Islamabad, August 4 (NIA): The absence of the Bangladeshi Home Minister at the two-day SAARC Home Ministers’ conference being held here since Wednesday, is an indication that Bangladesh’s relations with Pakistan are not going to improve anytime soon.
Pakistan and Bangladesh were locked in a diplomatic row in December 2015 and January this year, when the two countries expelled each others’ diplomats over charges of spying and terrorism. The issues which this spat threw up, along with others inherited from the past, are yet to be addressed.
On December 23, 2015, Bangladesh accused a Pakistani diplomat of Farina Arshad of having links with the banned Jamayetul Mujahideen, a Bangladeshi militant group and expelled her. In retaliation, Pakistan expelled Bangladeshi diplomat Moushumi Rahman, a Counsellor and Head of Chancery in Islamabad for “violating diplomatic norms”.
Writing in the Bangladeshi paper Daily Sun, Amir Hossein , the paper’s Editorial Advisor, said that on the one hand, Pakistan is continuing to take hostile steps against Bangladesh and on the other hand, Bangladeshi freedom fighters and socio-political and cultural organizations are demanding severance of diplomatic ties with Pakistan because its High Commission in Dhaka has been “turned into a hub of anti-Bangladesh conspiracies.”
Pakistan refrained from attending the SAARC Sanitation Conference in Dhaka in January 13. Speculations is rife in Dhaka about Bangladesh boycotting the 19 th. SAARC Summit scheduled to be held in Islamabad in November this year. .
Hossein said that Pakistan had violated diplomatic norms by allowing its High Commission in Dhaka to patronize and finance militancy and violence to destabilize Bangladesh. Pakistan is also interfering in the internal affairs of Bangladesh by opposing the trial and execution of the war criminals, he said.
It was for these activities as well as patronizing counterfeit currency smuggling , that the Pakistan High Commission official Mazhar Khan was expelled from the country early in February 2015. Pakistan was asked to withdraw its diplomat Farina Arshad in December that year on the same charges. Even after the return of Farina Arshad to Pakistan, most other diplomats and officials at Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka are continuing anti-Bangladeshi activities, Hossein said.
Dhaka feels that the anti-Bangladesh activities are going on at the behest of Pakistan’s military intelligence sevice, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The activities of Mazhar Khan and Farina Arshad had sub-continental ramifications, the Bangladeshi authorities feel. According to foreign media, these ISI operatives in disguise as diplomats committed similar misdeeds earlier in Sri Lanka and India also.
Other Contentious Issues
According to Hossein there are three major contentious issues between Pakistan and Bangladesh “which could not be resolved due to Islamabad’s reluctance”. Dhaka has been demanding an apology from Pakistan for the “genocide” it committed in at the time of the liberation struggle in 1971. It has been asking Pakistan to repatriate stranded Pakistanis from Bangladesh. But Pakistan refuses to accept these demands. Pakistan rejected these demands saying that there was no genocide in 1971. Pakistani rulers ask Bangladesh to forget the past and strengthen relations between the two countries.
When the then united Pakistan was divided in 1971, the country’s assets too had to be divided. But this was not done ,Bangladesh complains. The amount of money Bangladesh is entitled to get from Pakistan is estimated at more than Taka 18,280 crore or US$ 2.4 billion.
The Bangladesh Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mahmud Ali, told parliament on November 19, 2015: “An amount of 200 million US dollars received as foreign aid after the devastating cyclone in the coastal areas of then East Pakistan in 1970, was deposited with the Dhaka branch of the State Bank of Pakistan. With a view to misappropriating the amount it was transferred to Lahore branch of the bank. Bangladesh has been urging Pakistan repeatedly to return the money. Prior to 1971, the assets of then undivided Pakistan amounted to 4.32 billion US dollars. Bangladesh has been demanding the due share of this.” But Pakistan has turned a deaf ear to this.
Arguing for breaking ties with Pakistan, Hossein said that in the absence of any Pakistani mission in Dhaka, the pro-Pakistani and anti-liberation elements in Bangladesh will lose the easy chance of getting Pakistani patronage and financial assistance.
Giving the Pakistani perspective in the Daily Times of April 12, 2014, Saman Zufiqar of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute, pointed out that it is becoming a norm in South Asian political culture to blame regional states for achieving political goals at home. It is easier to blame others to divert attention from pressing domestic issues that arise due to mismanagement and bad governance.
Though Pakistan-Bangladesh relations have not recovered from the bitter memories of 1971, and have remained mired in controversies, the Awami League, as the founding party of Bangladesh, has always tried to justify its existence by promoting a nationalist agenda and by harnessing anti-Pakistan feelings, Zulfiqar says
Developing states have many important problems of their own that could be highlighted for scoring political points but because they cannot solve these problems they turn the attention of the people to the alleged machinations of an outsider.
The Awami League’s rhetoric against Pakistan keeps it as an important player in politics. The new wave of accusations started on the eve of the 2014 general elections when, 42 years after Bangladesh’s independence, Prime Minister Hasina Wajid tried to revive the fading memory of the 1971 civil war. After targeting the factions that supported Pakistan, her government has embarked on the prosecution of such elements on charges of being collaborators of Pakistan.
She also intends to take 195 Pakistan army officers, allegedly involved in the killing of three million Bengalis, to the International Crimes Tribunal. The validity of this claim of three million dead has been challenged by research scholars at the international level and within Bangladesh as well. Sharmila Bose, an Indian writer, in the last chapter of her well-researched book Dead Reckoning, asserts: “These figures are not based on any accounting or survey on the ground and have been repeated in South Asian and western academia and media for decades without verification.”
The Bangladesh government’s decision to revisit the events of 1971 by initiating the ‘war crimes’ trials and executing Bangladesh’s Jamaat-e-Islami leader only enhanced political instability in Bangladesh by widening the societal gap between secularists and Islamists, and exacerbated tension with Pakistan, Zulfiqar says.
Past memories haunt political relations between the two countries as the Awami League keeps on generating memories of the 1971 events. It is not possible to change the past but one can hope for a better future, as in today’s globalised and interdependent world, apart from formal state-to-state relations, people-to-people contact is considered an important tool to enhance mutual understanding, build confidence and promote long term cooperation. It will also help to create a conducive environment for political engagement, Zulfiqar says.
The holding of sporting events in Bangladesh provided such an opportunity for promoting interaction and generating goodwill among the people. However, this opportunity was also squandered by showing a lack of sportsmanship. The Bangladesh government banned the hoisting of foreign lags in the stadium during the T20 world cup matches.
South Asia, one of the poorest regions in the world, remains mired in inter-state conflicts that hamper the goal of regional cooperation, peace and security. SAARC, the representative body in South Asia, has been unable to achieve its desired objectives that can only materialize if bilateral relations are normalized. Pakistan and Bangladesh can make an outstanding contribution by removing the irritants in their bilateral relations and by moving forward to build a constructive relationship which will lead to regional stability, Zulfiqar says.