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Pakistan has lifted all restrictions on visas for Bangladeshi citizens, a move being seen as an ice breaker in the frosty relations between the two Muslim-majority countries in South Asia.
“Pakistan has already removed all restrictions on Pakistani visas for Bangladeshi citizens,” said a statement by the Pakistan High Commission in Bangladesh after a meeting between Pakistani High Commissioner Imran Ahmed Siddiqui and Bangladesh’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam on Thursday.
“The two sides agreed to intensify bilateral contacts at all levels,” the statement added.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency after the meeting, Siddiqui said Pakistan is waiting for the same response from the Bangladeshi side.
“Bangladesh’s restrictions on Pakistani nationals are still in place, and that is why I informed the state minister that we have already lifted all bars from our side,” he said.
Bangladesh, former East Pakistan, gained independence after a bloody war in 1971 over popular resentment against power being concentrated in West Pakistan.
Bilateral relations between the two nations have remained tense since, but reached a peak in 2009 when Bangladesh established a tribunal to prosecute those accused of war crimes in 1971.
During the liberation war, the country’s largest Islamist party had sided with the Pakistani military in a bid to prevent the breakup of the country.
India, Pakistan’s regional rival, had supported the Bangladeshi fighters for independence.
But analysts say Bangladesh began seeking closer relations with Pakistan over India’s “partial attitude” recently, including monopoly control over shared rivers, killings of unarmed Bangladeshi civilians on the borders, and the passing of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
In July last year, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan made a rare phone call to his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina as Dhaka declared pursuing a foreign policy of “friendship to all and malice to none”.
On Thursday, the Pakistani envoy also called on Hasina and Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen in Dhaka and reportedly discussed various bilateral issues.
In a separate statement by the Bangladesh foreign ministry, Minister Alam was quoted as saying: “We look forward to engaging with Pakistan.”
Both sides agreed on the need to hold long-pending foreign office consultations which were last held in 2010, it added.
Alam also urged Pakistan to grant access to more Bangladeshi products by utilising the existing South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) provisions, relaxing the negative list and removing trade barriers. “The current trade balance tilts towards Pakistan,” he said.
During the meeting, the Pakistani side emphasised addressing all non-trade barriers to establish “productive commercial relations”.
Alam also urged Pakistan to offer an official apology “for the genocide committed in the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971”.
The Pakistani envoy also handed over a signed copy of the Tripartite Agreement of 1974 to the Bangladeshi state minister “which had addressed all the outstanding issues between the two countries”.
“The agreement should serve as a foundation for further strengthening of the existing fraternal relations,” the statement quoted Pakistani High Commissioner Siddiqui as saying.
The April 1974 agreement signed by Bangladesh, Pakistan and India in New Delhi says: “The Prime Minister of Pakistan had declared that he would visit Bangladesh in response to the invitation of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and appealed to the people of Bangladesh to forgive and forget the mistakes of the past, in order to promote reconciliation.
“Similarly, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh had declared with regard to the atrocities and destruction committed in Bangladesh in 1971 that he wanted the people to forget the past and to make a fresh start, stating that the people of Bangladesh knew how to forgive.”
The agreement also said Bangladesh “had decided not to proceed with the [1971 war] trials as an act of clemency” and that the prisoners of war “may be repatriated to Pakistan”.
“The Ministers [the then foreign ministers of Bangladesh, Pakistan and India] expressed their conviction that the above agreements provide a firm basis for the resolution of the humanitarian problems arising out of the conflict of 1971,” said the agreement.