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History marks crucial 50th anniversary of British recognition of Bangladesh

The emergence of Dhaka as free Bangladesh’s free capital on December 16, 1971 rapidly started drawing spate of recognitions from both sides of the then cold war-age polarized globe with London appearing as one of the early western recognisers’ on February 4, 1972.

The crucial British recognition came near simultaneously with identical recognitions from countries of the then Soviet Union bloc as an event that contemporary British diplomats and policymakers of post Independence Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman government still see as Dhaka’s assiduous non-alignment stance.

Bangladesh waged its Liberation War with Indian supports in 1971, strategically backed by Soviet Union, while the then US administration largely sided with Pakistan as part of a secret engagement with China against Moscow but Dhaka subsequently preferred to adhere to the principle to non-alignment policy.

“I think the UK did play a role (recognizing Bangladesh globally) because of the very public nature of Bangabandhu’s engagements in London,” British High Commissioner here Robert Chatterton Dickson told BSS diplomatic correspondent Tanzim Anwar coinciding with the anniversary of bilateral ties.

Dickson recalled that there was a very strong political and public support in Britain for Bangladesh during its Liberation War while Bangabandhu’s confident ‘first act as a liberated leader’ in London on January 8 in 1972 might have triggered the UK to influence others to recognize Bangladesh as a sovereign nation.

At the end of his captivity in Pakistani prison, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman went to London first as a neutral destination to way back to the just independent Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s the then foreign minister Dr Kamal Hossain said Dhaka strove assiduously to observe the principle of non-alignment in its ties with polarized major powers, despite Soviet support in 1971 might expected to lead Bangladesh’s to tilt towards Moscow.

Hossain, in his Bangladesh: Quest for Freedom and Justice, however, also noted that Bangabandhu made his outside region tour to there to strike a balance.

Bangabandhu reached London on January 8 in 1972, had a meeting with the then British Prime Minister Edward Heath and his first press conference as Bangladesh’s founder and returned to his liberated country on British Royal Air Force Comet jet via New Delhi on January 10.

The current British envoy in Dhaka Dickson described as an “important moment” Bangabandhu’s very visible meeting and confident assertion as the leader of the new Bangladesh with Heath at 10 Downing Street.

“It’s a partnership (between Bangladesh and the UK) that goes right back to the start of Bangladesh. So, we’ve got a very strong foundation to build on,” said the high commissioner.

Dickson said at that time it was very clear that Bangladesh secured its Liberation at the end of the Independence war and Indian troops are about to leave quite quickly.

“It was clear that there was a sovereign independent Bangladesh in existence and that was therefore the right moment for the world to recognize Bangladesh in order to be able to work with Bangladesh on some of the challenges of independence,” he said.

Since then, he said, Britain remained as a strong Bangladesh supporter and built a very strong political and development ties and “. . . we have a very strong diplomatic relationship”.

Over the last 50 years, the high commissioner said, the British-Bangladesh ties became a broader trade and prosperity relationship and called 2022 a special year for both the nations and his mission in Dhaka would like to reflect that through arranging numbers of events depending on the pandemic situation.

As part of the celebration the British High Commission here has already launched a new campaign titled ‘Your Brit Bangla Bondhon Moment’ to celebrate people to people links between Bangladesh and the UK.

He said the UK has been engaged with the Bangladesh government in trade dialogue as many British companies are keen to invest and trade more in Bangladesh specially in three particular areas – service, medical and education sectors and “we’re very keen to do more business”.

“(But) We don’t agree on everything but we agree on a lot and where we do disagree, we can have very candid and useful private discussions. So, I’m looking forward to continuing promote it over the next years,” Dickson said.

The envoy said the UK has planned to put lots of focus on the pacific over the next decade and Bangladesh has already been a ‘very strong partner’ of Britain in this region. “(SO) one can see scope for us to do a lot more together,” he added.

Dickson said the UK and Bangladesh cooperation on defence and security area has been increasing and there is lot of interest in Bangladesh sourcing more defence equipment from the UK.

“There are some very useful discussions (on sourcing defence equipment) going on at the moment and I’m hoping we can produce an early outcome on this,” he said not detailing the issue.

The British envoy praised highly about Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s leadership role in climate change front specially during the last COP 26, held in Glasgow and said the entire world has lot to learn about the climate adaptation endeavor from Bangladesh.

Lauding the Bangladesh’s success in its graduation to the middle-income country from the LDC groups, the envoy said remarkably resilient, adaptable, creative and intelligent nature of people Bangladeshi here has driven the country from a very difficult start in 1971 to being on the verge of LDC graduation in 2026.

He said in line with post Brexit trade policy, Britain will continue to provide duty free quota free access of Bangladeshi products to the UK market for at least the next three years after 2026.

Dickson also hoped to see a solution to the Rohingya crisis which enables the displaced Rohingyas to return their home in Rakhine in a safe, dignified and voluntary ways as the UK has been playing the role of penholder in the UN Security Council over the issue.