KARACHI: “Immediately after independence, we didn’t start from zero. We started from minus,” said the High Commissioner of Bangladesh to Pakistan Md Ruhul Alam Siddique.

He was speaking on the topic of ‘Bangladesh: A Journey to Development’ at an event organised by the English Speaking Union of Pakistan (ESUP) at a local hotel here on Wednesday.

He said that in 1971 when Bangladesh gained independence, it had everything going against it such as a huge population, no foreign currency reserves, a life expectancy of 47 years, famine, natural disasters and immense psychological trauma, but Sheikh Mujibur Rahman pushed for development even in that scenario.

“The government’s programme was economic progress by making the industry functional and fighting against food scarcity, but Sheikh Mujib was assassinated along with most of his family in 1975. Only two of his daughters, who were travelling abroad, survived. And in 1996, one of them was elected as the prime minister of Bangladesh,” he said.

“She took charge of the country for the second time in 2009, when she introduced ‘Vision 2021’ for the progress of Bangladesh. She fixed some targets that included several Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as well along with infrastructure development, building the country’s knowledge base, have a social set-up for poor people, etc,” he said.

He further explained that in their country, they concentrated on development from the poorest segment of the people where they were encouraged to grow their own food under the ‘One house, one farm’ initiative, where the rich were to build a house for the poor under the ‘Houses for all’ initiative, where education, especially computer education, was encouraged, where every household had electric supply, where health and mental health was made a priority and they had a proper social system network.

Also, they took measures to combat the adverse effects of climate change.

“We have successfully attained all our MDGs before time, along with so many other things, which we had aimed for,” he said and added that the prime minister of Bangladesh had also introduced a ‘Vision 2041’ where they will be looking at further developments and also making them sustainable.

“With all these pragmatic programmes during the past 12 years, Bangladesh has been prospering. Last year, when we complete our country’s 50 years of independence, we crossed our export targets, too. Our poverty level has been reduced to 10 per cent, our life expectancy has gone up to 72 years, there is 100 per cent enrolment in our primary schools and our social indicators are way ahead of some of our neighbours. Our focus now is on the increased production of food crops,” he said.

He also said that Bangladesh follows a ‘friendship with all, malaise for none’ foreign policy.

“This foreign policy was introduced from the very beginning, therefore, we have no enemies and Bangladesh is a very active participant in the peacekeeping actions of the United Nations,” he said.

He termed Myanmar nationals, the Rohingya people, crossing over to Bangladesh, as the biggest challenge as it feeds and takes care of them.

He suspected that their long-term stay could lead to security challenges for Bangladesh and the region.

He said Pakistan is very important for their country as it is a source of raw material for their textile industry, which happens to be the second biggest in the world. They also enjoy fast-growing bilateral trade.

He also added Bangladesh is now looking at tangible development in their visa section for Pakistani nationals to be able to visit that country, which was once a part of Pakistan.

Earlier, while introducing the chief guest, Kalim Farooqui, president of ESUP, said that Mr Siddique was no stranger to the country, and specially to Karachi, as he was here before also as the deputy high commissioner of Bangladesh and now he is back here, visiting from Islamabad, where he is serving as the High Commissioner.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2022

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