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6 May, 2018 11:25:30 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 6 May, 2018 11:45:31 AM

Dhaka's way to escape a new cold war

Sheikh Hasina's foreign policy's great success is that she has made an equal friendship with India and China in her stride towards development
Abdul Gaffar choudhury
Dhaka's way to escape a new cold war

Our father of the nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's sense of humour was great and appreciated everywhere. Though not relevant to the topic of this article, I recall an anecdote which I heard from one of my journalist friends who was present there. During a Commonwealth Prime minister's conference the-then Prime minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujib was talking to Srimavo Bandaranayake, the Prime minister of Sri Lanka at the tea-break. Chandrika Kumaratunga, the daughter of Bandaranayake was present there. Sheikh Mujib was telling her about the close relationship between Bangladesh and Srilanka from the ancient period. He said that the King of Bengal Vijayasingha, invaded this island and named it Singhal after his own name. Chnadrika said humorously, 'His Excellency, I hope you have no intention of invading our country again'. Immediately Bangabandhu replied, 'We have no intention to invade your land, but have every intention to invade your heart'. Chandrika did not give any answer.
Sheikh Mujib had a proverbial sense of humor. Once he was presiding over his cabinet meeting and discussing the foreign policy of Bangladesh. At that time there was a fear that China will not look at Bangladesh because they thought that as India helped Bangladesh to gain independence they will have an overwhelming influence on that country and Indochina relation was very hostile at that time. It was feared that Bangladesh will be twisted between these two great neighbours and Pakistan-Saudi Arab-America's combined effort would be to put Bangladesh in great difficulty.

At that period there was a continuous propaganda that Bangladesh was not an economically viable country by a great number of western media. They argued that the great industrially developed western part of the undivided Bengal was given to India by Lord Radcliffe and the hinterland of that Bengal, which was dependent on only one economy, i.e.  agriculture, was awarded to Pakistan. The geographical distance from East to West Pakistan was one thousand five hundred miles without any land connection. Eventually it will be a political and economic colony of West Pakistan and its possibility of surviving alone was uncertain.

Bangabandhu listened to this argument, then said, 'If Bangladesh could be an undivided and independent country, it could have been the most prosperous and developed country in the South-east Asia. Knowing this truth fully well the non-Bengali leadership of Congress and Muslim League, joined the conspiracy to divide and destroy a great nation. At the last moment of the partition of India an effort was made to keep it undivided and independent by Abul Hashem, Sarat Bose and Shaheed Suhrawardy. That effort was foiled by the strong communal leadership of Congress and Muslim League.

He continued, "But I hope, after independence though Bangladesh or Eastern Bengal had inherited a poor economy after mercilessly being exploited by Pakistan, we will soon overcome this if we work hard and follow the right policy of friendship with everyone and malice towards none'. Then he said in his characteristic humorous style, 'If a poor man has a beautiful wife then the rich neighbours start a competition to woo her by calling her 'Bhabi' (sister-in-law). Bangladesh is now a poor country but its beauty and potential has not yet attracted the attention of her great neighbours. Soon it will be discovered and there will be a competition to woo this 'beautiful mermaid' and that will be a very difficult time for a small country like Bangladesh. Only a policy of power balance and far-sightedness will save the country from the political and economic scramble of neighbouring powers".

The western propaganda that Bangladesh was a bottomless basket proved untrue because of Bangabandhu's strong mixed economic policy. Though China at that time did not recognise the independence of Bangladesh, it started communication for economic cooperation earnestly soon after. The late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat brought a personal letter from Chou en Lai, the-then Chinese premier to Sheikh Mujib and there was a possibility that China will abandon its anti-Bangladesh policy. Bangabandhu's foreign policy was so strong that very soon he got recognition from America, was accepted as a member of the Commonwealth and the United Nations and Bangabandhu himself, became a great leader of NAM (the organization of non-alliance countries) after Nehru and Nasser era. Bangladesh would have been a great country in the Sout-east Asia, but it was prevented by the untimely death of Sheikh Mujib.

But history did not end there. After Sheikh Mujib his daughter Sheikh Hasina came to power after a long struggle. In the post-soviet world she had to change many course of action but did not deviate from the goal of her father. Today India and China are not merely two developed great powers in Asia, but are two sub super-powers in the world. China is an economic giant competing with America in the global field. Once Bangabandhu predicted that when these two powers will rise from their slumber and compete to woo countries like Bangladesh that will create great difficulties for developing countries. That prediction has come true now.

Sheikh Hasina's foreign policy's great success is that she has made an equal friendship with India and China in her stride for development. And also she has partnerships in development with America and other European countries. But there is now a dangerous cold war between America and China, which has created a fear that the old cold war between the East and the West will reappear in the global sky. The economic supremacy of China is spreading steadily all over the world, especially in Asia and Africa. To prevent this economic aggression of China in Asia, America has evolved a new policy called Indo-pacific-strategic policy. As a competitor of China, India joined this strategy and has put a pressure on Bangladesh to do the same and America is following suit. China is not willing to see Bangladesh join this Indo-American economic strategy, which, under its cover has military ambition.

Recently, the economic and commercial counsellor of Chinese embassy in Dhaka said that Bangladesh is a great economic partner of China in development. He added, 'We have vast investment in Bangladesh and have plan to invest more'. On the other hand, in the American offer they expressed their intention to help Bangladesh to establish good governance, democratic values and the rights of the deprived people. But under this rhetoric the motive behind this offer is very clear that both India and America want to keep Bangladesh at a distance from China. They want to create an economic circle where Indo-American influence will be supreme.

It is an acid test for Bangladesh foreign policy. Sheikh Hasina strides against many odds. But now this cold war between China and America has become a great challenge for her government. My intuition is that she will overcome this by following Bangabandhu's policy of power balance and friendship with all, without showing any partisanship. Bangladesh can make friendship with both the power blocks and make them partners in her rapid economic development policy. If this economic friendship sustains with both China and India (America), then the political stability will not be disturbed in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh needs western support to solve the Rohingya crisis peacefully. At the same time she needs Chinese support for speedy economic development. This cold war between China and America has opened a door of opportunity also. Now that both the super powers are eager to get closer to Bangladesh, it gives Dhaka a good bargaining power with both the power blocks with restrain and sagacity like Sardar Daoud Khan of Afghanistan. In the 50s and 60s both America and Soviet Union were engaged in competition to help the Kabul regime to develop their country. It was the folly of the ex-Soviet regime to kill and overthrow Sardar Daoud from power to establish direct communist rule there. America took the opportunity and created the present havoc in Afghanistan. Bangladesh should take lessons from the Afghan history.

London, Wednesday 03 May, 2018








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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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