POST TIME: 15 December, 2019 11:14:42 PM
South Asia: An analysis of Bangladesh foreign policy
Bangladesh and Nepal, countries of South Asia with different ecological conditions, social systems and historical and cultural backgrounds, are making smooth progress in their bilateral relations
Dr. Mohammad Tarikul Islam

South Asia: An analysis of Bangladesh 
foreign policy

The fundamental foreign policies of Bangladesh originate from the article no. 25 of the Constitution of Bangladesh. Foreign policy of Bangladesh comprises of personal circumstance techniques picked by the constitution of the nation to defend its national advantages and to accomplish objectives inside its worldwide relations milieu. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs details and executes the strategies as indicated by the direction from the important segment of the constitution of Bangladesh. “Friendship to all, malice to none” what Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman articulated in 1972 constitution is very much relevant still now and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is maintaining diplomatic relations with the world following the policy.

A scope of points of view is applied so as to offer profundity to the investigation and to limit predisposition however much as could reasonably be expected. These points of view consider what is occurring inside and outside the locale for the most part; just as what's going on inside Bangladesh. An investigation of Bangladeshi international strategy shows that the local viewpoint requires more prominent accentuation than it has been given until now. Therefore, the territorial perspective goes before the residential in consequent parts managing Bangladesh's most basic relationship: that with India. In the first episode of my article, Bangladesh foreign relations with Nepal and Bhutan will be discussed.

When states recognize one another as sovereign states and agree to diplomatic relations, they create a bilateral relationship. Bangladesh and Bhutan are on the same indulgent leveraging one’s own opportunities and elaborating methods for handling the competitive advantages that are available. These are primarily factor advantages, among which raw material sources and production potential consequently come forward as interchangeable priorities for both countries with a transition economy.

What we observe, over the years both countries have been so compassionate for a strategic development partnership encompassing hydropower, free trade and transport. Interestingly, Bangladesh and India are the only countries to have resident embassies in Bhutan. Bangladesh in different level of negotiations with Bhutan offers to export more products such as ready-made garments, ceramics, pharmaceuticals, jute and allied products, leather goods, toiletries and agricultural produce. Bhutan agreed to facilitate entry for these products to further promote trade and investments between the two countries. Signing of MoU on use of inland waterways for transportation of bilateral trade and transit cargoes between Bhutan and Bangladesh will pave the way for opening up the concept of connectivity with Chattogram and Mongla ports. Proposed trilateral MoU between Bangladesh, Bhutan and India for cooperation in the field of hydroelectric power on the principles of agreed regional framework would influence the collective efforts of Bangladesh in resolving power deficit. Cooperation in tourism to maximize its potential by the way of encouraging exchange of visits of representatives of the tourism industry will certainly yield win-win exertions. Cooperation in many areas has been well talked from both ends to take forward.    

Apparently, relationship of both countries has been headway advanced towards collective prosperity through trade expansion. Bhutan and Bangladesh entered into a trade agreement in 1980 under which Bangladesh granted duty-free access to 18 products from Bhutan. Total trade between the two countries has been on the rise over the decade and, with a value of more than US $ 50 million, Bhutan’s exports to Bangladesh have been recorded the highest in 2017 – making Bangladesh the only country with whom Bhutan enjoys a massive trade surplus. Notwithstanding, bilateral trade liberalisation has presented as a win-win even from the vantage point of Bangladesh, with Bangladesh’s exports to Bhutan rising by the year.  

With a demographic base of 170 million souls coupled with its average GDP growth rate of over six per cent in the past decade, the opportunity Bangladesh offers in the economic front is all the more palpable, so much so that it is foreseen as an upcoming Asian Tiger.

Human resource development is another facet which shapes the two countries’ bilateral partnership and the level of impact it has on the socio-economic development of the country cannot be understated. Bangladesh has presented itself as one of the favorite destinations for higher studies for Bhutanese students, especially for those pursuing courses in health and medical sciences. Today there are around 133 students studying in various universities across the country. People-to-people contacts have also strengthened between the two countries, with the number of visitors in different capacities to both the destinations surging by the year. Bhutan’s tourism and hospitality sector has particularly benefited from the exponential rise in tourists from Bangladesh

Regionally, Bangladesh engage and cooperate through a plethora of forums and mechanisms – such as BIMSTEC, Colombo Plan, SAARC and UNESCAP – where significant progress has been achieved and several initiatives and projects in key areas of cooperation are in the pipeline.

Neighbours by geography, the foundations of the two countries’ age-old friendship have been laid down by the visionary leaders of the two countries on the common aspirations for peace, mutual respect, collective prosperity and deeper integration. The two countries have walked a similar path of socio-economic progress and are on track towards LDC graduation within the next decade.

A crucial pre-condition for the successful conduct of economic diplomacy is the existence of a critical pool of skilled personnel in the government, private sector and civil society. This pre-condition is to understand and negotiate trade, investment and other economic issues from the national development perspective after taking into account a country’s strengths, limitations, opportunities and threats. We want Bangladesh to grow hand in hand with Bhutan. The relationship is deepening as high-level economic exchanges through visits and meetings take place regularly alongside the wide ranging people-to-people interaction. We need to have a forward approach so that we can come over with the past heritage based on the spirit of track-II diplomacy. We believe, Bangladesh and Bhutan will keep the momentum forward to “consolidate the already excellent” relations for the benefit of their people.

Bangladesh and Nepal, countries of South Asia with different ecological conditions, social systems and historical and cultural backgrounds, are making smooth progress in their bilateral relations. In the context of fast changing global structures, more creative steps are required to protect and promote interests of smaller economies and to maximize mutual interests.

Nepal established diplomatic relations with Bangladesh on April 8, 1972, the 7th country to extend recognition to Bangladesh after independence. Since then, bilateral relations between them have been characterized by cordiality, mutual understanding and shared values. They share similar views on various issues and work closely in regional and international forums, including the United Nations, SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation).  

Despite excellent bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Nepal, their economic relations have remained at a less than desirable level. Nepal's relationship with Bangladesh is unique, characterized by ties at the people's level. The major stake lies in strengthening the border areas, improving people-to-people contacts and furthering economic relations and trade. India and Bangladesh have meanwhile opened immigration offices on their respective sides of the Fulbari-Banglabandha border point, enabling Nepal and Bangladesh to expedite their trade exchanges. Setting up these offices has enabled passenger movement, although the route so far is being used only for cargo movement.

Economic and commercial relations between Nepal and Bangladesh have been growing steadily, but the volume of bilateral trade has not seen much improvement despite tremendous potential for expanding and diversifying trade. The Bangladesh government has to focus on convincing neighbours that, within the SAFTA (South Asia Free Trade Agreement) framework of SAARC, Bangladesh offers excellent investment opportunities and the overall investment climate is conducive to foreign investment.

The writer is an Associate Professor of Government and Politics at Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh

Email: t.islam@juniv.edu