In celebration of Bangladesh

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Published on October 1, 2018
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Shah Ali Farhad:

When the world turned away from one of the greatest refugee crises, despite its own limitations, Bangladesh played a major humanitarian role by sheltering over a million forcibly displaced Rohingyas.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina -- unlike many leaders of the developed world, too afraid to speak sympathetically about refugee issues -- unequivocally stated that if need be, her nation would share their food with the people in distress.

While this has been the most publicized aspect of our presence on the international stage in recent years, this is certainly not the only time Sheikh Hasina has demonstrated that her leadership now transcends national boundaries.

In the last decade, there have been several important diplomatic achievements for Bangladesh, including amicably settling the maritime boundary disputes with neighbours India and Myanmar through international arbitration.

This added around 119,000sq-km of new marine territories for the country, as well as 200 nautical miles of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and an additional area of continental shelf (sea-bed) from the coast. This has opened up tremendous potential for “blue economy,” which the country is now working to tap into.

As a result of Sheikh Hasina’s pro-active diplomacy, Bangladesh signed the historic Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) with India in June 2015, which brought to an end one of the most protracted and complicated border disputes in the world.

A dispute hundreds of years in the making, and four decades in limbo after the creation of Bangladesh, it was an immense success to bring to an end the 68 years of stateless existence for the over 51,000 dwellers of 111 Indian and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves through the LBA.

Over the last 10 years, due to Sheikh Hasina’s emphasis on regional cooperation and connectivity, Bangladesh actively participated in such forums and initiatives as Bimstec, BBIN, BCIM-EC, the China-led Belt and Road Initiative, the Japan-led BIG-B initiative and the Trans Asian Railway and Asian Highway.

Hence, we now have greater connectivity and cooperation not only with our South Asian neighbours, but also our Southeast and East Asian neighbours.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s effective planning, and sincere efforts at implementation has transformed Bangladesh into one of the developing world’s most notable success stories in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Unsurprisingly, the former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon consulted Sheikh Hasina when formulating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Bangladesh, under Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, has become a strong global voice and actor on critical issues as climate change, terrorism, female empowerment, migration, peace-keeping, and ICT, among others.

The results are clear too.

In 2015, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina won the UN’s highest environmental accolade, the Champion of the Earth, for her government’s far-reaching initiatives to address the challenges of climate change.

Bangladesh is now the second most gender equal country in Asia, and one of the top 10 countries in the world in terms of progress in women’s political empowerment.

We are the third highest troops and police contributor to UN peacekeeping missions worldwide, a strong global advocate for safe and legal migration, and an internationally publicized digitization success story where the power of ICT has been harnessed and unleashed for sustainable development.

Bangladesh’s trade has also flourished in the last 10 years, both in terms of export as well as import volumes. Export earnings more than doubled, rising from $15.6 billion to $36.66bn, while imports rose from $22.5bn to $47.0bn.

Foreign investment has almost tripled during this period, with FDI increasing from $961 million to $2.45bn. With 100 special economic zones in the pipelines, both export earnings and FDI are on course to receive a massive boost.

With over 7% economic growth, people’s rising income levels, decreasing poverty rates, growing middle class, rapid urbanization, improving infrastructure, effective digitization, and regional connectivity initiatives, Bangladesh is now an increasingly attractive destination for foreign businesses and investment, as pointed in a comprehensive report by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

Bangladesh received almost $15bn in remittance from its overseas workers last fiscal year, almost doubling the $7.9bn amount received in 2009. More than 5.1 million Bangladeshi workers have been employed from 2009 to 2017 in 165 countries, a feat achieved despite the global economic recession and unrest in the Middle East and North African labour markets.

Apart from the material and quantifiable gains for the country, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has established herself as one of the most recognized leaders of the developing world. In 2016, she was named in Fortune Magazine’s annual list of the World’s Greatest Leaders. The magazine listed her as no 10 in the annual ranking of 50 top leaders in politics. The year before, she was named among the 13 top global thinkers in the category “decision-makers” by the prestigious Foreign Policy magazine.

Influential world leaders like Narendra Modi, Shinzo Abe, Xi Jinping, the UN Secretary General, his Holiness the Pope are among several influential leaders who have all made bilateral visits to Bangladesh in recent years. For Bangladesh’s successes in recent years in the areas mentioned above, it has won several awards, including multiple ones from the UN.

The international conversation regarding Bangladesh has changed -- we are now in the headlines more for the right reasons than not. Gone are the days of headlines marking unnecessary deaths from natural disasters, or state sponsored terrorist groups. Today’s headlines are about reduction in maternal and child mortality rates, of being free of polio, of fighting back against terrorism.

All of these have been possible because someone who has acted with conviction and confidence has led us -- Sheikh Hasina, a leader and a statesman who has not only changed the development trajectory of Bangladesh for the better, but also its global image.

Writer: Lawyer, researcher, and political activist