By: Aasi Ansari, Research Analyst, GSDN
Bangladesh 2024 election held on 07 January, resulted in the return of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for the fourth time straight term and fifth all over. The Awami League (AL) got victory by winning 225 out of 300 seats. India welcomed the victory of Awami League on winning the 2024 election. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on ‘X’ to congratulate Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that “We are committed to further strengthen our enduring and people-centric partnership with Bangladesh.”
In recent years Bangladesh has achieved significant economic growth under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In 2020, United States committed to be “a key partner in the Indo-Pacific region” with Bangladesh. In 2022, Ito Naoki, the ambassador of Japan, said Bangladesh is a vital country in geopolitical terms. In 2022, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron visited Bangladesh to “consolidate” France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy. However, the Bangladesh 2024 election results have triggered protests and violence at many places in the country, leading to mass arrests and crackdown on the opposition. This has raised questions against the legitimacy and fairness of Awami league’s victory. It could also have geopolitical impact on Bangladesh’s balancing strategy, affecting the technological, economic, political, military and diplomatic relations throughout the fourth consecutive term of Sheikh Hasina.
Bilateral Relations of Bangladesh
Bangladesh has multiple diplomatic relations with many nations in the world including India, China, United States, Japan, among others with mutual benefits such an economy and defence. The biggest source of humanitarian aid for Bangladesh is Japan, looking forward to increase economic ties with Bangladesh as was confirmed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Japan in 2023 by three Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs). Similarly, Australia signed the Australia-Bangladesh Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement in 2021 to boost its trade with Bangladesh.
The geographical location of Bangladesh connects south Asia to Southeast Asia increasing its strategical importance in the Indo-Pacific region, especially to India. Since, India covers 4100 km of the border of Bangladesh and has illegal immigrants issue and Human Trafficking in states such as West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura. The majority of these migrants are the people from Rohingya because of Rohingya crisis in Myanmar. Bangladesh is trying to solve this illegal immigration issue, since India is a close neighbour and strategically powerful ally. India also has strategic impact due to Islamist extremist group probably of violence in the bordering states, although India supports the status quo and considers the ruling party in Bangladesh as an ally.
Maritime security is an important part of Bangladesh since 90% of their international trade is done through sea. Bay of Bengal is also considered to have gas reserves, which makes it a bigger challenge to Bangladesh. Bangladesh aims to coexist in the Indo-Pacific region with many multilateral partnerships for maritime security with peace and diplomacy. For instance, the maritime boundary resolution with India (2014) and Myanmar (2012), the Ganges water sharing agreement (1996), the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord (1997), and the Land Boundary Agreement with India (1974).
Bangladesh geographical location has strategic significance. China is trying to become globally stronger with the help of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and is developing multiple maritime projects with the help of Maritime Silk Road Initiative. For instance, in 2023, Sheikh Hasina inaugurated its first submarine base with the help of China. With Myanmar having political instabilities, Sri Lanka has a lot of debt with a weak army and navy compared to India and China, and India not having strong strategic relation with China, China has a chance of a foothold in the Bay of Bengal.
Bangladesh, being the second biggest defence customer of China, has strong strategic ties with China. China sees Bangladesh as a “strategic development partner” and has sought to build strong economic and defence relationship with Awami League government. China stated, on the occasion of 96th anniversary of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China, that both China and Bangladesh is looking forward to strengthen their military with peace and friendship. But because of dissatisfaction in arms deals with China, Bangladesh has many defence dials with India as well, worth US$500 million and both Bangladesh and India held fifth annual defence dialogue in 2023.
It is essential for India that Bangladesh has better relation with the United States, since America is an ally to India. If Bangladesh has better and stronger relation with China compared to India, it could have detrimental effect to India’s strategic defence. China also keeps warning Bangladesh against United States. Although Bangladesh has multiple ties with US as well with US being the biggest trading partner of Bangladesh. Bangladesh had US$ 7.8 billion trade ties in 2020, which kept increasing and becoming US$ 10.5 billion in 2021 and US$ 13 billion in 2022.
Impact of Bangladesh 2024 Election
The victory of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina resulted to a campaign of strikes, violence and protests in many places within the nation asking questions against the legitimacy of the ruling party and their politicians. Not only the opposition party but many other countries have expressed concerns about Bangladesh 2024 elections. For instance, United States of America says Bangladesh election is not free or fair and United Nation too has expressed concerns about violence and irregularities in the elections. However, against all violence and boycott from the main opposition party, the Awami League was triumphant in the 2024 elections.
As the Awami League has won the elections, they have promised to work on the development of the nations by implying “friendship to all, malice to none” policy, given by the father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has anticipated to work on democratic values, economic dynamism, multilateral engagement and upholding international law and institutions while protecting our national interests.
Bangladesh has to balance the diplomatic relations with both India and China since both the countries has grown their economical and defence rivalry within last few decades. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, winning the four consecutive victories in the Bangladesh elections, has been trying to balance the bilateral relation with many countries. Under Awami League, Bangladesh has balanced the international influence by making bilateral and multilateral partnership and receiving foreign aids all while trying to grow their economy and military defence. For instance, trade between India and Bangladesh was about US$ 15 Billion in 2022 and the trade between Bangladesh and China was near US$ 25 Billion in the same year. Bangladesh has been balancing economic and technological ties with both India and China such as Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor (BCIM), which has granted access of Mongla port to both countries.
The Awami League claims Bangladesh to be the second-largest economy in the entire South-Asia. Bangladesh has future planes for advanced technology development in semiconductors, artificial intelligence and renewable energy. According to the Awami League future plane of action, Bangladesh will become a near trillion-dollar economy by 2030, enhancing the regional economic balance and stability. The Awami League also working to solve the illegal immigration issue by repatriation of all displaced Rohingyas to Myanmar. Bangladesh, being a secular and democratic country, is also looking forward to fight terrorism or any extremist act.
On the contrary, according to the critique of opposition political party ‘Bangladesh Nationalist Party’ – (BNP), Bangladesh has lost respect not only nationally and internationally. The Bangladesh Nationalist party claims that the Awami League is corrupt and instead of securing foreign investment the Awami League has been busy fending off criticisms. This corruption led to violation of human rights, Bangladesh’s democracy and constitution resulting in sanctions from the international community. At the same time, Bangladesh’s economy also continues to deteriorate due to country’s political crisis. The Foreign exchange reserves have reduced to less than $ 20 bn USD simultaneously increasing the external debt on Bangladesh by $ 100 bn USD.
Both Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist party have opposite views on the each other. They both claim the other one to be irresponsible, corrupt and undiplomatic. Similarly, they both criticise each other by claiming that the country will lose its image and economic value in the opposition’s hand. According to Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, the government of Bangladesh is willing to eliminate anyone and anything if the government sees it as a threat. The government, military, and the law have become corrupt thought out the years. The political scenario of Bangladesh is violent and there seems less probabilities for the improvement anytime soon.
The balancing act of Bangladesh has served rather well for the nation to maintain its multilateral relations. Regardless of who comes in power, both Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist party claim to be committed to the development of the nation by the means of trade, defence and multilateral cooperation through peace and diplomacy. For the future, Bangladesh should continue its balancing act by improving relations with other nations through peace and diplomacy for technological, economic and military development.