Thursday May 23, 2024 05:47 pm

Bangladesh On A New Journey: Moving Beyond the Regional Identity

🕐 2024-03-19 09:50:41

Bangladesh On A New Journey: Moving Beyond the Regional Identity

Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen, MP

is a Bangladeshi economist, diplomat, politician and the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh and the Current Chairman of Foreign Parliamentary Affairs Committee.


This book titled “Bangladesh on a New Journey: Moving Beyond the Regional Identity” edited by Sreeradha Datta is a testament to the fact that Bangladesh is on the road to achieve our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s dream of Sonar Bangla, a prosperous, peaceful and stable country under the dynamic leadership of his daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Bangla had a rich history and tradition and it was known as the granary of India and supplier of elephants. It is Bengal that started the campaign of humanity much before the Western world.  For example, as early as 1408, Chondi Das of Bengal promoted the concept of humanity and stated Òmevi Dc‡i gvbyl mZ¨, Zvnvi Dc‡i bvBÓ——humanity is above all, even before the discovery of America in 1492 or before the European Renaissance in the 17th century. No wonder, Professor Gopal Krishna Gokley stated and which was repeated by other luminaries including Sorojini Naidu that “what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow”. 

In recent years, Bangladesh is not only the top UN Peacekeeping troops, it also has been promoting a concept of Culture of Peace (COP) for achieving sustainable peace across nations.  It believes, if we can create a mindset of respect and a mindset of tolerance towards others irrespective of religion, ethnicity, color or race, only then spread of venom of hatred and enmity will reduce leading to a world of sustainable peace and stability across nations.  There would be no violence, no wars, no refugees, no uprooting of people from their own land and traditional jobs.   

Historically, both the All India Congress and the All India Muslim League, those spearheaded the independence of Indian subcontinent, started their journey in Bengal in 1885 and 1906 respectively.

Bengal or for that matter, India was the richest country having nearly 25% of the global wealth and no wonder, being attracted by its wealth and richness, one after another foreign powers, the Mongols, the Huns, the Aryans, the Persians, the Arabs, the Portuguese, and finally, the British ruled and plundered and looted its wealth. The British ruled it over 190 years and made it a pauper, a poor county.  But Bangabandhu, the son of its soil always believe in its potentials and no wonder, he hoped for a Sonar Bangla. He often said, “we do have fertile land and hardworking farmers and given correct incentives, they can turn it into a Sonar Bangla, the golden Bengal”.  His dream is coming true.  Despite myriad challenges, Bangladesh achieved remarkable economic growth, over the last 15 years, its GDP growth rate averaged around 6.6%, one of the highest in the world, it reduced poverty more than half and achieved significant successes in almost all socio-economic indicators pushing its life expectancy from low 50s to almost 74 years now. That’s a remarkable progress ——- no wonder, Bangladesh, once termed by the Western pundits as a ‘bottomless basket with no hope of survival’ is now a vibrant economy, a land of opportunities. As per Boston Consulting Group (BCG), it is becoming the 9th largest global market place, an attractive destination for inward foreign investment and currently, Bangladesh is playing an active part in the regional initiatives, it has become a Hub of regional connectivity as it believes that ‘connectivity is productivity’.  It is emerging as an important player in the regional and global geopolitics being the 33rd largest economy, soon aspires to be the 25th largest economy in the world.  Although I did not get the chance to read the book but read its introduction that was sent to me and this book appears to be a testament that the greater world is taking notice of Bangladesh’s triumph. 

This book titled “Bangladesh on a New Journey: Moving Beyond the Regional Identity” has 13 articles plus 3 write-ups and is consists of 287 pages. This book explores Bangladesh’s increasing importance in the regional and the global stage. It highlights its standout economic achievements and its transition from a low-income to a middle income country with great potentials. It emphasizes the key drivers of growth including investment in human resource development and significant infrastructure development notably the Padma Bridge that aims at increasing the nation’s GDP growth by an additional 1.2% per annum.   

It also acknowledges the pivotal role of Bangladesh’s vibrant civil society and highlights its priority on women participation in the nation building efforts.  However, it misses one critical element in the growth process and it is, the role of leadership.  In fact, it is the leadership skill of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her targeted approaches plus her strong determination to achieve Bangabandhu’s dream of Sonar Bangla by making it a Smart Digital Bangladesh by 2041 that energized the nation to achieve spectacular growth.  Only by partial utilization of its agriculture resources, its RMG and its Expatriate labor force, it achieved significant success.  Given its plentiful of waters all across the nation, it could be global supplier of fresh drinking water or bottle water, and in addition, if its watersheds, its hoars and marshlands are fully utilized for fresh water fish, it could be a global supplier of fresh water fish worth of billions.  The author overlooks its advantage of having a very large young population who if are gainfully employed in IT or ITES sector, the future of Bangladesh is likely to be much brighter.  

Bangladesh’s foreign policy is on the concept of “Friendship to all, malice towards none” as enunciated by Bangabandhu.  He laid strong emphasis on peace and he said and I quote, “peace is imperative for development” and he wished that Bangladesh be the Switzerland of the East that would emit the message of peace throughout the region.  No wonder, Bangladesh is opposed to nuclear proliferation and it opposes any proxy war in the region.  Following his footsteps, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina solidified Bangladesh’s relationship with all its neighbors; India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia including Myanmar.  It demonstrated its commitment to fostering regional cohesion through active participation in all regional initiatives including BIMSTEC, SAARC, BBN, ARF, IORA, BRI, etc.  It took a global leadership role in Climate change, Migration, UN Peacekeeping, and regional security.  It also maintained an excellent relationship, spanning Southeast Asia, ASEAN, the Muslim world, the NAM, the EU, the Commonwealth and the major powers of the world especially the United States of America.  Despite acknowledging the persistent challenges that Bangladesh, a country of 170 million people faces, the book maintains an optimistic outlook regarding Bangladesh’s future progress.

During my tenure as the Bangladesh Foreign Minister, in order to help achieve the roadmaps that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina outlined such as becoming a developing country by 2021, a hunger-free economy by 2030, and a Smart Digital Bangladesh by 2041, and given our geostrategic location, and more importantly, given the need for creating opportunities for our greatest resource, the young and hardworking youth, and also to make best use of our waters and other resources, I introduced 3 policy packages and these are (1) Economic diplomacy, (2) Public diplomacy and the third one, (3) Regional Peace and stability packages.

My economic diplomacy package consists of 5 major elements and these are (1) Increase of foreign direct investment (FDI) plus diversifying its portfolio, (2) Increase trade and diversify its products and markets, (3) Gainful employment of nation’s human resources both home and abroad, (4) Technology transfer in order to help improve ease of doing business and finding ways to mitigate river erosion, climatic vulnerability, and utilizing the water resources, and (5) providing quality services to both our Bangladeshi Diaspora and others in all our missions. Emphasis was laid on investment, trade and employment in order to fully engage our human resources by creating gainful jobs and we created an office Director General for Trade, IT, ITES and investment within the Foreign Ministry. My Public Diplomacy initiatives were designed to change the brandname of Bangladesh from a poor starving country to a land of opportunities in order to attract FDI and also to appraise especially our Western leaders and advisers that Bangladesh is the only country in the world that sacrificed 3 million lives to uphold democracy, justice, Human Rights and Human dignity.  It will also appraise people of all nations that our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman spent most of his active life, almost 14 years in jails as he demanded right to vote, right to food and shelter and to end economic disparity and deprivation.  In order to do that we created a special Wing in the Foreign Ministry plus established Bangabandhu Corners in all our missions abroad so that it organizes in cooperation and partnership with our Diaspora and local educational institutions; universities, schools, colleges, Think Tanks, community leaders, opinion leaders and the like regular seminars, workshops, events, etc on Bangladesh.  And my Regional Peace and Stability package would like to create and guarantee an environment of peace and stability in the region so that economic achievements can be sustainable.  Indian subcontinent is very vulnerable and emotion plays a big role in maintaining peace and stability.  Any country or region that faces threat of extremism and violence or wars, finds difficulty to sustain their growth and achievements even if they may have plenty of resources. Threats of extremism and uncertainty keep their potential investors away.  As against such scenario, the countries that enjoy peace and stability appear to be doing much better. For example, because of peace and stability in Bangladesh and India for last 15 years, both are benefited. Nearly 2.8 million Bangladeshis visited India either for shopping, tourism or for medical treatment and thus contributing to Indian economy.  Few thousand Indians are contributing to our economy by having jobs in Bangladesh and helping their own country by remitting billions of foreign exchange to India. More importantly, because of peace and stability, India doesn’t have to spend billions of its dollars to protect its borders in the eastern zone. I would like to propose to the researchers and the authors to write books on the mutual economic and social benefits of resolving issues through dialogue and discussion as Bangladesh and India have done. They have set up an example for others to imitate.  Through developing a rock-solid bilateral relationship and through dialogue and discussion, it resolved its border demarcation issues, its maritime boundary and also most of its water sharing disputes peacefully.  Not a single bullet was fired.  This is an unique example of achieving wellbeing of their peoples through friendship and political acumen, maturity and leadership.   Therefore, leadership issue and diplomatic strategies are very important not only for growth but also for sustainability.

As noted by many authors in the book, Bangladesh’s rise and its successes have not been studied in depth especially in the West.  Hopefully, this book is going to make a significant contribution towards filling that void. The book offers valuable insights into to the nation’s diplomatic endeavors.  It allows us to see how the rise of Bangladesh is seen by global academic community and analyze what they think will be the next steps for Bangladesh.

I congratulate the editor Professor Sreeradha Datta and the contributing authors for their write-ups and wish them to come up with more of such books.