How Bangladesh proved Kissinger wrong
In 1971, Henry Kissinger called Bangladesh a “bottomless basket.” Five decades after its independence, Bangladesh is now proving Kissinger utterly wrong.
Working on South Asia at TEPAV about nine years ago, when the idea of the Istanbul-Zahidan-Islamabad train was first on the table, I came to be fascinated by the region. Now the “ECO-train,” as it is called in an Economic Cooperation Organization report, has finally become operational.
South and Southwest Asia as a bloc is one of the least economically integrated regions in the world. All of its countries are heavily trading with the outside world, yet barely trade between themselves. It is not the lack of connectivity between the countries, as there are sufficient railways and roads. Why then, are they not trading? Because there are political, ethnic, sectarian issues between the nations
So, in this difficult region, Bangladesh, formerly known as East Pakistan, gained its independence in March 1971. I remember the historic speech of Shaikh Mujibur Rahman in early March that year, leading to the independence of that country. It was a call against injustice, and a call for inclusiveness, pluralism and democracy — still rare birds in our part of the world.
Today, Bangladesh has turned out to be a high-growth, and high export-growth country in South Asia. It performs better than India. It has developed an industry of its own. Industry is the surest way towards inclusive growth, mind you. Just have a look at the graph below. This is my first point.
Second, Bangladesh has a unicorn since 2015, well before Turkey. Pathao is a ride-sharing app for motorbikes, the way Uber is for car rides. So, the country is not only in the textiles sector, but has a vital ICT startup ecosystem also, as proven by the unicorn.
Looking for a third reason for how Bangladesh has proven Kissinger wrong? Just look at the UNDP’s 2020 Human Development Report. Bangladesh, with a population of 150 million, has entered the “medium human development” category. Since 1990, when the HDR was first released, Bangladesh’s score has improved by more than 60 percent.
I call that a success story. Perhaps Kissinger was too focused on China to notice the potential in Bangladesh.
Why, you may ask, Bangladesh has turned out to be a success story? It looks to be all about education and women. Currently 98 percent of children are already in elementary schools. At the high school level, there are more girls then boys getting education.
Female labour force participation is around 35 percent in 2018, higher than the figure for Turkey. If you wonder, the labour force participation rate in Pakistan, for example, it is just 22 percent. Fertility rate for women has declined from 6,7 children per women in 1960 to just 2,04 in 2018. Turkey had a similar decline in female fertility rate from 6,3 in 1960 to 1,80 in 2019, mind you. Pakistan? 6,6 percent in 1960 and 3,51 in 2018.
Looking for how Bangladesh had proven Kissinger wrong? It’s education and women. Empowering women works wonders in our part of the world.
Originally published at https://www.tepav.org.tr.