Proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) has been a trending word that frequents news headlines all around the globe, even more so in Bangladesh as it is one of the first South Asian countries to join the initiative. We highly appreciate that Bangladesh along with many other countries have showed great support toward BRI for their good faith in China and the benefits the initiative has already delivered to their people.
However, with it also came up suspicions and speculations over China’s true intention by proposing the biggest public good the world has ever seen so far. And in spite of repeated efforts of China in explaining the nature of the BRI, there is a curious obstinacy from some quarters that rejects the Chinese narrative and insists on making unsubstantiated allegations against the initiative. One of the latest was reportedly made by US Assistant Secretary of Defense Randall G Schriver during his recent visit to Bangladesh, where he claimed that the BRI didn’t support free and open regional development nor ensure the protection of nations’ sovereignty and international law. The claim is rather groundless given where China is standing today in issues concerning global interest and international governance, in stark contrast with how the US has behaved in the past few years. More than anything else, such malicious slander and irresponsible claim are certainly not the least helpful for any kind of peace and development in this region.
Nonetheless, seeing there is still an inadequacy of understanding on what BRI really represents as a whole, especially in certain developed countries who falsely interpret the initiative as a threat to the existing international order, I feel obliged to provide a more comprehensive explanation on what the BRI really is and the true spirit it embodies: openness, inclusiveness and mutual benefits.
What is BRI?
The Belt and Road initiative is proposed for building forms of connectivity among the continents and countries around the globe in order to facilitate closer cooperation in development and beyond. It could find its root long back into history in the ancient Silk Road, a collection of trade routes that spanned across the Eurasian continent about 2000 years ago that enabled the trade of silk, porcelain wares, spices, wines and other commodities among countries along the routes. At that time, China was the starting point in the east for merchants to start their quest. Today, China once again served as the initiator of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and it is meant for the world to share. The BRI connects different countries and regions, different stages of development, different historical traditions, different cultures and religions, and different customs and lifestyles. It is an initiative for open, inclusive, shared and peaceful development, as well as a way to build a Community of Shared Future for Mankind, which is essentially the Chinese way of saying a better world for each and every one.
Based on the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, the BRI pursues a path for shared development and prosperity through cooperation in five major areas -- policy coordination, connectivity of infrastructure and facilities, unimpeded trade, financial integration, and closer people-to-people ties. Big infrastructure projects and active economic activities focusing on trade and investment are undoubtedly the most tangible part of the BRI, but it has much more to offer in other areas of connectivity such as cultural exchanges, technology transfer and people-to-people contacts. The yearly “Happy Chinese New Year” gala, convened by the Chinese Embassy in Bangladesh in cooperation with local organizations, has become an annual cultural carnival for a wide range of Bangladeshi audiences over the past 6 consecutive years. The number of Bangladeshi people travelling to China for the purposes of tourism, education or training is growing at a stunning rate. Chinese think tanks, scholars and experts are flooding into Bangladesh for experience sharing and academic exchanges. All of these are also a fundamental part of the BRI.
Up to today, more than 150 countries and international organizations have signed BRI cooperation documents with China. From 2013 to 2018, the trade volume between China and other B&R countries surpassed 6 trillion USD, and China's investment in B&R countries exceeds 90 billion USD, with more than 244,000 jobs being created for the locals. The idea of a Community of Shared Future for Mankind has also been written into relevant documents of various international organizations including the UN and the G20. It is increasingly evident that BRI has become an important contributor to global peace and development, and thus it is gaining more and more popularity and recognition around the world. And this is why the BRI is being accepted by more nations and organizations as an important channel to move forward together.
As an early and strategically important partner of the BRI, Bangladesh is well-positioned to reap the benefits. In 2018, the amount of our bilateral trade reached 18.7 billion USD, up by 16.8% over the last year. And the country is well projected to become the 2nd largest trading partner with China in South Asia this year. Bangladesh is now the leading cooperation partner to China in G-to-G projects as well as a major destination of Chinese investment. The construction of the Padma Bridge, the dream bridge of Bangladeshi people, is under full swing by the Chinese contractor China Railway Major Bridge Engineering Group. Various projects funded by Chinese grants, including Bangladesh China Friendship Bridge 1 to Bridge 8, Bangladesh China Friendship Exhibition Centre and Bangladesh (Bangabandhu) International Conference Centre, are sprouting up all over Bangladesh, with more to come in the pipeline. The ever-strong momentum of China-Bangladesh cooperation, especially after the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the country in 2016, continues to speak of the true strength of BRI cooperation.
Is BRI A Debt Trap?
A commonly seen allegation against the BRI is that it creates heavy debt burdens on some countries as China provides loans beyond their ability to repay in order to gain control of certain key projects, or the so-called “debt trap” as cooked up by certain western media. It has been repeatedly debunked by China as well as officials from the relevant recipient countries.
A typical example would be Sri Lanka. According to a report published by the central bank of Sri Lanka, its China-related debt accounts for merely 10.6% of the total, 61% of which is at an interest rate far below that of the international market. Sri Lankan President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Parliament and Head of the opposition party all have mentioned that the bigger part of Sri Lanka’s current debt burden comes from multilateral lending institutions, not China. Rather, to cooperate with China will help them walk out of the debt crisis. Similar case is found in Pakistan where the Chinese loans make up only 10% or so of the total.
Bangladesh already has strong institutional arrangements in place with a healthy debt to GDP ratio well below 30%, as the Governor of Bangladesh Bank once pointed out, so there’s even less ground to be concerned about the make-believe “debt trap”. In addition, in order to increase financial security for BRI projects, China and its partners have formulated the Guiding Principles on Financing the Development of the Belt and Road and published the Debt Sustainability Framework for Participating Countries of the Belt and Road Initiative to provide guidance for BRI financing cooperation.
As a matter of fact, the BRI wouldn’t pose any form of risk to its partners, which has been well proved in the practice and implementation of the BRI in the past 6 years. BRI is open, Inclusive and beneficial for all. Moving into the future, China will seek to build a more dynamic and inclusive BRI by engaging in bilateral, trilateral and multilateral cooperation with all participants, an open, green and clean BRI that is transparent and free of corruption, and a higher standard BRI that aims to improve people’s lives in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of UN 2030 Agenda, as stated by President Xi Jinping of China at the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in 2019. China always stands by its words to welcome all countries to join the BRI in a common effort to make our world a better place.
Li Jiming is Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Bangladesh
Bangladesh, which is graduating from the least developed countries (LDCs), has become one of Asia’s most remarkable success stories in the recent years. HSBC Global Research7 projected Bangladesh to be a $700 billion economy in 2030 from $300 billion now. Not only this, International Monetary Fund has recognised Bangladesh as one of the three fastest growing economies in the world. Development is taking place rapidly across Bangladesh. Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is perhaps going through the development activities in the largest scale ever with metro rails being constructed and high-rising buildings, markets, shopping malls and educational institutes standing up everywhere in the city. But will all these development activities benefit all? Will the persons with disabilities be able to think that their beloved city has become friendly towards them?
Today, December 3rd, is the International Day for the Persons with Disabilities. The day is being observed in Bangladesh along with 176 other countries around the world to uphold this year’s theme “Promoting the Participation of Persons with Disabilities and Their Leadership: Taking Action on the 2030 Development Agenda.” At present, the world population is over 7 billion and more than 1 billion people of the world live with some form of disability. According to World Health Organization (WHO), about 15 percent of the world’s total population have some form of disability. And, a study of WHO shows that one in every five persons in the developing countries lives with any form of disability. It is therefore needless to say how important the International Day for the Persons with Disabilities is in Bangladesh’s context.
The persons with disabilities, up until today, are often subjected to discrimination and negative attitudes in Bangladesh and they live in an unfriendly and hostile environment. Every day, they encounter non-cooperation, ill treatment, social neglect, and economic vulnerability at the family, community, society and government levels.
Dhaka, where more than 20 million people live, is also home to a large number of disabled persons. But it is a matter of regret that the city still does not care for them. From the homes to footpaths, educational institutes to public transports, office buildings to shopping malls, everywhere the mobility of the persons with disabilities is obstructed. Though the Disability Right & Protection Act 2013, enacted by the government of Bangladesh, upholds provision to protect the rights of persons with disabilities and ensure their accessibility in common infrastructure, markets, hospitals, educational institutes, and other buildings, it is still a far cry. Our transport and communication sector, which has got the third highest share of the total budget, has no specific allocation to make roads, highways, footpaths, footbridges, and public transport disabled-friendly. It is very awful to know that in the recent years BTRC has bought 600 buses, however, none of these has any ramp. Again, the Dhaka Building Construction Rules 2008 has also been framed with the provisions of accessibility for the challenged people, still many buildings are being constructed in the city without keeping the accessibility of the disabled persons in mind. As per the Building Construction Act 1952 and National Building Code 2008, every establishment should be designed and made accessible to the persons with disabilities so that they can enter and exit the building without difficulty and the toilets in these establishments should also be accessible. But the reality is totally the opposite. The ministries at the secretariat do not have any ramps or pavements for the persons with disabilities at all.
Few days earlier, I went to New Delhi, India and I went to a shopping mall there to watch a movie. An elderly woman aged around seventy also went to the cinema hall to watch the same movie. With a surprise I just wanted to know if she faced any problems to come to the cinema hall. She replied, ‘I watch at least one movie every month coming to the cinema halls. And I don’t need help of others for my movement in the city as everything on my way is accessible’. But, in Dhaka, can we imagine that a wheelchair-bound person will travel from one place to another without anyone’s support?
The section 32 of the Rights and Protection of Persons with Disability Act, 2013, states that 5 percent of seats in any public transport should be reserved for persons with disabilities; the reality is different from what the law spells out. Most of the bus, train or launch stations do not have necessary infrastructure and support systems in place for these individuals. Therefore, persons with disabilities are facing a huge problem in the public transport space. Apart from this, using the train is next to impossible for the disabled people in Bangladesh, considering that even a fully-abled person faces difficulties getting onto a train. A majority of the rail stations are not having ramps. In the last term, the railway department imported 270 couches, and is importing 250 this term. Sadly, only 10 percent of them have some seats reserved for the disabled persons along with washroom facilities.
How would you feel if you can imagine that you have grown up old and are travelling by launch from Sadarghat on a wheelchair? Certainly you would not expect this to happen to you. According to the data obtained from Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), around 4.5 million journeys were undertaken by persons with disabilities (PWDs) through the Sadarghat-Barishal launch terminal in 2017-18. However, there has been little support delivered to the persons with disabilities travelling from the capital’s launch terminal. Launches do not use ramps for the passengers and the toilets in the launches are not even accessible too.
There is misconception that ensuring accessibility for persons with disabilities in Dhaka is expensive and unrealistic. The reality is, some accessibility arrangements are simple and can be easily done. Though it is also true that some are complex, but all are very important. Increasing access means creating an environment that can be used by all people including the persons with disabilities. By using signage, visual or auditory announcements, assistive services, and slip-resistant paths we can ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities.
Awareness has great potential to play a significant role in ensuring inclusive practises in the country and there is a greater need to change our perception towards the persons with disabilities as well. The policymakers must realise that persons with disabilities can also actively participate in the economic activities if they get necessary support and cooperation. The government should also implement the national action plan on disability 2019, which identifies and proposes a large number of activities to be executed by the relevant actors to ensure inclusive practises in the society. However, the government should give special emphasis on skills development, accessible education, accessibility in the public transport, job creation and health access to the persons with disabilities. Several international organisations including Sightsavers, UKAID and ILO are implementing specific programmes for the persons with disabilities in Bangladesh. The government should also work closely with them to bring about positive changes in the country.
Whether we want it or not, all of us are likely to experience some form of disability at some point of life, particularly when we grow older. However, disability inclusion has not still been a priority in the policy making framework of the country. If such a huge number of people remain unproductive due to lack of proper accessibility and inclusion in our society, the progress of Bangladesh, which has recently stepped into a developing country, will be imperfect and unexpected too.
The writer is a development practitioner and currently working at Sightsavers, a UK based INGO.
Dhaka: 03 October 2019/UNB - In Bangladesh, more than 120 companies export information and communications technology (ICT) products worth nearly $1 billion to 35 countries. By 2021, it’s expected that this will increase to $5 billion. Indeed, the growing strength of the ICT Industry underpins the four vital pillars that will support Bangladesh’s transformation to a digital economy by 2021, and a knowledge economy by 2041.
Announced in 2008 and officially launched by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2009, the Digital Bangladesh Vision identifies human resource development, connecting citizens, digital government and the aforementioned promotion of the ICT industry as critical to meeting these transformation targets. Here’s why they are so important:
Human resource development
The government wants Bangladesh to be a gateway for the digital world and has started multiple initiatives to develop a skilled, equipped and digital-ready pool of talent. Our education system produces more than 500,000 university graduates every year and, thanks to the introduction of several dedicated training programmes to get the talent pool ready to deliver value on a global scale, we have trained more than 65,000 Information Technology Enabled Services (IT/ITeS) professionals in the past year.
According to the Oxford Internet Institute, Bangladesh has the second largest pool of online workers in the world. To further enhance skills, we have established specialized labs in all of the country’s 130 universities. We are investing in frontier tech centres of excellence with global technology partners such as IBM, and we have a strong focus on training professionals in emerging technologies – the Internet of Things, blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and analytics.
The next pillar is about connecting citizens - and Bangladesh is committed to ensuring 100% internet connectivity by 2021. We have already made good progress with currently more than 93 million internet subscribers and 160 million mobile subscriptions throughout the nation, making Bangladesh the fifth largest mobile market in Asia Pacific and the ninth largest in the world.
We have ensured seamless connectivity through two submarine cable connections with 1,700 gigabits per second (Gbps) and seven ITC connections with 400 Gbps. We plan to further enhance this by becoming an early adopter of 5G. By the end of 2019, we will provide high-speed internet connectivity to even remote villages.
In order to ensure a cost-effective space for companies interested in investing in Bangladesh, we are building 28 high-tech parks around the country and plan to increase this to 64. There is a focus on developing a thriving environment for partners and investors who are keen to take advantage of the opportunity that Bangladesh presents.
E-governance is the next step in driving the Digital Bangladesh engine forward. The government is proactively pursuing the digitalization of all government portals, such as passport applications and visa applications, by the year 2023. In 2014, we developed the National Portal which now houses more than 45,000 websites and services of different government offices. We have developed more than 5,000 digital centres across the country to help provide various digital services to citizens, while addressing the issue of a digital divide.
Our Bangladesh National Digital Architecture (BNDA), which ensures interoperability, won a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) award this year and WSIS has recognized Bangladesh for different e-government or digital government initiatives for the past six years in a row.
We have established a Digital Service Accelerator to expedite and facilitate the e-services of all ministries and have issued more than 100 million digital IDs to our citizens – one of the highest volumes in the world. Services are very carefully designed to ensure they are relevant to all three groups of Bangladeshi citizens: younger, tech-savvy generations growing up with technology; “digital adapters,” who are middle-aged individuals who have adopted technology; and the minority who stay away from technology. The scale of digital governance in Bangladesh has a tremendous impact on the transformation of the nation.
Promotion of the ICT industry
The vibrant and rapidly growing ICT industry in Bangladesh is the fourth area supporting digital transformation. We serve clients in an array of domains, including financial services, telecoms and healthcare, and drive the IT/ITES engine behind some of the world’s most global companies.
The four pillars behind Digital Bangladesh are strengthened by strong government commitment and support.
Bangladesh is experiencing nearly 8% gross domestic product (GDP) growth and is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. We are 34th in the World Economic Forum’s Inclusive Development Index, ahead of many established nations, and by 2030, we will be the 24th largest economy in the world. The essential ingredient behind this growth has been the smart use of ICT to spur progress in all sectors.
The writer is the State Minister for ICT, Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications & Information Technology, Government of the People's Republic Bangladesh.
Dhaka, Sept 5 (UNB) - In the vast expanse of the Mediterranean Sea sits the Republic of Malta. With a population of half a million covering only 321 square kilometers, some people are often quick to overlook this state, often looking towards its much larger European neighbours. Overlooking Malta is a mistake; this tiny island is the embodiment of “small and mighty”.
As the summer begins, ports of Malta brim with tourists. Carefully planned urban infrastructure coupled with the beautiful Mediterranean beaches make Malta an ideal vacation spot. Added with the warmth of the locals and joyous festivities, tourists often describe Malta as simply breathtaking. Its small population welcomed last year a staggering 2.6 million tourists, just over five times the number of its residents.
The per capita income (in PPP) of this country is more than 48 thousand US dollars. Synergy between public and private sectors allowed such economic progress. In fact, this partnership and astute management of its economy helped Malta avert the economic recession that plagued the rest of Europe. It is this innovative mentality that helped Malta gain highest economic growth in the European continent.
In this extraordinary achievement Malta echoes what Bangladesh experienced in its own economic journey. We have firmly established ourselves as the role model of development in Asia, as Malta secured its own place of prestige in Europe. These two success stories in two continents lays out a platform for the two countries to join hands through timely and suitable diplomatic collaboration to further uplift the fate of their people.
The friendly relations of Bangladesh and Malta has its origins in Bangladesh’s tumultuous beginnings. During the epic year of 1971, the then Maltese Prime Minister extended his support for our rightful cause. Arguably, Malta had been with us at our most important and historic time; standing as our friend since those days of agony and promise. Malta later became one of the earliest countries to formally recognise Bangladesh in 1972. The friendship continued when later, in 1979, the institutional diplomatic relations between the two countries were launched with the appointment of a non-resident High Commissioner to Bangladesh.
Fast forward to the present day: The rapid socio-economic development of Bangladesh under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has drawn substantial international attention. At the same time, Bangladesh has found a place of dignity in the comity of nations. We now have a proactive and strong diplomatic presence on the world stage.
As part of our active diplomatic engagements, relations between Bangladesh and Malta have also received a momentum. Our two countries extended support to each other at different multilateral, international fora including the UN. The two countries share common positions on many international issues. As a result, understanding between our two countries has further strengthened over the years.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries. On the eve of this special occasion, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh AK Abdul Momen paid an official visit to Malta in July this year. Foreign Minister’s visit has been important for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, this was the first ever bilateral visit at the level of the Foreign Minister.
During this visit, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh had a threadbare discussion with his Maltese counterpart Carmelo Abela on issues of mutual interests. Apart from issues pertaining to bilateral relations, they spoke about cooperation at international level.
Furthermore, the Foreign Minister had meetings with the President, Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Maltese Parliament. These meetings were not limited to exchange of pleasantries; they were indeed very substantive and fruitful. Both sides underscored the importance of frequent high-level contacts to take advantage of the goodwill created at the political level. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of Malta urged to utilize the opportunities between the two countries.
Additionally, the two ministers signed a Memorandum of Understanding on regular meetings between the two Foreign Ministries. They have also penned another document for cooperation between the diplomatic academies of their respective countries.
Lastly, the two Foreign Ministers also spoke at a Business Forum jointly organized by Malta Chamber, Trade Malta and Bangladesh Embassy in Athens (concurrently accredited to Malta). The Forum had upbeat, enthusiastic and optimistic discussions on tapping potential in bilateral trade and investment. The leadership of Maltese businesses expressed their keen interests by joining this Forum.
It goes without saying that Bangladesh’s relations with Malta received a big boost as a result of this much awaited visit. It has been elevated to a new height. Understanding at this high level may act as a catalyst to bring a qualitative change in our diplomacy. Political understanding has been further consolidated. At the diplomatic level, intent for sincere collaboration has been demonstrated unequivocally.
There are many areas of existing cooperation between the two countries. This cooperation can be further expanded in a number of specific areas:
a. The strong tourism sector and the ongoing infrastructure development in Malta have created opportunity for Bangladeshi skilled and semi-skilled workers. The ongoing construction work for the beautification and repair work of the five hundred-year-old Maltese capital Valletta and to fulfil the demand of the ever increasing tourism sector has generated this employment opportunity. At the moment, a few hundred Bangladeshi expatriates are working in Malta. They have earned the trust of the local people because of their hard work and respect for local laws. This attitude of the host community has been amply reflected in the presence of the Maltese Foreign Minister and his wife at an event organized by the expatriate Bangladesh nationals living in Malta. Mayors Msida and Gzira and local officials also joined this event
b. Malta is known for its expertise in financial management. Hopefully, the two sides will extend their cooperation in this area for their mutual benefits.
c. Malta also specializes in the registering of ships; being the biggest in the field in Europe, and one of the biggest in the world. The increasing ship building sector of Bangladesh can benefit by establishing close contact with the concerned ship registration bodies in Malta.
d. Malta is also popular among multinational companies and countries interested to export their products for registration of commodities. Maltese expertise may help us secure a sizable pharmaceutical market in Europe.
e. The optimistic discussion at the Maltese Chamber on the potential of bilateral trade has created an opportunity to identify specific sectors for effective cooperation. At the moment, the total volume of bilateral trade is negligible. Efforts by both the government and the private sectors of the respective countries can help to increase this volume significantly.
f. Malta and Bangladesh can employ their expertise to extend cooperation in Blue economy, manpower development, education and culture, among other potential areas.
g. At the international level two countries have an impeccable record of close cooperation. Common position on international issues including the climate change issue and membership in international organizations such as the Commonwealth and the UN made this cooperation multidimensional. As an active member of the European Union Malta has been extending its support to Bangladesh on Rohingya issue. It is expected that this bonding of friendship and fraternity will be further strengthened in the days to come.
h. At his meeting with the Speaker of the Maltese Parliament, formation of parliamentary friendship groups in their respective parliaments featured prominently. It is heartening indeed to see that Maltese Parliament has formed Malta-Bangladesh Parliamentary Friendship Group in less than a month of our Foreign Minister’s visit to Malta. Hopefully, the friendship group in our Parliament will also be formed soon, so that parliamentary diplomacy can contribute to the development of relations between the two countries.
We can bring home the fruits of the positive attitude created by the Foreign Minister’s historic visit, by taking realistic and timely steps. Holding the annual Foreign Office consultations, and the visit by the Maltese Foreign Minister will create further momentum to achieve the goals. Such steps will also usher new avenues in our bilateral relations.
As the Maltese Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela humorously noted, life begins at 40. Indeed, 40th anniversary has seen an increased trajectory in Bangladeshi-Maltese relations. As part of the multipronged and dynamic foreign policy under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, we open a new chapter of our relations with Malta. The small island State in the Mediterranean supported us when we were fighting for our independence under the leadership of the Father of the Nation. Our friendships was upheld through Bangladesh’s most tumultuous times. We hope that in this new journey, this strong friendship continues, and the citizens of both countries continue to benefit.
Writer is Ambassador of Bangladesh to Greece and non-resident High Commissioner of Bangladesh for Malta
History always tells the truth. The history of yesterday guides us today. Today’s history guides us to consolidate our tomorrow. I have been reading, with great care the story published under the byline written by Lawrence Lifschultz, both in the Daily Star and the Bangla Daily Prothom Alo. I also read the response of Eugene Boster Jr. and Lawrence Lifschultz's subsequent reply.
I was in Geneva when Eugene Davis Boster was appointed the first US Ambassador to Bangladesh in 1974. He was attached to the Office of the US Arms Control Bureau in Geneva. I had met several times before his posting to Dhaka. I invited him to dinner to the Bangladesh residence with his wife, Mary, before his departure for Dhaka. He wanted to be briefed about the present situation in the country, particularly the situation of national security. At the dinner he asked about the Soviet Naval presence in Chittagong ports. He expressed his fear that the Soviet Union may be using Chittagong as a springboard for further military presence in Bangladesh. I assured him that the chances of his fears being realized were totally negative and told him that before the Soviet Union, the government of Bangladesh called an international tender for clearing the ports, which were clogged with ships and vessels docked prior to and during the war (most of them were Pakistani ships and some were foreign ships). I also informed him that I had approached the UNDP concerning the same issue and they expressed their inability to take the job. Here I want to mention that two of the first UNDP representatives, Mr. Tony Hagen and Mr. Victor Umbricht who had come to Dhaka on my recommendation (the UNDP office was known as the Dhaka office of the UNDP at the time). Therefore, the government asked me to know if the UNDP could at all be of any assistance to the situation in Bangladesh. I checked with the head office in New York, and after a conversation with Peter Peterson, a successful banker who spearheaded the Bank of America, I was unmistakably told of the organization's inability at that moment to do the job.
It was during the 1973 UNDP meeting in Geneva, where an IPF of 36 million dollars was divided equally between Bangladesh and Pakistan. The Gulf States including Turkey, all close friends of Pakistan opposed to the creation of Bangladesh. It was the American lobbying for Bangladesh by Peter Peterson and the head of the American team, Yuri Zarogin, that the Bangladesh resolution was adopted with a good majority. There, my Pakistani counterpart, Ambassador Naiznaik, who was my DG in Islamabad remarked, "Allocation of money to the authority of Dhaka is like turning a sharp knife on the back of Pakistan."After the UNDP Dhaka operation was completed, the first UNDP representative was sent to Dhaka, the gentleman mentioned above, Yuri Zarogin. He had been my original recommendation to the government of Bangladesh.
When I explained our past attempts to persuade the UNDP to assist Bangladesh, then only did the Soviet Union offer to assist in clearing the port of Chittagong, was accepted. The Soviets had much experience in naval ship clearances in Rotterdam and St. Petersburg after the Second World War.
Ambassador Boster reported our exchange to the State Department and the White House. Later, I believe he had also consulted and confirmed with Peter Peterson what I had previously told him, that the UNDP was not equipped to deal with the situation in Bangladesh.
I arrived in Dhaka after completing my sabbatical in Oxford on August 7th 1975. As Head of the mission in Geneva I gave a farewell reception before my return in honor of my friends who had helped Bangladesh during the war of Independence, in particular a pro-Bangla group headed by the socialist MP Professor Jean Ziegler. In Dhaka, I had my first call on Boster around 8/9 August, 1975. I again contacted him on the 16th August, 1975. He asked me to call him the day after. When I met him, I asked him about the events of August 15th. He informed me that there was "some dissatisfaction in the party of the Prime Minister and some members of the Army may be involved in taking some action, the full nature of which I am not aware of.”
He continued. "Some officers of some agencies in the US Embassy had informed me of their contacts with the Army and some civilians. I clearly directed these officers to keep their hands off regarding anything of that kind in Bangladesh!"
When I read about the meeting of Lipschultz with Ambassador Boster in Mexico, I was reminded of my few meetings with Boster and Lipschultz only corroborates what I was told by Boster. I also met Boster later on several times. In those traumatic days I had forgotten to keep a proper diary. He had expressed his grief and sadness with the events of the 15th of August. And I also reminded him of our last conversation in Geneva, when I came down to see him off. "Please look after our poor Bangladesh, particularly our leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He had then responded, "Don't worry, whatever may have happened during the period prior to the war, our policy in Bangladesh is totally devoted to humanitarian support and to help this devastated country to recover."
I trusted him because I found him to be a man of goodwill for Bangladesh. He felt very sad regarding the destruction of the country during the war. He even compared it, remotely, to the Civil War in America. But he also remarked, the Civil War, however, destructive did not kill so many people as in Bangladesh.
I briefed Boster of my conversation with Sheikh Mujib on the 14th of August night where he had asked me to read the Swiss constitution, which had attracted him originally in 1972, during his first visit to Geneva. I read a part in 1973 again in Geneva when he was there for the First Bangladesh Envoys Conference. It was a short visit, I read loudly another part on the night of 14th August. Booster asked me how he thought about the situation that night. I replied that he looked rather tired, but confident. Having been in Dhaka only seven days before that fateful day, I could not grasp the dimension of the conspiracy that was being hatched in the 15th August, 1977, I told him.
I had lunch with Boster sometime later, prior to his departure. When he left Dhaka he looked a very sad man, so did his wife Mary, who regretted they could not give a dinner for me because of the situation in the country. It is interesting to note that although the US did not recognize Bangladesh until 1974, the Humanitarian aid from the US was the largest in the world. The first relief flight was in 1972, soon after the Independence by a fellow named Max Rubb whom I found later as my counterpart in Rome in 1987. Earlier he was the treasurer of the Republican party, with roaring legal procedure in New York. The American Embassy in Rome was opposite the Chancellery of Bangladesh Via Bartolome. I used to meet him quite frequently with his wife Ruth. On one occasion, I asked him about the events of 1975. He in turn had corroborated what Boster said, "I am a Republican." “And, so we shall allow any such situation to take place in Bangladesh. I know it for certain, that excepting for a few Agency members, the U.S. Ambassador did not play any role during the tragic events of August 15, 1975.
I read with interest the letter of Boster Jr. I fully understand his anguish. I am sure from the clarification of Lipschultz, Mr. Boster Jr. will realize that his father was a gentleman, and he had nothing to do with 1975 events. If anything, he may have tried to prevent it, but did not succeed.
I know this story may cause unhappiness amongst some but as is written in the first sentence of this piece, history never lies. The truth will be upheld. The trail of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib did commence but could not be finished for reasons beyond our control. One day justice will be done to the perpetrators of the heinous crime. I have no doubt.
I very often read the history of Cromwell, who had been hanged symbolically, his skeleton sprawled before the House of Commons on charge of regicide. His body was reburied in the same place, on the same day. That is justice. Rule of Law has a peculiar presidency to assert itself today or tomorrow. And in this case, I strongly believe justice will be done, someday some time.
The high court judgment on the 5th amendment tentatively goes a long way to prove the point. It is not for any political party; it is for all humanity I speak. I mourn the death of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib and his entire family and the liberation leaders in Dhaka Central Jail. I also mourn the assassination of president Ziaur Rahaman, Khaled Musharraf and many others during those fateful days following the 1975 murders in many cases – but the perpetrator will sure face justice today or tomorrow.
(Waliur Rahman Author and Founder Chairman, Bangladesh Heritage Foundation. This article was first published in Dhaka Courier)