Bangladesh and Pakistan One hundred years: 1971-2071 (i.e 56 years from now in 2015) | Holiday weekly, Dhaka

October 2015

When one of my most favourite journals in South Asia, Holiday of Dhaka, graciously invites me to contribute some observations to mark a very special anniversary, a resplendent range of memories and associations come alive. Be it the image of the dear, departed friend Enayatullah Khan, a brave journalist of exceptional integrity, a close compatriot in our shared struggle to build co-operation between media practitioners in South Asia or be it the living example of Sayed Kamaluddin who perseveres with courage and vast experience to sustain and strengthen this journal. Be it the golden green landscape of Sonar Bangla and its beautiful women and men or be they re-collections of a lost yet forever-treasured past. At the same time, tomorrow calls --- because the future is, ironically, perhaps more important than the past. Though that does not devalue the infinite charms of yesterday.

The title of this brief essay contains within itself the reasons why it is attractive and tempting to speculate about what the bi-lateral relationship between the two independent States is likely to be over 5 decades hence. As this writer is not going to be in this realm of existence, one cannot be held accountable for making predictions. Thus, read onward— knowing well that regrettably, there is no sense of responsibility or prospective accountability on the part of this day-dreamer.

One hundred years projects a solid sense of substance— a whole century. Even though this is a fraction of a fraction of recorded time and history. For human beings alive, ten decades represent a major span. Much can happen. Some of that may be foreseen. Much more will occur that is not possible to foresee. On global and regional levels, we should note the tumultuous and transforming—and wholly unpredicted—changes that have occurred over the past one hundred years since 1915.

In the context of Pakistan, it took only 24 years, from 1947 to 1971, for the original State to become the first State after the Second World War to disintegrate. Since that traumatic parting, Pakistan and Bangladesh have spent more years apart— 44 years—than the years spent together as West and East Pakistan. Yet even in end-1971-72, as the two new nation-States—a re-born Pakistan, a newly-born Bangladesh—began their respective new journeys into the future, no one could precisely predict the extraordinary twists and turns that have occurred in both countries over the past 44 years.

A dimension of uniqueness marks both entities. Both when they were parts of one country. And now, as two pre-dominantly Muslim countries of South Asia. Notably and ironically, it is Bangladesh, even more than Pakistan which validates the Two-nation Theory separately and sometimes jointly articulated by Chaudhry Rahmat Ali (the man who coined the word “Pakistan” in 1933), Allama Iqbal, Fazal-e-Haq and Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Emerging as an independent nation-State in December 1971, Bangladesh rejected the dominant, discriminatory facets of the State structure of Pakistan. The birth of Bangladesh did not represent a rejection of religious identity being one of the strong formative factors of national identity. Despite sharing old and close bonds of language, ethnicity, history and culture with Indian West Bengal, the people of Bangladesh have shown no credible preference in 44 years to merge into West Bengal and India as an expression of their alleged rejection of the Two-nation Theory. Which, as a result of 1971, has simply evolved into a Two-nation-Three-State Theory i.e. pre-dominantly Muslim Pakistan, slightly less pre-dominantly Muslim Bangladesh, and a culturally diverse yet religiously homogenuous Muslim nation within pre-dominantly Hindu India.

Time for an ill-timed mid-break: in pre-dominantly Bengali-speaking Kolkata, on a first-ever visit to that city in July 2015, one discovered that Urdu is alive and well in West Bengal. The driver of my car was a Muslim gentleman, descended from a Bihar family long settled in that city. Every morning he provided me with a copy of each of the four Urdu newspapers presently published in Kolkata.

Back to the scheduled narrative. Currently there are possibly nine sets of issues that mark the bi-lateral relationship. These are :

a. Unresolved issues about the phase in which the two wings abided within a single State in ​the period of 1947-1971.

b. Clarifications and corrections still required about the last part of that phase, the crucial years between 1966 and 1971, including the catastrophic final year.

c. About how we view the past 44 years in different phases, covering the years from 1971 to date in 2015, formally marked with official recognition by Pakistan in 1974 of the independent State of Bangladesh.

d. About acknowledging respective responsibilities for the different events and phases in the single year of 1971. There are two diametrically different versions of the same events.

e. About the fact that while the Head of State of Pakistan (General Pervez Musharraf) has expressed deep regrets at the tragic events of 1971, no apology has been offered.

f. About the fact that, to date, Bangladesh has neither acknowledged with regret, nor apologized for the killings of thousands of non-Bengalis between 1st March 1971 and March-April 1972.

g. About the fact that Pakistan views the trials, convictions and executions of individuals accused of mass killings in 1971 as violative of international norms for fairness and justice for the accused (a view shared by non-Pakistani jurists as well) and that these convictions and executions are vengeful, rather than forgiving and merciful, in the spirit of all great religions, and in the contemporary example set by Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and in Rwanda .

h. About the perceived differences concerning how Prime Minister Haseena Wajid and the Awami League view Pakistan, and how former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and the BNP see Pakistan.

i. About the comparatively low levels of trade and economic and development co-operation between the two countries as well as very limited, or virtually non-existent levels of co-operation in culture and politics. With the sole exception of sports. There is wide coverage in Pakistani media in October 2015 of the talented women's cricket team from Bangladesh .

Set against the back-drop of the above sets of issues, it is necessary to pose a question about what we have separately become in 44 years. Have Bangladesh and Pakistan grown further apart as people and as States? Or have we become closer than we were in December 1971?

As we ponder possible responses to the above questions, it is also relevant to ask whether we should let the on-going condition of drift continue?

As this writer has a congenital weakness for ideal scenarios , let us proceed to an outline of the features that could— or should— mark relations between the two countries about half a century from now. After all, today’s impractical ideals can sometimes become tomorrow’s practical realities.

A wish -list for the century-milestone of Bangladesh-Pakistan relations in 2071 should probably comprise most, or all of the elements that follow.

Here are the activities and programmes that should unfold in the five decades ahead .

(i) Regular visits by delegations associated with all major sectors, covering education, NGOs, culture, religion, commerce, defence and politics.

(ii) Extended stays in the other country by visitors instead of brief visits of a few days to enable deeper observation and learning.

(iii) Joint and collaborative production of a range of goods and services, whether it be a new IT device or a conventional item such as ready-made garments.

(iv) Joint ventures in social sector investment as in, for instance, Pakistan-Bangladesh school networks, public and / or private, which offer a distinctly qualitative standard of education, and sensitize children to the nuances of the culture and identity of the people of the other country.

(v) Reciprocally-linked Chairs in universities on the languages of Bangla and Urdu, on Pakistan and Bangladesh Studies. These Chairs would use, in the first phase, textbooks as already published, according to prevalent national narratives.

(vi) Closer and wider engagement between civil society forums and NGOs to take further on-going, laudable initiatives such as, for example, the Education Fund for Sindh (of which this writer served as Advisor up to September 2015) which has a partnership agreement with BRAC ​( Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, the world's largest NGO ?!)​ to use BRAC-operated schools in Sindh to put a significant number of out- of- school children into school for the first time in their lives.

(vii) Joint production of cinema films in order to revive a trend of previous times as well as of TV serials, soap operas and other programmes in TV and radio.

(viii) Twinning linkages between newspapers and magazines of both countries which would devote space every four weeks to cover themes and events of the other country. (ix) The introduction of Language Awards to encourage and recognize excellence achieved by individuals in the main language of the other country i.e. a substantially-endowed Bangla Language Award in Pakistan for a non-Bengali Pakistani who demonstrates distinction in the Bangla language, in writing, research etc.

(x) Quarterly sessions of subject-specialists, including public diplomacy, economics, security, culture as Track-II levels of dialogues between eminent persons of civil society in both countries

(xi) Similarly, quarterly meetings of the two Prime Ministers and other Ministers— outside the annual SAARC process.

(xii) Attempts to prepare the first drafts of a jointly written history of the pre- 1971 era— and of 1971 itself. This is a daunting and formidable challenge. But one worth attempting in the hope that, at some point in the future, facts and perspectives may converge. It should be stressed that the initiators ​need to ​ be prepared to go through at least 4 to 5 drafts of this joint version before a consensus text is finally adopted for sharing with the public.

(xiii) Jointly owned and operated portals / websites, TV channels and radio channels.

(xiv)Joint ventures to develop prospects for the marketing of beneficial and profitable new technologies including digital media as well as those arising from trends toward miniaturization, robot applications, 3-D manufacturing etc. (xv) Pakistan adopts and adapts Bangladesh’s notable successes in primary education, family planning and export growth, studying success in both the private and NGO sectors , and in the public sector. (xvi) Bangladesh similarly learns from notable successes achieved by Pakistan in certain fields of technology, including information technology and defence production.

(xvii) Joint efforts, separately implemented but co-ordinated , to curb religious obscurantism and orthodoxy and to vigorously promote the principles of Ijtehad. A new kind of madrassa spreads in both countries known as ​the ​ Ijtehadi madrasa. Wherein scientific knowledge, rationality and respect for dissent and diversity , are combined with a stress on spirituality as pupils imbibe the history of their religion .

(xviii) For symbolic aims as much as for substantial gain in delineating bonds of democracy and dialogue, the Parliaments of both countries convene in joint session once a year, alternating between Dhaka and Islamabad. (xix) Activation of Parliamentary caucuses and Standing Committees focused on building bi-lateral relations.

(xx) Deepening and expanding co-operation in the subject of climate change as both countries presently in 2015 feature in the list of States that are likely to be most adversely affected by global warming.

(xxi) To deal with the volatile, often violent fall-out in both societies from the consequences of large populations, and large numbers of youth whose demand for services and employment cannot be fully met, both countries co-operate closely to deal with their internal implosions of weak governance.

(xxii)As two of the largest contributors to the peace-keeping forces of the United Nations, the two countries take long overdue action to enforce law and order at home, not through military take-over but by enabling civil and military forces working together in their own respective ​domains to implement de-weaponisation and prevent proliferation of lethal weapons and violent behaviour.

(xxiii) Between 2015 and about 2030, there is implacable hostility from India against improved relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan. However, gradual societal changes for the better inside India through which the destructive aspects of Hindutva are no longer politically empowered, and as a result of gradual, painful yet eventually positive change in Pakistan-India relations, it becomes possible to open and maintain a Land Corridor for Trade and Travel between Bangladesh and Pakistan. This new land-bridge between the two countries is part of a longer, more extended Corridor that also enables Pakistan to access Myanmar and South East Asia, as also Nepal. Reciprocally , Bangladesh and India are able to access Afghanistan and Central Asia through a Lahore-Peshawar-Kabul Corridor. By then , the recently- launched China-Pakistan Economic Corridor from Gwadar into China has already proven that rich dividends can come from the stable, secure , constructive conduct of inter-State relations.

The twenty three elements of the pipe-dream that have been listed in the preceding paragraphs, individually or together , are subject to how global and regional geo-political and geo-strategic forces inter-act in the next 5 decades. And to how those ostensibly external factors impact on internal and bilateral dynamics . The imponderables and variables for possible scenarios shaped by such forces are too numerous to be addressed in the context of this specific adventure into the unknown which deals only with the harsh realities and the fond dreams of what the two countries of Bangladesh and Pakistan may be able to achieve in the years to come .

Will the passage of another 54 years heal all the wounds suffered in 1971 ? The history of humanity features many examples where nations that fought each other as bitter enemies for far more years than the conflict that divided East and West Pakistan have been able to learn some lessons from the past . To initiate entirely new directions of fraternity and friendship ,in both bi-lateral relations ,and as part of multi-lateral networks.

As near- neighbours in South Asia, as fellow -denizens of a single planet, as members of a family that once lived together, and most of all , as human beings, the peoples of Bangladesh and Pakistan have the passion, the power and the potential to make the great journey to the year 2071 a landmark odyssey for transformative change. Let us begin.

As published on the Op.ed page of Dawn on 26th August 2015.