Biharis in Bangladesh camps: FO has no answer

ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office on Thursday expressed its inability to clarify its position on whether Pakistan is ready to accept the non-Bengalis also known as Biharis, stranded for decades in Bangladeshi camps without the right of citizenship.

The issue of the non-Bengalis was raised in the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs chaired by its chairperson Senator Nuzhat Sadiq. The discussion started on a question in Senate by Senator Javed Abbasi which was referred to the committee for a further discussion.

“Decades have been passed but Bihairs are still waiting for their fate…they have been denied citizenship in Bangladesh and other rights. In fact, they are being punished for going with Pakistan after the Partition,” said Abbasi. Senator Tahir Hussain Mashhadi, who represents Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), put the top Foreign Office officials in difficult situation by asking them to give a clear statement before the committee whether Pakistan is ready to accept the Bihari people who migrated to the then East Pakistan from Bihar after the Partition in 1947.

Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, while responding, stated that Pakistan cannot take a unilateral decision on the fate of the non-Bengalis, adding any decision could only be made after ascertaining the mood of the Bangladeshi government as well as the local Bihari organisations.

“Pakistan cannot take a unilateral decision, there are also other parties – Bangladeshi government and the Bihari organisations – and the wishes of the current generation of the non-Bengalis are important to know,” he said.

However, he said that a survey could be conducted in the camps after getting approval from Bangladeshi government to ascertain whether the new generation of the non-Bengali people want to migrate to Pakistan.

But he also stated that we should also keep in mind not to endanger their lives, as the current Bangladeshi government has already started prosecuting those Bangladeshi people who refused to fight against Pakistan during the 1971 war.

While intervening, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz stated that Pakistan is bound under the agreements of 1973 and 1974 to accept Biharis of pre-1971.

However, the foreign secretary further told the committee that there was no Pakistani passport holder in camps in Bangladesh. However, non-Bengalis are living in a number of “Bihari Camps” in Bangladesh.

He said that about 400,000 non-Bengalis are reported to be living in Bangladesh, mostly in camps. Around 170,000 non-Bengalis were repatriated to Pakistan between l974-1982 and 327 in 1993.

In 2008, he pointed out that a court’s decision in Bangladesh made the Biharis born after March 1971 eligible to be enrolled as voters. Accordingly they voted, in large numbers, in the general elections in December 2008 and January 2014, he said, adding a number of them have also acquired Bangladesh passports.

Apart from repatriating about 200,000 Biharis, he said the government of Pakistan has been providing financial assistance to the non-Bengalis living in various camps in Bangladesh from time to time to improve their living conditions.

About the facilities that have been provided to non-Bengalis by government of Pakistan in the camps in Bangladesh, he said that the facilities include installation of tube wells for supply of water, provision of books and computers to the non-Bengali students, construction of toilets in camps, establishment of dispensaries and provision of sewing machines etc to deserving women for self-sufficiency and employment. He further said that Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka remains in touch with the representatives of non-Bengali community in Bangladesh.

Source: Business Recorder