30Jun2022

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Tag: Bangladesh

South Asia Bulletin

SAB Blog – Bangladesh

Domestic Updates

Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the marginalized opposition party in Bangladesh, held a protest against Prime minister Sheikh Hasina for her ‘defamatory’ remarks. During a press conference, Prime Minister Hasina insinuated that Khaleda Zia, chairperson of BNP, be dropped from the Padma Bridge. Hasina and Zia were political rivals, but Hasina and her party, Bangladesh Awami League (BAL), have dominated Bangladesh politics since 2009.

Human rights violations and marginalization of the opposition have been a hallmark of the BAL regime. Khaleda Zia was sent to jail after she was sentenced to five years imprisonment by a special court in the Zia Orphanage Trust corruption case on 8 February 2018. In addition, observers have questioned the integrity of the 2014 and 2018 elections held under BAL.

BNP has been a shadow, with little representation in the national parliament. Currently, they are protesting against inflation, demanding elections under a neutral government and the release of the party chairperson. However, questions remain over their sustenance and impact on Bangladesh politics.

Bangladesh has seen spectacular economic growth in the last two decades. Yet, Bangladesh’s foreign reserve peaked at USD 48 billion in August 2021 but dropped to USD 42 billion by May 2022. Global price increase of oil and wheat because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, import growth due to Covid-19 free situation, and low remittance inflow are the significant causes. This has raised fear in some quarters that Bangladesh is following Sri Lanka’s path. As a result, the Bangladesh Bank has hardened its import policy for luxury and non-essential items like sports-utility vehicles, washing machines, air conditioners, and refrigerators to mitigate the situation.

Regional Engagement

Bangladesh’s foreign minister, Abdul Momen, attended a two-day NADI-3 (Natural Allies in Development and Interdependence) Conference, which began on 28 May in Guwahati, Assam. Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Chief Minister of Assam Himanta Biswa Sarma also attended the conference. In his inaugural speech, Momen said, “We have developed strong connectivity with our neighbours, particularly India. We have developed robust connectivity by road, railways, waterways, and air routes. We have more to do in waterways because it is cost-effective. I am looking forward to a new Indian subcontinent where we can help improve the connectivity of all the waterways. We also developed connectivity in our energy sharing.” Momen urged Nepal and Bhutan to join in connectivity. However, BBIN motor-vehicle agreement (MVA), which brings all four countries together, is languishing.

Global Engagement

Bangladesh observed 29 May as the International Day of United Nations (UN) Peacekeepers. Nearly 7000 Bangladeshis serve as the UN peacekeepers, 9.2 percent of a total of 75,516. Bangladesh is the largest troops contributor to peacekeeping operations. Hasina has assured that Bangladesh is ready to contribute more peacekeepers.

The Ukraine war has also resulted in the price hike in necessary food items, especially wheat. Even though India banned wheat export, it will continue to export to neighbouring countries. Bangladesh, which had successfully engaged China, India, and other major powers through open regionalism, is facing a new challenge because of increasing competition between China and the US (and Quad). All Quad members are key development partners of Bangladesh.