Pakistan, Bangladesh in ‘quiet’ diplomacy to ease decades of acrimony

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation(OIC) in Makkah. (Files/AFP)
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Updated 02 August 2020

Pakistan, Bangladesh in ‘quiet’ diplomacy to ease decades of acrimony

  • Move comes at a time when India’s relations with other countries are unraveling

ISLAMABAD/DHAKA: As India’s relations with its neighbors in the South Asian region deteriorate, old foes Pakistan and Bangladesh are making a push to build diplomatic, economic and cultural ties that could upend decades of historic arrangements in the region, officials and experts in Islamabad and Dhaka have said.

Indeed, a number of recent diplomatic developments have hinted at a thaw in a long-troubled Pakistan-Bangladesh equation.
Prime Minister Imran Khan invited his Bangladeshi counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, to visit Islamabad in a rare call earlier this month that came just weeks after a “quiet” meeting between Pakistan’s high commissioner to Dhaka, Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, and Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A. K. Abdul Momen. 
Relations between the two countries have never recovered from the 1971 war when Bengali nationalists, backed by India, broke away from what was then West Pakistan to form a new country.
Ties reached a new low in 2016 when Bangladesh executed several leaders of its Jamaat-e-Islami party on charges of committing war crimes in 1971. Pakistan called the executions and trials “politically motivated,” arguing that they were related to the pro-Pakistan stance of the convicts during the war. But now, officials on both sides say it is time for a reset.
“We look forward to having a sustained dialogue with the government of Bangladesh on how best our bilateral relations can move forward on a positive trajectory,” Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui told Arab News on Thursday. “We hope to work and take forward our relations, whether it’s trade, culture and all other mutual areas.”
Ambassador Siddiqui declined to give details of his meeting with Momen but told Arab News that the aim of the huddle was “to further promote bilateral relations with a forward-looking approach” given a desire from both sides to strengthen ties, particularly through private-sector partnerships.
“The younger generation is especially keen to forge meaningful ties. There is a huge potential in bilateral economic and commercial cooperation,” he said. “The two sides may work together to realize this potential with a focus on bringing our respective private sectors closer.” Mohammad Ruhul Alam Siddique, Bangladesh’s high commissioner-designate to Pakistan, also said that he aimed to improve trade and commercial ties between the two nations during his tenure.
“My only mission will be to better the bilateral relations as much as possible while delivering services in Pakistan,” he said, saying his first task in the coming weeks would be to reduce the trade imbalance between the two countries.
According to the State Bank of Pakistan, Pakistan’s exports to Bangladesh reached $736 million in 2019, while Bangladesh’s exports to Pakistan were only $44 million.
Pakistan and Bangladesh’s embrace comes at a time when relations between India and many countries in the region are unraveling.
Last month, the Indian army said that at least 20 of its soldiers were killed after hand-to-hand fighting with Chinese troops at a disputed border site, the deadliest clash
in decades.

BACKGROUND

Relations between the two countries have never recovered from the 1971 war when Bengali nationalists, backed by India, broke away from what was then West Pakistan to form a new country.

India also has increasingly tense ties with Nepal over disputed land — about 372 square km — strategically located at the tri-junction between Nepal, India and the Tibet region of China. India has kept a security presence in the area since a border war with China in 1962.
Pakistan and India have also warred for decades over the disputed Kashmir region, which both claim in full and rule in part.
“We see there are problems (of India) with China in the border region, problems with Nepal, some problems with Bangladesh as well, and of course, with Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir,” Farooqui said. “These policies do not make India effective for peace and stability in the region.”
Explaining the context of a reset in Pakistan-Bangladesh ties, Pakistani prime minister’s special adviser on security, Moeed Yusuf, said in a veiled reference to India: “The context is very clear; there is one country that is threatening, annoying and upsetting all its neighbors.”
In response to an email from Arab News, the spokesperson for the Indian high commission in Islamabad, Vipul Dev, referred to a statement by the spokesperson for the Indian External Affairs Ministry last week after the Pakistani PM’s call to Hasina, saying India’s relationship with Bangladesh was “time-tested and historic.”
“This year both countries are taking a lot of steps to strengthen this partnership,” the ministry spokesperson said.
Despite enduring ties between India and Bangladesh, experts say that Islamabad must continue to push its rapprochement with Dhaka, still in its infancy, forward.
“Now it’s Pakistan’s responsibility to rebuild the relationship,” international relations expert, Prof. Delwar Hossain, said.
For this, said Pakistan’s former high commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, the Pakistani prime minister needed to “follow up” on his call to his Bangladeshi counterpart.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan should write a formal invitation to his Bangladeshi counterpart which will help keep the momentum going,” Basit said, adding that a special envoy to Dhaka should be appointed, as Pakistan had recently done for Kabul. “We should focus more on working behind-the-scenes to avoid unnecessary hype,” Basit said. “It should be a consistent process.”

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Back to work: Jakarta lifts ban on sending workers to MENA

This picture taken on October 13, 2019 shows Indonesian migrant workers gathering near Victoria Park in Hong Kong. (AFP)
Updated 08 August 2020

Back to work: Jakarta lifts ban on sending workers to MENA

  • $260m revenue boost to accelerate Indonesia’s economic recovery amid pandemic

JAKARTA: After a four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, Indonesia is set to send almost 90,000 migrant workers to overseas countries, including those in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region.

The move will deliver almost 3.8 trillion rupiahs ($260.8 million) in foreign remittances, officials said.

Migrant workers could begin leaving within weeks after the Manpower Ministry issued guidelines to conform with the country’s pandemic protocols.

“In order to boost the national economic recovery and considering that several countries have reopened to foreign workers, we think it is necessary to allow Indonesian migrant workers to work in destination countries, while complying with health protocols,” Manpower Minister Ida Fauziyah told a press conference.

She said migrant workers whose employment had been suspended in recent months could generate about 3.8 trillion rupiahs in revenue and their remittances could accelerate Indonesia’s economic recovery, especially in their hometowns and villages.

Fauziyah said the decision was made after consultation with domestic stakeholders and was based on updates from Indonesian embassies and trade missions abroad.

The government focused on 14 countries — Algeria, Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Kuwait, Maldives, Nigeria, the UAE, Poland, Qatar, Taiwan, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe — that wanted to welcome foreign workers back, despite the pandemic.

“We appreciate the ministry’s decision to lift the suspension, even though the reopening is still only to several countries,” Kausar Tanjung, secretary-general of Indonesian Labor Exporters Association (APJATI), told Arab News.

Most APJATI members are exporters of domestic and informal workers, who make up more than half of the 88,973 migrant workers whose departures to 22 countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, had been put on hold since March.

Ayub Basalamah, chairman of APJATI, said that it was time the March ministerial decree was revoked, adding that the association was “ready to comply with the health protocols in place” as part of the new rule.

The ministry said that Kuwait is willing to welcome workers from Indonesia in all formal sectors except health, while Algeria is opening its construction sector and Qatar its oil and gas sector. Indonesian workers in Turkey and the UAE will be allowed to work in the hospitality sector.

Placement of Indonesia’s migrant workers in the UAE is in line with a temporary travel corridor agreed between the two countries.

The agreement was announced last week to help business people, government officials and diplomats, and is based on a $22.9 billion investment deal signed during President Joko Widodo’s visit to Abu Dhabi in January this year.

The APJATI said it will send domestic workers with secure employment to Hong Kong and Taiwan soon, while neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam remain closed to foreign workers in the informal sector.