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2017: Dhaka’s diplomacy shined on bilateral front; not on geostrategic point

WT24 Desk

Bangladesh remained active in various global forums strengthening bilateral ties, particularly in terms of economic cooperation, in 2017 but has not succeeded in using its geopolitical and geostrategic importance to its advantage, analysts say evaluating the outgoing year.

However, they said, the sheltering of Rohingya will remain a big issue even in the year 2018, and Bangladesh needs to go for an ‘objective’ reevaluation and analysis taking lessons from the year 2017 and take a realistic diplomatic approach.

“…but, overall, it appears that Bangladesh has not succeeded in using its geopolitical and geostrategic importance to its advantage,” Prof Ali Riaz told UNB.

Prof Riaz of the Department of Politics and Government at Illinois State University, USA said Bangladesh received applaud in international forums for its compassionate response to the Rohingya refugees.

He said the five-point proposal of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the UNGA was bold and drew international support. “But, the Rohingya crisis also revealed how Bangladesh’s interests were largely ignored by its friends such as India, China and Russia.”

Echoing with Prof Riaz, former Bangladesh Ambassador to the USA M Humayun Kabir said, “We had an expectation that we would get India beside Bangladesh in repatriating Rohingyas. We didn’t get it from our close friend. They should have taken an ethical position on humanitarian ground at least.”

He said Bangladesh always considers India and China as trusted friends with high expectation from them and it was seen this time that the number of friends in need is few. “It remains a lesson for us. There’ll be change in strategy and on economic front. We’ll face tough time in terms of taking decision. Bangladesh’s position requires to be reevaluated to achieve its goals.”

Humayun Kabir said there should be an analysis on which country can be Bangladesh’s friend and which cannot. “Keeping it in mind, we need to make our internal force stronger. Bangladesh needs to be more careful in dealing with countries when it comes to geopolitical and strategic interests.”

Prof Riaz said Bangladesh’s success in garnering support from some influential countries such as Japan is limited, at its best.

“The acceptance of China’s three-step formula and engaging in a bilateral solution with Myanmar without international involvement is a misstep and may have serious detrimental consequences,” he said.

Prof Riaz said the changing global political landscape and regional dynamics provide a unique advantage to the country; Bangladesh cannot let this opportunity wasted. “Its actions are reactive rather than proactive.”

Talking about challenges in 2018, the analyst the fundamental political challenge for the government in 2018 is to earn the trust of the voters about the integrity of the election process.

“There should be clear and unequivocal commitment that the country won’t see another 2014 election.  It’s not rhetoric but the actions that count,” said the political scientist.

He thinks there are several elements to earn the trust; these include ensuring a level-playing field for all participants, guaranteeing the removal of all barriers to an inclusive election and undertaking effective steps for the neutrality of the Election Commission.

Prof Riaz said election is neither a matter of a day nor does it only involves logistical arrangements, but rather it is a political process which requires an environment where political parties feel that the result is not a foregone conclusion, voters feel that their votes will be counted, and those who conduct election — the members of the public service and law enforcement agencies — are allowed to act neutrally. However, all these are dependent on the political will of the ruling party.

He said other challenges for the government include improving the law-and-order situation, addressing the price hike of essentials, restoring discipline in the banking sector, reining in the ruling party activists, addressing rampant corruption and stopping extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

Evaluating 2017, Humayun Kabir, also vice president of Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI), said the relations between Bangladesh and India have deepened and expanded as many decisions since 2010 have been taken to a logical conclusion.

“There’ve been many initiatives to make the cooperation in the areas of security and energy deepened,” he said.

Humayun Kabir said both Bangladesh and India need to give more attention to making the relation a balanced one as there has been no positive outcome over Teesta water sharing issue. “We’ve seen India’s priorities have already been addressed.”

He said the Rohingya issue will continue to attract attention in the year 2018 as well and laid emphasis on having a national consensus to successfully address any future challenge.

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