Colin Powell lobbies Bangladesh to export gas

Vol 7, PW 8 (02 Jul 03) People & Policy

LATE LAST month Bangladesh was at the receiving end of one of the strongest-ever doses of US pressure to export gas to India.

In our last issue we reported that US secretary of state Colin Powell would raise the gas exports issue with Bangladesh during his forthcoming visit to Dhaka. Sure enough, we understand Powell made a strong case for gas exports when he met the Bangladesh Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia on 20th June at her Banga Bhawan office on his way to Southeast Asia from the Middle East.

Powell and Zia started off with a 30-minute closed-door meeting during which only close aides were present. A source present tells PETROWATCH: "Powell complimented Bangladesh for its major success in garment exports and said that the country needed to explore fresh opportunities of growth by exporting surplus gas to India.

He said this (export of gas) was a very viable option that we should look into." Powell was not finished. "He also said Bangladesh should keep such issues above politics and that 'economics alone should help you decide this issue and it would be good if you took a quick decision'" How did Prime Minister Zia respond "She did not utter a word when Powell raised the gas exports issue," reveals our source.

"But you could see that she was unnerved by the emphasis which Powell put on the issue." Colin Powell did not stop with Prime Minister Zia. He again raised the gas exports issue during a 45-minute meeting with foreign minister Morshed Khan.

Apparently Powell lectured Khan on the link between poverty and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh. "Yours is a poor country and poverty is one of the reasons for the rise of fundamentalist forces," Powell is learnt to have told Khan.

"You need to sort out the gas exports issue soon." Khan replied: "We are aware of this. We are also aware gas exports is a way of getting more money for the country.

But this is a very sensitive issue and we need a national consensus before any decision is taken." Powell got better support from finance minister Saifur Rehman who told him that, "limited exports of Bangladesh gas to India made perfect economic sense." Rehman said: "It is unfortunate that this issue has become political."