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“The older generation are still dreaming to come to Pakistan but the younger lot are willing to become Bangladeshi citizens,” Shahriar Kabir.

LAHORE: A Bangladeshi civil society activist and scholar has sought an initiative by the Pakistan government to bring its stranded citizens home, who are in United Nations camps in his country.

“They were well-off when they migrated from India in 1947 but now some 300,000 of them are living in very bad conditions in refugee camps, which is very tragic and I have sympathy for them,” maintains Shahriar Kabir currently on a visit to Pakistan.

After the 1971 liberation war, these non-Bengalis refused to accept Bangladesh’s citizenship and had to be shifted to camps set up by the UN. “The older generation are still dreaming to come to Pakistan but the younger lot, especially who were born after 1971, are willing to become Bangladeshi citizens. They don’t even understand Urdu and speak the Bengali language.

“In fact, there are very few people in my country who can understand or speak Urdu. It is treated as a foreign language like Hindi and is among the endangered Asian languages in Bangladesh. I asked the younger generation (of stranded Pakistanis) why are you forgetting Urdu? There is a campaign in our country that every one has the right to have primary education in one’s mother language but they have not approached the government in this regard yet,” said Kabir who is on his third visit to Pakistan and second one to Lahore.

“I have emotional attachment with Lahore. I have visited Minar-i-Pakistan, Badshahi Mosque and the Fort but the old city fascinates me more. It is like old Dhaka and old Delhi. Karachi is a cosmopolitan city and has characters like Bombay (Mumbai). Lahore has a distinct culture that we have read in Urdu literature. Lahore has become greener and cleaner than it was five years ago -- at least the areas I have visited in 2005 and now,” he said.

Lahore had a good film industry during British period and movies produced here had been as good as that of Bombay. “There was A.J. Kardar’s Jagga Hua Sawera, the first and only Pakistani movie that got award at the Moscow Film Festival. To me, it was the best film produced in Pakistan. Ironically, we don’t have any print of the maiden colour movie ‘Sangam’ and the first cinema scope ‘Bahana’ in Bangladesh,” said Kabir who is a senior journalist and a documentary filmmaker.

There was a backlash after the 1965 war and screening of Indian films was stopped here. It was a huge loss to the film industry of Lahore as it artistically suffered a lot. A huge market for films was lost after creation of Bangladesh. “But now good films like Khuda Ke Leay and Bol are being produced here,” he said.

Bangladesh, he said, has a vibrant civil society and middle class which Pakistan lacks. In the recent elections in Bangladesh, there were 15 million new registered voters, mostly youth and a majority of them voted for the secular political forces now in power.

“A secular democracy is a distant dream in Pakistan because of a strong kinship or tribal mindset, having its negative and positive aspects. It is stronger than Taliban but is hindering democracy that should be strengthened here,” said Kabir. In Bangladesh, it has become a movement to protect the rights of minorities.

Individuals like Asma Jehangir have been struggling for the right of the marginalised segments in Pakistan. People like Aapa Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan and Naseem Baji struggled a lot against genocide of Bengalis and highlighted their sufferings. The Bangladesh government has decided to honour the two rights activists. “Since Aapa may not make it to Bangladesh owing to her health, our High Commissioner will be visiting Lahore in December next to confer the award.

“Army takeovers are not good but Gen Musharraf attempted to liberalise Pakistani society by re-introducing cultural activities. Economic activity was seen during his regime and highways were built that even India and Bangladesh don’t have.

A road is priority number one to begin social development,” he said.

Most countries in South Asia have directly been affected by religious extremism and militancy. An effective network of secular civil society forces at the South Asian level can counter the strong presence of religious extremism in the region. No single government can uproot religious extremism from the region. All should be united to end religious militancy.

“Sufism can also play an important role in countering militancy and creating a peaceful atmosphere. Sufism has deep roots in society of subcontinent and Sufis spread Islam in the region because Sufis never distinguished between a temple and a mosque,” said Kabir and suggested holding a regional conference on Sufism in Pakistan.