By Ashud Ahmed Ambassador of Bangladesh to Qatar
As a diplomat I am not an exception in leading a nomadic life travelling from one place to another and spending my career in different corners of the world in different point in time and enriching myself with various experiences gathered through mixing with people of various countries and cultures and making friends for contributing towards maintaining global peace and harmony in general and establishing and furthering bilateral relations in particular.
As I am preparing to leave shortly to take up my next ambassadorial assignment in Greece after ending almost five long years’ tour of my duty and leaving behind a lot of friends and fond memories in this beautiful Gulf country, I start taking a stock of my activities that have added value towards further strengthening the brotherly bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Qatar.
I am delighted to find that my stint in Qatar as Bangladesh ambassador will remain memorable to me for a number of reasons especially looking after the big Bangladeshi diaspora of more than four hundred thousand people gladly hosted by Qatar particularly during two challenging times of neighboring countries’ economic blockade and then Covid-19.
I started my work as the head of Bangladesh diplomatic mission with a specific focus of bringing some diversification in our traditional bilateral relation, which was usually characterised by labour co-operation. Accordingly, opening up other potential areas of co-operation like trade, investment, cultural exchanges and tourism development for the mutual benefit of the two countries became my focused issues. Community development through ensuring the rights and welfare of the members of the Bangladesh community availing of the various labour reforms measures undertaken by the Qatar government also came under my renewed attention.
I am very pleased to mention here that Qatar government, under the very able and dynamic leadership of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, has not only smoothly overcome the crisis of blockade and is gradually turning the country into a self-sufficient one, but has also created an example of labour-friendly country and become the role model of setting labour standard for the whole of the Gulf region.
Under the active guidance and facilitation extended by the Embassy, Bangladesh community has become more organised by way of forming two platforms namely Bangladesh Forum Qatar (BFQ) and Bangladesh Community Qatar (BCQ). These two community organisations have regularly been organising various programmes aiming at the overall development of our growing community. While BFQ organises trade and investment related seminars and workshops involving resource persons and think tanks from both Bangladesh and Qatar, BCQ remains busy with organising cultural and awareness building programmes in close co-ordination with Qatar’s Ministry of Interior and other concerned government bodies and private companies. The two community organisations and the lone Bangladesh School in Qatar, with its over 1,200 students, have been playing a catalytic role towards pursuing public diplomacy and contributing to further strengthening the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Qatar.
The outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic was a real challenge for me in mitigating the problems of the community especially for the vulnerable group, who lost their jobs and looked for food and shelter and ultimate repatriation back home. But I am again happy to mention that while Qatar government provided excellent medical treatment including hospital facilities to the corona positive patients of the community free of cost, I could successfully mobilise my two community organisations and the school to stand beside the Embassy to help the vulnerable group in distributing food baskets and extending other necessary supports with the financial allocation received from my government as well as food provided by the local charity organisations.
Awareness campaign regarding health and hygiene related do’s and don’ts through various social media and leaflets in line with the government instructions and guidelines were continuously carried out with a view to containing the spread of corona virus among the community members. Arranging new jobs for the unemployed members of the community in consultation with different private and public companies including the job platform created by Qatar Chamber and the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs also added to my challenging tasks.
And finally the question of repatriation of the most vulnerable segment of the community came up and we started arranging for special repatriation flights in the absence of normal commercial flights between Doha and Dhaka and thus repatriated a total number of around 3,000 Bangladeshi nationals facing various problems stemming from Covid-19 pandemic.
Expressing his hope for further strengthening the bilateral relations, the Hon’ble Foreign Minister of Bangladesh had sent two written messages to his Qatari counterpart and conveyed his deep appreciation and gratitude for the excellent medical facilities and services provided to the expatriate Bangladeshi nationals during the Covid-19 pandemic.
I was also mindful about the possible redundancy of the Bangladeshi unskilled labour force, 80% of which was engaged in different 2022 FIFA World Cup related projects and the matter of replacing them with skilled workers, therefore, topped the agenda of both Foreign Office Consultations (FOC) and the 5th Joint Committee meeting on labour migration held in Dhaka and Doha respectively in the beginning of this year. During the FOC led by the two Ministers of State for Foreign Affairs, it was also decided to first track the signing of a number of pending instruments with a view to further expanding co-operation in diverse areas for the benefit of the two people.
I also desperately worked for introducing one Bangla Radio Channel for entertainment and dissemination of different important information for community awareness and I am hopeful for its launch sooner than later.
The successful organisation of two flagship events – one seminar titled ‘Prospects of Bangladesh Pharmaceutical Industries and its market in Qatar’ organised jointly by the Bangladesh Embassy and the Doha Bank and ‘Made-in-Bangladesh’ exhibition held at the Qatar National Convention Centre jointly organised by the Bangladesh Embassy and the BFQ have gone a long way in stimulating Qatari business community and prospective investors about the unique business potentials and investment opportunities available in Bangladesh.
On the cultural front, the first ever 15-day long ‘Bangladesh Painting Exhibition’ followed by a beautiful cultural performance by the visiting Bangladeshi cultural troupe and the 3-day long ‘Bangladesh Festival’ organised by the Embassy at the Katara cultural village had successfully unleashed the prospect for undertaking cultural exchange programs between the two culturally rich friendly countries on a regular basis for further strengthening of the cultural ties.
My ambassadorial tenure also saw a good number of important bilateral visits undertaken by the Hon’ble Speaker of the Bangladesh National Parliament, Foreign Minister, Expatriates’ Welfare & Overseas Employment Minister, Adviser for Energy & Mineral Resources, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Minister of State for Energy & Mineral Resources and Minister of State for Sports & Culture in addition to a lot of visits by dignitaries of various public and private organisations. These visits significantly bolstered bilateral co-operation in the areas like energy (LNG agreement signed), manpower, trade, investment, civil aviation & tourism, post & tele-communications and sports and culture.
Defence co-operation between Bangladesh and Qatar is another area that saw a great boost through bilateral visits undertaken by the two Bangladesh Army Chiefs and the Naval Chief. Bangladesh Naval Ship ‘Bangabandhu’ participated in the Doha International Maritime Defense Exhibition & Conference (DIMDEX) 2018. One Air Force delegation also came for a week long visit to Qatar during my tenure.
I am also very happy that I could successfully convince the Qatar government about the problem that Bangladesh has been suffering from the mass exodus of Rohingya refugees continuously persecuted in Myanmar and obtained Qatar’s moral support for Bangladesh on this issue in different global fora including UN and OIC.
Last but not the least, I got Qatar’s longest serving former Cultural Affairs Minister and currently Minister of State Dr Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari as a great friend of Bangladesh. Dr Kawari was Qatar’s candidate for Unesco top position and Bangladesh was the first country that supported his candidature. Appreciating Bangladesh’s phenomenal economic growth he told Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during his meeting at her office in Dhaka that Qatar always follows her statesmanship approaches with great interest and enthusiasm.
As I look back on the eve of my departure from Qatar I can safely say that the two rising countries will come even closer in co-operating with each other once the blockade is withdrawn and Covid-19 pandemic is over.
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