• Wednesday, October 01, 2014

CROSS TALK

Harmonising ourselves with the sea

Mohammad Badrul Ahsan

STOIC philosopher Marcus Aurelius, who was also the co-emperor of Rome, said that a man's worth is no greater than his ambition. The Stoics believed that people shouldn't over-exaggerate moments of joy in an attempt to make them seem better than they really are or try to make them last longer than they should. Bangladesh's recent victory over the maritime boundary dispute with India puts us in that critical state of mind. How happy should we be and how long should that happiness last?

If we listen to the ruling party and its allies, we should celebrate the gain of 118,113 square kilometers in the Bay of Bengal. BNP and its allies mourn over the loss of roughly 6,000 square kilometers of a now-you-see-it-now-you-don't island. Both sides sound like broken records, their needles stuck in their parochial grooves.

Personally, I believe it's a big cause for celebration. We've acquired a vast maritime territory that's more than 80% of the country's original size. Even if one elusive island is lost, crying over it is as futile as an amputee haunted by the ghost of his missing limb.

Or, should we at all bother ourselves with that loss? Instead, we should be more concerned over how best to harness the new maritime territory, which means the water portion of the total area of the country has now gone from 6.4% to 44.46%. It's undoubtedly good news for us but the jubilation will last as long as we know how to leverage the opportunities presented to us.

The real dilemma for us is that a bigger country will need better governance. If what has happened so far in a predominantly land-based country continues to happen in the more watery land, we may not reap the fruits of expansion but expand our miseries only in the forms of more misrule and corruption. While we rightfully give ourselves a pat on the back over the victory, this is one thing we should keep in mind.

It's said that small countries with small populations will be the future's real winners, because they will be nimble and easier to govern. These countries know how to exploit their geographical locations and natural resources judiciously and are likely to be more open to the world. These are the reasons why, experts believe, China has allowed Hong Kong to maintain its autonomy despite only seven million inhabitants!

Singapore is the role model for small countries. It's a strategic hub in Asia like the UAE is in the Middle East, Panama is in America and Zimbabwe is likely to become in Southern Africa if it improves on its governance side. Only damper is Iceland, which wanted to become a North Atlantic stepping stone until it spread out too thin.

Large countries with large areas or populations or both somehow work on the law of large numbers. More people having more space and resources have more opportunities to succeed. It's no coincidence that over 53% of the world's billionaires are living in the five largest countries of the world.

Out of 1,645 billionaires in the list of countries with more than 10 or more billionaires in 2014, 492 are from USA, 152 from China, 111 from Russia, 65 from Brazil and 56 from India. The size of these territorial behemoths ranges from 9.6 million to 3.3 million square kilometers, the largest being the USA and the smallest India.

So if a man's worth is no greater than his ambition, it's also true in most cases that the worth of his ambition is no greater than the size of his country.  A larger country with more resources logically enhances the scope of fortune hunting. Affluent countries and individuals are a two-way journey. Going on one of these two ways needs another to come.

Bangladesh is a small country with a population too big for its size. Any additional space means more elbow room for its huddled people and their harried ambitions, but it also means a harder squeeze on their ability to run the country under a more organised system. Sovereignty becomes a more delicate matter when there's more space to rule over.

This is why this nation needs to harmonise itself with the wider sea instead of squabbling over the narrow lanes of political interests. The nautical miles won shouldn't be lost in the naughty quarrels for political mileage. Instead, all of us should come half way to meet each other and make this nation's mind as broad as its goal.

This is where a country also connects with its citizens, its worth also being no greater than its ambition. When the spirit keeps up with the space, all boundaries are bound to prove boundless. Our gain at the sea should not only widen our shores but also deepen our souls.

The writer is the Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.
Email: badrul151@yahoo.com

Published: 12:00 am Friday, July 25, 2014

TAGS: maritime boundary dispute India-Bangladesh maritime boundary dispute

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