Tag Archives: Development

Pakistan and Bangladesh have much to learn from each other 50 years later

Prime minister Benazir Bhutto visited Bangladesh in 1989. She had asked for that visit, which the then Bangladesh President Irshad accepted …

“The independence day of Bangladesh March 26, 1971 and Dec 16 is seen by that country as the day of liberation. In Pakistan around this time the mood is generally sombre with reflection of the past,” said former foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar on Thursday.

He was delivering his keynote address at a conference on ‘50 Years Later: The Future of Pakistan-Bangladesh Relations’ at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA).

“We have to acknowledge that the Bengali leaders made enormous contributions to the making of Pakistan, which was also acknowledged by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The resolution of Pakistan was also moved by A.K. Fazlul Haq. If Jinnah were alive and if he had been asked the worst decisions of Pakistan, he would have said that it was to refuse and deny the results of the 1970 elections along with deploring the action that was taken on March 24, 1971 by West Pakistan,” he said.

The former diplomat said he is often asked about his best assignments during his career to which he has to say from 1986 to 1989 when he served as ambassador of Pakistan to Bangladesh. “It was the best time. I got to meet all leaders, intellectuals, people in the media and civil society. We did discuss serious matters, but objectively and without anger though the differences of 1971 are still there,” he said.

“As a former diplomat, I’m not blaming any political party but every time the Awami League is in power, we have issues. The government under the Awami League has raised serious allegations and questions. They also demand an apology from Pakistan for the atrocities of 1971. But an apology is not that simple. The 1974 documents clearly address deep regret of events and atrocities. Bangladesh demands war reparation, distribution of assets, etc.

Experts discuss future of Islamabad-Dhaka relations at PIIA conference

“While I was the ambassador in Bangladesh, former late prime minister Benazir Bhutto visited Bangladesh in 1989. She had asked for that visit, which the then Bangladesh president Irshad accepted. The issues did come up but such things cannot be decided just like that. Such issues are an impediment to the progress and relations of both countries.

“It is sad that despite sharing the history of 1947, there’s so little interaction with Bangladesh here. The culture of Bangladesh is extremely rich in art, music, dance, etc. Why not have cultural exchanges? Pakistan would be happy to have an exchange programme for students. We can also offer hundreds of scholarships in various fields and Bangladesh, too, can reciprocate,” he said.

‘Let’s resume communication’

“Yes, the impediments are serious but there is no reason why we can’t be talking. There is an absence of debate not at the public and private level or the diplomatic level. But Pakistan and Bangladesh relations do have a future. I appeal, let’s resume communications. We have much to share and much to learn from each other,” he concluded.

Earlier, while reminding the significance of Dec 16, 1971, PIIA’s chairperson Dr Masuma Hasan said that it was when Pakistan was dismembered and Bangladesh formally became an independent and sovereign state. “The date is etched in the minds of millions of people in Pakistan and Bangladesh. History has few parallels to the events of 1971, which led to the second partition of the subcontinent and changed the political landscape of South Asia,” she said.

“In the last 50 years, much water has flown under the bridges of the Indus and Brahmaputra. The global and regional landscape has changed, with a multi-polar world, the phenomenal rise and outreach of China, an assertive India, and the continuing role of the United States. In the regional context, rising from the ashes, Bangladesh has made remarkable economic progress. Whatever the irritants of the past, the people of the two countries share a common historical identity, strive for the same values of democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and freedom of expression. Both countries are members of Saarc and other international organisations and they vote on the same side on many international issues. For the future of Pakistan-Bangladesh relations, there are many positive trends,” she said.

‘We didn’t leave like thieves’

Syed Sikander Mehdi, former Karachi University professor and chairperson of the Department of International Relations, said that the personal memories of West Pakistanis who went to East Pakistan for business and educational purposes are soft. These people still miss Bangladesh. But their memories are not recorded here. “The people from East Pakistan who settled down here before the break-up or after 1971 also have oral memories that have not been published. I did my schooling, college and university education in Dhaka. I was an activist in my student life. I remember us students protesting the Vietnam war, the dictatorship of Ayub Khan. Our family lived in the Bengali area till our migration from Dhaka in late 1972. I had very close relations with my Bengali teachers before and after the military operation. I had a job, my father had a job, too and we had no economic compulsion. When I told my teachers that we were leaving, they hosted a dinner for my family. So we didn’t leave like thieves. But after coming here we saw a headline in the newspaper, which read Bihari na khappay. We cannot wish away the past but we need to write more and talk more about all this,” he said.

Former Professor at the Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, M Shahiduzzaman said that he was a former student of Sikander Mehdi. “We were sad when he left. Many years later when my students and myself visited the University of Karachi we found him like he has always been, a human being whose soul lies with us,” he said.

Meritorious Professor of International Relations and former Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Karachi, Dr Moonis Ahmar, observed that Pakistan and Bangladesh relations were seeing a paradigm shift in 1974 with the signing of the agreement in Delhi but then this paradigm shift stopped. 

“We have been moving two steps forward and four steps backward,” he said, while adding that Sheikh Hasina Wajid, the daughter of the man denied premiership here, should be invited over and asked to address a joint session of the Pakistan parliaments. And Pakistani PM Imran Khan can do the same when he visits Bangladesh. 

Ambassador Rafiuzzaman Siddiqui and Dr Raunaq Jahan also spoke.

Published in Dawn, 17 December 2021, written by Shazia Hasan

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Imperial Violence and the Trauma of France’s Mission civilisatrice

Re-Constructing the Murder of Ali Boumendjel in French Historiography

On 2 March 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron officially confessed that Algerian nationalist, lawyer and freedom fighter Ali Boumendjel was ‘tortured and murdered’ on 23 March 1957 by French colonial forces. This revelation from the Élysée Palace put to rest decades of contentious imperial historiography which alleged Ali that Boumendjel had committed suicide while he was detained by French troops during the 1956 – 1957 Battle of Algiers. But ‘Ali Boumendjel did not commit suicide. He was tortured and then killed,’ Macron told Boumendjel’s four grandchildren who were invited to the Élysée Palace, according to the statement. The French President sought to emphasise that the new generation must ‘be able to build its own destiny, far from the two ruts that are amnesia and resentment.’ He went on to state that ‘[it] is for them, French and Algerian youth, that we must advance down the path of truth, the only one that can lead to the reconciliation of memories.’ 

Macron’s address engendered a polarising response within Algeria itself. While Algerian state media quoted a government statement that ‘Algeria notes with satisfaction the announcement by French President Emmanuel Macron of his decision to honour the fighter and martyr Ali Boumendjel,’ Macron has come under criticism for refusing to issue an apology for the regime of torture and scale of atrocities committed during the Battle of Algiers, in addition to the wider French colonial rule over Algeria from 1830 until 1962. In order to discern why discussions concerning France’s colonial history remain trivialised in the French Fifth Republic, tracing the systematic regime of torture, sanctioned violence and exclusion  which lay at the cornerstone of France’s mission civilisatrice may offer a means to understand this dilemma. Continue reading

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Emerging Geostrategic Contestation in Asia-Pacific and Pakistan

The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) recently hosted a Seminar and Webinar titled, “Emerging Geostrategic Contestation in Asia-Pacific: Challenges and Opportunities for Pakistan” on 3 February 2021.  The event was inaugurated by Lt. General (R) Tariq Waseem Ghazi. The speakers at the Seminar included Ambassador Salman Bashir, former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and High Commissioner of Pakistan to India; Rear Admiral (R) Pervaiz Asghar, Adviser and Honorary Fellow, National Centre for Maritime Policy Research, Bahria University; Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Director General, Institute of Strategic Studies and former Foreign Secretary; and Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. 

The two sessions of the Seminar were chaired by Dr Masuma Hasan, Chairman, The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs and Ambassador Syed Hasan Habib, Senior Fellow, Centre for Area and Policy Studies, Institute of Business Management, Karachi. In her welcome address, Dr Hasan mentioned that the focus of the Seminar would be upon how Pakistan can promote its interests, the challenges it faces, and the opportunities available for Pakistan in the emerging dynamics of the Asia-Pacific region. Continue reading

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Experts discuss post-Covid world order

Advocate Hina Jilani terms coronavirus pandemic a human rights crisis

The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) on Saturday held a webinar on ‘Post Covid-19 World Order: Challenges and Strategies’. Human rights activist and lawyer Hina Jilani said with regard to the Covid-19 crisis there’s so much to lament but also so much to reflect upon. It isn’t just a health crisis; it’s a human rights crisis. It’s also an opportunity to correct what we have neglected in the past. The foremost aspect of the situation is that how weak the world is, developed or underdeveloped — employment opportunities have been affected, the right to work has been affected, there have been increased prices (of commodities) etc in the early days of lockdown, it was a matter of survival for many. The issue that arose was how to survive physically. But social isolation affected us badly because the support systems we usually turn to were not available.

Ms Jilani said the crisis has a global dimension because the multilateral system did not respond the way it ought to have, indicating that the system is weak. Agreeing with an earlier speaker, she remarked it was the fragmentation of the multilateral world that impacted the response to the situation. She hoped that it (time to come) will not be the new normal and we will emerge with a better understanding of how to readjust our priorities. “We need to make sure that we give attention to the marginalised and vulnerable segments of society. There has to be a global response to the crisis and there’s a need to recognise that there are more stakeholders who need attention not just the victims [of illness] and government. One of the least recognised sectors that have stepped up in the situation is civil society.” Continue reading

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Hong Kong: The Final Blow

While many countries are struggling to form a strategy to revive their weak economies by systematically easing restrictions imposed due to Covid-19, Hong Kong has been successful in containing the virus without enforcing a strict lockdown which could have devastated its economy. Its experience with previous infectious disease outbreaks such as the SARS epidemic in 2003 had allowed it to develop a system that could mitigate the damage caused by acute respiratory diseases. As a result, it was quick to follow WHO guidelines and implemented track, test, and quarantine regime to contain the pandemic. Its efforts to curb the pandemic will, however, dissipate due to demonstrations against the draconian security law introduced by China. Although China’s endeavor to weaponize legislation to gain control over the semi-autonomous region has failed time and time again, it persists intending to bring the region under its iron fist before the “one country, two systems” agreement expires in 2047.

By introducing different laws within Hong Kong to gain control over its political system, China is trumping on the spirit, if not the letter, of the agreement signed with the British in 1997. The citizens of Hong Kong resisted these efforts by mobilizing and protesting until some of their demands were accepted. The demonstrations, however, continue. Hong Kong has been upended by protests which erupted last year due to the introduction of the (withdrawn) extradition bill. The bill would have allowed authorities to extradite fugitives to mainland China to face trial there. The citizens, however, suspicious of China’s intentions, believed the law would be misused and would deprive them of the freedoms bestowed by their mini-constitution. Once the bill was withdrawn, the protestors continued to demand an investigation into police brutality against them and called for electoral reforms. Continue reading

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‘Fundamental uncertainty’: Keynesian economics and COVID-19

With the colossal scale of the crises looming over the global economy, perhaps now is as crucial a time as ever to revisit the Keynesian notion of ‘fundamental uncertainty’

‘By uncertain knowledge,’ wrote John Maynard Keynes in 1921, ‘I do not mean merely to distinguish what is known for certain from what is only probable…There is no scientific basis to form any calculable probability whatsoever. We simply do not know.’ Upon reading these words (written in the middle of the worst influenza pandemic in history, the Spanish Influenza!) in our contemporary setting, there is a pertinent case to be made that the global crisis that is taking the world by a storm necessitates a re-examination of Keynes’ foundational concept of ‘fundamental uncertainty.’ Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and its mammoth economic consequences for the global economy, a string of crises erupted that have not only rattled the foundational basis of the incumbent liberal world order but is, according to professor of economics Timofey V. Bordachev, ‘living its last days.’ Alain de Benoist describes the pandemic as a ‘catalyst’ with regard to the decline and disintegration of this liberal world order, arguing that this new economic and social crisis could give rise to a new financial crisis, one that ‘has been expected for years.’ 

Of all the unprecedented financial blows of 2020, the news concerning the extraordinary decline in global economic activity leading to the United States’ oil prices falling below a jaw-dropping $0 for the first time in history is set to be one of the most unprecedented by-products of this pandemic. Termed one of the most debilitating quarters for oil prices in the history of the ‘oil revolution,’ this recent development comes in the midst of the oil-price ‘war’ initiated by Saudi Arabia against Russia in early March. A sharp decline in factory output and transportation demands following the early stages of the 2019-2020 COVID-19 pandemic precipitated a decrease in oil demands, leading oil prices to plummet. Continue reading

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‘Jinnah of Pakistan’ discussed at PIIA

Gandhi forced Indian government to transfer financial assets to Pakistan. 

An extremely interesting discussion led by historian Dr Muhammad Reza Kazimi on Stanley Wolpert’s book Jinnah of Pakistan was held at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) on Wednesday evening. Introducing the programme chairperson of the institute Dr Masuma Hasan said it was being held in honour of Mr Wolpert’s memory, who died on Feb 19 last year. Apart from the book under discussion, she took the names of some of his other books such as Nehru: A Tryst with Destiny; Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan: His Life and Times; Gandhi’s Passion: The Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi; and India and Pakistan: Continued Conflict or Cooperation. She told the audience that he wasn’t just a historian but was also a fiction writer. He came to the PIIA in 1989 where he first met Dr Kazimi. Dr Kazimi then came to the podium and gave his truncated view of Jinnah of Pakistan, because he skipped quite a few passages of his presentation.

He started with points raised by a former US ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith’s review of Mr Wolpert’s book in the Washington Post in 1984 and then examined the author’s point about Jinnah’s ‘pride’. But it was the question and answer session that followed the talk which proved more interesting. Responding to a question about certain omissions from his talk Dr Kazimi said Gandhi did ask Jinnah to become the prime minster of India to avoid partition, but Jinnah turned it down as it was mentioned in V.P. Menon’s book. On another point he said Motilal Nehru was not a revivalist Hindu. If there’s a psychological factor to the partition of India, then it’s Jawaharlal Nehru’s aversion to his father.

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The Killing of Qasem Soleimani and the Insatiable Bloodlust of the US Military

Soleimani was known to have been one of the most powerful people in Iran, second only to the Ayatollah himself.

The airstrike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, leader of the country’s elite al-Quds force, and also Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, commander of Iraq’s Hashd-al Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation Forces, seems to have finally given a significant chunk of Trump’s support base a rude awakening: contrary to his claims, the current POTUS is no anti-interventionist. For all his dovish posturing and promises on the 2016 campaign trail to bring American troops home and withdraw from the “endless wars” in the Middle East (a position that arguably played a huge part in winning him the presidency of the United States), he may have just lit a fuse on a situation that even he will find impossible to contain. By killing Soleimani, Trump has chosen to take a drastic course of action that even Barack Obama, who engaged in continuous drone warfare throughout his presidency, and George W. Bush, who invaded Iraq, were loath to undertake out of fear that it would have catastrophic consequences for the United States and American presence in the Middle East.

This development signals a clear failure of the Trump administration’s so-called ‘maximum pressure’ strategy – which aimed to economically besiege Iran through sanctions to the point of bringing the country to its knees. And the irony is that it might actually have worked, too, given the wave of protests that took place across the country – had Donald Trump not jolted the country’s population into uniting in their grief after he decided to ruthlessly assassinate one of their most popular national figures. For the time being, national solidarity over what is being seen as an illegal assassination has quashed the popular protests that were taking place across the country. So Trump’s directive has backfired spectacularly, and if unfolding events are anything to go by, it looks like from here on out, the United States is set to face a tremendous amount of blowback for carrying out such an ill-advised operation so hastily. Continue reading

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‘It is the will of the Kashmiri people that we have to defend’

Let some intellectual contribution on Kashmir be generated from Karachi

The pre-lunch session on the second and final day (Thursday) of the conference on Kashmir organised by The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) proved to be an extremely engaging one. Eminent journalist and human rights activist I.A. Rehman, who presided over the session, said if issues were left [like that], they became permanent. In his view, Kashmir is primarily a humanitarian issue. Kashmir today was one of the most magnificent and marvellous struggles for self-determination. We should salute the spirit of freedom that had inspired people [in Kashmir]. It’s the issue of Kashmiris, not of India or Pakistan. Pakistan at best was their counsel. Mr Rehman said the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution was not a sudden thing. Modi and his party had announced that they’re going to do that much earlier. Did we listen to them? We reacted only when it had been done. “We must remember that it is the will of the Kashmiri people that we have to defend.”

Mr Rehman said we were repeating our arguments to ourselves. “Have we examined India’s arguments? More importantly, have we examined what the other countries are saying?” In order to understand the situation we must realise that today in Kashmir there’s a national struggle for self-determination. It’s a national struggle and we shouldn’t communalise it. “How many delegations have we sent to countries which are opposing us? It’s a long haul. It’s not going to be solved tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. We should be patient.” Mr Rehman asked, with reference to the talk about President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate between Indian and Pakistan, whether Trump had commented on Article 370. “Has Mr Trump taken a position on what India has been doing? He would only tell you baba jo ho gaya woh theek ho gaya.” It’s not a matter which would be resolved emotionally. Let’s not give juvenile responses, he argued. Continue reading

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Kashmir: India never seriously engaged with Pakistan on conflict resolution

There has been no fundamental change in India’s attitude towards Pakistan. It has never seriously engaged with Pakistan on conflict resolution.

This was one of the points made by Riaz Khokhar, former Ambassador and Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, on 29 January 2020 in his keynote address in the inaugural session of a two-day conference on ‘Kashmir, the Way Forward’, organised by The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA). Mr Khokhar started his speech by saying that the subject could not be looked at in isolation because it involved a number of factors: the situation in South Asia in the geopolitical and economic context, the world order was in flux, the rise of China, Russia reasserting itself, the US still believing in its superiority as an exceptional power, the US-India strategic partnership and flashpoints such as Afghanistan and the Middle East. He rejected the notion that the Pakistan government was caught napping when Modi made his move [in Kashmir]. “We were following his election very carefully, and there was a genuine understanding that if he was to return with a massive majority then we should expect him to do things. The Pakistani government did handle the first phase of the problem coolly.” Watch Video

Mr Khokhar said in order to analyse the situation we needed to see what Modi did: he basically abolished articles 370 and 35(A). And why at this time? There were several reasons, he argued. First, as the leader of the BJP and a deeply committed RSS man, he was committed to the concept of Hindutva. Secondly, he was convinced that if he did that, it would be a popular move [among Hindus]. Thirdly, he was convinced that the international community was not with Pakistan. Fourth, after the February 2019 skirmish he was convinced that Pakistan was not entirely strong –– he saw it politically fractured, economically weak, but militarily strong. He also realised that Pakistan was financially in a difficult situation; if there was a war we would have difficulty in financing it. Continue reading

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