The omnipresence of the name Sheikh Mujibur Rahman conjures a cornucopia of emotions in the hearts if every Bangladeshi, irrespective of their age, class, gender, ethnicity and religion. As an honorific, the title ‘Bangabandhu’, which means ‘Friend of Bengal’ fails to encompass the larger than life stature of a leader, patriot and statesman like Mujib, because his contribution and sacrifices for the birth of a sovereign Bangladesh transcends that of just a friend. A fearless patriot, visionary leader and an unparalleled politician-Sheikh Mujib’s name remains inscribed in the pages of history as an undisputed champion of the rights of the common man, and as an iconic inspiring figure for the youth. His struggles to liberate an oppressed nation of 7 million not only transformed him to an insignia of Bengali nationalism, but also a global cult figure.
During his tenure as the Prime Minister, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman successfully orchestrated a sound and strategic foreign affairs policy. In the early years following the independence of Bangladesh, right after the liberation war, he addressed international media in London. Many of those from the yesteryears will remember the early days of his leadership in 1972 when he faced the entire world and presented the situation of Bangladesh. Holding the very same sentiment which he presented to the world, he again reiterated in his speech in Dhaka upon return. There clearly was the perception in him that while Bangladeshis inhabited a small geographical landmass, they were aware of the industrial revolutions, the technological progress and structural reforms embraced by economically powerful countries all over the world.
Bangabandhu speaking at a public gathering
Objectives of His Policies:
After assuming power as the Prime Minister of independent Bangladesh on 12th Janurary 1972, one of the major challenges Bangabandhu faced was to garner international recognition for Bangladesh, as a sovereign and independent state, a herculean task, given the complexities posed by the Cold War context. Bangabandhu, as the head of the state, set clear objectives keeping in mind the numerous constraints on Bangladesh’s foreign policy dynamics:
1. To ensure maximum number of signatories in favor of recognizing Bangladesh’s sovereign status.
2. To secure membership of key regional and global alliances.
3. To attain the membership of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Commonwealth and the United Nations (UN).
Post-1971 foreign politics of Bangladesh faced challenges on three fronts besides India and the Soviet Union. Among these, the development of international diplomacy was centered on China, Pakistan and the Pakistan-centered Arab world as well as the United States. The development of congenial bilateral ties with the United States became apparent immediately after independence. By officially recognizing Bangladesh as a sovereign state on April 12, 1972 the United States indicated a commitment to humanitarian assistance and a long-term relationship. Therefore, the role of the ‘Nixon-Kissinger’ collusion against Bangladesh during the War of Liberation in 1971 had certainly improved for the better. But the issue really demands discussion on actually how friendly America wanted to be in reality, while at the same time being wary of a newly emerged state.
Historic Addresses as a Diplomatic Leader:
The historic address given by Bangabandhu at the United Nations General Assembly on 25th September, 1974 was the very first speech given in Bengali by any statesman.
‘Today I feel fortunate to have been granted the opportunity to speak in front of you in this great council. I am also a partner of the satisfaction in the great parliament of the human race which now represents 7 million people in Bangladesh. This is a historic moment for the Bengali nation because the struggle for te right to self-governance is marked by great success today.
In the speech which lasted less than10 minutes, Bangabandhu made his statement with strong confidence in the steadfast posture. For a time, it didn't feel like the stage in New York was new to him or the experience, alien. Beginning with reference to the UN Charter, his speech vindicated the ultimate struggle for the national independence and ultimate liberation of the people of Zimbabwe and Namibia and attracted the attention of international leaders as he called upon the need to build a just and equitable economic system. This speech of Bangabandhu strived to give a fair idea of the global, social and economic situation in relation to the situation in Bangladesh.
A Peacemaker cum Statesman:
Friendship to all and not hostility towards anyone (friendship to all and malice towards none) – this was the basis of Bangladesh's foreign policy, as followed by Bangabandhu. This policy, realistic and practical, is still considered the main philosophy of international relations in Bangladesh. From this motto, many may have the impression that only a peaceful foreign policy is being promoted. That is mostly true, but it is important for everyone to realize that the post-war world peace is by far the most complex and incomprehensible. We also see a reflection of this policy in our active participation in the international peacekeeping activities of the Armed Forces and Police of Bangladesh, exhibited by young people serving the nation.
An Inspiration for Youth:
Bangabandhu’s ideals, his actions and his words have left a trail for today’s youth to follow, a trail that leads to the safeguarding of the Bengali nationalism and internationalism. He said, “Independence should not mean chaos and unrest. Independence is living a respectful life and being able to hold your head up”. He also said, “Without ethics and the ability to self-criticism, self-control and self-rectification, one cannot be an ideal citizen”. For the young generation taking a keen interest in foreign policy, Bangabandhu’s ideals are worthy areas for further exploration and research. Keeping in mind the 21st context of a fragmented world, his motto stressing on the importance of global solidarity for mankind’s common wellbeing, remains relevant.
His determination to sacrifice and his promise to keep were not a null shot, rather something so real that it easily pierced people’s hearts. His historic address to the nation declaring the independence of Bangladesh on 26th March 1971 may have been short, but enough to inspire a mass resistance for independence.
The supreme lesson the youth must learn from Bangabandhu is his love for the people and unarguably, his life inspires the youth to fight against oppression and aggression. Bangabandhu is the timeless leader of the people, for the people and by the people, and his ideals will certainly be inspiring the generations to come, as have been doing so far.