Strengthening of ties between Bangladesh, Turkeyby Mohammad Amjad Hossain
THE visit of the Bangladesh prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, to Turkey from April 11 to April 13 appears to have been successful. Three agreements and three memoranda of understanding were signed on investment cooperation, avoidance of double taxation, agriculture, education, and cultural exchange were signed, reflecting the growing and strengthening relations between Dhaka and Ankara. Sheikh Hasina’s visit may have added a new dimension to the Bangladesh-Turkey, especially in terms of trade and investment.
The signing of a sister city twinning agreement linking Konya city of Turkey and Sylhet of Bangladesh is noteworthy as it promises increased people-to-people contact. Konya is famous for Sufism preached by Moulana Jalaluddin Rumi while Yamani Shah Jalal ad-Din al-Mujarrad, the torchbearer of Sufism who is widely known as Hazrat Shah Jalal, lived and was buried in Sylhet. Hazrat Shah Jalal spread Islam in Assam in those days. Famous Moroccan traveller Ibn Batuta, who came all the way to meet Hazrat Shah Jalal, had this to say: ‘Shaikh Jalal al-Din had performed splendid deeds and had been one of the Muslim colonists.’ Rumi was originally from Afghanistan and settled in Konya in Turkey. His famous book, Masnavi composition of mystical poetry and tales, is well-known in South Asia. Twinning of the two cities would be of little use of the Bangladesh administration fails to popularise Hazrat Shah Jalal and Sylhet in Turkey. The Turkish news media needs to be cultivated by Bangladesh mission.
The Turkish government has agreed to increase government scholarships to Bangladesh students to study in Turkey and agreed to restore the historic Shahi Jam-e-Mosque at Andarkilla of Chittagong. It may be noted that Turkey plans to construct 500 community clinics in Bangladesh.
Both the countries agreed to cooperate in international forum, including the United Nations, to support each other’s candidature during the official talks between two prime ministers. This is a positive development in furthering relations between two countries.
Turkey has been enjoying free market economy but its structure is based on industries and service sectors although traditional agriculture sector employs 25 per cent of the population. Turkey has survived global financial doldrums as a result of its well-regulated financial market coupled with banking system. Turkey’s gross domestic product exceeds 4.6 per cent. The prime minister has rightly availed of the present economic situation in Turkey by advocating procurement of more products from Bangladesh, including pharmaceuticals. While addressing members of the Turkish confederation of businessmen and industrialists (Turskon) on April 12, Sheikh Hasina made a specific point to buy pharmaceutical products from Bangladesh at a discount. This was reported in Today’s Zaman newspaper of Turkey. She is reported to have said: ‘We are exporting drugs to Europe and North Africa. We also want Turkey to benefit from our drug industries. We can provide drugs for reasonable prices.’ The Turskon president, Rizanur Meral, hoped that the volume of trade with Bangladesh would increase.
In the official talks both the countries agreed to sign a free-trade agreement. The Bangladesh government has decided to open consul general office in Istanbul this month to facilitate movement of the Turkish business community and assist the Bangladeshi community in consular affairs as well.
Turkey in principle agreed to invest in Bangladesh’s energy sector, particularly in oil and gas exploration. Turkey also intends to relocate its labour-intensive industries like textile and garments to Bangladesh. If this happens, more Bangladeshis will be employed in such industries in not too distant a future.
During her meeting with Turkish president Abdullah Gul, Sheikh Hasina emphasised nurturing democracy in their respective countries in order to deter undemocratic takeover.
Exchanges of official visits between the two countries are useful to know the minds of the leaders on national, regional and international issues of importance, but follow-up action by relevant ministries in cooperation with the foreign ministry is imperative to put relations on a strong footing.
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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