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Dhaka Tribune

Shahriar: Bangladesh warned neighbours about Rohingya challenges in 2017

  • ‘Next five years agenda divided in two major parts – economic and politics’
  • ‘Continuity of govt has changed Bangladesh for good’
  • Developing skills of the migrant workers is a top priority
  • One of the biggest challenges is dealing with misinformation
Update : 28 Feb 2024, 07:53 PM

Rajshahi-6 MP Md Shahriar Alam, also the former state minister for foreign affairs, on Wednesday said that Bangladesh had conveyed to the neighbours back in 2017 about the consequences of the Rohingya crisis when the first massive exodus took place.

He made the comment while talking about the economic prospects in the next five years of the government and the issues that can “possibly slow down” those progress at a seminar organized by leading English daily Dhaka Tribune.

“In next five years, we'd like to see steady growth as the world economy normalizes. However, there are issues that can possibly hinder and slow down these efforts,” he said, while speaking about the Myanmar crisis.

Eminent figures from various sectors, including ruling Awami League MP, representatives from the opposition parties, scholars, and civil society activists, gathered for a thought-provoking seminar styled -Setting the agenda: What will the next 5 years bring?

The embassy of Norway in Bangladesh supported the seminar held at the Crowne Plaza in Gulshan.

Shama Obaid, organizing secretary of the opposition BNP, Prof Dr Imtiaz Ahmed, professor of international relations at Dhaka University; Prof Nuzhat Choudhury, daughter of Dr Abdul Alim Chaudhury, one of the martyred intellectuals during the 1971 Liberation War, and Dr Manisha Chakraborty, central committee member of a left political party Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal (BaSaD), were also in the panel along with Shahriar.

Dhaka Tribune Editor Zafar Sobhan moderated the seminar.

Ambassador of Norway Espen Rikter-Svendsen appreciated Dhaka Tribune for “a capable and staunch partner” for the embassy.

The purpose of the seminar was to bring people from different camps together “to help us gain a better understanding of complex issues,” he said.

“Bringing people together is part of the Norwegian brand. It is what we do all around the world. We're great believers in dialogue,” the Norway envoy said.

At the event, Md Shahriar Alam said:“In 2017, when the first exodus of Rohingyas took place, alongside the humanitarian call, we say to our neighbors, we say to everyone, this is one day going to destabilize or potentially destabilize the peace and tranquility of this region.” He did not name any country.

“And that's obvious now what's happening, and we probably don't know what's happening. Putting the return of the Rohingyas aside, there are new issues, fresh issues,” he said.

He gave the examples of the Myanmar government officials crossing the border of Bangladesh and India and taking shelter and said: “It's going to be challenging for Bangladesh.

“We tried to highlight that since 2017 but not everyone probably believed that. Everyone was concentrating on only the humanitarian aspect and that is also not in a very good shape. But we're grateful to the countries who are supporting that endeavor,” he said.

Development in Bangladesh

Earlier, Md Shahriar Alam highlighted the developments of the country and said the continuity of the government has changed Bangladesh for good.

He divided the next five years agenda in two major parts – economic and politics.

The former state minister said Bangladesh is still one of the fastest growing economies of the world. The forecast this year that will conclude at the end of June aims to achieve a 6% growth or a little over that.

He said Bangladesh is making progress in the export sector, though it is directly linked with how the world economy is going to perform.

“The good news is in the far West they are rebounding. But in the Western Europe, things are still gloomy. Some of the major economies are still struggling. In the East, we have expanded into a new horizon, new marketplace. But major economies in the East are also struggling.

“But despite all these uncertainties, Bangladesh’s export is still experiencing reasonable growth, not the steady fast growth that we have experienced in the last five or seven years,” he said.

The Rajshahi-6 MP said Bangladesh is better placed compared to many other similar countries or a densely populated country often threatened by climate change activities and events.

“Now of course, we do have issues in terms of balance of payment and we have engaged the IMF well in advance and in no time. We gained trust and we have established a mechanism in place and the second round of disbursement has taken place as you know and all the parties are reasonably happy,” he said.

Aggregate agriculture

He said one of the pillars of the economy is aggregate agriculture.

He said the essential price hikes that people complain about from capital or major cities are not there in rural economies. “I mean that's a massive contrast to, you know, I would like to invite people who are interested to understand the dynamics of it,” the member of the parliament said as he hails from the rural constituency of northern Rajshahi district.

He said the rural farmers are happy but acknowledged that the people in Dhaka and major cities who live on fixed income face problems.

“But the harvest and the price are just right for farmers to indulge more and do more in agricultural output. So, the output, the availability will only increase in the coming years, in the next 5 years. So, in the next 5 years food self-sufficiency will be achieved in certain areas,” he said.

“But where we lack are shortage of supply.We are receiving reasonably good support at critical times from one of the largest producers of those items in our neighborhood. So that is also taken care of,” he said, as Bangladesh imports many essential commodities from India.

He said developing skills of the migrant workers is also a top priority of the government.

The Awami League leader said the election gives the ruling Awami League a renewed enthusiasm, a fresh mandate and “this time around we have to utilize it as we did in the past in 2018 and 2014 and vote for presenting in Smart Bangladesh by creating job opportunities and creating employment.”

“That's an area that we need to manifest better in coming days and the growth of this rural economy, we are experiencing that rather than a fixed income job, the educated youth university graduates from good schools are going back to rural Bangladesh and establishing their own business and being really, really innovative,” Shahriar said.

Demographic Dividend

He, however, cautioned that the much talked about demographic dividend that Bangladesh have enjoyed so far is actually coming to an end.

“We are into the third cycle of the demographic dividend if that interests you at all. We will grow by age as a nation and we will officially become a country of elderly citizens by 2052. Now that is only 28 years away,” he said.

Demographic dividend, as defined by the United Nations Population Fund, is "the economic growth potential that can result from shifts in a population’s age structure, mainly when the share of the working-age population is larger than the non-working-age share of the population"

Shahriar said the real demographic dividend started from the late 70s.

“The government in those days miserably failed to utilize that and we have started utilizing them only recently for the last 10-15 years or so. So, we need to earn enough whatever the aim and goal is so that we can look after our elderly and that's why you see in the national policy, the universal pension scheme was launched towards the end of last year now,” he said.

The Awami League leader said in the next five years, Bangladesh will come close to realize its dream of achieving higher middle-income countries status by 2041.

“When this term ends, in 2029 or 2028, we will hopefully come closer to a higher income country,” he said.

“We'll have to do away with poverty that's the root cause of many social problems. We would be expecting a lot better cooperation in the areas of climate change between North and South. And we need to continue to act rather than talk.”

12th national election

The Rajshahi-6 MP said in his constituency the voter turnout was 53.6%. The election took place without a single incident that can be termed as dispute or influence in my constituency which is known as the stronghold of the other political parties.

"I had strong political opposition in the region from my own party, and they were doing everything possible. So, there were plenty of television cameras and journalists, but they didn't, they couldn't identify or find one single lapse as such, apart from one or two physical skirmishes that also took place well outside of the periphery of the polling center," he said while making his point that the political parties who didn't participate in the election had no impact in voting because there were more than half of the people voted regardless of their participation in the election.

“If BNP participated, of course they would have won a number of seats or a significant number of seats or even who knows, could be a surprise as they did in Pakistan,” he said.

When Barrister Omar Sadat, president of the Gulshan Society, drew attention to the environmental challenges in the question answer session, the Awami League leader said:“We have all suffered. You know our kids have developed asthma or breathing difficulties.

“I present a rural constituency. At least 300 to 400 people will be coming to see me every morning and 80% of them are suffering from heart or kidney or lung problems,” he said, highlighting the government’s measures that include replacing the traditional brick kilns in rural areas.

When asked if BNP gives away the demand of the caretaker government whether an election in three years is in discussion.

“No, it's not. We are not going to do that surely,” he rejected.

He said one of the biggest challenges in the next five years would be to deal with misinformation and disinformation.

Mega projects

As Dr Manisha of BaSadwas arguing that the government is wasting public money by building mega projects such as tunnels under the Karnaphuli river, Shahriar said the government is using people's money or the hard-earned revenue in a diligent manner when it comes to the mega project.

“But all of the major mega project projects, regardless of Karnaphuli tunnel, Padma Bridge or metro rail, all were heavily criticized by the opposition. And we see there are still even today in this very room, there are criticisms about this mega project, but we only came to know about the full benefit of it or we have stopped criticizing only after the full implementation of it,” he explained.

“But we will continue to do that when we think it’s right and that comes from the people,”Shahriar added.

He also talked about the Gaza situation and said what's happening in Gaza is “totally unacceptable”.

“We are actually hoping that something positive will come out. But this, 30,000 deaths till last night will have a long-lasting impact in this region in days to come.”

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