I must be honest. In the past when I came across Bangladeshis mentioning that Bhutan was the first country to recognize Bangladesh 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.
It was on 26th March 1971 that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared independence from West Pakistan (so called because Bangladesh was till then referred to as East Pakistan). Some nine months of bloodshed ensued where over 3 million people were killed and over 10 million people displaced.
40 years and the scars of that liberation war still remain deep. The mere mention of their freedom struggle brings back painful memories. 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 was overwhelming. On 26th March 2011, when our King who was the Guest of Honour entered the National Stadium, the entire crowd cheered. When PM 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 people went to great lengths to make sure we were well taken care and every little detail cared for. A café owner 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.
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 reports 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. Now to add to that, His Majesty the King, in his State Banquet speech this time, has 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 Bhutan and Bangladesh but also for the peace, stability and prosperity in our region. As people 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.
|State reception at the Airport by the President of Bangladesh|