Memories of Bangladesh

On the eve of the official visit of the Bangladeshi Prime Minister to Bhutan, I reproduce a blog entry I made six year ago when His Majesty the King visited Bangladesh as the Chief Guest for their most important 40th Anniversary of Independence. The article was carried by the national newspaper, the Daily Star, back then.

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Dhaka – March 28, 2011 – I must be honest. In the past when I came across Bangladeshis mentioning that Bhutan was the first country to recognise them in 1971, it never occurred to me that it meant so much to them. I would just smile and give a standard reply. It was only this time, accompanying His Majesty to their 40th Independence celebrations, that I realised the genuineness of their historic claim.

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The boat ride along the Buriganga river – courtesy of the Bangladesh Navy

On 26th March in 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared independence from West Pakistan. Bangladesh was till then referred to as East Pakistan and ruled from Islamabad following the Partisan in 1947. Some nine months of bloodshed ensued where over three million people were killed and over ten million displaced.

40 years on, the scars of that liberation war remain deep. The mere mention of their freedom struggle brings back painful memories to many. There is not a single person in Bangladesh, whose life has not been affected by that tragic period. Once this context is clear, one then understands the deeper meaning of Bhutan’s action in their defining moment.

The show of gratitude towards Bhutan was overwhelming. On 26th March 2011, when our King, who was the Guest of Honour, entered the National Stadium, the entire crowd cheered. When Premier Sheikh Hasina, in her Address to the Nation, told the people that they should never forget what Bhutan has done for them, the entire stadium applauded again. Everywhere we went people lined up in thousands to greet our King. The Airport and every street where the Royal Entourage passed were locked for few hours. Our hosts and the hotel staff did everything to make sure we were well taken care. Every little detail was worked out meticulously. A café manager in the hotel where we were staying even offered free espresso to me every morning. “How many times would your King visit us anyway? It is on the house,” He said with pride and gratitude.

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I sneaked out of the hotel to take this picture. Few guys came and shook my hands

Apart from enjoying free espressos and official receptions I couldn’t help but also develop a great sense of respect and appreciation for Bangladesh and for the wonderful people there. In every media report I had come across in the past, Bangladesh was considered a young, poor, over-populated and a disaster-prone country. I now have a different view. I see a nation of 160 million with centuries of history and with a great future. A beautiful country with humble and hard-working people who can build ships and satellites and not just ready-made garments and jute carpets.

Bhutan’s support for Bangladesh in 1971 was historic. As Bhutanese I felt proud of the visionary move by our Third Druk Gyalpo. The Late King went to great length to also help the refugees that poured into India. To add to that, His Majesty the King, in his State Banquet speech this time, offered “a life-long friendship and steadfast support to the government and people of Bangladesh.” It is obvious that Bhutan would always find a friend, ally and good neighbour in Bangladesh. Such developments augur well not only for the people of Bhutan and Bangladesh but also for the peace, stability and prosperity in our region.

We should now work towards nurturing this special relationship so that the mutual trust, goodwill and confidence would translate into actions and benefits for our two people for all time to come.

(PS – the original blog entry is here http://dorjiwangchuk.blogspot.com/2011/04/memories-of-bangladesh.html)

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All I can remember from this State Dinner was sitting next to a Bangladeshi Minister and joking about bartering our water and their cooking gas at the rate of 1=1. When the dinner ended I got left behind by the convoy, as I was hounded by the Bangladeshi media. It took me 3 hours to get back to the hotel. When we came it was just 20 minute. Dhaka traffic.
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In front of the Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel (where HM stayed) that gave me free espresso every morning.
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The State Visit had to compete for space in the media with an unlikely rival – 2011 Cricket World Cup that was co-hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. So as usual I had to do my endless rounds of telephone calls to the editors, confirm the reporters, write press releases, do news clippings etc. However, compared to State Visits to India, this was a piece of cake.
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Didn’t trust the tap water. Sorry, I am too western, for my own good.
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The Bangladesh Navy had planned to fly us to the Sundarbans and boat us around. When that didn’t happen, they ferried us up and down the Buriganga with great sea food and cultural show. That evening the Admiral of the Bangladesh Navy was seated by my side at the Official Dinner where I thanked him. “Oh, that’s nothing. If His Majesty had come to Sundarbans, he would have really liked it.”
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Bangladesh is World No.1 in decommissioning large ships and vessels. Hundreds of shipyards can be seen along all the Meghna River

 

 

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