Pakistani envoy meets Bangladeshi PM in sign of warming ties

Pakistani High Commissioner Imran Ahmed Siddiqui meets Sheikh Hasina as they pledge to improve bilateral relations.

Pakistan envoy and Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina
Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Bangladesh with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka [Photo courtesy: Pakistani Foreign Office] (Al Jazeera)

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Bangladesh has met with that country’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, with both sides pledging to improve bilateral relations, according to separate statements, a further sign of a thaw in an otherwise frosty relationship.

Hasina met with Imran Ahmed Siddiqui in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, on Thursday.

“The two sides agreed to further strengthen the existing fraternal relations between the two countries,” said a Pakistani foreign office statement released following the meeting.

A Bangladeshi statement on the meeting quoted Hasina as saying that there was “no bar” to reactivating bilateral cooperation mechanisms that have largely remained frozen for several years.

“The PM also said she believes in regional cooperation referring to the Bangladesh foreign policy ‘friendship to all, malice to none’,” reported the Bangladeshi state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) news agency on the meeting.

I would not say there has been significant change in the relationship, but certainly some ice has been broken

by Zahid Hussain, an Islamabad-based analyst

While Pakistan’s statement was marked by its focus on improving bilateral ties, the Bangladeshi statement was more guarded in its tone, referring prominently to the country’s war of independence against Pakistan in 1971.

“Incidents of 1971 cannot be forgotten. The pain will remain forever,” BSS quoted Hasina as telling the Pakistani envoy.

Credible reports of war crimes

Bangladesh, then known as East Pakistan, fought a war for independence from Pakistan in 1971, and will mark 50 years since independence next year.

India, Pakistan’s regional rival, supported the Bangladeshi fighters for independence.

There were credible reports of war crimes committed by Pakistani forces and their allies during that war, although some historians and Pakistani officials dispute those accounts.

Since 2009, Bangladesh has tried and sentenced a number of citizens on war crimes charges related to the nine-month war through a special tribunal.

Relations between the two countries have remained strained in recent years. In July, however, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke with his Bangladeshi counterpart by telephone, a rare thaw.

Analysts say they do not believe relations will be restored across the board, but that some improvements may be forthcoming.

“I would not say there has been significant change in the relationship, but certainly some ice has been broken,” says Zahid Hussain, an Islamabad-based analyst and journalist.

“There was almost a complete cool off in all kinds of relations, so we can say there has been some movement, but not that they are now warming up.”

Hussain said he believed ties could begin to increase in terms of trade and investment, but other progress was unlikely.

Imtiaz Ahmed, Professor of International Relations at Dhaka University, told Al Jazeera that the improvement in bilateral ties between Islamabad and Dhaka is highly unlikely until Pakistan offers an official apology for the alleged war crimes during the 1971 war.

“The ball is now in their court. They have to change their stance on that war,” he said.

On the economic front, Ahmed said that there was room to boost trade between the two countries. “The two countries have a bilateral trade of some $500m. I believe there is scope to increase that trade.”

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim. Faisal Mahmud contributed to this report from Dhaka