South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Bangladesh and Pakistan
A. Sattar Alvi

The creation of Bangladesh is now a historical fact and calls for the effort to achieve a common good for its people. Exactly the same is true of Pakistan. Overshadowed by the events of 1971, it has been an uphill task for Bangladesh and Pakistan to overcome the unpleasantness of the past and move towards a better future. But the question is how one should proceed to achieve that objective? A true reconciliation can only emerge if both countries boldly face the true or imaginary demons of the past, forgive the perpetrators on both sides and then bury the rancour and unpleasantness forever.

The historical bitterness still pervades the minds of people in both countries. For Bangladesh the bitterness is that of politico-economic exploitation, domination by West Pakistan, lack of apology for the tragic events of 1971, repatriation of stranded Pakistanis and division of assets and liabilities. For Pakistan the bitterness exists because of the Bengalis’ connivance with the enemy, Mukti Bahini killings and the humiliating defeat in 1971. It is refuelled on occasions which are celebrated with anti-Pakistan undertones. While one cannot disagree with the merit of these issues, there exists in Pakistan a perception that the relevance of these issues has become marginal and that, to a large extent, Dhaka’s approach to these issues has been emotional and rhetorical rather than pragmatic. The question of official apology from Pakistan, as demanded by some segments of Bangladeshi society, has somewhat been diluted because of the expression of regrets made by the Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf when he visited Bangladesh in 2002. But the issue of apology is far from over. It has been argued by certain circles in Bangladesh that if Japan could offer an official apology to the people of Korea for the atrocities it had committed and if Germany can apologize for the Nazi acts during the Second World War, why cannot Pakistan follow these examples?
Bangladesh is now an independent country; duly acknowledged and accepted by Pakistan and there is a swell of goodwill in Pakistani hearts for its well-being and bright future. The emergence of a new country in the subcontinent, with a strong and distinct Muslim identity, has not snuffed out the Two Nation Theory, as was the grand Indian design. Pakistan and Bangladesh have made their peace. Yet, there are vested interests, which want to cash in on the buried and forgotten hatred and rancour by opening old wounds long since healed.
Hasina Wajid, Bangladesh’s prime minister, cannot be faulted for carrying the burden of her father’s legacy. But herein lies the difficult task of rising above one’s feelings and do what is good for the country. Scratching old wounds that could rake up tensions with Pakistan is gratuitous. For this purpose, the institution of a Liberation War Affairs Ministry that is entrusted with the task of keeping alive memories of the civil war may serve some purpose. But is that good for Bangladesh? Bangladesh gained independence, but India fought for it and it is not about to let Bangladesh forget that.
Bangladesh and Pakistan, despite differences, are proximate to each other in several ways. Both countries share a common past, common religion and common understanding of various regional and international issues. Tremendous potential in the areas of trade and commerce exists, which requires practical policies to be implemented. The two countries have supported each other in various international fora. Close defence cooperation also exists as evident from the visit of military officials from time to time. Therefore, it will be not wrong to argue that despite their unresolved conflicts, Bangladesh and Pakistan are natural allies. Both countries need each other. The politicians on both sides might just be able to figure that out when they are themselves out of the woods.