Pakistan and Bangladesh: rethinking the paradigm


This month will mark the fifty years of “independence” of Bangladesh (read: separation), Pakistan. The moment is a painful memory in Pakistan’s national history; just as, arguably, it evokes the horrors of war for the people of Bangladesh. And during these fifty years, the scars of the war and of the hostility of December 1971, have inflamed an atmosphere of mistrust and animosity between two brothers who once reunited (together) under the banner of Muhammad. Ali Jinnah to seek their collective independence from the British Raj and the Hindu majority in India.

This painful journey unfortunately began long before December 1971. In fact, just a few years after the independence of the British Raj from India, the Bengali language movement began in 1952.

Under the flag of this movement, the leaders of the Awami League (initially formed as the Awami All Pakistan Muslim League in 1949), demanded recognition of the Bengali language as the official language of Pakistan, authorizing government affairs, the education, media, currency and stamps must be issued and executed in Bengali script.

Read more: Fall of Dhaka 1971: questioning the iconic 3 million

While the language issue was settled, in part, on May 7, 1954, when the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan decided to adopt Bengali (along with Urdu) as the official language of Pakistan, the struggle has left a scar of festering mistrust between East and West Pakistan officials.

Tainted 1960s politics deepened that scar

During the time of General Ayub Khan, Pakistan experienced a lot of economic progress, but its results were unevenly distributed between the east and the west of the country. Specifically, the people of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) lamented that the government is prioritizing West Pakistan’s demands, at the cost of ignoring the Bengalis.

Adding fuel to the fire, the rise of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in West Pakistan and Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman in Bengal, led to a political quarrel that tore apart any semblance of harmony between the two federating units. . This struggle, which led to the 1970 general election, came to a head.

While Bhutto won the majority in West Pakistan (with 81 seats out of 160), Mujib-ur-Rehman swept all of East Pakistan (with 162 seats out of 165). And naturally, having a simple majority, the Awami League of Mujib-ur-Rehman expected to form the government. This, unfortunately, did not go well with Bhutto and the political powers of West Pakistan, leading the Awami League of Mujib-ur-Rehman to declare “independence” on March 26, 1971.

Read more: Forks in the Road: The fatal decision that precipitated a revolt in East Pakistan

In response, the Pakistani state launched an operation to counter the separatists

This movement has resulted in many excesses that have been committed. India, Pakistan’s permanent enemy, seized the opportunity and extended its military and material support to Mukti Bahini’s guerrilla fighters. As the situation worsened, during 1971 the Indian Army launched an all-out offensive, resulting in the fall of Dhaka on December 16, 1971.

Half a century after the painful events of 1971, Pakistan as well as Bangladesh now have a new generation (the young), which neither hastened nor participated in the tragic events of that time. And it is relevant to ask how this new generation, removed by the horrors of the past, can work together to build a new and lasting partnership in the region.

This likelihood of a new regional partnership between Pakistan and Bangladesh has recently gained ground, as Bangladesh emerges from the fascist Indian camp of Modi and moves closer to a stronger alliance with China and its allies.

Triggered by a backlash against Modi’s draconian Citizenship (Amendment) law of 2019 – which stripped thousands of Indians of Bengali descent of their nationality and promises to expel them from the country – Bangladesh has gradually started to sidestep move away from its excessive Indian influence. . For the first time since 1971, the news of the visit of the Indian Prime Minister (Modi) to Bangladesh was greeted with hostility and violence. As Modi’s planned trip to Dhaka approached earlier this year, riots broke out in Bangladesh, and the resulting clashes between protesters and the state left more than 12 innocent people dead.

Read more: Understanding India’s collapse in the Indo-Pacific

India’s Civil Rights Deprivation Posture towards Bengalis

This was accompanied by aggressive diplomacy and economic cooperation from China, which opened up the possibility that Bangladesh could gradually move out of the Indian camp and come closer to China and its allies (including including Pakistan). In this regard, in March this year, Pakistan extended a hand of friendship to Bangladesh, when Prime Minister Imran Khan congratulated Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her country on the 50th anniversary of her independence. . Dhaka returned the favor, Hasina writing that “Bangladesh is committed to establishing peaceful and cooperative relations with its neighboring countries, including Pakistan.”

This feeling must now be followed by a concerted plan of cooperation, both by States and by their citizens. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, together with other state organizations, is to formulate a policy for Bangladesh, which aims to usher in a new era of friendly relations between the two countries.

This includes economic cooperation, business collaboration, student exchanges, sporting events, and reinvigorated tourism efforts. People-to-people exchanges between the two countries, fostered by enabling state measures, will help a new generation of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis (who have nothing to do with the events of 1971) to dispel mutual mistrust and create constructive bilateral exchanges. .

The commonalities between the Pakistani people and the people of Bangladesh, who united them under the banner of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, still hold true today.

Read more: Should the world prepare for a new regional war?

Yes, we speak a different language, but we believe in the same religion

We have common cultural sensitivities; foster shared dreams of growth; to house the common ideals of a liberal Muslim state; and share a common history spanning thousands of years in the Indian subcontinent. These bonds cannot be broken permanently because of the mistakes made by a generation decades ago.

It is time for Pakistan and Bangladesh to overcome decades of mistrust. It is time for us to recognize that collaboration and union, economically and strategically, will benefit everyone.

That, in the years to come, our region will probably be the arena of a new Great Game… between the East (China) and the West (United States). India has already chosen its camp with the West. But the interests of Pakistan and Bangladesh lie in the East. That our dreams and aspirations, our fears and our favors, are linked to this region and its well-being. And it is only together, as partners in peace, that we can realize our collective dreams.

Saad Rasool is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has an LL.M. in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be contacted at [email protected], or Twitter: @Ch_SaadRasool. This article originally appeared in The nation under the title, “Pakistan-Bangladesh: rethinking the paradigmAnd has been republished with permission of the author. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.


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