Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Barring the bloody Jul 1 episode at an upscale eatery, and the subsequent assault on the terror dens which led to the deaths of many key suspects, Bangladesh has had a quiet year. The events slowed the pace of ‘progress’, hurting tourism and a certain class of restaurants for a time and shifting venues of important business meetings to nearby regional cities. But one has to admire the resilience of a nation that bounced back quite spectacularly, and much sooner than anticipated.
As Bangladesh met these dangers with some ruthlessness, the growth machine picked up pace again, fuelled by an infrastructure boom unprecedented in the country’s 45-year history, having finally surpassed the seven percent barrier that had exceeded its grasp for so long. It is a first for a country whose quality of democracy often comes under scrutiny by the ‘international community’ as well as ‘their cronies’ in the local civil society.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh has a new front to take care of – a deeper-rooted radicalisation, an area left unattended for long. A leading mass-education activist, however, calls it obscurantism, a view many would accept. The war on radicalisation suffered a major beating with the ultra-right Hifazat-e-Islam welcoming the changes in school text books – signaling, quite ominously, the left-of-centre government’s veering to the far right on certain issues.
A number of high profile visits, most notably of President Xi Jinping of China in October, helped erase much of the scar left by the café carnage as well as the murders of foreign nationals, priests and liberals in the preceding months.
The prime minister led the counter-assault on all fronts, as she always does, with a number of international events giving her the spotlight – the most significant being the G-7 Summit in Japan, where she hobnobbed with the high and mighty from around the globe.
International accolades notwithstanding, she continues to face questions about her style of governance – and the declining quality of people tasked with helping her govern. For a second year, our bid to get her answers to our many questions proved futile. Of course, she doesn’t shy away from media events where she speaks eloquently and takes questions, but our planned interview would have been different from those televised interactions in which her party officials outnumber the mostly loyal-journalists.
However, a senior opposition figure, a member of the BNP’s policymaking standing committee, was quick to use the opportunity to register his party’s points.
We, instead, asked the foreign minister to give an account of all that happened – tens of billions of dollars in promised foreign investments or loans, international support for the anti-terror fight and that old, nagging, insoluble issue of the Rohingyas – something AH Mahmood Ali had dealt with as a senior civil servant way back in 1991-92.
A former central bank governor, Mohammed Farashuddin, sees all the hope for the economy while a former top diplomat, Farooq Sobhan, takes a look at how Bangladesh handles the uncomfortable act of balancing between India and China.
Cricket, as usual, continued to be the source of some joy for a nation so often seized by uncertainty and doubt.
We could have done better, but it is difficult to match the glittering array of New York Times Syndicate contributors – from Kofi Annan to Francis Fukuyama, from Edward Snowden to Gary Kasparov.