December 17, 2005Foreign Affairs

The Pakistanis who weren’t there

Settling the children of a failed theory

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

As I was walking up the stair

I met a man who wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today.

I wish, I wish he’d stay away. [Hughes Mearns]Most people outside Bangladesh don’t even know they exist. And Pakistan would like to leave it that way. But hundreds of thousands of Biharis’ find themselves stuck in Bangladesh, for Pakistan does not want them back.

Both Bangladesh and Pakistan are at fault for the plight of these stranded Biharis. Bangladesh should take the extra step in trying to assimilate them into society. First off, give them Bangladeshi citizenship; and second, give access to all government services, including health care and education. They may not be Bengalees, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be Bangladeshis. At a minimum, an effort should be made.

But I lay most of the responsibility at the feet of Pakistan, whose brazen audacity to deny that these stranded Biharis even exist destroys their credibility as protector of all South Asia’s Muslims. When pressed about the Biharis, Pakistan consistently hems and haws: often complaining how it’s an intractable political problem. I say it’s out-and-out discrimination. These Biharis are Urdu-speaking Mohajirs, and Pakistan doesn’t want any more of them. They’ll just go to Sindh and join the MQM, upsetting Sindh nationalists in the process.

It’s an eerie reminder about how fragile Pakistan really is.[The Curry Man]The Curry Man is overly unfair to Bangladesh. It cannot be blamed not not according citizenship to people who not only did not want it, but did not want the country itself exist in the first place. Pakistan squarely needs to confront its responsibility. It also needs to be constantly reminded of it. And this is where the Bangladeshi government has shown little initiative — it must involve the international community more actively and compel Pakistan to lauch a repatriation process.

If, on the other hand, the Bangladeshi government has no appetite for this, it should do what The Curry Man proposes: normalise their status as citizens of Bangladesh.

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