The Internationale shall unite

Posted in China, foreign policy, India, West Asia by jrahman on July 11, 2012

For those who came in late: Purboposchim at Alal-o-Dulal argued that in the context of Sino-Indian rivalry, Bangladesh should avoid becoming like Afghanistan and be like Switzerland; I said Bangladesh need not be either because it need not be a theatre of Sino-Indian rivalry, rather it should focus its foreign policy on selective issues in the global fora; Purboposchim wrote back with some further thoughts.

Over the fold, the conversation continues.

Let’s begin with where we agree — we don’t want to: be Afghanistan; fight a proxy war in the hills of north east India; and build a port primarily for foreign use.   We also agree that Burma/Myanmar will have a tough job. 

Agreeing with these, let’s move on to the differences, which come in two varieties.

First, there is a basic disagreement about whether Bangladesh will become a theatre of Sino-Indian rivalry.  Purboposchim says yes:

My entire post is built on the not-too-unrealistic speculation that Bangladesh will become an increasing focus of Sino-Indian rivalry, much like everywhere else in this neighbourhood. This will not happen overnight but gradually over the years. In this, we are not on a surfboard, we are at the mercy of the waves.

I am not so sure that this is inevitable.  But let’s say it is.  From there, the ‘connectivity agenda’ doesn’t automatically follow.  It seems to me that a much simpler, feasible, and transparent approach would be to be open to both countries — if we want to build a bridge, we should approach both countries.  If we truly are a focus of their rivalry, they will come to us.  We just have to keep our heads steady, and not fall backwards.

More importantly, if we are a theatre of Sino-Indian rivalry, then how will this work:

I did take a look at the map he posted and I can find a clear line leading through India’s Northeast through to Western China completely avoiding Burmese territory.

The fuss isn’t seen apparently, so Let me break it down.  Bangladesh can be connected with China either through Burma or India.  Burma can service both north east India and western China — so why would they let Bangladesh have a piece of the action?  And India is China’s big rival, so why would India let China access the Bay of Bengal through Chittagong? 

Geography isn’t destiny.  An de facto protectorate of India does not need to be our destiny.  But to convince India to allow a Chittagong-Kunming link through Assam, in the context of a Sino-Indian rivalry, seems a tad unrealistic.  Any world where that happens is not one of Sino-Indian rivalry.  And in that happy world, we don’t need to worry about tricky balancing acts.

The second set of differences is about my contention that we can act globally. 

The minor one first.  I didn’t attribute the ‘open up to middle east’ to Zia.  I attributed the ‘global approach’ to him.  Here is what I said originally:

Bangladesh can, and should, affect the direction of things in many an international forum. These will not be the stuff of grand summits and grander victory parades. But we actually have been doing this on and off for a few decades now. In fact, there is already bipartisanship on the basic idea — Ziaur Rahman started it back in the 1970s, and Sheikh Hasina pursues a variation of it today.

And here is what I said in a post on Zia’s foreign policy:

Finally, as the leader of a small, insignificant state, Zia believed in the importance of a ‘rules-based’ global order. He believed that without global rules, Bangladesh would forever remain at mercy of stronger countries. Accordingly, during his presidency, Bangladesh participated actively in the global arena. The two year stint in the Security Council — see the clip, or the shuttle diplomacy between Baghdad and Tehran, are the relatively well known example of this. But a number of competent bureaucrats — many of whom did not share his domestic politics, and had eventually came to be associated with Awami League (including two finance ministers under Hasina Wajed) — pushed Bangladesh’s agenda in fora such as the ILO, UNCTAD, WHO or FAO.

As I said, not the stuff of grand summits and grander victory parades.  But not much of statecraft is.  There is a lot more to foreign policy than grand strategies.  A set of well trained and committed bureaucrats can achieve a lot for Bangladesh.  Let me elaborate on the two issues that Purboposchim objected to.

On climate change, the North-South conflict is essentially this: North has polluted in the past, which will cause serious damage even if all emmissions stop from today, so North should pay; but emmission won’t stop, in fact, they will rise because South is industrialising, so South should pay.  The solution will not likely to be a grand bargain like those achieved at the Yalta Summit of 1945 or the Congress of Vienna of 1815.  More likely, there will be a lot of ad hoc, incremental adjustments of this protocol and that convention or the other general agreement.  And as a large, industrialising victim of climate change, Bangladesh can play a major role in the meetings of international bureaucrats — provided we send trained, dedicated men and women to these posts. 

And as for being a role model to the emerging Arab democracies — I don’t think we have ever even tried.  In fact, other than this humble blog, I am not aware of any Bangladeshi writer, blogger, talk show pundit, academic, think tank wallah, advisor to current and past prime ministers, or even the local autorickshawallah even suggest that Bangladesh can offer some lesson to anyone on the democratic experiment.  I have, of course, heard many people talk about what the Tahrir Square, or Occupy movement, or Thailand, or Pakistan, or Iceland (okay, maybe not Iceland) mean for Bangladesh.  Incidentally, Indian pundits like Ramachandra Guha or Amartya Sen have written about Bangladesh’s success in democratic experiment, or its development experience. 

Of course our Arab cousins, or Indian ones for that matter, won’t take us seriously unless we believe we have something to offer.  So let me end by agreeing with Purboposchim:

So yes, let’s be Bangladesh by all means. But lets start reimagining what that actually means.

6 Responses

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  1. Diganta said, on July 12, 2012 at 1:03 am

    Somehow his point of view looks too shallow but its good that he is open to comments and criticism.

    • purboposhchim said, on July 13, 2012 at 4:03 am

      Thank you? 🙂

  2. fugstar said, on July 12, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    Bangladesh can offer Egypt a case study of Developmentia, the fruits of secular liberal vs islamist angst and democratic punctuation..

    When Dr yunus won the nobel prize, an Ikhwan-orientated public preacher type called Amr Khaled when crazy pro for microfinance. Bit sad that.

    Egypt also face similar numbers of citizens displaced by sea level rise and socially sustaining delta engineering could be a joint interest in the future.

    I was reading Saba Mahmoods recent work on the Minority question in Nationalism with ref to Egypt wrt the Copts. They saw the Indians opt for seperate electorates under british occupation and took a different route. Their nation-making events were not sectarian and the Copts have generally resisted cooption from western chrisianity (unlike mennonites of lebanon).

    notices that even mahfuz anam’s daily star was backing Morsi’s recent moves to recall parliament.

    theres a lot of value in cross talk.

  3. purboposhchim said, on July 13, 2012 at 4:04 am

    Chalay jabo? Na ki shobhyo desher oishob Review of Books style magazine gulir moto ei porjaye khel khotom korey dibo?

  4. jrahman said, on July 16, 2012 at 8:28 am

    Fug, thanks for the link to Saba Mahmood’s work. Yes, there is a lot of value in cross talk. If my secular-progressive friends in Bangladesh actually talked with Islam-pasand folks of post-1971 generations, a lot innovative ideas could be generated.

    PP, thorse reviews have editors. I don’t. Do you? 🙂

    • purboposhchim said, on July 23, 2012 at 12:11 am

      My inner editor quit a while back.

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