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Foreign Policy


Foreign Policy is usually viewed as an extension of domestic policy. Foreign policy refers to the policy of a sovereign state to achieve its desired goals to the foreign countries. The foreign policy of Bangladesh, like that of any other state is also primarily a projection of the country's socio-economic and political compulsions in international politics.

The emergence of Bangladesh as an independent state in 1971 in South Asia appears to be a unique phenomenon in international affairs. Bangladesh's options in foreign policy appear to be limited because of its geographical location, small size of the territory and limited economic resources. It is apparent that the conduct of foreign policy of Bangladesh appears to be a delicate balancing act between preservation of sovereignty and pressures from external powers.

Constitutional provisions on foreign policy The foreign policy of Bangladesh emanates from a number of provisions of the Bangladesh Constitution. These provisions are stated in Article 25 of the Constitution. These are as follows:

The State shall base its international relations on the principles of respect for national sovereignty and equality, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, peaceful settlement of international dispute, and respect for international law and the principles enunciated in the United Nations Charter, and on the basis of those principles shall

Strive for the renunciation of the use of force in international relations and for general and complete disarmament;

Uphold the right of every people freely to determine and build up its own social economic and political system by ways and means of its own free choice; and

Support oppressed peoples throughout the world waging a just struggle against imperialism colonialism or racialism.

The State shall endeavor to consolidate, preserve and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic solidarity.

The policy on declaration of war was mentioned in Article 63 of the Constitution which states that war shall not be declared, and the Republic shall not participate in any war except with the assent of the Jatiya Sangsad. Article 145(a) on foreign treaty states: 'All treaties with foreign countries shall be submitted to the President who shall cause them to be laid before Parliament, provided that any such treaty connected with national security shall be laid in a secret session of Parliament'.

Principles of Bangladesh foreign policy There are some principles maintained under the foreign policy of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a member of various international key organisations such as the UN, the NAM etc. So the principles of Bangladesh foreign policy can't be controversial with the principles of these organisations. There are four basic principles of Bangladesh foreign policy. They are given below:

Friendship to all and malice towards none: Bangladesh being a poor country is dependent on the foreign aid which is provided by the states with various ideologies. That is why the Father of the nation Bangabandhu sheikh mujibur rahman said: 'We are a small country, we want friendship to all and malice towards none.'

Respect to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of other states: Bangladesh is a member of United Nations. The UN charter mentioned in article 2(4) that 'All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations'.

Non-intervention in the domestic matter of any state: Article 2(7) of the UN Charter mentioned that, 'Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Charter VII. As a member of United Nations, Bangladesh included this policy in to her principle of foreign policy which gives assurances to others about Bangladesh's friendly respectful character.

World Peace: Bangladesh wants peace in international arena, and it formulated world peace as one of the basic principles of her foreign policy as it is also related to her national security and development. There are various significance of this principles such as Bangladesh believes in peaceful cooperation, peaceful settlement of conflicts and peaceful changes in international arena.

Determinants of Bangladesh's foreign policy Bangladesh's foreign policy is determined by certain basic factors which have impact on foreign policy formulation. Geography has put Bangladesh as a neighbour of India and Myanmar in three sides except the south with the Bay of Bengal. India has surrounded Bangladesh from three sides and the position of Bangladesh is like a flannel from the Bay of Bengal. Moreover, Bangladesh is sandwiched between two rising Asia's giants, India and China. It is a challenge for Bangladesh as to how to maintain a delicate balance of relations between China and India. Bangladesh has a huge population of nearly 150 million squeezed into a territory of 147,570 square kilometers which gives the population density of 1020 persons per square kilometer. Foreign policy of Bangladesh is largely affected by this population negatively because government can't create a highly dynamic foreign policy because of population. Preservation of sovereignty and territorial integrity, economic security, energy security, environmental preservation and internal peace and cohesion are the important elements of national interest. Bangladesh has a vital stake that neghbouring countries remain peaceful, stable and friendly or at least not unfriendly towards Bangladesh. Bangladesh's security primarily derives from its relationship with countries within South Asian region. Economic security is another priority and includes some minimal expected level of economic welfare for the population in the country. To advance economic development, growth of export, flow of foreign investment, increase of official development assistance (foreign aid), access to the external market for Bangladeshi goods, transfer of technology from industrialized countries and human resources development and some of the priorities are to be addressed. This implies that Bangladesh has to develop close relations with western countries for their assistance and support. Bangladesh being independent with the help of India, one ally of USSR during the cold war period followed the socialism as one of the foreign policy criteria. After the emergence as a new country in 1971, the government of Bangladesh demonstrated the left-leaning economic policy by nationalising all the industries in 1972. The concept of socialism was enshrined in the Constitution of Bangladesh in 1972. Bangladesh's foreign policy is defensive because of the lower capability of being non-nuclear state and also for being dominated by the powerful neighbour states such as India and Pakistan. Historically we are allied with India from the time of independence who was the ally of the then USSR. That's why Bangladesh foreign policy was pro-Indian and pro-USSR. With the change of time policy of Bangladesh was aligned to the USA and the Muslim world because of Bangladesh's national interest, but still Bangladesh's pro-Indian policy exists because of national history. At the beginning, Bangladesh was a secular state and still it is, but in the 1980s the status was changed to be a Muslim state by the amendment of the Constitution because of the will to be favoured by the Muslim world. And by another amendment it was abolished. The majority of the population is Muslims. They are sentimentally tied with Islamic Umma (brotherhood) and wish to maintain special relations with Islamic countries. So religious identity of the population played a very important role in the formulation of Bangladesh's foreign policy. By culture Bangladesh is very peaceful, and Bangladesh foreign policy is all through effected by this. As a result Bangladesh foreign policy is always peaceful rather than being offensive.

Evolution of Bangladesh's foreign policy The conduct of foreign policy of Bangladesh did not begin with a clean state after the emergence of a sovereign nation on 16 December 1971. The Mujibnagar Government had inter-actions with foreign powers to support its struggle in achieving the birth of Bangladesh as an independent nation. This phase of foreign policy continued from 26 March to 16 December 1971, and its impact on the conduct of foreign policy after the emergence of a new sovereign country on 16 December 1971 could not be shaken off easily. When Bangladesh was fighting its liberation war, a global transformation of power was going on with the formation of the Indo-Soviet axis vis-a-vis Sino-American rapprochement which not only had a bearing on the emergence of Bangladesh but also had an impact on the foreign policy of the country that was emerging. The priority of Bangladesh foreign policy at the outset was to get recognition from the outside world as an independent state as it was essential to obtain foreign loan and assistance for economic reconstruction. After the birth of Bangladesh, recognition came quickly from the Soviet bloc communist countries. But the western countries were slow in recognising Bangladesh compared to the East European communist countries. Among the Western countries, Australia and New Zealand were the first to accord recognition to Bangladesh. The Islamic world and African countries took their own time to recognise Bangladesh. The only neutral country which accorded recognition during this early period was Burma. In three and a half years' time following the country's liberation no countries except Saudi Arabia, Libya and China considered the reality of Bangladesh as unacceptable.

Immediately after the emergence of Bangladesh, the government demonstrated the left-leaning economic policy by nationalising all the industries in 1972. The concept of socialism was enshrined in the Constitution of Bangladesh in 1972. The first Prime Minister of Bangladesh tajuddin ahmed, refused to accept aid from any country which opposed our liberation struggle. With the return of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from the prison of Pakistan, he assumed the reins of government in independent Bangladesh. He set the tone for it by declaring that 'I would like it (Bangladesh) to become the Switzerland of the East'. The main principle of the foreign policy of Bangladesh was enunciated in lucid terms by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman when he declared: 'We are a small country, we want friendship with all and malice towards none' and his Foreign Minister eloquently expressed the tenets of foreign policy when he declared at the UN General Assembly on 17 September 1974:' 'Bangladesh has consistently pursued an independent non-aligned foreign policy promoting friendship with all countries of the world on the basis of mutual respect for sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of other' states'.

In the first decade of Bangladesh's independence in the years led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh pursued and won recognition from all the countries of the world as an independent and sovereign country. Simultaneously, it also became a member of the United Nations and all other major world organisations such as the Commonwealth, the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), and the Non-Aligned Movement. It also became the natural leader of the group of Least Developed countries. Bangladesh's foreign policy triumphs were also visible in the way the developed countries came to its aid with economic assistance. USA that had viewed Bangladesh's emergence with contempt came around to meet Bangladesh's economic needs together with Japan, the United Kingdom and a number of other developed nations known at that period as Bangladesh Aid Consortium that used to meet those days under the joint chairmanship of the World Bank and the Government of Bangladesh. After the rule of Awami League, General ziaur rahman came to the power. He continued with the policy of his predecessor, but also brought some diversification to it by fostering more cordial relations with the U.S and bringing Bangladesh closer to Muslim countries. It casts its preference for China and in the context of China-US rapprochement, Bangladesh chose the China-US axis as its new friends. Bangladesh and China came very close in strategic cooperation, with China undertaking to build the Bangladesh armed forces. China, that offered economic assistance of various types that were those days extremely attractive for Bangladesh, became the major driving factor in Bangladesh's foreign policy pre-occupations.

President Ziaur Rahman was interested for a role for Bangladesh in world and regional politics. He conceptualized a regional organisation for South Asia that ultimately became a reality with the birth of SAARC in 1985. It was due to the foreign policy initiatives of President Zia's government that Bangladesh won a seat in the UN Security Council for the 1979-80 term, defeating handsomely a country of the stature of Japan.'

However, although the theoretical aspects of the foreign policies of the Mujib and the Zia governments were identical, there were differences in their ideological inclinations and in selecting their priorities. The Zia government did not abandon the policies of 'opposition to imperialism, colonialism, and racialism' which were put in the Constitution by the Mujib government as part of the country's foreign policy, but nevertheless adopted a policy of establishing relations with the Muslim countries on the basis of Islamic solidarity through appending a new article (Article 25(2)) to the Constitution. The Zia government repealed Article 12 of the Constitution which upheld secularism, and added instead 'Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim' to the preamble of the Constitution.

Next, the Ershad government declared Islam to be the 'State religion' through the eighth amendment in the Constitution. Apart from the objective of enhancing the acceptability of the government to the majority of people, the intention was predominantly to attract the Muslim countries especially the Arab states. However, as regards relations with the neighbouring India, the plan of regional cooperation followed under the South Asian cooperation initiative taken towards the end of the BNP regime, reduced the tension between India and Bangladesh, and the situation remained unchanged during the time of the government of jatiya party. Another significant contribution of the Ershad era to Bangladesh's foreign policy was that in the late 1980s Bangladesh started contributing troops to UN Peacekeeping missions.

After the fall of Ershad regime, The Government of begum khaleda zia adopted as its foreign policy priorities those were adopted by General Ziaur Rahman. This government based its foreign policy on close strategic relations with China and the West and also perceived the importance of geo-economics in the post-cold war era. In the wave of liberalisation, globalisation and privatisation Bangladesh also moved towards enhancing trade and investment for the economic development of the country.

When the awami league came to power in 1996, there were a few marked changes in the foreign policy priorities. This regime came up with Economic Diplomacy. During Awami Laegue tenure from 1996-2001, Bangladesh maintained close relationship with neighbours specially India, emphasized of forming regional pacts and active participation in regional forum like BIMSTEC, D-8. At that time Bangladesh also achieved a major success in foreign affairs when it got elected to a term in the UN Security Council.

Khaleda Zia came to power for the second time in 2001. This tenure Bangladesh took 'look East' policy, maintained and reconstructed relationship with China, Myanmar and Bangkok. This government also maintained good relationship with the Muslim world.

After the return of Awami League government in January 2009, Prime Minister sheikh hasina made it clear that foreign policy of Bangladesh has made a major shift. After over 3 and a half decade of pursuing mutually unfriendly relations with India, Bangladesh has assured the latter of total commitment for that country's security concerns. Present government has also signed an agreement with Russia for the construction of a nuclear power plant in recent years.

The future of Bangladesh's foreign policy lies therefore in building on our unique advantages in a time of great change and uncertainty. So far, we have managed our foreign relations especially with our neighbours in our vicinity and in the world at large. The foreign policy clich' 'friendship with all and malice towards none' was current way back in the 1970s, almost 40 years ago. With every passing day, Bangladesh is losing opportunities which are emerging due to changing global realities. So we need to rethink our foreign policy priorities, enumerate our advantages and design a strategy to achieve specific goals. [Urmee Hossain]