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Kashmir Discussed By Pak, Bangladesh? Reports Raise Eyebrows In India

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Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s phone call to his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina and a press release from Islamabad saying Mr Khan shared his concerns about Jammu and Kashmir has raised buzz in view of the shifting dynamics in India’s neighbourhood and the clashes with China along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.

As ties with Nepal turned prickly over the last months, Islamabad’s successful overtures to Dhaka have given rise to conjecture about a possible dilution of Bangladesh’s staunch pro-India stand.

There are concerns that China, already a strong influencer in Bangladesh, may have had a role in the phone call, which comes after months of strained relations.

On Kashmir, contrasting statements have emerged from the two countries.

Dhaka’s brief two-paragraph statement did not mention Kashmir at all, maintaining the two leaders discussed the coronavirus crisis and floods in Bangladesh.

Pakistan’s eight-paragraph statement said Prime Minister Imran Khan “shared Pakistan’s perspective” on Kashmir and “stressed the importance of peaceful resolution”.

The Foreign Ministry said there is no cause for concern. “Our relations with Bangladesh are time-tested and historic. We appreciate their consistent stand that Jammu and Kashmir and all its developments are India’s internal matters. It’s a stand they have always taken,” said Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava when asked about developments at a press meet in New Delhi on Friday.

But some foreign policy experts are not convinced.

“Of course India should be worried,” said Subir Bhaumik, Kolkata-based analyst and editor of the news portal Eastern Link. “The way the restoration of diplomatic relations has taken place between Bangladesh and Pakistan, the sudden change of mood especially at a time when India is having trouble with China in Ladakh, smacks of some behind-the-scenes diplomatic manoeuvres,” Mr Bhaumik said.

Of special concern, he added, is pro-Pakistan voices in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s office, “and Kashmir being raised”.

“Sheikh Hasina has crossed a Laxman Rekha in quite a decisive way,” Mr Bhaumik added.

Sources said there has been no outreach to India from Bangladesh after the talks with Imran Khan.

Former foreign secretary Krishnan Srinivasan says there is no cause for alarm. “Two regional prime ministers talking is not unusual. As prime ministers of two Islamic countries, it is not surprising Kashmir figured in their talks,” he said.

When Jammu and Kashmir’s special powers granted under Article 370 were scrapped, Dhaka had taken the stance that it was an internal matter of India.

That was what Dhaka had also said about the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

But its Foreign Minister Abdul Moomen cancelled his December visit to Delhi after stating the Citizenship (Amendment) Act could weaken India’s historic character as a secular nation.

Mr Moomen also got New Delhi’s antenna up early July when he met Pakistan’s new envoy to Dhaka.

Some analysts said Islamabad’s voice is louder these days than before in Dhaka, even inside the Prime Minister’s Office. One of the alleged pro-Pakistan voices is billionaire businessman Salman Fazlur Rehman, appointed Private Sector Industry and Investment Advisor to Sheikh Hasina last year, sources said.

Salman Fazlur Rehman is the vice chairman of the country’s biggest business conglomerate Beximco.

An American embassy cable released by WikiLeaks described him as “allegedly one of Bangladesh’s biggest loan defaulters”.


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