- Truth and reconciliation commission can help overcome past bitterness
- Presses promoting a sense of joint history instead of spreading hate and violence
- Trade agreement could be a strong starting point to form good bilateral relations: Dr Sharin
By Hamid Khan Wazir
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: As the ice started melting between Pakistan and Bangladesh strained relationships, speakers at a seminar stressed the need for initiating a new chapter of bilateral ties between two Muslim Countries.
Dr. Moonis Ahmar, Meritorious Professor, Department of International Relations, University of Karachi said that Pakistan is always the first one to take initiatives for strengthening Pakistan-Bangladesh relations, but little reciprocity is shown by Bangladesh. Therefore it is high time for Pakistan and Bangladesh to let go of the past and work together for a progressive future.
He made these remarks while speaking at the second webinar in the series “Pakistan–Bangladesh Relations” organized by the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS).
Speakers included Dr. Sharin Shajahan Naomi, Assistant Professor, Gender Studies, Asian University for Women, Bangladesh, M. Sarwar Hossain, Barrister-at-Law of Lincoln’;s Inn., and Mr. Imtiaz Gul, Executive Director of CRSS.
Bangladesh has yet to come out of the traumatic past, however, soon after assuming office in 2018, Prime Minister Imran Khan sought to smooth relations with Bangladesh. Two years later, his attempts and efforts brought some amount of satisfaction. After rounds of email exchanges between the foreign ministries of Bangladesh and Pakistan, Imran Khan finally rang up and conversed with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina Wajed over the telephone in July 2020. Signaling Pakistan’s eagerness to strengthen relations with Bangladesh, Khan invited Hasina to visit Pakistan and discussed Covid management as well as revitalizing SAARC.
since the middle of 2020, a few moves by Islamabad led to speculation and debate over the defrosting of Bangladesh-Pakistan relations.
In a stunning move, Pakistan has lifted all the restrictions on visas for Bangladeshi applicants in January. In another stunning development, last year, Pakistan’s newly appointed High Commissioner Imran Ahmed Siddiqui caught up with Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen prior to Imran Khan’s telephonic conversation with Hasina.
Talking about the well-thought-out move and much-needed initiatives by the incumbent Pakistani government, Dr. Moonis said that a flexible visa regime can help in enhancing people-to-people relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh. He continued that people of both Countries have enormous opportunities to mend economic, political, and cultural relations.
According to him, efforts should be made to promote academic cooperation between the educational institutes of both countries. This cannot be done unless there are leaders from both sides who are able to promote meaningful interaction between students from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
He proposed the truth and reconciliation commission which can help overcome the bitterness of the past and also help in sanitizing the historical literature on the events around 1971.
Dr. Sharin Shajahan Naomi expressed that Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are happy with each other. In politics, there is a binary view but people-to-people relations are good, despite the past trauma and unfortunate memories. Currently, there is a huge gap in the economic relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh.
According to reports, in the 2019-20 financial year, the bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Pakistan stood at $543.90 million. Bangladesh counted exports worth $50.54 million in Pakistan. The import from Pakistan in the same year was estimated to be worth $493.36 million, which is well below than the existing potential between the two countries.
Therefore, she suggested that a trade agreement could be a strong starting point to form good relations on a higher level and Bangladesh would be welcoming towards this stance since it wants good relations with all its neighbors including China, Pakistan, and India.
Barrister M. Sarwar Hossain reinforced that we share a common history. He admitted that there have been some political mistakes but we should move on from the past and make progress for the future. The good people-to-people relations are demonstrated when it comes to sporting events and tourism between regional countries. In his view, in the subcontinent, no country can develop individually, the whole region has to develop economically as economic viability will ensure security.
Public opinion is one of the most important foreign policy determinants. Therefore, regardless of reciprocity by the government of Bangladesh, Pakistan should continue doing its bits and if the citizens of Bangladesh will see the benefits of the policies of Pakistan, they themselves will mobilize support in favor of Pakistan and pressurize their government into taking reciprocal steps.
Dr. Moonis Ahmar ended his conversation on the note that history textbooks can make a difference by promoting a sense of joint history instead of spreading hate and violence. For a win-win situation, there has to be ease in flights, shipping, and trade linkages. He also highlighted that there is nothing against Bangladesh in Pakistan, the youth of both countries should not carry the baggage of the past. Barrister M. Sarwar Hossain in his closing remarks admitted that Bangladesh understands the failures of its foreign policy and is working to open up to other countries to have good relations. In this regard, he commended Pakistan’s efforts in lifting visa restrictions.
Living in past will serve no one purpose as Bangladesh and Pakistan are home to 390 million, 5 percent of the total human population and it is in the best interest of both Countries to work together and start a new chapter of friendships. If Dhaka and Islamabad are on good terms, Bangladesh can explore the tremendous business opportunity in the Central Asian states via Pakistan. Pakistan will be able to mine the burgeoning market of 180 million in Bangladesh, and bilateral trade between the two will reach a significant level.