We landed in Karachi, the port of Pakistan, on March 19; we were a 10-member media delegation from Bangladesh. It was a week ahead of March 26, the Independence Day of Bangladesh. East Pakistan, today's Bangladesh, liberated as a nation from the state of Pakistan in 1971, through bloodshed and killing of three million Bangladeshis. We travelled through Shahrah-e-Faisal, one of the main roads in Karachi. The evening had fallen by then. We headed to the centre of the city to meet the newspaper editors from the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE). Karachi appeared to be very similar to Dhaka; the weather was a bit dry, less humid. In the elaborate discussions with the newspaper editors, issue after issue came up. Pakistan has not yet apologised for the genocide that they have committed during the Liberation War of Bangladesh. Even though Pakistan recognised Bangladesh in 1974 as a sovereign state, the ties between the two countries have remained strained over the years. Trade gap is mounting; people-to-people contact has decreased between the two nations. The Karachi newspaper editors have complained that it is less likely now for a Pakistani national to get a Bangladeshi visa. Almost dying SAARC and Indo-Pak regional complexities came up very naturally in the discussion. Pakistan seeks friendly relations with Bangladesh, the newspaper editors have confirmed.
As morning broke on the city of Karachi, the next day, we had visited the Press Information Department (PID), had lunch at the office of Ikramul Majeed Sehgal, the editor of Defence Journal. The city of Karachi unfolded gradually, the dilemma of differences that I had in my mind was gradually been replaced with hopes and resemblance. Ikram Sehgal grew up in East Pakistan before the independence of Bangladesh. His mother was a Bengali; a part of his family currently live in Bangladesh. He appeared more close to us in cultural orientation and social values. As a young military officer, he was present in Bangladesh, when the war of independence broke out. His memoirs of East Pakistan were drawing a parallel to what we know about our country before the liberation. Was I feeling a deviation in me from the native perspective that I was receiving at the meet? He offered us brotherhood, he hoped for better ties between the two nations. We had a glimpse of a more personal side of the resemblance that he had with us in contrast to the differences that is evident between the two nations in current time. As I walked along the Clifton beach the same afternoon, at the shore of the Arabian Sea in Karachi, I was wondering about the contrasts of more personal aspirations that we can hold for each other and the differences we incur in political ideologies. Nearly 2.8 million Bengalis are living in Pakistan since 1971. Of them, 1.5 million are living in Karachi. In the evening, as we met senior newspaper editors at the Karachi Club by the shore of the sea, we came to the point again whether if we can move forward together, transgressing the complex chemistry that Bangladesh and Pakistan currently have. The senior editors of Karachi have put forward before us a token of brotherhood between the two nations. Our differences contracted over our dialogue, but still the dilemma was there, how much friends we can actually be in the prevailing circumstances, the differences that we have incurred between the two nations.
The next day at the Sindh Governor House in Karachi, Mr. Mohammad Zubair Umar, the 32nd Governor of Sindh, welcomed us wholeheartedly. He said Bangladesh and Pakistan have a common history and Bengal has played a key role in creation of Pakistan. While he mentioned about the 1971 war of independence of Bangladesh, he also talked about moving forward together. He emphasised cultural exchanges, especially through sports events like cricket, interaction among business forums, and student exchange between the two countries.
Later, a three and a half hours flight took us to Islamabad, the world's second most beautiful capital city. From a hilltop restaurant at dinner, we observed the spectacularly lightened up city. Many families living in Islamabad gathered at the hilltop restaurant to dine together. At a briefing in the secretariat next morning, we met Mr. Shafqat Jalil, the additional secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. He grew up in Chattogram and went to Saint Placid's High School. He happily received us. He shared his dear memories in Bangladesh. Again, we came close to more personal side of a Pakistani bureaucrat and came to know how good he feels about his childhood in Bangladesh.
We met the foreign secretary of Pakistan Ms. Tehmina Janjua at her secretariat in the same morning. She started her briefing saying very clearly that Pakistan will not do anything against the interests of Bangladesh. Ms. Janjua confirmed that the Pakistanis have full respect to the great sacrifice of the people of Bangladesh during the 1971 war of independence. The foreign secretary highly praised the recent economic development in Bangladesh and has appreciated Bangladesh's position on the Rohingya refugee crisis.
Ms. Tehmina Janjua also emphasised that as Pakistan is an investment friendly country, trade and commerce between the two nations should be strengthened. Recently, as the head of a delegation, Ms. Janjua attended the 45th Session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers (OIC-CFM) held in Dhaka. A day before the CFM, she also visited the largest Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar. She has interacted with the refugees and assured them of Pakistan's support in their hour of misery.
The next day, we took the 375 km long M-2 motorway to reach Lahore from Islamabad. Beautiful landscape passed by our sides. I was wondering, at present, there is a big Bengali community living in Pakistan and there is a big Pakistani community living in Bangladesh. There are Bangladeshis who had lived in Pakistan before our independence and there are Pakistanis who had lived in Bangladesh before the Liberation War. Both share dear memories of the other state. West Pakistan was our enemy state during the Liberation War. Then again Bangladesh and Pakistan forged diplomatic ties. Over the years, the bilateral relations became bitter again. With a history of periodic changes in bilateral relations, I was thinking how would I as a Bangladeshi citizen while visiting Pakistan perceive the native perspectives of Pakistan towards Bangladesh. It is a dilemma that has surfaced over the differences that have developed between the two countries. Do I incur a deviation in me from the native perspectives of both the countries, I thought, when I met the Pakistanis in Pakistan and the journalists, bureaucrats, policy makers and people from Pakistan, who have memories of Bangladesh and intend to extend brotherhood between the two nations? As we have many resemblances in culture and religion in both the countries, do we have a better chance to extend solidarity to each other as individual states? I have come close to the personal emotions of Pakistani people towards Bangladesh, who have memories of Bangladesh. I have met a very senior politician of Pakistan, got briefed by senior bureaucrats there, all of them making an echo of the other to extend friendship. The question remains how much it is possible to explore fraternity, whereas other countries at odds previously around the world are moving forward together now?
In Lahore, we have visited many historical sites. Some of them have religious and cultural lineage with us. From Lahore on March 26, on our Independence Day, our media delegation returned to Bangladesh. I have returned with the fond memories of the people I have met in Pakistan.
The author is Associate Editor of the 'Rising Asia' magazine, the quarterly mouthpiece of Centre for East Asia Foundation (CEAF), Bangladesh.
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