Hasina scraps plan to visit Pakistan: official

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina overnight scrapped her planned visit to Pakistan to attend an international summit later this month, without citing any specific reason.

Hasina was expected to attend the summit of the Development-8, a grouping of eight nations with Muslim majority population, on November 22, but now Foreign Minister Dipu Moni is likely to represent the premier.

"We have just been informed (by the PMO) that she (Hasina) is not going... she could not make it this time," a senior foreign ministry official familiar with the situation told PTI preferring anonymity.

The official though could not elaborate further about the changed plan. The development came just three days after the Prime Minister's press secretary Abul Kalam Azad told media that she would go to Islamabad on a three-day tour.

It is notable that Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar had visited Bangladesh briefly to personally hand over an invitation to Hasina from President Asif Ali Zardari.

However, Bangladesh's relations with Pakistan have remained frosty. Coinciding with Khar's five-hour visit to Dhaka, Bangladesh had reiterated its call for a formal Pakistani apology for the atrocities committed by by Pakistani troops during Bangladesh's 1971 Liberation War.

This would have been Hasina's first tour to the Pakistani capital since her ruling Awami League was elected to power in December 2008 general elections. Hasina had earlier visited Islamabad as premier during her previous 1996-2001 tenure.

During the last four years, Dhaka's ties with Islamabad have been limited to visits of Bangladesh's education and commerce ministers and the parliamentary speaker to Islamabad and foreign secretary-level official consultations in November 2010.

The bilateral ties also witnessed a little strain two years ago as Bangladesh initiated a process to try its nationals who had joined hands with the Pakistani troops in carrying out the atrocities.

The incumbent government has been demanding Islamabad's official apology for the Pakistani troops' atrocities during the 1971 Liberation War. But Khar had told Moni during her recent visit that since 1974, Pakistan has "at different times and different manners expressed its regret for the 1971 incidents", while insisting it was time to move ahead of the bitter past.

Pakistan's former president Pervez Musharraf during a 2002 tour to Bangladesh visited the National Memorial for 1971 martyrs and wrote the visitor's book: "Your brothers and sisters in Pakistan share the pain of the events of 1971. The excesses during that unfortunate period are regrettable. Let us bury the past in a spirit of magnanimity".

In 1985, President Ziaul Haq visited the national memorial and told Bangladesh's media persons, "Your heroes are our heroes". Earlier, in June 1974, Pakistan's Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto visited the memorial, creating quite a stir back in Pakistan.

Pakistan recognised Bangladesh in 1974, when the country's founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman visited Islamabad to join an OIC summit. Repatriation of several million Urdu-speaking people who claim them stranded Pakistanis and sharing of wealth of pre-1971 undivided Pakistan remained outstanding issues in bilateral ties.

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