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The Leading Ladies of Bangladesh

December 31, 2020

I first went to Bangladesh in the early Nineties to sign an award of an oil and gas concession that subsequently became a significant natural gas field. It was being assigned to a very small company that we controlled though the work commitment was far beyond our financial capability. Therefore, we brought in an industry partner before the concession was signed. The CEO of our partner and I went there for the first time to sign the agreement with the government. As we were both athletic, we headed out for an early morning jog following our arrival and eventually realized there was a crowd of would-be Bangladeshi joggers running on either side of us. As we began to move to a remote area of the park, they became totally fixated on my Rolex watch which caused me to realize that it was time to head back to the hotel at a more rapid pace.  
The oil and gas concession industry bid round was the "brain-child" of Khaleda Zia, shown below, who served as Prime Minister of Bangladesh from 1991 to 1996. Surprisingly, there have only been two prime ministers in Bangladesh since then who served a normal five-year term. Prime Minister Zia represented the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.  
Prime Minister Zia lost her position in 1996 to Sheikh Hasina, shown below, who served for a five- year period representing the Bangladesh Awami League. I had the opportunity to meet Sheikh Hasina who joined UK Prime Minister Tony Blair to dedicate the new Edinburgh, Scotland office of our original partners. These two people had mountains of charisma flowing. The Scottish CEO of our partner company had two close relationships that paid off handsomely for him as he was a boyhood friend of both George Bush and Tony Blair who were not necessarily politically connected but he facilitated their becoming close allies.  
Well, lo and behold five years later, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia replaced Sheikh Hasina as Prime Minister to serve five more years. By coincidence, it was about this time that a senior KGB officer was in my office in London saying that we should do a project in Bangladesh. He said, "The two ladies alternate being prime minister and we pay both of them." Surprisingly, Sheikh Hasina replaced her in 2008 to serve until present time.  
Recently, William Pesek of Nikkei Asia published an article in MENAFN-NewsIn.Asia entitled Bangladesh Confounds the Naysayers for All the Right Reasons. Maybe a longer term in office suits Bangladesh as a smiling Sheikh Hasina, shown below, definitely exhibits confidence in the outlook and future prosperity of Bangladesh. Moreover, Sheikh Hasina's accomplishments have been notable.  
As a nation of 165 million people, the Covid-19 deaths were far fewer than those in Queens, New York. The Bangladesh economy is destined to grow at a rate in excess of 4% this year that will raise per capita income above that of India. Henry Kissinger once dismissed Bangladesh as a "basket case" but he was way off base. What would one expect from a guy who I witnessed eating oatmeal in an elite private club for lunch? There is a vibrant Bangladesh textiles manufacturing capability as China suffers thanks to Trump's tariffs. Bangladesh is a leader in gender-equality which should come as no surprise as the Muslim-majority country has few tribal and sectarian issues. Moreover, the country has taken massive efforts to digitize the economy which has rapidly enhanced their competitiveness.  
In case you imagine Bangladesh to be a rural back-water place, the capital city of Dhaka is the ninth largest and the sixth most densely populated city in the world. Certainly, as shown below, it looks much different today than it did some years ago.  
There are a couple of takeaways from these ramblings: (1) The "wise" German who led the Vietnam War strategy for Nixon also got it wrong about Bangladesh when he called it a "basket case;" (2) When political stability supports one lady staying at the helm in Bangladesh for over eleven years as Sheikh Hasina has done, maybe the Russians lose interest and place their funds elsewhere, and (3) How does one explain the erratic behavior of Tony Blair, a Labor Party Prime Minister and a leader in the Northern Ireland peace effort, becoming a war advocate to support a conservative Republican in the ill-conceived invasion of Iraq -- the answer is George the charmer shown below? What can I say as I have the same Ford pickup truck shown below and am from Texas? I have also met both fellows and can see how they would find a common charismatic ground though sadly the invasion cost many lives and de-stabilized the Middle East for years to come.  
The remaining question is what is in store when the U.S. loses its close friendship with Putin given a change in the administration? However, as we have seen in Bangladesh, it could represent a turn for the better. Perhaps Russian involvement can be hazardous to your health and prosperity.  

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