Foreign Policy of Bangladesh Geopolitical Challenges and Opportunities By – Mohammad Tayeb Uddin
Foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy. Objectives of domestic policy are to be pursued through foreign policy. It isbased on a country’s strengths and weaknesses. Besides, size, geographical location and resources, culture and history, economic development, technology, social structure, political organizations, media, political accountability and leadership influence directions offoreign policy. Geopolitical location of Bangladesh gives it both strength and weakness from different perspectives. As its location is landlocked by India it keeps Bangladesh in a disadvantage but a little land boundary with Myanmaron the southeastern edge, China’s nearness and its entrance in sea give an advantage to its external orientation. India’s need of corridor through Bangladesh and enhancing global importance of the south Asian region comes as a hope to Bangladesh to keeps its foreign policy in an advantageous position.
Geo-graphical Position of Bangladesh
Bangladesh is located in war-torn South Asian region. She is sandwiched between two rising Asia’s giants—India and China. She is bordered by India on the east, west and north and by the Bay of Bengal on the south. There is also a small strip of frontier with Myanmar on the southeastern edge. The land is a deltaic plain with a network of numerous rivers and canals. Through Myanmar Bangladesh is bridge between South Asia and South East Asia. India is the nearest neighbor andChina is also a very close neighbor of Bangladesh with only 100 km far from borders. Bangladesh does not have a common border with Nepal and Bhutan .Both are very close neighbors separated from the northern border of Bangladesh by 13.7 miles and 18.67 miles of Indian Territory respectively. Bangladesh shares 54 international rivers with India and Myanmar. Though in the south she has her own out let to sea through the Bay of Bengal. Among the neighbors of Bangladesh there are three countries with nuclear power. China and India are emerging as major economic and military powers, destined to play increasingly active role in the global politics.Furthermore, China and Pakistan are involved in borders conflicts with India on Arunachal and Kashmir.
Geo-political Disadvantages and its Effects on Foreign Policy
Bangladesh is locked by India both in land and water except a little borderwith Myanmar. Geopolitics may be a disadvantage when a country is landlocked orshares common border mostly with one country.Bangladesh’s nearness of border with India may appear as a weakness in her defense against any future military conflict with India. Common sharing of Rivers also appears as a weakness for Bangladesh because the flow of water which depends of the source of the rivers. The flow of 54 common rivers from India into Bangladesh territory creates yet another weakness to Bangladesh. Construction of Farakka barrage and possibility of constructing more other barrages also appeared as a weakness given by the nature to Bangladesh which we are considering as a geopolitical disadvantage to Bangladesh. Shiligori corridor between Bangladesh and both Nepal, Bhutan which also appears as a weakness to Bangladesh, as it could has brought more advantageous position if it were Bangladesh part.This small land separate Bangladesh from linking Nepal and Bhutan. If Bangladesh had linkage with Nepal or Bhutan it could have made easier linkage to china which could have been strengths in barging to formulate Bangladesh’s foreign policy. This peculiar location in the region has forced to consider India as the significant factor is the formulation of countries foreign policy.Though there we have only but small option to go out avoiding India. Very practically we see now and then Indian BSF solders kills many Bangladeshis but we cannot take those killings in consider to talk to them avoiding the geo political reality. In our foreign policy with India we see that until the mid-august, 1975 Bangladesh had cordial relations with India. It seems that the policy makers at that time realized the significance of geopolitical reality. Geopolitics dictates Bangladeshis closer relation with India. It is realized through the signing of the friendship treaty which demonstrating to integrate Bangladeshis security with India. Bangladesh due to her political and security dependence on India did not strengthen relations with countries having odds with India.
Geo-political Advantages and its Effects on Foreign Policy
Though Bangladesh is a small country and almost locked by India its geopolitical location gives it some strength in this interdependent world which is prone to be multipolar. Bangladesh is being significant geopolitically where we can categorizes some of the important causes
Increasing Importance in South Asia and International Politics
Bangladesh being situated in South Asia its importance because of its geopolitical location is increasing day by day with the increasing importance of South Asia and broadly Asia in International Politics. China is situated in the north of this zone, Russia is on the North and West, the Middle East, Balkans and Europe are on the West, and the Indian Ocean on the South. The Indian Ocean connects the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. If the 19th century was the century of the Atlantic and the 20th century of the century of the Pacific, then, as the calculations of India and some other countries go, the 21st century will be the century of the Indian Ocean. Being located in between Indian mainland and its reveling seven sister states Bangladesh’s strategic importance for Indian has been very crucial to communicate by less spending. Besides being almost inside India having a small mouth to Bay of Bengal it has also become an attraction for USA and China sometime to deter India. Lying between the Himalayas in the north and the Bay of Bengal in the south, it offers the only land route connecting the two regions. In the unlikely event of an India-China conflict, the access to or denial of the use of Bangladesh territory to the belligerent forces will be of utmost strategic importance. The Bay of Bengal is of strategic importance regionally and globally. It spans the vital maritime route between South East Asia and Middle East. It provides the sea link to a billion people and half dozen countries. Its energy and fishery resources are also important for the region. Bangladesh has vital interest in the Bay of Bengal.
For the fulfillment of Asian high way Bangladesh is significant part it links India with south eastern countries through easier low cost way. Though Bangladesh yet hasn’t linked with the Asian high way because of disagreement with India one another’s proposal still Bangladesh remains as not to be avoided.
Since independence Bangladesh is being used as transit route by rail and inland water ways between India’s two parts. It gives India benefits in terms of quick movement s of goods and less cost. For what we see India’s great interest to take corridor facilities through land roads and using Chittagong port. For the foreign policy decision makers of Bangladesh this transit facilities more correctly corridor as India proposed has been an important factor to bargain and to mitigate other problems like water dispute, border dispute , sea border dispute with India.
Geo political importance of Bangladesh for other countries
Not only India has interest over the geopolitical location of Bangladesh. But also courtiers like Nepal, Bhutan, China, and USA and even courtiers like Japan and Australia are showing their interest considering the geo political importance of Bangladesh. Nepal and Bhutan being land locked and not having sea access very much interested to use Bangladeshis sea ports to foster their trade. As china has competing relationship with India always seeks opportunities to contain India geo-strategically where Bangladesh becomesone of the perfect positions to her intention. Though USA has its biggest naval base in Andaman Nicober islands it’s intend to use Chittagong Sea ports to strengthen its strategic position in the south Asia considering the importance of the region in World politics. More clearly in terms of any dispute with India and china Chittagong port is the better place to contain two nuclear power and which are growing as a super power in international system. Japan and Australia also for their national interest maintain good relations with Bangladesh and where Australia has different project and aid in great deal in Chittagong hill Tracks. No state regulates its foreign policy without being motivated by its national interest.
Bangladesh’s Geopolitical Challenges
Land and water are vital issues in Bangladesh. Unplanned urban and industrial growth takes away rich agricultural land. Although the land is fertile, the productivity is low due to poor agro-management. Bangladesh is endowed with the highest per capita availability of fresh water in the world, yet water, like land, is badly managed. There is tremendous wastage as well as rampant pollution of fresh water in the country. While the demand for fresh water continues to rise, its supply dwindles. Some of the major rivers are being diverted upstream in India. The Ganges or Tista, once mighty rivers, have reduced to trickles. India’s plan to dam Borak River at Tipaimukh in Assam will cause serious water shortage in the Meghna basin. The Chinese government’s plan to divert the Brahmaputra could be the last nail in the coffin. The Brahmaputra alone carries more than 60% of the total fresh water apart from most of the alluvial deposits in Bangladesh. While Bangladesh has been negotiating with India on the sharing of common rivers, in case of the Brahmaputra, Bangladesh and India need a common strategy vis-à-vis China. Bangladesh is endowed with natural gas and coal two vital energy sources. Yet there is a need to efficiently plan for their exploration and exploitation. There is also need to develop alternative sources of energies such as solar, wind, biogas etc. Our industrial growth continues to suffer due to shortage of electricity. So we need to generate more power. Meanwhile, a regional power grid could be established to import power from countries such as Bhutan, which have tremendous potential for hydroelectricity. Water and energy could be the two most important areas of regional cooperation or confrontation. On the economic front, we need to attract foreign investment including investment from countries such as India and China. Greater economic cooperation and integration within SAARC and then beyond could ensure an era of peace and prosperity for the whole region. While domestic issues are our prime concern our external relations cannot be ignored.
The above are indicative of some of the realities, opportunities and challenges to Bangladesh foreign policy of the 21st century.These analyses over the geopolitical reality and its impacts on foreign policy formulation gives us the understanding that Bangladesh hardly can avoid India as a factor to its foreign policy. Geopolitical realities dictation over foreign policy provides both disadvantages and disadvantages which also makes the countries interdependent in this world system.
The writer is undergraduate student of International Relations at the University of Dhaka.