Scholars from Pakistan and Bangladesh admit that the tragedy of 1971, steeped in violence and bloodshed, was avoidable and all informed opinions had pleaded for dialogue and a political solution.

However, politicians, historians and analysts from the two sides believe that for the future of Pakistan-Bangladesh relations there are many positive trends and it is a time to reflect and move forward.The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) organized a conference on “50 Years Later: The Future of Pakistan-Bangladesh Relations” on Thursday.

Chairperson The PIIA Dr. Masuma Hasan while highlighting the “Purpose of the Conference” said that in the last 50 years much water has flown under the bridges of the Indus and Brahmaputra and the global and regional landscape has also changed, with a multi-polar world, the phenomenal rise and outreach of China, an assertive India, and the continuing role of the United States.

“In the regional context, rising from the ashes, Bangladesh has made remarkable economic progress. Whatever the irritants of the past, the people of the two countries share a common historical identity, strive for the same values of democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and freedom of expression,” said Dr Hasan.

She added that both countries are members of SAARC and other international organizations and they vote on the same side on many international issues.

The Keynote Address was delivered by former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, Ambassador Riaz Khokhar said that the prime ministers of Bangladesh and Pakistan should visit both the countries and ensure that Pak-Bangla relations have a future.

“Think tanks in Pakistan and civil society in Bangladesh should work to create cooperation between both the countries and talks at foreign secretaries’ level should also be initiated between both the countries,” suggested Khokar.

He said today Bangladesh is being cited as a development model by the world so an economic team should be sent to Bangladesh by Pakistan to learn from their experiences.

Besides, he added, both the countries should have student exchange programs and Pakistan should offer hundreds of scholarships to Bangladeshi students.

“Bangladesh is a very important country. They conceived the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Dhaka in December 1985,” said Khokar.

He added that SAARC gives opportunities to leaders to discuss their issues but sadly it has been pending since 2016 following tensions between India and Pakistan.

First Session, titled “A Time to Reflect” was chaired by Dr Moonis Ahmer, Meritorious Professor of International Relations and former Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi.

Former Chairperson of the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi, Professor Syed Sikander Mehdi spoke on “Remembering Bangladesh in Pakistan”.

Former Professor, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, M. Shahiduzzaman delivered a speech on “Removing Stereotypes for Future of Pakistan-Bangladesh Relations”.

Dr. Moonis Ahmer, the Chair, at the end of the session spoke of the need to shift the paradigm in Pak-Bangladesh relations. He added the two countries should be future-oriented, establish air links, and increase bilateral trades. The visit of Haseena Wajid in 2022 is a great opportunity. Dr. Moonis proposed the idea that Dr. Haseena Wajid be invited to address a joint session of Parliament in Pakistan and on a visit by PM Imran Khan to Bangladesh the same courtesy should be extended to him.

Session II, “Positive Trends for the Future”, was chaired by Vice Admiral (R) Asaf Humayyun, Member The PIIA.

Dr. Rounaq Jahan, Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue, Bangladesh, and former Adjunct Professor, Columbia University, USA, and author of Pakistan: Failure in National Integration spoke on “50 Years of Bangladesh: Achievements and Challenges”.

Ambassador Rafiuzzaman Siddiqui, former High Commissioner of Pakistan to Bangladesh, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Islamabad, and Adviser, Corporate Affairs, United Marine Agencies (UMA) delivered a speech on “Memories of Bangladesh and its Transformation.”

In the concluding remarks by the chair, Vice Admiral Rtd Asaf Humayun concluded with the thought that the youth of today has very little connection with Bangladesh. He encouraged the idea of diversity in Pakistani society, ranging from diversity in the opinion of thought, economy, and gender, concluding that not being able to manage diversity was the root cause of the separation.

Chairperson The PIIA Dr Masuma Hasan in her Farewell Remarks said that the two countries and their people should look to the future and forge links for sustainable cooperation in the region and beyond.

Author

Arshad Yousafzai is a Karachi-based journalist covering Education and Human Rights. He can be reached on Twitter @Arshadyousafzay

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