By Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury*
DHAKA | 17 January 2024 (IDN) — In the complex chess-game of global geopolitics, Bangladesh has emerged as a significant player under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Over the years, her astute governance and strategic vision have propelled Bangladesh to new heights, making it a key actor in South Asia. This article explores the factors contributing to Bangladesh’s geopolitical importance, the challenges faced, and the trajectory set by Sheikh Hasina’s leadership.
Under Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, Bangladesh has experienced remarkable economic growth and development. Her administration’s commitment to economic reforms, infrastructure development, and the promotion of industries has turned Bangladesh into one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. The ready-made garment sector, remittances, and the expansion of the agricultural and IT sectors have played pivotal roles in fostering economic prosperity.
Moreover, Sheikh Hasina’s focus on poverty alleviation and social welfare programs has not only uplifted millions from poverty but has also strengthened the nation’s social fabric. The World Bank and other international institutions have acknowledged Bangladesh’s socio-economic progress, further enhancing its standing on the global stage.
Under Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, Bangladesh has actively pursued a diplomatic agenda emphasising friendly relations with neighbouring countries and active participation in regional forums. Hasina’s approach to foreign policy centres around peaceful coexistence, economic cooperation, and collaborative efforts to address regional challenges.
One significant example of Bangladesh’s diplomatic success is the resolution of longstanding border disputes with India and Myanmar. The Land Boundary Agreement with India in 2015 marked a historic moment, strengthening ties between the two nations. Bangladesh’s constructive engagement in regional forums like SAARC and BIMSTEC has positioned it as a key player in shaping South Asian dynamics.
Bangladesh’s vulnerability to climate change has prompted Sheikh Hasina to advocate for climate action globally. With a significant portion of its population at risk due to rising sea levels and extreme weather events, Bangladesh’s call for international cooperation on climate issues has garnered attention worldwide. Hasina’s commitment to sustainable development and environmental conservation has established Bangladesh as a leader in climate diplomacy.
As the Chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), Sheikh Hasina has actively campaigned for the rights of climate-vulnerable nations and has urged developed countries to take responsibility for their historical contributions to climate change. Bangladesh’s involvement in international climate agreements and Sheikh Hasina’s speeches at global forums have amplified the nation’s voice in the fight against climate change.
A robust stance against terrorism and extremism has marked the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s tenure. Bangladesh has faced internal security challenges, including militant attacks, and Sheikh Hasina’s government has taken decisive measures to combat these threats. The crackdown on extremist groups and intelligence-sharing agreements with regional and international partners have showcased Bangladesh’s commitment to regional and global security.
Bangladesh’s strategic partnership with China has deepened under Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, with both nations engaging in mutually beneficial collaborations. The China-Bangladesh relationship has gained prominence through infrastructure projects, trade agreements, and investment initiatives. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been a focal point of this collaboration, with Bangladesh actively participating in infrastructure development projects, including constructing roads, bridges, and ports.
As part of the BRI, the Padma Bridge project stands out as a symbol of Sino-Bangladeshi cooperation, enhancing connectivity and trade prospects for Bangladesh. The economic benefits derived from these collaborations have positioned Bangladesh as an attractive investment destination and a vital player in China’s regional connectivity ambitions.
While Bangladesh’s rise on the geopolitical stage is evident, it is not without challenges. The nation grapples with political polarization, concerns over human rights, and environmental threats. The Rohingya refugee crisis, stemming from Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingya minority, has posed a humanitarian challenge for Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina’s diplomatic efforts to address this crisis while maintaining regional stability underscore her leadership’s resilience in the face of complex challenges.
Maintaining a diplomatic balance between India and China
Maintaining a delicate diplomatic balance between two major powers, India and China, is a challenging feat that requires strategic finesse and nuanced policymaking. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has successfully navigated this complex geopolitical terrain through astute diplomacy, economic pragmatism, and regional cooperation. Here’s an exploration of how Sheikh Hasina has maintained a diplomatic balance between India and China in her foreign policy:
India: Sheikh Hasina has prioritized economic cooperation with India through various initiatives such as the Land Boundary Agreement and the establishment of joint economic ventures. Promoting cross-border trade, connectivity, and infrastructure development has been instrumental in fostering stronger economic ties.
China: Similarly, Bangladesh has engaged in significant economic collaborations with China, particularly through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Padma Bridge project and other infrastructure developments highlight the economic synergy between Bangladesh and China.
Sheikh Hasina has adhered to a non-aligned foreign policy, emphasizing Bangladesh’s commitment to maintaining its sovereignty and not aligning excessively with any particular power bloc. This strategic autonomy allows Bangladesh to pursue its national interests without becoming overly dependent on either India or China.
Actively participating in regional forums like SAARC and BIMSTEC, Sheikh Hasina has pursued a balanced regional engagement strategy. By involving Bangladesh in multilateral platforms, she ensures that the nation’s interests are not solely tied to bilateral relations with any single country.
Bangladesh’s membership in regional organizations provides opportunities for collaboration with both India and China on common regional challenges, promoting a sense of shared responsibility.
Sheikh Hasina’s government has prioritized addressing security concerns and maintaining stability in the region. Collaborative efforts with India on counterterrorism and intelligence-sharing demonstrate a shared commitment to regional security.
At the same time, maintaining an open channel of communication with China on security matters ensures a comprehensive approach to addressing shared concerns.
Sheikh Hasina has maintained a cautious approach while actively participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Bangladesh carefully evaluates projects to align with national interests and development goals. This cautious stance helps prevent over-dependency on any single external actor.
The Rohingya refugee crisis posed a challenge to regional stability, with implications for both India and China. Sheikh Hasina’s diplomatic efforts involved engaging with both nations to address the humanitarian crisis. This demonstrated Bangladesh’s commitment to regional stability and garnered support from India and China.
Sheikh Hasina’s approach emphasizes people-centric diplomacy, focusing on the well-being and prosperity of the citizens. Economic cooperation, trade agreements, and cultural exchanges with both India and China contribute to a positive narrative that transcends political differences.
Sheikh Hasina’s diplomatic strategy revolves around maintaining a delicate equilibrium between India and China. By prioritizing economic cooperation, regional engagement, and strategic autonomy, she has successfully avoided being drawn into the geopolitical tensions between the two neighbouring giants. Sheikh Hasina’s pragmatic and balanced foreign policy has positioned Bangladesh as a key player in the region while safeguarding its national interests and sovereignty.
Should Bangladesh refrain from involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict?
Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, has adopted a prudent and strategic approach to foreign policy, emphasizing regional stability, economic development, and diplomatic neutrality. In light of this, refraining from involving Bangladesh in the Israel-Palestine conflict aligns with several key considerations:
- Bangladesh maintains a non-aligned foreign policy, emphasizing independence and neutrality in global conflicts. Involvement in the Israel-Palestine issue may compromise this stance and lead to alignment with specific geopolitical blocs, potentially affecting relations with other nations.
- Sheikh Hasina has successfully navigated delicate diplomatic relationships with major powers like India and China. Involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict might strain relations with certain countries that have strong positions on the issue, potentially jeopardizing Bangladesh’s diplomatic equilibrium.
- Bangladesh faces numerous internal challenges, including economic development, poverty alleviation, and infrastructure improvement. Sheikh Hasina can prioritize the nation’s resources and efforts toward addressing domestic issues and fostering national growth by refraining from involvement in external conflicts.
- The Israel-Palestine conflict is highly sensitive and evokes strong emotions globally. Involvement may lead to polarization within Bangladesh, potentially causing internal strife. Maintaining a neutral stance helps prevent unnecessary divisions and ensures focus on national unity.
- The Israel-Palestine conflict involves complex historical, political, and humanitarian issues. Engaging in the conflict without a clear strategic objective may not align with Bangladesh’s foreign policy priorities, which include contributing to global peace and humanitarian efforts through established channels.
- Involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict may attract security risks and threats from various quarters. Sheikh Hasina’s administration has prioritized maintaining national security and stability. Refraining from involvement in external conflicts contributes to minimizing potential security risks.
- Bangladesh is a diverse nation with a rich cultural and religious tapestry. Involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict might have repercussions on interfaith relations within the country. Sheikh Hasina’s government has consistently emphasized religious tolerance and harmony, which could be jeopardized by taking sides in a deeply divisive global issue.
- Bangladesh has cultivated a positive global image by actively participating in peacekeeping missions, disaster relief efforts, and sustainable development initiatives. Involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict might alter the perception of Bangladesh as a neutral and constructive actor on the global stage.
Possible consequence if Bangladesh is involved in Israel-Palestine conflict
Involving Bangladesh in the Israel-Palestine conflict could have several significant consequences, impacting the nation’s diplomatic, economic, and domestic spheres. Here are some potential outcomes.
Bangladesh has historically maintained a non-aligned foreign policy. Involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict might strain diplomatic relations with countries that have strong positions on the issue. This could lead to losing trust and cooperation with nations with different perspectives.
Bangladesh is situated in a region with complex geopolitical dynamics. Taking sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict might contribute to regional instability, potentially affecting relations with neighbouring countries. This instability could have implications for trade, security, and overall regional cooperation.
Bangladesh’s economy heavily relies on trade and foreign investments. Involvement in a contentious global conflict could lead to economic repercussions. International partners may reconsider economic ties and trade relationships might suffer, impacting the nation’s economic growth and stability.
Deep-seated tensions and occasional outbreaks of violence characterize the Israel-Palestine conflict. Bangladesh’s involvement could attract security threats from various quarters, including extremist groups or individuals sympathetic to one side of the conflict.
The Israel-Palestine issue is emotionally charged and evokes strong sentiments globally. Involvement could lead to internal polarization within Bangladesh, causing divisions among the population. This may result in social unrest and challenges to national unity.
The conflict often results in humanitarian crises and large-scale displacement of populations. Bangladesh’s involvement may lead to an influx of refugees or internally displaced people, adding strain to already limited resources and complicating efforts to address domestic issues.
Bangladesh is known for its active participation in UN peacekeeping missions. Involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict could affect the country’s credibility and neutrality in global peacekeeping efforts, potentially limiting its role in future missions.
Bangladesh has cultivated a positive global image through its contributions to peacekeeping, humanitarian aid, and sustainable development. Involvement in a contentious conflict may tarnish this image, impacting the nation’s soft power and influence on the international stage.
Bangladesh is a diverse nation with a majority-Muslim population. Involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict, which has religious undertones, might affect interfaith relations within the country. It could potentially lead to tensions and challenges in maintaining religious harmony.
Involvement in a global conflict could divert attention and resources away from pressing domestic priorities. Bangladesh might find itself entangled in the complexities of the Israel-Palestine issue, impacting its ability to focus on economic development, poverty alleviation, and infrastructure improvement.
In brief, involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict could have multifaceted consequences for Bangladesh, affecting its diplomatic standing, economic stability, internal cohesion, and global reputation. The potential risks underscore the importance of maintaining a cautious and non-aligned approach in foreign policy decisions.
As Sheikh Hasina’s leadership has propelled Bangladesh into a position of tremendous geopolitical importance, the country’s policymakers must take cautious steps while addressing sensitive issues. Moreover, in recent times it is observed with gravest concern – a number of key policymakers in the Awami League government, while pointing to the Israel-Palestine conflict, have made extremely offensive, crude, cruel and unacceptable remarks by branding Jews as evils, monsters, murderers etcetera—without realizing a fact that such remarks would create generate extreme adverse effect on Bangladesh, while Jewish entrepreneurs being felt offended at such remarks may even stop economic interactions with Bangladesh and refrain from buying any goods – including readymade garments. Most importantly, such remarks can be cashed by political opponents of Awami League, where, for example – Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its lobbyists in the West may begin propaganda stating members of the ruling party in Bangladesh are Jew-haters.
Undoubtedly, such BNP bids would result in catastrophic consequences for Bangladesh. For national interest, leaders of the Awami League, particularly those in the government, should bear these key issues in their minds.
We need not forget that under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh has become a key player in shaping South Asian dynamics through economic growth, diplomatic engagements, environmental advocacy, and strategic collaborations. It is expected – while challenges persist, Sheikh Hasina’s resilience and vision for a prosperous and secure Bangladesh shall continue to guide the nation toward a future marked by influence and significance on the global stage.
*Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is an internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, writer, research scholar, and editor of Blitz, a newspaper published in 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 addressing the UN General Assembly on 22 September 2023 at the UN Headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Laura Jarriel
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