Connecting Regions of Asia.

Bangladesh Upbeat and A Success Story at 50


Bangladeshis, celebrating the 50th anniversary of their Independence  are pining for happier times  as the Covid 19- ravaged  2020  limps to its end.  But the  sombre national mood has been  leavened by   a quiet  pride,       in that the country  defying all odds, has  economically  out -performed   its  neighbours in S. Asia, including India. After 50 years of freedom , overcoming  myriad political crises and setbacks, Bangladeshis edged ahead of India in terms of their per capita income, a major ‘first’ by any reckoning.
Dhaka-based policymakers as well as common people showed remarkable restraint, even as their media reported the accomplishment.  There was no gloating, nor any  loud  patriotic cheering  among    TV chat show panelists .
 This caused no surprise among analysts : it is not all about  fluctuating GDPs and export  performances.     Bangladeshi researchers have just produced   a new  flood-resistant strain   of rice that can survive underwater  for long spells. 
  Also, to deal with the usual post-monsoon waterlogging  that affects agricultural production over 25% of its landmass, besides causing untold havoc otherwise,  new methods of ‘floating farm’ techniques are being tried out in India’s East.  No wonder  Japan, Thailand and Myanmar keenly track  these  trends , often sharing data with Dhaka,  while carrying out their own research.  The Bangladeshi development  ‘story’ is no longer only about  jute and  the export of low -end garments .  
In the process, Bangladeshis—– where especially the  old folk  idolise the late Indira Gandhi along with founding father Mujibur Rahman—- have  silenced many of their erstwhile  critics( including enemies ! )who opposed their  freedom struggle . The scoffers  included    major world leaders like Henry Kissinger, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto   and even  the otherwise respected late A.B.Vajpayee.  While younger Bangladeshis have little knowledge  of such matters,  surviving  old timers invariably recall  some their caustic comments , which bear repeating on  such a special  occasion :
  History records Kissinger  telling President Nixon gleefully   in 1970 ,   receiving first reports about  the massive  nocturnal crackdown on unarmed people in Dhaka on  March  26 :’Now the fun really begins …’. The  genocide that followed  eventually saw the death of over 3 million mostly innocent civilians ! He  derided  Bangladesh  as the world’s ‘ ‘bottomless  basket’   that no amount of foreign aid could  ever sustain as a country.   Throughout 1970-71, the US  supported Pakistan.   
About the same time, Bhutto once  told newsmen without   apparent  regret during the  Pak army  crackdown,’ Bengalis have disaster written in their stars’. During  a Lok Sabha debate years later, Mr. Vajpayee asserted, ’Bangladesh  cannot  shift the burden of its appalling poverty on to India’,  dealing with the issue of illegal immigration.
Such attitudes  have changed slowly   over the years, although  Pakistan is yet to extend even a routine apology  to Dhaka for the excesses it had committed. Even as Dhaka has resumed diplomatic ties with Pakistan after a long spell  of cold shouldering, Prime  Minister Sheikh Hasina  told the new Pak envoy a few days ago, ’We can neither forgive nor forget  what Pakistan did to our country and its people in the 70s. That  memory will always be with us.’
A section of the  Dhaka  media reported another fact, again  minus any fanfare or gloating :    during the current month, Bangladesh’s foreign exchange reserves rose to a record high of $42.09 billion— not too bad for  a Corona-ravaged year , for   an economy that underwent  a long lockdown and  a worldwide  downturn in trade and business.  During the past year, official sources said, these reserves had risen by over $1 billion . 
Among reasons driving such progress were increasing remittances from abroad,  the stabilization of exports facing a decline during the corona pandemic , a reduction in imports and  foreign loans. Forex reserves during December 2019 were around $32 billion, on average. This year, on several days, these exceeded the $40 billion mark.
This enables Bangladesh  to import $4 billion worth of items for the next 10.5 months !
There was an added sweetener :   Pakistan’s forex reserves in December 2020  mostly hovered around the $20 billion mark.
In other words, fifty years on, the       ‘bottomless basket’  of yore   now has    more than twice the forex reserves, compared to its  former mother country ,so beloved   by major world leaders and powers . 
No wonder,   today’s  younger  Pakistanis participating in serious TV panel discussions    can be seen asking their senior  leaders, former generals , politicians and others, just what had gone wrong  in what was East Pakistan back in the seventies . ‘What was the trouble all about , why did we fight there ?’, are most common queries.  Rewriting   inconvenient history has been an art where the Pakistani ruling establishment  is in a class of its own.    
The answers vary significantly. Most surviving  Pak leaders prefer to remain silent, admitting generally that ‘so many things went wrong.’ The leaders were misguided ,the army and politicos botched up matters, there was much violence….and of course, India conspired with Mujibur and won big.  The West too failed Pakistan in its crisis despite their promises. All this in the briefest replies possible.  
Facts  like the  massacre and the  mass killing   of unarmed civilians and rapes of  countless  women, the great refugee exodus to West Bengal and Tripura…. are a strict no-no even in 2020 ! Pakistanis still remain strongly attached to their’ denial’ mode.   Only a few people criticise Gen Yahya or Bhutto, or the general exploitation   of East Pakistan.
No one ever mentions  in  such discussions  that before 1970, very  few East Bengalis could go abroad because not too many passports  were being issued by their West Pakistan-based rulers. 
Bangladesh  today has 76,00,000 of its citizens working or settled all over the world . 
Only 3% of Bangladeshis were above the official poverty line in 1971 after they won their ‘freedom’, their country a shambles after the massive killing of 3 million people and the scorched earth tactics   adopted by the retreating Pak army, leaving most buildings razed or damaged !
It has been truly a long journey for Bangladesh  during the past 50 years  indeed.  As of now scores of  manufacturing  units based in China are considering a shift to Bangladesh.
 At least 7 South Korean units have already  relocated their units to Chittagong and adjacent areas from  Myanmar, attracted by better working conditions in Bangladesh.  More are on the way. In fact, Viet Nam and Bangladesh are the  preferred destinations for such companies, compared even to India.
Some ‘bottomless basket,’ indeed.

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