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#4702, 20 October 2014

Dhaka Discourse

Bangladesh: Diplomatic Manoeuvres at the UNGA
Delwar Hossain
Professor, Department of International Relations, Dhaka University

The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina led a 184-member delegation to the 69th UN General Assembly (UNGA) meeting. Significantly, this year has marked the 40th anniversary of Bangladesh’s membership at the UN. Bangladesh was admitted into the UN in its second attempt on 17 September 1974 as its 136th member. Dhaka’s UN membership practically silenced all opponents of the country that was born in 1971 against the backdrop of the Cold War. It was a turning point for the statehood of Bangladesh in the global arena. So the UNGA always bears a special significance for Bangladeshi foreign policy.

Apart from partaking in the UNGA and the Climate Summit at the UN, Hasina participated in a number of other meetings and events – including ones with heads of governments and states of various UN member states and chiefs of various international organisations on the side-lines. Among those she met were UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, US President Barack Obama, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Belarusian Prime Minister Mikhail V. Myasnikovich and Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala. Additionally, Hasina also joined a discussion of the Commonwealth Heads of Government and attended a high-level summit on ‘UN Peacekeeping’ at the UN headquarters. Furthermore, met US business leaders and finally, attended a reception accorded by expatriate Bangladeshis in the country.

Hasina also discussed bilateral issues during the meeting with her Norwegian counterpart and sought the latter’s investment in the booming ICT sector in Bangladesh. Bilateral issues were also discussed with her Nepalese counterpart to promote Bangladesh-Nepal relations. During the meeting with US investors, Hasina urged them to take advantage of the liberal investment policy in Bangladesh and to invest in the country. 

There are mixed interpretations of the outcomes of this visit in Bangladesh. While one group claims that the Bangladesh’s UN Summit diplomacy was highly successful, the other group claims it was more ceremonial and does not bring about much substance to national interests. The UN Summit diplomacy has a number of implications. However, reportedly the Belarusian prime minister has expressed interest in providing $15 million to Bangladesh as long-term assistance for the development of country’s readymade garment sector, including the training for the workers. Belarus also expressed interest in importing pharmaceuticals and agricultural products from Bangladesh and export Potash to Bangladesh. 

Another important issue is the strong voice of Bangladesh in the UN Peacekeeping Summit and UN Climate Change summit. Bangladesh has been championing the cause of global climate change for the least developed countries (LDCs). Issues of global funding and adaptation have been highlighted in Bangladesh’s global efforts. Besides, Dhaka’s role in peacekeeping missions was strongly reflected in her participation in the ‘UN Peacekeeping’ Summit. Significantly, Bangladesh was able to emphasise the graduation of its role to a leadership position due to the enhanced capacity of the country’s peacekeepers given their experience and skills.  

The Hasina-Modi meeting on the side lines of the UNGA is the most significant achievement of Bangladesh’s UN diplomacy. It was important for two major reasons: first, it was much-awaited against the backdrop of several high-level contacts between the two friendly nations in the recent days. Second, this was the first ever meeting between the two leaders. It was important to get to know each other to promote their bilateral relations further in the upcoming days. During the talks, Modi lauded the Bangladesh government’s fight against terrorism and said, “Bangladesh is a model for fighting terrorism.”

Notably, they discussed the issues of ratifying the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) and the Teesta Water Sharing Treaty. Regarding the ratification of the LBA, Modi emphasised that it is just a matter of time before it happens. This is a positive gesture towards a resolution on this outstanding bilateral issue. Regarding the Teesta water-sharing issue, Modi assured of a serious pursuit of the consensus-building-process that must have a positive impact on the improvement of India-Bangladesh relations. Needless to say, there is no alternative but to promote Bangladesh-India relations based on mutual understanding and respect for mutual interests. Thus, Dhaka’s UN Summit diplomacy was an occasion to bolster the country’s image as well as to strengthen its role in the global fora. Bangladesh has demonstrated strong determination to project its achievements to the world.

However, the critical issue is to actualise the diplomatic gains via concrete efforts on the domestic front where the government has been struggling to win over the hearts and minds of people after the 2014 general elections.

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