What can Bangladesh teach Pakistan

Bangladesh: Little tiger with big plans

Bangladesh is making headway and is so successful in many areas that it is a "role model for South Asia". That is not what the incumbent Prime Minister Sheik Hasina, who wants to be re-elected on December 30th, says, but the British business paper "The Economist". Because what the small country with over 165 million inhabitants has achieved in the last ten years is impressive. The economy has grown by an average of more than six percent per year since 2008. Last year, Bangladesh's gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 7.3 percent, faster than that of India or Pakistan. If you take the exchange rate to the US dollar as a basis, the economic output per capita is now higher than that in Pakistan.

The share of industry in GDP is around 30 percent today. In 1971, the year of bloody fought for independence from Pakistan, the figure in underdeveloped East Pakistan was less than seven percent. In 1970, when a devastating cyclone killed hundreds of thousands of people, the country did not even have enough material to make shrouds for the victims, complained the first head of government of the newly founded state, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Today, Bangladesh exports more finished textiles than India and Pakistan combined.

Led Bangladesh to independence: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

Pakistan and India overtaken

Child mortality is lower than in the two large neighboring countries, in Bangladesh more children go to school and can read and write, and life expectancy is higher. According to the latest figures from the Global Hunger Index, published by the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, 26.5 percent of the people in Bangladesh suffered from hunger last year. That shows what problems the country still has. But there are half as many as in 1992 (53.6 percent) and now fewer people are starving in Bangladesh than in India (31.4 percent) or Pakistan (32.6 percent).

Population growth is a key to economic success. While the birth rate in Pakistan was 3.5 children per woman according to World Bank figures in 2016, the birth rate in Bangladesh at 2.1 is still below that of India (2.3). "The country is a prime example of successful development policy and is in fact far better off than it was a decade ago," says Wolfgang-Peter Zingel, economist at the South Asia Institute at Heidelberg University, in an interview with Deutsche Welle. "Population growth has fallen sharply, the fertility rate of 2.1 is just about enough to maintain the population in the long term. I would even assume that the fertility rate will fall further and that the population will decrease in the longer term."

The new Padma Bridge will cut travel time to the southeast, north and east of the country by several hours

Investing in infrastructure - not always with China

The government has ambitious plans to further develop the country. This includes large infrastructure projects such as the construction of a new bridge over the Ganges, which is called Padma in Bangladesh. The more than six-kilometer-long structure, on which cars, trucks and trains will roll from 2019, will shorten the journey time between the south-east, north and east of the country by several hours. So far, all private and freight traffic between the parts of the country separated by the major rivers has to be handled by ferries. Minister Obaidul Quader, who is responsible for road traffic and bridges, estimates that the four-lane, two-story Padma Bridge will boost trade and the economy significantly and that the country's GDP will increase by 1.5 to 2 percent. The Padma Bridge and some highway projects in the country are being built with Chinese partners. But China is far from always having a chance.

"Since the Chinese government presented its gigantic Silk Road project five years ago, China, India and Japan have been competing for access to the northern Bay of Bengal," explains Samuel Berthet, who teaches at Shiv Nagar University in India. "In April 2015, the Chinese-friendly government of Bangladesh decided to leave the construction of the deep-water port in Matarbari, which is almost 100 kilometers south of Chittagong, to Japan. The Chinese conglomerate, which should initially have been commissioned with a similar port project a little further south, in Sonadia , came out empty, "said Berthet.

The reason for this was not least the consideration for India, which has invested seven billion US dollars in Bangladesh in the past decade, primarily to improve connections to the underdeveloped northeast of India. The fact that Beijing plans to invest 30 billion in Bangladesh's infrastructure over the next few years as part of the "New Silk Road" is something that people in New Delhi have very mixed feelings about. In addition, Saudi Arabia intends to finance the construction of 560 mosques in Muslim Bangladesh over the next few years.

Rural women make up the majority of the workforce in the textile sector

Unequal relationships

For Germany, Bangladesh is an important supplier of textiles. Even so, it only ranks 36th among imports. And in terms of exports, it only ranks 76th, just ahead of Liechtenstein. "Germany is the largest buyer of finished textiles after the USA," says Wolfgang-Peter Zingel. "But they are not strategic products, Bangladesh would be easy to replace. It is a classic asymmetrical relationship."

For Bangladesh, Germany is an important partner in development cooperation, said Zingel, which also gives Berlin a certain weight in bilateral relations. "We are one of the most important donors. Bangladesh is the test case that should prove that development aid works. This is not only proven by economic growth, but also by the comparatively good social data." In addition, compared to other countries with a Muslim majority, Bangladesh is "relatively democratic," said Zingel, and there is co-education at all levels - boys and girls are generally taught together in Bangladesh.

According to the government's plans, Bangladesh should finally have made the leap out of the group of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in 2021, on the 50th anniversary of independence from Pakistan. The government has even launched a program called "Vision 2021" - with the "Digital Bangladesh" action plan as one of the focal points.

"In addition to advances in education, health and gender equality, Bangladesh is in the midst of a growth spurt that has reduced poverty and doubled per capita income. The government deserves praise for creating the essential prerequisites for that the dynamism of the private sector has boosted economic growth, "says Syed Al-Muti, deputy director of the non-profit international development organization" Asia Foundation ".

Part of a new four-lane traffic axis in the capital Dhaka

"The good development of the last few years is based on three pillars: the development of agriculture, the export success of the textile industry and the home transfers of workers abroad", explains Wolfgang-Peter Zingel.

Nevertheless, the country is heavily dependent on the international economic development and the willingness of other countries to import textiles from Bangladesh and to employ Bangladeshis - especially in the Gulf States, warns Zingel. Above all, there is a lack of diversity in exports.

Then there are the imponderables of climate development and its consequences for Bangladesh - most of the country is only slightly higher than sea level.

"Dhaka is already one of the largest cities in the world, it is the largest and fastest growing poor city," said Zingel. Zingel believes that the dynamics of the greater Dhaka area, where the textile industry is concentrated, are entirely different: "The majority of the five million employees are women and come from rural families. This is the starting point for a social and cultural change that should not be underestimated . "

The chances for Bangladesh are not so bad if, as the Economist put it at the beginning of November, the country's economic achievements are not ruined by the often grotesque domestic politics.