Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan on Wednesday expressed his desire for “closer and fraternal” relations with Bangladesh, by speaking to the PM, Sheikh Hasina Wajid.
Mr Khan, in what was his first telephone conversation with his Bangladesh counterpart Hasina Wajed, said: “Pakistan is committed to deepening fraternal relations with Bangladesh on the basis of mutual trust, mutual respect and sovereign equality.”
Imran Khan takes bold initiative towards Bangladesh
The telephone contact has come after months of efforts to normalise ties between the two South Asian countries after years of deep freeze.
Islamabad’s initiative for mending fences with Dhaka was launched after current high commissioner Imran Siddiqui assumed office in February this year.
Observers were caught by surprise when Mr Siddiqui earlier this month met Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen.
Pak-Bangladesh relationship took a nosedive after Ms Wajed started her second tenure as the prime minister in 2009 and she resumed the so-called 1971 trial of the ‘war crimes’.
Pakistan has always considered the bitter past of the 1971 dismemberment as a closed chapter in view of the tripartite agreement signed in April 1974 for repatriation of war prisoners.
Ms Wajed’s father and Bangladesh’s founding father Mujibur Rehman had after the accord agreed that in the interest of regional peace, no one would be put on trial for alleged crimes committed during the 1971 war.
But, Ms Wajed was bent on reviving the ghosts of 1971. She was further emboldened with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s coming to power in India and Pak-Bangladesh ties went from one low to another.
Pakistan and Bangladesh: Is China helping?
The contact between the two prime ministers also comes in the backdrop of Delhi-Dhaka ties turning lukewarm following the enactment of controversial Citizenship Amendment Act by India last year. Moreover, growing Chinese influence on Dhaka has also brought Pakistan and Bangladesh closer.
Many analysts in Islamabad – and on Pakistani media – had been predicting that given how Modi regime had treated Bangladesh on CAA issue, China may work upon Bangladesh to take it away from Delhi’s exclusive sphere of influence. These whispers had increased with the Indo-China standoff in Ladakh and with the change in Nepal’s attitude towards Delhi.
It was getting obvious – in Islamabad’s diplomatic circles – that China was flexing its diplomatic muscle in the region around India. It is believed that India’s tiny ally, Bhutan, is also fast improving its relations with Beijing. So it was only a matter of time before Bangladesh too becomes part of the way the regional wind is now blowing.
Imran Khan invites Hasina to visit Pakistan
Mr Khan, in his conversation, underscored the importance Pakistan attached to closer ties with Bangladesh and highlighted the significance of regular bilateral contacts and people-to-people exchanges.
He also reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and underlined the importance of both countries working for enhanced regional cooperation for sustainable peace and prosperity.
Mr Khan discussed Pakistan and Bangladesh’s fight against Covid-19 pandemic and extended commiserations on the material and human losses due to the recent flooding in Bangladesh.
He reiterated the invitation to Prime Minister Hasina Wajed to visit Pakistan, the PMO said. However Bangladesh’s PM visiting Pakistan in foreseeable future will be a major regional development, this is something New Delhi will try its best to prevent. India has invested lot of political capital in creating distances between Pakistan and Bangladesh – two Siamese twins separated by Indian intervention in 1971. However SAARC was a creation of Bangladesh and Pakistan and before Sheikh Hasina returned to power in Dhaka, Pakistan and Bangladesh had come closer to each other despite the tragic events of 1971.
Bangladesh Elections 2018 were controversial
When Ms. Wajed became the PM of Bangladesh again in 2018, there was much doubt over the fairness of the elections.
The government had promised the election would be free, fair and all-inclusive. Weeks before the election, however, opposition party candidates began reporting attacks by supporters of the ruling Awami League party.
Opposition candidates filed hundreds of complaints with election authorities, alleging ruling party supporters were not allowing them to carry out their campaigns.
Video clips, which claimed to show AL leaders violently threatening opposition party supporters to stay away from polling places, circulated in social media during the run-up to the election.
An op-ed written for GVS last year said that immediately after the elections, many Western countries including the USA, the UK, and EU voiced their concern at the violence, killings and complaints of the opposition regarding stuffed ballot boxes and not letting opposition candidates conduct their election campaigns freely.
Read more: Pakistan – Bangladesh diminishing hope for better ties?
The Sheikh Hasina government has regularly arrested anyone who raised their voice against Awami League’s past or present corrupt practices, widespread nepotism, and have allegedly even resorted to killing rivals through fake encounters and extrajudicial killings. The US, in particular, expressed strong concern over the election day irregularities that prevented people from voting undermining faith in the electoral process.
As she came into power, Bangladesh Jamat-e-Islami (BJI), another political rival of Awami League, which had opposed the breakup of Pakistan to create Bangladesh in 1971, was banned as a party for many years, causing some of its leaders to seek exile in Pakistan.
In spite of the above, it is essential for Pakistan to develop and implement a coherent and consistent policy of befriending Bangladesh government and its people. Pakistan needs to take concrete steps to formulate an articulate narrative about the 1971 war based on historical facts, including India’s role in a proxy war which resulted in thousands of deaths, rapes, arson, loot and destruction, eventually resulting in Pakistan’s dismemberment.
GVS News Desk with additional information from other sources