According to APCSS professor Dr. Rouben Azizian, “the workshop, which was conducted in a very sensitive period of Bangladeshi political life following the introduction on January 11, 2007 of an emergency rule, offered a unique opportunity for the current and emerging leaders of the Bangladeshi society, representing the government, security forces and civil society, to exchange ideas on immediate and long-term needs of the country in terms of reinvigorating the democratic governance and advancing the security sector reform.”
Held August 12-16 in Dhaka, the workshop was attended by more than 200 academic, political, civilian, and military leaders from Bangladesh. It was co-sponsored by the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) and U.S. Pacific Command.
The opening ceremony included a speech by Bangladesh President Iajuddin Ahmed. According to The Daily Star newspaper, Inajuddin “called for a capable, honest and accountable administration and patriotic and responsible leaders, otherwise risk facing a dysfunctional and immature democracy.”
U.S. Charge d’Affairs Geeta Pasi also addressed the audience calling the session a timely opportunity to reflect upon the evolution of Bangladesh’s political and security environment.
“Bangladesh has entered an unprecedented period of reform since January 11,” said Pasi. “As Bangladeshis seek to determine a path for this country that is free of corruption, violence, and political feuding, the foundation you lay during this interim period is crucial. The foundation must support the finished structure-if it is built with democratic principles and respect for human rights at its core, then freedom, productivity and stability can flourish. But…if the foundation is laid with elements that are themselves undemocratic, the future of the democratic system itself will be jeopardized.”
The workshop included presentations and discussion about government and security sector reforms. Participants contributed to a framework for recommended future improvements.
APCSS director retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ed Smith, stated that there are three main considerations for effective reform: to have popular recognition that change is needed, a well-planned roadmap, and continuing the initiative to ensure that the reforms do not lag.
Recommendations identified include:
§ effective parliament
§ political party reform
§ combating corruption
§ enhancing the National Security Council
§ appointment of a full-time defence minister
§ enhance the professionalism of the security forces
§ enact appropriate legislation for public order
“There was a general acknowledgement by the participants that despite different political perspectives or competing security priorities, leading at times to heated debates, the workshop ended with an impressive list of recommendations which reflect a strong consensus in the Bangladeshi society regarding the main direction of political and security reforms,” said Azizian. “The APCSS team was there to assist the Bangladeshi participants in identifying their commonalities and sidelining the differences. Working the concrete issues related to practical implementation of the recommendations is a task the relevant Bangladeshi agencies will have to pursue.”