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
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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.”


Punjab assembly to hold inaugural session today as Imran Khan’s party announces protests 

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Punjab assembly to hold inaugural session today as Imran Khan’s party announces protests 

  • Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N emerged as largest party in Punjab Assembly in elections held earlier this month
  • Imran Khan and his PTI party have rejected the results of the elections, alleging widespread rigging

LAHORE: Governor Muhammad Baligh-ur-Rehman has summoned the inaugural session of the Punjab legislative assembly for an oath-taking ceremony today, Friday, with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan announcing protests outside the building against ‘rigging’ of Feb. 8 general elections.

An agreement to form a coalition government between Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of three-time Premier Nawaz Sharif late Tuesday night ended days of uncertainty and negotiations after an inconclusive Feb. 8 election produced a hung national assembly. 

PML-N’s 79 and the PPP’s 54 seats together make a simple majority in parliament to form a government, which, however, will also rope in smaller parties in the coalition. Candidates backed by Imran Khan won 93 seats, but do not have the numbers to form a government. He and his party have rejected the results of the elections, alleging widespread rigging.

“Those Tehreek-e-Insaf candidates who won the Punjab Provincial Assembly election but have been defeated due to the forgery of Form 47 should protest peacefully in front of the Punjab Provincial Assembly tomorrow at 10 am along with supporters,” Hammad Azhar, PTI’s general secretary for central Punjab, said on X. “Everyone should join this protest.”

A party requires 186 members to form the government in Punjab. The PML-N won the greatest number of seats in the province, 137, has been joined by about two dozen independent members and is also likely to bag a significant number of reserved seats for women and minorities which are allocated based on the number of seats won in polls. 

Punjab, a province of more than 127 million people, over half of Pakistan’s population, is known as the country’s most heated battleground, contributing 173 of the 326 seats in Pakistan’s Parliament and is the heartland of the nation’s political, military and industrial elite.

Historically, the party that secures a stronghold in Punjab often manages to form the government at the center. Maryam Nawaz Sharif, the daughter of three-time former PM Nawaz Sharif, is poised to make history as the first woman chief minister of a Pakistani province. The PML-N’s candidate for prime minister is Shehbaz Sharif, Nawaz’s brother.

Separately, Sindh Governor Muhammad Kamran Khan Tessori issued an order summoning the inaugural session of the Sindh provincial assembly on Saturday, Feb. 24, at 11:00 a.m.

“In exercise of the powers conferred upon me under clause (a) of Article 109 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan,1973 and other provisions enabling me in this behalf, I, Muhammad Kamran Khan Tessori, Governor of Sindh, hereby summon the Provincial Assembly of Sindh to meet on Saturday the 24th day of February 2024 at 11.00 a.m. at the Sindh Assembly Building. Karachi,” the order read.


Pakistan to present legal position on Israeli policies in Palestine at ICJ hearing today

Updated 13 min 25 sec ago
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Pakistan to present legal position on Israeli policies in Palestine at ICJ hearing today

  • Case is on ‘Legal Consequences arising from Policies and Practices of Israel in Occupied Palestinian Territory”
  • Palestinian representatives on Monday accused Israel of colonialism, ethnic cleansing, apartheid and genocide

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will present its legal position today, Friday, at ongoing advisory proceedings of the International Court of Justice on the policies and practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry said. 

The International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, is holding the public hearings from February 19-26 at the Peace Palace in The Hague, the seat of the Court. 

“Tomorrow [Friday] evening, Minister for Law and Justice, Ahmed Irfan Aslam, will present Pakistan’s position at the ongoing advisory proceedings of the International Court of Justice in the case on ‘Legal Consequences arising from the Policies and Practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem’,” the foreign office said.

“The proceedings stem from a December 2022 request by the United Nations General Assembly for an advisory opinion by the Court on the legal consequences of Israel’s policies and practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

During the course of Monday’s three-hour session at the court, seven representatives for the Palestinians said Israel’s rule in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was illegal, and accused the country of a litany of crimes, including colonialism, ethnic cleansing, apartheid and genocide.

Similar accusations were leveled against Israel by the South African delegation in court on Tuesday.

Jerusalem’s stance is that the ICJ advisory opinion sought by the UN General Assembly is illegitimate since numerous UN resolutions as well as bilateral Israeli-Palestinian agreements have established that the correct framework for resolving the conflict should be political, not legal.

Israel has not sent a delegation to the ongoing proceedings. 


IMF says won’t comment on ‘political developments’ after Imran Khan urges Pakistan election audit

Updated 35 min 30 sec ago
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IMF says won’t comment on ‘political developments’ after Imran Khan urges Pakistan election audit

  • IMF says will work with new government to ensure macroeconomic stability and prosperity for all Pakistanis
  • Khan plans to write to IMF urging audit of controversial Feb. 8 elections before it continues talks with Islamabad

KARACHI:The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Thursday it would not comment on “ongoing political developments” in Pakistan after lawyers for former Prime Minister Imran Khan said he would write to the global lender urging it to call for an independent audit of controversial Feb. 8 national elections before continuing bailout talks with Islamabad.

Pakistan averted default last summer due to a short-term IMF bailout, but the program expires next month and a new government will have to negotiate a long-term arrangement to keep the $350-billion economy stable.

Ahead of the bailout, the South Asian nation had to undertake a slew of measures demanded by the IMF, including revising its budget, a hike in its benchmark interest rate, and increases in electricity and natural gas prices.

Pakistan’s vulnerable external position means that securing financing from multilateral and bilateral partners will be one of the most urgent issues facing the next government, ratings agency Fitch said on Monday.

“I’m not going to comment on ongoing political developments. So, I don’t have anything else to add to what I just said,” IMF Spokesperson Julie Kozack told reporters when asked to respond to reports of Khan’s letter.

“We look forward to working with the new government on policies to ensure macroeconomic stability and prosperity for all of Pakistan’s citizens.”

On Thursday, Bloomberg reported that Pakistan planned to seek a new loan of at least $6 billion from the International Monetary Fund to help the incoming government repay billions in debt due this year. 

The country would seek to negotiate an Extended Fund Facility with the IMF, the report said, and talks with the global lender were expected to start in March or April.


Despite Islamabad fightback, skipper Rossouw inspires Quetta to victory

Updated 22 February 2024
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Despite Islamabad fightback, skipper Rossouw inspires Quetta to victory

  • In low-scoring match, Rilee Rossouw holds his nerve with 34-run inning to guide Quetta to victory
  • Gladiators’ Abrar Ahmed, Mohammad Wasim take three wickets each to keep Islamabad at bay

Islamabad: Despite a valiant fightback by Islamabad United, Quetta Gladiators continued their impressive run of the tournament by beating the former by three wickets at the Qaddafi Stadium in Lahore on Thursday. 

“Continuing our winning streak,” the Gladiators wrote on social media platform X after the match ended. 

Batting first, United scored a lackluster 138/9 at the end of their 20 overs courtesy of a stellar bowling performance from the Gladiators. Spinner Abrar Ahmed returned figures of 3/18 while Mohammad Wasim finished with 3/20. Akeil Hosein finished with 2/32 while pacer Mohammad Hasnain returned figures of 1/35. 

United’s only resistance in the batting department came from Agha Salman, who top-scored with a decent 33-run knock from 23 balls while opener Alex Hales scored 21 from nine deliveries. 

What should have been an easy chase for the Gladiators turned into a difficult one when United took quick wickets to put the pressure back on Rossouw’s squad. United skipper Shadab Khan returned figures of 2/24 while pacer Naseem Shah finished with 2/34. 

Rumman Raees and Hunain Shah took a single wicket each before Rossouw guided United to victory with a composed 34-run innings that came off 38 balls and featured only three boundaries. 

Opener Jason Roy provided the Gladiators an impressive start to the game by smashing 37 runs off 18 balls while Sherfane Rutherford held his nerves to score 29 runs from 23 balls before Naseem rattled his stumps.

The Gladiators and table-toppers Multan Sultans both have three wins from the tournament so far. Islamabad, with a single win and two losses, is at number three on the PSL points table. 
 


Pakistan blocks X for the sixth day as activists criticize the social media platform’s shutdown

Updated 22 February 2024
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Pakistan blocks X for the sixth day as activists criticize the social media platform’s shutdown

  • Ex-PM Khan’s party says restrictions on X have been placed by authorities to muzzle its voice on social media
  • Social media platforms are often used by protest organizers in Pakistan to call followers out to streets, plan demonstrations

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s media regulators have blocked the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, with users across the country on Thursday enduring the sixth day of sweeping disruptions, partial and complete shutdowns.

There was no comment on the outage by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and government officials have not responded to repeated queries from The Associated Press for comment.

Human rights activists have demanded a full restoration of Internet services and access to social media. Washington has also urged Pakistan to lift restrictions on X.

The outage was first observed over the weekend when the political party of Pakistan’s imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan announced protests against what it says were rigged Feb. 8 parliamentary elections.

In the vote, candidates backed by Khan, who was barred from running, won most seats but short of a simply majority needed to form a government.

Social media platforms are often used by protest organizers to call followers out to the streets and spread the word about planned demonstrations.

Pakistan has witnessed an increase in political instability since the balloting. The country’s elections oversight body denies charges by Khan’s party that the vote was stolen. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party or PTI said on Thursday that the restrictions on X have been placed by the authorities to suppress its voice on social media.

On Wednesday, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller expressed concerns in a statement to reporters over the outage and restrictions on the freedom of expression and association in Pakistan.

“We continue to call on Pakistan to respect freedom of expression and restore access to a social media that has been restricted including Twitter, now known as X,” Miller said. “We have and will continue to emphasize the importance of respecting these fundamental freedoms during our engagements with Pakistani officials.”

Khan’s rivals, including the former Premier Shehbaz Sharif, are trying to form a coalition government. Sharif replaced Khan after his ouster in a no-confidence vote in parliament in 2022. Khan has since then been convicted offenses in what his supporters call politically motivated moves to keep him out of office.