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Friendship Towards All, Malice Towards None

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

In a discussion titled- Decoding Dhaka 2023: Elections, Economy, and Geopolitics held at ORF Delhi on 29 September 2023 an emphasis was made on Bangladesh’s current foreign policy being derived from its founder Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s view that Bangladesh believes in friendship towards all and malice towards none.

Speakers of this discussion included former High Commissioner to Bangladesh from India Veena Sikri, former Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh Shahidul Haque, Senior Bangladeshi journalist Syed Badrul Ahsan, research fellow at MP-IDSA Smruti Pattanaik, and associate fellow at ORF Kolkata Sohini Bose. The session was moderated by Sushant Sareen, a senior fellow at ORF India.

The moderator asked each of the panellists pointed questions regarding Bangladesh and opened the discussion for questions from the audience upon completion of his part. On a question of there being a possibility of extra judicial and extra constitutional intervention in Bangladesh, Ms Pattanaik answered that such a possibility may only happen in worst case scenarios and that military rules are not in fashion these days. Furthermore, she added that Bangladesh has become largely peaceful since the election of Sheikh Hasina. In another question dealing with heavy American pressure on Bangladesh in terms of sanctions and severed ties, Ms Sikri responded that Bangladesh has matured as a democracy and opposition parties do a lot of lobbying worldwide to defame incumbent administration in Bangladesh and pointed to Joe Biden and Sheikh Hasina having a cordial conversation on the sidelines of G20 Summit held at New Delhi. To a similar question, Mr Haque replied that American pressure is merely a political game that nations play to suit their interests. On a question dealing with policy and role played by Bangladesh in the Indo-Pacific, Ms Bose answered that Bangladesh holds critical geography for all Indo-Pacific countries and is a gateway to markets of South Asia. In addition to this, she also mentioned Bangladesh’s foreign policy as highly neutral during the present geopolitical churn and described the same as based on prioritising economic prosperity and economic development. In a response to a question on the possibility of Islamists regaining power in Bangladesh in the upcoming elections, Mr Ahsan replied that Islamists remain an irritant in Bangladesh politics and shouldn’t be undermined politically. However, currently Awami League headed by Sheikh Hasina is critical to maintaining stability and likely favourites in the election. High Commissioner Sikri in her reply to a question on security sensitivity between India and Bangladesh stated that no relations are built on adversity and that the psyche of Bangladeshis should have matured with respect to state and non-state actors. She added that India-Bangladesh relations are built on mutual trust, mutual respect and mutual benefits. Ms Bose also eloquently detailed the two forms of connectivity developed between India and Bangladesh during the discussion. She discussed Energy connectivity as one form of connectivity in which India has built gas pipelines, multi- thermal power plants and electricity grids in Bangladesh. Furthermore, she alluded to Maritime connectivity in terms of new ports being built by India in Bangladesh that will help North-East Indian states substantially and provide them an outlet for exports.

Lastly, questions from the audience were taken up. Few notable responses deal with the Teesta dispute between India and Bangladesh in which speakers from Bangladesh remarked it as an Indian problem which requires negotiation. However, the Indian side called for a comprehensive hydrological survey to arrive at a better agreement on the same. Other notable responses were on China’s role in Bangladesh and SAARC. SAARC was projected as dysfunctional and an idea of a different era but Ms Sikri pointed to enhanced cooperation between sub-regional networks within SAARC such as that of Bhutan, Bangladesh, and India. On China, Ms Sikri replied that China is not a South Asian country and there is worry in every country about China leading them to indebtedness. However, a strong conclusion from the discussion is that Bangladesh seeks to create its own identity globally and is a proponent of neutrality in international affairs.

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