Mohammad Zainal Abedin, writes from NY
National and international print and electronic media apprehend whether the incoming Islamabad Summit of the SARRC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) will be held as scheduled (November 9-10) or postponed or cancelled. Such apprehension surfaced over Indo-Pak altercation on the disputed Occupied Kashmir and Pakistan’s condemnation against the execution of the Jammat leaders, particularly Maulana Matiur Rahman Nizami, on the charges of crime against the humanity in 1971.When such a suspicion was looming centering the Islamabad Summit of SAARC, a Bengali Weekly of New York (Thikana) published a report on September 2, 2016 which claimed that US Foreign Secretary of State Mr. John Kerry toured to Dhaka to persuade Prime Minister (PM) Sheikh Hasina to attend the summit despite the exiting misunderstandings between Dhaka and Islamabad. The weekly, however, cautioned if, “India boycotts the forthcoming summit, Bangladesh may also follow the same path”.
If the report of the weekly becomes true, it will undoubtedly belittle the sovereign and independent status of Bangladesh before the international community. Despite having a diplomatic squabble with Pakistan, non-participation of Bangladesh in the SAARC Summit will yield nothing for Bangladesh; rather it will isolate Bangladesh further. We should keep it mind, if we boycott someone, one day we may also be boycotted by others.
To avert such undesirable situation Bangladesh must pursue its own independent foreign policy, ignoring external pressure or influence. The current misunderstanding of Bangladesh with Pakistan could bilaterally be resolved. Bangladesh’s abstention from the summit will not resolve the problem, rather will aggravate and complicate the relation between the two countries which will hamper the interest of both of us.
No-one should deny the fact that India annually spends millions of dollars to sustain the hatred and enmity between Bangladesh and Pakistan that was created during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 that divided the two Muslim nations of the subcontinent. India is desperate to maintain this trend at any cost. India is aware that close diplomatic and other ties between the two wings of former united Pakistan will frustrate and jeopardize the ulterior goals of India’s success in disintegrating Pakistan. So India relentlessly uses its overt and covert instruments to keep isolated Bangladesh not only from Pakistan, but also from all other countries to turn Bangladesh into a satellite country of India and lower its status to the level of former Sikkim (that India swallowed in 1974) and Bhutan. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib, the founding father of Bangladesh, genuinely could comprehend India’s game and far-reaching design and he prudently and courageously defied India’s lordship in every possible sector from sendingback Indian troops from Bangladesh and joining the OIC 2 (Organization of the Islamic Countries) Summit in Lahore. He didn’t even consult with India before flying to Lahore.
In this regard, I should quote Former Water and Commerce Secretary Mohammad Asafuddowla who addressing a roundtable conference held at the National Press Club of Dhaka in 2010 narrated how courageously and strongly Sheikh Mujib during his four-day state visit to India from May 24 to 27 (1974) defended his position of attending the OIC Summit in Pakistan in replying to a question of the then Indian Foreign Minister late Swaran Singh. Asafuddowla recollecting the happenings of a meeting held at the Rashtapathi Bhabavon of India quoted Swaran Singh as saying, “ Mr. President, the people of India might have misunderstood you because it was our understanding that our foreign policy shall be coordinated. Your joining in OIC meeting in Lahore we had no consultation. Therefore, there was no coordination. ……..”
On having heard Swaran Singh, Afsaudollowa, who personally attended that meeting, narrated, “He (Sheikh Mujib) thumbed the table so hard that tea inside the cup was spilled and said ‘Mr. Swaran Singh don’t teach me the Subcontinental politics. But remember I understand the differences between coordination and subordination. I don’t need anybody’s permission to go and visit OIC. I represent a country where 90% people are Muslims. It is the 2 nd largest Muslims country of the world. I have to join it whether it is Lahore or Islamabad is a different thing. But I don’t need anybody’s permission.”
I would suggest PM Sheikh Hasina that she should carefully analyze the prudent foreign policy of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib who went to OIC conference on the basis of his own judgement. What were the positive outcomes of that tour to Pakistan? She should think if Sheikh Mujib could attend the OIC Summit held in Lahore just after three years of bloody liberation war (1971) of Bangladesh, how she being his daughter using Pakistan’s condemnation against the execution of Jammat leaders could boycott SAARC Summit.
Mentionable, SAARC Charter says that bilateral issues must not be raised or discussed at SAARC Forum. If so, why Bangladesh-Pakistan or Pakistan-India’s bilateral row could not bar or be used to foil the summit in whatever venue it will be held.
If the Islamabad Summit is foiled due to the boycott of any country, Pakistan in future may also deny attending the summit whenever it will be held in the particular country which will also lead to the cancellation of that future summit. Under that situation, SAARC — a promising forum that could gradually promote regional understanding and bring about a radical change in all spheres of SAARC nations, will wither away.
SAARC surfaced despite the same disputes, misunderstandings and bilateral problems between India and Pakistan over Kashmir have persisted since 1948. Allegations and counter-allegations, even armed clashes and wars are not new happenings over Kashmir between these two countries.
Those issues did not bar the formation of the SAARC and neither Pakistan nor India ever used those (issues) as tool to boycott SARRC Summit whether it held in either of the countries. So it will not be logical to use the same issue to foil the upcoming summit.
It needs to mention that India has no moral or lawful logic to use the Kashmir problem as an issue to foil SAARC Summit. India has little scope to brand Kashmir as India’s internal problem or a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. India, officially internationalized the Kashmir issue by raising it before the UN Security Council and seeking its good offices to solve the problem. The Security Council adopted resolutions to hold free and fair plebiscites in Kashmir under UN supervision. India officially welcomed the resolutions and pledged to implement them 3 to solve the problem once for all. India’s first PM late Jawaharlal Nehru repeatedly committed before the international community that India is obliged to hold the plebiscites and obey the results if it would go against its claim over Kashmir as its integral territory.
But the said plebiscites in Kashmir was never held. Kashmiri people who are facing uneven confrontation on this PM Sheikh Hasina should feel the pains of the Kashmiri people who are doing the same thing what we did against Pakistan in 1971. Their struggle cannot be branded as Pakistan-fueled problem.
PM Sheikh Hasina and her policymakers should keep all these facts in mind also play an active to keep SAARC alive and workable, ad SAARC is the brainchild of Bangladesh. So to narrow the gap, if any, among all the member-countries, SAARC should act as a bridge of peace and compromise, not as a platform of contradiction and confrontation. Bilateral rivalries shouldn’t be used as a tool to isolate or undermine any member-nation. Boycott of Islamabad Summit will not help resolve any irritant issues between India and Pakistan or Bangladesh and Pakistan; rather it will not only damage SAARC, but also fuel rivalry what one day may lead to confrontation.
If SAARC fails to exist the hope of promoting regional cooperation and ending confrontation will wither away. Bangladesh and all other nations of South Asian region and beyond will be heavily affected in that situation. Diplomatic circles apprehend that the whole region of South Asia and beyond may be the victims of the probable insane war between rival countries India and Pakistan. Such war will not be a conventional one. No-one will be a winner is such a war game of power. An effective SAARC can save the region and its adjoining regions as well from the unpredictable disaster.
(The contributor: journalist and researcher, Email: email@example.com. The opinion expressed in this article is the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect that of GreenWatch Dhaka.)
Mohammad Zainal Abedin, writes from NY