Scrap $1 bn loan, all deals with India, says Khaleda Zia


Dhaka: Bangladesh’s opposition leader Khaleda Zia Monday demanded that the government scrap all deals signed with India in January and a $1 billion Indian loan initialled last Saturday to keep the country “free of foreign influences”.

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The deals with India, signed by the government of her political rival, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, topped the list of otherwise domestic demands she spelt prior to a rally in the capital.

The other demands include reducing price of commodities, withdrawal of false cases against her party leaders, release of arrested leaders, and stopping what she calls “secret killings”.

Khaleda Zia came up with the demands just two days after the government penned the line of credit agreement with the Exim Bank of India to finance 14 projects in Bangladesh, Star Online, web site of The Daily Star reported.

She had Sunday termed the loan, the largest ever received by Bangladesh and the largest given to a single country by India, as “suicidal” for her country.

“There was no need to borrow the amount from India now. People will have to shoulder the burden,” Zia was quoted as saying by New Age newspaper Monday.

Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party has alleged that the interest on the loan Bangladesh would have to pay would be “seven times higher than the international rates”.

The government has rejected the criticism, pointing that the interest rate is 1.75 percent for a 20 year loan that carries a five year grace period for repayment.

Rejecting the charge and ridiculing Zia, who was the country’s prime minister for two terms (1991-96 and 2001-06), Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said: “When they (BNP) are in power, they follow a policy of pleasing India, and when they are in opposition, they are vocal against India.”

“The opposition is not finding any issue for politicking now, so they are launching pointless campaigns,” Moni said.

Political observers also noted that Zia made no reference to deals Hasina has signed during her visits to Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the last one year.

In an editorial Monday, The Daily Star said “the interest rate in the commercial category is considered to be rather moderate.”

Responding to the BNP’s demand that multilateral financing agencies could be approached, the editorial said that soft-term loans with only a service charge are usually difficult to obtain, particularly in the present global financial clime, and for the types of projects specified in the loan agreement signed with India, according to experts.

“It is not the amount of loan that is so important as the definitive stimulus being provided to a massive undertaking that both sides are obliged to fulfill so that the dividend that Bangladesh is looking for in terms of infrastructure development, removal of trade gaps, service charge revenues and wider regional connectivity are attained by it,” the newspaper said.

The loan had put “Indo-Bangladesh relations on a new, but potentially stronger footing,” it said.