Bilawal Bhutto stops over in Chittagong on way to Cambodia

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. File

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. File | Photo Credit: Reuters

NEW DELHI The Foreign Minister of Pakistan Bilawal Bhutto Zardari stopped over at the Shah Amanat International Airport in Chittagong on August 3 evening on his way to Cambodia to attend the 29th Ministerial Meeting of ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). Mr. Zardari was received at the airport by the Information Minister of Bangladesh Government, Hasan Mahmood.

“While flying over Bangladesh, I wish to convey my personal best wishes for Your Excellency’s good health and happiness and for ever increasing prosperity of the brotherly people of Bangladesh,” said Mr. Zardari in a message to his Bangladesh counterpart Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen. The stopover is significant given the chill that has defined Dhaka’s relation with Islamabad during most of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s thirteen-year long tenure.

The two Ministers exchanged pleasantries and Mr. Mahmood who belongs to Chittagong gifted The Vortex — a book on the 1970 cyclone Bhola and the 1971 War of Liberation. This is the second interaction between Bangladesh and Pakistan in the last ten days as Deputy Foreign Minister of Pakistan Hina Rabbani Khar participated in a videoconference with PM Sheikh Hasina in the July 26-27 meeting of the D8 Organisation For Economic Cooperation, a grouping that includes Muslim majority countries — Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Egypt, Iran, Nigeria, Malaysia and Turkey.

It was initially expected that Ms. Khar would visit Dhaka to participate in the D8 meeting but she chose to attend the meeting virtually. Pakistan has in recent years made overtures towards Bangladesh but PM Hasina has not maintained any direct communication with the leadership in Islamabad. However, it was speculated that Mr. Zardari, whose late mother Benazir Bhutto was known to Ms. Hasina, would be received at some point by Dhaka. Wednesday’s stop over at Chittagong airport was informal and Bangladesh did not issue an official statement on the visit.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has often accused Opposition leaders from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the fundamentalist groups of having links with Pakistan which she accuses of committing genocide in Bangladesh before the country was freed through the War of Liberation of 1971. During her first tenure, Ms. Hasina had adopted a more cautious style and had engaged with the Government of PM Nawaz Sharif. She visited Pakistan twice — in 1997 and 1998 — to attend an extraordinary session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and in the aftermath of the May 1998 nuclear tests by Pakistan (and India) in June that year.

Ms. Hasina has adopted a tough line against the fundamentalists in her country and has campaigned for death penalty for those responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity in 1971 Bangladesh. However, there have been allegations of growing Islamist influence in sections of the ruling Awami League. There are ongoing speculations that Wednesday evening’s meeting between Mr. Zardari and Mr. Mahmood may open possibilities of a meeting between Foreign Minister Dr. Momen and Mr. Zardari in the near future. Ms. Hasina will begin a round of international tour in September when she will visit India, U.S. and other countries.

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2022 2:54:11 pm |