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.”

Election regulator issues preliminary delimitation report as Pakistan heads toward polls

Updated 27 September 2023

Election regulator issues preliminary delimitation report as Pakistan heads toward polls

  • The Election Commission of Pakistan last week said it would hold polls in late January
  • Pakistan’s National Assembly comprises 266 general seats, 60 reserved for women and 10 for non-Muslims

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s election regulator issued the preliminary delimitation report of constituencies on Wednesday, with the completion of the exercise bringing it closer to holding polls in January 2024 as it said last week.
In a notification released on Aug. 17, the ECP said the initial delimitation process would be completed on Oct. 7 and preliminary proposals for delimitation, along with the report, would be published on Oct. 9.
However, the ECP announced last week it would hold elections in the last week of January 2024 and would instead complete the delimitation process by Nov. 30, instead of Dec. 14 as originally stated.
Polls were supposed to take place within 90 days of the parliament’s dissolution, but the election regulator said it needed more time to redraw hundreds of federal and provincial constituencies following the latest population census approved by the previous government in August.
“The share of seats in the National Assembly and in the Provincial Assemblies in respect of each district has been worked out on the basis of the final results of the 7th Digital
population and Housing Census-2023, officially published on 7th August, 2023,” the ECP said in a notification and an accompanying report.
As per the report, a copy of which is available with Arab News, the National Assembly comprises 266 General Seats while 60 additional seats have been reserved for women, and 10 more for non-Muslims.
Of these seats, Punjab has been allocated the most with 141, followed by Sindh with 61, the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) with 45, southwestern Balochistan with 16, and the capital city of Islamabad has been allocated 3 seats.
Punjab has the most number of provincial seats as well at 371, followed by Sindh with 168, KP with 145, and Balochistan at 65.
Pakistan will head to the polls after over a year of intense political turmoil and economic meltdown. Business leaders in Pakistan have been urging authorities to bring political stability to the cash-strapped nation which has seen a record devaluation of the rupee and soaring inflation in the past year-and-a-half.

Pakistan cricket team arrives in India after 7 years for upcoming World Cup

Updated 27 September 2023

Pakistan cricket team arrives in India after 7 years for upcoming World Cup

  • Pakistan will play warm-up matches against New Zealand and Australia on Sept. 29, Oct. 3 respectively
  • The last time Pakistan’s cricket team set foot on Indian soil was in 2016 during the T20 World Cup of that year

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s national cricket team arrived in India on Wednesday after seven years to take part in the upcoming ODI World Cup tournament, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) confirmed in a statement.
The last time Pakistan played cricket on Indian soil was in 2016 when former captain Shahid Khan Afridi led the green shirts in the T20 World Cup of that year.
Political tensions between the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors mean they haven’t played a bilateral cricket series against each other in over a decade. The two teams only lock horns in global cricket tournaments at neutral venues.
“Pakistan team has landed in Hyderabad, India,” the PCB said in a statement. A video accompanying the statement showed Pakistan captain Babar Azam, vice-captain Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, and others exiting the plane with their suitcases.

This screengrab taken from a video shared by Pakistan Cricket Board shows the Pakistani team walking out of the passenger jetway at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad, India on September 27, 2023, ahead of ICC World Cup 2023. (Courtesy: PCB/Screengrab)

Pakistan left for India during the wee hours of Wednesday, traveling to Dubai where they were joined by Bowling Coach Morne Morkel while Team Director Mickey Arthur will join the squad in India, the PCB said.
Only two players from Pakistan’s current squad have traveled to India before: Mohammad Nawaz, who was part of Pakistan’s 2016 T20 World Cup squad, and Agha Salman, who was in the Lahore Lions’ squad for the Champions League T20.
Skipper Babar Azam’s side will play two warm-up matches against New Zealand and Australia on Sept. 29 and Oct. 3 respectively before they begin their World Cup campaign against the Netherlands on Oct. 6.
Pakistan will face India in Ahmedabad on Oct. 14 where over 100,000 fans are expected to attend the high-octane clash.

Pakistan agree contract deals that will allow players to get share of ICC revenue

Updated 27 September 2023

Pakistan agree contract deals that will allow players to get share of ICC revenue

  • There had been deadlock between the cricketers and Pakistan’s cricket board since contracts expired on June 30
  • Three Pakistani cricketers in the top category will get a monthly retainer of $15,600, says Pakistan Cricket Board

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Cricket Board has agreed a “momentous” three-year central contract deal with its international squads that will include players getting a proportion of International Cricket Council revenue.
There had been deadlock between the squads and the PCB for several months since the contracts expired on June 30, with the players asking for their share in the revenue the board gets from the ICC, the game’s governing body.
The new three-year contract is backdated to July 1, 2023, but the cricket board said the performance of the players would be reviewed every 12 months.
“As many as 25 cricketers will be offered a momentous deal that will include a proportion of ICC revenue,” the PCB said in a statement on Wednesday.
It is the first time the PCB has merged the red-ball and white-ball contracts of the players, saying it is “aimed at promoting fairness and a transparent selection process.”
Each player in the four categories received a raise of more than 100 percent. Three in the top category, Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan and Shaheen Shah Afridi, will get a monthly retainer of $15,600.
“It is a historic deal,” skipper Babar said. “It has been a lengthy and, at times, challenging negotiation process, but I believe we have reached a fair and beneficial agreement for both parties.”
The players will receive a share of three percent of ICC revenue, which will be around $1 million. The PCB will be earning around $34 million per year from the ICC.
Besides getting a monthly retainer, there is a raise of 50 percent in match fees for players who feature in test matches, an increase of 25 percent for ODIs and 12.5 percent for T20s.
The PCB also agreed that the centrally contracted players can play in two other T20 leagues aside from the Pakistan Super League.
“I am pleased to announce that after lengthy negotiations the PCB has come to a financial agreement with the players,” said Zaka Ashraf, chairman of the PCB managing committee.
Category A: Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan and Shaheen Shah Afridi
Category B: Fakhar Zaman, Haris Rauf, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Nawaz, Naseem Shah and Shadab Khan
Category C: Imad Wasim and Abdullah Shafique
Category D: Fahim Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Ihsanullah, Mohammad Haris, Mohammad Wasim Jr, Saim Ayub, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmad, Saud Shakeel, Shahnawaz Dahani, Shan Masood, Usama Mir and Zaman Khan.

Despite setbacks, ex-PM Khan’s party hopeful of winning upcoming Pakistan elections

Updated 27 September 2023

Despite setbacks, ex-PM Khan’s party hopeful of winning upcoming Pakistan elections

  • Khan’s PTI party will secure majority due to its ‘potent election strategy,’ says senior leader
  • Legal, electoral experts say credibility of polls without PTI and its leaders would be questioned

ISLAMABAD: Despite suffering political setbacks, desertions and a nationwide crackdown against its leaders and supporters, a senior leader of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) said on Wednesday the party would secure the majority in the upcoming elections due to its “potent election strategy.”

Ousted via a parliamentary vote in April 2022, ex-PM Khan’s popularity has surged among the masses according to opinion polls. However, the cricketer-turned-politician has suffered major political blows since May 9, when hundreds of PTI leaders and supporters were arrested following violent protests by his supporters that saw military installations and government buildings attacked in many parts of the country after his brief arrest.

Khan himself has been in jail since August after he was convicted by a court for illegally selling state gifts during his tenure as prime minister and was handed a three-year imprisonment sentence. Pakistan’s election regulator subsequently disqualified him from holding any office for five years following the conviction. While the Islamabad High Court suspended the conviction on Aug. 29, Khan remains in jail in yet another case where he is accused of leaking the contents of a secret letter. PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the party’s president, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, are also in jail on separate charges.

Despite the setbacks, the PTI is preparing for the upcoming elections which were scheduled to be held in November but will most likely be delayed to early next year after the previous government of ex-PM Shehbaz Sharif approved the results of a population census days before dissolving the parliament in August. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is bound by law to redraw hundreds of constituencies based on the results of the latest census, an exercise that could delay polls to February and beyond.

“We have worked out a potent election strategy to field our candidates in all constituencies across Pakistan and we are sure to win a majority in the polls,” Barrister Gohar Ali Khan, a PTI spokesperson and member of the party’s core committee, told Arab News.

Khan referred to the IHC’s Aug. 29 decision, saying that the former prime minister is “fully eligible” to contest elections.

“As per law, Imran Khan and all other PTI leaders are eligible to file their nomination papers even from jails to contest polls,” Khan said. “Once the nomination papers are filed, we will seek relief from the courts and the ECP for a level-playing field.

“We are hopeful Imran Khan will be out of jail soon and he will lead the party’s election campaign.”

He said Khan was far more popular than his political rivals hence it would be difficult to rig the upcoming elections.

Electoral and legal experts said questions would be raised about the upcoming election’s credibility if the PTI and its chairman were not allowed to take part in it.

“All electoral contestants including PTI ticket-holders should be given equal opportunity to contest polls without any fear and favor to ensure transparency of elections,” Muddassir Rizvi, director of programs at the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in Islamabad, told Arab News.

“The party should be allowed to nominate contestants of its choice, otherwise it will seriously dent the credibility of the polls,” he said, suggesting that the ECP should deploy police and paramilitary troops instead of army personnel on polling day to avoid any controversies, given the PTI’s tense relations with the military.

Advocate Abid Saqi said it was premature to speak on Khan and the PTI’s political future because of the unpredictable nature of Pakistani politics.

“All polls and surveys at the moment show Imran Khan is by and large the most popular leader, but the fact is he is in jail,” Saqi told Arab News. “His conviction in the Toshakhana (state repository) case is suspended and he can contest polls, but what if he is convicted in another case before elections and that conviction stays during the electoral process,” he asked.

“Legal questions aside, elections without the PTI and its leaders would remain disputed,” he added.

Pakistan’s Punjab closes schools for four days amid surge in conjunctivitis cases

Updated 27 September 2023

Pakistan’s Punjab closes schools for four days amid surge in conjunctivitis cases

  • All public, private schools across Punjab to remain closed from Thursday to Sunday
  • Local media reports say state-run hospitals in Punjab treating between 500-600 patients

ISLAMABAD: Schools throughout Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province would remain closed for four days amid a surge in “pink eye” or conjunctivitis cases, the province’s School Education Department said in a notification on Wednesday.

Punjab has been grappling with a surge in conjunctivitis cases, with local media reports saying the number of patients seeking treatment in state-run hospitals across the province stand between 500-600.

Conjunctivitis, commonly known as “pink eye” condition, is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, the clear, thin tissue that lines the inside of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye. Doctors say conjunctivitis is a highly contagious disease that primarily spreads through direct contact with an infected person.

“In the wake of conjunctivitis/pink eye infection among school kids, the competent authority is pleased to announce that all public and private schools across the province shall remain closed from Thursday 28-09-2023 till Sunday 1-10-2023,” the notification read.

The School Education Department further said that schools would reopen across the province on Monday, Oct. 2 and would be required to follow all standard operating procedures to prevent the spread of the infection.

Punjab Caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi toured the Mitha Teaching Hospital near Texali Gate in Lahore on Wednesday, saying that the situation regarding the eye infection remains “concerning.”

“ACs not working, non-operational X-ray machine, doctors with pink eye in operation theaters,” Naqvi wrote on social media platform X.

“We have set a 7-day deadline for the Health Department to address these issues.”

Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi and other urban areas of Sindh province witnessed a surge in pink eye infections during the first week of September.

Doctors had advised patients to seek treatment for the condition and avoid self-medication.