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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

[ALOCHONA] Adviser Gowher Rizvi speakes

For the first time since 1975 there is a convergence of opportunities that augurs well for Bangladesh-India relations. It seems that the Indo -Bangladesh stars are aligned and the moment is opportune for resolving all the major problems bedevilling the relationship between the two countries, Dr  the prime minister's adviser and special representative, Gowher Rizvi, tells Md Abu Naser during an interview for New Age

INTERNATIONALLY renowned political scientist Dr Gowher Rizvi has recently been appointed an adviser to the prime minister. In a career of more than 25 years across four continents, Dr Rizvi has combined academic appointments with positions in international organisations, not-for-profit institutions and the media. He is the immediate-past director of the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University's John F Kennedy School of Government. He now also holds the position of vice provost for international programmes at the University of Virginia. He taught for nearly two decades at several British universities, including Oxford University, the University of Warwick and St Anthony's College. Dr Rizvi was the Ford Foundation's representative to New Delhi prior to joining the Ash Institute. His publications have spanned the disciplines of history, politics, international relations and development economics. His books include South Asia in a Changing International Order, South Asia Insecurity and the Great Powers, Bangladesh: The Struggle for the Restoration of Democracy, Perspectives on Imperialism and Decolonisation and Lord Linlithgow and India.

   Dr Rizvi earned a 'double first' in BA Honours and MA from the University of Dhaka. He earned his PhD degree from Oxford University where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar. He is the founding editor of Contemporary South Asia, an academic and policy studies journal published at Oxford. Journalist Md Abu Naser, who is now pursuing his doctorate degree in an American university, recently interviewed Dr Rizvi for New Age. In the interview Dr Rizvi talked in length about a wide range of issues and categorically denied claims by a couple of newspapers that he played a key role in 'negotiating between the Awami League and the immediate-past caretaker government while Sheikh Hasina was in jail.' Dr Rizvi also detailed his vision and future tasks as the special representative of the prime minister in explaining Sheikh Hasina's policies and priorities to the international community. Excerpts:
   You spent much of your career in academia. Have you ever thought of serving a political government? Is it a jump into politics from the academia? Please tell us in which context you decided to join the present government?
   In a formal sense I have been a lifelong academic and have made frequent forays into non-profit institutions, international organisations and the media. While it is true that this is the first time I have actually joined the government, I am not a stranger to government or public service. One of my primary academic interests is in public policy. Over the years I have done a great deal of work on making governments more innovative, effective and problem solving. In whatever I have done, whether in the academia or in the international organisations, has been part of my effort to render public service. In fact, my entire life has been a preparation for the work that I have been asked by the prime minister to do.
   How wide a range of issues you will cover as the adviser to the prime minister? Do you plan to develop your own operating style?
   The role of the advisers to the prime minister is not clearly defined and is constantly evolving. I do not have any executive authority nor am I engaged in decision making. This is left to the prime minister and her line ministers. As the adviser and special representative of the prime minister, my role is merely to serve the prime minister and advance her political and policy agenda. While formally my responsibilities are confined to international affairs, I pretty much do whatever the prime minister assigns to me. Obviously, I bring a range of experience and expertise on both international and domestic issues, and it is a privilege for me to be able to share my views with the prime minister. And since I share the prime minister's vision for the future of Bangladesh, I see my role to advance and augment that vision.
   I understand you will spend most of your time in the United States while you will be serving the government. How do you plan to coordinate your tasks being away from home?
   An important part of my task as the special representative of the prime minister is to explain the prime minister's policies, priorities and vision for Bangladesh to the international community, the various international and multilateral agencies and to friendly governments. I travel between the US and Bangladesh and to other countries depending on what needs to be done. Over the last three decades I have developed a huge range of contacts and friendships with global leaders, and I have been using that to promote the national interests of Bangladesh as envisioned by the prime minister. Although I have formal residences in Virginia and in Dhaka, I seem to be constantly on the move – addressing seminars and conferences, participating in brainstorming and strategic planning, lecturing and teaching around the world, or simply calling on world leaders – with the objective of explaining the successes and challenges of Bangladesh. The prime minister herself is exceptionally well known and admired by many of the global leaders and, therefore, my task of selling Bangladesh is both easy and enjoyable.
   Recently, a Bangladeshi newspaper claimed that, while Sheikh Hasina was in jail, you played a key role in negotiating between the Awami League and the immediate-past caretaker government through an influential official of the DGFI of that time. Is it true? If not, what do you want to say to the people of Bangladesh?
   Newspapers say many things and they must have their own reasons for saying so. Curiously none of the newspapers have ever spoken to me directly or even contacted me. Naturally enough all sorts of roles and motives have been attributed to me. Facts and fictions have merged. Scholarship is about the pursuit of the truth and I am confident that the scholars and researchers of the future will be able to separate the truth from fiction. I am an academic with a passionate commitment to democracy – anyone who has read my works will be able to judge that for themselves.
   Like countless other Bangladeshis, I believed and argued for the restoration of democracy in the country. I did not believe that the military-backed civilian caretaker government had the authority to rule or carry out reforms. Under our constitution the caretaker governments have been given the sole responsibility to conduct a free and fair election and to transfer back the power to the elected government. On these grounds I was opposed to the continuation of the caretaker government beyond its 90 days term and argued for early elections. I used my extensive international contacts and access to the media to impress on the international public opinion the importance of restoring democracy through a free and fair election. I made the same arguments with the leaders of the caretaker government and the military rulers. I think our efforts to mobilise international public opinion may have contributed to persuading the caretaker government to relinquish power sooner than they might have wanted to. But here I have no hard evidence and I am merely speculating.
   Indeed I have heard about the role of the military intelligence in the political and constitutional engineering during the caretaker government but I am not able to comment knowledgeably. As a former Faujian (student of Faujdarhat Cadet College), I have many close friends in the armed forces but I do not recall ever discussing political issues with any of the officers – retired or in active service. My contacts in the government during the period were the chief adviser, Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed, and the chief of army staff, General Moeen U Ahmed, at a personal level; both of them are impeccable gentlemen and most courteous. They always gave me the courtesy of a full hearing. Whether my discussions ever made any impression on them I have no idea.
   By the way, have you ever taught Sajeeb Wazed Joy, the son of our prime minister Sheikh Hasina?
   This seems to be a somewhat odd question to ask when we are discussing policies of the government and my role as adviser. However, since you ask I should like to be candid and answer as fully as possible. Sajeeb was a student at Harvard Kennedy School whilst I was a faculty member there. I did not teach Sajeeb directly but I am very fond of him and he is very close to me. He is a bright young man, with a passionate commitment to Bangladesh, and a very agreeable company. Of course, I knew him even before he came to Harvard. I have known five generations of Bangabandhu's family; my father (a protégé of the late Husseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy) and Bangbandhu were very close; and I have had the privilege and honour of working with the prime minister for the last three decades. Since I do not understand the thrust of your question, I do not know if I have answered your questions but I hope your readers can judge for themselves.
   Your critics may say that by appointing you as her adviser Sheikh Hasina intends to build an alternative centre of foreign policy strength in her government deviating from the traditional role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. How would you defend this assertion?
   I have no idea how the so-called critics have come to such a conclusion. Advisers do not constitute alternate centres of power. Nor do they constitute another layer between the ministers and the prime minister. To be perfectly candid, the advisers have no executive or decision-making role; they do not play any part in the work of the line ministers; and certainly they take no part in the day-to-day work of the ministries. The role of the advisers is solely to advise the prime minister on issues relating to their portfolio or on any other matter that the prime minister might refer to them. Governance in the twenty-first century global world is complex and the demands on the prime minister's time are mind boggling. Even though decision making happens mostly at the ministerial level, the prime minister invariably has the final word and is responsible for providing the vision and the policy directives. The advisers act as her personal think tank, provide research, sift information, provide alternative perspectives and to help to enrich the process of decision making.
   If you look at parliamentary governments elsewhere in the world, especially in Britain and India, you will notice that prime ministers in these countries also have advisers who play a variety of roles. They add to the expertise, facilitate the work of the prime minister, and augment the ability of the prime minister to function more effectively. There is absolutely no conflict between the role of the ministers and the advisers; and to the best of my knowledge no minister has ever complained about this. In fact, many ministers have cordial relations with the advisers and see the advisers as additional resource persons. Much of the speculation in the press is no more than idle gossips and wishful thinking.
   Bangladesh is among one of the worst victims of global warming and climate change. I believe you have a plan to deal with this pressing issue. Could you please share the details of your plan and strategies?
   Our prime minister has put climate change and global warming at the centre of her policy agenda. To demonstrate her commitment and to impress on the world community the gravity of the situation faced by Bangladesh, she herself led the delegation to the environment meeting in Geneva. Bangladesh is definitely not a country that significantly contributes to environmental pollution or generates significant amounts of greenhouse gasses. However, it will be one of the major victims of global warming. It is, therefore, only right that the government should do everything possible to mobilise global opinion and seek international assistance to address the problem. We must also work with our neighbours in the region – India, Nepal and Bhutan – to develop hydroelectric power and jointly construct canals and barrages to augment our water availability. We have to move away from the more sterile discussions of water sharing to joint water resource management where we work together to increase the availability of water to meet our needs.
   You just mentioned that our neighbours should be more engaged. However, it seems that there is lack of cooperation among the South Asian countries to work together. Do you plan to do anything in improving regional cooperation, especially involving Bangladesh, India and Pakistan?
   South Asia seems to be endemically embroiled in conflict. What was once an inter-community competition and conflict has developed into inter-state hostility between the states of the region. While the neighbouring countries of Southeast Asia have prospered through cooperation, we in South Asia have remained mired in conflict, wasteful wars and a persistent attempt to 'beggar our neighbours'. The experience of the first six decades, since the end of British rule, has been described as wasted years. Despite tremendous success in many areas and extraordinary individual achievements of the people of South Asia, the region remains mired in poverty. It is home to half of the destitute and illiterate in the world today; and it has gained the dubious distinction of being ranked low down in most human development indicators. It is fast becoming a breeding ground for religious extremism and intolerance.
   Our hope was that the hostilities and hatreds would diminish as the memories of the past suspicions faded, sadly this has not happened. Prejudices have passed from one generation to another with little sign of abatement. This is easy to understand. There is very little contact between the young people of the region. They lack knowledge of each other; and in the absence of personal bonds and relationships (as the earlier generations had), their outlook is framed by hostile propaganda on all sides of the frontiers, biased educational curriculum, deep prejudices born out of ignorance of one another other, and fears based on the 'demonisation of the other'. While much of the focus has been on the strained relations between India and Pakistan, the relationships between other countries of South Asia have not been as cordial as might have been. For example, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka have all been experiencing strained relationships with their neighbours. Besides, there is a growing feeling among the smaller countries of the region that the hostilities between India and Pakistan have adversely affected the development of South Asia as a whole. If we are to realise the full potentials and aspirations of our citizens, it is obvious that many of the problems facing the region can be best addressed through a regional and trans-national mechanism. If we want the future to be different, we must pursue new and innovative ways of thinking and build bridges between the countries and citizens of South Asia.
   What about the relationship between Bangladesh and India?
   There is also a historic opportunity for us to improve Indo-Bangladesh relations. For the first time since 1975 there is a convergence of opportunities that augurs well for Bangladesh-India relations. It seems that the Indo-Bangladesh stars are aligned and the moment is opportune for resolving all the major problems bedevilling the relationship between the two countries. For the first time in nearly 35 years democracy has been restored in all the countries of South Asia. In Nepal monarchy has made room for democratic government; and the recent election in Bhutan is the first important step towards democratic governance. The recent election in Bangladesh and India has brought for the first time governments in both countries who have a shared vision for a democratic South Asia and are committed to improving the relationship between the two countries. This is a historic opportunity which we must not miss out. Both countries must move forward with resolve and urgency. Recent public opinion polls have shown that well over 85 per cent of the population of Bangladesh views good relationship with India as beneficial for Bangladesh and they have given the government an unambiguous mandate to resolve bilateral issues and forge a cooperative relationship.
   The prime minister of Bangladesh enjoys unrivalled confidence and respect of the leaders in India, and as the daughter of Bangabandhu, the prime minister has a huge reservoir of goodwill in India which can be used to our advantage. As long as we know we have a clear understanding of national needs and interests, we should be able to get the Indians to accommodate our legitimate demands. Given the political will of the two prime ministers, Manmohan Singh and Sheikh Hasina, I am very confident that we should be able to resolve our problems and begin a new era of cooperation and friendship.
   Recently we have observed some aggressive moves by Myanmar like encroaching on our maritime boundary and building military bases in places very close to the Bangladesh border that might create security problems for our country. How will you advise the Hasina government to deal with Myanmar?
   Myanmar is our neighbour and it is in the mutual interest of both countries that we should have peaceful and cooperative relationship. Indeed there are some media reports claiming military and naval build up in Myanmar. These reports are unverified and there is no reason to believe that the military build-up, if true, is directed against Bangladesh. Needless to say, it is important not to conduct foreign policy through the media. We must engage Myanmar in bilateral discussion, try to understand each other's perspective better and seek to resolve any issues through mutual goodwill and good neighbourly spirit.
   As you joined Sheikh Hasina's council of advisers, may we expect that the Hasina administration's foreign policy will be different from its predecessors?
   Being a democratically elected government, the foreign policy of the country will be guided by the wishes of the people. Our people want to live in peace and security; they want to cooperative relationships with the neighbours; they want to see rapid economic and social development in the country; and they want Bangladesh to take principled and just stand in all international issues. The government will be guided by the wishes of the people and in its policy choices it will invariably be guided by what is in the best interest of the country. This is what will distinguish the policy of this government.
   Lastly, as a long-time expatriate yourself, do you plan to chalk out a strategy to engage the expatriate Bangladeshis more in the economic, social, educational, development and other sectors of our country? Could you please give me details of your thoughts on this aspect?
   This is a very important question and of crucial importance as we think of the future direction. Our global diaspora is a major asset and we have not realised the potentials that non-resident Bangladeshis offer. In the new global society the conceptual distinction between national and international or home and abroad has become largely obsolete. Technology and communication has shrunk our world and distances no longer matter. Population mobility has increased in the last fifty years and will increase further. Many Bangladeshis moved out in search of education, jobs and economic opportunities. Today many more people of Bangladeshi origin are now born abroad but have strong personal, family and emotional roots in Bangladesh. We need to reach out to them, re-establish their links with the country and mobilise them to lend support to advance the interests of Bangladesh.
   In the last decade India has mobilised its diaspora to great advantage. The Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin has become a powerful instrument for linking Indian to the developments at home. We too have a large Bangladeshi expatriate population but we are yet to take full advantage of that asset. Many expatriate Bengalis have acquired skills and expertise which they are willing to deploy in the service of their country; others are keen to invest in building the economy; others have brought back technology and managerial experience and applied it to solving the problems of the country. Many of our non-resident Bangladeshis are successful academics, businesspersons, entrepreneurs and elected officials in their country of residence. We must mobilise them both as our voice in the country of their residence and as partners in our development efforts. The US State Department has encouraged the establishment of US-Bangladesh Foundation that will mobilise resources from persons of Bangladeshi origin and contributions from US government and institutions with a view to engaging the Bangladeshi Americans to participate and partner in the development of Bangladesh. Bangladesh needs world class universities and academic institutions, healthcare facilities, IT infrastructure building, managerial and technological expertise. The NRB provides a huge pool of talent and resource waiting to be tapped. The potentials offered by our diaspora is limitless. We must make them partners in the development of Bangladesh.


[Disclaimer: ALOCHONA Management is not liable for information contained in this message. The author takes full responsibility.]
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