Economy, Asia - Pacific

‘Bangladesh’s impressive economic growth faces challenges’

Retired Brig. Gen. M. Sakhawat Hossain shared his observations with Anadolu Agency ahead of country’s Victory Day

SM Najmus Sakib  | 17.12.2021 - Update : 22.12.2021
‘Bangladesh’s impressive economic growth faces challenges’

DHAKA, Bangladesh

As Bangladesh marks its 50th independence anniversary this year, its tremendous economic growth has made it an emerging hub for regional connectivity, attracting more trade and investment opportunities.

According to the World Bank, the country has been among the fastest growing economies globally over the past decade, supported by a demographic dividend, strong ready-made garment (RMG) exports and stable macroeconomic conditions.

Bangladesh is also on track to graduate from the UN’s Least Developed Countries (LDC) list in 2026. Poverty fell from 43.5% to 14.3% in two decades, while in the last seven years, the country’s garment industry has increased its annual revenue from $19 billion to $34 billion—a 79% rise, according to the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

But the country’s 50-year journey hasn’t been trouble-free, and there are still some areas to improve, including the rule of law, electoral democracy and the human rights situation, without which economic development will be meaningless.

Touching on these and other issues, Bangladeshi author, defense expert, security analyst and former election commissioner Brig. Gen. (retired) M. Sakhawat Hossain spoke to Anadolu Agency on the occasion of Bangladesh Victory Day on Dec. 16.

Hossain, who is also an honorary research fellow at the South Asian Institute for Policy and Governance at North South University in Dhaka and a former member of the board of directors of a leading commercial bank, recalled the quite different contexts including culture, language and geographical distance between then East and West Pakistan that served as major factors for the separation of the two regions through the war of independence in 1971 after 24 years of a united Pakistan.

“The grounds for the autonomy movement and subsequent war of independence started in then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, since the independence of Pakistan from British rule had shifted to autocratic rule rather than a democratic Pakistan after 1947,” he said.

But the huge economic gap between the two parts of Pakistan was among the main causes of separation, he added.

“War-ravaged Bangladesh in 1971 was also economically devastated, as the economy was based on West Pakistan. Except for jute, there was nothing left as an industry, nothing as resources that could immediately help Bangladesh stand on its feet.”

Meanwhile, political instability was deepening in independent Bangladesh, which finally led to the famine of 1974, which was regarded as the country’s worst in decades, he said.

The brutal killing of the country’s first interim head of state, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in the early hours of Aug. 15, 1975 along with most of his family had brought the military to power for years until 1990, he recounted.

Garments, NGOs, private entrepreneurs spur economic growth

“Fifty years for a country is not a long time to be politically and economically stable. However, we did not think we could reach the present economic and infrastructure development,” Hossain said.

He noted that Bangladesh brought down its fertility rate to 2.3%, improved access to basic human rights like education, health and housing, and life expectancy increased to 72.87 years.

It outshined neighboring India and Pakistan in so many indicators, including GDP growth, per capita income and women’s education and empowerment, he said.

“Bangladesh’s major economic progress started in the 1980s. The garment industries in the 1980s and 90s had brought significant economic progress and paved the way for so many private entrepreneurs to contribute to the economy,” he noted.

“Bangladesh is no longer an economic basket case but rather a model for developing countries. No other countries in the region have made such economic progress in 50 years, including in road, transport, public health and infrastructure development.”

Need to improve democratic, human right situations

​​Bangladesh was not invited to US President Joe Biden’s high-profile Summit for Democracy held this month virtually and was therefore not among the 111 countries that took part.

Meanwhile, the US this week sanctioned Bangladesh’s elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) anti-crime unit. It also imposed a ban on seven present and former top officials of the RAB and law enforcement personnel, including the inspector general of the Bangladesh Police, meaning no entry for them to the US on the grounds of alleged violations of human rights.

However, some experts linked the sanctions to Bangladesh's “shift” towards China.

“India surrounded Bangladesh at all its land borders while China is Bangladesh's top development partner. And India is yet to grab the global market in terms of trade and investment in mega projects in the region compared to China,” Hossain noted.

Meanwhile, “Bangladesh does not have strategic relations with China and has not taken part in any joint military drills with it. So there is no certain cause to say that China-Bangladesh relations were behind the US sanctions.”

The recent US sanctions and Biden’s failure to invite Bangladesh to the Summit for Democracy are nothing but the US’s latest policy on human rights and democracy, he said.​​​​​​​

“Bangladesh was supposed to be a liberal democratic country, but it has lagged behind in political democracy. The national election process is no longer democratic. If we fail to restore democracy and human rights, then all the economic developments will be meaningless,” he stressed.

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