Sheikh Hasina’s gains abroad must be replicated at home

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s five-day official visit to Saudi Arabia at the invitation of King Salman cannot but be regarded as a milestone in the history of Dhaka-Riyadh ties. Following on the heels of her positive interaction with the leaders of the G-7 nations in Japan, Bangladesh’s leader has now sought to extend the country’s diplomatic reach in the Middle East. Through the visit to Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Hasina has not only made it possible for a new dimension to come into ties between the two nations but has also underlined the principle that Bangladesh remains committed to the cause of the Islamic Ummah, which cause is fundamentally a promotion of the interests of Muslims around the world. In so many words, the prime minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia is a reflecting back on Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s decision to take Bangladesh into the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) in 1974 through taking part in the Islamic summit in Lahore.
Sheikh Hasina’s Saudi odyssey is significant from an important perspective. Given that in recent times, the political leadership in Pakistan as well as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have felt no embarrassment in interfering in Bangladesh’s internal affairs over the war crimes trials, the Prime Minister’s Saudi trip proves that Dhaka has no lack of friends in the Islamic world. For all the questions that have been raised about Saudi Arabia around the world in recent times, the fact remains that the kingdom is the most influential Muslim country and the Saudi monarch is the Custodian of Islam’s two holiest mosques in Makkah and Madina. It is a sign of clear diplomatic foresight on the part of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister that in her deliberations with the Saudi leadership, especially with King Salman, she was able to reassure them about her government’s toughness with regard to dealing with religious militancy and promoting the Islamic values and traditions which have historically underpinned the lives of Bangladesh’s Muslim population.
In other words, there was an obvious meeting of minds between the leaders of Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia in Riyadh. From the perspective of foreign policy, especially in light of the blatant propaganda let loose by Islamabad and Ankara against Dhaka, Sheikh Hasina’s exhaustive and eventually fruitful talks with her Saudi interlocutors can properly be regarded as a diplomatic coup by her government. Adding substance to the talks was Sheikh Hasina’s emphasis on a continued and more expansive export of manpower from Bangladesh to Saudi Arabia. Here too she appeared to be bringing in new thoughts, through impressing on the Saudis the imperative of not just bringing in workers but also making it possible for their families to join them. On a higher and remarkably geopolitical level, the Prime Minister’s reassurances to the Saudi leadership of Bangladesh’s continued support to the Saudi-led struggle against terrorism injected fresh new dynamism in the links between Dhaka and Riyadh. The visit was a cementing of an alliance, of the unity of the Islamic bloc.
Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, particularly where it concerns a projection of Bangladesh’s interests in the international community, is today acknowledged in the world beyond our frontiers. When Forbes magazine places her in the 36th position among the most powerful women leaders in the world and when global leaders listen to her in all seriousness, it says something about the heights she has scaled in the global community. That triumph must now be replicated at home, where in recent weeks and months the targeted killings of individuals — bloggers, publishers, writers, Hindus, Christians and foreigners — have quite dented the reputation of Bangladesh as a haven for all people. Governments, as history has consistently shown, make a mark in time and space when their foreign triumphs come matched with domestic performance. It is thus that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, embattled as she is on home ground on account of the murderous activities of Islamist militants and a political opposition determined to create impediments to a normal functioning of democracy, will need to recreate in her domestic surroundings the successes she has been achieving abroad.
Those successes can only take shape if and when the law enforcers and other security agencies, despite all the lapses which have characterized their professionalism so far, reinvent themselves and go full scale into a hard struggle to defeat terrorists and other forces of disruption in the country. The Prime Minister certainly realizes that political stability and firm, purposeful leadership at home are a surefire guarantee of gaining newer levels of respect in Bangladesh’s interaction with nations abroad.
Let the foreign policy successes of her government, buttressed by the strong international personality of the Prime Minister, complement achievements of an equal nature within the country. Our gains abroad must not be marred by our shortcomings at home.