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Bangladesh: a land of huge potentials

Written By: NazirAhmed
28/11/2013 0:26

Although Bangladesh emerged as an independent country only in 1971, its history goes back thousands of years and it has long been known as a crossroads of history and culture.  It has a unique natural scenery and beauty.  Bangladesh has the world's longest sea beach.  Cox's Bazar, south of the city of Chittagong, has a beach that stretches uninterrupted over 120 km (75 miles).  The country has countless mosques (once its capital, Dhaka, used to be called as the City of Mosques).  In southeast Bangladesh, experiments have been done since the 1960s to 'build with nature.'  A large part of the coastline is amarshy jungle, the Sundarbans.  They are the largest mangrove forest in the world.  Bangladesh has interesting tribal villages and a wealth of elusive wild life.   

Bangladesh lies between latitudes 20° and 27°N, and longitudes 88° and 93°E.  Most parts of Bangladesh are less than 12 m (39.4 ft) above the sea level.  Bangladesh is in the low-lying Ganges Delta.  This delta is formed by the confluence of the Ganges (local name Padma), Brahmaputra (Jamuna), and Meghna rivers and their respective tributaries.  The Ganges unites with the Jamuna (main channel of the Brahmaputra) and later joins the Meghna to eventually empty into the Bay of Bengal.  Bangladesh is connected to the Bay of Bengal through Chittagong and Khulna ports.  The alluvial soil deposited by these rivers has created some of the most fertile plains in the world.  Bangladesh is a river dominant (riparian) country.  It has 57 trans-boundary rivers, mostly with India.  Bangladesh is fortunate in the sense that it has many rivers and it is well connected to the sea which, in turn, connected to the major oceans.  Many countries of the world do not have rivers nor are they connected to the sea or oceans.   

Bangladeshis are generally very friendly and hospitable people, putting personal hospitality before personal finances.  Bangladesh could serve as a model, especially for its neighbours, for how people can live closely together and remain congenial.  Though it is largely Muslim, the country has a sizable number of Hindus and other minorities.  But one rarely hears of sectarian strife in Bangladesh.  The country even takes in thousands of foreign refugees on its already crowded soil and the world never hears of any problems or complaints with the situation.  Bangladesh is host to approximately 250,000 Muslim refugees from neighbouring Myanmar, where they have faced persecution. The camps, situated along the southeast coast, are run by the United Nations.  In addition, about 250,000 to 300,000 Bihari Muslims displaced from India live in several camps across the country.  The country has a rich cultural heritage that unites Bangladeshis across religious and ethnic divides in pride over their language, poetry, and drama.  Though officially a Muslim country, the national anthem was written by a Hindu,Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941).  Most of iconic figures of this land sought unity rather than division, preferring to regard humanity as one, not fragmented.

After independence in 1971, the new state proclaimed a secular multi-party democracy.  Unfortunately, within three years of independence, Bangladesh turned into a one party system.  The country endured decades of poverty, famine, political turmoil and numerous military coups. The restoration of democracy in 1991 was followed by a period of relative calm and economic progress although the country's main political parties remain bitterly polarized.  However, the country continues to face a number of major political and social challenges, including endemic bureaucratic and political corruptionwidespread poverty,political instabilityoverpopulation and vulnerability to global climate change.

Despite various problems Bangladesh has been facing, its location is geographically and strategically very important.  It is surrounded on all three sides by India (Bharat), and Myanmar (Burma) on the south-eastern corner, it is near to China, Bhutan,Sikkim and Nepal.  Due to its location and homogeneous population of around 160 million people in a relatively small country, superpowers like the US and China have started showing its interest in Bangladesh.  Bangladesh is ethnically homogenous, with Bengalis comprising 98 percent of the population.

Bangladesh is a pioneer and founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).  Though the SAARC came into existence during the era of Ershad regime, it was a dream of late President Ziaur Rahman.   Bangladesh is the world’s largest contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations in 26 countries, with at least 70 having died in the line of duty.  Whilst on duties its’ armed forces got huge praise and admiration in conflict zones of the world.  It is a founding member of the Developing 8 Countries and BIMSTEC and a member of the Commonwealth, the OIC, the NAM and the G-77.  Bangladesh and its former President late Ziaur Rahman played a key role in resolving Iraq-Iran disputes.  Had Bangladesh had a statesman like Dr Mohathir Mohamed for a longer period, he could have taken Bangladesh in the international arena.

Ready-made garments, textiles, pharmaceuticals, agricultural goods, ship building and fishing are some of the largest industries in Bangladesh.  Historically, Jute - a natural fiber used to make cloth, rope, and bags – used to be Bangladesh's major cash crop in foreign-exchange earnings.  The country produces about 80 percent of the world's jute.  The world market is gradually decreasing with diminishing demands of the jute in the international market.  World-class tea is grown on hilly slopes in the northeast region.  However, the largest portion of Bangladesh's export earnings (about 80 percent) comes from the garment industry, which boomed during the 1980s. The industry, which attracted foreign investors with the country's very low cost of labour, employs about 20 million people, 80 percent of whom are women. The garments sector has developed a comprehensive network of businesses in Bangladesh, including yarn, labels, accessories, fabrics, and ready-made garments, and employs almost 40 percent of the country's female population.  Unfortunately, this market has been gradually declining due to the country’s ongoing political instability and the health and safety concerns in the factories.

Despite sustained domestic and international efforts to improve economic and demographic prospects, Bangladesh remains an underdeveloped, overpopulated, and ill-governed nation.  This is not only attributable to corruption; climate and geography are also obstacles the country faces in its development.  Although more than half of the GDP is generated through the service sector, nearly two-thirds of the workforce is employed in agriculture, with rice the single most important product.

Major impediments to growth include frequent cyclones and floods, inefficient state-owned enterprises, mismanaged port facilities, a rapidly growing labour force that has not been absorbed by agriculture, inefficient use of energy resources (such asnatural gas), insufficient power supplies, and slow implementation of economic reforms, caused by political infighting and corruption.  In recent years, heavy flooding has damaged Bangladesh, killed hundreds of people, and covered about 60 percent of the country in water.  Damaged crops put millions of people in need of food aid.  People with land can usually survive through subsistence farming and fish cultivation (in small ponds).  However, floods wash away fish stocks as well as ruin crops.  Poverty results in a bitter cycle, since cash-strapped farmers mortgage their crops to money lenders, who claim them as payment. Farmers then lack the means to buy seed, leaving arable land barren.

Bangladesh is still considered as a poor and developing country.  Historically, the landscape - which is now called Bangladesh - was not poor.  It was an attractive place for conquerors, visitors, neighbours and foreigners.  Due to its beauty, wealth and attractiveness, this landscape had to face capture, occupy, conquer and domination by major powers in various stages of the history.  That attractiveness could not be maintained for various reasons.  The country has now been facing various problems.  Listing the problems could be volumous.  The fundamental problems, in my opinion, are: deep political instability, lack of consensus on fundamental national issues, practice of power politics instead of nation building politics, endemic nature of corruption in each and every sector of the country, deeply divisive society along political lines, politicisation of bureaucracy and professionals, lack of impartial and vibrant civil society, gross violation of fundamental human rights of the ordinary people, overpopulation, widespread poverty, absence of proper rule of law, destructive student politics etc.

Besides the above problems, the country has huge potentials.  These are: democratic mentality of the overwhelming number of the population, homogeneous population of around 160 million people, being one of the few Muslim countries with democratic system - albeit weak and fragile, potential of having skilled workforce, hospitable and harmonious (in racial and religious senses) people, fertile and plain land, easy access to major seas and oceans of the earth, strategic location of the country, the country being the world’s largest contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations, natural sceneries, huge natural resources at the bottom of the land etc.   

Many of the problems could have been solved and many of the above potentials could have been utilised if Bangladesh had a statesman.  Bangladesh did have many Prime Ministers and Presidents in the past.  It really needs a statesman who can unite the nation, start nation building politics and bring firm political stability in the country.  Water drops from the top of the mountain, not the vice versa.  If a statesman can provide a solid leadership adhering strictly the principles of fairness, merit and justice in all spares of public life, then the country is bound to be an ordered and disciplined one.  The nation needs an honest, committed and dedicated workforce.  Their honesty and dedication would have to be based on morality and patriotism.  Religion can play a key role to build up a solid workforce with utmost honesty and sacrifice mentality.  This type of workforce cannot be found readymade nor can they be imported from overseas or sky.  They have to be made, built up and prepared from the soil of Bangladesh.  Has the main parties ever thought of this?  Unskilled overpopulation is, no doubt, a liability for the nation.  The population is the best gift from the Almighty God – each and every person not only has a belly but also two hands and one brain.  Poverty, environment, destitute and lack of opportunity make them liability.  The liability can be turned into the asset if the God gifted row materials can be planned, nurtured, utilised and made skilled.  If skilled and education manpower is exported abroad, they can bring highly desirable foreign currency and at the same time they can act as unofficial ambassadors for the nation

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About NazirAhmed

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  • Name: Barrister Nazir Ahmed
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    Nazir Ahmed is a UK qualified solicitor with many years of experience of advising and training the public sector on all aspects of immigration and nationality Law, civil litigation, constitutional law welfare rights law and environmental health and safety law.
    He is a director of Policyy Review Centre(PRC), London and a consultant with Lincolns Chambers Solicitors. He has conducted training sessions for many national organisations as well as local authorities. His notable clients include various government departments. 
    Apart from his legal profession he is a prolific writer, authored few books and analyst on socio political issues.
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