Fifty years after the separation of what was then East and West Pakistan in 1971, the exchange of mangoes is a sign that friendly ties between Pakistan and Bangladesh are possible, writes Samina Akhter for South Asia Monitor
In a show of goodwill, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sent 1,000 kg of the renowned Amrapali variety of mango to her Pakistani counterpart Shehbaz Sharif. The mango was handed over on July 5 by the Bangladesh High Commission in Islamabad which said: "This gift will be considered a special example of bilateral friendship between the two fraternal countries."
For some years, Bangladesh has been providing leaders of South Asian, Southeast Asian and Middle East countries a range of delectable mangoes as gifts. Analysts refer to this as "mango diplomacy," a unique strategy to keep ties with these countries cordial.
Why mangoes? Just as the French and Italians are proud of their wines, the Germans and Japanese of their automobiles and the Norwegians of their salmon and cloudberries, the mango is the pinnacle of Bangladeshi produce. The mango has emerged as a crucial component of Dhaka's public diplomacy.
A few days ago, Sheikh Hasina sent mangoes to the Indian President and Prime Minister as well as the Chief Ministers of West Bengal and Assam. It makes sense to send mangoes to India as Bangladesh wishes to foster a cordial relationship with its giant neighbour. But giving Pakistan the fruit was also significant.
Fifty years after the separation of what was then East and West Pakistan in 1971, the exchange of mangoes is an indication that friendly ties between Pakistan and Bangladesh are possible. The two countries are also among the top 10 exporters of mangoes.
Bangladeshi leaders received renowned Pakistani mangoes last year, courtesy Islamabad. Pakistan's mango diplomacy is known. Mao was taken aback when Pakistan gifted mangoes to the Chinese Communist leader in the 1960s. Also last year, Sheikh Hasina sent to then Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan rare Harivanga mangoes as a gesture of goodwill.
People from both Bangladesh and Pakistan can gain from each other if the two governments work to build positive ties. Dhaka expects Shehbaz Sharif to continue the good work Imran Khan was doing to cement a solid relationship with Bangladesh.
Visits by high-ranking officials could be a step toward in improving Pakistan-Bangladesh relations. The two Prime Ministers can trade visits. Yes, there are areas where bilateral relations are tense.
Pakistan must reset its ties with Bangladesh by resolving outstanding issues. There is a lot of potential, more so since Dhaka is now seen as an economic miracle. In terms of religion and culture, Bangladesh and Pakistan have similarities.
Bilateral trade is growing at a rapid pace and will cross the $1 billion mark by the year-end. Bangladesh will host the 20th session of the Council of Ministers of D-8, also known as Developing-8, on July 27. Pakistan may join the meeting in Dhaka.
(The author is a Dhaka-based woman and human rights activist. Views are personal. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)