Labyrinth of Bangladesh foreign policy

Labyrinth of Bangladesh foreign policy

Foreign Policy of Bangladesh consists of self-interest strategies chosen by the Constitution of the country to safeguard its national interests and to achieve goals within its international relations milieu.

During Liberation and immediate after post liberation period the Foreign Policy was basically Pro-Indian and Pro-Soviet. With the death of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975 coup[1], Pro-US and pro-Saudis under president khondokar Mushtaq Ahmed occupied the centre stage. This trend continued and strengthened even during Ziaur Rahman. Russian influence in the political scenario of Bangladesh declined considerably. The same Pro-Western lift in the foreign policy is still continuing.

The emergence of Bangladesh is an independent sovereign state is the culmination of a long process of history amidst lot of bloodshed and untold sufferings of the people. In our war of independence India and Soviet Union helped us and fought against our Enemies[2]. Even after independence during all these years the country has witnessed Tumble and fearful events. The political scenario started changing every now and then with every change their corresponding reflection upon its foreign policy.

Regional and global settings exert great influence on foreign policy of any country. In the context of Bangladesh the regional setting includes South Asian politics and strategic developments taking place from time to time. Thus the state of India Pakistan relations surprisingly Indo-Bangladesh relations got strained over some vital issues in which Bangladesh had ample reasons to take objections. Access to Nepal border conflicts indiscriminate killing of Bangladesh farmers along the border by BSF and the construction of barbed facing all along the Indo-Bangladesh border do not speak any friendly gesture on the part of the India. This big power demonstration of might on the excuse of protection against migrations, insurgents and terrorists only aggravate the bitter anti-Indian feelings.

Bilateral relations however want in 1996 when Awami League came to power. A 30 years water sharing agreement for the Ganges River was signed in December 1996 after an earlier bilateral water sharing agreement lapsed in 1988. Both Nations also have Co-operated on the issue of flood warning and preparedness. The Bangladesh Government and the tribal insurgents signed a peace accord in December 1997 which allowed for the return of tribal refugees who had fled into India beginning in 1986.

Padma, part of Sylhet division before 1971 has been under the Indian control since the war 1971[3]. This is small strip of land was re-occupied by the BDR in 2001 but later given back to India after Bangladesh government decided to solve the problem through diplomatic negotiations. In the recent years, India has been increasingly complaining that there has been an increasing flow of economically depressed Bangladesh into India.

It also accuses Bangladesh of harboring India separatist Groups. The Bangladesh government has consistently denied this acquisition. India claims that over 20 million Bangladeshi are living illegally in India. Bangladesh response is that there is not a single Bangladeshi immigrant in India. Recently India started showing some friendly gestures. In May, 2007 they announced that for the first time since the 1965 Indo-Pak war rail service between Kolkata and Dhaka restored[4]. After the devastating attack of the sidr, the terrible cyclone that took thousands of life and caused terrible damage to the crops and households. The foreign minister visited the torned ravaged area with substantive relief materials.

In the recent past due to political change over in Bangladesh foreign policy has changed radically. There had always changing view of foreign policy. So, our foreign policy interrupted in several decades. We have seen Pro-Indian or Anti-Indian in several years of Bangladesh foreign policy. It is quite a herculean task to choose a specific foreign policy. Unfortunately Bangladesh foreign policy has mixed just like hotchpotches. So it is difficult to find out a specific ingredient of Bangladesh foreign policy.

Historically India seemed to be a real friend to us. But unfortunately we have seen our country’s people have aversion or antipathy towards India. Our government is trying to keep good relations with India. But India seemed to be more self motivated of self centered in some factors like Teesta, farakka, border killing and border smuggling, immigrant issues, export and import issues and so on. Now the most disputable talk in our country is considering that India is betraying with us[5].  But the actual fact is different. Small fact of exporting Hilsa to India. In some days ago Bangladesh has exported 500 ton Hilsa only for the purpose of Durga Puja. But unfortunately some of us miss interpret this issue. Since 2012 Bangladesh stop exporting Hilsa in lieu of Teesta dispute. So Bangladesh has already shown herself interest in Foreign Policy.

Many of the people has concept that Bangladesh Awami League is Pro-Indian and Bangladesh nationalist party is Anti-Indian. But it is partial true. India is our hugging neighbor. It is important to keep good relations with India in the aspects of foreign policy. In the last 10 years India Bangladesh relation was Cooperative. Our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced two special economic zones in Mongla and Bheramara for India and she hoped that this would increase Indian investment in Bangladesh substantially[6]. To improve connectivity Bangladesh -India has signed cargo ships to use Bangladesh’s Mongla and Chittagong ports. There are also some optimistic issue like land boundary agreement, inland water transit, India and Bangladesh Maritime dispute, vehicle transit BBIN. Narendra Modi, Sheikh Hasia and Mamata Banerjee flagged off Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati and Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala buses.

Myanmar is also our hugging neighbor. Myanmar Bangladesh relation has seemed to be declined. Rohingya is now a word of slang for the lower class people of our country. The use of slung indicates the defect of foreign policy of Bangladesh. Due to political benefit & NGO’s benefit accumulate in the same stage. That’s why the issue is going to be more complicated. By sheltering more than 1 million people our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has shown her generosity. The last 2 years policy making about rohingya Crisis was quite weak towards Myanmar. But the Recent United Nations Conference our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina requested to the Global community and she used the must deeds for the first time for Myanmar. The most significant positive impact is that the image of Bangladesh is glorifying in the world community. Our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is known for mother of humanity. That is one kind of the diplomatic success of our foreign policy.

Bangladesh was anti China in the time of our liberation. But following the changeover after 1975 to 2019 Bangladesh has well via with China. Now our major construction site is ordained by China. We have good economic diplomacy with China. We import lots of things from them. Now we have Cooperative relation with China. They help our infrastructural development. They are also share partner in our country’s Mega project.

Once Bangladesh was considered a bottomless Basket Case[7]. Now Bangladesh is considered as economic tiger. The economic purchasing power parity ranking Bangladesh position is 30 in the world. The emergence of readymade garments and Pharmaceuticals sectors is the key to our Economic change. But the most important fact is our labor market in the Middle East and the European countries. About 11 million people are now working 168 countries in the world. We have good labor market in the Middle East countries. Besides Bangladesh labor market is also in demand in many parts of Europe. But the very unfortunate thing lacking capacity or protection we cannot protect the exploitation towards our labor by the consulates. It is a very regretful matter for us.

If we can create skillful consulates then it will be quite easy for us to protect the right of our labor. In the era of globalization our consulates should be more effective and careful about the advancement of our labor market. This is the key sector that Bangladesh can go a long way. In the recent years we have seen Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arab and many other Middle East countries that our male and female workers are being exploited. In some context women are sexually assaulted. It is very an unkind and brutal towards us. But our consulates cannot perform perfectly.

In this case our consulates should be more conscious.  Migrant’s right is often violated. So Bangladeshi consulate should protect such type of inhuman violation against humanity. In some cases there is Bangladesh Association of International Recruit Agency (BAIRA) to protect the right of migrant laborers. But unfortunately BAIRA is not conscious about their work. Sometimes there is news that is connected with human trafficking. It is quite unfortunate for us. Our Foreign ministry should be attentive in this context. They should monitor them properly. Besides our foreign policy should be changed dynamically towards the worker. Otherwise it will be tough to stop human trafficking. The law enforcing Agencies should work together in collaboration with foreign ministry of Bangladesh.

The major objects of Bangladesh foreign policy may be summed up as follows-

  • Self preservation is the most vital interest of Bangladesh. State self-preservation refers to maintain of its sovereignty political Independence and territorial integrity. It is inexorably linked with the protection of national security;
  • The next objective of foreign policy of Bangladesh is economic advancement. Bangladesh is low middle income country but it has the potential of becoming rich. If it can exploit and utilize its vast reserve of resources. It will require ceaseless effort on the part of national policy makers to undertake the task of promoting economic development. The cause of our economic advancement would be better served through the procurement of critical raw materials and The Other goods as well as obtaining favorable foreign market for our export items;
  • The major objective of the foreign policy of Bangladesh is the safeguarding as well as augmenting our National Power. National powers have referred to total strength of the country, which plays an important role in pursuing foreign policy. It considers number of elements including natural resources, food and every generations. It is vital for Bangladesh to exercise full control over its total resource as well as to deny any foreign country any claim to any resource in territorial waters. It is the constant Endeavour of our National Policy makers to safeguard its national power and if possible to augment it whenever opportunity arises.

Every modern state follows some ideology or at least has commitment done any major ideology prevalent in the contemporary world. Bangladesh follows neither capitalist not socialist ideology rather she identified itself with the majority. If Afro-Asian countries in the following non-aligned course of its foreign policy. It is the persistent Endeavour of Bangladesh to see that Unity among the non aligned countries is maintained and movement stronger day to day. Bangladesh mast uphold its own prestige and a favorable image in the world which is possible only through achieving economic development and thus standing on its own feet as a self respecting Nation.

Foreign policy under Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in view of the rigid and erroneous and stand taken by Bangladesh not to speak directly with Pakistan until she had recognized Bangladesh as an independent country resulted in Virtually complete Reliance on India on vital matters affecting interest of Bangladesh vis-a-vis Pakistan. This also created impact among some Muslim countries who delayed their recognition of Bangladesh till 1974 earlier during Arab-Israeli war in 1973 Bangladesh gave full support to Egypt and Syria as well as for restoration of legitimate rights of the Palestinian people which was the only important Arab Country. This had not yet recognized. Bangladesh and China was the other exception. It may be recalled that China had vetoed admission of Bangladesh into United Nation in 1972 but this veto could have been avoided by asking for postponement. At that time Bangladesh failed to realize the depth of Chinese commitment towards Pakistan.

Despite initial negative response from both China and Saudi Arabia Bangladesh was pursuing quiet diplomacy with them and by early 1975 there were definite signals that both Saudi Arabia and China were moving towards recognition. China had earlier in 1974 endorsed application of Bangladesh for United Nations membership. In retrospect Bangladesh could look back with good deal of satisfaction that despite various odds within three years of existence she had made considerable positive gains in the conduct of her foreign policy.

In early 1975 rejection of democratic pluralism and introduction of one party system, suppression of freedom of press, violation of human rights had a dramatic negative effect on Bangladesh relations with the west particularly the USA. Even earlier 1974 on the question of exporting jute goods to Cuba; United States of America linked the issue with food aid and Bangladesh had to give undertaking that no further jute goods would be exported to Cuba. It is interesting that Kissinger during his visit to Bangladesh October 31 to November 1, a few months before introduction of one party state conveyed to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman that president ford was very keen to see how Bangladesh could be given more assistance.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had the vision of Regional Co-operation but in the absence of normalization of relations with Pakistan this was not possible. The first Foreign Secretaries meeting of SAARC took place Colombo from April 21 to 23, 1981 in pursuance of the initiative taken by Ziaur Rahman to consider the possibilities of establishing regional co-operation among the Countries Of South Asia. His introduction of multi-party system and holding of elections both presidential and parliamentary all had good positive impact particularly in the west. It is true that the western powers maintained cordial relations with Hussain Muhammad Ershad which he successfully used to bolster his image in the army, the main bastion of his power. The Western attitude was more conditioned by sympathy of Bangladesh and was influenced by Ershad’s policy of introducing more liberal economy and successfully managing natural calamities and distress like flood in 1987 and in 1988. For western countries practicing democracy or human rights issues were not Paramount until now.

Bangladesh always received special importance as disaster prone country and as one of the least developed countries deserving priority. The different types of power in Bangladesh change the policy situation. It was not stable. Future foreign policy of Bangladesh lies therefore in building on our unique advantages in a time of great change and incapacity. So far, we have managed our foreign relations especially with our neighbors in our vicinity and in the world at large.

[1], accessed on 9 October 2019 at 5 PM

[2], Accessed on 9 October 2019 at 5.45 PM

[3], Accessed on 9 October 2019 at 5.30 PM

[4], Accessed on 10 October at 6 PM

[5], Accessed on 10 October 2019 at 2 PM

[6] › Images › pdf › India-foreign-relation-2011, Accessed on 10 October 2019 at 3 PM

[7] › news-detail-19641, Accessed on 10 October 2019 at 4.30 PM