Sunday, 5 December, 2021
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Role of Diplomacy in Realising Vision 2041

A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman

Role of Diplomacy in Realising Vision 2041
A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman

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A few days back, I had the opportunity to go through the ‘Perspective Plan of Bangladesh 2021-2041’ prepared by our government, which is an outlined-chart of our vision to be a developed country by 2041. To turn this vision into reality, a good number of plans and programmes would be taken to bring forward the country to the category of developed nations. In fact, Vision 2041 contains all issues Bangladesh needs to develop or upgrade for inclusion in that category. Considering the timeframe, majority of these issues will require more internal thrust than outside collaboration. That means internal policies, programmes and implementation criterion would play a vital role in gearing up those sectors for fulfilling the target. However, external initiatives and cooperation might also contribute in various ways and manners to materialise the internal programmes. That means, internal part is the base and external part is to energize and complement the internal inputs.

We know that diplomacy is conducted following a country’s foreign policy guidelines. To be more practical, foreign policy is nothing but the shadow of that country’s internal policies. In fact, we find the reflection of internal policies of a country in its foreign policy behaviours. Foreign policy of a country would produce better performance in the international field if its internal policies are of that standard. That means, internal policies are the main pillars on which a country’s foreign policy builds up. However, the ultimate results depend on the use of diplomatic skills, opportunities in the field, relations with other countries and leadership.

Though the modern diplomatic methods, practices, and principles were originated largely from the 17th century, but diplomacy became professionalised once the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations was ratified by most of the countries of the world. There are variety of diplomatic categories and diplomatic strategies employed by organisations and governments to achieve their aims, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned to Bangladesh on 10 January 1972 once he was released from Pakistan’s jail in the night of 7 January. Returning home, Bangabandhu formed a committee to draft the constitution of Bangladesh. At the same time, foreign policies were drawn up. The basic elements of his foreign policy were ‘friendship with all, malice to none’ and ‘friendly co-existence’. The present Bangladesh, based on these policies, has established such substantive and trustworthy relationship with almost all countries of the world.

We know that our diplomatic endeavours were mostly centred on political relations in the past considering the situation of that time. But our present-day diplomatic activities are more concentrated on economic diplomacy. In fact, this has become the global reality for every nation. Saying so, I am not denying the importance of the political sector, which still holds the base of relationship between two countries all over the world. If that is the tree, all other sectors like economy, culture, defence, civil aviation are considered as the branches. Obviously, a stronger tree would have stronger branches.

Bangladesh has been graduated as a developing nation and now it is planning to walk towards the road that would accommodate Bangladesh in the row of developed nations. Despite the corona pandemic, Bangladesh has been doing better in different sectors, including economic and social, than many countries of the world. It also expects appreciating progress in the coming years. Taking into account what we have and what we need to acquire to be a developed country, our government has prepared the perspective plan mentioned at the beginning. At this moment, it seems that this would be the guideline of our movement towards that direction.

Now, the question is how our diplomacy would play its proper role in the materialisation process of these plan and programmes. There is no doubt that we have to work in the international field, sometimes for accommodating our purpose or sometimes accommodating others for our ultimate benefits. Our diplomats would mainly be the players, in addition to our political leaders. While doing so, we should keep in cognizance other factors, including international political equations. It would be a very hard work and we will continue putting our best efforts until we achieve the status of a developed country.

Our Foreign Ministry should, at first, be well briefed about the Perspective Plan and following that the Foreign Ministry would, according to their ways of working, make a check-list of the activities, including the probable methods of interactions, to be performed by our diplomats at home and abroad. The guidelines of the Foreign Ministry aimed at attaining the set-up goals might have the option of any changes (addition or deletion) of the plans and programmes in view of the demands and requirements of the world community of that time.

To turn the Vision 2041 into reality, our diplomatic initiatives, efforts and thrust can be channelized depending on the field of our interests through various diplomatic ways. However, I would like to highlight some of the diplomatic endeavours, which our concerned authorities might have a look:

Bangladesh has a number of products for export, though it had, after independence, only one exportable item ‘jute’. Being LDC, Bangladesh had enjoyed many concessionary facilities for its exports to a number of countries. But now, as it has entered into the group of developing countries those facilities will be removed from its export items within years. In view of that scenario, trading in the new era of globalisation, Bangladesh has to count the challenges and opportunities in a competitive world. Therefore, it needs to formulate export prospect strategies and policies to be followed both at home and abroad. Our diplomats will require to find markets for our products as well as to suggest our producers to produce items that will have competitive access to those markets.

Our experiences in attracting foreign direct investments (FDI) are not so good, as the flow of FDI in Bangladesh is not at par our expected targets. There have been a number of loopholes that discourage foreign investors. FDI plays a major role in increasing a country’s economic outputs as well as employment generation. And employment generation, to some extent, helps reduce poverty and income inequality, which are serious issues for Bangladesh.

Our diplomats, as usual, are working hard to attract FDIs. But we should make the strategies and policies for attracting FDIs more attractive, competitive and hassle-free. Incentives even cannot attract the investors, unless they find the investment process and conditions easier and comfortable for business. If we want to develop this sector, we must have a revision of the existing investment policies that could give us better result. A win-win situation should be ensured in investment policies.

We have another sector, much known as “Blue Economy’, which can also contribute a lot to our economy. In fact, it is a huge source and can fuel our economy in a better way at this juncture of our journey to development. Proper management and utilisation of the abundance resources we have in our sea areas is a burning question for today’s Bangladesh economy. As it has already become a crucial issue for our economy, framing of necessary planning and policies for getting maximum benefits from this sector should be given priority.

In the Perspective Plan, it is said that overseas employment will continue to be a part of Bangladesh’s employment strategy with a shifting focus on greater skill-intensive employment. For this, a well-planned skill development programme will be adopted commensurate with National Skill Development Policy keeping in mind skill demands in destination countries. While assessing the mechanism of training given, particularly vocational training for every trade, we must see whether it meets the requirements, maintains standard and international accreditation level. And quality of the instructors has to be maintained.

Being a source country for migrant workers, a good number of our diplomats, particularly who work in the major migrant recipient countries, have to largely engage themselves in migration diplomacy. It is not so easy always to maintain the goals; a diplomat might face a lot of difficulties.

In this context, I would like to emphasise two issues. The first one is, as Bangladesh is planning to include itself in the group of developed nations, the unskilled category of Bangladeshis presently working abroad would no more be interested to work there since their earning at home will reach close to what they are earning now. In that case, only medium and high-skilled people may think of going abroad. And the second one is, to be a developed nation, Bangladesh’s economy should acquire the capacity to widen and diversify the opportunities for its people’s involvement in various sectors of productions and services. It means the local employment opportunities will increase. If the per capita income of our people continues to increase (has to increase) and people find it convenient and profitable to work here, the flow of our intending migrant workers would certainly decrease.

Our government needs to reorganise the plans and policies regarding recruitments of our workers for jobs abroad taking into account the reality that might prevail during the period of our transformation (2021-2041) to a developed nation. The recruitment process must be workers-friendly, safeguarding the interest of our people. This would be a chain-work between our officials in Dhaka and our diplomats working in different countries, particularly in the migrant-workers recipient countries. Anyway, our diplomatic efforts would follow the guidelines outlined by our government as well as the practices of host countries.

Public diplomacy has become a very important part of our diplomatic activities nowadays. It is one kind of diplomatic practices to influence, through various ways of communication, the general people of another country. This is some kind of attempts to bring two countries’ people closer. It is believed that by developing interactions between the people of two countries, the governments of those countries also become closer in developing bilateral relations.

It is true that this communication might take the form of propaganda, technological ways (twitter or Facebook) or through any other media prefer by two countries’ citizens. As the whole world is availing digital facilities, digital diplomacy might also be a new part of public diplomacy. Bangladesh is no more behind in taking the benefits of global digitalisation. However, it is a sensitive sector and needs to be handled with proper care and security.

In this context, I would like to mention another kind of diplomacy where the citizens of a country, using social media, conduct diplomacy. It is the diplomacy of the grassroots. Sometimes we give importance for the establishment of people to people contacts in enhancing bilateral relations between two countries. Peer to Peer (P2P) diplomacy is, in fact, like that. P2P diplomacy suggests that governments must work with the public in conducting diplomacy, given that an increasingly large number of individuals are invested in foreign relations and have widespread access to information. This might have both direct and indirect impact on our economy (FDI and export), culture, tourism and obviously strengthening two countries political relationship.

Bangladesh, being rich in cultural sector, can use its cultural potential to brighten its image in the world community. However, it needs to discover and develop the sector for international acceptability. Culture, in fact, has an enormous strength to influence the people, if it can be given that structure and platform. It might be one of the best tools to brighten the image of Bangladesh and its people simultaneously. Necessary policies and plans are essential to place our cultural heritage among the world community. Obviously, our diplomats would find the ways and means to put their efforts in making cultural diplomacy beneficial for the country.

Bangladesh is a gift of nature. Wherever we go in Bangladesh, nature enthrals us with its endless beauty and generosity. Tourism might be a potential sector for Bangladesh economy, but it has not been developed as expected. We should understand that tourism might be turned into one of the major sources to fuel our economic development. We should not fix it in our mind that only the foreign tourists would enjoy our touristic and historical places. We have more than 160 million people who should be included in the list of tourists. If we develop our tourism sector for our people’s consumption, it would be even enough. However, foreign tourists would not miss the opportunity, if find Bangladesh attractive as a tourism destination. For this, we have to do a lot of work, including plans to develop the areas where tourists will be interested to visit and to increase the capability of providing other related facilities. Our authorities, including our diplomatic mission, should seriously work on this issue and bring forward the immense tourism potentials of Bangladesh to the world.

Humanitarian diplomacy is the set of activities undertaken by various actors with governments, military organisations, or personalities in order to intervene or push intervention in a context where humanity is in danger. Bangladesh is well-known to the world community for its role on humanitarian causes. Bangladeshi forces are working under the UN all over the world where peace is at stake. Our active participation at all UN-organised peace keeping platforms has been deeply appreciated. As a consequence, Bangladesh is now the premier country in the international peace keeping forces.

It is expected that the future world would be more humanitarian than now. The world community also want to see a world of peace and justice where everyone, irrespective of caste or creed, would live together in every corner from north to south and from east to west. Obviously, we should keep all these things in our mind and draw our plans accordingly. Might be one day Bangladesh will shoulder the leading role in making the world much better and more humanitarian.

Under science diplomacy, Bangladesh can establish scientific collaboration/arrangements with other countries to enrich our research-based education in different institutions of science and technology, medicine, engineering, agriculture, etc. To be a developed country, research facilities should be available in our universities and specialised institutions as we observe in all developed countries. There is no way to ignore the role of science in the development process of the present-day world. The world we have now is more or less due to the advancement and contribution of science. This is obviously a field of diplomacy that deserves more of our attention, if we really like to place Bangladesh in the row of developed nations. It would also be a way to attract even foreign researchers to work here, which would ultimately improve the quality as well as quantity of our research works.

Bangladesh has been playing an important role in the international forum on climate change issue. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, like few other world leaders, has been leading this issue with prudence and firmness. Bangladesh is in a better position in this world forum and we have to continue raising our voice to create such an environment in the world where the affected and vulnerable countries get justice. This is not a small game and perhaps will not be mitigated so quickly. Like other countries, we need to frame necessary strategies and policies on environment and climate change to handle this issue at the national as well as international level. Therefore, our diplomacy should be engaged there correctly following the guidelines of our government.

We know that reduction of poverty and addressing income inequality are very important for the development of a country. All our efforts would go in vain, if these two issues remain unsolved. Whatever would be our internal management policies or diplomatic interactions in the international arena, nothing would be able to contribute much to push forward Bangladesh for recognition as a developed nation unless poverty and income inequality issues are fully addressed. These two issues do not go with our target of being a developed nation by 2041. There is no way in front of us except addressing those. To overcome these problems, we should have necessary establishments to work in the sectors of human development, education and training. Our diplomats might find out appropriate foreign sources (like development partners) for necessary collaboration and cooperation in these sectors.

At the end, I would like to emphasise the urgency of check, balance and advance policy while implementing the plans and programmes to reach our goal. To cross the long journey of 20 years with sustainability and success, we could organise the whole period into 4 steps, each of five-year duration like our five-year plans. However, every step should be organised considering the existing and future situation of world politics and economic prescriptions. Hope, our Foreign Ministry will consider more things while fixing their diplomatic tools to bring the Vision 2041 into reality.

 

The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary