Pakistan is not sending its ministerial delegation for a major South Asian sanitation conference in Dhaka, in an apparent gesture to continue the diplomatic spat with Bangladesh, agencies report. A focal person of the conference told bdnews24.com in Dhaka that Pakistan had changed its delegation over the time, and did not come up for visa in time.
The Pakistan side told bdnews24.com that their participants were not issued a visa even after the Bangladesh High Commission in Islamabad had held their passports for 10 days. The three-day sixth South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN) will be inaugurated by President Md Abdul Hamid on Monday.
SACOSAN is a government-led biennial convention held on a rotational basis in each SAARC country. It sets future action plans based on past experiences on sanitation, regarded as a development challenge of the region. At the end of the conference, a ministerial meeting will adopt a ‘Dhaka declaration’.
Bangladesh-Pakistan bilateral relations have recently reached a low over Islamabad’s comments on Dhaka’s war crimes trial, and after its diplomat was found linked with banned militant outfit JMB. Islamabad rejected all terror-link claims against that diplomat, Fareena Arshad, but withdrew her on Dec 23. In a tit-for-tat, Pakistan forced a Bangladesh diplomat, Moushumi Rahman, to leave Islamabad on Thursday.
A deputy secretary at the local government division Md Khairul Islam who is the Bangladesh focal point of the conference told bdnews24.com that Pakistan had changed its delegation list again and again, and “it is not sending its minister”. “Their participation in the ministerial meeting has become uncertain,” he said. “Due to the changes, they could not apply for visas in ‘proper time’”, he said, adding that Dhaka invited a 60-member delegation, a list Islamabad had provided them initially.
“Our Secretary (LGRD) signed those invitation letters”. However, spokesperson of the Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka, Ambreen Jan, told bdnews24.com that she had no knowledge about the 60-member list or the coming of ministers to Dhaka. She said a 13-member delegation was approved by Islamabad for the conference with the officials of all provinces.
“But not a single one was issued a visa. The Bangladesh High Commission in Islamabad kept their passports for 10 days,” she said. “So, no one is coming from Islamabad”. Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan in 1971 after nine months of bloody war in which three million people were killed and hundreds of thousands of women were violated.
In 2010, the government started trying those Bangladeshis who had committed crimes against humanity in collaboration with the Pakistani occupation forces. Islamabad recently voiced “deep concern and anguish” over the executions of war criminals Salauddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, and said: “Pakistan is deeply disturbed”.
The reaction prompted Dhaka to summon Pakistan’s High Commissioner and strongly protest the comments. Islamabad, as a counter reaction, summoned Bangladesh acting high commissioner. The relations fell apart further when the terror-link of Pakistani diplomat Fareena surfaced after a militant gave a confessional statement in a Dhaka court.
Bangladesh, however, still looks forward to what the state minister for foreign affairs calls “maintaining bilateral relations”. “But we are also observing the situation closely,” Md Shahriar Alam said on Wednesday. “We’ll not compromise our national interests.” He said Bangladesh would not spare anyone trying to destroy the country’s image, exploiting diplomatic immunity.
Last year in January, Islamabad had to withdraw its official Mohammad Mazhar from Dhaka after he was caught red handed with fake currency. The objectives of the sanitation conferences are to accelerate progress in sanitation and to promote hygiene in South Asia as well as to enhance the quality of people’s lives. Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka will be present with their relevant ministers in the SACOSAN themed: ‘better sanitation, better life’.
The first conference was held in Bangladesh in 2003, the second in Pakistan in 2006, the third in India in 2008, the fourth in Sri Lanka in 2011 and the fifth in Nepal in 2013.