Bangladesh As The Phoenix That Rose From The Ashes Of 1971

Bangladesh As The Phoenix That Rose From The Ashes Of 1971

When East Pakistan seceded and became the independent country of Bangladesh, it was not supposed to survive economically because of the density of population, the lack of natural resources and a very poor infrastructure. US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had called it “an international basket case” and Pakistani experts painted a picture of doom and gloom for the future of this country. Today, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh is one of the more important success stories in the world. Bangladesh has surprised the economic experts of the world with an average annual GDP growth of 6.4 % between 2016 and 2021. This tiny, impoverished nation has surpassed all the Asian countries such as India, Indonesia and the Philippines, and is way ahead of the global average of 2.9%. 

During the last fifty years of independence, the economic progress of Bangladesh has been remarkably impressive and commendable. The latest achievement of Bangladesh has been that it has become one of the leading countries of the world in fulfilling the United Nations Development Goals (SDGs). It is no longer a least developed country but a proud member of the developing nations of the world. From mass starvation in 1974, the country has achieved near self-sufficiency in food production for its 166 million-plus population. Per capita income has risen nearly threefold since 2009, reaching $1,750 this year. And the number of people living in extreme poverty -- classified as under $1.25 per day -- has shrunk from about 19% of the population to less than 9% over the same period, according to the World Bank. Bangladesh has improved education access during the past decade. The government of Bangladesh has constructed primary schools in all regions of the country in an effort to make primary education mandatory for all. In addition, free books are being distributed and mid-day meals are also in operation. The country has near-universal primary school enrollment and gender parity in education with 98% of children enrolled. 

The government is encouraging women to pursue a higher education and developing women entrepreneurs as a means of empowering women in particular. Timely actions have increased females education in the country. In 2023, the functional literacy rate (7+ years) in Bangladesh is now 62.92%, whereas the general literacy rate in the country is 74.23%. In addition, the functional literacy rate for people aged 11-45 in the country increased to 73.69% from 53.70% in 2011. Bangladesh today boasts a $330 billion economy and has the 38th place in the world GDP rankings. It is projected to become an economy of $700 billion by 2030, which will mean the 26th position and it is now assumed to be the next Asian Tiger competing with highly developed countries like Singapore.

By all accounts, Bangladesh has done exceptionally well over the past two decades. This is true for both economic and social progress, where the internationally accepted indicators have placed Bangladesh at the forefront of nations in the developing world in terms of reducing deep poverty and improving the lives of tens of millions of its citizens. This is especially true for its positive impact on women, particularly in terms of education for girls, women's employment and improving the quality of their lives. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted that the Bangladesh per capita income will overtake India’s pretty soon and its growth rate is one of the highest in the world. The poverty level is declining at a fast and steady rate. 

Factors that contributed to the phenomenal progress of Bangladesh are trade liberalisation that started in the late 1980s, increased emphasis on private sector growth, micro-financing of small enterprises and a balanced labour regulatory environment. In short, sound macroeconomic planning facilitated Bangladesh’s impressive economic development. Bangladesh has been receptive to receiving foreign aid both in terms of financial and technical assistance. Development partners supported the country in its infrastructural development, human capital development, and developing sound macro policies. Bangladesh’s dependence on foreign assistance is steadily declining, and concurrently partnership in addressing global challenges like climate change, global and regional trade alliances and security matters are gaining relevance. Germany has been a trusted partner of Bangladesh since the country’s birth 50 years ago. It was one of the first countries to recognise Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan in 1972. It has since then been a reliable companion, including through the European Union, in development cooperation, and remains an important trade partner. It is, for instance, one of the biggest export markets for Bangladesh readymade garments. 

If Pakistan could put aside its arrogance and prejudice, we could learn a lot from the rise of our former citizens, the people of Bangladesh. 

In retrospect, Bangladesh can be proud of many of its achievements of the past five decades. In areas it has made progress; accolade must be shared amongst its stakeholders – the private sector, NGOs, government and the development partners. However, much more is needed to be done in the area of promotion of democracy, good governance, and strengthening of Bangladesh’s core institutions that are entrusted to safeguard the constitutional rights and liberties of its citizens.  In the long term, strengthening of democracy, rule of law, good governance will yield rich dividends for Bangladesh in terms of sustained social and economic development, thereby attaining self-reliance.