Had it not been exploited by Pakistan economically for 24 years (1947-71), Bangladesh would have gone further ahead, writes Pathik Hasan for South Asia Monitor
Bangladesh got its independence from Pakistan in 1971 after a bloody struggle. Pakistan had been exploiting then East Pakistan systematically and Islamabad's economy was built on the money of the Bengali-majority areas. However, the newly independent nation of Bangladesh came into existence under the charismatic leadership of its great founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1971, signaling the ultimate triumph of the Bengali identity.
Bangladesh inherited a shattered economy and a completely broken infrastructure. It was described as a hopeless economic disaster by many economic experts and world leaders such as then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who called it a “Bottomless Basket” in 1974. Nobody believed that Bangladesh could survive economically as an independent country. Today the world is both surprised and delighted to see the phoenix rising from the ashes.
But the path was not so smooth. The war-ravaged country faced some hard realities and went through economic struggles. Mujibur Rahman tried his level best to make Bangladesh his promised ‘Golden Bengal’. But miscreants played the spoiler and assassinated him to serve their interests instead of the national interest. So, the promised dream of a great ‘Golden Bengal’ did not materialize then.
The people of Bangladesh suffered for years as the country saw political ups and downs from time to time. But now the picture has changed. Bangladesh is now growing and rising. Its Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is trying to fulfill her father Sheikh Mujibur's dream of ushering in a “Golden Bengal’. Credit must be given not only to Sheikh Hasina but also to the hardworking people of Bangladesh.
Sheikh Hasina's contribution
Of course, PM Sheikh Hasina has made a great contribution because, without an able, dynamic and prudent leadership, the country would not have emerged as a rising star. She is still striving hard to make Bangladesh prosperous and developed within 2041.
Indeed, Bangladesh is now a prime example of a South Asian economic miracle. Many countries and international organizations are appreciating the economic rise of Bangladesh.
Even Pakistani journalists are praising Bangladesh's economic growth in their reports, editorials, opinions, etc. One of the leading dailies, Express Tribune, published an article on October 5, 2021, titled “The Meteoric Rise of Bangladesh". According to the article, "Bangladesh has shown unexpected and very impressive economic development. The GDP growth rate surpassed Pakistan’s in 2006 and since then it has outperformed Pakistan every year and, to the surprise of leading economists, is today one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. The GDP per capita of Bangladesh is close to India and exceeds that of Pakistan".
A Pakistani economist, Abid Hasan, a former adviser to the World Bank, wrote an article in another leading Pakistani daily, The News International, titled ‘Aid from Bangladesh’. on May 24, 2021. In his article, he said Pakistan may end up seeking financial assistance from Bangladesh by 2030. It is the economic growth achieved by Bangladesh that has earned such grudging praise from a Pakistani economist.
Advice for Pakistan PM
Noted Pakistani journalist Zaigham Khan, while taking part in a television talk show Awaam on Capital TV in September 2018, advised Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to follow the development model of Bangladesh to ensure Pakistan’s progress and development. He said Pakistan should be modeled on Bangladesh instead of faraway Sweden. This was because PM Khan had made grand promises that he would turn Pakistan into a developed country like Sweden.
A professor of the University of Karachi, Moonis Ahmar, wrote in an article titled “How and why is Bangladesh better off than Pakistan today?" in Express Tribune on March 21, 2021 that four factors that contributed to transforming Bangladesh from an “international beggar” to an “economically vibrant country” are leadership, innovation, planning, and ownership.
Even Pakistan Today, The Pakistan Observer, The Frontier Post - all major English dailies - have published articles lauding the economic growth of Bangladesh. They said the country’s economy was booming under the leadership of its PM Sheikh Hasina. The Pakistan Observer felt Bangladesh was going to be the next South Asian economic superstar. Pakistan Today acknowledged Bangladesh's tremendous effort to boost its economy over the past few years.
While the Pakistani media has been asking its government to follow Bangladesh's model, it remains a sore point that Bangladesh -then East Pakistan, its eastern wing - was an exploited colony of Pakistan.
Bangladesh is now ahead of Pakistan in many indexes. It is a matter of considerable surprise that Pakistan is now praising Bangladesh. Although Bangladesh is now just 50, Pakistan is 74 years old. Had Pakistan not exploited Bangladesh economically for 24 years (1947-71), it would have gone further ahead. However, Pakistan praising Bangladesh reflects both the reality and success of Bangladesh.
(The writer is a Dhaka, Bangladesh-based NGO activist and researcher-writer on international relations. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)