Bangladesh’s remarkable journey and hard road ahead
A country’s nationalism lives through its shared vision from generation to generation. In the early post-colonial era, the early dreamers of Bangladesh shared a vision of independence, economic development and an equal society.
As it celebrates 52 years of independence this week, Bangladesh cherishes the same vision and has achieved remarkable successes. However, many short and long-term challenges have also emerged, especially in the last two years.
During the half-century since its birth on March 26, 1971, Bangladesh has had remarkable economic success. The country followed the fast-growth model, and the world community has dubbed it a “tiger economy” and a “Frontier Five” economy.
Bangladesh also successfully manages its demographic dividend as it has built its economy on remittance and ready-made garments. It is the world’s sixth-largest human resources exporter – earning $22 billion in remittance in 2021, eighth among top remittance earners worldwide. The country’s export-oriented economy is also growing fast, at $44.39 billion in 2021, a 13.68% increase from the last year.
GDP has reached $443 billion, the 35th-largest in the world. Bangladesh is currently undergoing its least-developed-countries graduation, projected to be completed by 2026, at which point it should emerge as a developing country.
The social safety net has also expanded remarkably. During the pandemic, to protect its economy, Bangladesh announced praiseworthy stimulus packages. The government also widened the net, as demonstrated by the Asrayan Initiative by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina — a house-building project for the homeless and displaced.
However, the pandemic and the Ukraine war have brought new short-term challenges. The country has suffered from energy and food crises alongside declining reserves and soaring inflation. But efforts are being made to address these challenges. The country is already practicing austerity and exploring alternative energy import sources, such as Brunei.
Bangladesh in the last decade has also sought to ensure its infrastructural development, which currently dominates the development narrative. During that decade, the country has undertaken many mega projects to improve the country’s existing infrastructure.
Bangladesh has already inaugurated Padma Bridge and Metro-Rail project. The public enjoys the benefits as the projects reduce time, provide better security and introduce smoothness to daily life.
Bangladesh is also taking part in regional connectivity projects. The country has improved its connectivity with India, is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and has a share in Trans-Asian highways.
Bangladesh in international politics
The country is a firm believer in and promoter of multilateralism, and Bangladesh’s role is increasing in world politics.
In the last 50 years, Bangladesh has achieved success and displayed its commitment to global peace. The country participates in UN peacekeeping operations. At the UN level, Bangladesh has participated in 54 peacekeeping missions in 40 different countries over five continents with more than 175,000 uniformed personnel, including over 1,800 female peacekeepers.
Bangladesh’s “ambassadors of peace” have also given their lives to uphold global peace: According to the Bangladesh Army, over 100 military personnel have made the supreme sacrifice, and over 200 more have been injured.
In Cox’s Bazaar, the world’s largest refugee camp, Bangladesh provides temporary shelter and security to 1.2 million Rohingya Muslims, perhaps the most persecuted community of our time. Bangladesh also advocates ensuring their safe and dignified repatriation to their ancestral home.
Bangladesh is also a frontrunner in climate change. It has a vocal role in mitigating the adverse impacts of climate change and has served as the chair of the UN Climate Vulnerability Forum.
Bangladesh has sound participation in many other multilateral institutions. It is an active member of the Organization of Islamic Countries, the Developing 8 and many more organizations. Bangladesh currently serves as the chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Organization and acts as an observer at ASEAN.
Bangladesh has shared its economic success with the world, as a donor state through currency swap loans to debt-ridden Sri Lanka and Sudan. Bangladesh has also taken a share in the New Development Bank, through which Dkaha has entered into the development finance market.
Bangladesh has a strong diaspora that reaches into several Middle Eastern countries, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States. Bangladeshi diaspora communities are one of the major sources of the country’s soft power and contribute to their host countries’ economies.
Bangladesh’s soft power also reaches beyond the region. Through its participation in peacekeeping, Bangladesh has found friends in many African nations. Sierra Leone has given Bangladesh a special place in its heart by announcing Bangla as its second language. Gambia also helped the country by lodging a case against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice on Rohingya ethnic cleansing.
Japan, meanwhile, has deepened relations with Bangladesh, which over the decades has emerged as the largest recipient of Japan’s Official Development Assistance amid flourishing political-cultural relations between the countries.
Challenges overcome, challenges ahead
Immediately after independence in 1971, Bangladesh was a war-torn country with millions of hungry people. Recurring calamities such as floods, cyclones and drought have repeatedly ravaged Bangladesh’s food security. Yet Bangladesh became self-sufficient in rice production.
The country also ensured 100% electrification, serving all its citizens by 2022.
Bangladesh also curbed militancy and tackled the menace of terrorism. Throughout the journey, Bangladesh also removed illiteracy and early marriage to a great extent. The human rights narrative also changed gradually as the country achieved mentionable success in women’s rights, children’s rights and transgender rights.
Yet, many challenges remain. The pandemic and the Ukraine war have both brought economic turmoil to Bangladesh. Soaring inflation, declining forex reserves, a dollar crunch and food and energy crises are hurting the country’s development.
The economic setbacks have increased poverty and squeezed efforts to ensure decent work. As of 2022, 40 million people (24% of the population) remain under the poverty line. The number of people living only slightly above the line is also very high. Government must tackle skyrocketing imports and forex fluctuation and must widen the social safety net to protect ordinary people.
Apart from the economic challenges, Bangladesh also has many political challenges. Political violence remains a recurring event in the country. Weak institutions, distrust among major political parties, rampant corruption, nepotism and complicated bureaucracy hurt Bangladesh’s journey toward a sound political system. All political parties, civil societies, and stakeholders must work together to create a sustainable and violence-free political system.
Despite some achievements in human rights, the country still has a long way to go. Even though Bangladesh has achieved significant economic success, human development still needs to catch up with economic development.
For a while now, Bangladesh has maintained a deft balance with great powers. Now, however, besides domestic issues, the brewing geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific and great power rivalry in the region pose challenges to Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has achieved praiseworthy success since its independence. It has also overcome many challenges. The journey continues, however, and many obstacles lie ahead.
MD Mufassir Rashid ([email protected]) is a research associate at the Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs.
This article was originally published by Pacific Forum and is republished with permission.
Source: Asia Times
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