Mapping the Maritime Role of Bangladesh

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For centuries, the sea, or ‘maritime space,’ has been used as a site for cultural and religious exchange. The seas have been platforms for ideas and commerce but also sites for warfare. Powerful nations have used the ocean to extend their empires. Aside from all this, the ocean needs to be seen as a resource space and a low-cost and safe transport surface.

Bangladesh has a strong maritime legacy. Very few know this! To understand the country’s role in the maritime space, it is important to see it as a maritime nation. Bangladesh has a maritime area of 1,18,813 km2, with a coastline of 710 km. For centuries, Bangladesh’s south-eastern city of Chattogram, formerly known as Chittagong, was a hub for Arab, European and Asian traders.

Geographically, Bangladesh is ashore of the Bay of Bengal, and as such of the Indian Ocean. The Bay of Bengal is the ‘third neighbour’ and the Indian Ocean is the ‘fourth frontier’ of Bangladesh. The other two neighbours are land neighbours, of course – India and Myanmar.

Bangladesh is a founding member of two major regional integration organisations: the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). The country has adopted a policy of adhering to regional and international institutions to govern its maritime space. Bangladesh is also a member of another technical initiative, the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem project.

An open, inter-connected and rules-based Bay of Bengal, and Indian Ocean, is important not only for Bangladesh but also for the region as a whole. In fact, maritime space matters hugely for peace, prosperity and socioeconomic development.

Maritime Bangladesh

As a maritime nation, Bangladesh has a policy geared towards a stable and peaceful maritime space in its neighbourhood. This goes back to the very founding of the country. Bangladesh’s founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who led the first post-liberation war administration in 1972, viewed maritime space as a ‘zone of peace.’ This was a fundamental change from the prevailing Cold War opinion of the time, when other decision-makers saw maritime spaces as ‘zones of conflict and asymmetry.’ In the early 1970s, the Indian Ocean region (IOR) was split into spheres of influence that came under the major powers. Bangladesh rejected this power competition over the Indian Ocean and introduced a new agenda. [Read full article from here]

– Md. Shariful Islam is an Assistant Professor at Department of International Relations, University of Rajshahi and Research Fellow at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA), Bangladesh.