Full marks to Prime Minister Imran Khan for taking the initiative in breaking the ice with Bangladesh. Such gestures of statesmanship can and should go a long way in normaliing relations between countries estranged due to reasons buried deep in the past. While it is true that the animosity of the past cannot be easily forgotten, and a lot of bad memories tend to erupt at the mere mention of Bangladesh, it is also imperative that we understand that both survival and prosperity demand a confident, forward looking march into the future. The problems of the past now serve as lessons for us. And if we cannot learn enough from them to take the right steps for the future, then we are not learning anything at all.
It was precisely this distance, and of course a lot of other things, that enabled India to drive a wedge so easily between Islamabad and Dhaka. Every now and then, especially at multilateral forums like SAARC, Bangladesh would easily do India’s bidding and frustrate Pakistan just because its interests were aligned with New Delhi’s over a common target. But now regional dynamics are changing. India’s own high-headedness and the Modi administration’s tendency to push allies and take their loyalties for granted has resulted, among other things, in visible cracks in the coalition between India and Bangladesh. And just when Dhaka is realising the many costs of doing business with Delhi in the present setting, and moving away, the time is right for Pakistan to begin the process of not just healing old wounds but also forging a new friendship.
The people of Pakistan and Bangladesh share far more than just a bitter past. Now the two countries must look to build a lasting friendship based on cultural and economic ties. They should explore and exploit their trade potential. Once governments and people of both countries see that their lives will improve by being friendly to one another, in terms of profits from trade, etc, they will automatically want to build on the foundations. And Prime Minister Imran Khan’s phone call can go a long way in forming that foundation. The history of the world has often been pleasantly influenced by bright ideas of forward looking statesmen. With his phone call, Imran Khan has shown that he understands what is at stake, especially the danger of not letting go of a bad past. *