Sheikh Hasina not visiting Pakistan: Probable reasons

Sheikh Hasina not visiting Pakistan: Probable reasons

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was invited by the President Asif Ali Zardari to attend the D-8 Summit in Islamabad, from November 22 to 23. In this connection, Pakistan Foreign Minister Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar visited Dhaka on 9th November to hand over a formal invitation letter on behalf of Pakistan President.

The D-8 countries include Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, Nigeria and Turkey. Incidentally these states are also members of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC).

It is reported on November 12 that the Prime Minister decided not to visit Pakistan to attend the summit.

It is noted that Sheikh Hasina visited Pakistan in 1999 in her first term as Prime Minister when Indo-Pakistan tension was at the highest level due to testing of nuclear bombs as tit-for tat by both countries.

After coming to power for the second time in 2009, the Prime Minister visited India, China, Bhutan, Myanmar and other countries within the region but not Pakistan.

Furthermore many distinguished visitors including heads of state/governments from abroad visited Bangladesh since 2009 but no high-ranking Minister visited Bangladesh from Pakistan until Pakistan Foreign Minister Ms. Hina Khar came to Dhaka to deliver the letter of invitation to the Prime Minister.

The reception of the Pakistan Foreign Minister to Dhaka appeared to be cool as the media reported that she was not received or seen-off at the airport by her Bangladeshi counter-part. She was received at the air port by the Bangladesh Foreign Secretary.

Earlier Ms. Hina Kar’s visit to Dhaka on October 25 was abruptly cancelled without showing any reason. On 9th November, she remained only five hours in Dhaka. No bilateral discussions were held. Her courtesy meeting with her Bangladeshi counter-part Dr. Dipu Moni was reportedly not more than 20 minutes and the meeting was perceived as “cut and dry” in diplomatic terms.

During the meeting, according to the Bangladesh foreign secretary, Bangladesh Foreign Minister raised with Ms. Hina Khar “some unresolved issues” including an apology from Pakistan for the atrocities committed on Bangladeshi innocent civilians in 1971. Ms Khar reportedly stated that Pakistan had “regretted in different forms and … it was time to move on”.

Before Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar left she called on the leader of the opposition and former Prime Minister BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia and invited her to visit Pakistan.
Apart from the government to government relations, economic relations at the private sector level between the two countries are minimal although huge potentialities remain.

All these facts demonstrate an uneasy relation with Pakistan and some of the reasons may deserve mention in the following paragraphs:

First: Bangladesh wants a formal apology by Pakistan for the crimes against humanity on innocent civilians by Pakistani soldiers in 1971. In 2011, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Dr. Dipu Moni raised the question of apology when the new Pakistan High Commissioner called on her.

Apology means first the acknowledgment of crimes committed and second feeling and expressing remorse for crimes and third doing something to restore that was manifestly wrong and hurtful. The expression “regret” or “forget the past” does not equate to apology because self-acknowledgment and corrective acts by perpetrator-country are missing in these expressions.

On 3rd December,1973, a resolution of the General Assembly (resolution number 3074) was adopted underscoring the obligations of member-States of the UN in the detention, arrest, extradition and punishment of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Bangladesh is a member of the UN and it is a duty of Bangladesh to hold trials for such international crimes.

It is noted that the Hasina government has started the trial of Bangladesh nationals who allegedly assisted the Pakistan military to commit the horrible crimes against humanity on Bangladeshi innocent civilians at the two legally constituted International Crimes Tribunals. It is argued that Pakistan will not let the few surviving high-ranking military officers allegedly involved in the crimes to stand trial before the Tribunal because of the “clemency” by Bangladesh as stipulated in the Tripartite Agreement of April 9, 1974

It is therefore all the more necessary at this time for the people in Bangladesh that the Pakistan should at least apologise to Bangladesh for the atrocities perpetrated on Bangladeshi civilians.

President General Pervez Musharraf visited Bangladesh in July 2002 and regretted the tragic episode perpetrated by Pakistani army in 1971 on the people of Bangladesh. Pakistani leader reportedly said: “Your brothers and sisters in Pakistan share the pain of the events of 1971. The excesses during that unfortunate period are regrettable. Let us bury the past in a spirit of magnanimity. Let not the light of the future be dimmed.”

In using the word “excesses” to describe the actions of Pakistani forces, Musharraf carefully avoided references to who committed the “excesses” and on whom the “excesses” were committed, and also whether they were mere excesses or constituted planned crimes against humanity executed by a military machine upon an unarmed people. His regret was not certainly an apology.

Incidentally, a few days after President Musharraf left Bangladesh, a joint statement by leaders of 51 civil rights organisations of Pakistan made a public apology to the people of Bangladesh. They said: “We feel sad and burdened by what we know was a violation of the people’s human rights… The apology should have come a long time ago, and citizen groups did make attempts to do so… We deeply feel that a message from us is necessary to acknowledge the historic wrongs, to express sincere apology and build a bond based on honest sentiments”.

In the recent past, there have been voices from Pakistani journalists, members of civil society and Imran Khan, the political chief of Tehrik-e-Insaf that Pakistan should apologise for the atrocities committed in 1971.

The leading Pakistani English daily Dawn on 11th November in its editorial came out for full-fledged apology to Bangladesh people. It wrote that Pakistan must recognise the wrongs committed by its leadership during those days, and issue a full-fledged apology — not just expressions of regret — that is acceptable to Dhaka.

Most of the Pakistani high military officers who were allegedly responsible for the crimes are dead. It is not understood why the new generation of armed forces is not ready to apologise.

They must note that new generation of leaders of Germany apologised to the Jews for the holocaust while that of Japan did to China and South Korea for war crimes. In 2008, Australian Prime Minister apologised to the Australian Aboriginal community for the wrongs committed in the past. The Vatican has apologised for the actions of Catholics who persecuted non-Catholics, and expressed sorrow over the attack on Constantinople during the Crusades, thousands of years ago.

Second, the division of assets between Pakistan and Bangladesh remains unresolved. Pakistan had acquired many assets both in the country and abroad prior to 1971. The quantifiable assets could be easily identified, such as the fleet of Pakistan International Airlines, vessels of Pakistan Shipping Corporation, defence equipments, share of gold and foreign currency at the State Bank of Pakistan and the property located overseas including those for the Missions abroad.

Pakistan had obligations to divide these assets including gold and foreign currency between Bangladesh and Pakistan for the sake of good relations.

The successive governments in Pakistan were unable to come to the substantive discussion on the division of assets of united Pakistan. According to the estimates of the former Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, Bangladesh has a claim of at least US $4,000 million as of 1974. The estimate was based on assumptions with respect to internal capital creation, external debt settlement and retention of external financial assets.

On this issue, even a joint committee as proposed by Bangladesh was not constituted to examine this question in depth for a final settlement. Bangladesh had raised with Pakistan at various times its share from the quantifiable assets but Pakistan seemed to have adopted an attitude of neglect to this claim of Bangladesh. There is a view that longer the time it takes, Pakistan imagines that Bangladesh will tend to forget this demand. This perception is misplaced.

Third, the repatriation of Urdu-speaking people in Bangladesh (so-called Biharis) who wanted to return to Pakistan after 1971 has remained stuck. Pakistan did not comply with the obligations of the 1973 Delhi Agreement.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif agreed to take the “Biharis” in Pakistan and a symbolic repatriation of 325 “Biharis” took place in January 1993. But the leaders of the Sindh province in Pakistan were against the repatriation of “Biharis” and started a political campaign against Sharif’s decision. By April, 1993 Sharif was dismissed from his high office..

In May 2008, the High Court ruled that some 150,000 Beharis or Urdu-speaking people have the right to become citizens. The ruling applies to those who were minors at the time of independence or born after. However, the older generation numbering thousands still want to go back to Pakistan and Pakistan has legal obligations to take those “Beharis” in Pakistan

Other factors:

There is a view among many secular minded people that if Bangladesh becomes close to Pakistan, the forces of Islamic extremism may spread further and stronger in Bangladesh, leading to a society where women in particular will be placed in a great disadvantage.

Furthermore Bangladesh is a bridge between South Asia and South East Asia, while Pakistan is closer to the Middle East and Central Asia. The geo-political realities of the two regions are dissimilar and Bangladesh does not wish to get involved in the geo-politics of the Middle East or sucked into the on-going troubled relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan or between India and Pakistan.


Many people who fought against the Pakistani soldiers are alive in Bangladesh and the relationship with Pakistan invariably brings back the painful memories of War of Liberation of 1971. Tendering an apology is the first big step Pakistan can take to heal the wounds of Bangladesh people to move on.

by Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva

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