On December 16 in Bangladesh has one of the most important celebrations in the life of this country - the Victory Day, which marks the liberation of the people and formation of independence of the state.
In anticipation of this significant date, our correspondent met with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, Mr. Masud Mannan.
- Mr. Mannan, you recently have taken up the post of Ambassador, please share with our readers your previous work experience
- Prior to my appointment as Ambassador to the Republic of Uzbekistan, I had the pleasure of serving as Bangladesh's Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Federal Republic of Germany, accredited to Hungary, the Republic of Austria, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and the Republic of Slovenia, between 2010 and 2013.
During my tenure as Ambassador, Bangladesh and Germany experienced a growth in bilateral trade of over $1 billion, largely due to Germany's recent purchase of ships made in Bangladesh, as well as an increasing demand for Bangladeshi RMG (ready-made garment) and leather products.
I helped organize a number of meetings between Bangladeshi Ministers, Parliamentarians, Permanent Secretaries, Chambers of Commerce and Jurists with their German counterparts. During those three years, we were also successful in coordinating first in 25 years visit of the President of Germany to Bangladesh and the first in 11 years reciprocal visit of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to Germany.
Through discussions with DAAD (The German Academic Exchange Service) and Universities across Germany, we were able to raise the number of scholarships for Bangladeshi students multifold ,as well as increasing the number of students studying in Germany at their own expense. When I made started my work as the Ambassador in 2010, the total number of students from Bangladesh to Germany was about 3000, and by the end of the term of my diplomatic mission - about 15,000 students. Moreover, we at the Embassy organized a school for learning the Bengali language, which is the sixth most spoken language in the world.
In the cultural sphere, the Embassy published five books on Bangladesh in the German language, launched a Bangla-language school, hosted photo and painting exhibitions, poetry recitals and musical performances to promote Bengalee culture in Germany and to celebrate our four decades of amity and friendship.
Between 2008 and 2010, I served as Bangladesh's Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco, accredited to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Republic of Mali, Republic of Senegal and the Republic of Sierra Leone. As a career diplomat, I had earlier served in a variety of capacities in London, Muscat, New York and Beijing.
What are your impressions of Uzbekistan? What have you already visited, what else would you like to visit?
I am fortunate enough to say that this is not my first visit to Uzbekistan! I had the pleasure of visiting this beautiful country in 1997, en route to another destination. During my brief sojourn, I visited Tashkent and Samarkand and was charmed by the abiding sense of history that permeates the two cities. I felt this acutely, as I was aware, even then, of the deep ties that my country, Bangladesh, shares with yours, through Babur's dynasty, Islam and similarities of food and language.
Over the last three months, I have had the opportunity of seeing more of Tashkent, visiting Samarkand again and traveling to Bukhara for the first time. I was greatly impressed by the efforts of the Uzbek Government, led by His Excellency President Islam Karimov, to preserve the ancient culture and heritage of these fabled cities, through the careful and conservation of historic buildings and monuments, the establishment of world-class museums and art galleries, the promotion of sustainable tourism, and of course, the support of artisanal crafts, some of which date back to the time of the Silk Road. As a Muslim, I was especially moved by the grand mosques and madrasahs that adorn Samarkand and Bukhara; a testament to their legacy as a seat of learning in the Islamic world.
If work commitments and weather permits, I would like to visit Khiva, Khwarezm and Nukus in the near future.
The global financial and economic crisis has affected most countries. What are the implications for Bangladesh? Have you managed to maintain positive dynamics of growth of the economy?
Fortunately, Bangladesh's emphasis on manufacturing commodities, such as the aforementioned RMG products and leather goods, enabled it to weather the instability of global financial markets quite well, as compared to many other countries. In fact, Bangladesh's GDP growth rate has remained steady at above 6% during the past few years; has benefited from increasingly diverse export products and enjoyed an upsurge in foreign direct investment. This has been supplemented by the large volume of remittances sent to the country by the ten million Bangladeshis overseas, a figure that crossed $14 billion in the 2012-2013 fiscal year alone.
Bangladesh's emergence as a global economic force, as a result of the collaboration of public, private and NGO bodies, has been noted by Lancet, the Economist and McKinsey, while Goldman Sachs has identified us as one of the "Next Eleven" countries, with the potential of becoming one of the world's largest economies.
There is, however, much left to be done. Bangladesh is looking to diversify its trade basket, utilize its burgeoning youth population by furnishing them with necessary skills and strengthening national institutions and mechanisms to attract further FDI.
What is your assessment of the partnership between our two countries?
After Uzbekistan became independent in 1991, Bangladesh was one of the first countries to recognize the new nation state and establish diplomatic relations. A few years later, Bangladesh opened its Embassy in Tashkent.
In the years since 1991, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan have maintained close ties, especially on the commercial level. In furtherance of such economic cooperation, an "Agreement between the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh and the Government of the Republic of Uzbekistan on reciprocal protection and promotion of investments" was signed in 2000.
I am of the opinion that more can be done to deepen cultural cooperation between the two countries, given our shared Islamic heritage. I have already mentioned Emperor Babar of Ferghana, but outstanding philosopher-scientists like Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and religious figures like Imam Bukhari are well known and revered in Bangladesh. I feel that this nascent good will and respect could serve as a foundation for extending cooperation.
Uzbekistan and Bangladesh must furthermore develop cooperation, not only in economic area, but also in cultural-educational sphere through the exchange of scholars, artists, teachers, journalists, etc.
I will make every effort to organize ministerial meetings and other levels to enhance the capacity of economic and cultural relations, as well as for planning the next steps in the strategic partnership between our countries.
During recent meetings with representatives of ministries and departments of the country you have emphasized the growing interest of business circles of Bangladesh to further expansion of cooperation with the Uzbek partners. Tell us, please, in what areas, in your opinion, there is the potential to deepen cooperation?
I would like to see the bilateral relationship between our two countries become more multi-faceted in the years to come. There is a market for affordable, high-quality Pharmaceuticals in Uzbekistan -Bangladesh can help satisfy that demand. Bangladeshi Pharmaceuticals are already gaining traction in European markets due to their price-competitiveness and strict quality control. Bangladesh has participated in Pharmaceutical Expos in Uzbekistan over the past few years and interest has been shown by potential Uzbek partners. I hope to see something fruitful emerge from this interest.
Bangladesh's RMGs have penetrated markets the world over and can, on occasion, be seen in Uzbek stores as well. However, these RMGs come through third countries. It would be mutually beneficial if such RMGs were purchased directly from Bangladesh. At the same time, Uzbek textile manufacturers could benefit from Bangladesh's vast experience and skill in this sector in developing their own domestic RMG industry.
Academic collaboration between our two countries can also be enhanced, with the exchange of professors, students and technicians.
One of the promising areas of cooperation between Uzbekistan and Bangladesh - the development of tourism. Tell me more about the opportunities in this field.
On a recent visit to Samarkand, I had the pleasure of having a meeting and working lunch with the Mayor of Samarkand, who highlighted the prospects of Islamic tourism in Uzbekistan for citizens of countries like Bangladesh. I could not agree more. Samarkand and Bukhara have a special place in the Bangladeshi imagination and I am confident that the spiraling minarets and turquoise domes of Uzbek mosques and madrasahs will capture the heart of many a Bangladeshi, if promoted enthusiastically. To that effect, a crew from a major private Bangladeshi television channel visited Uzbekistan earlier this year and recorded the enthralling sights and sounds of this wonderful country. The broadcasting of this travel documentary received a very warm response from their audience. This effort can be built upon through the signing of a MOU between the Tourism Ministries of our respective countries and launching direct flights between Dhaka and Tashkent.
Similarly, I believe that Bangladesh has the potential to be a fantastic travel destination for Uzbek tourists. Uzbeks have a famous love for tea and they would be able to indulge in the finest quality tea in the rolling, verdant hills of Bangladesh's Sylhet region. If they wanted a change in scenery, they could take a short flight to our southern shore, to the cities of Chittagong and Cox's Bazar, famous for its white sand beaches and seafood cuisine. A number of Islamic shrines, monuments and places of interest dot Bangladesh's landscape and they may have an attraction to a segment of Uzbek tourists as well.
In this regard, I consider it necessary to sign a memorandum between the Ministries of Tourism of our states, and start direct flights between Dhaka and Tashkent.
Mr. Ambassador, December 16 - Bangladesh celebrated Victory Day. Allow me to congratulate you on this auspicious occasion and please tell us more about it.
Thank you for your kind words. December 16, early in the morning when the sun only rises, the main government officials bow to the National Memorial of Bangladesh, showing their respect for the people who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the republic's sovereignty. After this beautiful ceremony, the a number of cultural programs are held across the country.
But no matter how cheerful these celebrations are, every citizen of Bangladesh keeps in his heart the memory of the victims of the war. Our tremendous victory came at a great human cost. Our buildings were leveled, our infrastructure decimated and our financial institutions were left in ruin. So, while Victory Day is indeed an auspicious occasion for us, it is also a somber one; a day on which we commemorate the sacrifices of untold millions for the cause of an independent, sovereign homeland.
Thank you for your time.
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