should be followed here, especially bearing in mind the very nature of our relations. 5. Can the two countries cooperate on the issue of terrorism? Begum Zia: I believe the scope for cooperation between our two countries are enormous and include a whole range of issues of common interest, including on combating the threat of all kinds of terrorism. As we all know, the threat of terrorism has become a major issue in our region. We need to work together to contain and eliminate it. The SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism, 1987 and the Additional Protocol to this Convention, 2004 provides an excellent legal and political comprehensive framework for such cooperation. We need to focus on this. 6. What are the measures you think to address the trust deficit between the two countries? Begum Zia: I have already stated that the trust deficit between us can be narrowed and eliminated if we moved ahead on resolving our outstanding bilateral issues based on mutual benefit through sustained discussions and enhanced people to people contact. 7. How do you look at Bangladeshâ€™s role in regional cooperation? Begum Zia: Bangladesh first championed the cause for institutionalized regional economic cooperation in South Asia when Shaheed President Ziaur Rahman formally initiated the concept back in 1979. This eventually led to the emergence of SAARC in 1985. I agree that SAARCâ€™s progress has not yet fully met peopleâ€™s expectations as the countries of South Asia continue to suffer from endemic poverty in varying degrees. Plus other social challenges remain to be met. But we have made significant progress in some areas. For SAARC to progress faster, we must demonstrate greater political will. In spite of its perceived short comings, SAARC is now universally recognized as a viable tool for effective regional economic cooperation in South Asia. 8. Both the countries have a â€˜Look Eastâ€™ policyâ€™. Can Bangladesh and India work together to take their respective look east policies forward in terms of developing connectivity with South East Asia? Begum Zia: We have always strongly advocated connectivity as a way for closer integration, not only in South Asia but going beyond to South East Asia and China, Japan and Korea. This also fits in with the â€˜Look Eastâ€™ policy that we pursue. This will facilitate increased trade and movement of people and ideas amongst all of us. 9. Can the two countries think of defence cooperation which will allow them to meet common challenges of piracy, terrorism etc? Begum Zia: All forms of cooperation are possible between our two countries, including defence, to fight the threat of piracy and terrorism. 10. How do you look at the future of Bangladesh and its role in the region? Begum Zia: Bangladesh is in a strong position to play a positive role in fostering and promoting understanding in the region. We are privileged to have very good and close friendly relations with all the countries of South Asia and we, as a nation, are committed to maintain and strengthen these ties for the benefit of all our peoples. 11. What is your message to the people of India? Begum Zia: My message for the people of India is one of friendship and understanding. Being immediate neighbours, we are destined to live with each other and we must do so in peace and harmony. We cannot mean any ill to each other; neither can we afford any malice between us. We must learn from our rich cultural heritage, enhance people to people contact, work to resolve our differences and generate greater trust amongst our people. Sustained and open dialogue and discussions for our mutual interest and benefit should form part of the very core of our relationship. At the same time, respect for each otherâ€™s independence as sovereign entities must be all pervasive.