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Our Pakistan Paranoia

January 20, 2016

Bilateral relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh took a nosedive when Bangladeshi law-enforcing agents accused one Pakistani diplomat,Fareena Arshad, whom Pakistan later recalled, of financing terrorists. Last year another Pakistani diplomat had been withdrawn after facing similar allegations.

In reprisal, Pakistan requested Bangladesh to call back one of its diplomats stationed in Islamabad and kept Bangladeshi diplomats in Karachi under surveillance. The demand for severing ties with Pakistan has been gaining grounds against this backdrop.

To my surprise, I have not seen yet any credible document leaked to the press by the agencies that accused Pakistan High Commission of running Jihadi networks here. They however laid bare recorded conversations between Hasina and Khaleda. The conversations between mayoral candidate Mahmudur Rahman Manna and BNP leader Sadek Hossain Khoka also found spaces on the front pages of the dailies. In all these cases, trivial matters were magnified to make a mountain out of a molehill that led to character assassination.

I do believe that they hold credible evidences in support of the allegations they brought against diplomats of a friendly country. Since the relations between two countries are on the verge of falling apart, they should now somehow set forth those evidences to let the people know what the Pakistani diplomats were doing in this country and to prove that the claims are not spurious.

To me, there are many Pakistans in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. There is one Pakistan that acknowledges the atrocities committed in 1971; there is one that denies that; there is one that understands our cultural distinctness and sensitivities; there is one that tries to impose its own culture on us; there is one that speaks in favor of war crimes trial in Bangladesh; there is one that stands by the war criminals; there is one that is home of Manto, Ayesha Siddiqa, Mohammed Hanif and Mohsin Hamid; there is one that fathered some infamous terrorist groups; there is one that produces fearsome fast bowlers; there is one that fixes matches; there is one that exports delicious sachet of Faluda, Basmati rice and beautiful Lehengas; there is one that exports fake Indian currencies and passports.

In dealing with Pakistan, we need to keep in mind these paradoxes and to distinguish the opposing elements prevailing in Pakistan.

Bangladesh gained a lot from its friendship with Pakistan and could have yielded more had the relations not oscillated between trust and mistrust. The biggest sector that benefitted from Pak-Bangladesh ties is the defense sector. The pièces de résistance of our military hardware have their origin in Pakistan. At the end of Begum Zia’s tenure in 2006 when she was on an official visit to Pakistan (from February 12 to February 14) Pakistan Navy wanted to gift two decommissioned submarines to Bangladesh Navy. The proposal fell through because of Indian protest. Now we are buying two Chinese Romeo-class submarines with a price tag of Tk 16 billion. If the two submarines had been inducted to the Navy back then, we would have a trained breed of submariner by now.

Since the threat perception of our defense and strategic establishment has not changed, the relationship will further grow unless our political leadership ends it abruptly.

Sometimes I could not figure it out why Pakistan would try to destabilize us by financing terrorists when Bangladesh is an important export destination for its defense items and which holds a special place in the minds of its strategic community. Any such destabilization attempt will only bleak the prospect of future arms sale and endanger its strategic ties with Bangladesh.

Moreover, it is high time that the two countries come closer to fight terrorism jointly by sharing lessons learned from their own homes. Pakistan has a reputation for harboring terror groups. But if we collect data on average life expectancy of law-enforcing personnel of South Asian countries, except Afghanistan, then we will see Pakistani personnel have the lowest average life expectancy in the region. They are honestly doing their job and paying a great price for that.

Pakistan could become a vital ally of Bangladesh in its fight against terrorism, even if we think Pakistan is responsible for the terror acts cropping up here. Police officials in Punjab, Karachi and ISI agents—who know modus operandi of various terror groups and al-Qaeda affiliates like the back of their hands—can provide valuable inputs to their Bangladeshi counterparts in nabbing terrorists and thwarting future terror attacks.

Deal on nuclear power generation is another area where the ties with Pakistan could have come into play. For instance, we could have sought Pakistan’s technical assistance prior to ink Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant deal with Russia. Pakistan has vast experiences in negotiating such deals and it operates several such plants. Had there been technical cooperation from other countries like Pakistan, we would not have swallowed such a costly deal with Russia.

Building relationship is an uphill task and breaking it is like throwing pebble at a house of cards. At this low ebb of bilateral relations, when the cry of breaking ties is strong, we need to walk the path of pragmatism. Some elements’ support for their old friends should not be interpreted as the whole Pakistan’s support for war criminals. If we want Pakistanis to understand our pain and to raise their voices against the atrocities committed in 1971, we have to engage and interact more with Pakistani people. How can we achieve that by severing ties with Pakistan?

Pakistan is a set that incorporates all these elements—some are our friends while the others, a tiny section, are not. Severing ties with the whole set seems to be costly. Rather, our efforts should focus on how to isolate the troublesome tiny section and how to quarantine it.


From → Analysis

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