Tensions Soar as Bangladesh Stops Issuing Visas to Pakistanis
Tensions Soar as Bangladesh Stops Issuing Visas to Pakistanis
(Photo: The Quint)

Tensions Soar as Bangladesh Stops Issuing Visas to Pakistanis

Bangladesh has not been issuing visas to Pakistani nationals, after diplomatic tensions peaked between the two countries this week. Foreign office sources in Dhaka told The Quint that since last Monday (13 May), the visa section in the Bangladesh embassy in Islamabad has been closed, after Pakistan delayed the visa renewal of one of its diplomats in Islamabad.

“Issuance of any visa to Pakistani nationals remains suspended, as the visa counter in the Bangladesh High Commission in Islamabad has been closed since 13 May,” Iqbal Hossain, Councillor (press) at the Bangladesh High Commission in Islamabad, told media-persons from the Pakistani capital.

For the last seven months, the official said, there has been no visa officer at the high commission, as the Pakistan government is dilly-dallying in issuing the visa to the appointed official in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi councillor said they have informed the South Asia wing of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Pakistan.

“We cannot process any visa application until we get our visa officer here in Islamabad,” he added. But Bangladesh Foreign Minister, AK Abdul Momen, said there was no decision on principle, to stop visas for Pakistanis. “We didn’t stop visas to Pakistanis as such. Some individuals may not get the visa, which happens across the world,” Momen told media-persons in Dhaka on Tuesday, trying to play down the diplomatic spat .

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry sent the nomination of its proposed envoy Saqlain Syedah to Bangladesh in March 2018. Bangladesh is yet to respond to the appointment.

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Bangladesh Information Minister Hasan Mahmud told The Quint during his last visit to Kolkata, “We have very good reasons not to accept Saqlain's credentials as envoy.” He did not elaborate, but officials said she was possibly from the intelligence services or closely connected to them.

Bangladesh’s Problem with Pakistan

Bangladesh is wary of ISI activities after reports that the Pakistani military intelligence service was connected with alleged attempts to assassinate prime minister Sheikh Hasina.

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Bangladesh has often blamed ISI for backing Islamist militants, which Bangladesh is trying to neutralise, especially after the terror attack on a Dhaka bakery three years ago in which more than 20 people, mostly foreigners, were killed.

In 2018, the Bangladesh tribunal awarded five war criminals the death sentence for committing crimes against humanity and siding with Pakistani troops carrying out genocide during the Liberation War in 1971.

In response, Pakistan’s parliament has passed strong resolutions against the hanging of these war criminals on several occasions, which Bangladesh considers an interference in its internal affairs.

A BRIEF HISTORY

Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal was established in 2010 to prosecute domestic criminals who assisted the Pakistani army in suppressing the country’s struggle for independence from Pakistan.

In 1971, a civil war broke out in Pakistan, leading to its division, after the Pakistan army launched a military operation in East Pakistan to suppress the Bengalis who were seeking independence. Three million Bengalis died and half a million women were ‘dishonoured’ by the Pakistan army and its local collaborators.

How India Fits In

Indian military intervention ordered by then-prime minister Indira Gandhi brought the war to an end and led to Bangladesh's emergence as a free nation friendly to India.

"We have a much much bigger issue with Pakistan than India has. India loses a few soldiers to Pakistan backed terrorists but we lost millions to their bloodthirsty army which backs these terrorists now. We only hope India understands this and sees us as a friend," says Haroon Habib, secretary general of the Sector Commanders Forum, an organisation of Bangladeshi freedom fighters who fought against Pakistan.

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The Sector Commanders Forum has often gheraoed the Pakistani embassy in Dhaka when resolutions were passed in the Pakistani parliament against verdicts given in the Bangladesh war crimes trial.

Bangladesh joined India in boycotting the SAARC summit in Islamabad to protest terror attacks and Prime minister Sheikh Hasina enjoys great personal rapport with Narendra Modi.

Indian and Bangladesh agencies are involved in real time intelligence sharing to tackle Islamist terrorism.

(The writer is a veteran BBC journalist and an author. He can be reached @SubirBhowmik. )

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