Internationally & Domestically, 2016 was a Year Well-Spent for Bangladesh

While the global scenario in 2016 was full of unfortunate events and incidents, the year went comparatively well for Bangladesh. While incidents and events like the Brexit issue, Coup in Turkey, India-Pakistan tensions, South China Sea arbitration, Rodrigo Duterte’s accession to Vietnam’s power, the US Presidential election and Aleppo chapter of Syrian conflict made headlines in international arena, the year went equally eventful for Bangladesh.

The country passed a comparatively good year with some historic events, including Bangladesh’s accommodation in the G7 Summit’s outreach meeting, the visit by Chinese President Xi Jingping, and acquisition of first pair of submarines for Bangladesh Navy. There were few unfortunate incidents too, including the Gulshan Holey Artisan attack and the influx of Rohingyas into Bangladesh. The year also includes Bangladeshi people and media’s unprecedented enthusiasm for the US Presidential election, Bangladesh’s boycott (alongwith three more countries) of SAARC Summit and the resumption of BIMSTEC, where Bangladesh is a member country.

The year 2016 ended with the commencement of the Bangladesh Navy’s journey as a ‘three-dimensional’ force. The entrance of Bangladesh into the submarine club and, hence, into the submarine era, made the year a historic and glorious one. Bangladesh’s first submarines arrived at Chittagong Port on the evening of 22nd of December 2016, making the Bangladesh Navy the second Bay of Bengal navy to acquire an undersea capability. With the acquirement of these submarines, the Bangladesh Navy had commenced its journey as a ‘three-dimensional’ force.

The two conventional submarines, namely ‘Nabajatra’ and ‘Joyjatra’, were purchased from Bangladesh’s long-standing military arms supplier, China, which has already trained the submarines crew.

‘Nabajatra’ and ‘Joyjatra’ are type 035G diesel electric submarines, each of which is 76 metres long and 7.6 metres wide, with reportedly a top speed of 18 knots when submerged. These underwater crafts are supposed to be based in the submarine base at Kutubdia Channel near Cox’s Bazaar.

In 2010, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced the plan to develop the Bangladesh Navy into a three-dimensional “deterrent” force, with a view to protecting the nation’s maritime resources and mostly coastal population. The Bangladesh-Myanmar standoff in Bay of Bengal in 2008 had been widely reported to be one of the factors that made Bangladesh government to seriously consider submarine purchase back then.

In late-2008, when Myanmar sent naval vessels to support the Daewoo drilling operations, Bangladesh soon deployed four warships to the area.

While many foreign news media outlets have mocked the submarines and stated that these underwater crafts are only good for training, they failed to shed a light on the submarines’ true nature of being conventional attack-submarines and not merely the ones for training. Both the underwater crafts, which are armed with torpedoes and mines, have the capabilities to attack enemy ships and submarines, just like the conventional war zone submarines.

Another positive dynamic for Bangladesh in the year 2016 was the accommodation of the country in the G7 (Group of Seven) Summit’s outreach meeting, portraying its growing importance in the global stage. The scope for infrastructure-based investment in Bangladesh was one of the important reasons behind the accommodation. This is because, with a fast growing economy, Bangladesh needs infrastructure building, and the big economies are competing to be the major investors in big infrastructure projects in Bangladesh. While many Western countries and Middle Eastern countries have been continuously showing their interests in this regard, China, India and Japan have been at the forefront in expressing their utmost interests for investing in big infrastructure projects in Bangladesh.

Moreover, Bangladesh is among the top 10 fastest growing economies in the world and the country is among Next 11 economies that were famously identified by Goldman Sachs investment bank as having a high potential of becoming the world’s largest economies (alongside the BRICS economies) in the twenty-first century. With resources like huge human capital, cheap labour cost and an increasing number of educated people within the population, Bangladesh is the NEXT BIG THING in terms of global economy and trade. Clearly, these factors were considered when inviting Bangladesh for the outreach meetings besides those factors that were widely discussed, including climate change, health, women and sustainable development.

Militancy is another important reason behind inviting Bangladesh for the meetings. As Bangladesh has been faced with militancy in recent past, the country shares a common interest with the G7 countries in tackling the issue. It is very likely that the G7 countries may well find Bangladesh as one of the major player in tackling the issue.

In 2016, Bangladesh got the opportunities to show its hospitality to Chinese President Xi Jinping. His visit to Bangladesh in late-October 2016 was seen with enormous hopes and expectations from not just Bangladeshi side, but from China’s end as well. More than 25 (twenty-five) agreements and MoUs were signed during the landmark visit, including agreements and MoUs related to counter-terrorism cooperation, infrastructure development, energy cooperation, climate change, power and renewable energy cooperation, and cooperation on information technology. At the PM Office, the two state premiers have jointly unveiled 6 (six) projects, including the project of multi-lane tunnel beneath the Karnaphuli River in Chittagong.

One of the two sparkling parts of the visit was the upgradation of the Sino-Bangladesh relations into the “strategic” level, i.e. strategic partnership. The other sparkling part was the signing of approximately 24 (twenty-four) billion dollars worth deals, making it the biggest ever assistance pledged to Bangladesh by any single country. A large part of this assistance is pledged for infrastructural development of Bangladesh. Since the economy of the country is emerging faster, Bangladesh needs huge infrastructure buildup and, no doubt, this well-timed approach for assistance from China has given Bangladesh something to work on in order to progress further.

The unusual part of the year 2016 for Bangladesh was, perhaps, the unprecedented enthusiasm and obsession from Bangladeshi people and media regarding the US Presidential election, which took place in 8th of November 2016. The Republican candidate Donald Trump’s victory against the Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton was a result unforeseen by academics, analysts, columnists, diplomats and politicians across the globe.

The election grabbed the unprecedented attention from the global community. The media outlets in countries like Bangladesh were seen to broadcast many talk-shows “solely” on the US election issue. TV programmes on the US election “alone” – something like this was unprecedented in Bangladesh. Moreover, although there used to be op-ed columns focused on US elections during the previous US Presidential election periods, they were numbered very few. However, during this year’s election period, hundreds of op-ed columns were published in both Bengali and English language print and online newspapers, magazines and other platforms in Bangladesh. Purely unprecedented!

Furthermore, social media users, especially the Facebookers, in Bangladesh had been busy in sharing their perspectives regarding the candidates from the two major parties during the campaign period and their reactions to the victory of Donald Trump followed the election results. There were humour, analysis and shocks in their reactions.

In late-October 2016, India declared, amidst heightened tension between India and Pakistan, its decision of not attending the SAARC Summit in Pakistan that was supposed to be held in November 2016. The Indian decision was followed by Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan’s announcement to withdraw from the summit.

As the SAARC Summit was disfigured, BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) and BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) got much focus recently, both of which are led by India. During the 2016 BRICS Summit in India, members of BIMSTEC, including Bangladesh, were invited in the outreach summit. Bangladesh accordingly participated in the summit that was intended to properly activate the BIMSTEC.

Although the year was full of positive incidents and events for Bangladesh, there were few unfortunate incidents too. The attack on a Spanish cafe in Gulshan, namely Holey Artisan, on the 1st of July tops the list of unfortunate incidents. The attack was followed by another attack in the same month near an Eid prayer in Sholakia.

Initially, subsequent to the attacks, the Western embassies and businesses became too cautious in their operations in Bangladesh and warned their citizens to reduce their movements within the country. The Australian cricket team even cancelled their scheduled tour of Bangladesh amid such an environment.

However, Bangladesh authorities were quick to take control of the security situation and managed to shatter all the further attempts made by the militants. The abovementioned visit (in October) of Chinese President portrays the confidence on the part of China over the improved security environment in Bangladesh. The willingness to initiate the process of big projects (during the visit) is the clear indication of China’s implicit acceptance of a “stable, secure and business friendly environment” in Bangladesh. The tour of the English cricket team in Bangladesh stands as further testimony to the country’s current secured and stable security environment.

Further to the Gulshan attack, other unfortunate and unwanted incidents includes, among others, the ransacking of Hindu temples and homes in October 2016 in Nasirnagar and incidents of attacks on Saotal (Santal) community in Gobindaganj upazila of Gaibandha in November 2016. But the fortunate factor regarding the unfortunate incidents is that there was way lesser unfortunate incidents in Bangladesh in 2016 compared to the previous three years.

At the later part of the 2016, the influx of refugees from Myanmar has proved to be a bigger problem for Bangladesh. Hundreds of Rohingyas from Myanmar’s Rakhine State have been attempting to cross the border into Bangladesh in order to escape the latest persecution on them in their own ancestral land. Bangladesh, which is already home to over 500,000 Rohingyas, is both unwilling and unable to take more refugees. Despite such unwillingness, already thousands of Rohingyas have entered Bangladesh following the latest persecution on them.

All in all, except for few dents, 2016 was a year with many positive news, incidents and events for Bangladesh. The country has entered 2017 with comparatively a good memory – of G7 Outreach Summit, Jingping and Modi’s visit, acquisition of submarines and enthusiasm for the US Presidential election – from 2016. As the year 2016 was a year of resolving the odds and building hopes, the 2017 will perhaps be a year to act upon those hopes.

Welcome 2017, good luck Bangladesh.

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