On August 14, 2020, Pakistan’s Independence Day, the country’s high commissioner in Dhaka, Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, lauded the role that Bengalis played in the creation of Pakistan in 1947. That was preceded by Pakistani foreign office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui saying that Islamabad was now actively working on mending relations with Dhaka.
Earlier on July 22, 2020, the two premiers, Imran Khan and Sheikh Hasina, held a telephone conversation.
The year 2020 provided a rare opportunity to Islamabad and Dhaka to talk about their own fractured past. This was noticed by New Delhi with concern. Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla rushed to meet Hasina and Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen.
Pakistan’s recent advances toward Bangladesh have overlapped with growing disputes between New Delhi and Dhaka, largely centering around the growing anti-Muslim tilt of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India. In the recent past, differences over the Rohingya refugee crisis, the Citizenship Amendment Act, and the construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodha have sparked a diverse array of skepticism from Dhaka.
China and Turkey are backing Islamabad’s Kashmir narrative, much of Pakistan’s recent diplomatic engagement with Bangladesh has been with regard to this fast-growing alliance. With China more interested in Kashmir because of its growing rivalry with India, and its bid to involve itself in conflicts as the global superpower, Dhaka’s interest in being a part of the China-Pakistan-Turkey nexus could also be piqued by Beijing’s investments in Bangladesh.
Under the Turkey-led Muslim bloc, both Pakistan and Bangladesh can get more prominence as compared to what they have under the Gulf states, who have not only failed to provide support for Kashmir, but have actively enhanced their defense and energy cooperation with India, and even Israel.
The UAE-Israel deal epitomizes the rapid splintering into a new cold war reality, with the Gulf states firmly in the US-Saudi camp. This opened the possibility for South Asian Muslim countries to back the potential China-Turkey bloc. Pakistan’s efforts to persuade Bangladesh, backed by China and Turkey, are rooted in global, and regional, realignments more so than any bilateral efforts to reconcile with a tumultuous past.
While Pakistan and Bangladesh might find common interests in coexisting in the same bloc, for the two to actually become friends requires an honest discussion on what transpired in 1971 – and the events leading up to it.
Where China and Turkey might be providing the opportunity for Pakistan to sit with Bangladesh again, it must do so with sincerity and self-reflection. That will not only help Islamabad formulate progressive bilateral ties, it might also ring a timely reminder to undo many of the same errors of the past.