Bangladesh: Journey of Fifty Years

A nation that was ravaged with war, natural calamities and underwent phases of political instability has emerged five decades later, as a strong and far more resilient than it was ever imagined during the early decades of 1970s.

by Dr Sreeradha Datta 

16 December 1971 is a historic day for Bangladesh. This day has been celebrated as the Victory Day to mark the defeat of the Pakistani forces and its emergence as an independent Bangladesh. This year is especially significant as it marks the golden jubilee year of that momentous event. The 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh continues to evoke high emotions embedded in the determination and sacrifice by men and women who withstood in the face of huge repression and genocide of humungous proportions perpetrated by West Pakistan on its Eastern wing.

A number of factors ranging from cultural, political and economic caused deep resentment within East Pakistan given the various unfair policies and practices that were followed by West Pakistan. The final straw, however, was the denial of the outcome of the elections of 1970, in which the Awami League (under Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman) won a clear majority in the parliament. Indeed the road towards separation began when the session of the assembly, scheduled to be held on 3 March 1971, was postponed. This created a series of impasses and no substantive political steps were taken to resolve them leading to a sequence of events that would eventually redraw the map of Pakistan for Bangladesh to emerge as an independent nation. Instead, military crackdown began on 25 March 1971 saw a brutal and genocidal military campaign on the Bengali population that left thousands dead and forcing millions to flee the borders into India.

A nation that was ravaged with war, natural calamities and underwent phases of political instability has emerged five decades later, as a strong and far more resilient than it was ever imagined during the early decades of 1970s. Examining it through the lens of economy, its achievements have been tremendous and it has been described as ‘land of impossible attainments.’ While Bangladesh with passage of time has recorded significant improvement in its human development indicators and in some instances scoring better than many of its neighbours, it also received fulsome praise from the World Bank for lifting a substantial population from abject poverty. It has come a long way since the end of the War of Liberation when the nascent state’s institutions were in a disarray, its governance systems strained, and it faced an enormous resource crunch. Significantly, Bangladesh’s transition to a middle-income country is a remarkable turnaround from what was once termed as ‘a basket economy.’

The graduation of Bangladesh into a middle-income country is a story of remarkable economic development success. It has over the years and through successive changes in Government, managed to achieve considerable progress in development as well as social welfare parameters. It has been able to improve itself over many of its neighbours.

The notable resilience of Bangladesh economy as exhibited by key macroeconomic indicators so far lends strong support to the outlook that Bangladesh may be able to achieve the target of GDP growth of 7 percent with estimates of its reaching 310.00 USD billion by the end of 2021. Per capita incomes are reported at $1750, and the population below poverty line has come down from 56% in 1990-91 to 21.8% in 2018. And according to IMF Bangladesh's per capita gross domestic product (GDP) will be $2,138.794 in 2021. The trebling of its per capita income since 2008 has been no mean achievement. The currency is stable and the last ten years saw a spurt in infrastructure development including rapid growth in its energy sector. It stands at a crossroad of transition from an underdeveloped energy and power sector to a more robust and developed one.

Bangladesh’s forward stride seems more remarkable in the face of ravages of climate change and rising sea levels that it has been subjected to periodically. The rapid improvement in the energy and transport sector has led to corresponding growth in its readymade garments sector, improving its share to 11 percent of the GDP - through its earning of over US$ 38 billion in the last year and making it globally the third largest after China and Vietnam.

Much of what Bangladesh has been able to achieve has been in the background of having to confront issue of environmental challenges and climate change including rising sea levels and resultant shrink in habitable areas. 80% of the land in Bangladesh is less than 12 metres above sea level. According to one estimate, at the present level of population growth and global warming, by 2050 Bangladesh ‘will have 300 million people to in live in just about 120,000 square kilometre area’ thereby increasing the country’s population density to 2,500 or more per square kilometre. According to some estimates, riverbank erosion displaces more than 100,000 people annually in Bangladesh. The country periodically faces severe flooding and consequentially the impact of climate change would unleash many challenges in Bangladesh, including, issues of relocation and internal migration, unemployment, poverty and many more negatives emanating from this problem. Given the impending threat, Bangladesh has in place the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP), identifying six pillars and over forty actions. Also, Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund was created to fund the measures to tackle and counter the effects of climate change. These are included in the national, sectoral and local planning processes for achieving comprehensive results.

Bangladesh government is engaged in creating awareness and preparedness among public to reduce their susceptibility to adverse effects of extreme climatic change. The measures adopted include, forecasting and early warning system, land use planning and improved relief and rehabilitation mechanism. In recent times, measures to create green belt along the coast of Bay of Bengal and employing volunteers to offset the impact of natural disasters like cyclone and tidal surge was also taken. Bangladesh government at COP26 presented its ‘Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan,’ in its commitment to ensuring 40% of its energy demand from renewable sources by 2041 -- and to establish a Climate Emergency Pact and National Adaptation Plan.1

The political accomplishments of Bangladesh are significant and substantial too. While it is now recognised as a multiparty democracy, in its early days the nation faced several phases of turbulence. The assassination of Bangabandhu Mujibur Rahman, series of coups and counter coups led to a long spell of authoritarian/military rule. There was also an interregnum period of two years. Except for this phase of nearly two years, periodic elections, transition of power and successful completion of the governments’ term have lent strength to the democratic parliamentary system in Bangladesh.

Its developmental cooperation has expanded with the developed countries including USA, European Union, Japan and Canada to form trade partnership. In solidarity with the Muslim Ummah and economic cooperation within the framework of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Bangladesh has maintained a fraternal relationship with the countries of the Middle East. The foreign policy outreach of Bangladesh has successfully developed and sustained bilateral ties with neighbours and overseas.

Apart from many achievements, Bangladesh can boast of the longest serving women leadership. Sheikh Hasina has enjoyed three terms as Prime Minister, a no small achievement for a Muslim majoritarian nation that was founded under very difficult circumstances but has been able to carve out a place for itself in international community. Bangladesh has moved ahead despite many constraints and managed to deliver to an ever-burgeoning middle-income population, attracting substantial foreign direct investment and foreign remittance. There is much to celebrate - overcoming the initial constraints, economic achievements, improvement in social indicators like mortality rate, life expectancy and immunisation have all been remarkable. The economic progress has led to an emerging middle class. Bangladesh is well poised to use its locational advantage and leverage the regional and sub-regional momentum. However, how it manages some of its core governance issues will be critical for its journey ahead.

Centre Head & Senior Fellow on Neighbourhood Studies at Vivekananda International Foundation

Post a Comment