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