As the cliché goes, there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics but interests. Pakistan and Bangladesh are two major countries of South Asia that have many things in common: religion, history and, most importantly, a joint struggle for the creation of what is today Pakistan and Bangladesh. However, since the secession of East Pakistan and the resultant emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign state in 1971, the relationship between both the countries has been subject to many vicissitudes and has seen numerous ups and downs in different periods. Although on-and-off efforts are undertaken to address the persistent acrimony between the two countries, their ability to have good bilateral relations continues to be a matter of concern.
Breaking the diplomatic impasse, Pakistan recently made a proactive step when Prime Minister Imran Khan made a phone call to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Aimed at modifying Pakistan’s disturbing relationship with Bangladesh, this was reportedly Imran Khan’s first one-on-one contact with the Bangladeshi premier. In th telephonic contact, Imran Khan called for improved ties between the two nations and affirmed Pakistan’s commitment to deepening its friendly ties relations with Bangladesh through regular people-to-people cultural exchanges and collaboration in business and economic ventures. After years of deep freeze, the telephone contact came after months of efforts to normalise Pakistan-Bangladesh ties, which were at their lowest ebb since Sheikh Hasina, in her second tenure as the prime minister, resumed the 1971 trial of ‘war criminals.’ Borne out of political vendetta than public good, the resumption of the so-called 1971 trials was against the tripartite agreement that was signed by Pakistan, India and Bangladesh in 1974 for repatriation of 1971 war prisoners. The move was even contrary to Sheikh Hasina’s father and Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s commitment.
Mujibur Rahman by himself signed the tripartite accord, hoping that no one would be put on trial for alleged crimes committed during the 1971 war in the greater interest of regional peace. However, Sheikh Hasina’s anti-Pakistan rhetoric was further emboldened with Narendra Modi’s coming to power in India and the emerging Bangladesh-India bonhomie which pushed Pakistan-Bangladesh ties down to an all time low. Nonetheless, the enactment of the Hindutva–inspired Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) by India in December last year, coupled with its hegemonic attitude towards Dhaka, severely harmed the diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and India. Most importantly, passing of the CAA has left some 2 million Bangladeshi migrants in India stateless. Concurrently, growing Chinese influence on Dhaka and the latter’s joining China’s Belt and Road Initiative brought Pakistan and Bangladesh closer.
Given that the geopolitical calculus, particularly of the South Asian region, is changing at a rapid pace, this is indeed a timely development for both Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as for the South Asian region. While the tragedy of 1971 continues to cast a shadow over the Islamabad-Dhaka relationship, the darkness of an erroneous past should not be allowed to overshadow the brightness of the future. Should Pakistan and Bangladesh decide to further cooperate with each other in areas that matter to them, they would be able to script ‘Shonali Adhyaya’, or a golden chapter, for the people of both the countries. The High Commission of Pakistan in Dhaka has also become fully functional after 3 years, which is a further step forward. In the world of computers, a mere ‘restart’ of the system is considered the most effective method for troubleshooting. This could also be true for Pakistan and Bangladesh. Instead of falling prey to the past, the time is to start afresh.
Syed Jawaid Iqbal
President & Editor in Chief