Ask for a piece on Pakistan and Bangladesh during December and you’re likely to get something about the 1971 wars — note the plural, because the eastern part of the subcontinent simultaneously experienced an inter-ethnic civil war and ethno-communal cleansing, genocide, inter-state conventional war and a war of national liberation, all climaxing in the crisp Bengali winter of 1971. Naeem Mohaiemen’s seven part series is an example, covering many aspects of that fateful year. Let me skip 1971 in this post. Instead, I’ll begin by marking the other December anniversary, one that will have a particular relevance for Pakistan and Bangladesh in 2013. And I’ll note the parallels between the post-1971 developments in the two wings of former United Pakistan.
Tricky metaphor: Heath Ledger takes on the challenge of representing a small country with a giant chip on its shoulders
Bangladeshis tend to over-estimate how much influence they have in world affairs. Witness our then-Prime Minister’s spur-of-the-moment trip to Delhi and Islamabad in 1998. The backdrop of that visit was both countries going nuclear, in a testosterone-induced escalation from all that strutting at Wagah. To this day, no one can explain to me what she wanted to achieve.
Similarly, at pessimistic/opportunistic moments, Bangladeshis tend to underestimate their room for maneuvering in international affairs. Witness our impotence over Tipaimukh. Or our unwritten be-nice-to-Saudis policy (hint: it has to do with “labour”, and not the kind that gives you babies or Ed Miliband.)