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.”


Balochistan government urges Gwadar residents to end weeks-long protest over rights

Updated 07 December 2021

Balochistan government urges Gwadar residents to end weeks-long protest over rights

  • A demontration against lack of basic facilities have been going on in Pakistan’s strategic port city of Gwadar for over three weeks
  • Provincial minister Zahoor Ahmed Buledi says the government has made progress on all demands presented by the protestors

KARACHI: A senior official in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province said on Tuesday the government had made progress on all demands presented by protestors in Gwadar port city while urging them to end their prolonged sit-in.
Protest in Pakistan’s strategic Gwadar city, which is at the heart of a multibillion-dollar regional connectivity project being carried out by China and Pakistan, has been going on for the last three weeks in which its residents have been demanding their basic rights.
At least four rounds of talks have been held between the officials of Balochistan and protestors since the beginning of the sit-in, one of them led by Zahoor Ahmed Buledi, the provincial minister for planning and development, who said the government, civil administration and notables of the area had been constantly in touch with the demonstrators.
The residents of Gwadar, who are mostly associated with the fishing industry and benefit from border trade, have been seeking, among other things, an action against illegal fishing trawlers in their waters, opening of border with Iran and removal of unnecessary checkpoints in their area.
“They presented twelve demands, four of them were major while others were minor,” Buledi told Arab News. “There has been progress on almost all the twelve demands: Trawling has decreased in the sea to a great extent, the border trade management system has improved and the issue of check posts has been largely addressed.”
He said the Balochistan administration had undertaken several development projects for Makran division, adding that major changes would soon become visible.
However, Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman, a Jamaat-e-Islami politician who has been leading the protest, said the provincial authorities had met some of the minor demands but major ones were yet to be fulfilled.
“There is some progress but our major issues still remain outstanding,” he told Arab News. “There is no progress on border trade, no action against the trawler mafia and our demand regarding checkpoints have not been fulfilled as well.”
“We will have a major protest on December 10 since we do not have any hope they will implement the notification regarding our major issues,” he added. “The Balochistan government is striving but is unable to resolve our problems. Probably, it is not in their hands.”
Gwadar is located in Pakistan’s impoverished southwestern Balochistan province, a sparsely populated, mountainous, desert region bordering Afghanistan and Iran.
China is involved in the development of the Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea as part of a $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is itself part of China's Belt and Road infrastructure project. But locals of the city have long complained the Chinese presence and investment in the area have done little to improve their lives, particularly with regards to water scarcity and jobs.
Last month, thousands of women marched on the streets of Gwadar, demanding basic rights and action against illegal trawling in the Arabian Sea.
Speaking to Arab News on Tuesday, Sameera Siddique, a woman leader of the protesters said the provincial leaders were unable to resolve the issue which had forced women to become part of the protest.
“A mother can tolerate anything but not the hunger of her children, she can bear anything but not that her brother becomes a drug addict and her people are humiliated at the check posts,” Siddique said, adding she is expecting more women in the December 10 protest.
Zainab Aslam, a student and activist, said Gwadar was never seen from the lens of the locals and a very beautiful picture of the city was presented to the outside world.
“There is another picture as well where its residents face problems, issues and non-provision of basic rights,” she continued. “We are protesting for the last twenty days that our sources of income should not be snatched away from us. Our men go in the morning to the sea and border area and return with empty hands. The rulers cannot even begin to imagine our pain.”


Police arrest five for beating, stripping four women naked in Pakistani market

Updated 07 December 2021

Police arrest five for beating, stripping four women naked in Pakistani market

  • Arrests came after videos of incident went viral, prompting Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar to take notice
  • Incident of public assault comes just days after a mob lynched a Sri Lankan factory manager in Sialkot city over alleged blasphemy

ISLAMABAD: Five men have been arrested on charges of assaulting four women, stripping them naked and filming them in a marketplace in Faisalabad this week, police in Pakistan’s Punjab province said on Tuesday.
The incident of public assault comes just days after a Muslim mob lynched and burnt the body of a Sri Lankan factory manager in the city of Sialkot over accusations he had committed blasphemy.
Punjab Police said on Twitter two of the suspects were arrested on Monday night and three on Tuesday. The arrests came after videos of the men stripping and beating the women went viral on social media, prompting Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar to take notice.

 

 

Inspector General Punjab “is pursuing a zero tolerance policy on incidents of violence and harassment against women and children,” the tweet said.
A first information, or police, report (FIR) has been registered against four named suspects, according to the Dawn newspaper including Saddam, the owner of a shop called Usman Electric Store. Another 10 unidentified suspects are also mentioned in the report.
The suspects have been charged under sections 354-A (assault or use of criminal force against a woman and stripping her), 509 (insulting modesty or causing sexual harassment), 147 (punishment for rioting) and 149 (unlawful assembly guilty of an offence committed in prosecution of common object) of the Pakistan Penal Code.
According to the FIR as quoted by Dawn, the complainant, a woman garbage collector, went to Bawa Chak Market with three other women to collect garbage on Monday at around 10:30am. The woman said the group entered Saddam’s store and asked for water but the owner started screaming at them and saying they had entered with the intent to commit robbery. The other suspects entered the shop on hearing the ruckus, Dawn reported, and subsequently started beating up the women. They then stripped them naked and dragged them through the market.
"They continued to beat us for around an hour and made our videos in naked condition," the FIR quoted the complainant as saying.
The suspects only let the women go when their family members arrived at the market and passersbys gathered, pleading that the women be set free.
"The suspects committed gross injustice by stripping us, dragging us through the market and torturing us and strict action should be taken against them," the complainant said in the FIR.
Violence against women in Pakistan, including rape and domestic abuse, are common in Pakistan.
In 2018, a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey of about 550 experts said Pakistan was the sixth most dangerous and fourth worst in terms of economic resources and discrimination for women as well as the risks women face from cultural, religious and traditional practices, including so-called honor killings. Pakistan also ranked fifth on non-sexual violence, including domestic abuse.


Pakistan says OIC meeting on Afghanistan to discuss humanitarian aid, not Taliban recognition

Updated 07 December 2021

Pakistan says OIC meeting on Afghanistan to discuss humanitarian aid, not Taliban recognition

  • The meeting of the foreign ministers of OIC countries will take place in Islamabad on December 19 on Saudi Arabia’s call
  • Pakistani FM Qureshi meets NATO secretary general in Brussels, says rapidly growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan ‘worrisome’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said on Tuesday the fundamental objective of a forthcoming meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Afghanistan was not the recognition of the Taliban administration in Kabul but to ensure a timely humanitarian response to help the people in the neighboring country.

The extraordinary meeting of the foreign ministers of OIC member states was called by Saudi Arabia to discuss Afghanistan’s growing humanitarian needs. Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi announced last week the meeting would be held on December 19 in Islamabad.

Afghanistan plunged into a major economic crisis after the pullout of international forces in August which brought the foreign assistance amounting to billions of dollars to an abrupt end.

“The OIC meeting will not focus on the recognition of the Taliban government,” foreign office spokesperson Asim Iftikhar said while addressing his weekly media briefing in the federal capital. “Its main focus will be on humanitarian response [to the situation in Afghanistan] and practical arrangements to provide such assistance.”

“While this engagement can provide a window to the member states to discuss the recognition issue, it is not the main focus [of the gathering],” he continued.

The spokesperson said Pakistan was counting on the support of OIC states along with other responsible members of the international community to make the extraordinary session a success.

“We have invited the United Nations, representatives of financial institutions, P-5 countries along with OIC member states,” he said. “As the collective voice of the Muslim Ummah, the OIC can and must play its part in addressing the humanitarian needs of Afghan people. It is important to help prevent the economic meltdown of their country.”

Iftikhar maintained no other organization, including the UN, had devised a strategy to assist Afghanistan, adding that the OIC could do that and benefit the whole world.

“There was a conference on humanitarian assistance [to Afghanistan] in September where many countries made pledges,” he added, “but they faced practical problems … The OIC is trying to bridge that gap by providing a practical mechanism to convert pledges into reality.”

Asked about confirmations received by entities invited to the conference, he said the process was underway and Islamabad was currently receiving confirmations.

“We hope maximum number of [OIC] member states and others attend the session,” the Pakistani official said.

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also met NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels and apprised him that Pakistan would be holding an “extraordinary meeting” of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers to draw the attention of the international community to the growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan,

“The rapidly emerging humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is worrisome,” a statement from Qureshi’s office said. “There is a need for the international community to make serious efforts to provide humanitarian and economic assistance to the Afghan people.”

Qureshi called for the international community to cooperate with the Taliban to prevent “the threat of migration of refugees from Afghanistan and prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists and a drug hub.”


Fear of inflationary pressure as Pakistan plans supplementary budget to meet IMF conditions

Updated 07 December 2021

Fear of inflationary pressure as Pakistan plans supplementary budget to meet IMF conditions

  • The finance ministry says general sales tax withdrawals amounting to Rs350 billion will not impact items used to measure the consumer price index
  • Experts express concern over higher import bill which has been exerting pressure on the national currency that closed at Rs176.79 on Tuesday

KARACHI: Economists in Pakistan on Tuesday warned of greater inflationary pressure while responding to the government’s decision to present a supplementary budget to meet the International Monetary Fund’s conditions for the resumption of a $6 billion loan program.

The IMF and Pakistan reached a staff level agreement last month on the policies and reforms required to complete the sixth review under the bailout program which will provide the country access to about $1 billion in the coming weeks.

However, the agreement still requires the endorsement of the Fund’s executive board after the implementation of various fiscal and institutional reforms.

Pakistan’s finance chief Shaukat Tarin told a media briefing after the conclusion of the IMF talks that the Fund wanted the country to implement five conditions, including “the withdrawal of tax exemptions and autonomy of central bank.”

“Amid higher interest rate, huge disparity between dollar and rupee exchange rates and higher import bill, the implementation of IMF conditions is likely to deal a blow to Pakistan’s economy,” Dr. Ashfaque Hasan Khan, senior economist and member of the government’s Benazir Income Support Program (BISP), told Arab News while pointing out it would lead to greater inflationary pressure.

The spokesperson of Pakistan’s finance ministry, Muzzammil Aslam, reiterated that the government wanted to reform sales tax without putting extra burden on taxpayers.

“There will be sales tax withdrawal and no new tax is going to be levied,” he told Arab news. “The quantum of the withdrawal is Rs350 billion.”

He informed the supplementary budget would soon be presented to the cabinet before being taken to parliament. “This will be done before the IMF executive board meeting which is expected to take place next month (January).”

However, economists maintained the implementation of IMF conditions would have an overall impact of Rs600 billion including Rs350 billion in the withdrawal of tax exemption.

“The impact of exemption, withdrawal and other measures to collect additional revenue would be Rs600 billion in monetary terms which will be passed on to consumers,” Dr. Farrukh Saleem, a senior economist who previously served as the government’s spokesperson, told Arab News.

“These measures will have to be implemented through a mini budget or finance bill that will be presented in parliament and have political connotations,” he said, adding: “These measures will bring about a flood of inflation.”

However, Aslam downplayed the concern, saying items used to measure the Consumer Price Index (CPI) would not be affected.

“Tax exemptions will mostly be withdrawal from items which are not part of the CPI basket,” he said. “There will be no direct impact on consumers.”

However, the Pakistani authorities maintained they would also increase tax on petroleum products to meet another IMF demand. The country’s finance chief said last month the petroleum development levy would be increased by Rs4 per month to Rs 30.

“This will put additional burden of Rs80 billion on consumers this month and will go up to Rs320 billion,” Saleem said. “The government has also increased power tariffs.”

Inflation in Pakistan soared to 11.5 percent on a year-on-year basis in November 2021 as compared to 9.2 percent in the previous month and 8.3 percent in November 2020.

Pakistan’s trade deficit between July and November also posted a growth of 112 percent, as it reached $20.6 billion. The import bill for November 2021 increased by $7.8 billion, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS).

The high import has exerted pressure on the country’s national currency which closed at an all-time high at Rs176.79 against the US dollar on Tuesday.

Pakistani experts said the country should stop importing luxury items, including cars and pet food.

“I have been persistently calling for curtailing imports of non-essential items, including luxury cars, mobile phones, fruits from western countries, and food for dogs and cats,” Dr. Hassan said, adding: “A committee must be formed to take speedy decision on the items to be imported.”


‘Not on my watch,’ PM says at memorial for Sri Lankan lynched over blasphemy suspicion

Updated 07 December 2021

‘Not on my watch,’ PM says at memorial for Sri Lankan lynched over blasphemy suspicion

  • Presents award to Malik Adnan, an employee in Sialkot who tried to shield Sri Lankan factory manager from the mob
  • Sri Lanka's high commissioner says Kumara’s lynching would not affect bilateral ties, “very satisfied” with Pakistan’s response

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Tuesday his government would not allow anyone to misuse religion to perpetrate violence in Pakistan as he addressed a memorial service for a Sri Lankan national who was lynched in the city of Sialkot last week over a blasphemy allegation.
Priyantha Kumara, who worked as a manager at a garment factory, was attacked and killed by a Muslim mob on Friday. The crowd also publicly burned his body over what police have said are accusations he desecrated religious posters.
Blasphemy is considered a deeply sensitive issue in Pakistan and carries the death penalty. International and domestic rights groups say accusations of blasphemy have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores.
"The government will not spare anyone who tries to use religion, particularly the name of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), to generate violence," the prime minister said. "Such instances will not be allowed to take place on my watch.”

In this December 7, 2021, photo, Prime Minister Imran Khan, left, presents a certificate of appreciation to Malik Adnan, a factory employee who tried to shield Priyantha Kumara, a Sri Lankan national, who was lynched by a mob in the city of Sialkot, Pakistan, last Friday. (PID)

The prime minister also presented a certificate of appreciation to Malik Adnan, an employee in Sialkot who tried to shield the Sri Lankan factory manager from the mob. 
"One moral man is an army," Khan said as he praised Adnan for his bravery and called him an inspiration for the Pakistani youth.
The prime minister said Sialkot's business community had raised US$100,000 for Kumara's bereaved wife and two children and pledged to take care of their financial requirements.
Earlier in the day, Sri Lanka's high commissioner in Islamabad, Mohan Vijay Vikrama, said Kumara’s lynching would not affect bilateral ties.
Pakistan has had close relations with Sri Lanka for years and assisted it in a 25-year-long conflict between Tamil separatist rebels and the Sri Lankan government.
“Your country [Pakistan] has many times come and assisted us, when we needed it and vice versa, so this particular incident is not going to have an impact on the relations of two countries, I will assure that,” the ambassador said during a visit by a group of Pakistani religious scholars to the Sri Lankan high commission to condole over the killing.
“This particular incident is horrific, horrendous, which should not have happened in any place in Pakistan, nor in the world and we condemned it," he added. "But the manner in which the clergy, the government and the people have risen up [against the incident] to take action in catching the culprits, remanding them and initiating legal proceeding, is very satisfying."
Pakistan's prime minister also met with senior military and civilian leaders on Monday and called for a "comprehensive strategy" against mob violence.