Wednesday, April 24, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

A new journey awaits

How Bangladesh on a New Journey examines Bangladesh’s growing influence in the region

Update : 20 Mar 2024, 01:01 PM

Bangladesh on a New Journey (Bloomsbury, India, 2024) -- edited with her typical candour and craft by well-recognized Indian scholar and researcher Sreeradha Datta -- is a collation of 13 articles, divided into three parts with a foreword from renowned political analyst and commentator C Rajamohan. Michael Kugelman’s prologue alliterates Progress, Pitfalls, and Prospects for Bangladesh in some details while Ramita Iyer’s equally extensive epilogue ambitiously carries the theme further forward, looking at Bangladesh emerging as the “Next Frontier of Asia.”

The editor rightly states that this work is a necessary follow-up, and completion, of her first work Bangladesh at 50 (Orient Blackswan, 2020), co-edited with S Narayan, in which I had the privilege of contributing a chapter. While the previous work was more of an exercise at taking stock of what transpired for Bangladesh in the first half a century of its existence as an independent state, the latest work tends to forecast the prospects and challenges that lay ahead for the next half.

This volume is enriched by the fact that the contributors come from virtually all parts of the globe, from the United States up north, passing through India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Singapore, and all the way to Australia down under, unlike the earlier work where the contributors were primarily from Bangladesh and India.

Bangladesh on a New Journey is extensive both in its form and substance. It accurately illustrates how Bangladesh has defied earlier skeptics when a senior US State Department official, Ural Alexis Johnson, and subsequently the late Henry Kissinger, described Bangladesh as an “international basket case” (Kugelman, prologue), a most undeserving and derogatory observation, to where it stands today as a responsible and relevant player in the Asia-Pacific region, and even beyond.

The country’s overall economy has seen a sustained upward trajectory in spite of the severely adverse impacts born out of geo-political and military conflicts, social challenges (the Covid-19 pandemic) and, importantly, the severe effects of and challenges from climate change (Johnson). The country’s sense of social responsibility was most graphically demonstrated when it opened its doors to more than a million Myanmar Rohingya fleeing ethnic cleansing at home.

The country’s overall economy has seen a sustained upward trajectory in spite of the severely adverse impacts born out of geo-political and military conflicts

Bangladesh had no role in the creation of any of the above but had been victims of all of them in more ways than one. All these elements feature prominently in the volume. The prospects for convergence through enhanced connectivity (Kabir), the role of the Bangladeshi diaspora (Riaz), the geo-political challenges that a small state faces in an unstable multi-polar world (Plagemann), and how extra regional powers are vying for Bangladesh’s attention (Datta), have been diagnosed with sufficient clarity in the respective essays, and where needed, prescriptive suggestions have been made.

Schuchert, in her essay, touches on the inescapable and continued debate in Bangladesh on its religious identity explaining secularism, both domestically and in framing its foreign and economic policies. She also underlines the relevance of this debate on nation building.

Part-3 deals exclusively with Bangladesh’s diplomatic, political, geo-political, and economic ties with key and strategic players globally. Here Deb Mukharji, with his vast experience of handling Indo-Bangladesh ties as a diplomat, has done an excellent job. Samaranayake covers the challenging topic of Bangladesh's relations with the United States, its multifaceted challenges and opportunities, while Hunter touches on relations with Australia, an understated phenomenon. Li Jianjun’s review and the prospects on Bangladesh’s important relations with China too covers a broad tapestry, albeit, more subjectively so. For Amna, her sincere desire to see improved Bangladesh-Pakistan ties still remains an unfulfilled aspiration.  

Inexplicably though, Japan is the missing piece in this important part of the work. This leaves a major gaping hole, given the fact that Japan’s strategic footprints in Bangladesh have seen an exponential growth and Tokyo’s geo-political relevance, especially in the Indo-Pacific domain, has become increasingly pronounced. 

The short falls in the area of governance in Bangladesh and the fragility of its democracy finds their due place in the volume extensively and with objectivity (Datta). The challenges emanating from this and the need to address them have also been broadly covered. While stating that Bangladesh is demonstrating a steady inclination to develop a global identity, Iyer talks on the undeniable importance of attaining international legitimacy and support to afford a more credible global recognition (Iyer, epilogue). 

Bangladesh on a New Journey is a well-documented and undeniable product of extensive research. Given the ever changing global scenario, the work is also timely. While meeting multifaceted challenges from factors emanating from beyond its borders, Bangladesh must also accept the fact that the quest for seeking national introspection is never a wasted effort and must, therefore, remain a sustained and inclusive exercise. 

Sreeradha Datta, a tested friend of Bangladesh and a genuine well wisher for its people, deserves rich accolades for her sustained focus on Bangladesh and its future. In this volume, she deserves additional credit for gathering a galaxy of experts with wide ranging knowledge of the country and for their invaluable contributions. The work is undoubtedly a must read for nation builders, scholars, observers and practitioners of politics, diplomacy, military and the economy.

Shamsher M Chowdhury is a former Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh.

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