The Foreign Policy of Bangabandhu is Indeed our Path to Global Friendship

The birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman falls on March 17. Born 104 years ago , he holds the esteemed title of being the greatest Bengali of all time. Despite being a Bengali, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman transcended borders to become a beacon of leadership for oppressed peoples worldwide. Even today, individuals from various countries around the globe remember his name with profound respect.

During the Non-Aligned Conference, Bangabandhu had a memorable encounter with the legendary Cuban leader, Fidel Castro. Reflecting on their meeting, Castro remarked, “I have not seen the Himalayas, but I have seen Bangabandhu. He is a leader with a heart as vast as the Himalayas.” Such sentiments underscore the profound impact Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had on global leaders. His legacy continues to be honored worldwide, ensuring that he remains revered with enduring respect across nations.

Assessing the impact of a towering figure like Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman within a limited framework is a daunting task. Bangabandhu’s legacy transcends mere evaluation; he was the architect of a nation and the catalyst for the liberation of millions. His unwavering commitment to freedom ignited the spirits of Bengalis, leading them to achieve independence after centuries of oppression. Bangabandhu endured immense hardships, including prolonged imprisonment, in his relentless pursuit of Bengali liberation. Yet, amidst adversity, he never wavered in his dedication to his principles and the interests of his people. His steadfastness in upholding Bengali rights and his unwavering resolve exemplify the epitome of leadership and sacrifice.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s character was truly noble and compassionate, particularly towards the less fortunate. His dedication to serving the people was evident in his efficient handling of state responsibilities, despite the brevity of his tenure. I had the privilege of closely observing Bangabandhu, having come into contact with him during my student years. He embodied the qualities of a pragmatic visionary leader, unafraid to take bold steps for the betterment of ordinary citizens. His unwavering commitment to the welfare of the common people remains an enduring aspect of his legacy.

Having observed Bangabandhu closely over an extended period, it’s evident that no Bengali figure has emerged who can match or even come close to his stature. It remains uncertain whether such a figure will arise in the future. Bangabandhu possessed clarity of thought on various subjects and articulated his ideas with unwavering conviction regardless of the setting. While he valued the advice of others, he ultimately made decisions based on his own judgment. To my knowledge, he never made a wrong decision under the influence of external pressures. Despite having interacted with Bangabandhu on multiple occasions and gaining insight into his character, I recognise the challenge of fully encapsulating his life’s entirety. Therefore, I will endeavor to shed light on certain aspects of his foreign policy in my presentation.

Following the independence of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu  Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned to lead a nation ravaged by war. His immediate focus was on the reconstruction of the country, recognizing its paramount importance. Understanding that economic development was crucial for a nation emerging from the throes of conflict, Bangabandhu prioritized fostering bilateral relations with countries across the globe. He acknowledged that creating strong alliances was imperative for Bangladesh’s recovery and progress, realizing that there was no alternative to building positive relationships with all nations in order to facilitate the country’s economic development and growth.

In a  short span of three and a half years, Bangladesh, under the charismatic leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, achieved widespread recognition from the majority of countries worldwide. This feat was largely attributable to Bangabandhu’s dynamic leadership style and  ability to garner broad acceptance on the international stage. As a result, governments across the globe began to acknowledge Bangladesh as a sovereign nation. Central to Bangabandhu’s foreign policy was the principle of “friendship with all, enmity with none,” a guiding philosophy that sought to cultivate positive relationships with all nations while avoiding conflicts.

Foreign Policy of Bangabandhu

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman not only crafted an exemplary foreign policy but also effectively implemented it during his tenure. His vision continues to guide Bangladesh’s foreign relations today. The essence of this policy revolves around maintaining friendly ties with all nations and refraining from hostility. Even with countries where bilateral relations may face challenges, Bangladesh remains committed to seeking avenues for improvement. Bangladesh prioritizes the development of bilateral relations with any country while safeguarding its self-respect and national interests.

After Bangladesh’s independence, Bangabandhu  Sheikh Mujibur Rahman orchestrated the swift return of Indian allied forces to their homeland in less than three months. Their departure on March 12, 1972, stands as an unprecedented example globally. This remarkable feat was made possible through Bangabandhu’s visionary leadership and diplomatic acument. His strategic approach and adept diplomacy facilitated the smooth transition.

Bangabandhu’s adept application of the foreign policy principle of “friendship to all, malice to none” is exemplified by Bangladesh’s stance during the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) conference held in Pakistan in 1974. Despite being invited to participate, Bangladesh refused to attend until Pakistan officially recognized Bangladesh as a sovereign nation. Despite Pakistan’s initial reluctance to recognize Bangladesh, they swiftly granted formal recognition in response to Bangabandhu’s firm stance. Subsequently, the foreign ministers of three Muslim countries arrived in Bangladesh to present the recognition certificate from Pakistan to Bangabandhu. With this diplomatic breakthrough, Bangladesh participated in the OIC conference alongside Bangabandhu.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman faced considerable internal pressure and received advice from friendly nations urging him not to attend the OIC conference in Pakistan. Despite these pressures, Bangabandhu remained resolute in his decision. He recognized the importance of attending the conference not only for normalizing Bangladesh’s bilateral relations with Muslim countries but also for facilitating Pakistan’s official recognition of Bangladesh. Had Bangabandhu not attended the OIC conference in Pakistan, the process of normalizing relations and achieving recognition would have been significantly more challenging for Bangladesh.

Indeed, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s participation in the OIC conference was pivotal in normalizing bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Muslim countries, despite initial alignments with Pakistan during Bangladesh’s independence movement. By attending the conference, Bangabandhu seized the opportunity to advocate for Bangladesh’s interests directly to heads of state from Muslim-majority nations. This platform allowed him to address crucial issues, including the economic assistance owed to Bangladesh from its former entity, Pakistan.

US President Gerald Ford hosted Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the White House on October 1, 1974

The principle of “friendship to all, malice towards none” served as the cornerstone of Bangladesh’s foreign policy, a sentiment prominently underscored during the OIC conference. Bangladesh’s participation in the conference held in Lahore during the War of Independence played a pivotal role in bridging the gap between Bangladesh and Muslim-majority nations.  By actively engaging in the conference and advocating for its interests, Bangladesh effectively conveyed its commitment to fostering friendly relations with all nations, regardless of past differences.

The foundational ideals of Bangladesh’s foreign policy were not crafted after independence. During the 1970 National Assembly elections, Bangabandhu reiterated multiple times that our foreign policy would priorities friendship with all nations and avoid enmity with any. This suggests that Bangabandhu had developed the core ideology of his foreign policy well in advance, indicating thoughtful planning and foresight.

Bangabandhu’s call for the trial of 195 war criminals by Pakistan authorities, coupled with his vision of Bangladesh as the “Switzerland of the East” committed to regional peace, further underscored his dedication to justice and stability. At the OIC conference, Bangabandhu emerged as a key proponent of peace, highlighting his active role in promoting harmony within the Muslim world and beyond.

After attaining independence, Bangabandhu placed significant emphasis on fostering bilateral relations with various countries worldwide for several reasons. Firstly, Bangladesh’s economy was in a precarious state following the war, necessitating assistance from the international community to facilitate recovery. Bangabandhu adeptly navigated this challenge, securing support from diverse nations and achieving remarkable success in rebuilding Bangladesh’s economy.

Despite expectations that Bangladesh might align with the Soviet bloc due to support received during the liberation war from India and the Soviet Union, Bangabandhu demonstrated a commitment to non-alignment. Instead of favoring any particular bloc, he prioritized the welfare of the Bangladeshi people and pursued initiatives to establish bilateral relations with countries, including those that had opposed Bangladesh during the independence struggle, such as the United States.

By adopting a pragmatic and inclusive approach to foreign relations, Bangabandhu sought to ensure Bangladesh’s sovereignty, stability, and prosperity, transcending ideological divides for the greater benefit of the nation. His diplomatic efforts contributed significantly to shaping Bangladesh’s position on the global stage and fostering constructive relationships with nations across the world.

Indeed, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s decision-making was always guided by pragmatism rather than emotion. He prioritized the interests of Bangladesh and its people, grounded in reality. His strategic approach to foreign relations proved instrumental in securing crucial benefits for the country, particularly in international trade.

Bangabandhu’s initiatives to develop relations with the United States of America and European Union countries after independence yielded significant dividends. The United States granted Bangladesh quotas in trade, while the European Union provided Bangladesh with the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), offering duty-free trade benefits. These facilities played a pivotal role in facilitating Bangladesh’s success in international trade.

Had Bangabandhu not taken the proactive step to cultivate relations with these key partners, Bangladesh would likely have missed out on these vital trade benefits.

Bangabandhu’s declaration of Bangladesh as a non-aligned country exemplified his commitment to independence and sovereignty, emphasizing that Bangladesh would not align with any particular bloc or alliance. Despite the United States opposing Bangladesh during the liberation war, Bangabandhu demonstrated remarkable statesmanship by meeting with  US President Gerald Ford and seeking assistance for Bangladesh’s development.

This aspect of Bangabandhu’s character highlights his pragmatic approach to international relations, where decisions were guided solely by the interests of the state and its people. His ability to set aside past conflicts and engage constructively with former adversaries showcased his diplomatic finesse and unwavering dedication to Bangladesh’s progress.

Bangabandhu steadfastness and resolute character ensured that he never wavered from making decisions that were in the best interest of the country and its citizens.

As the permanent representative of Bangladesh at the United Nations, I once found myself in a conversation with the permanent representative of the United States. During this interaction, the US representative expressed curiosity about how Bangladesh consistently garnered such significant support and votes. It happened during an election where both the United States and Bangladesh were candidates, and yet Bangladesh received the highest number of votes.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with Japanese Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei while visiting Japan in 1973

In response, I attributed our success to the visionary directive laid out by our Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. I explained that Bangabandhu’s guiding principle in foreign policy was clear: “friendship with all, enmity with none.” This principle has been at the core of Bangladesh’s approach to international relations, and it resonates deeply with nations across the world.

By adhering steadfastly to this principle, Bangladesh has earned respect and admiration on the global stage. Our commitment to fostering positive relationships and cooperation with all nations, regardless of differences or past conflicts, has been instrumental in garnering support and trust from the international community.

Indeed, the principle of “friendship with all, enmity with none” has been instrumental in garnering support for Bangladesh on the international stage. By maintaining positive and constructive relations with all nations,  Bangladesh has effectively cultivated a network of allies and partners. This approach has enabled Bangladesh to navigate diplomatic challenges successfully and secure victories in various international forums.

During my tenure as Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations, I had the privilege of overseeing approximately 52 elections, all of which resulted in victories for Bangladesh. This remarkable achievement is a testament to the widespread trust and confidence that Bangladesh enjoys among the international community. The guiding principles set forth by Bangabandhu in our foreign policy have proven invaluable in nurturing bilateral relations with various countries on the global stage, contributing significantly to our international endeavors.

written by-

Dr. A. K Abdul Momen, MP
PhD & MBA (USA), MPA (Harvard), LLB, MA, BA (Hons), Dhaka University
Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Foreign Affairs, GoB

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