Resurgence of Bangladesh

Published: March 26, 2012

The writer is a former foreign secretary and former ambassador to several countries including Iran, Russia and France

An expression of ritual pessimism about Bangladesh’s prospects has often accompanied international sympathy for its people. Lawrence Ziring concluded his 1992 book Bangladesh: From Mujib to Ershad on the following observation: “Poets may dream of a Sonar Bengal but the political future, like the economy of this sub-continental country seems destined for a bleaker destiny.” The multi-dimensional progress made by Bangladesh during the last ten years warrants that such foreboding should now be put aside.

A dark prognosis about its future first sprang from seemingly insurmountable economic challenges faced by a state established by the British in the early 20th century and then within the same frontier, by revolt, from Pakistan. Secondly, such a forecast also emerged from its personality-driven politics, the contending articulation of the roots of its nationalism and the great impoverishment of its human capital over centuries. Many negative features persist but what is making a difference is the élan of Bangladesh’s people, their motivation and their capacity to work hard in unpropitious circumstances.

These inherent qualities of its people have limited the damage caused by its turbulent politics –– assassinations, military coups, countless hartals –– and by a lack of consensus on whether its nationalism is based on language and race or on its territorial status. Consider this last element: it is divisive in its internal ramifications but not in the national will to maintain a distinct sovereignty. However fractious the domestic political scene, Bangladeshis have never given a thought to a diluted sovereignty of their independent state; there are no takers of some implicit foreign recommendations to ‘reintegrate’ with the other Bengal. What Bangladesh would celebrate again on the National Day 2012 is this complex sense of its identity and destiny.

They would justifiably celebrate economic gains made particularly in the last decade. In 2011, its GDP grew at 6.7 per cent with manufacturing making a decent contribution. In 1990, 57 per cent of Bangladeshis were below the poverty line; in 2012 the figure is no more than 32 per cent. Education has made significant strides; the quantum jump in the enrolment at primary and secondary levels, especially of girls, deserves a special mention. Some infrastructure projects have been of strategic social and economic value; my favourite is the Jamuna Bridge, though I have a secret wish to one day cycle across the 6.15-kilometre-long Padma Bridge.

These gains need consolidation as Bangladesh is not immune to internal and external shocks. There is the endless battle against natural forces that strike the land from time to time. Then the country is susceptible to the vagaries of the international economic order. Another global slow down or another upsurge in oil prices would make it difficult to sustain the 2011 GDP growth.

My four-year tour of duty in Dhaka, beginning in 1982, has an abiding afterglow in my memory because of the progress in rebuilding bridges. The wounds of 1970-71 were still fresh, but the people showed great magnanimity of spirit. My tenure witnessed the rise of General Hussain Muhammad Ershad and then relentless resistance to his rule by major political parties, eventually culminating in his stepping down in December 1990. Subsequent attempts to filter the principal leaders out of the political process simply failed. In 2009 the Awami League-led alliance won by a landslide victory.

Political contests in Bangladesh have occasionally been seen as grounded in interpretations of nationalism mentioned above. Some friction has come from the priority freedom-fighters claim over those who were not committed to secession from Pakistan. Differences arise on how to come to terms with the events of 1970, whether to be punitive or pursue a broad reconciliation. It is my belief that these strains are transient and that the great vitality of the Bangladeshi youth would eventually transcend these divisions and create a vibrant, cohesive and unified nation.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 26th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (31)

  • Noor Nabi
    Mar 26, 2012 - 12:13AM

    Bangladeshis today are dealing with the many challenges of building a stronger country after the horrible events of 1971. The task ahead is not easy but with their strong intellect, their free spirit and, last but not least, their commitment to not use religion as a pillar on which their existence rests, they will do well.

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  • Kashif
    Mar 26, 2012 - 1:45AM

    Dear Sir, an excellent article, as always, though i was expecting some mention of their cricketing accomplishments as well.

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  • Umer
    Mar 26, 2012 - 2:06AM

    Differences arise on how to come to
    terms with the events of 1970, whether
    to be punitive or pursue a broad
    reconciliation. It is my belief that
    these strains are transient and that
    the great vitality of the Bangladeshi
    youth would eventually transcend these
    divisions and create a vibrant,
    cohesive and unified nation.

    As soon as Pakistan stops supporting Khalida Zia and religious extremists forces in Bangladesh.

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  • narayana murthy
    Mar 26, 2012 - 2:50AM

    There is a very strong divide in Bangladesh between the followers of BNP and Awami League.

    While BNP followers are generally right leaning, pro-Pakistan, anti-India, Awami leaguers are left leaning, pro-India, anti-Pakistan.

    Now, every political party in every country fail to meet the aspirations of its people. In India, no matter what my affiliations are, I would not mind either a congress or a BJP government, as I know that overall, their economic, foreign policies remain the same.

    However, in smaller countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan, policies change drastically with different political parties.While BNP protected and harbored anti-India terrorists, Awami League handed over several of them to India!!! Such vast differences in foreign policy!

    My point is, Bangladeshis need to see which way they have to tread in the future! Should they follow a secular/democratic approach, like India or communal approach like Pakistan. How well the country progresses depends on this single choice.

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  • narayana murthy
    Mar 26, 2012 - 2:53AM

    I wanted to add one last line to my previous comment.

    I request Bangladeshis to comment on what I said.

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  • Babloo
    Mar 26, 2012 - 2:58AM

    From Afghan Taleban to General Ershad/right wing extrimists/Begum Zia, which country has supported the factions that represent religious extrimism ?
    We all know the answer.

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  • Cynical
    Mar 26, 2012 - 3:31AM

    Bangladesh has a lot of potential and great future as their nationhood was not founded on religious pillars.

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  • Anjaan
    Mar 26, 2012 - 4:03AM

    Bangladesh appears to have moved beyond the Pakistan syndrome of frequent bout of military rule. This also means that unlike Pakistan, the Bangldeshis have overcome identity crisis.

    The Bangladeshis no longer look at Pakistan as the role model, and do not need anti-Indianism to define their identity.Recommend

  • Naeem Siddiqui
    Mar 26, 2012 - 6:28AM

    @Cynical,

    Bro! can you please elaborate what’s the foundation of Bangladeshi nationhood :)

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  • usmanx
    Mar 26, 2012 - 6:39AM

    ufff, could can’t stand the indian chest-thumping, self-righteous lectures.

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  • usmanx
    Mar 26, 2012 - 6:42AM

    naryana – bangladeshis are reading bangladeshi newspapers!

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  • shahid
    Mar 26, 2012 - 7:16AM

    The biggest strength of Bangladesh is that the whole population is ethnically one,they all speak same language ,eat same food and are very cohesive and bounded as one nation. There are no provinces or other barriers. In Pakistan we have created four countries within a country and every attempt is made to make this more stronger. Pakistan has two choices at this point #1. Turn the country int a federal Democracy like france or USA or #2. Turn it into United states Of Pakistan more on pattern of European union giving full autonomy to the provinces..Present status quot is the biggest obstacle to develop national identity

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  • AK
    Mar 26, 2012 - 1:11PM

    Well i like Mr. Tanveer but this was not a detailed view on what is actually happening on the ground.
    Just like other countries BD is also undergoing a transition but the manufacturing contribution that Mr Tanveer mentioned may not be long lasting and my take is that they will always have issues mainly politically motivated and hence there will always be problems just like aby other third world country.

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  • M. Ahmed
    Mar 26, 2012 - 6:09PM

    Bangladesh was province called East Pakistan prior to 1971. Now they are an independent country with administrative provinces.

    Pakistan has to learn from the Bangladesh model to improve governance. We cannot govern southern Punjab from Lahore, Hazarwal region from Peshawar, FATA through a potitical agent of Islamabad. The political and administrative future of Karachi is becoming a debate too!

    Diligence and prudence is the watchword and not chest and thigh thumping emotions!

    Pakistan has paid a very high price for expressing emotions in 1971!

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  • yousaf
    Mar 26, 2012 - 8:11PM

    @Naeem Siddiqui–You ask for”foundations of bangladeshi nationhood?”They are Humility,very religious but not being fanatic,positive approach towards solving all kinds of natural and man made calamities and self sacrificial mindset,no maula-jatt attitude

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  • yousaf
    Mar 26, 2012 - 8:19PM

    @Naeem Siddiqui–You ask for”foundations of bangladeshi nationhood?”They are Humility,very religious but not being fanatic,positive approach towards solving all kinds of natural and man made calamities and self sacrificial mindset,no maula-jatt attitudeRecommend

  • Bangladeshi
    Mar 26, 2012 - 10:15PM

    @narayana murthy: BD was never communal. We never had riots in our country, so don’t spread propaganda. The minority hindus live comfortably under BNP rule than in Awami rule. And BNP is not pro-anything. They are pro-bangladesh, the only party that looks to the future of BD and tries to improve relations with all even India, but India wants the subservient AL power and that’s why helped them in 2008 with bags of cash. And your country also supported insugencies in BD like the Shanti Bhahini and Bongo-bhumi Andolon, and you guys still haven’t handed over the people involved in Bongo-bhumi andolon and they are residing openly in W.bengal. Add to that tons of phensydil summugling across the border by India, BD has given you a lot since 1971 without getting anything in return, India even ruined the jute industry of BD
    during 96 awami rule.

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  • Bangladeshi
    Mar 26, 2012 - 10:22PM

    < seems to be biased and don't mention the problems we are going through now. Our relations with the M.E has been completely ruined and tons of expatriates are send off threatning
    our remitance earning, which is the backbone of our economy. Inflation is at an all time high with high interest rates and the economic stats are all crooked up by AL. The top brass of
    AL is under corruption allegation on the padma bridge project and the project seem to be canceled now. And the writer also didn't mention the facist crackdown by AL on all institutions
    and recently knowing defeat the AL have scrapped the care Taker system so that they can do
    vote rigging in the next election. The political and economic situation is very unstable at the
    moment.
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  • ashraful.bengali
    Mar 26, 2012 - 10:31PM

    @shahid:

    One more to add. We Bangladeshis are one by Nation.. not by religion. For us first identity is Bengali and then only Muslim. That is the main reason for success.

    I don’t have any hesitation to accept Hindu as Friend and will never think that Hindus are always Pro-Indian. This is the mind set of any normal Bengali.

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  • Pradeep
    Mar 26, 2012 - 11:18PM

    @Shahid

    The biggest strength of Bangladesh is that the whole population is ethnically one,they all speak same language ,eat same food and are very cohesive and bounded as one nation. There are no provinces or other barriers.

    Well it didn’t stop India from marching ahead now did it? Stop inventing excuses.

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  • Optimist
    Mar 27, 2012 - 3:20AM

    I have had friendship/discussions with Bangladeshis, mainly students but also shopkeepers/restaurant owners/workers in the UK.
    .
    Bengadeshi people are FED UP WITH INDIA, mainly because of arrogant attitudes of its citizens (obvious from comments on various blogs in this paper).
    .
    They hate the way BD citizens are tortured/killed by Indian border force without trial (accusing them of cattle smuggling)
    .
    A prominent lawyer’s son (Awami League supporter) was studying in London. He was pro India and anti Pakistan. After a year long encounter with the Indians, he became pro Pakistan and anti India. Since then, he has visited Pakistan 5 times!

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  • Zillur Rahman
    Mar 27, 2012 - 10:00AM

    @Shahid

    Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had promised to wage a thousand-year war with Hindu India, wrote in his last book, “If I Am Assassinated”, that it was the noise and cacophony of India that saves it from becoming authoritarian. That noise comes from its diversity.

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  • M.S.Choudhury
    Mar 27, 2012 - 11:40PM

    @Mr.Murthy,I am a Bangladeshi,I agree with many of your comments,I have high regards for India,however,I would like to point out that India is constitutionally secular but in reality it is the opposite.

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  • Babloo
    Mar 28, 2012 - 1:29AM

    In my opinion, the Bengali language has played a critical role in preventing Sadudi-i-zation of Bangladesh. The Bengali language is a reminder to all Bangladeshis that they are Hindu converts. Thats the reason Pakistani zealots hated the Bengali language so much. However, religion often robs people of sanity and rational thinking and I would not bet that Bangladesh is incapable of going the way Pakistan and Afganistan have gone. They do have something in common.

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  • Babloo
    Mar 28, 2012 - 1:39AM

    May I ask Bangladeshi friedns a question ?
    The % of Mualims that make up the population of districts in West Bengals in India has continued to increase since 1947.
    The population of Hindus in districts that make up East Bengal ( renamed East Pakistan and then renamed Bangladesh ) has drastically decreased since 1947.
    Why so ? Why did Hindu population so drastically decrease ? Is it because millions were killed, including those by BNP/Pak military in 1971 and circumstances forced them to become refugees and move to India/West Bengal ? Why did not Muslims of West Bengal feel threatened and leave India to move to Bangladesh ? I see a tendency to distort facts , truth and weave a make beleive world. Its true that Mujibar Rehman’s party is relatively secular but there is a very intolerant , taleban like party in Bangladesh , aided and abetted by those who committed the genocide of 1971 and its called BNP. Bangladesh should prosecute all those who co-operated with occupiers to perpetuate the genocide of 1971 and they are hiding in the BNP party.

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  • gp65
    Mar 28, 2012 - 5:57AM

    @M.S.Choudhury: “I would like to point out that India is constitutionally secular but in reality it is the opposite.”

    Secularism means that government will not distinguish between people on the basis of religion. It does not mean that individuals may not have any biases or that individuals are atheists.

    So when you look at key government positions and who they are staffed by, India proves its secular character:
    – PM is a Sikh, Chief of army staff is a Sikh, Chief Justice of Supreme court is Parsi, Defense minister is Christian, Home Minister is atheist, Chief of Election Commission and Vice President are Muslim in a country where 80% of population is Hindu.

    If this does not prove the secular nature of India – what does?

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  • gp65
    Mar 28, 2012 - 6:02AM

    @Author: “there are no takers of some implicit foreign recommendations to ‘reintegrate’ with the other Bengal”

    Unsure who is making such recommendations. Not India or Indians. We definitely have no wish to merge with Bangladesh. Many Bangladeshis however clearly want to live in India as India’s census numbers over the decades show. Every decade there is an increase in the percentage of Muslims in West Bengal by margins greater than what can be expected due to the higher fertility rate of Indian Muslims over Indian Hindus. Some states bordering West Bengal e.g. Assam also show the same trends.

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  • unbeliever
    Mar 28, 2012 - 8:30AM

    @Optimist:

    you should please provide that lawyers number to london police, he could be a terrorist in making.

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  • yousaf
    Mar 28, 2012 - 12:02PM

    When will “west Pakistan”,now Pakistan resurge? Presently all I see is that she is going down-hill

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  • Shahid
    Mar 28, 2012 - 6:32PM

    @Pradeep: you can’t compare India and bangladesh. India is so big that it can tolerate diversity. Secondly India still has many separatist movements. Even south Indians given a chance would like to seperate from North India. Kashmir, Maniphal, Khalistan all are prevented by force.

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  • Tilopa
    Apr 23, 2012 - 5:38PM

    @Shahid

    Even south Indians given a chance would like to seperate from North India

    And DRDO is dominated by south indians.
    Crazy conspiracy theories mongers you people are.

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