Bangladesh feels frustrated with Pakistan over its export of terror, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said.
Dhaka's reasons for pulling out of the SAARC summit in Islamabad were "different from India's," she told The Hindu, an Indian newspaper.
In a rare interview with the Indian newspaper, Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has been accused of wielding a heavy hand on her opposition, the media, and terror suspects, speaks for the first time about Bangladesh's troubled ties with Pakistan, and pulling out from the SAARC summit.
"It was over the situation in Pakistan that we decided to pull out. Terror [from Pakistan] has gone everywhere, which is why many of us felt frustrated by Pakistan. India pulled out because of the [Uri attack], but for Bangladesh the reason is totally different," Hasina said.
The exclusive, wide-ranging interview took place at her official 'Ganabhaban' residence in Dhaka ahead of her visit to India to attend the BRICS- BIMSTEC outreach, involving nations surrounding the Bay of Bengal in Goa, on October 15 and 16.
Hasina said one of the other main reasons for her government's SAARC pullout was the hurt felt over Pakistan's strident criticism of the war crimes tribunal process in Bangladesh in which a dozen Jamaat-e-Islami leaders, accused of brutalities during the liberation war in 1971, have been hanged or indicted.
"There is a lot of pressure on me to cut off all diplomatic ties with Pakistan for their behaviour. But I have said the relations will remain, and we will have to resolve our problems. The fact is, we won our liberation war from Pakistan, and they were a defeated force," Hasina said, adding that she appreciated India's support during the war and later.
When asked about India's decision to launch cross-LoC strikes after the Uri terrorist attack, in which 19 soldiers were killed, however, Hasina said, "Both the countries should maintain the sanctity of the LoC and that can bring peace."
She also spoke at length about the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping - terming closer ties with China a way of increasing regional prosperity - while defending her government against allegations of persecution of the opposition and a clampdown on the media, and human rights violations by security forces in the crackdown on terror.
Speaking for the first time about the terrorist attack at Dhaka's Holey Artisan café, where gunmen professing allegiance to Islamic State killed 20 people, hacking and torturing many of the victims, Hasina said her government had a "zero tolerance to terror policy." She also outlined a counter-terror programme involving civil society, media and mosques to spread awareness and report information on terror groups, which, she said, was bearing results.
When asked about human rights reports on custodial deaths, disappearances and "knee-capping" of terror suspects, she said, like in the US and other western countries facing attacks, Bangladeshi security forces were well within their rights to crack down on terror groups. "It is very unfortunate that Human Rights agencies are more vocal for the rights of the criminals than they are for the rights of the victims,'' Hasina said, rejecting the charges.
When asked if India's concerns about China's close ties with its neighbours like Bangladesh, which is already a key part of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) project, Hasina said that Indian manufacturers are "best poised to benefit" from better Bangladesh-China ties that would lead to more economic prosperity.
She also spoke at length about Bangladesh's elections in 2014, which was boycotted by the opposition parties, and blamed the BNP leader Khaleda Zia for the ongoing political impasse. "She has ordered her party workers to protest, to carry out acts of violence. As a human being, what else can I do? It's her fault, her decision to stay out of elections and I hope she doesn't make the same mistake next time. But I wont allow democracy to be jeopardized by her misdeeds," Hasina said of her rival of decades, whose husband, General Zia Ur Rahman seized power after the brutal assassination of Hasina's father and Bangladesh founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975.
When asked if her political rivalries were clouding her war on terror as well as setting off a clampdown of the media, with senior editors being arrested or facing charges, Ms. Hasina insisted all the cases against the BNP and Jamaat, as well as journalists were valid and "they must face the law. "Let me ask, if there is no freedom of the press in Bangladesh, how come they have the freedom to write that there is no freedom?" she added.