BANGLADESH SURVEY2012 - OUTLOOK 2013
Bangladesh ended 2012 on a somber note as the country prepares to go for a year of uncertainty facing the challenge of elections by the end of 2013. Elections have always been controversial in Bangladesh as in the past two decades of democracy interrupted by two years of a caretaker government in 2007-08 only two parties the current incumbent Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have been in power. These two decades can be seen as of exceptional progress for democracy in a country that was wracked by coups and counter coups in the preceding years.
The two party politics however has also been governed by two ladies who have been at the helm of affairs in the country, Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena and her key opponent Khaleda Zia. Their political feud has extended to the personal field and the two ladies have not met each other for many months despite being the main object of discourse and members of the same parliament. This marks the antipathy of politics in Bangladesh. When interposed by brute majority that the Awami League enjoys in the Jatiya Sansad or the parliament this has potential for bringing in legislation in favour of the party thus forcing opposition to take to the streets. The legislation in this case is abolishment of provision for holding elections under a caretaker government passed by the Awami League in the form of a constitutional amendment. This has led to strong opposition by the BNP with repeated strikes and hartals through 2012. The war crimes trial is another major issue which has resulted in the Jamaat Islami an ally of the BNP rising up in arms with the student cadres accused of violence.
The majority in parliament has however facilitated the Awami League in curbing fundamentalism and expanding diplomacy in particular relations with India. At the same time the economy is doing well despite the global down turn. Law and order on the other hand remains weak but the government has been able to satisfy the military despite the bloody 2009 mutiny of the Bangladesh Rifles, the border security force in which a large number of army officers were killed. The defence budget has been enhanced and army top hierarchy given sops in terms of more star ranks. At a pinch if there is major pre-elections unrest as it happened in 2006, the Awami League has prepared the grounds for the Army to support the government.
The foreign policy front has been one of the most promising as Bangladesh under Sheikh Haseena joined the internationalist rather than the isolationist pan Islamic fronts thus winning the approval of the US and leading to many joint agreements for cooperation with India. Both the foreign majors were happy to see Bangladesh emerging out of the shadows of fundamentalism that were looming large in the times of the BNP and Jamaat coalition for over 10 years followed by a caretaker administration. At the same time many of the agreements signed with India in particular such as Teesta river waters and Land Boundary have been difficult to implement. Border relations between two countries are also very sensitive and some realism is anticipated in the relationship.
In global high politics, Bangladesh is gaining significant importance which is a combination of geography, fostering moderate Islam and economic potential. In 2012, Bangladesh strengthened relationship with almost all the P5 states, United States, China and Russia, while with Britain it has a legacy binding London and Dhaka. In January 2013, Sheikh Haseena became only the second Prime Minister of the country to visit Moscow officially in the 40 years of the country’s existence thus underlying strategic ties her Party has had with Russia/Soviet Union. Bangladesh also participated with the US Navy in a joint exercise, CARAT in 2012. This underlined overall expansion of external relations which has seen Bangladesh now being wooed not just by China but also the United States and with Russia seeking military and nuclear energy ties Dhaka is hoping to emerge as an important state in the South Asia and indeed the larger Asian region. Bangladesh is also aspiring to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which is mainly a grouping of Central Asian states, China and Russia and could well earn observer status. In the larger perspective the country could be seen in the overall geopolitics of US rebalancing to the Asia Pacific, containment of China and Beijing’s counter response by expansion of circle of influence in South Asia. All in all 2013 is likely to be a year of nervous anticipation in Bangladesh. For a comprehensive paper email firstname.lastname@example.org
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