After a break of three years, the Bangladeshi and Pakistani foreign secretaries will hold talks on bilateral relations at a two-day annual consultation to be held in Islamabad on November 1-2.
Bangladesh will dominate the talks with its three vital issues including Pakistan’s apology for the 1971 genocide. It will officially raise the issue of its continual demand for repatriation of stranded Pakistanis and division of assets at the two days talks.
Official sources said Foreign Secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes would lead an eight-member Bangladesh delegation at the upcoming consultation with his Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir.
“This will be an ice-melting session in the bilateral relations between the two countries as no such meeting was held for long since the last Foreign Secretary-level consultation in Dhaka in August 2007,” said a foreign ministry official.
He said both the countries are now keen to reinvigorate the bilateral ties and to suggest their present leaderships to undertake bold steps to take the bilateral relations to a genuinely meaningful level.
Sources said, at the upcoming talks, Pakistan would be asked to officially seek apology from Bangladesh for the genocide in 1971.
This would be helpful in strengthening the bilateral ties and in carrying out the current trial of the local collaborators of the Pakistani occupation forces in Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971, sources said.
Since independence, two major areas of disagreement remained between Bangladesh and Pakistan. The first issue concerned the finances of united Pakistan.
After getting independence in 1971, Bangladesh claimed that it deserved a share of the US$ 4 billion worth of pre-independence exchange, bank credit, and movable assets, which were protected in West Pakistan during the war.
In a 1975 agreement, Bangladesh accepted half of Pakistan’s pre-1971 external debts, but the asset-sharing issue remained unresolved.
The second issue tangling between the two countries concerned the immigration of large number of people, mostly Biharis (non-Bengali Muslims), to Pakistan.
The International Red Cross registered nearly 540,000 people who wanted to immigrate to Pakistan after independence. By 1982, about 127,000 had been repatriated, leaving another 250,000 people still demanding repatriation.
Bangladesh also wants settlement of US$ 200 million, which Pakistan received from the international community as donation for the 1970 cyclone victims of the then East Pakistan.
Bangladesh is optimistic that Pakistan, which earlier gave Bangladeshi jute and tea duty-free access to its market, is likely to give such access to more Bangladeshi items in furture.
The Islamabad meeting is expected to culminate with the signing of two Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) on exchange of cultural programmes and activists, and visa free entry of the officials of both countries.
Besides, Bangladesh will ask Pakistan to prune the negative list of goods under South Asian Free Trade Agreement (Safta), to establish the Karachi-Chittagong direct sea link and to increase the frequency of flights between the two.
Bangladesh Foreign Secretary is expected to meet Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
Ahead of the Islamabad meeting, an inter-ministerial meeting chaired by the foreign secretary was held at the foreign ministry where it was emphasized to pursue duty-free access of Bangladeshi products in Pakistan.