Youth Policy Forum (YPF) recently launched its flagship series "Road to Reforms" with a focus on preparing a youth-led reform matrix for a paradigm shift in Bangladesh. This year-long programme was initiated with YPF''s ambitious dialogue on foreign policy reform in Bangladesh.
YPF hosted a "Youth Consultation: Foreign Policy" session on 15 July 2020, which is the first episode of the series 'Road to Reforms'. In this session, young policy enthusiasts were able to join the dialogue to appraise the transformations they wish to see in foreign policy and express their ideas of reform to the world along with the distinguished panelists. Inclusivity, community, and collaborative learning are at the heart of YPF, which paved the way for the dialogue. Shahed Aziz, International Affairs Practitioner along with Rezwanul Haque Masud, Researcher and Lecturer, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka joined as panelists.
The session started with the moderators Kazi Ashfaqul Huq and Minhaz Noor, both from YPF, asking the panelists questions with regard to policy shifts or focus areas by the Government in the current situation, where everything is jolted by the pandemic. Shahed Aziz stated that "Foreign Policy is an evolving principle. Fundamental pillars of the foreign policy of Bangladesh are the proclamation of the Liberation war, the preamble of the constitution of Bangladesh, and Article 25 of the constitution."
Rezwanul Haque added that in the Covid-19 situation in a neoclassical realist framework, both internal and external factors play a role in a country's foreign policy and Bangladesh is no different. He stated that "In our constitution, Article 25, Article 63 and 145(a) guide us in foreign policy."
Bangladesh's approach to foreign policy remains peaceful with the purpose of balance and national interest. The basic concerns that need to be resolved in the post-Covid-19 situation, he added, are the security of jobs for remittance earning workers, skilled migration, RMG, and export sector reformation and product diversification.
After the initial dialogue with the panelists, the consultation session started with the youth representatives. These representatives were chosen after they expressed their interest in foreign policy reform by filling up an e-form posted in the YPF page.
The youth representatives raised concerns that in the post-pandemic situation Bangladesh, being a country most dependent on the great powers like the USA and China, needs to invoke foreign policies that will aid its people both within and outside the country. Our foreign policy needs clarity in its nature as the focus on balancing relationships with every nation is making the policy akin to a juggling game. The success of the balancing game with the powerful countries in Asia, in the Rohingya Crisis, was also questioned by the participants. Additionally, the youth representatives commented on the miserable treatment of the Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, and mentioned these should be dealt with utmost importance. They argued that it is time to strengthen the power of foreign ministry for Bangladesh's gain in the international arena and work towards developing the status of our workers not only in skill development but also in racial issues.
Another young participant in the session suggested that Bangladesh should have a liberal approach towards different countries. He commented on the significance of regional cooperation. It was discussed that there are South Asian regional politics behind the lack of success of SAARC. He also wanted to know how the government can stand beside non-resident Bangladeshis.
Shahed Aziz responded, "Our priorities can be changed in different circumstances. So our duty circles around Projection and Protection. National interest in the crisis moment can be changed but the liberal approach to the foreign policy still holds the basic principles. Diplomacy changes its interest with the base of liberal approach." On the issues raised on migration, he added that "In terms of migration, everything is interconnected. Our debate is regarding priority and how to make appropriate use of our resources." Bangladesh has always followed a liberal approach in its relations with other countries. But that does not mean we are foregoing our interest, he added, when the question of our national interest on foreign policy was raised.
The question of Passport power and mobility score was posed by the participants. The RMG sector of Bangladesh, which is muddled by economic shifts in the global economy, was brought up as well. The Rohingya issue and the question of the return of the Rohingya refugees to Myanmar were also explored by the participants and the panelists.
Additionally, Rezwanul shared insights on the nature of diplomacy, the different tracks, and kinds of diplomacy. He spoke about the necessity to inculcate active youth participation in foreign ministry operations. This could corroborate the young policy enthusiasts' engagement after the participants expressed their opinions on the issues.
The suggested reforms and the issues raised from representatives highlighted in this session are scheduled to be discussed on 18th July 2020 in the session, "Bangladesh's Foreign Policy Priorities in the Wake of the COVID Pandemic". Shahriar Alam, MP, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Humayun Kabir and Akhtar Mahmood as they will remain as panelists in that session. The session will be moderated by Farooq Sobhan.
Both the webinars can be viewed on YPF's Facebook page and YouTube channel.