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Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Credit: Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. - Photo: 2023

Sheikh Hasina Has Elevated Bangladesh’s Geopolitical Significance

By Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury*

DHAKA | 26 December 2023 (IDN) — Bangladesh, a land woven with resilience, heritage, and a drapery of culture, stands at a crucial juncture in the contemporary geopolitical landscape. At the wheel of this dynamic nation is Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, an indomitable leader, whose statesmanship has wielded an influential impact both within Bangladesh and across global forums.

The significance of Sheikh Hasina’s leadership transcends mere political stewardship. It embodies a nuanced amalgamation of diplomatic finesse, socio-economic empowerment, and visionary strategies that have propelled Bangladesh onto the global stage, marking its presence in discussions on regional stability, economic growth, and environmental sustainability.

One of the foundations of Prime Minister Hasina’s statesmanship lies in her unwavering commitment to fostering regional cooperation. Amidst a complex web of regional dynamics, she has championed initiatives fostering camaraderie, trade partnerships, and cultural exchanges.

Through platforms like SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), her efforts have been instrumental in forging stronger bonds among neighboring countries, amplifying Bangladesh’s voice and influence in regional affairs.

Sheikh Hasina’s smart foreign policy has diversified Bangladesh’s global engagements, cultivating strategic relationships beyond its borders. Strengthening ties with global powers such as China, Russia, India, and the United States, as well as the Middle Eastern nations, she has navigated diplomatic waters adeptly, leveraging these relationships to bolster Bangladesh’s economic growth and security.

However, Sheikh Hasina’s statesmanship extends far beyond diplomatic negotiations. At the heart of her governance lies a commitment to inclusive development. Under her leadership, Bangladesh has made remarkable strides in social welfare, education, and healthcare. Initiatives like the Digital Bangladesh campaign have catapulted the nation into the digital era, fostering innovation and technological advancements that have spurred economic growth and improved access to services for citizens across the socioeconomic spectrum.

Proactive stance

Moreover, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has demonstrated unparalleled leadership in addressing climate change. Bangladesh, grappling with the repercussions of rising sea levels and extreme weather events, stands as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change.

Sheikh Hasina’s proactive stance in advocating for climate justice on global platforms has earned her international acclaim. Her ambitious climate resilience strategies and commitment to sustainable development underscore her visionary leadership, positioning Bangladesh as a model for climate-conscious governance.

The empowerment of women and the pursuit of gender equality stand as emblematic pillars of Sheikh Hasina’s leadership. Bangladesh, under her statesmanship, has witnessed a transformative shift towards gender inclusivity. Through policy reforms, increased representation of women in government, and initiatives promoting women’s education and economic participation, Hasina has catalyzed a societal shift, propelling Bangladesh towards a more equitable future. 

Challenges, however, remain prevalent. The nation grapples with issues of governance, corruption, constant threats posed by terrorism and religious extremism and socio-political complexities. While Sheikh Hasina’s leadership has undoubtedly steered Bangladesh on a trajectory of progress, addressing these challenges necessitates continued commitment and concerted efforts. 

In reflecting on Sheikh Hasina’s statesmanship, it becomes evident that her leadership embodies resilience, vision, and a deep-rooted commitment to the betterment of Bangladesh. Her ability to navigate complex geopolitical waters while prioritizing inclusive development has elevated Bangladesh’s standing, transforming it into a key player in regional and global arenas.

As Sheikh Hasina continues to chart the course for Bangladesh’s future, her statesmanship serves as a testament to the transformative power of visionary leadership. With each strategic decision and policy initiative, she cements Bangladesh’s significance on the world stage, ensuring a legacy of progress and prosperity for generations to come.

Fostering relations within Global South

Sheikh Hasina’s role in fostering and strengthening relations among countries in the Global South is indeed significant. Her efforts have contributed substantially to enhancing cooperation, solidarity, and mutual development among nations in this region.

As a leader from the Global South herself, Sheikh Hasina understands the shared challenges, aspirations, and opportunities that bind countries within this diverse and expansive geopolitical bloc. Her diplomatic initiatives have been instrumental in deepening ties and fostering collaborative frameworks among these nations.

Prime Minister Hasina has actively promoted multilateralism, advocating for increased cooperation through platforms such as the D8 Organization for Economic Cooperation and the G77, which bring together developing nations to address common challenges and promote collective growth. Her commitment to South-South cooperation has been evident in initiatives that prioritize trade, technology transfer, and capacity-building among member nations.

Bangladesh’s engagements in various forums and partnerships within the Global South, under Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, have emphasized mutual respect, shared prosperity, and sustainable development. Bilateral agreements in areas like trade, agriculture, education, and technology exchange have flourished, fostering stronger bonds and elevating the collective voice of the Global South in global discourse.

Moreover, Hasina’s emphasis on solidarity among Global South countries in international arenas has been commendable. She has consistently advocated for the rights of developing nations, particularly on issues of climate change, trade imbalances, and socio-economic disparities, amplifying the collective concerns of these nations on the global stage.

Furthermore, her administration’s support for refugees, particularly Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar, exemplifies Bangladesh’s commitment to humanitarian values and solidarity with oppressed communities within the Global South.

Fight against terrorism

Sheikh Hasina, as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, has made significant contributions to combat terrorism, recognizing its threat not only to her country but to regional and global stability. Her approach to counterterrorism has been multi-faceted, combining both proactive measures within Bangladesh and collaborative efforts on an international scale. 

Under her leadership, Bangladesh has enacted robust legislation targeting terrorism and extremism. The government has introduced stringent anti-terrorism laws, empowering law enforcement agencies to take decisive action against individuals or groups involved in terrorist activities. These laws have provided a legal framework to tackle terrorism effectively.

Sheikh Hasina’s administration has taken proactive measures to dismantle extremist networks operating within Bangladesh. Security forces have conducted operations targeting extremist elements, disrupting their networks and preventing potential threats to national security. This approach has significantly weakened the operational capacity of extremist groups.

Sheikh Hasina has consistently advocated for a moderate and inclusive interpretation of Islam, emphasizing religious tolerance, coexistence, and dialogue. Her government has promoted educational and religious initiatives aimed at countering extremist narratives and fostering a culture of peace and harmony.

Recognizing the global nature of terrorism, Sheikh Hasina has actively engaged in international cooperation to combat this menace. Bangladesh has collaborated with various countries and international organizations, sharing intelligence, expertise, and best practices in counterterrorism efforts. She has been vocal about the importance of global solidarity and cooperation in addressing terrorism.

Prime Minister Hasina has emphasized the importance of addressing the root causes of extremism, including poverty, unemployment, and lack of education. Her government has implemented socio-economic development programs aimed at providing opportunities and hope to marginalized communities, thereby reducing the vulnerability to extremist ideologies.

Bangladesh has taken steps to secure its borders, enhancing border management to prevent illegal activities, including smuggling of arms and movement of extremists across borders.

Sheikh Hasina’s unwavering commitment to combating terrorism has been pivotal in improving the security landscape in Bangladesh. Her holistic approach, which encompasses legal, security, ideological, and socio-economic dimensions, reflects a comprehensive strategy to tackle this complex challenge. Her leadership in this realm has not only strengthened internal security but has also contributed to regional and global efforts in the fight against terrorism.

Empowerment of women

Sheikh Hasina, as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, has been a staunch advocate for women’s empowerment, instituting policies and initiatives that have significantly advanced the status of women in Bangladesh.

Under her leadership, Bangladesh has seen a rise in women’s political participation. Sheikh Hasina has actively promoted women’s involvement in governance by introducing reserved seats for women in parliament. This proactive step has significantly increased the representation of women in decision-making roles.

The government has enacted laws and introduced reforms aimed at protecting and promoting women’s rights. Measures such as the Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act and the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act have been introduced to address gender-based violence, providing legal recourse and protection for women.

Sheikh Hasina’s administration has prioritized women’s access to education and healthcare. Initiatives such as stipends for female students, the establishment of schools and colleges, and healthcare programs tailored to women’s needs have increased educational and healthcare opportunities for women across the country.

Various programs and microcredit initiatives have been launched to economically empower women. These initiatives have facilitated access to credit, training, and entrepreneurship opportunities, enabling women to become financially independent and contribute to household income.

Prime Minister Hasina has been vocal in advocating for gender equality in all spheres of life. She has emphasized the importance of challenging societal norms and stereotypes that hinder women’s progress, promoting a culture of equality and inclusion.

Sheikh Hasina’s government has undertaken campaigns to raise awareness about women’s rights, gender equality, and the importance of women’s contributions to society. These efforts aim to challenge traditional mindsets and societal attitudes towards women.

On the international stage, Sheikh Hasina has been a vocal advocate for women’s rights and empowerment, raising these issues in various global forums and underscoring their importance in achieving sustainable development.

Through her leadership, policies, and advocacy, Sheikh Hasina has played a pivotal role in advancing the empowerment of women in Bangladesh. Her commitment to creating an environment conducive to women’s advancement has contributed significantly to breaking barriers and creating opportunities for women to thrive in various spheres of life. 

Ensuring education for girls 

Sheikh Hasina, as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, has implemented various commendable policies and initiatives to ensure and enhance the education of girls in the country. Her government has recognized the pivotal role that education plays in fostering progress and has prioritized girls’ education as a fundamental aspect of Bangladesh’s development.

One of the hallmark policies introduced under Sheikh Hasina’s leadership is the provision of stipends and incentives for girls’ education. These stipends are aimed at incentivizing families to send their daughters to school and keep them enrolled. Financial incentives help alleviate economic barriers that often hinder girls’ access to education.

The government has actively invested in the construction and development of schools, particularly in rural and underprivileged areas. This initiative aims to ensure that girls have access to nearby educational institutions, reducing barriers related to distance and commuting.

Sheikh Hasina’s government has initiated community engagement programs to raise awareness about the importance of girls’ education. These programs involve local leaders, educators, and parents to create a supportive environment that values and encourages girls’ education.

Beyond access, the government has focused on improving the quality of education provided to girls. Initiatives have been undertaken to enhance teaching standards, curriculum development, and educational resources, ensuring that girls receive a high-quality education.

The education policies introduced by Sheikh Hasina’s government not only focus on imparting knowledge but also emphasize empowering girls. The education system includes components that foster critical thinking, leadership skills, and empowerment, enabling girls to become agents of change in their communities.

Policies have been implemented to address gender disparities in education. Efforts have been made to bridge the gap between boys’ and girls’ enrollment rates, ensuring equal opportunities for education.

Initiatives to encourage girls to pursue higher education, such as scholarships and support programs, have been introduced to enable them to continue their education beyond primary and secondary levels.

Overall, Sheikh Hasina’s policies for ensuring girls’ education in Bangladesh reflect a comprehensive and holistic approach. These policies not only focus on increasing access to education but also emphasize the importance of quality education and empowerment, laying a foundation for the holistic development of girls and the nation as a whole. 

Emphasis on relationship with neighbors 

Sheikh Hasina’s commitment to maintaining strong and cooperative relations with neighboring countries, particularly India, has been a cornerstone of Bangladesh’s foreign policy under her leadership. Her approach to fostering ties with India has been characterized by pragmatism, mutual respect, and a focus on shared interests, resulting in significant advancements in bilateral relations. 

Bangladesh and India share deep historical and cultural ties that form the foundation of their relationship. Sheikh Hasina has emphasized the importance of these historical connections, highlighting the cultural affinity and shared heritage between the two nations.

Under her leadership, economic cooperation between Bangladesh and India has witnessed substantial growth. Both countries have focused on enhancing trade relations, easing trade barriers, and promoting investments, resulting in increased economic collaboration and mutual benefits.

Efforts have been made to improve connectivity between Bangladesh and India through various infrastructure projects, including roads, railways, and waterways. Initiatives like the Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala bus service and the development of inland waterways have strengthened people-to-people connectivity and facilitated trade.

Sheikh Hasina’s government has prioritized security cooperation with India. Both countries have collaborated closely on counterterrorism efforts, intelligence sharing, and border security, aiming to combat common security challenges and ensure regional stability.

Addressing water-related issues, particularly regarding river-sharing agreements, has been a crucial aspect of bilateral discussions. Sheikh Hasina has engaged in diplomatic dialogues with India to find equitable solutions for sharing river waters, recognizing the significance of water resources for both countries.

Both nations have fostered cultural and educational exchanges, promoting greater understanding and goodwill between their peoples. Initiatives like student exchange programs, cultural festivals, and academic collaborations have contributed to strengthening people-to-people ties.

Sheikh Hasina’s consistent engagement with Indian leadership through diplomatic visits and high-level meetings has reinforced the commitment to maintaining open channels of communication and resolving bilateral issues through dialogue.

Sheikh Hasina’s approach to nurturing relations with India has been characterized by a balanced pursuit of national interests while recognizing the importance of regional cooperation and stability. Her commitment to fostering a strong and cooperative relationship with India has contributed significantly to the overall stability and development of the region. 

Focusing on a developed Bangladesh by 2030 

Sheikh Hasina’s vision to transform Bangladesh into a developed nation by 2030 reflects a comprehensive and ambitious agenda for the country’s progress. Her re-election in the January 7, 2024 election is perceived by many as essential for the continuity and realization of this vision for several reasons: 

Sheikh Hasina’s leadership has been marked by long-term development plans and strategies. Her re-election would ensure the continuation of ongoing policies and initiatives aimed at achieving sustainable development goals and transforming key sectors of the economy. 

Implementation of Vision 2030 

Sheikh Hasina’s commitment to Vision 2030 involves extensive economic, social, and infrastructural reforms. Her re-election would provide the stability and continuity needed to implement and oversee the execution of these transformative plans.

Sheikh Hasina has built strong relationships with global partners and institutions to support Bangladesh’s development agenda. Her re-election would help maintain these partnerships and secure continued support and investments from the international community.

A consistent policy framework and stable governance are crucial for long-term development plans. Her re-election would ensure policy consistency, which is vital for sustained economic growth and transformation. 

Sheikh Hasina’s experience in governance and her visionary approach to development are seen as assets crucial for steering Bangladesh towards becoming a developed nation. Her continued leadership is believed to be instrumental in overcoming challenges and realizing the country’s potential.

Many ongoing projects and initiatives are critical for Bangladesh’s development journey. Her re-election would provide the impetus to complete these projects, ensuring their intended impact on the country’s progress.

Building institutional capacities

Sheikh Hasina’s leadership has focused on building institutional capacities across various sectors. Continuation of her leadership is crucial for further strengthening these institutions to sustain the momentum towards development goals.

While the re-election of Sheikh Hasina is seen as instrumental in pursuing the nation’s aspirations for development, it’s important to emphasize the democratic process and the voice of the electorate. The January 7, 2024 election represents an opportunity for the Bangladeshi people to express their choices and shape the future leadership that will drive the country towards its goal of becoming a developed nation by 2030.

It may be mentioned here that while ensuring a peaceful and credible election on January 7, 2024 will be crucial for upholding Bangladesh’s democratic values and maintaining political stability, setting the stage for continued progress, development, and stability under the leadership that emerges from this democratic process, Election Commission in Bangladesh is tirelessly working in this direction to ensure – the upcoming election is free, fair and credible and held in festivity through participation of voters.

Unfortunately, several undemocratic forces, including Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ideological allies such as Jamaat-e-Islami (Jamaat) and other ultra-Islamist, anarchist and terrorist groups are making frantic bids in foiling the election by spreading reign of terror throughout the country. Instead of participating in the election, BNP and its allies are attempting to return to power through an undemocratic process, which not only would jeopardize Bangladesh’s progress and prosperity —it would eventually turn the country into a neo-Taliban state or Caliphate. Understanding this risk, the international community, particularly the nations in the Global South have vowed to stand in defense of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as it is essential for the continuation of Bangladesh’s progress and prosperity.

*Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is an internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, writer, research-scholar, and Editor, Blitz, a newspaper publishing from Bangladesh since 2003. He regularly writes for local and international newspapers. Follow him on X @Salah_Shoaib [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Credit: Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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