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Fifteen Years to Go

Maneeza Hossain

Bangladesh lives at a higher level of precariousness than most nations: It is faced with the risk of disruption of its political life and its socio-cultural order, but it is also subject to the periodic onslaught of natural disasters, and it runs the risk of being effectively wiped out altogether in the coming century if global warming issues are not addressed.

Still, a positive vision for Bangladesh at its 50th anniversary as an emerging economy and developing society is not only optimistic, but also realistic. Bangladesh has all the ingredients for such a prospect: natural wealth, food sufficiency, energy resources, dynamic society, international presence, vibrant culture, and a high level of political consciousness.

To create a Bangladesh Miracle out of these ingredients is not a far-fetched proposition. With much less — and with much more devastation facing its infrastructure and society —South Korea rose from its ashes to offer its citizens at the turn of the millennium a standard of living competitive with any on a world scale. Bangladesh can do the same, and should be on that path at its 50th anniversary. On this day of remembrance, this should be our national aspiration.

What Bangladesh needs in the meantime, towards this goal, is a new social contract and political compact. In the spirit of engaging in such a needed discussion, the following “imperatives” are suggested for a national discussion and ultimate adoption.

  1. Proclaim the permanence and immutability of governance based on representativeness, transparency and accountability; accountability should be both periodic in the form of elections and continuous in the form of monitoring by civil society. Democracy is indeed a subject of national consensus. While its less than adequate application has led to dissatisfaction, and therefore procedural details should be addressed, the concept itself of a democratic system is too deeply rooted in Bangladeshi tradition to be questioned. At a time where some are projecting their grievances onto the national democratic ethos, this imperative has become a must.
  2. Insist on an environment of responsible freedom, respect for diversity, and reconciliation between authenticity and modernity. There is no contradiction at all between the traditional values of Bangladeshi society, religious, cultural and national, and the vision of Bangladesh as a 21st century economic “tiger.” In particular, Islam, which was at the core of the emergence of Bengali identity, is not an impediment but an asset in Bangladesh’s development and evolution (physical as well as moral) into the universal, global, humanistic civilization.
  3. Practice sound economic and administrative management. Bangladesh’s assets are of no value if not put to use properly, for the benefit of Bangladeshi society in a way that brings to reality their potential. Over the past few decades, Bangladesh was able to eradicate the endemic famine that plagued its history. Bangladesh was able to bring to fruition its agricultural potential. The next steps will be to leverage this agricultural self-sufficiency and the energy resources in the direction of heralding the country across an industrial interim phase towards an information age economy.
  4. Invest in Bangladesh’s major resource: Bangladeshi youth. The next generation of Bangladeshis can and should be on par with any developed society with regard to their education, exposure to global information resources, and competitiveness in the international markets of labour, ideas, and innovation. A massive technical education initiative should be designed and implemented to provide a population that has consistently proven that when offered an opportunity it is able to grab it, grasp it, and build upon it. Success stories of rags to riches of Bangladeshis overseas should translate into one collective success story of a Bangladeshi society provided with the tools to excel in the global market.
  5. Declare Bangladesh’s positive neutrality, regionally and internationally. Bangladesh was created, twice, in a conflict between India and Pakistan. The future of South Asia is by necessity a future of cooperation and integration. While working towards such a vision, all Bangladeshis should adhere to an approach of constructive engaging positive neutrality, in particular between India and Pakistan. Bangladesh should never again be a battlefield for competing Indo-Pakistani interests, nor should it seek to leverage the two regional superpowers for short-sighted internal political interests. Neutrality is not indifference. Bangladesh should, and will assume a constructive mediatory role to diffuse any tension regionally and to support progress and peace internationally.
    • Do not leave anyone behind. While ranking among the poorest of the world’s nations, Bangladesh is a highly stratified society with many margins. The world, and Bangladesh have moved away from populist collectivism that promises without delivery, and fosters an environment of chaos and uncertainty. However, all strata and all communities in Bangladesh need to be offered a stake, a genuine and substantive one, in the fate of the country. The attractiveness of radical ideologies to some segments of our own population is reflective of our failure to offer them a genuine partnership.

These “imperatives” and others that should be a part of the public debate in Bangladesh, if internalized, and appropriated, can cement the vision of a Bangladesh of prosperity, tolerance, and progress at the 50th Anniversary of a Liberation that removed the external injustice. The injustice that we have to deal with in the next decades is internal. We Bangladeshis have the solution and all the ingredients for a prosperous future. The hope is that we will act towards it.

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