Pakistan and its growing ties with Bangladesh

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On 16 December 1971, East Pakistan declared its autonomy and emerged as a new state called Bangladesh on the world map. This event is known as “The Fall of Dhaka” in the history of Pakistan. The contentions between the Bengal and Pakistan give way to aversion and resentment, ultimately ending at the detachment. Both the states share a bitter past and the antagonistic and hostile feelings for each other never paved way for cordial relations. Regardless of this brutal war both the states remained engaged, Pakistan recognized Bangladesh in 1974, and also initiated their diplomatic relations with one another. Nonetheless, even after several years of separation, no diplomatic effort worked between them on account of the bloodshed and astringent realities of the 1971 war. Even today, numerous factors are impeding the creation of a mutually beneficial foreign policy between Pakistan and Bangladesh. For any state, one of the most prominent determinants of foreign policy is National Interest and obviously, both states possess a dissimilar acuity of national interests from one another. The Bangladeshi perception of Pakistan can be classified into three groups. The first group is the one who always speculates even the positive move between Bangladesh and Pakistan. These people are disgruntled over the 1971 war and find it hard to forget the atrocities done by Pakistan’s army. They can be called nationalists, or we can say hyper-nationalist, and always demand an apology from Pakistan when it comes to Pak- Bangla improved relations. They are in dire need to understand that Now it’s high time to somehow sideline the bloody history and work for the betterment of Humanity. The second group is pro-Indian and believes that foe of your foe is your friend. Bangladesh shares strong relations with India, which leave a deep impact on the Bangla-Pak ties. The third is the group that is the majority of Bangali people and they truly want to have a cordial relation with Pakistan, but also are desirous of an apology from Pakistan to clear the burden of the past. They want to have a good foreign policy towards Pakistan to deal with the Indian hegemonic behavior and India’s covert backing of the Chittagong hill tracts insurgency. This group is against the Indian animosity and hankers to develop better relations with Pakistan due to religious and cultural ties.

In 2009, the Pak-Bangla relations grew further colder after Hasina Wajid was elected as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. During her reign, the Bangladeshi government decided to try and, afterward, carry on with the execution of several leaders of right-­wing Jamaat-­e-­Islami who were known to be pro-­Pakistani. The news was not well received in Pakistan and several other political leaders belonging to varying political parties in addition to the government of Pakistan publicly expressed their resentment concerning the execution which ruffled the indignation of Hasina and the diplomatic activities between both the states got suspended. The situation got worsened so much so that Dhaka held back the contract of the Pakistani High Commissioner. In 2018, when PTI came into power, a quick shift in the diplomatic relations of both states was anticipated. Nonetheless, the change took time more than expected as if both sides were keeping their fingers crossed for the right time. In due course, the assemblage of forces was professed to be encouraging. Therefore, the opportunity was grabbed and on 23 July 2020, a telephonic conversation was held between the prime minister of Pakistan i.e. Imran khan, and Bangladeshi prime minister Sheik Hasina. No sublime or grand agenda was brought under discussion during the call. However, the restoration of communication broke the seal which worked as a confidence-building measure between them. This telephonic confabulation left a positive impact on the bilateral relations between both states. In addition to making the phone call, the prime minister of Bangladesh also sent the fruit Haribhang, a type of mangoes to Pakistan as well as India. Mangos have been an integral part of the public diplomacy of Bangladesh and are gifted as a gesture of goodwill and friendship. Sending mangoes to India was expectable since both share cordial relations. However, sending Mangoes to Pakistan was rather a pleasant surprise for Pakistan who welcomed this positive gesture wholeheartedly and reciprocated it by sending world famous Pakistani mangoes to the president and prime minister of Bangladesh.

There are various reasons behind the enhancement of their relations. First is Bangla’s growing ties with China. As China is the most prominent and significant friend of Pakistan it also has a spillover effect on Pakistan-Bangla relations too. To fortify the regional, bilateral and multilateral cooperation, China is also taking various economic steps by joining diverse trading blocs such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), hosting a series of mega trade exhibitions and upgrading connectivity over the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Different Chinese exhibitions like China International Import Expo (CIIE), Euro-Asia Economic Forum, China Import and Export Exhibition (Canton Fair), China-ASEAN Expo, China-South Asia Expo, China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS), Inter-textile Shanghai Apparel Fabrics, China Yangling Agricultural High-tech Fair, Trade Cooperation Expo, and various other expos will benefit all the developing economies including Bangladesh. It is anticipated that participation in these forums, will unbolt a new business and trade venture for Bangladesh in the longer term which will further enhance the bilateral relations between China and Bangladesh.

According to the diplomat, an online e-paper, China is funding a lot to Bangladesh as far as infrastructure projects are concerned. During Xi Jinping’s visit to Dhaka, both the states have signed more than 27 agreements for loans and investments that are worth 24$ billion. Before that, they both have also invested 13.6 $ in the joint ventures, that total makes 38$ investment of china in Bangladesh. These investments are making china Bangladesh’s single largest investor. That way Bangladesh is the second-largest recipient of China’s loans and investment after Pakistan in South Asia under the Belt and Road Initiative.

Another reason for the growing bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan is the rise of extremism and Hindutva in India. The Indian atrocities in Kashmir, Abrogation of Articles, the National Register of Citizens, Citizen Amendment act are portraying a negative image of India among Bangladesh where the majority is Muslim. The Dhaka government recognized all these above mentions factors like India’s internal matter but it does disturb the people of Bangladesh. Moreover, while struggling hard to maintain secularism in their constitutional and social framework, Bangladesh perceived the proclivity of BJP for bigoted majoritarianism as an erroneous value giving away mixed signals. Giving way to the public pressure and amidst the challenges of COVID-­19 and floods, the government decided to be cautious on closeness to India. The relationship between India and Bangladesh grew further sour when Hasina received a reception devoid of past warmth during the last visit to India.

The Awami League of Bangladesh has always had a soft corner for India and in its foreign policy, India remains the main focus. However, extending terms with Pakistan as well as India at the same time cannot merely be a coincidence. Pakistan and India have fallen out of harmony since 2019 after India announced the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status as well as the fighting in the region. The terms between Bangladesh and India are also facing a bumpy ride owing to the water dispute and India’s citizenship act, in addition to other issues.

Don’t know where these relations will go but it seems like ice is melting between the two. It’s high time to understand the importance of cordial relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh. In Pakistani intelligentsia and civil society in Bangladesh must strive to spark collaboration between both the states and talks at foreign secretaries. They must initiate student exchange programs and hundreds of scholarships to Bangladeshi students can be offered by Pakistan. Both the states should be future-oriented, must establish air links, and amplify bilateral trades. Pakistani youth has very little connection with Bangladesh. There is a notion of diversity in the society, being intolerant to diversity turned out to be the main cause of the separation that’s why it the high time to indulge the youth of both the states in those cultural or educational activities that could encourage them to tolerate and celebrate the diversity. And the celebration of this diversity can bring peace and prosperity to the South Asian region.

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