Bangladesh in 2022: Year-End Review and Way Forward
Dr Anil Kumar

The Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus was threatening the world at the beginning of 2022, and the impact was more severe in developing countries like Bangladesh. The pandemic impacted overall growth and dented the economy to a great extent. Most of the countries in South Asia, including Bangladesh, have suffered losses in its aftermath. Meanwhile, the ongoing economic crisis and the Russia-Ukraine war halted Bangladesh's economic growth as it was about to emerge from the problem posed by COVID-19.

Bangladesh got 1.2 million AstraZeneca vaccines from India, under the aegis of New Delhi's Vaccine Maitri initiative and 500 thousand from China, followed by a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to produce 5 million export-quality Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccines. Besides, Bangladesh emphasises the process of infrastructural development and digitalisation, such as the Padma Bridge, the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in electric trains and Metro rail service remotely controlled by digital technology, and many other connectivity projects across the border.[1] From that perspective, the year 2022 has remained a significant period for Bangladesh to develop the infrastructure at home and build friendship and trust for cooperation with neighbouring countries like India.

Economy, Aid and Infrastructure

Bangladesh is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Agriculture, industry and services (including garments) are the main sectors contributing to Bangladesh's economy.[2] Its GDP growth rate increased to 7.2 per cent in the financial year 2022, compared to 6.9 per cent in the financial year 2021. Initially, there was also an increase in "export earnings that reached an all-time high of US$ 52 billion in the financial year 2021-22".[3] Such growth dynamics boosted the nation's confidence till the taka started depreciating due to a drop in remittances, the decline in the foreign exchange reserves, and restrictions on imports. In fact, "to arrest the drop in reserves, import controls were put in place that suppressed economic activities as factories cried out for energy supply. Due to control of imports and economic suppression, default loans hit a new record" that put banks under liquidity stress.[4]

On the economic front, among other countries, Bangladesh sought help from various international organisations. After Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Bangladesh was the third country to request an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout of US$ 2.9 billion, US$ 6 billion, and US$ 4.5 billion, respectively. Bangladesh has also approached to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) for loans.[5] The ADB had approved a $200 million loan in November 2022 to strengthen micro-finance in Bangladesh, supporting microenterprises, particularly those owned by women and those located in regions with high climate risks. Additionally, the country has approached several other agencies and actors, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and sought several other funds/Lines of Credit (LoC) from countries like China and India.[6]

Many times the credits have been available to develop the infrastructure in Bangladesh. For instance, funds received were directed towards crucial projects, namely, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant (built by Russia) and Maitree Super Thermal Power Plant (MSTPP) in collaboration with India.[7] Such infrastructural development is necessary for the nation’s energy, trade, connectivity, and development. This can be initiated through various cross-border roads between states.[8] Besides, the long-awaited Padma Bridge project in Bangladesh was opened on 25th June, exhibiting its capacity to complete such agigantic project with its own resources.[9] It is also one of the significant stories, along with Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, about Bangladesh's development in 2022. Moreover, Bangladesh's PM Sheikh Hasina, has tried her best to attract investments by saying that "hercountry is the best for it" in the world.[10] It may be true in some ways, Bangladesh can be a good place for investments, but the rising inflation, inequality, unemployment, and concerns surrounding the Rohingya crisis continue to impede the development process for Bangladesh.

Defence and (In) Security

The migration and refugee crisis has remained a significant problem for the nation. For instance, Bangladesh is facing a primary challenge from Rohingya's displacement in the region. On several occasions, the state functionaries have stated that Rohingyas are posing a security threat to Bangladesh, as also to other countries in the region. Therefore, "Bangladesh has voiced concerns at the growing susceptibility of the displaced Rohingyas in Bangladesh to radicalism, extremism, trans-border crimes, human trafficking and drug smuggling" spreading over to the neighbouring countries.[11] According to areport, "the Border Security Force apprehended 59 Rohingya, and 150Bangladeshi nationals in different operations" across borders in 2022. In the meantime, more than 30,000 Rohingyas have been shifted to Bhasan Char, a remote island in the Bay of Bengal.[12] In this light, several security issues have become an essential concern for Bangladesh.

The problem of Rohingya has been highlighted as a paramount concern in the context of international migration along with trade, development and security issues in the region. In order to focus on different security issues, Bangladesh needs to develop infrastructure with sustainable development. Meanwhile, the political economy has shifted towards the Indo-Pacific, and the region's geopolitical importance has increased manifold because of the rise of China. The United States also wants Bangladesh to focus on the Indo-Pacific to counter China's growing influence in the area. Bangladesh and US have "reached a consensus on many issues, but there remain some issues where the countries differ, and that will be a challenge", as stated by the Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh.[13] He also said that “the U.S. might have reservations about the Indo-Pacific and Bangladesh will discuss it with the stakeholders". In this context, Bangladesh's Minister of Foreign Affairs, A K Momen, said that sanctions on Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) should be reviewed:
"The biggest challenge is the sanctions on RAB. When the topic of quelling terrorism comes up, we have to tell them that these sanctions are not helping. It must be lifted so that we can talk according to our policies. In a world of polarisation, he added, we must find way to maintain good relations with everyone.[14]

Bangladesh keeps a distance from security communities in international relations and does not take sides with great powers like the United States and China. For instance, Bangladesh has abstained from voting in the United Nations General Assembly that "adopted a resolution calling for Russia to be held accountable for violating international law by invading Ukraine".[15] Indeed, Bangladesh as a maritime nation is also not showing much interest in the developments around Indo-Pacific. However, it keeps promoting the idea of sovereignty that separates domestic affairs from international politics and takes a neutral stand on international issues. Taking such a position amid global geopolitics, especially during a crisis such as Ukraine, has its merits and demerits, but the security concerns are not limited to great power politics, borders, and maritime issues.

Clean water, air, and resources are also part of the security across borders in the modern world. Clean air and climate change are the real challenges for Bangladesh's people. Every year capital Dhaka is covered under thick blankets of smog in winter. On the other hand, heat waves, floods, and cyclones cause multiple deaths and droughts in the region. All of this directly connects with food security, climate change, and national development.[16] However, Bangladesh also needs to maintain the pace of growth and development in sustainable ways. Every country needs development and security to survive in the world. Usually, it is preceded by diplomacy at the international level and the democratic environment at the domestic level.

Politics and Governance

The Sheikh Hasina led government has been in power for the last three tenures. However, the electoral phenomenon in Bangladesh has largely been marked by violence. For instance, 11 people were killed during the fifth phase of the Union Parishad Elections at the beginning of 2022.[17] However, the year 2022 for Bangladesh was important for several issues related to security, democracy and justice, respectively. The year started with school shutdowns from Omicron on the one hand and violence in the local polls on the other and ended with protests and rallies on the streets.

On the political front, all the political parties are preparing for the next general election due in 2023. Awami League’s (AL) chief Hasina has become the longest-serving female PM in Bangladesh and the world’s longest-serving female head of government in history. [18] In contrast, the Bangladeshi Nationalist Party (BNP), a major political party in opposition, is doing rallies and calling Hasina’s led government an authoritarian one. BNP has announced its 27 points plan to expose Hasina’s authoritarianism and bring reforms to change the country's governance system.[19] However, the BNP party chief Khaleda Zia and her son Tarique Rahman have been charged with instigating violence, corruption and communalism in the country. Hence, the primary demand of the BNP is the withdrawal of cases against its party chief and her son.[20] In this context, many rallies were organised in different parts of the country during the year.

The two parties, AL and BNP, have indulged in arguments and arrests, respectively. Meanwhile, both parties are organising rallies to show their strength in the 2023 elections, whereas, BNP has united the opposition and charted 27-point agenda to overthrow AL's government and establish a ‘Rainbow Nation’.[21] It is promoted as a vision to govern the country, where BNP talks about massive reforms in the state's constitutional, judicial, and administrative framework if voted to power. On the other hand, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s party, AL, talks about ‘Smart Bangladesh’ by 2041.[22] Hasina is trying to stay in power while maintaining her dominance in Bangladesh on the one hand and good relations with neighbouring countries like India on the other hand.

Bangladesh and India

Bangladesh and India have good relations except fora few issues, such as sharing water, cross-border migration, infiltration, and minority rights in the country. Several times the issue of minority rights has been escalated to the bilateral level across borders. In fact, clashes among communities that emerged out of a single post on social media have created disturbance across borders. With the national election coming in Bangladesh, “a band of ardent hardliners, backed by militant outfit Jamaat-E-Islami and the BNP, mostly youths, have launched attacks targeting Hindus, alongside unleashing smear campaign against the Sheikh Hasina-led government”.[23]

On Sheikh Hasina's visit to Delhi in September 2022, India and Bangladesh signed seven MoUs and agreed to cooperate in various sectors, such as infrastructure, energy, and medicalservice, among others.[24] Both countries are also undertaking several infrastructural development projects in the region. India has supplied trucks and other necessary equipment under the Line of Credit (LoC). It is going to help Bangladesh in the digitalisation of services, such as the insurance sector. By all accounts, "Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India was fruitful with several outcomes on the table. India's relations with fast-rising Bangladesh—which will soon graduate from U.N.'s least developed country status to a developing country—are a stellar example of India’s Neighbourhood First policy thrust to integrate with South Asia".[25]

India and Bangladesh have also agreed to resolve outstanding issues such as migration and problems insharing river water. In this regard, the 38th meeting of the India-Bangladesh Joint River Commission (JRC) was held after 12 years in Delhi on 25th August 2022. [26] Besides this, the unprecedented bonhomie exhibited during the Mango Diplomacy between the two leaders was arguably the most exciting exchange between India and Bangladesh in 2022. Despite the growing proximity with China owing to the financial loans and incentives provided by Beijing to Bangladesh, Dhaka still values India's contribution to Bangladesh's freedom struggle and liberation war in 1971. Referring to the balancing strategy, Bangladesh's Minister of Foreign Affairs, A.K. Momen, argues that Bangladesh takes a non-partisan stance when it comes to Great Power politics.[27]

At the end of 2022, Bangladesh as the new chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) hosted the 22nd IORA Council of Ministers meeting. The theme of the meeting was 'Harnessing the opportunities of the Indian Ocean sustainably for inclusivedevelopment'. Besides maritime security and inclusive development, Dhaka was host to a series of dialogues on border security management. For instance, the18th meeting of the “India-Bangladesh JWG on Security and Border Management was held on 5 and 6 December 2022”.[28] In fact, Bangladesh sought Delhi’s cooperation to resolve outstanding issues,[29] such as water sharing and Rohingyas, in the region.[30]

Way Forward

Bangladesh is a fast-growing nation in the world. Despite having long economic stability, growth and development, the economic downturn in the second half of 2022 can be consequential. In this regard, the government needs to review its export policies to avoid Anti-Dumping duties on different products imposed by other countries. Meanwhile, Bangladesh needs to focus more on economic development in a sustainable manner. Therefore, Sheikh Hasina led government is looking to intensify engagement with neighbours through regional and sub-regional organisations. Nevertheless, it has to balance the great powers in the region and review its focus on the Indo-Pacific due to the rise of China. Moreover, the nation needs to find a way that can ensure free and fair elections along with a democratic process of governance.The three consecutive terms of Sheikh Hasina in power have raised several questions on the democratic form of governance. Therefore, the next elections at the end of 2023 will be crucial in terms of political instability or turmoil in the region.

References and Notes

[3] situation/#:~:text=The%20current%20account%20deficit%20of,to%20US%24%20(%2D)%2018.69%20billion
[7]MSTPP was jointly inaugurated by PM Narendra Modi and PM Sheikh Hasina during the latter's visit to India in September, 2022. It is being set up by 'Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company Limited (BIFPCL), a 50:50 joint venture" between India's National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB).
[8]During S. Jaishankar's, Minister of External Affairs of India, visited to celebrate the 50th year of friendship in Bangladesh, Bangladeshi government announced 200 scholarships for the family members of war veterans of India who fought for Bangladesh in 1971. Meanwhile, Hasina said in a meeting that "steps can be taken to improve connectivity between Bangladesh and India for mutual benefits.
[9]"Built at thecost of nearly Tk 30,200 Crores, the 6.15-kilometre bridge connects 21districts in the south and southwestern region with two seaports, Mongla andPayra, to the rest of Bangladesh
[16]"A large number of them end up working in the informal sector and living in poor conditions with limited facilities. They also become victims of environmental pollution, which is more acute in this megacity—according to the Air Quality Index (AQI), Dhaka is one of the worst polluted cities in the world".
[19]These points can be grouped into six broad categories: severe, routine, ambiguous, confusing, contradictory, and problematic.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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its a wonderful research article on Bangladesh by Anil Kumar as well as Vivekananda foundation.


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