As the New Year has dawned, Bangladesh government hasn't only celebrated it, it is all set to mark the second year in power into its consecutive second term. A flashback into the preceding years finds the facts that the government has made remarkable achievements. Apart from keeping its key election pledges for the trial of war criminals, keeping the pace of economic growth and bringing the political stability to the country, the government has drawn international attention for pursuing its proactive and self-respected foreign policy which leads to some historical achievements and successes. Today, Bangladesh moves the world stage and the name of Bangladesh conjures up an image of a dignified nation anywhere from the West to the Middle East.
Bangladesh's foreign policy doctrine is seen truly upholding the country's interests. What is most conspicuous is that it is based on a 'give-and-take' approach and not necessarily subservient or tilted to "someone" as it is alleged. It has been possible due to strong and bold leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that steers the country to a position where Bangladesh does not need to give in to 'unjustified' pressures mounted by the world powers. It is evident in many cases. For instance, Dhaka was unmoved by the unjust claims of corruption by the World Bank in the Padma Bridge project which later on got off with the country's own resources following the withdrawal of pledged assistance from the World Bank and other donors. The government is also seen brilliantly tackling unwanted outsiders' meddling, on many occasions, and gives 'them' strong messages not to put their noses into Bangladesh's internal affairs.
Despite its non-aligned foreign policy, there is a blame laid at the Bangladesh government that its foreign policy is India-centric. This is quite absurd and is only focused by some people who nurse grudges against the Sheikh Hasina government for the sake of politics. Bangladesh maintains deepening relationships with India, with her it has over 4,000-km-long borders, the fifth longest in the world and there is a very common linguistic and cultural link between Bangladesh and the India's West Bengal.
Bangladesh is greatly benefiting from its amicable ties with its largest neighbour and sometimes it gains more than what its counterpart gets. For example, the recently implemented Land Border Agreement (LBA) gave Bangladesh more lands than India received. Bangladesh was able to add 111 Indian enclaves covering 17,160 acres to its mainland while India remained satisfied with 51 Bangladeshi enclaves with a combined area of 7,110 acres losing around 40 sq km (over 10,000 acres) to Bangladesh. Most importantly, the historic LBA deal put an end to world's one of the most complex border disputes and brought long-awaited freedom to over 52,000 people, residing in the small pockets of lands on both sides.
There was also another great success in Bangladesh's foreign policy when it diplomatically resolved the longstanding maritime boundary dispute with India in 2013 by gaining control of over 19,467sq km of the 25,602 sq km sea area in the Bay of Bengal. Dhaka went to the United Nations' Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague, ahead of India and even without any discussion with it, and earned the country the great victory that enables Dhaka to conduct exploration works for the huge possible reserves of offshore oil and gas and other marine resources.
Solution to the Indo-Bangla maritime dispute was preceded by another historic victory when Bangladesh settled the similar maritime dispute with Myanmar in 2012. International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea awarded Bangladesh with 111,000 square kilometres of exclusive economic zone waters in the Bay of Bengal, almost the same size of Bangladesh, which included all resources currently available for exploitation and all resources that may be discovered in the future. The tribunal also gave Bangladesh a 12-mile territorial sea around St Martin's Island, overruling Myanmar's argument that it should be divided in half. The biggest advantage for Bangladesh that is likely to stem from this judgment is that it will now be able to utilize the area that had been in dispute for the last 38 years.
Bangladesh has also clinched several other important economic benefits from this verdict. The government can now start drilling for oil and gas 200 nautical miles out to sea. The discovery of new oil and gas may help the country meet its domestic power demands, and the government could also generate capital by allocating blocks to international companies for further exploration. Bangladesh will now be able to access different types of fish and mineral resources, which should help strengthen its economy. The government is also expected to find various types of minerals, including cobalt, manganese, copper, nickel and sulphite.
Bangladesh's most recent achievement in the international arena was the winning of the UN Champions of the Earth award by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in recognition of her 'leadership and vision' in both making climate change an issue of national priority and advocating for a global response. "Sheikh Hasina has proven that investing in climate change is conducive to achieving social and economic development," said the announcement issued by the UN Environment Program (UNEP), which conferred the award.
Another wise decision in recent times was its participation in the Saudi-led military alliance to combat terrorism which is thought to be benefitting an estimated 1.5 million non-resident Bangladeshis (NRBs) living in the Kingdom and helping ease the prejudice Saudis have long been harbouring against Bangladeshis. It will also open up new avenues for the deployment of more Bangladeshi workers not only in Saudi Arabia, but also in other Gulf countries which are the members of the military alliance and share common views and interests on regional and international issues.
With these successes in foreign policy, Bangladesh should not rest on its laurels. It has still long way to go to resolve some of the key issues including Teesta water sharing, border killings by the India's Border Security Force (BSF) and restoration of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade benefits for the easy access of Bangladesh ready-made garments into the US market. It is hoped that under the strong and far-sighted committed leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh will move forward and will, in near future, be able to carve out a role for itself as a global player.
Shamsul Huda is senior Bangladeshi journalist based in Saudi Arabia