Thaw in Bangladesh, Pakistan, relations?

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The Pakistani press deliberately avoided the exchange between the Pakistan High Commissioner to Bangladesh Imran Ahmed Siddique and the Bangladesh PM.

There was lots of enthusiasm in the national press in Pakistan and among the Hawks in Islamabad, regarding the ‘quiet diplomacy’ of a rare meeting of Pakistan’s envoy with Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina.

The Hawks in Islamabad failed to realise why Hasina cleverly gave an appointment in December at her official residence Gonobhaban.

Bangladesh observes 16 December as ‘Victory Day’ when 93,000 marauding Pakistan armed forces and civilians surrendered at Dhaka in 1971, and Bangladesh was liberated.

The Pakistani press deliberately avoided the exchange between the Pakistan High Commissioner to Bangladesh Imran Ahmed Siddique and the Bangladesh PM.

Hasina during the parley maintaining social distancing in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, did not hesitate to state that “The incidents of 1971 can’t be forgotten. The pain will remain there forever,” says official news agency BSS.

She also referred to the volumes of a book titled “Secret Documents of Intelligence Branch on Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman”, the prime minister said people can learn historical incidents that occurred during 1948-1971. The documents describe how Pakistan junta interpreted his political activities and intermittently put him behind bars years after years.

She said both the English and Urdu version of the book “Unfinished Memoirs” by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is one of the bestsellers in Pakistan. “It’s also well-read in Pakistan apart from other countries.”

When the diplomat raised that different bilateral and regional forums have remained inactive for some time and sought Dhaka’s initiative to reactivate the Foreign Office consultations (FCO) between the two countries, Hasina responded that as she believes in regional cooperation and there is no problem in the functioning of the forums.

Hasina, daughter of the architect of Bangladesh independence, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman reiterated Bangladesh’s foreign policy “friendship to all malice towards none”, and said she believes in continuing relationships with other countries too.

Well, the daily newspapers Dawn, Express Tribune, and other online newspapers published spoon-fed news tailored by the Press Information Department in Islamabad –what the citizens of Pakistan would love to hear.

Both Urdu and English press welcomed Hasina’s meeting with the Pakistan diplomat. Whereas she refused to meet the outgoing Indian envoy during the coronavirus lockdown.

The parley was interpreted as yet another sign suggesting warming up of nearly a decade old tensions between the two countries since Bangladesh bifurcated from Pakistan after a bloody war of independence in 1971.

Kamran Yousaf writes in the Express Tribune that the meeting of the Pakistani envoy with the Bangladeshi PM was the result of a ‘quiet diplomacy’.

The ice melted first in July when the Pakistani High Commissioner held a meeting with the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister during the coronavirus outbreak at its peak. The meeting that raised eyebrows in India, the wise-man writes.

A similar circus occurred when Imran Khan and his Bangladeshi counterpart spoke by phone.

What the press in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad censored was that Hasina, confidently told the Naya Pakistan leader Khan, that his country must express apology for war crimes committed by the Pakistan military during the brutal birth of Bangladesh in 1971.

The diplomatic relationship between the two countries was experiencing hiccups after Pakistan repeatedly condemned the verdicts of the International Crimes Tribunal against the war criminals who are Bangladesh born and possess the nationality of Bangladesh.

Hasina was furious after recurring outlandish statements by Islamabad on war crimes trials were issued. In 2016, Pakistan’s parliament passed a unanimous resolution condemning the “politically motivated” trials.

Bangladesh protested to Pakistan’s condemnation, and diplomatic relations began to deteriorate. The ties sank in a quagmire.

She decided to call back the Bangladesh High Commissioner from Islamabad and lower the diplomatic status of the mission.

Her anger could be understood when she wanted to close down the Bangladesh mission in Islamabad and severe diplomatic relations with Pakistan.

Hastily at the request of India, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, Hasina changed her mind and instead kept the status low by withdrawing High Commissioner, Deputy High Commissioner, and other senior diplomatic officials.

The final blow comes when an official announcement that no tourist visa would be issued except for official visits and business visas. Pakistan also reciprocated the visa regime no visa is issued from Dhaka. Thus the only air connectivity by PIA had to cancel the flights for lack of passengers.

Despite Pakistan’s academia in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, intellectuals, rights groups, and mainstream Urdu and English language media often write about Pakistan debacles in Bangladesh war theatre, war crimes trial, and advocates for a thaw in the estranged relationship between two countries. Still, some reactionary elements, mostly Islamist groups, remained negative about the Bangladesh war crimes trial.

The Pakistan media admits that the strained relationship occurred after Bangladesh went ahead with the trial of the war criminals in 2009.

However, the politicians and Islamist parties argue that Sheikh Hasina is settling scores against her opponents and Islamic evangelist and key leaders of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami.

The politicians do not say that political leaders of the ruling Awami League, Jatiya Party, and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) were also indicted and given maximum punishment.

Not surprised that the nationalist movements in Balochistan and Sind eagerly urge Bangladesh to raise the crime against humanity in their provinces at the international forum. Especially the enforced disappearances, torture, and atrocities against the Baloch and Sindhi nationals.

Recently the human rights abuses against Pashtun nationalists and human rights activists have sharply risen.

Well, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a dangerous country for religious minorities, especially the Ahmadiyya, Christian, Sikh, and worst are the Hindus. The Hindu teenage and minor girls are victims of abduction, forced conversion, and married to elderly polygamist husbands, happening mostly in Sindh.

Finally, Kamran Yousaf writes that the statement issued by the Bangladeshi Prime Minister’s Office said the incidents of 1971 cannot be forgotten and forgiven. This shows that the Bangladesh government is still adamant that Pakistan must formally apologise over the events of 1971.

To bury the past and thaw the relationship among two South Asian countries, Islamabad must seek a public apology for committing war crimes and thus open a new chapter with Bangladesh.


Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamadim







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