THE Pakistan-Bangladesh relationship is weighed down by history. But if bilateral ties are to progress, both Islamabad and Dhaka must look forward instead of living in the painful past. Improvement in bilateral relations can even be a spur to reactivate the moribund Saarc, which in turn can help create a more integrated and peaceful South Asia.
While relations have mostly been frosty ever since Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed began her second tenure as prime minister in 2009, there have been welcome improvements this year. Perhaps the icebreaker was Prime Minister Imran Khan’s call to his counterpart in Dhaka in July, in which both sides exchanged pleasantries. Taking the process forward, Pakistan’s high commissioner in Dhaka recently called on the Bangladesh prime minister. The meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere, with both sides agreeing “to further strengthen the existing fraternal relations”.
Before Mr Khan took the initiative, the vibes coming out of Dhaka were anything but friendly. The key element poisoning relations was the resumption by the Bangladeshi leadership of the 1971 ‘war crimes’ trials, through which a number of people who had sided with Pakistan during the crisis were sent to the gallows. But perhaps a changing geopolitical climate has urged the Bangladesh administration to mend fences with Pakistan. After all, Dhaka-New Delhi ties have soured after the Modi government passed its controversial citizenship law, under which ‘Bangladeshis’ living in eastern India were threatened with deportation.
Whatever the reason for the change of heart, the fact is that Pakistan and Bangladesh must look beyond irritants and work to create a bilateral relationship based on mutual trust. The 1971 events were no doubt harrowing, but when Mujibur Rahman — Bangladesh’s founding father — himself had agreed to move on, why insist on resurrecting these demons? There should be an acknowledgment of the past, with Pakistan also examining its role in the 1971 debacle critically. The official release of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission report can be a starting point. This should be followed by a pledge from both sides to move forward and build a new future.
Indeed, if Pakistan and Bangladesh can manage to put their bitter history behind them, the same model can be replicated across South Asia. Other regional blocs such as the EU and Asean — where once staunch rivals agreed to bury the past — offer lessons for South Asia, should the countries of Saarc wish to learn from this model. Regional cooperation and economic activities can help break down the walls of mistrust that currently stand in the way of better integration in the subcontinent. The question is: are the states of South Asia willing to take a chance and work together to improve the lives of the nearly 2bn inhabitants of this region? Or will the current rotten status quo prevail, and with it conflict, disease and illiteracy?
EU ban on PIA
IN yet another blow to PIA, the European Union Commission has decided to continue its ban on the national carrier’s operations in EU countries. Furthermore, it has asked the country’s aviation regulators to remove safety deficiencies and improve the entire process of issuing licences to pilots. The ban was enforced by the EU’s aviation safety agency in July this year, but despite negotiations with the authorities here, it was extended due to concerns regarding measures to overcome safety lapses. The development is indeed worrying and once again underscores the tragic mess the airline finds itself in today. That the international aviation regulator has expressed reservations about PIA’s licensing procedures and safety management and occurrence reporting systems is a damning indictment of the national carrier’s airworthiness — and a justifiable cause of concern for both foreign and local passengers.
The saddening saga of PIA is layered with years of neglect, improper appointments, mismanagement and financial losses. To say that a complete overhaul is needed is an understatement, as the decay runs so deep that nothing short of a dramatic makeover can now save the airline. In order for this to happen, one thing is clear: those who contributed to the problem cannot be part of the solution. Here, elements of the establishment and civil bureaucracy can be held responsible. What PIA needs is a professional, committed, solutions-oriented team that oversees regulatory matters and takes swift action to penalise those stepping out of line. Only with a thoroughly competent regulatory machinery can PIA recover from the reputational hit that it has suffered. The aviation minister’s damaging remarks about pilots’ fake licences on the Assembly floor, without concluding investigations, earlier this year only worsened matters. The government must know that this extension of the EU ban on PIA is a reminder that the airline is still not airworthy by international standards, yet it continues to fly domestically. The airline will also benefit from engaging with the European regulators and can perhaps seek their professional advice and services to address the serious gaps on issues of grassroots training, effective staffing, competent inductions, airworthiness, safety, maintenance and the important issue of licensing. Such assistance may be costly but would be a worthwhile investment in the future of the airline, which at the moment is looking rather precarious. Some steps have been taken towards reforming the CAA but a lot remains to be done.
A hazardous occupation
ASSISTANT Sub Inspector Akhir Zaman was killed in an ambush in Jhandokhel, Bannu district, on Wednesday. It didn’t take his colleagues too long to connect his murder to his last assignment even though later on other motives also came under discussion. The policeman was returning after a day’s security duty with polio workers. For a number of years now, the work of polio teams has been among the most hazardous in the country. The frequency of attacks on polio workers and those guarding them has been very alarming. The protection that brave security personnel provide can prove to be inadequate for the equally courageous team, and sometimes the protectors themselves are targeted. This threat that polio workers and security personnel have to encounter is often coupled with the aggressive resistance put up by parents who are unwilling to have their children immunised against the crippling disease. And just when it seems that the polio programme might be making some headway, there is an incident somewhere that reinforces concerns and leaves workers demoralised. All this has culminated in a situation in which Pakistan is one of the two countries in the world that haven’t eliminated polio. This is shameful to say the least.
It seems that polio teams and their security have been left to fight the scourge on their own for too long. There has been a lot of rhetoric, and several pledges have been made over the years, and yet back-up strategies are absent. There have been elected governments in the federating units, but one wonders if all methods to convince families of the need for administering polio drops have been fully explored. Surely the authorities in charge of these drives can do better and find ways of engaging with the people and raising awareness to allay suspicions and debunk the theories of extremists who view the drops as a Western conspiracy. Indeed, the job of our elected public representatives, with constituencies of their own, is cut out for them. What are they waiting for?