Aug 5th 2011, 14:52 by The Economist | LONDON
The Economist received the following letter from the government of Bangladesh in response to a recent article:
"Our attention has been drawn to an article on India and Bangladesh, “Embraceable you”, published in The Economist in its issue dated July 30th. We are disappointed, as the report is less than well researched and contains elements of misinformation and a misrepresentation of facts. What is more unfortunate is that the writer uses some words and sometimes draws analogies which lack decency and professional ethics. We are furnishing relevant information to put the issues in the right perspective.
The writer is of the view that the ruling Awami League (and its allies) came to power through “bags of Indian cash and advice”. This is a blatant lie and aptly speaks about the writer’s utter disrespect for responsible journalism. The international community, including independent observers, hailed the historic elections in December 2008 as the freest ever in the history of the country, which was reflective of the aspirations of the people. His comment is also a slur on the democracy-loving people of Bangladesh – one of the largest democracies in the world. His observation that the transit facilities between the two countries are to meet Indian security needs at the expense of the interests of Bangladesh is also misplaced as both countries are expected to benefit immensely from it.
Bangladesh attaches the highest importance to its relations with India. These relations are time tested and based on shared history, culture, language, religion, traditions and values. The traditional relations were infused with a new dynamism following the landmark visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India in January 2010 as the leadership of the two countries agreed to embark on a new era of co-operation for mutual benefit with the objective of fighting the common enemy of poverty and under-development. This signifies closer engagement in areas as diverse as joint water resources management, land boundary demarcation, trade, power, connectivity, infrastructure, culture, education, etc.
The writer may be interested to know that as a part of the initiative of the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to return to the values and spirit that inspired the nation during the war of liberation, it has undertaken an exercise to honour those foreign friends who stood by the people of Bangladesh and contributed to the attainment of statehood in 1971. In this context it is widely felt that the seminal role played by the then Prime Minister of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi, deserves a special recognition. Thus she was conferred with the Bangladesh Freedom Honour (posthumously), the highest state honour for foreigners which was handed over to Mrs Sonia Gandhi when she visited Bangladesh to attend a special conference on autism. The writer has undermined both Bangladesh’s struggle to attain statehood through its glorious war of liberation as well as the hand of friendship and support extended by India to Bangladesh when he refers to the Freedom Honour as ‘a gong’ in a negative manner.
It may be noted that the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has undertaken a proactive policy for building up relations with not only India but with all of her neighbours in South Asia. Towards this end, there have been exchanges of high level visits from Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. One of the most significant developments in this regard has been the decision of the government to grant both Nepal and Bhutan use of Chittagong and Mongla ports for transit trade to third countries. In addition to this, Bangladesh is working to provide smooth and seamless connectivity between Bhutan, Nepal and India and to extend it through Myanmar to the countries of South-East Asia and beyond. Perhaps unknown to the writer is that this connectivity is not only through rail and road; Bangladesh has offered use of two airports situated in the north of the country to Bhutan for its own use. Bangladesh is also working on intensifying shipping linkages with Sri Lanka which will benefit not only bilateral trade but will also help to enhance trade relations with the Maldives, which has so far been stymied by a lack of air and shipping linkages between the two countries. Taking connectivity and regional co-operation one step further, Bangladesh is also working towards a joint water resources management in a sub-regional context involving Bhutan, Nepal, India and Bangladesh. This envisages water resources management for flood control and mitigation as well as augmentation of dry season flows of common rivers. An added benefit will be hydro-power generation to meet the incremental energy requirements of one of the most economically dynamic areas of the world today.
While mentioning about opposition’s boycott of Parliament, the writer says that the Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is “becoming increasingly autocratic”. This speaks about his poor knowledge about the numerous initiatives taken by the government to institutionalise democracy in the country. The writer is perhaps aware that the Dauphine University, a prominent Parisian university, awarded a gold medal to Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on 25th May 2011 in recognition to her outstanding contribution to institutionalising and strengthening democracy, and also for her achievement in empowering the women of Bangladesh. In line with the spirit of accommodation, the present government, for the first time in history, has allocated the chairmanship of the two important standing committees of the Parliament to the opposition parties who hold only 40 seats out of 345. Even the post of deputy speaker was offered to the opposition. Despite the welcome gesture from the government, the opposition parties, quite ironically, have been boycotting parliamentary sessions for narrow political gains which undermines the country’s democratic process.
The initiative of the present government to try the people involved in genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other crimes under international law, stems from the fundamental norms of a civilized society. It is reflective of the primacy of the rule of law and the rejection of impunity. The initiative draws from the overwhelming popular support for putting the perpetrators of war crimes on trial and is not prompted by any feeling of vendetta against any individual or any political party.
Without giving any research-based statistics, the writer mentions that “corruption flourishes at levels astonishing even by South Asian standards”. Fighting corruption and establishing good governance has been one of the priorities of the Government and neither any member of the present Prime Minister’s family nor any Cabinet member bears the stigma of being corrupt though corruption remains a major challenge for the country. Keeping with the election mandate, the present government introduced an electronic public procurement system to ensure transparency which was possible due to the government’s determination to digitalise the country. The allegation of building a personality cult around Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Father of the Nation of the Prime Minister, is just another example of poor judgment about the role of the great leader in the epic struggle of the country. The government, as per its election mandate, is trying to uphold the true history of the independence of the country which was subjected to distortion by successive military and pseudo-military governments. As regards to the “vindictive” treatment shown to Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel laureate, the writer should have known that it was Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself who had a distinct role in patronizing and thus in making micro-credit, Grameen Bank and Professor Yunus familiar globally. The government’s recent actions about Grameen Bank were taken to uphold the rule of law and not to harass anyone. The verdict of the courts, which are fiercely independent, was just reflective of the facts on the ground.
A closer look at the article indicates that the writer is carrying out the agenda of a quarter who are out to wage a smear campaign about Bangladesh and its present government led by the Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who has, through her extraordinary courage, personal sacrifice and inspiring visionary leadership, brought the country back on track of democratic governance, made the country a model for women’s empowerment, food security, disaster management, poverty alleviation, and pursuing a people-centric peace building policy nationally as well as regionally and internationally. People in the region have already started enjoying the benefits of her government’s strong stand against terrorism and extremism."
Md. Shameem Ahsan
Director General (External Publicity)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs