As Pakistan, Bangladesh ties thaw, India keeps close watch on them – and China
- Warming Islamabad-Dhaka ties will have implications for geopolitical dynamics in South Asia
- A former Indian diplomat believes China is behind Pakistan’s initiative to get closer to Bangladesh
Published: 5:11pm, 13 Jan, 2021
Pakistan’s move last week to lift visa restrictions for Bangladeshi citizens, and Dhaka’s request that Islamabad issue an apology for mass killings during its 1971 war of independence, have raised concerns in Indian diplomatic circles that its neighbours are attempting to smooth over their strained bilateral ties.
Any improvements to the mostly lukewarm relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh in recent years will have implications for the complex geopolitical dynamics in South Asia, where India sees Bangladesh as an ally but Pakistan as a rival. New Delhi, which remains locked in conflict with Beijing at their shared Himalayan border, is also seeking to counter China’s growing influence in the region, which it deems its traditional area of influence.
To former Indian diplomat Pinak Chakravarty, who was New Delhi’s high commissioner in Dhaka between 2007 and 2009, China is behind Pakistan’s initiative to improve ties with Bangladesh.
“I have no doubt it is China that is egging on Pakistan to normalise ties with Bangladesh and to be more active in the country,” Chakravarty said. He added that China wanted Pakistan to activate its “assets” in Bangladesh so they could be used against India, referring to pro-Pakistani elements in Bangladesh, such as the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which sheltered Indian insurgents when it was in power from 1991 to 1996 and 2001 to 2006.
China’s thinking behind such a move, he said, was to develop its own support base among countries in India’s neighbourhood and use them against New Delhi, as part of its “string of pearls” strategy.
For Bangladeshis, the long-sought apology from Pakistan for the 1971 genocide is an emotive issue, and one necessary for relations to move forward. Said Shahab Enam Khan, professor of International relations at Jahangirnagar University: “The nation still suffers from the memories and trauma of the genocide.”
Bangladesh estimates that between 1 and 3 million people were killed by Pakistani forces, and more than 400,000 Bengali-speaking women were raped by the army during Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan that year.
Warming Islamabad-Dhaka ties will have implications for geopolitical dynamics in South Asia, while a former Indian diplomat believes China is ‘egging on’ Pakistan.