A Fu­ture Agenda

There are ripe pos­si­bil­i­ties of Pak­istan and Bangladesh turn­ing a new leaf in the com­ing years and redesigning their bi­lat­eral ties.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Javed Jab­bar

When one of my most favourite jour­nals in South Asia, Hol­i­day of Dhaka, gra­ciously in­vites me to con­trib­ute some ob­ser­va­tions to mark a very spe­cial an­niver­sary, a re­splen­dent range of mem­o­ries and as­so­ci­a­tions come alive. Be it the im­age of the dear, de­parted friend Enay­at­ul­lah Khan, a brave jour­nal­ist of ex­cep­tional in­tegrity, a close com­pa­triot in our shared strug­gle to build co-op­er­a­tion be­tween me­dia prac­ti­tion­ers in South Asia or be it the liv­ing ex­am­ple of Sayed Ka­malud­din who per­se­veres with courage and vast ex­pe­ri­ence to sus­tain and strengthen this jour­nal. Be it the golden green land­scape of Sonar Bangla and its beau­ti­ful women and men or be they re-col­lec­tions of a lost yet for­ever-trea­sured past. At the same time, tomorrow calls — be­cause the fu­ture is, iron­i­cally, per­haps more im­por­tant than the past. Though that does not de­value the in­fi­nite charms of yes­ter­day.

It would be at­trac­tive and tempt­ing to spec­u­late about what the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two in­de­pen­dent States is likely to be over 5 decades hence. As this writer is not go­ing to be in this realm of ex­is­tence, one can­not be held ac­count­able for making pre­dic­tions. Thus, read on­ward — know­ing well that re­gret­tably, there is no sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity or prospec­tive ac­count­abil­ity on the part of this day-dreamer.

One hun­dred years projects a

solid sense of sub­stance — a whole cen­tury. Even though this is a frac­tion of a frac­tion of recorded time and history. For hu­man beings alive, ten decades rep­re­sent a ma­jor span. Much can hap­pen. Some of that may be fore­seen. Much more will oc­cur that is not pos­si­ble to fore­see. On global and re­gional lev­els, we should note the tu­mul­tuous and trans­form­ing — and wholly un­pre­dicted — changes that have occurred over the past one hun­dred years since 1915.

In the con­text of Pak­istan, it took only 24 years, from 1947 to 1971, for the orig­i­nal State to be­come the first State af­ter the Sec­ond World War to dis­in­te­grate. Since that trau­matic part­ing, Pak­istan and Bangladesh have spent more years apart — 44 years — than the years spent to­gether as West and East Pak­istan. Yet even in end-1971-72, as the two new na­tion-States — a re-born Pak­istan, a newly-born Bangladesh — be­gan their re­spec­tive new jour­neys into the fu­ture, no one could pre­cisely pre­dict the ex­tra­or­di­nary twists and turns that have occurred in both coun­tries over the past 44 years.

A di­men­sion of unique­ness marks both en­ti­ties. Both when they were parts of one coun­try. And now, as two pre-dom­i­nantly Mus­lim coun­tries of South Asia. No­tably and iron­i­cally, it is Bangladesh, even more than Pak­istan which val­i­dates the Two-na­tion The­ory separately and some­times jointly ar­tic­u­lated by Chaudhry Rah­mat Ali (the man who coined the word “Pak­istan” in 1933), Al­lama Iqbal, Fazal-e-Haq and Muham­mad Ali Jin­nah.

Emerg­ing as an in­de­pen­dent na­tion­State in De­cem­ber 1971, Bangladesh re­jected the dom­i­nant, dis­crim­i­na­tory facets of the State struc­ture of Pak­istan. The birth of Bangladesh did not rep­re­sent a re­jec­tion of re­li­gious iden­tity be­ing one of the strong for­ma­tive fac­tors of na­tional iden­tity. De­spite shar­ing old and close bonds of lan­guage, eth­nic­ity, history and cul­ture with In­dian West Ben­gal, the peo­ple of Bangladesh have shown no cred­i­ble pref­er­ence in 44 years to merge into West Ben­gal and In­dia as an ex­pres­sion of their al­leged re­jec­tion of the Two-na­tion The­ory. Which, as a re­sult of 1971, has sim­ply evolved into a Two-na­tion-Three-State The­ory i.e. pre-dom­i­nantly Mus­lim Pak­istan, slightly less pre-dom­i­nantly Mus­lim Bangladesh, and a cul­tur­ally di­verse yet re­li­giously ho­mogen­u­ous Mus­lim na­tion within pre-dom­i­nantly Hindu In­dia.

Time for an ill-timed mid-break: in pre-dom­i­nantly Ben­gali-speak­ing Kolkata, on a first-ever visit to that city in July 2015, one dis­cov­ered that Urdu is alive and well in West Ben­gal. The driver of my car was a Mus­lim gen­tle­man, de­scended from a Bi­har fam­ily long set­tled in that city. Ev­ery morn­ing he pro­vided me with a copy of each of the four Urdu news­pa­pers presently pub­lished in Kolkata.

Back to the sched­uled nar­ra­tive. Cur­rently there are pos­si­bly nine sets of is­sues that mark the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship. Th­ese are: a. Unresolved is­sues about the phase in which the two wings abided within a sin­gle State in the pe­riod of 1947-1971. b. Clar­i­fi­ca­tions and cor­rec­tions still re­quired about the last part of that phase, the cru­cial years be­tween 1966 and 1971, in­clud­ing the cat­a­strophic fi­nal year. c. About how we view the past 44 years in dif­fer­ent phases, cov­er­ing the years from 1971 to date in 2015 for­mally marked with of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion by Pak­istan in 1974 of the in­de­pen­dent State of Bangladesh. d. About ac­knowl­edg­ing re­spec­tive re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for the dif­fer­ent events and phases in the sin­gle year of 1971. There are two di­a­met­ri­cally dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the same events. e. About the fact that while the Head of State of Pak­istan (Gen­eral Pervez Mushar­raf) has ex­pressed deep re­grets at the tragic events of 1971, no apol­ogy has been of­fered. f. About the fact that, to date, Bangladesh has nei­ther ac­knowl­edged with re­gret, nor apol­o­gized for the killings of thou­sands of non-Ben­galis be­tween 1st March 1971 and March-April 1972. g. About the fact that Pak­istan views the tri­als, con­vic­tions and ex­e­cu­tions of in­di­vid­u­als ac­cused of mass killings in 1971 as vi­ola­tive of in­ter­na­tional norms for fairness and jus­tice for the ac­cused (a view shared by non-Pak­istani ju­rists as well) and that th­ese con­vic­tions and ex­e­cu­tions are venge­ful, rather than for­giv­ing and mer­ci­ful, in the spirit of all great re­li­gions, and in the con­tem­po­rary ex­am­ple set by Nel­son Man­dela in South Africa, and in Rwanda. h. About the per­ceived dif­fer­ences con­cern­ing how Prime Min­is­ter Haseena Wa­jid and the Awami League view Pak­istan, and how for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Khaleda Zia and the BNP see Pak­istan. i. About the com­par­a­tively low lev­els of trade and eco­nomic and de­vel­op­ment co-op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries as well as very lim­ited, or vir­tu­ally nonex­is­tent lev­els of co-op­er­a­tion in cul­ture and pol­i­tics. With the sole ex­cep­tion of sports. There is wide cov­er­age in Pak­istani me­dia in Oc­to­ber 2015 of the tal­ented women's cricket team from Bangladesh. Set against the back­drop of the above sets of is­sues, it is nec­es­sary to pose a ques­tion about what we have separately be­come in 44 years. Have Bangladesh and Pak­istan grown fur­ther apart as peo­ple and as States? Or have we be­come closer than we were in De­cem­ber 1971?

As we pon­der pos­si­ble re­sponses to the above ques­tions, it is also rel­e­vant to ask whether we should let the on­go­ing con­di­tion of drift con­tinue?

As this writer has a con­gen­i­tal weak­ness for ideal sce­nar­ios, let us pro­ceed to an out­line of the fea­tures that could — or should — mark re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries about half a cen­tury from now. Af­ter all, to­day’s im­prac­ti­cal ideals can some­times be­come tomorrow’s prac­ti­cal re­al­i­ties.

A wish list for the cen­tury-mile­stone of Bangladesh-Pak­istan re­la­tions in 2071 should prob­a­bly com­prise most, or all of the el­e­ments that fol­low.

Here are the ac­tiv­i­ties and pro­grammes that should un­fold in the five decades ahead. (i) Reg­u­lar vis­its by del­e­ga­tions as­so­ci­ated with all ma­jor sec­tors, cov­er­ing ed­u­ca­tion, NGOs, cul­ture, re­li­gion, commerce,


It would be at­trac­tive and tempt­ing to spec­u­late about what the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two in­de­pen­dent States is likely to be over 5 decades hence.

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