Turning a new chapter
Once upon a time, about four decades ago Bangladesh used to be called by some Western analysts and their media a ‘basket case.’ Here was the new South Asian nation, born in what could be called the Ides of March, bathed in blood.
For, its erstwhile parent Pakistan had unleashed its forces with such "animal spirits" that almost a whole generation of intellectuals and professionals like doctors, engineers and others were wiped out.
Neighbouring India was saddled with a few million refugees to look after at a time when food and other material shortages for its own citizens had still not disappeared entirely. But it was also its moment of pride. It helped the new country to liberate itself. Despite the stress of providing habitation to millions of extra people on its soil, it did not fail them.
But let us return to the Bangladesh story. Its GDP in 1972 was five billion dollars at 1970 prices. Over the four decades that has gone up by seven times, with the country attaining close to $ 35 billion in 2014. the last year of computation.
The real story of Bangladesh, however, lies elsewhere: in some of the human development indicators. Life expectancy in Bangladesh is almost 72 years, while for Pakistan is 66 years, and India’s 68 years. The Gini Coefficient, which measures income inequality of a nation, shows Bangladesh better than Pakistan and close to India’s marker.
Clearly, one of the lowest ranking countries of the world has covered much distance and still has a long way to go. What is important is the quality of leadership Bangladesh had, even though it lost almost 20 years to military rulers. Political turbulence has been the leitmotif of the country since its birth, but for the last two decades, from the middle of 1990s till now, politics has come out of the army cantonment and now resides in Parliament.
Awami League, which is the ruling party now, was also the party that gained liberation for the country. Despite that, it had to fight a bruising battle with an after-thought of a political formation, Bangladesh Nationalist Party, that was born from the blood spill of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, whom the people of Bangladesh know as the "Father of the Nation."
Bangladesh happens to have an official religion, Islam – enshrined in the Constitution – but remains secular. This is the contradiction that was evident on Friday, July 1, when six terrorists attacked an eatery in its capital, Dhaka’s upscale Gulshan area. The global media giants of the West called it an attack by the ISIS. The US even offered Bangladesh the good offices of its FBI.
In other words, the global post-9/11 securocracy was up and ready to "wet its beak" in Bangladesh. It appealed to their senses.But the Awami League leadership appears to know better. From the beginning, they had debunked the theory of ISIS spreading its tentacles in the country. The leaders from the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina down marked out that its home-grown terrorists are enough to spread this kind of mayhem.
They have been particularly active since 2013 – since the time the Awami League government had been putting on trial those who had raped and maimed its population during the liberation struggle of 1970-71 on behalf of the Pakistan Army. These collaborators who were the locally bred militia of Pakistan are now being brought to justice as the League seeks to reclaim the glorious history of the nation.
Thus those six, who are the inheritors of the bestiality of the 1970s killers, were actually continuing the battle that Pakistan as an outpost of global terror continues to spread in the Indian sub-continent. Possibly for the first time, Dhaka has named the ISI directly as the main inspiration for the attack.
Now Bangladesh has a quite friendly relation with China, the recent main benefactor of Pakistan. It will be interesting to watch what Beijing does to its western neighbour, who it had adopted during the time its military leadership wanted a hedge against the influence of India. Now is the time when Sino-Bangla relationship can face some real tests.
(The views expressedare strictly personal.)