Pakistan has lifted all restrictions on visas for Bangladeshi citizens, a move being seen as an ice breaker in the frosty relations between the two Muslim-majority countries in South Asia.
“Pakistan has already removed all restrictions on Pakistani visas for Bangladeshi citizens”; said a statement by the Pakistan High Commission in Bangladesh; after a meeting between Pakistani High Commissioner Imran Ahmed Siddiqui and Bangladesh’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam on Thursday.
The two sides agreed to intensify bilateral contacts at all levels,” the statement added.
Speaking to a local news agency after the meeting; Siddiqui said Pakistan is waiting for the same response from the Bangladeshi side.
“Bangladesh’s restrictions on Pakistani nationals are still in place; and that is why I informed the state minister that we have already lifted all bars from our side,” he said.
Bangladesh, former East Pakistan; gained independence after a bloody war in 1971 over popular resentment against power being concentrated in West Pakistan.
Bilateral relations between the two nations have remained tense since but reached a peak in 2009; when Bangladesh established a tribunal to prosecute those accused of war crimes in 1971.
During the liberation war, the country’s largest Islamist party had sided with the Pakistani military in a bid to prevent the breakup of the country.
India, Pakistan’s regional rival, had supported the Bangladeshi fighters for independence.
But analysts say Bangladesh began seeking closer relations with Pakistan over India’s “partial attitude” recently; including monopoly control over shared rivers; killings of unarmed Bangladeshi civilians on the borders; and the passing of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
In July last year, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan made a rare phone call to his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina as Dhaka declared pursuing a foreign policy of “friendship to all and malice to none”.
On Thursday, the Pakistani envoy also called on Hasina and Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen in Dhaka and reportedly discussed various bilateral issues.
In a separate statement by the Bangladesh foreign ministry; Minister Alam was quoted as saying: “We look forward to engaging with Pakistan.”
Both sides agreed on the need to hold long-pending foreign office consultations which were last held in 2010, it added.
Alam also urged Pakistan to grant access to more Bangladeshi products by utilizing the existing South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) provisions; relaxing the negative list, and removing trade barriers. “The current trade balance tilts towards Pakistan,” he said.
During the meeting, the Pakistani side emphasized addressing all non-trade barriers to establish “productive commercial relations”.