Bangladesh agenda for Clinton

Vol 4, PW 2 (01 Mar 00) People & Policy

India's political establishment is whipping itself up into a frenzy of hysterical speculation over the precise itinery of President Bill Clinton when he begins his South Asia tour on March 20th.

Latest reports suggest the First Lady has persuaded him to stop off in Lahore in Pakistan at the tail-end of his India visit. This, despite fierce Indian objections, and the advice of US security officials (quoted anonymously) in the Washington Times, who speak of a threat to his life from Islamic fundamentalists.

Behind the media hype, lies the real story of Clinton's South Asia tour: Bangladesh. "Why is he visiting an insignificant country like Bangladesh" asks a bemused Indian official, "He must be going there to talk about gas exports." Indeed he might! US and international pressure on Bangladesh to sell its gas to India is intense and it seems inconceivable that Clinton would not raise the issue when he meets Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka.

Behind Clinton are powerful oil and gas interests, notably Shell and Unocal, which have producing gas assets in Bangladesh and ambitious plans to pipe it across to India. On 24th February, Unocal's Roger Beach told India's Economic Times that the company is planning an underwater gas pipeline from Bangladesh across the Bay of Bengal to Andhra Pradesh.

Of late, US officials predict Bangladesh could become a 'Middle-Income' nation by 2050 if it sells gas to India. Clinton is likely to use this argument in talks with Sheikh Hasina, who in private supports gas exports despite fierce public opposition.

Hasina will no doubt tell Clinton she is powerless to move on the issue until the outcome of national elections later in the year.