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Key Economic Data 
  2004 2003 2002 Ranking(2004)
Millions of US $ 56,844 51,900 45,500 54
GNI per capita
 US $ 440 400 390 175
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Bangladesh

Update No: 063 - (26/01/13)

Bangladesh entered 2013 with a series of successful diplomatic ventures with two big powers in the region – Russia and India. Dhaka not only solved the border disputes with India but has also conducted meaningful dialogue on the long-standing issue of sharing of River Ganges water resources. Moreover, the two countries have decided to sign an agreement to ease visa restrictions that will support easy mobility of businessmen, senior citizens and children. With Russia, Bangladesh has signed 10 agreements and MoUs on numerous areas with particular focus on the nuclear power plant that Bangladesh has been keen on building for sometime.

Moscow has also penetrated the Bangladeshi arms market that has been traditionally dominated by China. On the external front Dhaka has made commendable progress. On the domestic front the standoff between the Awami League (AL)-led government and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led Opposition seems to be deteriorating by the day. Not only is there no trust between the parties, the 1971 War Crimes trial aimed against “local collaborators” has made the opposition wary of the government’s actions and intentions. As a result, the street protests in Dhaka remain in full flow.

Bangladesh-India relations on an upward swing
As relations warm up between Bangladesh and India, the two South Asian neighbours have decided to liberalize their visa regime and are talking about signing an extradition treaty. The Awami League (AL) government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been proactively engaging India in order to resolve disputes and improve trade relations. India’s Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, is set to visit Bangladesh at January end for a three-day talk with his Bangladeshi counterpart M K Alamgir. The new visa agreement, called revised travel arrangements, will remove travel restrictions for businesspersons, senior citizens above 65-years of age and children below 12 years. The revision of the visa regime between Bangladesh and India is similar to the revision that took place between visa arrangements of Pakistan and India. The Home Ministers of the two countries are expected to sign the agreement during Shinde’s visit to Dhaka. Introduction of a time-frame for issuing non-diplomatic visas, simplification of multiple-entry visas for businesspersons, 'visa-on-arrival' for senior citizens and children, allowing additional entries for medical visa, issuing group visas to tourists and extending the duration of transit visas, are some of areas which may see changes in the new agreement.

While the proposed changes in visa arrangements were accepted in the home secretary-level meeting in October last year, coming to an agreement on the signing of an extradition treaty has remained unfruitful. India has been particularly keen on signing the extradition treaty, as it has been demanding the deportation of Anup Chetia, general secretary of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) – a separatist insurgent group active in the northeast state of Assam. India has been pressing for Chetia's deportation since 1997, when he was arrested in Dhaka for entering Bangladesh without documents. He had, however, applied to the court, seeking asylum in Bangladesh for security reasons, making it legally difficult for Dhaka to execute New Delhi's demand. In fact, the extradition treaty would pave the way for extradition of many more insurgents from northeastern states who have been hiding in Bangladesh. Similarly, it would also help Dhaka to get hold of criminals and anti-Bangladesh elements serving term in Indian prisons. Some of the other issues that are expected to be discussed in the meeting include cross-border movements of criminals and terrorists, border firings, border management, circulation of fake Indian currency notes, illegal migration, human trafficking and narcotics smuggling.

This session of talks reaffirms the positive stride in Bangladesh-India relations over the last two years. In fact, Bangladesh has more or less resolved all border disputes with India and has also been able to successfully engage with India on the long-standing dispute over the Ganges River water resources. Moreover, while the Hasina government has been actively engaging India’s political leadership, New Delhi also found a ready listener in its sharpest critic and leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Khaleda Zia, late last year. With a broad political consensus developing in Bangladesh and India to maintain cordial relations with each other, these developments clearly indicate a fundamental shift in how Bangladesh and India view each other.

Turnaround: Bangladesh-Russia relations
PM Hasina’s recent visit to Moscow on January 15 has been considered a major success as the two countries signed 10 agreements and MoUs that included cooperation in the fields of nuclear energy, weapons supply, oil and gas exploration projects, and space. The bilateral deals are expected to open path-breaking opportunities for the rapid development of co-operation between the two countries, aimed at giving a thrust to the Bangladeshi economy in the near future. Hasina’s visit was the first by a Bangladeshi PM in the past 40 years. (Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had visited Moscow in March 1972, to express his gratitude for the supportive role played by the then-Soviet Union in the independence struggle of Bangladesh). Earlier Hasina had visited St Petersburg in November 2010 to attend the ‘Tiger Summit’ – which saw little movement on the bilateral front. The agreement for setting up Bangladesh’s first nuclear power plant in the northwestern town of Rooppur was high on the agenda of Putin-Hasina talks. Apparently, Bangladesh has been pushing to start the construction of the nuclear power plant, because its natural gas reserves could run out within a decade. In November 2011, Dhaka signed a deal with Rosatom, the Russian state-run nuclear power corporation, to build a nuclear plant at Rooppur with two 1,000 MW reactors at a cost of up to US$ 1.5 billion each. According to the agreement, Russia will grant credit worth US$ 500 million credit to Bangladesh in order to finance the preparatory stage of constructing the nuclear power plant. Further costs will be partially financed through Bangladesh’s own funds and partially through another loan from Moscow.

Another important outcome of the visit was the signing of an agreement under which Russia has pledged to grant a US$ 1 billion loan to Bangladesh for arms purchases. Over the last few years alone a shipment of MiG-29 fighters, several dozen BTR-80, BREM-K and BMM armoured personnel carriers, and three Mi-171Sh helicopters have been exported to Bangladesh from Russia. Bangladesh is also likely to buy about 80 to 100 Russian-made BTR-80 amphibious armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and some missile defence systems. There are some new weapons contracts in the pipeline, but their signing is being delayed because Bangladesh does not have the money for it,” he said. Development of Russia-Bangladesh military-technical cooperation has been somewhat impeded by the fact that at certain periods of time – under former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia – Bangladesh has had political tensions with India, which is a strategic importer of Russian arms. So far, China has remained Bangladesh’s largest weapons supplier, accounting for more than half of the country’s arms purchases. Finally, Russia is also expanding its bilateral ties in the oil and gas sector. Gazprom, the world’s largest extractor of natural gas, has signed a contract with the PetroBangla Corporation for drilling 10 gas fields – signifying the start of a partnership in the making between Bangladesh and Russia.

Domestic political standoff deepens
The political situation in Bangladesh deteriorated at a spectacular pace this month as the street protests intensified tremendously. The 18-party opposition alliance led by the BNP said it would not "return from the streets" until the caretaker system for holding elections was restored. Two nationwide strikes and a countrywide road blockade marked the week ending with Victory Day celebrations on December 15-16, 2012. After a brief break during the second half of December, to allow unhindered celebrations of the "Victory Day" which rekindles the passions of the 1971 Liberation War, the BNP-led opposition was back on a confrontation course.

The BNP-led opposition alliance is deeply dissatisfied with Sheikh Hasina’s government seeking to do away with the caretaker system for holding elections to the national Parliament. The system provides for a non-partisan body to take over the reins of administration a few months before the elections to ensure a fair poll. This body would usually consist of retired judges, administrators and other eminent persons. The constitutional arrangement was challenged in court even when the BNP was in power as the caretaker government that took charge in 2006 weakened its case by not holding elections for two years. Instead, it sought to "cleanse Bangladesh politics of pernicious influences" under the influence of the country's armed forces. Finally, when elections were held in December 2008, it led to a sweeping victory for the Awami League (AL) and its allies.

The Supreme Court ruled that the caretaker system should be scrapped because it had outlived its utility, though it said the system could be retained for another two elections. Given its huge parliamentary majority, the AL government wasted no time and immediately went ahead with the 15th Amendment to scrap the caretaker system which can only be to create a situation where they are enabled to cheat at election times, for which this country is infamous.

Since democracy was restored in Bangladesh after the fall of President H M Ershad's military regime, there has been a change of guard in almost every national election, barring a brief 11-day stint by the BNP in 1996. The BNP came to power in 1991, the Awami League in 1996, the BNP again in 2001 and the Awami League was back with a huge mandate in 2008 when polls were held after a two-year delay. The BNP leadership quite properly fears that if polls are not held under a neutral dispensation now, the ruling coalition led by the AL will rig them.

Moreover, the BNP and its key ally Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) are highly wary over the War Crimes Trial that started in 2010 after the AL came to power. The two tribunals are primarily aimed at punishing the leading "local collaborators" who backed the Pakistan army's genocide in 1971 – thus over 40 years ago. Seven top-ranking JI leaders, including its present and former chief, and two senior leaders of the BNP have been implicated for war crimes (according to the tribunals). The outcome of the trials has been a source of major embarrassment for both the BNP and the JI. Interestingly, the AL alleges that the street protests in support for the caretaker system are actually meant to disrupt the War Crimes Trial and drag the country towards "another civil war". PM Hasina recently said that she is determined not to overturn the court's verdict on the caretaker provision, but one of her ministers has hinted at back-room dialogues with the opposition to work out a solution to the current deadlock. Such a back-room dialogue, however, has been unacceptable to the BNP.

Bangladesh was recently placed at 96th out of 150 nations in World Audit’s world democracy rankings,(74th for Press Freedom & 119th for Corruption), which together explain a great deal about this nation and it’s feeble democracy.

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