Of Foreign Policy, Vision and Reality


Last year, I read the budget speech by the Finance Minister of Bangladesh (Budget Speech for FY 2011-2012) and found out a good number development that had been sketched in the section titled ‘Foreign Policy’ of the speech. The narration was good and there were several aspects outlining some vision. This year, I read the budget speech again and found out that the same section has shrunk. Feeling tempted to share with all.

Why I read budget speech is simply because it outlines how the taxpayers’ money will be spent for respective sectors and how the aspirations of the people are reflected. Obviously the party in power will prioritise what it believes and whatever it had committed to the people in their election manifesto. But how far Bangladesh is progressing towards a goal and how the money is being spent in terms of achieving that goal is the question. The minister would say steps have been taken to enhance Bangladesh’s diplomatic skills and efficiency to keep pace with the fundamental changes in the arena of 21st century global diplomacy. What steps? Does the international community do whatever Bangladesh wants it to do? What is going on over Ronhigya of Myanmar? Why the UN body, rights bodies and friendly countries are pressing Bangladesh instead of Myanmar to do something over the issue? Why the government is getting it hard to convince the people within the country and also outside that Bangladesh as a sovereign democratic secular country of mostly Muslim population is doing what it feels right? This incident underscores the need for mastering the capacity in crises management for Dhaka.

Let’s get back to budget and the vision it had represented. In the budget speech for 2011-12, Bangladesh’s Finance Minister AMA Muhith said:

“In my previous budget speech, I pronounced that steps have been taken to enhance our diplomatic skills and efficiency to keep pace with the fundamental changes in the arena of 21st century global diplomacy. This has resulted in wider acceptability of Bangladesh to the world community. Its consent and co-operation to all international initiatives to establish worldwide democracy, human rights, peace and safety and to control terrorism have been widely acclaimed.”

He mentioned a number of achievements in the international arena, such as Bangladesh becoming elected chairperson of Executive Board of UNICEF, members of Board of Director of UNFPA and UNDP, vice president and member of Executive Committee of Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and members of Council of International Maritime Organization (IMO) etc.

“Now, the image of Bangladesh in the comity of nations is widely accepted. In the international arena, Bangladesh is looked upon as a Model for the Programmes of the Developing Countries and a Star for Women Empowerment,” he said adding that Bangladesh identified the areas of cooperation with neighboring countries in order to strengthen diplomatic ties with them and placed special emphasis on regional and sub-regional cooperation to augment trade and investment. In this regard, he mentioned the issue of transit. Here I quote him again:

“We want to see Bangladesh open for providing transit facilities. Of course, in order to derive benefits from these arrangements, we will have to come to terms with the neighbouring countries such as India, Nepal, Bhutan and Mayanmar. Even in the near future, we may have to make similar arrangements with China and Thiland. We might become an Economic Hub in South and South East Asia because of these transit facilities. Even though this calls for creating appropriate infrastructural facilities, we will be receiving fees at reasonable rate for providing transit facilities. We have made much progress in this regard and taken a decision to upgrade our two seaports capable of providing transit related services. We have assigned a taskforce with the responsibility to formulate transit related policies and regulations and fix rates of transit fee. I hope that we will be able to frame the transit related regulations soon.

Under the leadership of our the Hon’ble Prime Minister, the image of Bangladesh as a secular, democratic, progressive and responsible state is getting brighter in the international arena. If this progress continues, Bangladesh will become a middle income country much earlier than the Golden Jubilee of its independence and the role of Bangladesh will be more consolidated in the field of regional and international diplomacy.”

After reading all these highly encouraging statement, one can easily think that Bangladesh has been moving on. Next year, as one reads the budget speech, one gets confused with the narration. There were few instances of achievement, such as the verdict of ITLOS (International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea) that ensures Bangladesh’s sovereign right over 200 nautical miles and continental shelf in the Bay of Bengal. And there is a hope:

“It is our firm belief that the road connecting China-Myanmar-Bangladesh-India will be constructed and through this, close connectivity will be established among the population of this region.”

I will not say everything will be achieved overnight. I will not say diplomacy is not working as expected. I guess the balance sheet will always be like this. There will always be a gap of what has been committed and what has been delivered. New challenges will come and rhetoric will fill in the vacuum. Much has been said but very few of those appeased.

Photo credit: Shahabuddin Ahmed, Bangladeshi, b. 1950, Advance-2.



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