Bangladesh’s remarkable progress towards achieving the socio-economic and human objectives as envisaged in the vision and perspective of Jananetri Sheikh Hasina’s successive governments has been described by statesmen and pundits across the world as a textbook example of development. During the last eight and half years, Bangladesh has experienced a steady increase in per capita GDP and a decline in poverty. The GDP growth rate accelerated to 7.11 per cent in FY 2016-17. Faster and inclusive GDP growth coupled with sustained macroeconomic stability, growing investments, exports and remittances and thriving industrialisation have solidified the base for rapid economic progress. The economy is on the way to achieve an impressive 7.24 per cent growth in 2017. The country has already achieved the status of ‘lower middle income’ country with per capita GNI of USD 1602 and an economy of US $180 billion (2016). According to the World Bank, that will rise to USD 322 billion by 2021. In line with “Vision 2021”, Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina recently declared the ultimate goal to graduate Bangladesh to a ‘Developed Country’ by 2041.
In fact, it was Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation, who initiated the development process and launched the First Five Year Plan (1973-78) after consolidating the independence and sovereignty of the newly born state in 1971. Between the end of 1974 and early 1975, Bangladesh was ready to take off. Unfortunately, the enemies of Bangladesh struck at that time, assassinating him and the entire family on 15 August1975, except his two daughters who were abroad. Thus, the momentum of pro-poor economic growth initiated by the great leader came to a sudden halt.
Sheikh Hasina was elected President of Bangladesh Awami League while she was in exile in India. She returned on May 17, 1981 amidst a tumultuous welcome by the people and rank and file of Awami League. For more than two decades, like her illustrious father, she led a relentless struggle against the ruling military bureaucracy to restore democracy, what she called the “movement for giving back to the people their right to vote and survive with dignity.” In the process she suffered prison terms, harassment and attempts on her life. After long 21 years, Bangladesh Awami League was led to power by Sheikh Hasina in June 1996. In her first term she revived Bangabandhu’s people-oriented development process and achieved remarkable socio-economic developments including the ‘Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord.’ A new chapter of glorious success was opened and within five years, the economy of the country rebounded. Discipline returned to both monetary and fiscal sectors of the economy and macroeconomic stability was established. The country achieved food autarky. In the wake of East Asian economic crisis, our economy remained unaffected. Inflation was prudently kept under control despite disruptions in the distribution system due to two consecutive devastating floods. Average economic growth rate experienced upturn during this time. By strengthening the social safety net programmes, benefits of growth were taken to all.
The economy and development of the country suffered serious setbacks at the hands of successive military and autocratic regimes. Even during the elected government under BNP-Jamaat alliance in 2001-2006, economic progress stumbled again and the country plunged into economic stalemate under that regime. During this period (2001-2006), power generation and distribution network broke down; many farmers, considered the backbone of our country, were killed for rallying for fertiliser, and spiralling inflation wreaked havoc on public life. Both domestic and foreign investments became stagnant. Poverty and unemployment escalated. The vibrant rural economy lost its momentum.
At this bleak hour of economy, Sheikh Hasina presented before the nation ‘Din Bodoler Sanad‘ (Vision 2021) with a view to establishing an equitable society as envisaged by Bangabandhu in his inclusive political philosophy. In this Charter, she outlined the vision of a middle income and digital Bangladesh to be achieved by 2021. With overwhelming popular support, Awami League again formed government at the beginning of 2009. The Perspective Plan 2010-2021 and the 6th and 7th Five Year Plans were formulated in the light of the Charter for Change. Bangladesh completed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) journey with tremendous success by the end of 2015. Then the country stepped into the era of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
During the last eight and half years, the path to economic progress was not strewn with roses. Hindrances were created at every step. In the name of political protest, human lives and resources were destroyed through calculated use of violence. Appalling destruction and heinous crimes like burning people to death by petrol bombs were perpetrated during blockades and arson attacks. Evil designs were rampant to frighten local and foreign investors. Fundamentalist forces were incited. There was no dearth of malafide actions to label Bangladesh as a terrorist and fundamentalist country. But defying all conspiracies, Bangladesh stands high before the world as a development surprise. We are not faltering behind in any indicators like GDP growth, per capita income, employment generation, food production, inflation control, imports and exports. Significant progress has been made in education, health and sanitation sectors. We have achieved unprecedented success almost in all socioeconomic indicators including reduction of poverty and inequality.
In tandem, Bangladesh received ample international acclaim. In recognition of outstanding achievements and contributions both at home and abroad, Bangladesh and the Honb’le Prime Minister were awarded the MDG Award, Indira Gandhi Peace Prize, UNESCO Cultural Diversity Award, FAO Diploma Award, South-South Co-operation Visionary Award and the Champions of the Earth Award. We have been able to sustain satisfactory credit ratings from international rating watchdogs. Bangladesh is now one of the top ranking countries in the world in terms of social and political empowerment of women. It has set an imitable example for the world in achieving inclusive and eco-friendly growth and reducing poverty at a high rate with limited resources. The world intelligentsia now brand Bangladesh as a ‘Role Model for Development‘.
A brief account of the advancements achieved in priority areas:
Development of women & children
We are involving women in all development activities. Special programme has been undertaken to improve the fate of under privileged and destitute women. Under the VGD programme, 10 lakh destitute women have been provided with 30 kg rice each for 24 months. A total of 60 One-Stop Crisis Cells (OCC) have been established in 40 district hospitals and 20 upazila hospitals to support women and children falling victims to violence and oppression. For political empowerment of the women, it was Bangladesh Awami League that made the provision of reserving seats for women at the grassroots Union levels when they came to power in 1996.
Around 40 per cent of the total population of the country is children. To build the future Bangladesh of our dream, we attach special emphasis to the physical and mental development of our children. With this view, we have already drafted National Child Policy and an integrated policy for primary care and development of our future generation.
Social security for vulnerable and physically challenged people
As part of our continuous efforts to strengthen social security services, we are operating 4 Drop-in-Centres (DIC), 2 Emergency Night Shelters (ENS), 16 Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) and 3 Open Air Schools (OAS) for street children. With these, the present government has taken substantial efforts in favor of physically challenged people. Especially the daughter of the Hon’ble Prime Minister Sayma Wazed has made us proud by receiving the Excellence Award from WHO for her contribution in treatment of and healthcare services for autism. Furthermore, efforts are underway to bring social security services under automation.
Bangladesh has set example in innovation on pro-poor and pro-people health service delivery. To make healthcare readily available in rural areas, 13,339 community clinics have been set-up. Maternal Health Voucher scheme for poor, vulnerable and critically pregnant women has been introduced in community clinics. Besides, emergency pregnancy support service has been strengthened. All the districts have been brought under mobile phone healthcare service. As many as 43 hospitals have been brought under telemedicine service.
Our government has so far nationalised 26,193 primary schools. As a result, almost every village of the country now has a public primary school. In the secondary level, upazila ICT Training and Resource Centres have been established and 295 non-government schools have been transformed into model schools where there were no government schools. Construction of new school buildings, setting up of computer labs and developing digital contents have all been achieved during our term in the government.
Distribution of textbooks free of cost
Bangladesh has set a rare example in the world through distribution of free textbooks from 2010 academic year among a large number of students on the first day of January. We made a significant progress in education fulfilling different global targets including achieving gender parity before the scheduled time. No doubt, the distribution of books free of cost significantly contributed to checking the dropout rate. Around 36,210 million free textbooks were distributed among 42.6 million school students across the country in this academic year and 351,326,000 textbooks will be distributed free of cost among 43,698,663 pre-primary, primary, secondary, ibtedayi, dakhil, dakhil vocational and SSC vocational students in the next academic year of 2018.
Agriculture and food security
The most impressive performance was probably in the agricultural production especially in the production of major staple rice. Since 1972, rice production increased more than threefold despite increasing population and shrinking land. In 2016, total rice production was 34.7 million tonnes. It has been possible only because of the pro-farmer activities and policies of the present government that ensures inputs (seed, fertilizer, electricity for irrigation) as well as subsidised prices to the farmers.
Scientific research has played a major role in boosting production of cereals and other agricultural products, such as vegetables and fruits. High yielding and new varieties of rice such as saline resistant crops in the southern districts have been possible only because of encouragement and special incentives given to scientists and researchers. Production of maize on a large scale in the hitherto fallow lands in North Bengal has helped the poultry industry. Side by side research and production of fresh-water fish has grown manifold. The purpose of all these efforts is to provide food and nutrition to the entire population.
In 2009, our power generation capacity was only 4,942 megawatts. Now it has reached 15,379 megawatts. Electricity coverage has been increased from 48% population in 2010 to 80% in 2016.
Transport and communication infrastructure
As part of our strategy to expand transport and communication infrastructures in the country, construction of second Kanchpur Bridge on the Shitalakshya river, second Meghna Bridge on the Meghna river, and second Gumti Bridge on the Gumti river on the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway are in progress. In addition, Payra Bridge on the Payra river in Patuakhali and third Shitalakshya Bridge on the Shitalakshya river in Narayanganj are also under construction. As of March 2017, 41 per cent of physical progress has been achieved in the construction of the long awaited Padma Multipurpose Bridge. All these will facilitate regional connectivity which is vital for the economic prosperity and improvement of standards of living of the people.
The present government has given priority to the Railway Sector which remained neglected as a mode of public transport for long. Massive renovation of dilapidated railway infrastructures has been undertaken. Services have been greatly improved through installation of new infrastructures, procurement of locomotives and passenger carriages.
I would like to particularly mention India’s assistance in this regard. The Line of Credit, project finances, and supply of locomotives and carriages have helped us immensely.
In order to expand ICT education, Digital Lab and Multimedia Classrooms have been set up in thousands of schools across the country. E-Filing system has been introduced in government ministries and departments. Apart from this, around 18,500 government offices throughout the country have been brought under a single network, credited as the largest web-portal in the world.
Structure of the economy
Gradually, Bangladesh is turning from an agrarian economy to an industrial one. Presently the country is enjoying a service sector led economy with balanced support from Industry especially manufacturing. The structure of economy started to take a new look from the 2000s and presenting an entirely different picture in 2010s. It is visible in agricultural contribution to GDP, which was 49% on an average during the 70s but came down to 16% in the present decade. However, although industrialisation has been a priority in the present planning paradigm, agriculture has also been in the policy favour owing to its food security aspect. Industry, as of 2017, contributes to almost 32.48 per cent of GDP; manufacturing alone has a share of 21.7 per cent as a whole. Ready Made Garments (RMG), the major export sector adding to 34 billion USD, paved the way of women empowerment with a women employment percentage of 80 out of the 4 million jobs in the sector.
Political stability and development
Bangladeshi democracy received another lease on life with general elections held in January 2014. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken every step to consolidate democracy and establish rule of law across the country. On the contrary the culture of rampage, violence and arson inculcated by BNP-Jamaat axis has set up a regrettable example. Activities of BNP-JI’s between 05 January and 30th April 2015 following the elections of 2014 remain a glaring example of their undemocratic and anti-state politics. Their atrocities included hurling petrol bomb on public transports and private vehicles, setting up fires on properties – public and private alike, burning innocent people alive including security personnel and the list will go on.
To understand the vicious nature of the BNP-Jamaat politics today we must go back to the long history of our struggle for independence under our great leader, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It is in those days that the real face of fundamentalist terrorists was unmasked in the form of the worst kind of genocide.
In 1971 there were the ultra-right fundamentalists, such as Jamaat-e-Islami, Nezame-Islam, Pakistan Muslim League and their cohorts, Pakistani agents. These parties and various splinter groups joined hands together to oppose our war of liberation. During the war these groups collaborated, assisted and abetted in the worst kind of crimes against humanity. After the war many of these fled to Pakistan. A vast majority either lay low or changed colour. Many were arrested and put on trial.
After the assassination of Bangabandhu, they rallied round Ziaur Rahman, who coined a new terminology: Bangladeshi Nationalism, which in other words, meant, pro-Pakistani, Islamist ideology. Through coercion, intimidation, bribery and other methods a strange combination of people launched a new party, namely the BNP. The ideals for which the war of liberation was fought, the principles for which Bangabandhu made the supreme sacrifice were thrown to the wind. Consecutive military dictators played havoc with one of the best drafted constitution of the world. From mid-August 1975 till 1990 Bangladesh remained under military rule, particularly without people’s mandate.
Situation dramatically changed after the electoral victory of Awami League under the dynamic leadership of Sheikh Hasina. Democratic institutions flourished, local elections were held, militants were expelled out and took shelter in other countries. Peace was established in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Normal relations with India and other neighbours were restored. Many milestone agreements were signed. The emphasis was on human rights, democracy, and rule of law, development and social empowerment.
As discussed earlier, with the assumption of power by BNP-Jamaat axis in October, 2001 the country went back to square one. Inhuman treatment of the minority communities and Awami League leaders and supporters, imprisonment, torture, murder became order of the day. In fact, the period from October, 2001 to end 2006 was the darkest spot on our history. Bangladesh again became a safe haven and spring-board for operation against neighbours. Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia’s son Tareque Rahman created and operated a parallel government notoriously known as the ‘Hawa Bhaban’ He was not only close to Jamaat, but also to external intelligence agency that opposed our liberation and known for its sinister activities against the sovereignty of Bangladesh, and the welfare of its people. Jamaat’s student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir, an organization infamous for its militant activities, was bracketed together with BNP’s student front Chhatra Dal under the auspices of Tareque Rahman. That was the period when we saw the killings of Awami League leaders at all levels at the hands of these militant groups, coordinated attack on Awami League President Sheikh Hasina (21st August Grenade Attack, 2004), that clearly bore the signature of that intelligence agency. The grenades used in the attack were made in the Pakistan Ordinance Factory. The smoke screen created by police during the attack was evidence of state patronisation and involvement in the attack. There was recruitment of Taliban fighters from among the Shibir activists in Bangladesh by that agency during the regime. Those fighters were trained in Pakistan and later on returned to Bangladesh to participate in terrorist activities throughout the regime.
The 45 years of Bangladesh have been most eventful-some very tragic, some full of hope and achievements; we can easily mark these periods:
From 1972 to August 1975: rehabilitation and reconstruction: Strong Indian help made it possible.
Mid-August 1975 to end 1990: full of coups and counter coups, intrigues, and low-grade development; people’s aspiration and the spirit of liberation war thrown to the wind.
The period of democracy started in early 1991 and it continues today except for a two-year military rule (2007-08).
Traditionally three major problems Bangladesh was facing were military intervention in politics, occasional large-scale natural disaster and extreme resource constraint. A fourth challenge was added to the list as the Third millennium set on. It was the challenge from violent Islamist groups.
What is a matter of grave concern is - a major political party like BNP aligned themselves with such Islamist groups, reportedly having connection with international Islamist militants of Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries. It may be recalled that, recently, in an audio message, the Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri declared to bring Bangladesh within their ambit of operation. It has been observed that al-Qaeda and such other Islamist terrorist groups have planned to recruit the youths of Bangladesh and brainwash them for carrying out terrorist operation like the Talibans did in Afghanistan. Nothing can be a matter of more concern than a development as such.
For a better appreciation of the enormity of this threat we may look back from the historical perspective.
War of Liberation: 26 March to December 16 in 1971, rise of anti-Bangladesh forces under Pakistan Army, Jamaat-e-Islam, Nezami Islam, and Muslim League provided the political umbrella. Organisation of Razakars/ Al-Badar/Al-Shams and others. These forces organised the worst kind of violence and crimes against humanity, in short a massive genocide, comparable only to Nazi pogrom during World War II.
About 3 million people were brutally killed and more than quarter of a million women were raped and humiliated, 10 million people took shelter in India another 20 million displaced within the country.
Post 15 August 1975 after assassination of Bangabandhu and military take-over; return of the war criminals on a massive scale. Allowed to organise, given control of financial resources and active patronisation continues up to mid-1980s. Attacks against minorities, ethnic groups, Awami League and pro-liberation forces.
2001-2006: Country became known “as the most corrupt” for 5 consecutive years. Highlights of this period: Rise of militants
Haven for foreign terrorists, especially operating against India.
Route for smuggling of arms/weapons and drugs; huge quantities cached in the hilly areas, others sent to militants of North-East India and Nepal.
Home grown Islamist Militants : Harkatul Zihad, JMBA, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Ansarullah, Taleban, Hizbut Tahrir – all under the umbrella of Jamaat-e Islam and their militant student wing “Islami Chatra Shibir.”
Attacks on the then opposition Especially on Sheikh Hasina, Killing major leaders (Former Finance Minister SAMS Kibria, Ahasanullah Master, MP, Mamtajuddin, MP, Professor Muhuri and many others), 21 August Grenade attack on Sheikh Hasina, 19 attempts to kill Sheikh Hasina.
Synchronised bomb-blast at 565 places throughout the country simultaneously; attacks on the judges.
To understand the present threat of radicalism and killing, we need to remember the history of the atrocities committed during the war of liberation in 1971, it will be clear to us that the methods of operation and killing of innocent Bengalis at the hands of Pakistani forces and their local allies – Jamaat, Rajakar, Al Badr and Al Shams are the same as those in the recent militant attacks and killings. The brutality, the machete-wielded attacks are the signature of the anti-liberation forces and their successors, the present day terrorists in Bangladesh. These methods of killing and brutality have become the practice of Jamaat, later on BNP and all anti liberation forces since the murder of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib.
Later, again during 1980s, Freedom Party was created with the assistance of the external intelligence agency. Its overt objective was to rehabilitate the self-proclaimed killers of Bangabandhu, and see them in state power. During that period, Talibans were recruited from Bangladesh by that agency with the help of the then BNP-Jamaat Government. Thus, Jamaat’s connection to Pakistan and Al-Qaida is well known. The methods of killing evolved from Shibir’s severing arteries. The present day terrorists, being themselves ex-shibir men and their successors, bear that legacy. They are so well trained in killing and examined human anatomy so well that they precisely know where to hit, how to hack, which part of the body is the most vulnerable. And thus ensure death of their victims/targets in seconds, in the most blood-chilling manner. Those who are familiar with the method shibir used to apply in killing or injuring their targets/opponents would readily notice the remarkable similarity of these methods. So, it is evident that they are of the same origin, but having different names. They keep on changing names for tactical reasons.
In fact, there is no organisational structure of ISIS in Bangladesh, several individuals and groups operating in the name of ISIS. As discussed before, they are the anti-liberation, anti-Bangladesh, pro-Pakistan & most violent Jamaat-Shibir and their ally JMB including other home grown militant groups.
The government has shown the political will to fight religious militancy, diminishing the operational space of terrorist movements over the last eight and half years and the counter terrorism and transnational crime prevention regime which is already in place needs to be recalibrated to address bottom-up recruitment now, i.e. radicalisation is a process, not only a product or outcome.
Development along with good governance
The government under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ensured the independence of the Judiciary and promoted a fair and accessible legal and judicial system. It has eradicated the sense of impunity that has been prevailing in the country since long by ensuring fair trial and justice. In last eight and half years, the law enforcing agencies have shown tremendous success in curbing wanton growth of miscreants including many listed criminals, extremists, and religious militants along with other lawbreakers to justice and recovered a huge number of illegal arms, ammunitions and narcotics.
Protection of human rights as enshrined in the Constitution of the country has been taken up seriously. In this regard it needs to be underscored that the government enacted required laws in recent years with human rights dimension. However, the enactment of the National Human Rights Commission Act, 2009 ushered in a new era of promotion and protection of human rights in Bangladesh. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) formed under the law is an independent and statutory national institution with promising opportunities.
The government has taken all steps necessary to ensure people’s freedom of speech and expression. The promotion of independent media and the dissemination of information received a spectacular boost during last eight and half years. Bangladesh has experienced proliferation of TV channels, newspapers and on-line news media since 2009. The Right to Information Act (RTI) is a crucial instrument for empowerment of citizens and for building responsiveness of the state and its organs, the political parties and leaderships, public bureaucracy and other institutions to the citizens of the country.
Bangladesh has in recent decades surprised the world by achieving reasonably rapid economic growth and significant progress in social and economic development indicators despite many impediments. The case of Bangladesh has been considered a “development surprise” by many in the global parlance.
Observers, intrigued by the fact, are curious to identify the sources of growth stimulus and the drivers of social transformation that led to such spectacular progress in a short span of time.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina has proved herself a firm ‘decision-maker’ with intensive knowledge of the economy and society, and foresight and determination. The construction of the Padma Bridge at an estimated cost Taka 28,750 crore (BDT 28.75 billion) without any foreign assistance, when the World Bank withdrew its support on a baseless ground of malfeasance, is just one instance in point. In early December last year, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the main works of the Padma Bridge project by unveiling its foundation plaque. The work of the 6.15 km-long Padma Bridge is now going on in full swing and the structures are already visible as long-cherished dream of the people of the south-west is coming true. The government is committed to complete the bridge by 2018. It may be noted that the Padma Bridge is among other notable large projects that are under direct supervision of the Fast Track Project Monitoring Committee headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself.
We have traversed many a mile in our journey of making Bangladesh a prosperous country by 2041. Efforts are going on in full swing to make the economic structure and legal framework of the country befitting for a developed country. Patriotic people from all walks of life have totally rejected destructive activities of evil forces. From 2009 onwards, the nation has remained ceaselessly devoted to the colossal task of changing its fortune. Entrepreneurial and creative youths are now engaged in the mirth of creating something novel with renewed vigour. Hence, our never-ending march on the development highway will continue until we reach our final destination. Today’s Bangladesh is a country of aspiration, innovation and development.
The writer is the Political Advisor to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina.