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OP-ED: Why Bangabandhu is vital for these modern times

  • Published at 07:57 am March 17th, 2021
Bangabandhu UK Prime Minister Edward Heath
Bangabandhu with UK Prime Minister Edward Heath in 1972 in London MUJIB 100 PHOTO ARCHIVE

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a master at diplomacy, and we need good diplomacy now more than ever

On the birth centennial of this great man, much has been said about the Father of the Nation. From his undeniable influence on the War of Liberation -- and our subsequent liberation as a whole -- to the qualities he tried to instill in this nation and the impairment we suffer from even to this day due to his untimely assassination, the relevance and significance of this great man cannot be underscored enough. 

But it is within these qualities that something critical can be found -- the discussion of which is vital for modern times. I’m talking about Bangabandhu’s role as a negotiator, and his diplomatic prowess, when it comes to both national and international relations. 

First, some background. We live in an increasingly interdependent world, where we have to constantly engage with other, independent forces to make our way. From bidding to get FDI from countries like the US, to fighting for our very survival with the division of water issues when it comes to countries like India, we have to constantly engage in negotiations to make our place in the world. 

And because of the inherent zero-sum nature of the world, a lot of the times, these discussions don’t go as planned. Power relations play a huge role in diplomacy, and as such, we can’t always get what we want. Due to the imbalance of power, we sometimes have to swallow our pride and turn on our own interests to fight another day. 

And yet, it doesn’t always have to be like this. Sure, in modern times, international relations are more shaped by military and economic power than diplomacy, and as such, lessons of diplomacy might not even be relevant. But if these geopolitical relations can be deemed as the cards one has on their hand, shouldn’t one also learn how to play with them?

This is where Bangabandhu shines a light, and comes in with his infinite wisdom. As much as we like to focus on his role during the final years of East Pakistan, we often forget that this was not the only part of his career that we should focus on. He was 51 during independence, so he had been active in the political scene for decades by then. 

One of his most famous exploits during his student years was standing up for the fourth-class workers of Dhaka University, something that landed him in hot water. He had always spoken on behalf of people who needed a voice the most, and he was uncompromising but also realistic when it came to that. It is exactly this sentimentality that informed his actions during his later life when he took to the negotiations table. 

From the late 40s to the start of the 70s, he had been on the forefront of the Bengali liberation movement. But he approached this problem from a very diplomatic standpoint. From the six-point movement of the 60s to the non-violent movements of early March, he didn’t want to do anything that would worsen the situation, but he also didn’t want to sell his soul to the powers that be, opting for a way that would get results with the least amount of bloodshed. 

Even during negotiations, he was fair. Due to his actions during the six-point movement and the 1970 election, he was known for this fairness, something that made him popular with many West Pakistani parties as well. Even in March, he dealt in good faith until the end, until he was abducted during Operation Search light. 

Some of these actions did get to him. He was fair in an unfair world, and his treating the world as a good place did leave him defenseless during the massacre of 1975. But his good points should not be discarded. They should be celebrated, and used as a blueprint for a better world. And if we want a world that is not zero sum -- or is as less zero-sum as humanely possible -- then his ideals aren’t just ideal, they become necessary.

Nafis Shahriar is a student of business and a member of the Dhaka Tribune op-ed team.

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