Pakistan and Bangladesh in diplomatic row

On January 7, Moushumi Rahman, a Bangladeshi national and political counselor who headed the Chancery in Islamabad, took Turkish flight TG711 to Dhaka and was assigned a new post in Lisbon, Portugal. However, this return trip to Bangladesh and change of post came within a much larger context of a diplomatic row between Pakistan and Bangladesh. Rahman was recalled after Islamabad declared her persona non grata under the suspicion of being involved in, as Dawn reported, “anti-state activities.” The move to Lisbon was quick, and preemptively prepared by Dhaka. As reported by a foreign ministry official, it was an expected retaliation from Islamabad due to the recent expelling of a Pakistani diplomat, Fareena Arshad, from Bangladesh under allegations of sponsoring and funding members of a militant group. This back and forth, as officials on both side claim, does not foster a healthy relationship between two nations that already have a troubled past with each other.

This diplomatic row can superficially be traced back to the arrest of some members of the terrorist organization, Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) on November 27, 2015 in Bangladesh. One of the members arrested, Idris Sheikh, confessed to a judge that Farina Arshad had assisted him in transporting fake passports, and had also provided him with financial support. The person named, Ms. Arshad, was the second secretary with the Pakistani High Commission in Dhaka. Upon surfacing of this confession from Idris, Ms. Arshad was asked to be recalled. In a statement of “rebuttal” by the High Commission, the allegations against the diplomat and the media’s “reckless” handling of the photograph of Ms. Arshad along with a verbal attack on her character were condemned. The statement expressed strong disappointment in that “all diplomatic norms and courtesies have been thrown to the wind by publishing' fabricated details of an imaginary "sinister plot" to destabilise the host country.” It was on December 23, 2015 that Ms. Arshad returned to Pakistan amid these “terror links” established by Bangladesh. This is not the first time that a Pakistani official has been recalled, and not the first time a Pakistani diplomat has been linked to terror accusations. In January 2015, Mohammad Mazhar Khan, a consular officer in the Pakistani High Commission was withdrawn under allegations of “financing of groups like Hizbut Tahir, Ansarullah Bangla Team, Jamaat-Shibir and Jamaat-i-Islami in Bangladesh and circulating fake currencies.” In July of 2014, another Pakistani diplomat in Sri Lanka was accused of financing and supporting anti-Indian activities. So, Pakistan is not new to the sprouting of terror-link allegations against their foreign officers, but it seems that the Bangladeshi-Pakistani row has continued on for quite some time.

Some news sources are tracing back the beginning of recent plunging of the relationship between the two nations, to the executions carried out by the Sheikh Hasina government of “Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Jamaat-e-Islami secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid.” While the move was deemed politically motivated, they were charged and convicted of war crimes during the 1971 conflict with Pakistan and sent to the gallows. These verdicts came from the domestic war crime tribunal that was created under International pressure on the Sheikh Hasina government. The Pakistani government also responded to these hangings with words like “deeply disturbed,” “flawed,” and “unfortunate.” Their criticism was welcomed with outrage by Dhaka calling Pakistan’s note of concern as “unacceptable.” This is in light of the fact that while Pakistani leaders like former President, Gen. Musharraf, have expressed regret over the 1971 war crimes, there has not been an official apology issued by the Pakistani government, which Dhaka is likely to bring up often when given the chance to.

The current diplomatic row, as can be traced, has undertones of deep-seated mistrust and lack of reconciliation since the 1971 war between the two nations. This current diplomatic row, while a definite low in the relationship of the two countries, may subside in the future, and the relations might fluctuate back to normalcy. But, a definitive end to the sprouting of trust issues in diplomatic spats like this one is unlikely to end.