Dhaka, Ankara can be ‘forces of good’
Bangladesh and Turkey have shared historic and cultural roots dating long before the creation of an independent Bangladesh. Despite the fact that Turkey sided with Pakistan during the Liberation War and expressed objections over the war crimes trial in 2012, the relations between the two countries have been growing rapidly in recent times.
In a recent conversation with The Daily Star, Turkish Ambassador (TA) to Bangladesh, Mustafa Osman Turan, shared various dimensions of the ties as his tenure here is nearing an end.
TDS: How did you overcome the previous issues and reach today's stage of the bilateral relationship?
TA: Our relationship has always been a very close one, because our countries share common values, culture and traditions. Though we had some hiccups in the past, we solved those through our friendship and honesty. Those issues were there as we don't want Bangladesh to fall into instability. In 2016, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wrote a letter to our president, expressing solidarity, when there was an attempted coup to topple our government. Also, Turkey showed full support to Bangladesh during the 2017 Rohingya influx.
TDS: How do you define today's relationship?
TA: It is exemplary and excellent. Our trade is booming. In 2020, it was $815 million, which has now reached close to $1.5 billion. Also, the number of tourists from Bangladesh to Turkey has increased exponentially this year. Meanwhile, our investment is also growing. We buy a lot of jute yarn and RMG products from Bangladesh. We have our own RMG products. So, we would like to find complementary products that can add value. Our design capabilities are very good in the RMG sector. We may collaborate and have joint ventures in the future. We export mainly machinery in the RMG and agro-industry, along with chemicals and cotton. Turkey is strong in the agriculture and technology sectors. We also have light engineering and SMEs. There are also opportunities in the ICT sector. We have many opportunities for collaboration.
TDS: What are the challenges we face in trade between the two countries?
TA: Turkey has high tariffs on RMG as we want to protect our local products. If we can find complementary ways of RMG production, we can revisit and review those tariffs on selective products. There is big opportunity of Islamic fashion.
TDS: There has been good cooperation in security sector. What are we buying?
TA: In January this year, two countries signed a security agreement on training law enforcers, exchanging information, and counterterrorism. We have another agreement on defence cooperation. Bangladesh has been procuring military hardware and defence systems from Turkey since before I came here in 2020. Multi-launcher rocket systems and armoured personnel carriers were also purchased by Bangladesh for the UN peacekeeping missions. Bangladesh will also buy drones, which we export to more than 20 countries, including Ukraine. We don't have any political agenda in this matter. Our relations are based on mutual trust and so, is becoming very strategic. In the future, we can be a favourable source of procurement in the field of navy, patrol vessels and frigate.
TDS: Global geopolitical polarisation is sharpening due to the Ukraine-Russia war. Developing countries like Bangladesh are being heavily affected. How can Turkey help in this regard?
TA: In the wake of the war, we are trying to bring Ukraine and Russia into a dialogue. We have been successful in brokering a grain deal. Of course, the real need now is cessation of hostility and armed conflict. We think Russia has violated the international law by invading Ukraine. On the other hand, we don't find sanctions on Russia having necessary impact in stopping the war. We will continue to play the mediation role as our foreign policy has a strong component on this.
TDS: What is the Turkish policy in Asia?
TA: Our foreign policy has a global perspective. We have a deep-rooted bilateral relationship with every single country in Asia. In 2019, we declared the "Asia Anew" policy to reinforce our relationship with Asian countries through trade, political consultation, cultural exchanges and development cooperation. We want to continue to be engaged with all the regional organisations. My job is to highlight the strategic importance of Bangladesh in South Asia in the context of India, Pakistan and other regional countries, the situation in Myanmar, the Indo-Pacific Policy of the US, Japan, Australia, and China's Belt and Road Initiative. There is geopolitical contest, where we think we can play a constructive role. We appreciate that Bangladesh's foreign policy is very balanced. We hope to become its close partner in promoting a balanced foreign policy for peace everywhere.
TDS: Do you think Bangladesh and Turkey can work together on regional or global issues?
TA: Bangladesh plays important role at the UN. In this region too, its policy is very peaceful. In the long run, we hope to make our relationship deeper with Bangladesh and all the regional countries. India and Pakistan have problems that also affect Bangladesh indirectly. I think there is big potential if such issues don't block regional cooperation. We hope Bangladesh's relationship with Pakistan will improve in the future. If there is a need for mediation, Turkey is keen to do it.
TDS: Bangladesh needs political support to address the Rohingya crisis. How can you do it?
TA: This is a very complex situation. From the beginning of this, we have stood by Bangladesh in all aspects. We think repatriation is the only solution, but the conditions in Rakhine State must be made conducive. Though there is an agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar, recent skirmishes at the border were unfortunate. It created tension. We want to keep the issue in the international agenda, always.
TDS: What is the one thing you like best in Bangladesh?
TA: There is huge cultural diversity. I attended the Durga Puja celebration and also the birthday celebration of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) just the other day. There is respect for all religions. This is fantastic. Bangladesh's future is bright as long as there is political stability, societal harmony and good governance. My country will always stand in solidarity with Bangladesh. Together, we can be a force for good in international politics.
TDS: What is the best memory that you will take with you as you return to Turkey in a few months?
TA: Recently, my son and I took a helicopter ride to Bagerhat and Tungipara. We flew over the lush green landscape of rural Bangladesh. I admire the greenery of the country. I will carry the memories of warm hospitality and the friendship that I received in Bangladesh. People of Bangladesh will remain in my heart forever.