Interesting Times: Pakistan and Bangladesh Crossing the Rubicon?

IRSHAD SALIM — There’s a Mandela moment on the horizon between twins of the subcontinent. Jinnah’s two nation doctrine has kicked in reconciliation between them as necessary ingredient for survival post-COVID, etc.

More can be expected between their peoples in the new normal. The Climate Change, their youth bulge and common passion for cricket, sufism and mango, lichees, paan, etc. “It’s an interesting times”, to quote an intellectual military man.

The two South Asian Muslim-majority nations were once wrapped as one as the British left in a hurry, and were still growing up together until rains soaked them. They are making efforts now to bridge the gap that spoilers had taken advantage of.

Certain compelling developments in the region have provided windows of opportunities to both to bury an acrimonious past and seek rapprochement –this time cautiously, wittingly, competently and publicly though sans exuberance, selfies and emojis –they may overwhelm the move, some observers said.

More than the COVID, the Climate Change and the shifting dynamics of the region’s geopolitical great game, is the ancient wisdom at play –in a timely and conscious manner: It is better to say hello and shake hands with those who have been near and dear ones and up close and personal to you than to befriend strangers and Merchants of Venice.

For obvious reasons, these observers from both countries agree that “it’s a good initiative if we can follow it up with substantive engagement,” says the senior Pakistani military official.

When asked to comment, a former Jumbo jet pilot of Bangladesh Biman cautiously shared, “That’s an interesting thing to see ? how it goes, and shaping the geopolitical situation.”

“Modi has provided us a good opening to mend our relations,” said Tango.

Further, this would be (let’s hope) followed up by more interaction on other areas…particularly to re-start SAARC process,” said a diplomatic source.

One has to believe things are not the same anymore. We may be moving to the edge of “there’s no permanent friends or enemies or allies in diplomacy and geopolitics” –these are akin to a Swiss Army knife in modern times.

Still, belief and not perception is at work driven by time which moves forward not backward.

In politics, perception matters. This is no politics. It’s history at work seems to me.

I strongly believe that good economic ties will lend to better relations,” says Khaled Almaeena, a Gulf analyst and South Asia observer. In his view, “past legacies have all but disappeared…indeed exchange of youth groups and associations and joint projects will be beneficial. Both countries need a boost.”

Let’s see. One ought to look forward though (Agey Dekho in Urdu and Agey Dekhish in Bengali).

We were Humsafar (co-traveler): Naseer Turabi’s song and those lost days story (Harano Diner Kotha mone porre) song sung by Mehdi Hasan in Bengali resonate.

Knowing a bit of some Bengali jargons and the culture (still have old friends there), I was taken by Sheikh Hasina’s “We didn’t understand it” (Aamra Bujhle pari na) one-liner comment on PM Modi’s Citizenship Amendment Act and NRC.

It was not a spaghetti, as I understood. Things happen just as Sher Shah Suri’s GT Road took off from Chittagong and landed in Kabul via Punjab.

Guess what. Persian and Pashtun footprints (stem cells) still attract Urdu romanticism in a clay potter’s mix in Bengal. And “life is indeed a box of chocolate. You never know what’s in it” (Forrest Gump). So for now, Bhalo thakish shob dosto (stay well all my friends). “Interesting times” ahead.

The writer is Islamabad based, who spent his childhood and teens in Khulna, Bangladesh. His study on Dhaka debacle in 1971 continues…

Coming Next: Dollar & Cents and Sense & Sensibility of Pakistan, Bangladesh “Reconciliation”