Mango diplomacy is more than a handy fruit in South Asian politics


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Recently, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, sent a local variant of sweet mangoes known as Haribhanga to his counterparts in India and Pakistan. Why mangoes? The mango represents the quintessence of Bangladeshi products, as the French and Italians are proud of their wines, the Germans and Japanese of their cars, or the Norwegians of their salmon and blackberries. In recent years, the mango has become a key part of Bangladesh’s public diplomacy globally, a gesture of friendship and goodwill.

The shipment of mangoes to India was planned. Bangladesh wants to exploit a close and warm love relationship with its giant neighbor. But sending a bushel of fruit to Pakistan was perhaps more of a surprise – doubly so when Pakistan sent mangoes in return to the Prime Minister and President of Bangladesh.

The reciprocal mango swap appears to be a sign that Bangladesh and Pakistan are considering a recalibration of their relationship, 50 years after the traumatic separation of what was then East and West Pakistan in 1971.

Bangladesh and Pakistan are among the top ten mango exporting countries. Pakistan is proud of a different variety of mangoes, which make up a significant part of its exports with an annual estimate value of 127 million US dollars. In Bangladesh, mango is a staple food and the country is obsessed with the fruits.

Mango merchants in Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh (Md. Akhlas Uddin via Getty Images)

Considering the economic importance of mangoes to their respective local economies, Bangladesh and Pakistan send mangoes to friendly countries as a diplomatic gesture to symbolize closer relations. As the two countries compete in the global mango market, trading mangoes at high levels will inevitably be seen as a sign of improving relations.

The Bangladesh-Pakistan relationship is thorny and dates back to the creation of Pakistan following the British withdrawal from the Indian subcontinent. Following the partition of British India in 1947, East Bengal (now Bangladesh) was under the administration of West Pakistan and known as East Pakistan, creating separate states for Muslims and India. secular.

However, soon the Bengalis of East Pakistan realized that despite religious unity, there was a chasm of cultural and linguistic differences between the two parts of Pakistan, separated by 2,000 kilometers of Indian territory. The myth of religious unity could not keep Pakistan alive bengali nationalism emerged to counter the political domination of West Pakistan throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

The gesture of sending mangoes to Pakistan is significant. This indicates that despite the differences, Bangladesh is ready to move the relationship down a more amicable path.

A sense of economic deprivation and political exploitation by West Pakistan was strong among the Bengalis and reached a tipping point when in 1970 the Awami League was refuse the chance to form a government despite winning most of the seats in national elections. a indiscriminate attack by Pakistani soldiers against civilians on March 25, 1971 triggered armed resistance.

With the active diplomatic, political and military forces of India support, Pakistan lost the fighting to the Bengali Muktijoddhas, or freedom fighters. Known as the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War in Pakistan, the conflict in Bangladesh is called the War of Independence. But the lingering dispute is more than just a nomenclature. Pakistan has never apologized for mass atrocities against the Bengalis and this story remains litigation.

When the Awami League returned to power in 2008, bilateral relations deteriorated. In 2013, when Pakistan critical The Bangladesh war crimes trial where Bangladeshi Islamist leaders were convicted for collaborating with Pakistani soldiers to commit war crimes, the love relationship between the two countries has hit rock bottom.

The gesture of sending mangoes to Pakistan is therefore significant. This indicates that despite the differences, Bangladesh is ready to move the relationship down a more amicable path.

And the story has a bigger dimension. Awareness is also the product of Bangladesh’s efforts to maintain its balance in the context of geopolitical competition for the Indo-Pacific. China is obviously included here, but let’s first consider a more discreet example, that of Afghanistan.

The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan has far-reaching implications. For Bangladesh, many Islamists in the country are sympathizers with the Taliban, but also anti-Indians. Given Pakistan’s special relationship with the Taliban, Dhaka is prompted to seek more fruitful ties with Pakistan, if that is to help keep an eye on transnational ties with his own Islamist challenge.

Since the Awami League has historically focused on India in its foreign policy, outreach in Pakistan cannot be separated from the simultaneous initiative with India. While Pakistan’s relations with India have been strained since revocation Due to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 and the fighting in the region, Bangladesh also faces challenges in terms of relations with India due to the water dispute and that of India citizenship law, among other problems.

The backdrop to it all is China growing influence in South Asia, including Bangladesh. While China has expanded its partnerships with Bangladesh and Pakistan under the Belt and Road Initiative, it is quite possible that this helps to normalize the links between Dhaka and Islamabad. China’s ties with Pakistan also appear to be a counterpoint to India’s relationship with the United States.

Could the fruit spoil? There are certainly many reasons why this could. But to force the metaphor, it seems that Bangladesh judged it to be a ripe time for a new harvest.

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Lyle L. Maltby

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