“Pakistan – Bangladesh Relations in the Context of Peace and Stability in South Asia“
The India Study Centre (ISC) at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad (ISSI) organised a panel discussion on “Pakistan – Bangladesh Relations in the Context of Peace and Stability in South Asia” on 16th of September, 2020. In his introductory remarks, the Director ISC Dr. Saif Malik said Pakistan and Bangladesh being two very prominent countries of South Asia are endowed with immense potential for cooperation and enjoy a pivotal geopolitical, geo-economic as well as geostrategic position in South Asia. Both countries are also connected by a shared history and a common faith. The main threat to the peace and security of South Asia rotate around the hegemonic designs of India towards all its neighbours including Pakistan and Bangladesh who share common borders with India.
Welcoming the guests, the Director General (ISSI) Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary said that a very disorderly world is emerging. There is a competition between China and US where India has decided to join hands with the US. This has emboldened Modi to create a Hindu Rashtra which is an anti-minority concept. It has also encouraged India to assert its hegemony in the South Asian region. Therefore, it is important that the smaller countries of South Asia must consult each other. Pakistan and Bangladesh need to break ice in their relationship and since Bangladesh has made great strides in economic field, Pakistan can also learn from Bangladesh’s experiences.
Ambassador M Serajul Islam, Bangladesh’s former Ambassador to Japan shared his views on ” Security and Cooperation in South Asia: Bangladeshi Perspective” and said that since Bangladesh came into existence, it has been working for the peace and security of this region and establishment of SAARC is only one such example. However, Bangladesh’s relations with Pakistan were stagnant since 2009 but this situation changed with the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s reaching out to his Bangladeshi counterpart. He emphasised the importance of maintaining good relations and stressed that both the countries should continue their efforts towards this goal.
Prof Dr Moonis Ahmar, former Dean Karachi University extensively spoke about “Security and Cooperation in South Asia: Pakistani Perspective”. He said that two major countries of the region are not on talking terms with each other. Unless India and Pakistan mend fences with other, peace and security in the region will be a farfetched dream. There is a need to bridge the trust deficit but this cannot be done unilaterally. India must also reciprocate. While making a strong case for the revival of SAARC, Dr. Moonis also suggested that China should be made a permanent member of SAARC as China can help in maintaining peace and security in the region.
Mr. Muhammad Mohsin Rashid, a Senior Lawyer Supreme Court of Bangladesh while speaking on ‘Improving Bilateral Relations: Possible Areas of Cooperation’ suggested that both countries should work closely in the context of peace and security in South Asia and should become an example for other countries to follow. Both countries should make visa procedures easy to encourage people to people contacts. Air travels should be subsidised. There should be more discussions and MoUs on security arrangements. He also made a strong case for more frequent bilateral visits by South Asian leaders.
Ambassador Alamgir Babar, Pakistan’s former High Commissioner to Dhaka spoke on ‘Improving Bilateral Relations : Possible Areas of Cooperation’. He was of the view that it is time for both the countries to look forward instead of living in the past. There are challenges in the bilateral relationship but these challenges can be dealt with if both the countries work together. He emphasised the need to revive the mechanism of political cooperation as the last meeting between the foreign secretaries of both the countries took place in 2010
While concluding the event, Chairman Board of Governors, ISSI, Ambassador Khalid Mehmood said that there is desire of peace and development in the region amid challenges. In South Asia the bigger country cannot be left out. India is an elephant in the room. He recalled that in 2014, Modi’s election manifesto talked about neighbourhood and SAARC but this completely reversed in 2019. Lately, India is having turbulent relations with all its neighbours. Besides SAARC, track two channels also need to be revived. At the same time both the countries also need to be careful of the spoilers.