Monday, August 22, 2011

The Current State Of The Foreign Ministry

PROFESSIONALISM has no match in formulation and implementation of a country’s foreign policy. The slightest mistake in formulating and conducting foreign policy can make the country vulnerable to attack by foreign powers. Therefore, it should be formulated keeping in mind a country’s interests while avoiding any attitude that might be construed as a hostile or unfriendly act of the government. Foreign service officers and political entities who head the foreign ministry should be well-acquainted with the nitty-gritty of the foreign policy.

Recently, the foreign ministry saw an influx of people from other areas who do not seem to be acquainted with the ins and outs of the country’s foreign policy. Half a dozen ambassadors come from a different sector, some of them placed in important countries, including Russia and Britain. Germany, an important donor country and second highest export destination of Bangladeshi products, remains without an ambassador for quite some time. I recall the generous contribution of the German government and NGOs when severe floods affected Bangladesh in 1998.

At that time I was in charge of the Bangladesh embassy in Bonn as the ambassador was on leave. The permanent representative to the United Nations is also represented by a non-diplomat — an American citizen of Bangladesh origin. His recent meeting with the exiled Tibetan Dalai Lama raised eyebrows in the political circles in Beijing. If no appropriate explanation is given to the Chinese authorities, the relations between Bangladesh and China will grow cold. Bangladesh needs China much more than China needs Bangladesh. Our country should maintain balanced relationships with the two Asian giants, China and India, in the interests of the country.

Sex scandals involving diplomats at the ambassador level has seriously damaged the image of the foreign ministry. In June this year, the Bangladesh ambassador to Japan, AKM Mujibur Rahman, was called back to Dhaka on such a charge. Japan has been playing a very important role in developing the infrastructure of Bangladesh since pre-liberation days of the country, apart from turning out to be our largest donor country. In the recent past, another diplomat, Hasib Aziz, was called back to the foreign affairs ministry for taking an Uzbek woman as a second wife without seeking permission from the government. He later married two others.

The latest incident involving someone with a non-diplomatic background was that of the ambassador to Nepal, Neem Chandra Bhowmik, which turned out to be a very serious matter. Apart from the scandal, the former applied physics teacher of Dhaka University was accused of meddling in the internal affairs of Nepal. There has been allegation of corruption against him while offering scholarships to Nepalese students selected by the Bangladesh government. As reported, he lacks mannerism and diplomatic etiquette in dealing with foreign government.

There has been serious allegation against the Bangladesh ambassador, as reported in the news media, that he gave ride to retired Indian general Jacob to different meeting places in his official car flying the Indian flag. It is an unbelievably disgraceful affair. No action has yet been taken despite requests from the Nepalese government for calling him back. Needless to say that Nepal is a very important country in the region for Bangladesh. Also, allegation of corruption against the Bangladesh high commission in Britain needs to be looked into by the foreign ministry.

Both the prime minister and the foreign minister have toured many parts of the world by now, the achievements to which are not much visible. After Bangladesh has allowed transit facilities to India from Akhaura to Tripura, India will succeed in establishing link with its seven landlocked sister states through Bangladesh territory, apart from using Bangladesh sea ports. It may be recalled here that following our independence, the Chittagong Port was under a mine cleaning operation by Russian naval units, due to which Bangladesh had placed a request to use the Calcutta Port for transhipment for the time being. The request was denied by the Indian government at a time when friendship between the two countries was at its highest peak as India had assisted our freedom fighters to liberate the country from Pakistan’s subjugation.

Speaking recently at Bangladesh strategic study institute, the visiting Indian foreign minister reportedly said that Bangladesh would enjoy trade relations with the Indian landlocked states. The possibility of such scenario is bleak as these areas are low income. The entire north-eastern part of India is infested with insurgency. For all practical purposes, the government of India has no hold on Nagaland. Arunachal Pradesh has become controversial since China claimed 16 districts of the state.

Apart from this, the Indian authorities are in the process of demarcating the border by constructing barbed wire fences along Bangladesh borders without consulting the Bangladesh authorities, which should be considered an unfriendly act. Killing of Bangladeshi nationals by India’s Border Security Force is increasing without any serious protest from the Bangladesh side. Without resolving water sharing issues, India is reportedly ready to construct Tipaimukh dam, in spite of protests from the local people. Although the government of India verbally assured that no damage would be done to Bangladesh if it is constructed, experts are of the opinion that there would be tremendous adverse effect on Bangladesh, it being the lower riparian country. In a way, much more harm would be inflicted on Bangladesh than was by the Farakka barrage. Since China is going ahead with a project to divert waters from the River Brahmaputra in Tibet to arid Xinxiang region, apart from building hydroelectric power plant, India is taking initiative to make a dam to preserve waters from Brahmaputra, causing damage to Bangladesh. Brahmaputra is an international river and the interest of lower riparian should be looked into.

The non-recognition of Kosovo by the Bangladesh government may have irritated the United States which took the initiative to recognise Kosovo. There are similarities between the birth of Bangladesh and that of Kosovo from the subjugation of Serbia. It is understood that the Russian influence has deterred the recognition of Kosovo by Bangladesh. Possibly, the issue is linked with the construction of the atomic energy plant by Russia at Rooppur in Pabna. The treaty between Bangladesh and Russia is likely to be signed when the prime minister pays a visit to Russia this year. This would be her second visit to Russia.

The ministry of foreign affairs suffers from a shortage of manpower to run it effectively. With the departure of the ambassadors to China and France, there will be a vacuum in the ministry in respect of foreign language oriented diplomat. The post of additional foreign secretary remains vacant till writing of this article. The director general is looking after the territorial desk. No director general, however efficient, can handle the territorial desk without gaining a clear perception thorough training abroad. Each territorial desk is different from the point of view of geography, history and current affairs from other desks. From the desk officer to the director-general level, the ministry needs specialisation in the area to make judgment on significant issues which might affect the national interest of the country. Research work on important developments around Bangladesh and international platform is very important in formulating foreign policy. The ministry lacks a full-fledged research wing. It may consider introducing a course for non-diplomatic ambassadors before posting them abroad.

A state can be governed by a person uninitiated in politics, but foreign ministry could not be run by non-professional diplomats. The government should pay much more attention to the ministry of foreign affairs as it stands as the first line of defence for the country.