Pakistan, Bangladesh launch 'quiet' diplomacy to ease decades of acrimony

This still from a video recorded on June 1, 2019 shows Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan talking to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held in Mecca. (AFP)
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Updated 02 August 2020

Pakistan, Bangladesh launch 'quiet' diplomacy to ease decades of acrimony

  • Recent diplomatic developments, including rare call by Pakistani PM to his Bangladeshi counterpart, have hinted at thaw in Pakistan-Bangladesh ties
  • Islamabad and Dhaka’s embrace comes at a time when relations between India and many countries in the region are unraveling

ISLAMABAD/ DHAKA: As India’s relations with its neighbors in the South Asian region deteriorate, old foes Pakistan and Bangladesh are making a push to build diplomatic, economic and cultural ties that could upend decades of historic configurations in the region, officials and experts in Islamabad and Dhaka have said. 
Indeed, a number of recent diplomatic developments have hinted at a thaw in a long-troubled Pakistan-Bangladesh equation.
Prime Minister Imran Khan invited his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina to visit Islamabad in a rare call earlier this month that came just weeks after a ‘quiet’ meeting between Pakistan’s high commissioner to Dhaka, Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, and Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A. K. Abdul Momen. 

Relations between the two countries have never recovered from the 1971 war when Bengali nationalists, backed by India, broke away from what was then West Pakistan to form a new country.
Ties reached a new low in 2016 when Bangladesh executed several leaders of its Jamaat-e-Islami party on charges of committing war crimes in 1971. Pakistan called the executions and trials “politically motivated,” arguing that they were related to the pro-Pakistan stance of the convicts during the war.
But now, officials on both sides say it’s time for a reset. 
“We look forward to having a sustained dialogue with the government of Bangladesh on how best our bilateral relations can move forward on a positive trajectory,” Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui told Arab News on Thursday. “We hope to work and take forward our relations, whether its trade, culture and all other mutual areas.”
Ambassador Siddiqui declined to give details of his meeting with Momen but told Arab News the aim of the huddle was “to further promote bilateral relations with a forward-looking approach” given a desire from both sides to strengthen ties, particularly through private sector partnerships. 

“The younger generation is especially keen to forge meaningful ties. There is a huge potential in bilateral economic and commercial cooperation,” he said. “The two sides may work together to realize this potential with a focus on bringing our respective private sectors closer.”
Mohammad Ruhul Alam Siddique, Bangladesh’s high commissioner-designate to Pakistan, also said he aimed to improve trade and commercial ties between the two nations during his tenure. 
“My only mission will be to better the bilateral relations as much as possible while delivering services in Pakistan,” he said, saying his first task in the coming weeks would be to reduce the trade imbalance between the two countries. 




Pakistan's High Commissioner in Dhaka Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, left, meets Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, right, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 1, 2020. (Pakistan High Commission)

According to the State Bank of Pakistan, Pakistan’s exports to Bangladesh reached $736 million in 2019, while Bangladesh’s exports to Pakistan were only $44 million.
Pakistan and Bangladesh’s embrace comes at a time when relations between India and many countries in the region are unraveling.
Last month, the Indian army said at least 20 of its soldiers were killed after hand-to-hand fighting with Chinese troops at a disputed border site, the deadliest clash in decades. 
India also has increasingly tense ties with Nepal over disputed land, about 372 square km (144 square miles), strategically located at the tri-junction between Nepal, India and the Tibet region of China. India has kept a security presence in the area since a border war with China in 1962.
Pakistan and India have also warred for decades over the disputed Kashmir region, which both claim in full and rule in part.
“We see there are problems [of India] with China in the border region, problems with Nepal, some problems with Bangladesh as well, and of course, with Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir,” Farooqui of the Pakistani foreign office said. “These policies do not make India effective for peace and stability in the region.”




Pakistan's High Commissioner in Dhaka Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, second left, meets Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, second right, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 1, 2020. (Pakistan High Commission)

Explaining the context of a reset in Pakistan-Bangladesh ties, Pakistani prime minister’s special adviser on security, Moeed Yusuf, said in a veiled reference to India: “The context is very clear: there is one country that is threatening, annoying and upsetting all its neighbors.”
In response to an email from Arab News, the spokesperson of the Indian high commission in Islamabad, Vipul Dev, referred to a statement by the spokesperson of the Indian External Affairs Ministry last week after the Pakistani PM’s call to Hasina, saying India’s relationship with Bangladesh was “time tested and historic.” 
“This year both countries are taking lot of steps to strengthen this partnership,” the ministry spokesperson said. 
Despite enduring ties between India and Bangladesh, experts say Islamabad must continue to push its rapprochement with Dhaka, still in its infancy, forward.
“Now it’s Pakistan’s responsibility to rebuild the relationship,” international relations expert Prof. Delwar Hossain said. 
For this, Pakistan’s former high commissioner to India Abdul Basit said, the Pakistani prime minister needed to “follow up” on his call to his Bangladeshi counterpart. 
“Prime Minister Imran Khan should write a formal invitation to his Bangladeshi counterpart which will help keep the momentum going,” Basit said, adding that a special envoy to Dhaka should be appointed, like Pakistan had recently done for Kabul.

“We should focus more on working behind the scenes to avoid unnecessary hype,” Basit said. “It should be a consistent process.”


PIA to operate direct flights to Damascus from next week

Updated 6 sec ago

PIA to operate direct flights to Damascus from next week

  • A weekly flight will be operated from Karachi to Damascus initially, flights to be “gradually increased”
  • In January this year, the Pakistan government issued new rules for pilgrims traveling to Syria

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s national carrier, PIA, has announced direct flights to Syria starting next week, calling on travelers to check out its website for “attractive fares and offers.”

Every year, hundreds of Pakistanis visit Syria and Iraq for pilgrimage.

“Now fly directly to #Damascus onboard #PIA, to embark upon the journey of spiritualism and awakening. Flights resuming from May 28, 2022,” PIA said in a tweet.

In a statement released on Thursday, PIA said a weekly flight would be operated initially but the number of flights would be “gradually increased.”

“Our goal is to provide better and more comfortable travel facilities to our compatriots,” the statement said.

In January this year, the Pakistan government issued new rules for pilgrims traveling to Syria, including special approvals needed from Pakistani and Syrian authorities.

“Before leaving for Syria, you must obtain a group visa from the Syrian Immigration Authority and obtain a NOC from the Pakistani Embassy in Damascus,” the ministry said in a notification.


Pakistan FM sees 'very limited' prospect of India dialogue

Updated 7 min 42 sec ago

Pakistan FM sees 'very limited' prospect of India dialogue

  • Says difficult to deal with a country that is "implementing a racist policy" in Kashmir
  • Complains about India redrawing electoral constituencies that critics say dilutes Muslims' vote

UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan's new foreign minister said Thursday there was little scope for dialogue with India as he denounced actions by the historic rival in divided Kashmir.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, visiting the United Nations weeks after his appointment under a new government, said it was difficult to deal with a country that is "implementing a racist policy in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir."

"Having said that, we are very cognizant of the fact that economic activity, dialogue, diplomacy are ultimately the ways and means for countries to engage with each other and resolve disputes," he told reporters.

"I just note that, particularly at the moment, given this aggressive, hostile behavior, the practical space for that happening is very limited," he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government in 2019 stripped the special status of Kashmir, which has a Muslim majority but a large and historic Hindu minority population.

Bhutto Zardari, the 33-year-old son of a famous political dynasty, also complained about India's recent redrawing of electoral constituencies that critics say dilutes Muslims' vote in the Himalayan territory partially controlled by Pakistan.

Modi made a surprise visit to Pakistan in 2015, a year after taking office, but relations have plunged in recent years.

Analysts say that India is hoping for more pragmatic steps with Pakistan's new prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, whose own political family has a history of being able to deal diplomatically with India.

But India described an exchange of letters between Modi and Sharif as a diplomatic courtesy and insisted that Pakistan stop supporting "cross-border terrorism."

Bhutto was visiting the United Nations for a meeting on food security and met on the sidelines Wednesday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. 


Ex-PM Khan to announce date of anti-government long march to Islamabad today

Updated 21 min 50 sec ago

Ex-PM Khan to announce date of anti-government long march to Islamabad today

  • Khan plans to bring ‘sea of people’ to Islamabad to seek early elections
  • Former PM has vowed to protest until fresh polls are announced

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan is expected to announce the date for his anti-government long march to Pakistan’s federal capital at a power show in Multan on Friday, according to a video clip of him addressing his supporters which was shared by one of his aides on Twitter.

Last month, Khan became the first prime minister in Pakistan’s history who was driven out of power in a no-confidence vote.

He has since accused the United States of orchestrating the downfall of his administration with the help of his political rivals, saying that Washington was vexed at his desire to pursue an independent foreign policy.

US officials have repeatedly denied the allegation.

“Our last political gathering before the Islamabad march will take place tomorrow [on Friday] in Multan,” he can be seen telling a group of his supporters in a video clip shared by Usman Dar who advises him on youth affairs.

“I will announce the day when my entire nation must reach Islamabad,” he said, adding the actual objective of the march was to secure “real freedom” for Pakistan.

 

 

Khan, who is also the chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, has called for early elections in the country while promising to hold political protests until the new government announces the date for the next polls.

Khan previously warned the government that a “sea of people” would arrive in Islamabad on his call.


On US visit, new Pakistani foreign minister defends ex-PM Khan’s Russia visit

Updated 39 min 57 sec ago

On US visit, new Pakistani foreign minister defends ex-PM Khan’s Russia visit

  • Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari says Khan could not have foreseen the beginning of the war during his visit
  • Pakistani FM describes India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s status as an insult to the United Nations

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Thursday defended Imran Khan for visiting Moscow the day Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to invade Ukraine, saying the former prime minister could not have foreseen that the war was going to begin during his visit.

The timing of Khan’s trip to Russia annoyed Western nations who were trying to internationally isolate Putin’s administration for launching the war in his neighborhood. The heads of various foreign missions in Pakistan also wrote a joint letter to the country’s previous administration, urging it to condemn the Russian aggression in Ukraine soon after the invasion.

Pakistan’s new foreign minister, who is currently in New York to attend a global food security conference at the United Nations headquarters, told a news conference he would “absolutely defend” the former prime minister.

“Pakistan’s [former] prime minister conducted that trip as part of Pakistan’s foreign policy and without knowing … at the time that the current conflict would start,” he said. “I believe it is very unfair to punish Pakistan [for that visit].”

Pakistan’s foreign office also maintained in the past that Khan’s Russia visit had been in the making for a long time, adding it was not possible to postpone it shortly before it was scheduled to start.

Pakistan's Former Prime Minister Imran Khan, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Moscow, Russia on February 24, 2022. (PID/File)

The former prime minister, who was ousted from power in a no-confidence vote last month, said he was trying to pursue an independent foreign policy by strengthening relations with Russia and China which led to the downfall of his administration under an international conspiracy hatched by the United States.

His assertion has been repeatedly denied by US officials.

“Pakistan is not part of any conflict,” Bhutto-Zardari said while reiterating his country’s position on the war in Ukraine. “Pakistan would not wish to be part of any conflict. We would like emphasize on the importance of peace and dialogue.”

Asked about India’s decision to revoke the semi-autonomous status of the disputed Kashmir region, he described it as an insult to the United Nations its Security Council resolutions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government annulled Kashmir’s special constitutional status on August 5, 2019, to annex the Muslim-majority state with the rest of the Indian union.

The administration in New Delhi more recently published a list of redrawn political constituencies for the Himalayan territory under its control earlier this month, giving greater representation to the region’s Hindu areas while paving the way for fresh elections.

“The actions of August 5, 2019, and May 5, 2022, by India in illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir is not only an insult to the people of Kashmir but is an insult to the United Nations and to the Security Council’s resolutions,” he said.


Three killed as fire in world’s largest pine nut forest in Pakistan enters tenth day

Updated 19 May 2022

Three killed as fire in world’s largest pine nut forest in Pakistan enters tenth day

  • The fires have affected different parts of the Koh-e-Sulaiman mountain range in Pakistan’s southwest
  • National Disaster Management Authority helicopter arrived today to extinguish fire with little luck

QUETTA: A massive forest fire that has been raging for ten days in different parts of the Koh-e-Sulaiman mountains in southwest Pakistan intensified on Wednesday, with three people reported dead as provincial and federal disaster management authorities struggled late into Thursday to douse the flames.

The fire has consumed hundreds of trees dotting the Koh-e-Sulaiman — a mountain range connecting the Pakistani provinces of Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — and forced residents of nearby villages to move to safer locations.

The Koh-e-Sulaiman region is home to the world’s largest Chilghoza (pine nuts) forest, annually producing about 640,000 kilograms of the edible seed. It also houses different species of animals and birds, including chukar partridges, ibex goats and rabbits, which are under threat from the fires.

The first fire started on May 9 in Musakhail district, lasting over a week and affecting pine nut trees in a 22 kilometers radius. The fire had barely died down when a second blaze erupted late on Wednesday in the Saraghalai area of district Sheerani, with three locals killed as they tried to help in rescue operations.

“Three local residents who tried to extinguish the fire got killed,” the top administrative official of the area, Zhob division commissioner Bashir Bazai, told Arab News. “Four people are still stranded as the district administration is making efforts to retrieve the bodies and rescue the stranded individuals.”

Smoke engulfs a pine nut forest in the Koh-e-Sulaiman mountain range in the Saraghalai area of district Sheerani in Pakistan's Balochistan province on May 19, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Forest Department Zhob)

Locals helping with the rescue operation said neither provincial nor federal authorities were equipped to handle the disaster.

“The federal and provincial departments dealing with the fire are not trained and equipped to extinguish the fire in the Saraghalai area since the flames are too high,” local activist Salmeen Khpalwak, who works on climate change and environmental protection projects in the area, told Arab News on Thursday. “The fire is heading toward villages and many families have migrated to safe locations.”

Firefighters and residents extinguish a fire that erupted in pine nut forest in district Musakhail in Pakistan's Balochistan province on May 16, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Forest Department Zhob)

Khpalwak said nearly 24 villages situated in the pine nut forest were currently in danger. He said the fire in Musakhail broke out during a thunderstorm when lightning hit but the reason behind the Saraghalai blaze was not yet known.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) sent a helicopter on Thursday to extinguish the fire, local officials said, though it was unable to put out the fire as it could not fly at a low altitude due to thick smoke and the mountainous terrain.

Muhammad Younus, who works with the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, said the NDMA had been requested to provide another helicopter due to the intensity of the fire.

“This morning, a helicopter splashed 3,500 liters of water fetched from the Sabakzai Dam about 45 kilometers away from the area engulfed in fire,” Atique Khan Kakar, a forest officer, told Arab News, “though it did not work.”