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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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‘Afghanistan’s future will shape Pak-US relations in near term’

‘The Future of Pakistan-US Relations’ was the topic of a discussion organised by The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) on Saturday. Delving into the subject, former Pakistan ambassador to the US and UK, and Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, Dr Maleeha Lodhi said that after the Cold War, after Russia’s leaving Afghanistan and now after the US pullout from Afghanistan, it is the third time for Pakistan and USA to be redefining of relations.

“Throughout these years there have been many highs and lows with benign disengagements in between. Our relations have been driven by world events and geopolitical storms. And even at times of close alliances, there has always been an elephant in the room such as India or Pakistan’s nuclear programme,” she said.

“Whenever Pakistan has sought US support during regional conflicts, it has been disappointed by Washington’s stance,” she added.

“The US has always seen Pakistan as a tactical player. The ties we had or have were principally a function of America’s war in Afghanistan. The US had an Afghanistan policy but not a Pakistan policy,” she pointed out. “Sometimes this convergence worked in mutual benefit testified by the joint struggle of both countries during the Russian war in Afghanistan,” she pointed out.

She said that now that the global environment is in a state of flux there is a predominant trend of competition rather than cooperation.

“The reality today is the standoff between USA and China. America has a policy of restraining China. And Pakistan wants to avoid this crossfire or confrontation. Its a tough act. Pakistan will not be a part of it as it wants future ties with both countries.

“Meanwhile, US interest is in insuring Afghanistan doesn’t again become a base for terrorist groups. It wants Pakistan’s help in this regard, to counter terrorism and this is what future relations between Pakistan and USA will be based on. So there will be cooperation in only some areas,” Ms Lodhi pointed out.

“Already the mood on Capitol Hill is very negative about Pakistan on account of the perception that Islamabad’s support for the Taliban over the years was a contributing factor to the US debacle there. The Biden administration has not said this but the view is prevalent in US policy circles. It has built up a toxic environment in Pakistan-US relationship,” she added.

“Afghanistan’s future will influence, even shape Pakistan-US relations in the near term. Another factor that will affect the relationship concerns the dynamics of the triangular US-Pakistan-India relationship. Islamabad recognises that India has a pivotal role in Washington’s Asia policy and is in fact America’s strategic priority. It is not the growing relationship between Washington and Delhi that concerns Islamabad but the security impact that their strategic cooperation may have on Pakistan, the augmentation of India’s defence and strategic capabilities obviously has implications for Pakistan’s security,” she pointed out.

“If a key element of US’s strategy to counter China is India, this also impacts its relations with Pakistan. The US has always supported India and hardened its posture towards Pakistan, almost encouraging India to be more aggressive towards our country,” she said.

Former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN, Geneva, Zamir Akram, Dr Adil Najam and PIIA chairperson Dr Masuma Hasan also spoke.

Published in Dawn, 24 October 2021

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The Future of the Kashmiris’ Struggle: PIIA Webinar on 15 September 2021

Greetings from The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs

You are cordially invited to participate in our webinar on The Passing of Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the Future of the Kashmiris’ Struggle on Wednesday, 15 September 2021 at 3:00 p.m. (Pakistan Standard Time).

Speakers:

  1. Sardar Masood Khan, former President, Azad Jammu and Kashmir
  1. Afzal Khan, member of the House of Commons, UK
  1. Naseema Wani, former Member of Legislative Assembly, Azad Jammu and Kashmir

Zoom Link:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87414138860?pwd=YytpdVZqVHE5d29iOWtVbVhPaWliQT09

Webinar ID: 874 1413 8860

Webinar Passcode: 865984

Dr Tanweer Khalid

Honorary Secretary

The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs

Aiwan–e–Sadar Road

Karachi, Pakistan.

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‘The current Afghan state is finished’

News article: webinar on the topic ‘Afghanistan at the Crossroads’ 

Anatol Lieven, senior research fellow, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, Washington, was the first of the three main speakers. He said he was a journalist with the Mujahideen in the late 1980s and then briefly on the government side. He has visited Afghanistan intermittently since then, so his association with the country goes back 34 years. In his view what is happening seems to be in accordance with certain basic patterns of modern Afghan history; above all, the failure to establish a modern state, whether by Afghans themselves or outside forces. Mr Lieven said: “It is my sense that the current Afghan state is finished. It may last for longer than some people expect, but according to independent analysts 197 district centres have fallen to the Taliban since May.

Much will depend upon whether the US will continue airstrikes to defend the main cities, but I don’t think that will be enough. If patterns of Afghan history are anything to go by, the collapse of the state, when it comes, may come very quickly and unexpectedly. The reason is, as we saw in 1992, Afghan society is [in] a kind of process of constant conversation and negotiation. In the late 1980s it was common knowledge that there were endless negotiations between themselves and local state garrisons.”He said, on the other hand, we will see in certain areas that certain ethno-religious minority groups, notably the Hazaras and the Panjshiris, will not surrender to the Taliban. Therefore, the subsequent history of Afghanistan will be determined by the following questions:

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A Tribute to Mr. I. A. Rehman

By Dr Masuma Hasan. Chairperson of The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs. I. A. Rehman Sahib was for decades the leading public intellectual of Pakistan. No obituary can do justice to his eminence and greatness, his command of history, his discernment of injustice, his understanding of the immoral aspects of governance, of deprivation and poverty, his style of writing, so very forceful but restrained, and above all, his sublime compassion. He was larger than life, determined and fearless, a campaigner for peace. I first met Rehman Sahib during the Movement for Restoration of Democracy against General Ziaul Haq’s cruel rule, probably in 1983. The police were looking out for journalists who supported the Movement and some of them, including Rehman Sahib, Nisar Usmani and Ahfazur Rehman sought shelter in our house, in the upper storey where Arif Hasan lived.

Some of you might recall that General Ziaul Haq had taken over our Institute in 1980 through a presidential ordinance and turned it into a government department. After Ziaul Haq passed away and there was a let up, I met Rehman Sahib in Lahore and asked for his help. He was then chief editor of Pakistan Times and he wrote an editorial, urging that the Institute should be returned to its original independent status. In 1993, the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared Ziaul Haq’s 1980 ordinance as ultra vires of the Constitution of Pakistan and the independent status of the Institute was restored. Subsequently, Rehman Sahib attended many of our events, our seventieth anniversary conference in 2017 – we honoured him then, and other conferences. He gave a talk in memory of Fatehyab Ali Khan on the Politics of Dissent – he believed there could be no democracy without dissent.

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Tribute paid to I.A. Rehman at PIIA

He was a good listener, and never spoke ill of anyone

The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) on Saturday evening held an online reference to pay homage to journalist and human rights defender I.A. Rehman, who passed away in Lahore on April 12. The first speaker was architect Arif Hasan. He divided his talk into three parts: his relationship with Rehman sahib, his personality and legacy. He said he met the late journalist and activist in Lahore in 1967 for the first time where he (Hasan) had gone to work. Although Rehman sahib was 12 or 13 years older than him, they would meet every evening where they’d be joined by the likes of Dr Mehdi Hasan and Nisar Osmani. Rehman sahib used to call the architect ‘kitab’. Even after he returned to Karachi from Lahore, both kept meeting on a regular basis. Significantly, their relationship deepened when Bangladesh was trying to gain independence. Their ties further strengthened during Z.A. Bhutto and Gen Ziaul Haq’s tenures.

On the second point, Mr Hasan said Rehman sahib was a good listener. He knew how to lend an ear to people. He would never interrupt anyone while they were talking, even when they would be presenting a point of view opposite to his. He never spoke ill of anyone. At meetings and seminars, he would give an opinion that differed from others’ with a sense of humour. He never spoke about himself. Once, he visited his birthplace in Gurgaon, India. When he came back, nobody could detect an air of nostalgia in his narration about his place of birth. He talked about it like a tourist would. He was an extremely well-informed man who turned his wealth of information into knowledge (ilm). Mr Hasan, speaking about his legacy, said Rehman sahib has left behind the institutions that he was associated with and founded; his efforts to bring peace between India and Pakistan; his resolve that we should not be afraid of speaking the truth; and the youngsters who in their small but significant ways have established human rights and social welfare groups.

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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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‘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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‘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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