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Posted on August 20, 2010 at 5:05 PM

Foreign policy of Bangladesh: Friendship to All Malice to None?

                                                                                                        Raju Chaqladar, MSS (1st Class),

                                                                                                        International Relations, 57th Batch,

                                                                                                        University of Dhaka


                      The foreign policy of a nation is conducted through the institution of diplomacy. Obviously, any evolution in the diplomatic concepts, norms and practices affect the conduct of foreign policy of nations. Bangladesh is no exception to this process. Rather, as a nation which is increasingly coming into global interface, understanding and appreciation of the dynamics of diplomacy is all the more relevant and urgent. The Foreign relations of Bangladesh are the Bangladeshi government's policies in its external relations with the international community and the country pursues a moderate foreign policy that places heavy reliance on multinational diplomacy, especially at the United Nations and WTO. Since independence in 1971, the country has stressed its principle of ‘Friendship to All, Malice to None’ in dictating its diplomacy. And here is a great relevancy of NAM and Cold War Era politics for adopting these types of foreign policy!


The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is an intergovernmental organization of states considering themselves not aligned formally with or against any major power bloc. The purpose of the organisation as stated in the Havana Declaration of 1979 is to ensure "the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries" in their "struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony as well as against great power and bloc politics.” They represent nearly two-thirds of the United Nations's members and 55% of the world population, particularly countries considered to be developing or part of the Third World.


As a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, Bangladesh has tended to not take sides with major powers. Since the end of the Cold War, the country has pursued better relations with regional neighbours. Inspired by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's vision for a Switzerland of the Orient, the Bangladesh government has begun to translate the ideal into a foreign policy that pursues regional economic integration in South Asia and aims to establish Bangladesh as a regional hub of transit trade in Asia. As a member of the Non-aligned Movement, Bangladesh never took any position in line with big powers. In a word, the Non-Aligned Movement was actually formed as an attempt to thwart the Cold War; it has struggled to find relevance since the Cold War ended.


By 1989, the Soviet alliance system was on the brink of collapse, and, deprived of Soviet military support, the Communist leaders of the Warsaw Pact states were losing power. In the USSR itself, Glasnost weakened the bonds that held the Soviet Union together and by February 1990, with the dissolution of the USSR looming, the Communist Party was forced to surrender its 73-year-old monopoly on state power.


Gorbachev's permissive attitude toward Eastern Europe did not initially extend to Soviet territory; even Bush, who strove to maintain friendly relations, condemned the January 1991 killings in Latvia and Lithuania, privately warning that economic ties would be frozen if the violence continued.  The USSR was fatally weakened by a failed coup and a growing number of Soviet republics, particularly Russia, who threatened to secede from the USSR. The Commonwealth of Independent States, created on December 21, 1991, is viewed as a successor entity to the Soviet Union but, according to Russia's leaders, its purpose was to "allow a civilized divorce" between the Soviet Republics and is comparable to a loose confederation.  The USSR was declared officially dissolved on December 25, 1991.


The aftermath of the Cold War continues to influence world affairs.  After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the post-Cold War world is widely considered as ‘Unipolar’, with the United States of America the sole remaining superpower.


Bangladesh have passed four decades of her foreign policy and also passed a few phases of her own diplomacy like Recognition diplomacy, Economic diplomacy, Fuel diplomacy, Cultural diplomacy and Climate diplomacy etc. First decade of Bangladesh’s foreign policy was essentially guided by the principles of ‘Recognition Diplomacy’!

There were some states that did not recognize Bangladesh as an independent state. During the liberation war China, the USA and some other states of the Middle Eastern country were anti of Bangladesh’s Freedom. There was a tendency to formulate those states in favors of Bangladesh.


The Economic infrastructure of Bangladesh was developed by Pakistan and it was mostly related with western world more than ever with the USA. There were not any relations with the USSR or with Eastern Europe in the extent of ‘Export-Import’ but a little bit with China was. The business group, intellectuals or bureaucrats of Bangladesh were highly introduced with western world. In this backdrop, Bangladesh had a “Hyper-Actism” getting recognition.

The World was divided into two parts when Bangladesh was independent like “The USA Block” and “The USSR Block”. We know that there was a severe Cold War between the USA and the USSR while Foreign policy of Bangladesh was adopted. The synopsis of cold war was like “if you do not remain with me then you are Anti of me” that means if any country denies to make companionship to her (the USA or the USSR) then that country will be considered her as an enemy!! Within this reality, Bangladesh had to adopt her foreign policy.

In support of this policy Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared in 1972, “The principle of our foreign policy is to make friendship and co-operation with all the nations of the world. We want to make Bangladesh as the Switzerland of the Orient” He added, “We have not any kind of intention to show aggression on any nation or state of the world”.  President Ziaur Rahman also stated in the NAM conference of Havana-1979, “Bangladesh believes in independent and neutral foreign policy. We determine our foreign policy maintaining equidistance from different alliances”.


Now the world is ‘Uni-polar’ and the reality of international or global politics is also different from those earlier period of Cold War and ‘Bipolar Dilemma’ is now demised. The purpose of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) stated in the Havana Declaration of 1979 were protecting "the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries" and “struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony as well as against great power and bloc politics” are now-a-day’s an obsolete phenomena in the context of NAM. Even Switzerland is no more a neutral state now because she became the UN member (190th) through the mandate of her population in September 10, 2002.


According to Realism, there is no permanent friend or permanent enemy in international politics but national interest simply determines who is friend or who is enemy! If National Interest, National Security, National Sovereignty face threats from any hostile state then it is reasonably impossible to make friendship with that assailant state. So in this state of affairs, Bangladesh’s foreign policy needs to come under review and have to pursue an independent foreign policy avoiding kneel down foreign policy (When a country cannot be able to pursue her own foreign policy independently or she has to adopt her foreign policy being influenced by any Great power or influential states are known as Kneel down foreign policy along with internal or external pressure creating and hidden Entente with the Ruling Party are the diamond causes of Kneel down foreign policy). “Friendship to All Malice to None” the principle of Bangladesh’s foreign policy needs to come under review for the sake of Sustainable Development, National Security, Sovereignty and above all the wellbeing of the whole Nation.







Nationalist, Anti-Nationalist or Beyond Nationalist?

Raju Chaqladar, MSS(1st Class),

International Relations, 57th Batch,

University of Dhaka

RabindranathTagore had sensible and clearly articulated views about nationalism in thelight of cross-cultural knowledge, education for freedom of the mind, warand peace, the importance of reasonable criticism, the need for openness, and so on. His books show the influence of different parts of the Indian cultural background, as well as that of the rest of the world.

People may be confused by Tagore's description of his Bengali family as the product of "a confluence of three cultures, Hindu, Mohammedan, and British," because the amalgamation of East and West may seem contradictory. Actually, Tagore did not support the idea of nationalism.

Tagore's doctrine of universal humanity was to spread spiritual values among people and create a new world culture out of multi-culturism, diversity, and tolerance.When Gandhi took care of the political sector by essentially being and representing the everyman, Tagore served the spiritual and creative side of his countrymen, and possibly the whole world.

Tagore's strongest expression comes not in nationalism but in creativity. The connotations of the term "nationalism" have changed a good deal since 1916. Tagore has little to say about ethnic cultures, or about linguistic or religious communities or nationalist myths. His definition of a nation is the political and economic union of a people in that aspect that a whole population assumes when organised for a mechanical purpose. The emphasis falls upon organised and mechanical.

The western nation is conterminous with the nation-state, the mechanical organisation of people in pursuit ofmaterial enhancement and hence aggressive and imperialist in character; infact, for nationalism we might often read imperialism.

At other times, Tagore in hisdistrust of technology and impersonal bureaucracy, falls into a similarposition to the western romantic critique of civilisation and modernisation ashe said: "When this organisation of politics and commerce, whose other name is the nation becomes all-powerful, at the cost of the harmony of the higher social life, then it is an evil day for humanity …This abstract being,the nation, is ruling India."

This is very interesting that histhought continually moves between opposites -- spiritual and materialist, East and West, nation and no-nation, masculine and feminine, abstract and personal and then seeks for ways to reconcile and harmonise the opposites. According to him these don't need to compete but should eventually fall into equilibrium. In nationalism this is rarely more than wishful rhetoric. Moreover, Tagore stressed his international concerns, and shrewdly denounced the excesses of nationalism not only in India, but also in Japan, China, and the West.

Tagore published his first essay on Gandhi and non-cooperation, "The Callof Truth," which argued that truth was of both the head and the heart; It was on education (and on the reflection, dialogue, and communication that are associated with it), rather than on, say, spinning "as a sacrifice"("the charka does not require anyone to think"), that the future ofIndia would depend.

Tagore was concerned not only that there be wider opportunities for education across the country (especially in rural areas where schools were few), but also that the schools themselves be more lively and enjoyable. He himself had dropped out of school early, largely out of boredom, and had never bothered to earn a diploma. He wrote extensively on how schools should be made more attractive to boys and girls and thus more productive.

For Tagore it was of the highest importance that people be able to live, and reason, in freedom. His attitudes toward politics and culture, nationalism and internationalism, tradition and modernity, can all be seen in the light of this belief. Passion for freedom underlies his firm opposition to unreasoned traditionalism. His uncompromising belief was in the importance of "freedom of mind."

Some argue that war is somewhat related to nationalism. But according to Tagore the word war is not a central theme of nationalism. It is, rather, ever presentin the background, as proof of the self-destructive tendency of the organised modern nation.

Throughout his adult political life, Rabindranath Tagore had been critical of using force, man against man,class against class, nation against nation. He had sharp words for the Japanese when he visited Japan at the time of the First World War and in the late 1930s; he was hostile towards their use of force in China.

Tagore would oppose the cultural nationalism that has gained ground in India along with an exaggerated fear of the influence of the West. He was uncompromising in his belief that human beings could absorb quite different cultures in constructive ways. He said: "Whatever we understand and enjoy in human products instantly becomes ours, wherever they might have theirorigin. I am proud of my humanity when I can acknowledge the poets and artists of other countries as my own. Let me feel with unalloyed gladness that all thegreat glories of man are mine."

He had reservations about patriotism, which, he argued, can limit both the freedom to engage ideas from outside "narrow domestic walls" and the freedom also to support the causes of people in other countries.

Tagore's criticism of patriotism isa persistent theme in his writings. His novel Ghare Baire (The Home and the World) has much to say about this theme. In the novel, Nikhil, who is keen onsocial reform, including women's liberation, was cool towards nationalism, gradually loses the esteem of his spirited wife, Bimala, because of his failureto be enthusiastic about anti-British agitations, which she sees as a lack of patriotic commitment. Bimala becomes fascinated with Nikhil's nationalist friend Sandip, who speaks brilliantly and acts with patriotic militancy, andshe falls in love with him. Nikhil refuses to change his views: "I am willing to serve my country; but my worship I reserve for Right which is far greater than my country."

As for the contrary evidence of Tagore's "patriotic" gesture, such as his renunciation of his knighthood, Tagore believes in protesting against injustice in the name of humanity, not in the hope of gaining concession. Tagore was the only one whose protests were motivated by a sense of moral duty. Rabindranath's qualified support for nationalist movements -- and his opposition to the unfreedom ofalien rule -- came from the commitment that freedom is one of the most important priorities.

While introducing a new edition of Tagore's Nationalism (1917), E.P. Thompsonwrote in 1991: "More than any other thinker of his time, Tagore had aclear conception of civil society, as something distinct from and of stronger and more personal texture than political or economic structure." He wanted his people of India to be left free by the British, he supported and praised Gandhi for his leadership.

Tagore, says E.P. Thompson,"was a founder of anti-politics." This means that even during thephase of the most widespread political activities in India's struggle for independence, Tagore continued to maintain that village reconstruction in thedream to make a civil society was a more fruitful activity for the purpose of the real deliverance of the Indian people.

Tagore's commitment toanti-politics and his concern with civil society make him appear at times to bea markedly modern -- or perhaps postmodern thinker. The assertive nationalisms and communalisms which mark our own time and which refuse any assent touniversal value are not confined to the West. Tagore cannot resolve theseproblems but if we can share and apply his far-sighted intuitions he may helpus do so.

Tagore objected to the burning of foreign cloth because it was foreign. Gandhi stressed the need for Indian self-sufficiency in every sphere of life, whileTagore saw the need for international cooperation and sharing. In the modernage, the poet insisted, India must learn from abroad, for example, in science,as well as look inward. Tagore believed that India had a message for the world,but he thought India must also incorporate others' messages into her own cultural repertoire.

He warned his countrymen against accepting those evils, which the West has brought through the application ofthe great knowledge-the conquest of the vast spaces of the world and the upturning of man's moral balance, the liquidation of his human side under the shadow of the soulless organisation of the machine. Tagore exhorted: "You must apply your Eastern Mind, your spiritual strength, your love of simplicity,your recognition of social obligation in order to cut out a new path."

The contradiction between nationalism and no-nationhood did not admit of such averbal reconciliation and this contradiction limited the success of Tagore's lectures on nationalism. It can be seen that he respects not only to the Japanese cultural inheritance but also the supposed presence of pan-Asianspiritual values which is contrasted against the aggressive materialism of the western nation. But later he observed the same features of material greed and imperialist aggression in the modernising Japan that he criticised.

Japanese critics suggested that Tagore's praise for the lack of nationalism in India was the special pleading of a "defeated people." Moreover, Tagore's diatribes against materialism, technology, mechanical organisation, and unbridled pursuit of wealth are criticised by many western people.

Some people criticise him as sayingTagore had once been a nationalist but had withdrawn from this stance later.Tagore himself had passed through an ardent nationalistic phase in the first years of the century, the years of Swadeshi and of the agitation against the1905 partition of Bengal, and then fell back into a more quietist stance in thenext decade. His novel The Home and the World (1916 in Bengali) belongs to thislatter phase, and it testifies to the ambivalence of Tagore's response toIndian Nationalism.

Nationalists accused him of apostasy, which seemed to be confirmed when he was awarded a knighthood in1915; his renunciation of that honour in 1919, however, in protest at the massacre at Amtrisar and its aftermath, did something to repair his patriotic image.

No matter what many critics state about him, it is well established that Rabindranath persisted on open debate onall subjects, and were wary of conclusions based on a mechanical formula, nomatter how attractive it may seem separately. The question that repeatedly arises is whether we have sufficient reason to want what is proposed, taking everything into account. Important as history is, the reasoning must overshadowthe past.

As Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate in economics, well described him: "It is in the sovereignty of  reasoning -- fearless reasoning in freedom -- that we can find Rabindranath Tagore's lasting voice."

In my view, his valiant reasoningin self-determination prevails over extreme nationalism. The present worldconsists of the several aspects of globalisation that are being practiced through sharing knowledge and cross-cultural views by a globe-spanning network of communication, and it is me, a free mind, who is to decide what it is to acculturate.


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Reply Masum Billah
2:33 PM on April 2, 2012 
Congratulations!!! Friend, You have done a great job!! Really this is a smart and talented article.
Reply Rajkumar Banarjee
1:38 PM on March 31, 2012 
Nationalism is a very popular catch phrase world wide!! It is related with culture and life style of a specific human beings of a specific region! Rabindronath Thakur expressed his view.......sorry to say that I am not agree with him!!!
Reply dark man
5:20 PM on August 20, 2010 
Its a goooooooooooooooooood job you have done. Congrats boy.

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