Pakistan Bangladesh Relations Thaw as India is Sidelined

The Hindu quoted Bangladeshi news daily Bhorer Kagoj as saying that the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina did not meet India’s High Commissioner despite repeated requests for a meeting in the last four months. The quoted article by Bhorer Kagoj editor Shyamal Dutta also reported that Indian projects have slowed down since the 2019 re-election of the Bangladeshi Prime Minister, with Dhaka leaning more towards China instead.

“Despite India’s concern, Bangladesh has given the contract of building an airport terminal in Sylhet to a Chinese company. Indian High Commissioner Riva Ganguly Das tried for four months to get an appointment with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh but did not get it. Bangladesh has not even sent a note of appreciation to India in response to Indian assistance for the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Riva Ganguly Das

The aforementioned contract to build a new terminal of the MAG Osmania Airport in Sylhet, a sensitive area bordering India’s northeastern region, was given to Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG).

As for the meeting, a diplomatic source from the Bangladesh High Commission confirmed that the Indian envoy had sought an appointment with Ms Hasina but it did not materialize. The Hindu reached out to India’s High Commission in Dhaka and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) but did not get a response.

Meanwhile, Iran also dropped the Iranian Railways project with India four years after an agreement. Instead Iran has taken up China’s offer for help on the project and finalized a $400 billion strategic partnership deal.

The article in Bhorer Kagoj said that a section of Ms Hasina’s office is actively supporting stronger ties with China. This in turn gave way to bettering relationship between Bangladesh and China’s ally, Pakistan, in the last 10 months. Bangladesh opted to take onions from Pakistan in November 2019 after India imposed a ban on its export, the first time in 15 years that Bangladesh imported agricultural items from Pakistan.

The article also further suggested that Bangladesh officials were trying to use cricket to better relationship between Pakistan and Bangladesh. There is still a strong resentment about the events of 1971 with different takes on war crimes trials further estranging the two countries. The hanging of Jamaat E Islami Bangladesh leader Motiur Rahman Nizami for the 1971 war crimes caused outrage in Pakistan. In response, a Pakistan High Commissioner was not hosted by Dhaka for two years.

One of the issues that could have ignited this shift might be raised tensions between both Bangladesh and India, and China and India, which paves the way for a natural alliance. India’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), aimed at assimilating migrants from religious minority groups, are points of contention as Dhaka maintains that instances of religious bigotry still occur. The Hindu reported that prominent leaders of the BJP spoke about “sending back” undocumented citizens to Bangladesh. Furthermore, reports of Border Security Force opening fire along the India-Bangladesh border also raised concerns in Dhaka.

PM Sheikh Hasina

Many look to last week’s phone call between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as proof of improving ties between the countries. The Bangladesh media reported that the call had Khan asking Hasina about how the country was coping with the pandemic and the floods. Khan’s office, on the other hand, told that press that the discussion entailed building deeper relations and seeking regional peace through resolving the situation in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir. This discrepancy was noted in an article in Bhorer Kagoj, however, the call suggests the thawing relations between the two countries nonetheless.

The article in The Hindu concluded by noting these diplomatic developments are seen “as a move to bargain with India on issues of Dhaka’s special interest, especially the CAA, which remains a sticking issue for Bangladesh as it is weary of hosting more refugees in addition to the 1.2 million Rohingya from Myanmar currently residing in Chittagong’s Kutupalong.”

About Sarmad Tariq

A self-professed "jack of all trades, master of none" with degrees in Computer Science and English Literature and a love for writing poetry that he seldom shares on social media.

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