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Sheikh Hasina, seated next to President Obama, attended the G-7 Outreach Summit in Japan.

© PMO

The foreign policy of Bangladesh is based on the famous dictum of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: “friendship to all, malice towards none”. The Constitution of 1972, presented to the nation under Bangabandhu’s leadership, also declared under its Article 25:

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 disputes, and respect for international law and the principles enunciated in the United Nations Charter, and on the basis of those principles shall –

(a) strive for the renunciation of the use of force in international relations and for general and complete disarmament;

(b) 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

(c) support oppressed peoples throughout the world waging a just struggle against imperialism, colonialism or racialism.

Bangladesh has stretched its sphere of friendship beyond its region in recent years under the leadership of Bangabandhu’s daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The idea was to create an enabling environment that would facilitate the full realisation of the country’s potential through the development and wellbeing of its people. In doing so, Bangladesh has pursued a value-based foreign policy that has brought its usual partners closer and created new areas of partnership through mutual understanding, cooperation and shared benefits. In the international fora it has played a very engaging, responsible and constructive role, while protecting its own legitimate rights and national interest.

In 2016, the world underwent major transformation. Across the globe, terror attacks caused by radicalised groups and the surge of refugees and migrants due to protracted conflicts and fresh outbreaks of war have posed tremendous challenges to peace efforts. In the face of such complex challenges, positive developments like the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals – Agenda 2030 – and the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change brought relief and created hope.

Terrorism and violent extremism shook the established political order. Many countries, including Bangladesh, experienced the horrors caused by extremist groups like Daesh or other homegrown terrorists and violent extremist groups. Though the toll of violent extremism was brutal in 2016, it was not unpredictable. During the 70th UNGA, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in her general debate intervention, alerted the international community and identified terrorism and violent extremism as one of the two major global challenges. Having experienced sporadic militant attacks by violent extremists, Bangladesh was already prepared. Bangladesh joined the Global Community Resilience Fund (GCERF) as a pilot country to prevent violent extremism.

While it had been a long-pursued policy of the government of Sheikh Hasina to show ‘zero tolerance’ for terrorism and militancy, the tragedy of the Jul 1 Gulshan attack still took place. The incident shook us, but only momentarily. We bounced back with a reinforced resolve to root out militancy from the country. Alongside the enhanced security measures and successful raids on militant hideouts, the government took long-term steps to build awareness among the people. The government is working closely with civil society, religious leaders, and the private sector to advocate steps against violent extremists. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has called on parents to guide their children against extremism. Both the media and the mosques have become important partners in these awareness campaigns. An anti-extremist social movement has already been sparked in the country, bringing together people from all sectors. Bangladesh has also partnered with the United Nations for the implementation of the UN Secretary General’s Plan of Action on Violent Extremism. A comprehensive effort is underway to develop a counter to the menace of violent extremism.

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Dhaka. © PID

In its resolve to contribute to international peace and security, Bangladesh continued to support complete and total disarmament. At the UN and other international fora, Bangladesh recognised – and recognises – the need for further legal measures to attain a world without nuclear weapons. While sticking to its longstanding position for disarmament, Bangladesh has also entered into partnerships with Russia, India and Japan for peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Bangladesh has also joined others in voicing concern over the resurgence of the use, or the threat of use, of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) involving chemical, biological and radioactive materials. Bangladesh was elected a member of the Executive Council of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for the 2016-18 term. On the domestic front, Bangladesh has initiated work on developing national legislation for disarmament treaties (for example the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention). Last year, we also hosted the Asian Chemical Congress in Dhaka in an effort to ensure the peaceful use of chemical materials.

Bangladesh’s peace-centric foreign policy has prompted it to emerge as a leader in UN Peacekeeping operations. In 2016, Bangladesh took part in the ministerial meeting on Peacekeeping in Paris in October, the United Nations Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial in London in September and joined the UN Security Council’s High-Level Open Debate on Protecting Civilians in the Context of Peacekeeping Operations at the UN Headquarters in New York in June, to underscore the need for necessary capabilities, including intelligence and technology, to serve our troops’ vital interests and enhance their capacity to maintain peace, protect civilians and ensure their own safety and security. In view of Bangladesh’s growing engagement in post-conflict peace building, we established a Peace Building Centre in Dhaka in March 2016. The centre will provide training aimed at developing specialised capacity for a range of peace building activities, including electoral management, administrative, judicial and security sector reform, human rights promotion and protection, disaster management, women’s empowerment and socioeconomic development.

Bangladesh was acclaimed as a role model of development after achieving almost all the Millennium Development Goals. The country continued to remain committed to world peace and development, and had already taken extensive measures to align its national development strategy (the 7th Five Year Plan) with Agenda 2030, even before it was adopted at the UNGA later in the year. Bangladesh’s contribution to human development was further pronounced when the UN secretary general nominated Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as one of the Experts on his High Level Panel on Water that would work to implement water-related Goal 6 of Agenda 2030. She attended the Budapest Water Summit in Hungary in November 2016. On the sidelines of the 71st UN General Assembly in New York, Bangladesh took over the chairmanship of Delta Commission. It also signed the Paris Climate Deal and participated at the Marrakech COP-22 in Morocco.

Bangladesh, committed to promoting human rights and humanitarian law, has also been active in global discourses on the large movement of migrants and refugees. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina attended the UN Summit on Migrants and Refugees on Sept 19, 2016 and reiterated Bangladesh’s call for cooperation to address largescale migration in a more humane and coordinated manner. Bangladesh has consistently advocated a focus on the drivers of migration and the root causes of irregular migration, forced displacement and other forms of risky migration. As a labour surplus country, Bangladesh promotes safe, orderly and regular migration and maintains a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards irregular migration, particularly human trafficking and people smuggling. Accordingly, it envisioned and proposed in the UN a global compact to facilitate safe, regular and orderly migration which would allow UN member states to express a common resolve to improve the situation of migrants. The Global Compact for Migration – which the UN member states will negotiate in 2017 and 2018 – will bring the existing instruments on migration together in a common framework. Bangladesh has hosted the 9th Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) in Dhaka, where close to a thousand delegates from all around the world participated and discussed the economic, sociological and governance aspects of migration.

Bangladesh was acclaimed as a role model
of development after achieving almost all the
Millennium Development Goals and remained
committed to world peace and development

In addition to proactive diplomacy in the field of migration and development, Bangladesh has concentrated on the protection of migrant workers. It ratified the UN Convention on Protection of Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families in 2011 and submitted its initial report in 2015.

Bangladesh has continued its signature national endeavour of women’s empowerment and the development and utilisation of women as agents of peace. In recognition of her admirable leadership in women empowerment, the prime minister received the ‘Planet 50-50 Champion’ from the UN-Women during the 71st UNGA. She received the ‘Agent of Change’ recognition from the Global Partnership Forum. She was also invited by the director general of UNESCO to attend the Global Women Leaders’ Forum in Sofia, Bulgaria in May 2016 as a keynote speaker and guest of honour. In her statement, the prime minister highlighted Bangladesh’s achievements in empowering women in every aspect of society and called upon the world community to work in unison for inclusion of all women in the process of attaining Sustainable Development Goals.

League of diplomats: Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali is in the company of his French (right) and German counterparts.© bdnews24.com

Bangladesh’s proactive and engaging role on international issues has also earned a number of recognitions. Saima Wazed Putul has been elected chairperson of the International Jury Board of UNESCO (for Emir Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah Prize) for two years at an election held in the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on Nov 9, 2016. In 2016 Bangladesh has also made a milestone achievement in its cultural diplomacy. The ‘Mangal Shobhajatra’, the Bangla New Year procession was recognised as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) on Nov 30, 2016 at the organisation’s 11th session of the Inter-governmental Committee on Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage held in Addis Ababa.

Bangladesh’s foreign policy achievements in the bilateral sphere surpassed those of earlier years. With the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Dhaka from Oct 13-14 2016, the two countries elevated the ‘Closer Comprehensive Partnership of Cooperation’ to ‘Strategic Partnership of Cooperation’.

Twenty-seven instruments (agreements/MOUs) were signed in such areas as: cooperation in the Belt and Road Initiative, industrial capacity building, power and energy, information and communication technology, investment, maritime cooperation, disaster management and cultural and people-to-people contacts. Plaques of six major joint projects were unveiled i.e., multi-lane tunnel under the river Karnaphuli, Shahjalal Fertilizer Factory, Tier IVData Centre, two 1320 MW power plants at Payra and Banshkhali and the Confucius Centre at Dhaka University. The visit also boosted the private sector with Chinese commitment of investments. During a an Investors’ Forum organised jointly by the FBCCI and its Chinese counterpart in Dhaka on Oct 14, 2016, deals worth $13.6 billion in power, energy, transport and infrastructure sectors were concluded between the Chinese and Bangladeshi businesses.

Bangladesh also ventured beyond its usual sphere and forged political partnerships with European Union and EU countries in 2016. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina undertook bilateral visits to Hungary and Saudi Arabia. This writer made the first ever visit by a Bangladesh foreign minister to Nordic countries, including Iceland, in September 2016 and also undertook bilateral visits to Germany, Austria, France, Canada, Bhutan and Saudi Arabia. Our cooperation with these countries touched on areas like climate change, migration and development, governance and economic cooperation in various fields.

In today’s world, peace is no longer just the absence of war. It must be attained by changing the lives of people in an inclusive and sustainable manner. Bangladesh has had remarkable success in achieving MDGs by translating economic progress into human development. We are marching forward under the ‘Vision 2021’ plan, as enunciated by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, to attain the status of a middle income ‘Digital Bangladesh’ and also to build a developed, modern and knowledge-based country by 2041 through giving utmost importance to development, peace and security.

Bangladesh will continue to pursue such peace-centric developments both at home and abroad. Our signature resolution in the United Nations General Assembly on ‘Culture of Peace and Non-violence’ will remain the guiding beacon in our forward journey.

Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, MP
is Foreign Minister of Bangladesh