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26 October, 2020 06:03:17 PM


Bangabandhu’s foreign policy initiatives still benefitting Bangladesh

Bangabandhu’s leadership, wisdom, and personal relationship with world leaders enabled him to gain diplomatic successes in the international arena through friendship and cooperation
Md. Sakib Hossain
Bangabandhu’s foreign policy initiatives still benefitting Bangladesh

This year we are celebrating the birth centenary of the father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He has been a charismatic leader in the history of the world.

The life of Bangabandhu was dedicated for the oppressed people of his time. From British Raj to the Pakistani autocratic government, he fought for the rights and emancipation of his people. Bangabandhu was very much, like all individuals, a product of his time and space, and his political and worldview were shaped by his associations with his own family, community, mentors, and the larger society that he was born into. This is very honestly reflected in his "Unfinished Memoirs" and other writings published posthumously.

Today’s global perspective makes us look back to the era of Bangabandhu. The way he thought, the path he dreamt, and the vision he cherished are still relevant in today’s reality. While drafting the Constitution Bangabandhu set up the foreign policy of Bangladesh “friendship to all malice towards none”, reflecting the second inaugural address of the late US President Abraham Lincoln. This maxim is still an inseparable part of present Bangladesh for its engagement with nation-states.

Foreign policies of a state are designed to interact with the other states and to adjust itself to the complex sphere of international relations. Every state asserts its own interest irrespective of anything else. Bangabandhu understood the very core nature of world politics at an early age when he travelled around the world as a young leader. That helped him to shape the image of Bangladesh. If you look around today, you will not be able to identify any single state which is the “enemy” of Bangladesh. Bangladesh may have complex issues with different states but there is no imminent threat from any other states.

The nature of Bangladesh’s foreign policy has been a balancing one since the time of Bangabandhu. There were so many challenges for Bangabandhu as a leader of a newly-born nation. Challenges and restraints of making foreign policy are relatively hard for new states compared with mature states because the latter usually have well established formal diplomatic relations, clear understanding, and experienced political leadership. A newly-born state formulating foreign policies with national interest which will ensure the state’s vital objectives and continued prosperity is highly crucial for its existence and prestige. West Pakistani forces burned Bangladesh in 9 months. Nothing was left for us to survive. Coming out as a sovereign state on December 16, 1971, Bangladesh was suddenly dragged into a squeezed condition from where the expectation of a well-balanced foreign policy mechanism was bleak. Bangabandhu got an impoverished war-torn state where nothing was left except ashes. However, with his pragmatic leadership and natural patriotic zeal, he did not fear to shoulder the burden of the devastated country. Bangabandhu started from the ashes.

From his very first day of leadership, Bangabandhu was cautious about the Cold War politics and he showed utmost diplomatic esprit form the beginning. Bangabandhu came back to Bangladesh via London and New Delhi on January 10, 1972 by a Royal British Jet instead of an Indian jet, which was also standby for him. This was a subtle but clear message to the world that Bangladesh will be neutral and maintain friendly relations to all. Bangabandhu visited India in February 1972. He expressed sincere gratitude in his address to the people of India. That event was one of the biggest gatherings of Indian history. Bangabandhu discussed many bilateral issues with Indian premier Indira Gandhi and urged to withdraw Indian troops from Bangladesh. By March 1972 Indian troops were withdrawn from Bangladesh. With the implementation of this decision, Bangabandhu further attempted to show the world Bangladesh was not under the dominance of its nearest major ally. It was his notable success to facilitate diplomatic relations with several sovereign states such as Saudi Arab, China, and Pakistan, etc.

In late February 1972, Bangabandhu made a 5 days good-will visit to Moscow. The then Soviet government received him cordially and Bangabandhu thanked them for the support in the liberation war. That visit was another successful diplomatic mission of Bangabandhu. Moscow widened their support in agriculture, food aid, technical assistance, and higher studies opportunities. Bangabandhu understood the importance of China for the regional stability and cooperation which he visited in the sixties. Moreover, China is one of the permanent members of the UNSC. Though China was against of Bangladesh liberation war, understanding the importance of reconciliation Bangabandhu dispatched a veteran ambassador K. M. Kaiser, who previously had served as a Pakistani ambassador to China and personally developed a strong rapport with the destination state, to Beijing. The quite diplomacy persuaded China to give the green signal for the membership of Bangladesh in the UN and was maintained in Bangabandhu’s time.

The devastating condition of Bangladesh made him pursue an equilibrial foreign policy between East and West. He understood that over-reliance on the Soviet Union and India will not be able to meet the enormous needs of Bangladesh. During his first visit to the UN General Assembly for its recognition to Bangladesh, Bangabandhu had a personal meeting with US President Gerald R. Ford. As a result of that meeting, US aid and investment poured into Bangladesh.

Bangabandhu never compromised with his secular morality. That was a significant move for the well being of Bangladesh. This secular policy portrays the inclusive nature of statehood irrespective of any religion and race. During 1973 NAM conference Bangabandhu had a meeting with Saudi monarch Faisal. King Faisal stated that to obtain Saudi recognition- the official name of Bangladesh- “People’s republic of Bangladesh” will have to be altered to “Islamic republic of Bangladesh”. In a quick reply Bangabandhu directly uttered it was not possible to remove his country’s secular shell. He further replied, “Saudi Arabia is not named the Islamic Republic of Saudi Arabia and we did not express any objection to this. So, why is this prerequisite for Bangladesh?”

His commitment to non-alignment stemmed from the deep-rooted belief that it was not in Bangladesh's interest to be caught as a vulnerable nut in the nut-cracker jaws of the contesting powers. So he took Bangladesh into the Non-Aligned Movement in 1973 that recommends a middle route for developing states. Bangabandhu was adroit on how to bargain with a state to secure his country’s national interest. In February 1974, the OIC summit was going to happen at Lahore, Pakistan. Bangabandhu sensed this opportunity and refused to join in the summit if Pakistan did not acknowledge the sovereignty of Bangladesh. Interestingly that worked and Bangladesh got Pakistan’s recognition. Bangladesh got the recognition of major international institutions like UN, ILO, IMF, OIC and commonwealth under Bangabandhu’s leadership.

Bangabandhu was always with the oppressed and being a new state he decided to help the oppressed people of Palestine. Bangabandhu ordered to send a medical team to help the Palestinians. As a result, a group of military medical team was positioned in Syria. Syrian grand mufti urged to acknowledge Bangladesh and said (to Bangladeshis) “they are the true mujahideen of Ummah.”

Dr. Imtiaz Ahmed, Professor of International Relations said “The foreign policy of Bangladesh—friendship to all, malice to none—has enabled Bangladesh to make friends with others easily and it is much more important now.” As a result of the policy of friendship, Bangladesh has been able to enter into various international platforms like the Indo-Pacific Alliance and China’s Belt and Road Initiative and into relationships with other countries. These relationships are helping Bangladesh economically. Experts often infer that Bangabandhu’s foreign policy laid the foundations for the peaceful and friendly co-existence of all nations through cooperation and partnership. Bangabandhu’s leadership, wisdom, and personal relationship with world leaders enabled him to gain diplomatic successes in the international arena through friendship and cooperation. This is all about Bangabandhu’s foreign policy of a rising nation started from the ashes.

The writer is a student of department of international relations, University of Dhaka.


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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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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.

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