A trailblazing start of International Relations (IR) studies in Bangladesh dates back to a period even before the emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign nation-state when the country was known as East Pakistan. The University of Dhaka, the premier academic institution in Bangladesh, began teaching IR in 1947, in a first-of-its-kind initiative in South Asia to give the profession of dealing with inter-state relationship in the global arena.
Since ancient times, Bengal has maintained an open-door policy to the external world. Visits by great travellers like Fa-Hsien, Hsuan-Tsang or Ibne Battuta reflect wider networks of Bengal throughout its long history marked by pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial historical trajectories. The establishment of the Department of IR at the University of Dhaka at the fag-end of the British rule as first of its kind in South Asia created a major institutional breakthrough for the study of IR in the erstwhile East Pakistan (currently Bangladesh). IR studies has become popular gradually and the Liberation War 1971 was a great display of global diplomacy and strategy during the Cold-War period.
In 1998, IR studies was introduced at Jahangirnagar University, Savar, and in 2004 in Chittagong University, Chittagong, two other leading public universities in Bangladesh. Subsequently, the years 2014 and 2015 witnessed the introduction of IR studies in two other leading public universities, i.e., the University of Rajshahi in Rajshahi and Bangabandhu University of Science and Technology, Gopalganj. In addition, IR teaching also started at Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP), another newly established public university, in 2015. Besides, one of the leading private universities in Bangladesh, Independent University Bangladesh (IUB), Dhaka, introduced IR teaching in 2017, in the name of Global Studies and Governance (GSG). Thus, six public and one private university offer IR at Bachelor's and Master's levels.
One can argue that, after liberation, Bangladesh became active in global and regional politics to cement its place as a member of the international community. Subsequently, Bangladesh has witnessed a strong community of academics and practitioners in international-relations studies. In the post-Cold War era, this tradition continued with more emphasis on the study of international relations. Bangladeshi IR is inclusive in nature and has made remarkable contributions to social-science studies in Bangladesh. Bangladeshi IR is reflexive and thus equipped with emerging challenges like the refugee crisis, climate change or maritime challenges. Thus the write-up contends that mainstream IR needs to be enriched through looking at the insights of Bangladeshi IR.
In fact, there are huge promises of IR studies in Bangladesh. The study of IR can help to produce human resources by providing certain skills and knowledge. The next section focuses on how IR studies help a student to change his/her thinking level, and enhance their analytical or writing skills.
Critical thinking: The study of IR can enhance the critical thinking ability of a student. Thinking critically makes a student cognitively different from a layperson. The study of IR does this job by teaching students to ask questions. In particular, students of IR are trained to ask "WHY" questions. Why did an event happen? Why does an actor act in such a particular way? This ability to ask questions helps them to think critically and understand a political context deeply. Besides, the study of IR deals with the prediction of future events or consequences of any event or action. Making such prognostication needs the ability to think outside of the box and critically.
Problem-solving skills: IR often deals with complex global and regional issues. The manifestation of IR content includes issues such as conflict resolution, diplomacy, terrorism, and global governance. Students of IR are inculcated to address those problems. They are required to find appropriate solutions to mitigate such convoluted international crises. For instance, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis or Gaza-Israel conflict is an event that falls under the responsibility of the students of IR to find out the actual reasons behind the skirmish and how to mitigate the tension on an urgent basis. Thus the study of IR availed a student with problem-solving skills.
Writing skills: Writing is one of the most prominent mediums to convey one's thoughts to others. While studying IR, a student is required to note down their thoughts and views on certain topics as it is an effective way to conserve ideas for future use. In addition, submitting assignments, frequent written class tests, and comprehensive exams need a requisite writing ability. In their course of education, neophytes get the chance to shun their writing abilities. Therefore, studying IR gives ample opportunity to develop one's writing capability.
Analytical ability: The study of IR also contributes to developing a learner's analytical skills. Continued research in contemporary events and handling numerous qualitative and quantitative data are part of the study of IR. Conducting frequent research work and exposure to substantive amounts of data help enhance one's analytical ability. In addition, the study of IR requires students to analyse historical and contemporary events. In doing so, a student becomes skilled in analysing any events or situation.
Communication skill: The study of IR often includes multiple cultures and languages. Even in some universities, it is a precondition to learning a second language to earn a degree in IR. For instance, a student needs to learn a second language in the International Relations Department at the University of Dhaka. In addition, negotiation, which requires adequate communication skills, is a necessary part of IR study. Learning to negotiate increases the ability to communicate. Moreover, the study of IR requires a student to give oral presentations to their peers frequently, which makes them confident about communicating effectively. They sometimes need to express their thoughts and ideas in front of a diverse audience. As a result, the students develop their public speaking skills.
ICT skills: Acquiring knowledge of information and communication technologies is a necessary part of studying IR. To do assignments, a student must learn to use a computer and software, such as Microsoft Word. To make a presentation a student needs to understand an application like Microsoft PowerPoint. A student also needs to learn a programming language such as Python or an application like IBM SPSS to conduct research and analyse data. Surfing the internet and online media is a must for a student of IR to know about contemporary international issues.
Scope of studies: The scope of IR is broad, encompassing interaction among countries, governments, non-state actors and international organisations on a global stage. It looks through how diplomacy works in the world of international politics, how conflicts arise, how cooperation and global partnership can be promoted, how people work together, and what kinds of things affect how governments and other international players behave. The subject of IR includes state, sovereignty, International Political Economy, Global Issues, International Law, Regional Studies, Gender Studies, Cooperation and Conflict Studies, Migration Studies, International Organisations, National Security, War, Terrorism, and Peace. Additionally, IR focuses on unique issues such as Human Rights, Environmental Politics, Climate Change and Maritime Affairs. Studying these vastly diverse topics helps in developing a person's conscience and sometimes creates a sense of global citizenship.
It can be stated in conclusion, now, that International Relations is a promising field of study in Bangladesh and globally. The study of IR contributes to developing human resources. It inculcates in students vast knowledge and skills on all-round global affairs. A student in his or her period of studying IR gets to acquire those skills and transform from an ordinary citizen into a human resource for the country. Despite tremendous potential, the study of IR is limited to a few universities in Bangladesh. Every year a fixed number of students get the chance to study this subject-the number is limited to a few hundred. To exploit the promises of IR properly, the government of Bangladesh needs to introduce the subject to the National University so that many more students get the chance to develop themselves as enlightened citizens and become an asset for the nation.
Dr. Md. Shariful Islam is an Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Rajshahi. He is also an adjunct Research Fellow at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA, Dhaka). E-mail: [email protected]
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