Bangladesh has refused to accept the credentials of Saqlain Syedah as Pakistan’s new high commissioner in Dhaka, causing further damage to the already frayed ties between the two states.
No official reason has been forthcoming from the government or in the media, but the decision is less than surprising considering the downward trajectory of bilateral relations ever since Hasina Wajid’s government resumed trials relating to alleged war crimes that took place before and during the 1971 war. The trials had been suspended ever since a 1974 accord between Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. After Wajid regained power in 2008, a number of people, including notable Jamaat-e-Islami leaders, have been convicted and even executed for allegedly supporting Pakistan during the 1971 war. Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami leaders have also been known to call for reunification with Pakistan, which was among the reasons that the party was eventually banned in 2013.
In a related development, PM Wajid recently urged her compatriots to punish those who still loved Pakistan despite living in an independent Bangladesh, a statement that was condemned by the Pakistani Foreign Office.
In the context of the refusal to accept Pakistan’s nominated envoy, Bangladesh has revealed the extent of a longstanding domestic problem — spilt patriotism. Many old Bangladeshis remember the pre-1973 era, and, as happens everywhere, a few may think of the time as ‘good old days’ and long for a return. That feeling had been dying down over the years until Wajid resumed war crimes trials, which the ruling party saw as justice, and opposition parties called the politics of revenge.
International observers tended to agree with the latter, citing various weaknesses in the courts, the cases, and the trials. The vindictive politics in Bangladesh paved the way for a return to pro-Pakistan sentiments and it will likely show up in the new divide. With already hostile ties with India and a volatile Afghanistan, it is to be seen how the government would normalise its ties with Bangladesh.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2019.