Monday, January 21, 2019 | ePaper

Pakistan wants effective SAARC involving China

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Sagar Biswas :
It was an amazing experience to see the glittering city of Islamabad from a bird's eye view at night. Just an hour after we landed at Benazir Bhutto International Airport boarding a PIA domestic flight from Karachi,  we were invited at a dinner party hosted by Principal Information Officer of Pakistan Press Information Department at 'Monal'--- an expensive five-star restaurant at Pir Sohawa Road on the top of Margalla Hills; around 5225 feet high from the sea level. A cool breeze was blowing slowly even in the last week of March, and from the terrace of the restaurant the city's beauty was breathtaking!
Pakistan's capital Islamabad is one of the well-planned metropolises in the world. It is also the most expensive city in Pakistan to live in while the majority of its population is composed of middle and upper middle class citizens.  It was built during the 1960s to replace Karachi as the capital of Pakistan. Islamabad and Rawalpindi (the cantonment city) were integrated to form Islamabad-Rawalpindi Metropolitan Area.
Next morning (March 22, 2018) we met Shafqat Jalil, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage at the Secretariat. He was a student of Saint Placid's High School and evidently shared some memories of Chattogram relating to his childhood. The meeting with an Information Ministry official was vital to us because the External Publicity Wing of this Ministry in coordination with Ministry of Foreign Affairs had organized our Pakistan tour.
The Pakistan Information Ministry deals with a large number of newspapers, television channels and online portals. Only in Islamabad around 93 private tv channels, except state-run PTV, are operating. In the country's five provinces, the number of tv channels is 415 of different categories. In total the media industry's turnout is around US$ 500 million per annum.  
Mr Jalil informed us that Pakistan government has taken huge initiatives to gear-up bilateral relations with Bangladesh focusing on increasing trade, the granting of greater facilities for students, assisting and facilitating the visits of the cultural and sports teams - mainly cricket, among others. Pakistan Information Ministry's view was clear; though they recognized Bangladesh as an independent country, they raised questions about the execution of Jamaat-e Islami leaders. There was a noticeable displeasure on the face of Mr Jalil about the restriction of visas for Pakistanis by the present Awami League government.
The next meeting with Pakistan Foreign Secretary Ms Tehmina Janjua was more important. Ms Janjua a career diplomat who joined the Pakistan Foreign Service in 1984, said her country wants a 'cordial and brotherly' relationship with Bangladesh. The similarities between the two nations, especially in religion, have convinced her government that opportunities exist for cordial relations to grow again, she explained.
We, the 10-member Bangladesh media delegation, got the warmth of her cordiality while having crispy samusa, cake and green tea, though the air of the large conference room of Pakistan Foreign Ministry was filled with some uneasiness.
 She did not clarify how the two countries would regenerate a friendly relationship when Pakistan had not yet apologized for the atrocities committed in Bangladesh by its military in 1971.
"Several people of Bangladesh like us. When there is a cricket match, a large number of spectators loudly support Pakistani cricket team even waving its flag. There are lots of fans of our cricketers like -- Shoaib Akhtar. Urdu songs by Mehedi Hasan and other singers are still popular in your country - we know. Majority of people in both countries is of same faith -Muslims," Ms Janjua said.
The Foreign Secretary sought our cooperation to convince Bangladesh government to play an effective role to activate the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) by also involving China; as SAARC was founded in Dhaka on 8th December 1985. Apart from Bangladesh, its member states also include Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The last SAARC meeting in Islamabad was postponed when majority of the members refused to attend it being pressured by India. It became very difficult for Pakistan to swallow the insult.   
Ms Janjua said Pakistan has been relying on its friendly relationship with China, which is trying to establish its absolute authority in Asia by trying to take all the island nations of Indian Ocean and its surrounding areas under its economic hegemony, which is called the 'string of pearls' strategy. If China gets priority then Pakistan's decades-old rival India would be cornered and get a lesson. It's the theory which Pakistan Foreign Ministry follows in this part of the globe. Particularly, the Pakistan government is very much anxious about the present situation in Jammu and Kashmir, which is a part of India. "There is no secret," she said.
Besides, she mentioned the future prospect of US$4 trillion 'One Belt One Road' (OBOR), which many have dubbed as China's own "Marshall Plan" -- a game-changing initiative. So far as we know, it is the biggest ever initiative in human history taken by any single nation. If implemented, it could change the geo-political landscape of Eurasia. However, Delhi has already boycotted OBOR over Chinese participation in the China-Pakistan economic Corridor (CPEC) alleging that it violates India's sovereignty.
The Pakistan Foreign Secretary finally cleared her stance and asked for the support of Bangladesh in favour of CPEC, which is a small but an important part of OBOR. Over $50 billion CPEC corridor of 3,000 km long, which stretches from Kashgar in western China to Gwadar Port in Pakistan on the Arabian Sea. "An active role of SAARC nations could implement the project where Dhaka's role could be very significant," she said.
When we were coming out after the meeting, we again saw a row of stands with flags hoisted of different countries, including the SAARC nations, at the entrance lobby of Pakistan Foreign Ministry, but there was no flag of Bangladesh.

(Sagar Biswas, Special Correspondent of the New Nation, also attached to Editorial section).

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