Bangladesh-Turkey ties: a close lookby Mohammad Amjad Hossain
TURKEY’S location at the crossroads of Eurasia makes the country geo- strategically important. Now, it has turned out to be a regional power, both militarily and economically. Turkey is the only predominantly Muslim country that is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It is now involved in major conflict regions along with other NATO member countries. In Libya, Turkey was involved militarily and is now accommodating a huge number of Syrian refugees who escaped from the massacres by the Syrian army. Turkey is involved in the reconstruction in Afghanistan, along with other NATO member countries. Therefore, the country has been playing a dominant role in Asia, as can also be seen from her active participation in the Organisation of Islamic Conference. This is the first time that Turkey has played a dominant role as the OIC secretary general.
Given this role of Turkey in the 21st century, Bangladesh could achieve great benefits from associating with the country, not only in the OIC but also in other international organisations, by extending unqualified support to Turkey in the international forum. Bilaterally, Bangladesh could exploit Turkey’s vast markets by exporting garments, pharmaceutical products, ceramics and shoes. A thorough evaluation of the market is required by the Bangladesh embassy in Ankara, and a salesmanship drive becomes imperative, not only by diplomats, but also by the business community. The business community in Bangladesh should further develop relations with countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, to export their products. They should not depend on American and European markets alone. At the same time, the business community should diversify its exportable products in line with modern technologies. Presently, the volume of trade between the two countries stands at $1 billion and efforts could be made to reach the target of $3 billion by 2015, as set by the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during his visit to Bangladesh in 2010.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1976, after the changeover of the administration in Bangladesh, relations between the two Muslim countries have grown, but not as fast as expected given the potential for bilateral relations that exists. No serious efforts have been made to cultivate the relationship, since the visit of President Ziaur Rahman to Turkey, despite the exchange of high-level visits between the two countries. The president of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, rightly said, during a visit to Bangladesh in 2011, the present level of economic and commercial relations that exists does not reflect the potential of the two countries.
Historically, the two countries are bound by the bond of Muslim brotherhood, dating back to the First World War. The pan-Islamic movement against the British, known as the Khilafat movement of Turkey, was spearheaded by Moulana Shaukat Ali and Moulana Mohammad Ali of Bengal, and was later joined by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Moulana Abul Kalam Azad, Moulana Akram Khan, AK Fazlul Haq, etc. The extra-territorial loyalty of Indian leaders was defeated when Mustafa Kemal Pasha of Turkey crushed the invading Greek forces, culminating in the abolition of the Sultanate in November 1922, transforming Turkey into a secular republic in 1923. National poet Kazi Nazrul Islam’s poem on Kemal Pasha was well-known in Bengal, and now in Bangladesh. The Kemal Atatürk Model High school at Daghonbhuiya, Feni, which was set up in 1927, is a reflection of the reverence shown by the people of Bengal towards the leader of Turkey.
In 1986, the then Turkish prime minister, Turgut Ozal, paid a visit to Kemal Ataturk High school at Dagonbhuiya, where he donated equipment to start science classes. The then Bangladesh foreign minister, ARS Doha, and I accompanied the Turkish visiting team to Daganbhuiya in Feni. It may be noted that many Turkish words have enriched Bengali language and literature as well. The word Topkhana, where the ministry of foreign affairs is located, and Pilkhana, where the headquarters of Border Guards Bangladesh is located, is derived from Turkish.
Bangladesh and Turkey have maintained bilateral relations in the defence sector, dating back to 1978, when the two countries signed the defence cooperation agreement. An agreement with regards to training of military officers from Bangladesh was signed in 2004. According to Bangladesh embassy in Ankara, 3,000 military officers from Bangladesh were trained in Turkey, while a large number of Turkish soldiers were trained in Bangladesh. During the visit of Erodogan to Bangladesh in 2010, the two sides signed an agreement on cooperation in the health sector as well as an air service agreement, which facilitated Turkish airline to land in Dhaka airport. This agreement is a continuation of the civil aviation agreement of 1997. A number of agreements are in place which could be utilized in further expansion of economic relations between the two countries. The economic and technical cooperation Agreement of 1979 and the 1999 agreement to avoid double taxation need to be studied and implemented.
Turkish foreign policy appears to be pragmatic and constructive, which has been reflected in Turkish-Brazilian swap deal for Iran’s low-enriched uranium, in May last year, to avoid conflict. Furthermore, it’s ‘no’ vote in the Security Council on the fourth round of economic sanctions against Iran and Turkish criticism of Israeli policy towards Gaza strip, also demonstrate it pragmatism in foreign policy. Turkey’s leading role at present to organize friends of the oppressed Syrian people against the dictatorial regime of Bashar al-Assad is really praiseworthy, along with the responsibility it has taken to look after a huge number of Syrian refugees on the Turkish border. Furthermore, Istanbul hosted the Arab League meeting on Syria.
Visits by heads of government or state offer an opportunity for mutual understanding on current affairs where exchange of views becomes useful, if followed and implemented. Fruitless visits, at the expense of the government exchequer, should not be encouraged at any level whatsoever. The prime minister of Bangladesh is currently visiting Turkey, to reciprocate the visit by the Turkish prime minister in 2010.
Mohammad Amjad Hossain, a retired diplomat from Bangladesh and former President of the Nova chapter of the prestigious Toastmasters International Club, writes from Virginia
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