It is becoming a norm in the South Asian political culture to blame regional states for achieving political goals at home or, perhaps, it is easier to blame others to divert attention from pressing domestic issues that subsequently arise due to mismanagement and bad governance.
For a long time, Pakistan has been named by Indian politicians in their election campaigns but the recent blow came from Bangladesh when the leader of the ruling Awami League, Sheikh Hasina Wajid, in her election campaign adopted an anti-Pakistan posture. Though Pakistan-Bangladesh relations have not recovered the bitter memories of 1971 and have remained mired in controversies, the Awami League, as the founding party of Bangladesh, has ever since tried to justify its existence by promoting a nationalist agenda and by harnessing anti-Pakistan propaganda. The developing states have many important problems of their own that could be highlighted for political point scoring. Although it is not clear how far her approach helped Sheikh Hasina to secure a third term, she won the controversial elections of 2014 while facing domestic opposition. The opposition alliance under the Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader Khalida Zia not only boycotted the elections but has been staging protests against alleged rigging.
The Awami League’s rhetoric against Pakistan keeps it an important player in politics. The new wave of accusations started on the eve of the 2014 general elections when, 42 years after Bangladesh’s independence, Prime Minister Hasina Wajid has been trying to revive the fading memories of the 1971 civil war. After targeting the factions that supported Pakistan, her government has embarked on the prosecution of such elements on charges of being collaborators of Pakistan. She also intends to take 195 Pakistan army officers, allegedly involved in the killing of three million Bengalis, to the International Crime Tribunal. The validity of this claim of three million dead has been challenged by research scholars at the international level and within Bangladesh as well. Sarmila Bose, an Indian writer, in the last chapter of her well-researched book Dead Reckoning, deals with this issue and asserts: “These figures are not based on any accounting or survey on the ground and have been repeating in South Asian and western academia and media for decades without verification.”
During the prevailing political crisis, the Bangladesh government’s decision to revisit the events of 1971 by initiating the ‘war crimes’ trial and executing Bangladesh’s Jamaat-e-Islami leader will further enhance political instability within Bangladesh by widening the societal gap between secularists and Islamists, and will also deteriorate relations with Pakistan.
The past memories haunt political relations between the two countries as the Awami League keeps on generating memories of the 1971 events. It is not possible to change the past but one can hope for a better future, as in today’s globalised and interdependent world, apart from formal state-to-state relations, people-to-people contact is considered an important tool to enhance mutual understanding, build confidence and promote long term cooperation. It will also help to create a conducive environment for political engagement.
The holding of sporting events in Bangladesh provided such an opportunity for promoting interaction and generating goodwill among the people. However, this opportunity was also marred by showing a lack of sportsmanship through the enactment of the government’s banning of hoisting foreign states’ flags in the stadium during the T20 world cup matches.
South Asia, one of the poorest regions in the world, remains mired in inter-state conflicts that hamper the goal of regional cooperation, peace and security. SAARC, the representative body in South Asia, has been unable to achieve its desired objectives that can only be materialised if the bilateral relations of the states are normalised. Pakistan and Bangladesh can make an outstanding contribution by removing the irritants in their bilateral relations and by moving forward for a constructive relationship, which might prove a harbinger of regional stability.
The article was carried by Daily Times on April 12, 2014. The views expressed belong to the author and do not reflect the policy of the Institute.