Bangladesh was liberated from Pakistani occupation on 16 December 1971 sacrificing the blood of millions of martyrs. And thus, the atrocities of Pakistani army were stopped for ever.
But till then, the smell of burning soil and human blood was in the air. The entire communication system of the country was broken. The Central Bank, the state treasury was empty, there was no money. The economy of the devastated country, in fact, became stagnant. Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned to the country on 10 January 1972, after being released from Pakistan’s prison. However, he didn’t wait a single moment to hold the steer of his dreamt ‘Sonar Bangla’ and started rebuilding the ruined Bangladesh. While Bangabandhu’s leadership and personal image was placing Bangladesh to a respectable position politically in the world, the architect of Bangladesh and our great leader was brutally killed by some traitor soldiers on 15 August 1975. The golden sun from the sky of Bangladesh was lost in thick cloud. His beloved Bengalis lost their loving leader forever. Bangabandhu could not build his ‘Sonar Bangla’. Military rule came down to the country. The commanders engaged themselves for capturing the state power. They didn’t care for the country’s economy. Having no other choice, we had to spend several years under the military forces. The game with the fate of the people, at last ended in 1990, after the fall of General HM Ershad.
I went to France in 1988 to participate in a course on international relations and diplomacy. First I had to learn the French language. To learn French, I had to go to a small town named Vichy. The language institute had no accommodation facilities for the participants. While searching an accommodation, landlords were in hesitation whether I, a national from a poor country Bangladesh, could afford the rented amount. Though it gave me pain, but it was not a mistake for a French to think such. However, the issue was solved once landlords came to know that I was there on French government’s scholarship.
We can recollect that Henry Kissinger, the then US Secretary of State, described Bangladesh as a ‘bottomless basket’. Although his words were quite correct in the reality of that day, but it hurt us. Those words were totally sarcastic. Obviously we did not like that, though we had responded the words of Kissinger long time ago. However it is true, we could not make Bangabandhu’s Bangladesh hunger and poverty free till now. We can place thousands of reasons for not doing so, and very logically. But that would not change the reality.
During the military rule, the economic development of the country was not taken care of. Half of the people remained under extreme poverty. The infrastructure especially the communication system, which is considered as one of the important conditions for economic development, was not focused. The absence of democratic government damaged the image of Bangladesh to the world community. Investors, from both internal and external, did not find any basis of confidence in this country for their investments. No initiative was taken for the development of the industrial sector. In fact, due to lack of proper planning, there is no symptom of country’s overall development including socio-economic development. As a result, the fate of the common people remained unchanged.
The last military ruler General Ershad was forced to leave the power. Since then, the country has started returning to democracy. Positive image of Bangladesh to the world community was regained with the establishment of democratic government. In general, the overall development of the country progresses gradually to prosperity. The change though was not so fast or extensively, but the nation started seeing the light of aspiration.
Two issues are crucial to strengthen the position of a country in the international field. The first is to make a strong political position in the world; while the other one is not just to be self-sufficient economically, but to have the ability to extend financial support to others. In this case, attainment of only one would not work. Combination of the two as well as a complementary equation can lead to the expected results. Otherwise, there would only be bullying, no one would honour. That is, if the economic position could not be strengthened with the political position simultaneously, it would absolutely be difficult to play an important role in the current world society.
We know that not only self-dependent, the present government has planned to make Bangladesh a medium-income country by 2021. According to the World Bank, Bangladesh has already earned the status of a low middle-income country. To be a high middle income country, Bangladesh needs to increase its per capita income above US$ 4,035. The leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, which is established on her political wisdom, farsightedness and patriotism, can be able to achieve that goal. But we should note that achieving that goal will not be an easy task. We have only four years in our hands. This space of time is not enough. By fixing yearly targets, we should advance step by step. Special emphasis should be given for local and foreign investments that would facilitate the expansion of the industry sector and create employment. This would help in bringing the poverty rate down. To increase the per capita income from US$ 1,500 to US$ 4,035 is of course a difficult job, but it is not impossible.
It is not true that a country having strong economic background would have a strong position in the international field. Though the economic situation of many countries in the present world is better than Bangladesh, but Bangladesh’s position is higher than those countries in terms of political role. However, how much we are lagging behind is largely due to our economic condition. So, our position in the world politics would be as strong as the economy of Bangladesh will be strong. Today, our goal is not just to be a middle-income country, but we will have to stand in the line of developed countries. In that case, the political position of the country will certainly serve as the main performer.
A country’s leadership plays an important role in highlighting the image or acceptability of the country to a greater extent. The present leadership of Bangladesh has undoubtedly attained the ability to play that role. In other words, the position and trust that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already created in the international politics, nobody else has done it in the history of Bangladesh after the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. But the political power would have been more intense if the economic position of Bangladesh could be elevated accordingly. We are still dependent on others for finance, though it has been reduced. In addition, we do not have the ability to provide financial help to other countries. In fact, the present government will never be able to strengthen its political position in the world if it does not give more emphasis to achieve the required economic goal.
We know the reality is very hard and harsh. And there is no way to deny reality. So much so that we do not to accept the reality, we have to accept it. In reality, there is no space for emotion. In the present world, economic status defines the position of a person or a country to another person or country. So, there is no other way except taking our economy to a stronger and respectable position. It is now very crucial to adopt the right plan and employ all our efforts for its proper implementation without losing any further time. We hope that the government will work with sincerity in this regard.
The commendable position of Bangladesh in the world politics that we see now is due to the relentless contribution of the present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. But if she succeeds in making Bangladesh an integral part of the economic stream of the developed country by strengthening the economic development of Bangladesh, it will be her greatest gift to the Bengali nation, an unforgettable event in the history of Bangladesh. And then, the international community will respect Bangladesh. We are confident that Sheikh Hasina’s leadership will lead Bangladesh to that position.
The writer is a former ambassador and secretary