Pakistan Looks To Deepen Ties With Bangladesh; Removes All Visa Restrictions For Bangladeshis

Pakistan’s envoy to Bangladesh confirmed that Islamabad has lifted all restrictions on visas for Bangladeshi citizens.

“Pakistan has already removed all restrictions on Pakistani visas for Bangladeshi citizens,” said a statement issued by the Pakistan High Commission in Bangladesh after a meeting between Pakistani High Commissioner Imran Ahmed Siddiqui and Bangladesh’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md. Shahriar Alam.

“The two sides agreed to intensify bilateral contacts at all levels,” the statement added.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency after the meeting, Siddiqui said they are waiting for the same response from the Bangladeshi side.

“Bangladesh’s restrictions on Pakistani nationals are still in place, and that is why I informed the state minister that we have already lifted all bars from our side,” he said.

The move is being seen as an ice breaker in the frosty relations between the two South Asian countries. Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan after a bloody war in 1971.

Bilateral relations between the two countries turned sour once again in 2016 surrounding Bangladesh’s trial for crimes against humanity in 1971 in a newly formed controversial tribunal.

The Bangladesh government formed the domestic tribunal, called the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), in 2009 for the trial of crimes against humanity during the Liberation War in 1971 between Bangladesh [then East Pakistan] and Pakistan.

Bangladesh seemed interested in establishing closer relations with China and Pakistan due to India’s years-long partial attitude, including monopoly control over common rivers, ignoring international rules and norms, killings of unarmed Bangladeshi civilians on borders and the more recent enactment of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Ties between Bangladesh and Pakistan began to turn positive, however, following a rare phone call last July by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina.

The top Bangladeshi leader also declared the country’s foreign policy of “friendship to all and malice to none” and assured Siddiqui of providing all necessary cooperation.

The Pakistani envoy also called on Premier Hasina and Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen in Dhaka and reportedly discussed various bilateral issues in a cordial environment.

Engage with Pakistan

In a separate statement issued by the Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry, Alam was quoted as saying: “We look forward to engaging with Pakistan.”

Both sides agreed on the need to hold long-pending foreign office consultations, which were last held in 2010, it added.

Alam also urged Pakistan to grant access to more Bangladeshi products by utilizing the existing South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) provisions, relaxing the negative list and removing trade barriers.

“The current trade balance tilts towards Pakistan,” he said.

During the meeting, the Pakistani side emphasized addressing all non-trade barriers in order to establish “productive commercial relations.”

Official apology from Pakistan

Alam also urged Pakistan to offer an official apology “for the genocide committed in the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971.”

The Pakistani envoy also handed over a signed copy of the Tripartite Agreement of 1974 to the Bangladeshi state minister “which had addressed all the outstanding issues between the two countries.”

“The agreement should serve as a foundation for further strengthening of the existing fraternal relations,” the statement quoted Siddiqui as saying.

The April 1974 agreement signed by Bangladesh, Pakistan and India in New Delhi says: “The Prime Minister of Pakistan had declared that he would visit Bangladesh in response to the invitation of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and appealed to the people of Bangladesh to forgive and forget the mistakes of the past, in order to promote reconciliation.

Similarly, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh had declared with regard to the atrocities and destruction committed in Bangladesh in 1971 that he wanted the people to forget the past and to make a fresh start, stating that the people of Bangladesh knew how to forgive.”

The agreement also says: “The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh stated that the Government of Bangladesh had decided not to proceed with the [1971 War] trials as an act of clemency. It was agreed that the 195 prisoners of war may be repatriated to Pakistan along with the other prisoners of war now in the process of repatriation under the Delhi Agreement.”

“The Ministers [the then foreign ministers of Bangladesh, Pakistan and India] expressed their conviction that the above agreements provide a firm basis for the resolution of the humanitarian problems arising out of the conflict of 1971,” said the agreement.