In a rare move, Pakistan’s envoy to Bangladesh said on Thursday that the two countries will bolster bilateral ties.
The statement came following a meeting between Pakistani High Commissioner Imran Ahmed Siddiqui and Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at her official residence.
“The two sides agreed to further strengthen the existing fraternal relations between the two countries,” Siddiqui said.
The envoy conveyed the message of goodwill and friendship from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to Hasina which “she reciprocated with her greetings and good wishes for the leadership of Pakistan”.
Citing a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) news agency reported Hasina as saying Bangladesh cannot forget and forgive atrocities committed by Pakistan.
“Incidents of 1971 cannot be forgotten or forgiven,” she said.
Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan after a bloody nine-month war in 1971. Relations between the two South Asian states have since been patchy.
Upon the request of strengthening relations by the Pakistani side, Hasina referred to Bangladesh’s policy of “friendship to all, malice to none”, adding that she believes in “regional cooperation”.
Why are India-Bangladesh ties declining?
India helped the Bangladesh militarily in the 1971 war, which resulted in a strong bond between Dhaka and New Delhi.
But ties between the two neighbors have reportedly been passing a bad patch due to frequent killings of Bangladeshi nationals at the hands of Indian border forces, diversion of upstream water of common rivers and the recently enactment of a controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, which grants citizenship to “persecuted minorities” from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Indian media also highlights with concern Bangladesh’s growing relations with India’s arch rival, China.
“Despite India’s concerns, Bangladesh has given the contract of building an airport terminal in Sylhet district to a Chinese company,” the Hindu reported, quoting Bangladeshi newspaper Bhorer Kagoj.
The Hindu reported citing a Bangladeshi newspaper that despite frequent efforts, Indian envoy to Dhaka Riva Ganguly Das failed to meet Prime Minister Hasina. There was no official statement on the report from either side.
However, following a Tuesday meeting with Das, the ruling Awami League party’s second in command and Bangladesh’s road transport and bridges minister Obaidul Quader said the relationship between the two neighbors were “advancing towards newer dimensions.”
“Cautious optimism” for Bangladesh as ties with Pakistan warm
Terming recent moves “encouraging,” analysts, however, see the developments with cautious optimism.
“Premier Khan’s initiative to make a phone call to Bangladesh’s Prime Minister is a step in the right direction in mending fences with Dhaka. It has at least left the door ajar for further engagement,” Rafiuzzaman Siddiqui, Pakistan‘s former High Commissioner to Bangladesh told Anadolu Agency.
He cautioned the path to break the lockjam was strewn with “insurmountable obstacles.”
“Apology issue continues to casts a long shadow in Islamabad’s bilateral relations with Dhaka,” Siddiqui said, referring to Bangladesh’s constant demand for an official apology from Pakistan for alleged war crimes in the 1971 war.
“In my view it’s too early to celebrate developments taking place in our relations with Dhaka,” he said.
Echoing Siddiqui’s view, CR Abrar, a professor of international relations at Dhaka University, said: “It’s very challenging but Dhaka’s policy of friendship with all, will help it develop its ties with Pakistan and China.”
“It will also reach the delta nation to a great position in the south Asian geopolitics,” Abrar told Anadolu Agency.
Bangladesh is now wary of influence from India
Terming the Indian media’s reaction to Pakistani High Commissioner’s courtesy call and Beijing’s approval of duty free access to 97% of Bangladeshi products in Chinese markets, he said, “Indian media reacted on those internal affairs of Bangladesh so harshly. It indicates their level of intolerance. No independent country can tolerate such audacity.”
Abrar saw the development in bilateral ties between Dhaka and Islamabad despite “huge propaganda” as a “very normal” for an independent country in an era of globalization.
“In the 1971 Liberation War [against Pakistan] they [India] helped us obviously and it was in our interest surely, but they [India] also had their bigger interest. That’s why they supported us.”
Siddiqui, who served as Pakistan‘s High Commissioner to Dhaka from September 2016 to February 2018, went on to say: “It seems that Dhaka wants to convey its displeasure over Modi government’s unsavory citizenship laws, which will deprive millions of Bengali Muslims of their Indian nationality, leading to their exodus from India into Bangladesh.”
“If at all that happens Dhaka would find it exceedingly difficult to cope with such a scenario. Besides, the Hasina government is also coming under increasing pressure from the public to stand up to India’s hegemonistic designs,” he added.
“Under the SAARC umbrella, relations between our two countries could have improved a wee bit but since the regional organization remains dysfunctional due to Pakistan-India rivalry, hence any chance of improvement in our ties with Dhaka remain a distant dream,” Siddiqui opined.
However, he added, Bangladesh’s internal political dynamics, and regional developments might one day break the ice in bringing the two countries closer.
“Being an inveterate optimist, I am hopeful that relations between Islamabad and Dhaka might normalize in days to come.
“Nonetheless, there are certain vested interests, which would never want to see this happening,” he said in a thinly-veiled reference to India.
Anadolu with additional input by GVS News Desk