Bilateral relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh seem to be improving in recent months. Bangladesh has snubbed India on several occasions and seems to be tilting towards improving ties with China and Pakistan.
India has taken exception towards the growing bonhomie between Pakistan and Bangladesh. This was reaffirmed when Prime Minister Imran Khan had a telephonic conversation with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina Wajid and invited her to visit Pakistan. After two years, the Pakistani embassy in Dhaka is now fully functional and the high commissioner has assumed full responsibilities.
This tilt toward Pakistan is due to the growing influence of China in the region. As Beijing’s relations worsen with New Delhi, it has moved towards Dhaka. All Indian projects have slowed down in Bangladesh since 2019 and Chinese infrastructure projects are receiving support. This includes building an airport terminal in Sylhet, a decision that will affect Indian as it is located near the border region.
Indian media reported Sheikh Hasina has refused to meet the Indian envoy since the past four months despite many requests or sent a note of appreciation for coronavirus pandemic response. Bangladesh is concerned about the passage of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in India and relations have soured ever since. The law does not only discriminates against Muslims but India has also been deporting unregistered people to Bangladesh. However, Dhaka claims it cannot take these people as it already provides refuge to Rohingyas.
The relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh worsened after a Jamaat Islami leader was hanged in 2016 for his role in 1971 Fall of Dhaka. Pakistan strongly protested the decision and relations plunged. Bangladesh refused visas to Pakistanis and cricketing ties were also affected while there was no embassy for two years. In 2019, Bangladesh imported onions from Pakistan after India banned exports and relations have improved ever since.
Bangladesh’s growing differences with India are viewed as an opportunity for Pakistan and Chinese interests in Dhaka. China wants to gain influence against India and will invest in infrastructure projects. It needs to be seen if Bangladesh will normalize relations or is using its tilt toward China and Pakistan to bargain on issues of special interest. Pakistan and Bangladesh have a bitter history and improvement in relations should be welcomed.