Bangladesh progress: Facts and Fiction

Author: Mir Hadi Abbas

Recently, a short clip from a penal talk entitled IMF & the Economic Future of Pakistan organized by T2F has gone viral on social media. At the end of the talk, a woman from the audience asks the panellists that Bangladesh is often compared to Pakistan but what are the main reasons behind Bangladesh’s rapid growth over Pakistan? S Akbar Zaidi, a leading Pakistani political economist, and the author responds to the question and maintains that there are three reasons behind Bangladesh’s fast development. Firstly, they almost disbarred the army’s role from politics and confined them to constitutional limits. Secondly, they adopted secularism as their national policy, and lastly, they worked hard on the education of women and increased the women’s literacy rate. The female literacy rate has reached 72 per cent as of 2020. Now, most of our scholars think that Pakistan is lagging because it’s a ‘Praetorian state’, a term originating from the times of the Roman Empire where the Roman Praetorian Guard, a unit of the Imperial Roman army, used to play a crucial role in the appointment of Roman Emperors.

Nowadays, this term is used explicitly for a state where the military is highly involved in domestic politics and national affairs. Moreover, these scholars believe that secularism, a principle that advocates the separation of state and religion, is the only way to progress. No doubt, these objections demand some serious consideration but are definitely not the root cause of the problem. It looks fashionable these days to cheer the audience by criticizing the army. Let’s suppose for a while that the army stops interfering in political affairs. Do you really think this bourgeois class or preferably non-productive elite known as our ‘political leaders’ have any solution to the current socio-politico-economic crisis? Certainly not.

Coming to Bangladesh, the governing Bangladesh Awami League party led by Sheikh Hasina Wazed has introduced some phenomenal political and social reforms and set Bangladesh on the road to becoming the leading South Asian economic miracle. From boosting Bangladesh’s Garment manufacturing industry to Mango diplomacy: a new kind of diplomacy to gift mangoes to keep the bilateral ties intact with different nations just like the Ping-Pong diplomacy between the US and China back in the 1970s; and from opening trade opportunities to creating stable micro-economic conditions, BAL has set the tone of the country on a right direction. Apart from other major exports of Bangladesh, just garment industry has contributed to and raised the annual revenue from $19 billion to $34 billion. The government didn’t stop here. To further expand this industry, they set up more garment industries and now Bangladesh has almost 4600 factories producing garments. It won’t be wrong to say that the tag ‘Made in Bangladesh’ will soon be a new normal in the South Asian markets.

Pakistan can’t beat Bangladesh if our universities don’t impart skill-based education.

Moreover, the government has successfully attracted Direct Foreign Investment. Many global companies including Uber, Alibaba, and Amazon have advanced their business in Bangladesh. As a result, Bangladesh has received an average of 3.61 billion per year in foreign direct investment. Here, one thing that is important to understand is that the government must be vigilant about this Foreign Investment because the First World countries cunningly expand their businesses in third world countries through TNCs (Transnational corporations), on cheap labour and fewer taxes. So the government should impose heavy taxes on these Transnational Corporations including McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Petrol Pumps, etc. Furthermore, it needs to introduce new pro-worker policies and abolish colonial-era labour laws to change the lifestyle of workers.

Interestingly, apart from these foreign investments, Bangladesh is also leading faster in entrepreneurial activities. According to recent research, almost 1000 startups in the country and more than 200 new startups are being founded every year. While technological advancement is also at its peak as the government has announced to launch of 5g technology.

After achieving such a major milestone, Bangladesh’s poverty fell from 43.5% to 14% in two decades. All these achievements were not possible without a strong political commitment, sheer dedication, and goal-oriented vision. Pakistan can learn a lot from Bangladesh. But it’s not possible without a political revolution and a workers-friendly ideology. What can you expect from a government that deliberately allocates less budget for higher education and appoints that education minister who has nothing to do with the education ministry. Where is S Akbar Zaidi now who said only limiting the role of the military can fix all problems?

Pakistan can’t beat Bangladesh if our universities don’t impart skill-based education as Jalal Al-e-Ahmad, one of Iran’s greatest thinkers, very aptly highlighted this phenomenon in his magnum opus entitled Occidentosis. There is a chapter in the book ‘How to Break the Spell’ as evident from the name of the chapter, Jalal gives some suggestions to the westoxificated countries on how they can outgrow western influence. He says the aimlessness of education and the general confusion in the curricula are of utmost importance. It is still unclear why one must complete elementary school, for what reason, or to learn what skills. How about high school? What about the university, then? The university should be the hub for the most exquisite and exceptional scientific, technological, and literary research.

He further says, thus first we need an economy consistent with the manufacture of machines, that is, an independent economy. Then we need an educational system, then a furnace to merit the metal and impress it with the human will. Then we need schools where these skills may be practically imparted. Then we need factories to convert the metal into machines and other industrial goods. And then we need markets to make them available to the people in the towns and villages.

To cut a long story short, our organic intellectuals need to understand that without real political change, no change is possible. And this real political change can only bring by a revolutionary party that doesn’t exist in Pakistan. When our scholars criticize the army, they pin their hopes on our politicians. That’s where the problem lies. If the army has created all this narrative, then tell the nation that these politicians are no revolutionaries.

The writer is a political and investigative journalist.

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