It's in Pakistan's interest to build economic ties with Bangladesh, but it should apologise first for 1971
Bangladesh can also benefit by using Pakistan’s Gwadar Port and the China-run CPEC. Bangladeshi products can be exported to Central Asia
Bangladesh and Pakistan together make up 5 percent of the world's population. Despite possibilities, trade between the two countries is now only worth $600-700 hundred million dollars. This is a very small share. This volume can be increased easily. For this, Pakistan should first apologize to Bangladesh for what its military did in 1971 in then East Pakistan.
The industrial sector in both countries has expanded tremendously in the last 50 years. The industrialists of the previous generation knew the details of each other's people and markets. The next generation of industrialists is unable to make use of that historical experience due to a lack of political action.
Learn from India
India and China have been in the midst of a war frenzy for the past year. But they have done business worth $109 billion. The example of Pakistan and India may be more relevant. The two countries exchange gunfire routinely and there have been three large-scale wars between them. But in 2019-20 fiscal year, goods worth $300 million went from India to Pakistan. Last year, it was almost four times more.
If Pakistan and India can continue to trade despite the fragility of political relations, Bangladesh can do the same with both countries. Building a market in South Asia is becoming urgent for Bangladesh.
Pakistan has put Bangladeshis on the priority list for visas since 2019. Both countries can make it easier to boost exports. This will increase the market of jute, tea and tobacco in Bangladesh. Pakistan will also increase the export of yarn and sugar. However, to make the current trade balance more favourable for Bangladesh, policy support from Pakistan is needed.
After a long hiatus, Pakistan has shown diplomatic interest in developing relations by sending an ambassador to Bangladesh. They have to go further. Islamabad has a lot of responsibility to heal the historical wounds of Bangladesh. Many Pakistani policymakers want Bangladesh to forget the 1971 independence war and move forward. But this is not easy for Bangladesh.
Bangladesh Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi has said that Pakistan is keen to boost trade and economic ties. He said there were problems in some areas. If these are removed, the trade will increase. Tea, pharmaceutical products, readymade garments, ceramic products, shoes, leather, and jute products are exported from Bangladesh to Pakistan.
Pakistan's envoy in Dhaka, Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, called for a single country fair for Bangladeshi products in Pakistan and stressed holding the 9th meeting of the Joint Economic Commission (JEC).
In the last fiscal year 2019-20, Bangladesh exported goods worth $50.54 million to Pakistan. During the same period, it imported goods worth $543.90 million. If trade complexities are removed in some cases, the export of Bangladeshi products to the Pakistani market will increase further. Bilateral trade between Pakistan and Bangladesh in 2020-21 was $721.67 million. Bangladesh is one of the top 10 export destinations for Pakistani products.
Bangladesh can also benefit by using Pakistan’s Gwadar Port and the China-run CPEC. Bangladeshi products can be exported to Central Asia and imported from the region easily.
But first Pakistan should first apologize to Bangladesh for the genocide committed in 1971. The sooner the Pakistani government realizes this, the better for them.
(The writer is a Dhaka, Bangladesh-based NGO activist and researcher-writer on international relations. Views are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)