Prospects and challenges of Bangladesh's foreign policy -The Asian Age

Bangladesh is celebrating its golden jubilee of independence on the back of incredible economic growth and remarkable success in multiple other areas of development and progress. Rising like the mythical bird of Phoenix from the ashes of the 1971 war of liberation, the biggest delta of the world has transformed into a miraculous success story. Especially, under the dexterous and visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed since her assumption of office in 2009 Bangladesh has been on an upward trajectory of sustainable growth and prosperity, which has captured the attention of the global communities. The position of the country has been consolidated in the international circuit now and the nation's dynamic foreign policy is a kingpin behind this achievement.

As part of translating his vision of Sonar Bangla (Golden Bangladesh), Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman set out the foreign policy dictum of "Friendship to all, malice towards none." This internationalist approach has remained a hallmark of Bangladesh's engagement with the broader world ever since. In the last 5 decades, the economic, social, political, cultural and ideological landscape of the world has undergone changes of epic proportion. The bipolar world of cold war rivalry between the USA and the USSR gave way to the widespread global dominance of the former with the break-up of the latter in the early nineties. The world also has seen the economic rise of Gulf states underpinned by discovery and extraction of mineral resources like petroleum. A few erstwhile developing countries, such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey now are flexing economic muscle while also displaying their military credentials. Interestingly, China has already emerged as a fantabulous global power second only to the US and continuing to accelerate its military and economic march forward to make the chaps in Washington feel progressively uneasy.

Several trade blocs, regional organizations, political alliances, military groupings have come into existence laying the foundation of a multipolar world. The untenable pace of globalization, digital revolution, scientific and technological advancement has changed the complexion of the world. Scores of real and proxy wars choreographed by the global powers in collaboration with their allies have created an unfathomable humanitarian crisis in parts of the world. A climate armageddon is increasingly being made tangible and visible by unabated greenhouse gas emissions accelerated since the 1st Industrial Revolution onwards, the repercussions and impacts of which have already been experienced by communities and nations across the globe. To further complicate the already complicated world has come to the scene the COVID-19 pandemic, the battle against which is still going on. Against such a backdrop, Bangladesh with 50 years of its diplomatic experience and wisdom has to recalibrate its foreign policy priorities with its prospects and challenges in mind. Below are some of the observations on these matters from a layman's perspective.

To start with prospects and potentials of Bangladesh's foreign policy applications, the country is poised to reap benefits from its international engagement thanks to a combination of pragmatic political leadership and will and an action-oriented approach put forward by a highly professional, versatile and smart group of diplomats. First of all, Bangladesh can make enormous economic gains by attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), grabbing trade facilities and concessions, exploring potential market for Bangladeshi products, finding out ways as to how to diversify export baskets, joining trade-focused regional groupings and tapping the prospective, untapped territories of the world yet out of Bangladesh's significant diplomatic footprint. The country needs to harness its negotiating prowess to reactivate forums and sub-regional groups like SAARC, and BCIM Economic Corridor.

Besides, it should fully grab as many opportunities as possible provided by China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Japan's the Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (Big-B) of which it is already a part. The existing "Look East" policy should be refreshed and pivoted to what I propose to call "Sunup Policy of Bangladesh."  Diplomatic efforts should be ratcheted up to get the country integrated into ASEAN, the recent endeavor to become a Sectoral Dialogue Partner being a smart way forward. Bangladesh being the Delta Bridge (my coinage, again) between South and South Asia should be brought into sharp focus for what exactly it is: a connector, unifier, linker, networker, and any and every positive connotation of the word "bridge." Bangladesh's ambition to become a connectivity hub through overland, maritime and aerial channels should become a reality in near future.

Second, Bangladesh should weigh its potential engagement with newly emerging development-oriented initiatives undertaken by influential countries or blocks. Recently, the European Union has announced a new program named Global Gateway offering to mobilize a financial package of 300 billion euros between 2021-2027 for connectivity projects, notably in the digital, climate and energy, transport, health, education and research sectors. Previously, Turkey in its bid to join the elite club of top ten economies of the world floated the idea of an initiative called Asia Anew. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavu?o?lu of the brotherly nation of Turkey noted, "Bangladesh is one of Turkey's key partners in the 'Asia Anew' initiative, with its vibrant economy and young population." In my reckoning, Bangladesh can benefit profusely from such undertakings.

Third, Bangladesh may look ahead to get involved in different regional alliances that have no exclusively security-focused intentions. It can seek observer status or dialogue partnership or such other positions at some important sub-regional, inter-governmental forums. For instance, the Organization of Turkic States, the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS), the Arctic Council, the African Union and such organizations may offer some opportunities for Bangladesh to expand its diplomatic ties with potential economic players. Besides, Bangladesh should gear up toward expediting its relations with other regional groups based especially in Africa and Latin America. These two continents have a lot to offer and Bangladesh cannot choose to look away as time has come for Bangabandhu's Sonar Bangla to truly become Global Bangladesh. Have I just coined another term using which a campaign could be launched in the future? Who knows!

Fourth, Bangladesh looks poised to brand itself as a global flag-bearer of peace. Bangladesh's constitution presided over by its Founding Father spelled out a foreign policy that promotes the concept of universal peace and brotherhood. In his UNGA speech in 1974 Bangabandhu said, "Peace is an imperative for the survival of humanity. It represents the deepest aspirations of men and women throughout the world". Bangladesh's sustained promotion of a peaceful world through the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), and the contribution to the UN peacekeeping operations certainly merits global applause. Moreover, the country has been enjoying the coveted distinction of facilitating its flagship resolution on the "Culture of Peace" at the Assembly every year and also convening a High-level Forum on the concept in the General Assembly since 1999. It's remarkable that the resolution was formulated during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's first tenure as the leader of the nation. What is more, Bangladesh has been hosting in its territories more than 1.1 million persecuted Rohingya refugees of Myanmar for nearly 4 years now and offering as much as it can to ensure they can live with some form of standards and dignity. Despite limited capacities, the country has set a glaring example of humanity and generosity earning its premier the label of "Mother of Humanity" as well as praises and appreciation of global communities. However, Bangladesh should drive up its global campaign to publicize what it has done and can do in order to achieve sustainable peace across the globe beleaguered with widespread violence, crimes and chaos.

Fifth, Bangladesh can push ahead with global leadership claims on multiple fronts. Already, it has graced the chairpersonship and presidency positions of forums like the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), and the D-8 Council of Foreign Ministers. Apart from roaring ahead with sustainable development-oriented policies, the country should style itself as the strongest voice of Global South and climate-vulnerable nations and communities across the planet. It should throw its weight behind the formation of the Climate Loss and Damage Fund to press the developed world hard for mobilizing finances to help the vulnerable countries to move towards climate sustainability and prosperity. Being geo-strategically crucial and having obtained the LDC graduation, Bangladesh looks in a solid position to move up the leadership ladders in a variety of international and transnational mechanisms and platforms.

Sixth, Bangladesh should consider promoting its unique culture and tradition worldwide. The worldwide celebration of the birth centenary of the Father of the Nation and the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh's independence is a smart job done. The recent institution of an international award titled the 'UNESCO-Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman International Prize for the Creative Economy' is a big leap forward in familiarizing the iconic leader of the nation with the vast world. Opening Bangladeshi cultural centers in key locations of the world to popularize the unique tradition, heritage, architecture history, literature and culture of Bangladesh should occupy the topline agenda of the country's foreign policy. Non-Resident Bangladeshis (NBRs), the vibrant diaspora of Bangladeshi origin, friends and well-wishers of Bangladesh should be engaged in furthering the cause of popularization of Bangladesh's cultural essence. These are some of the key prospects of Bangladesh's global outreach as far as I'm Concerned.

However, challenges are aplenty when it comes to navigating a complex web of international relations rapidly changing forms, shapes, modes and colors. So far, Bangladesh has cautiously but successfully managed its ties with global and regional powers. The recent emergence of security-oriented groupings like QUAD and AUKUS along the US-China rivalry raises the temperature of global tensions. The spate over Taiwan, tensions between Russia and the NATO over Ukraine, the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, the military takeover of Myanmar thus hamstringing the Rohingya repatriation process, the imminent loss of certain facilities and concessions post-LDC graduation, the economic repercussions of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the existential threats posed by fast-paced deteriorating climate situations are highlights of the direct and indirect challenges Bangladesh is grappling with and will have to in the near future. It is expected that highly qualified foreign policy professionals and the country's brilliant leadership can and will deliver the best in negotiating all these and myriad other forthcoming challenges.

To conclude, Bangladesh is a massively potential country blessed with a proper, visionary leadership and an energetic, spirited population. Tackling the challenges and capturing the opportunities, it can certainly achieve its dream of becoming a developed country underscored by the courageous Vision-2041. It's high time we all, regardless of political and ideological loyalties, sprang into action to materialize Global Bangladesh.

The author teaches English at Central Women's University, Dhaka and can be reached at [email protected]