After Pakistan and China entered into friendlier relations with Bangladesh in 1974, the way was open for its admission into the UN in September of that year. In 1978 Bangladesh was elected to a twoyear term on the Security Council, and during this period it took strong stands, reiterated on many occasions, concerning Vietnam's involvement in Cambodia, Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, Israeli policies in the Middle East, the Iran-Iraq War, and apartheid in South Africa. Bangladesh was elected as a member of the Security Council's Human Rights Commission in 1985 and as president of the forty-first session of the UN General Assembly (1986-87). In 1987 Ershad received the UN Population Award on behalf of his government.
Before its formal admission into the UN, Bangladesh had been admitted to all of its specialized agencies, and after formally joining the world body, it adopted a high profile in these agencies. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has operated projects in Bangladesh since 1975, in areas ranging from irrigation to rubber production to mangrove afforestation. Bangladesh became a member of the forty-nine-member FAO Council in 1977, served on the FAO's Finance Committee from 1975 to 1979, and has participated in a number of FAO commissions. It was elected vice chairman of the FAO in November 1987. Representatives of Bangladesh also have participated in various specialized UN conferences. Bangladesh joined the Commonwealth of Nations in 1972--a move that prompted Pakistan to withdraw from the organization--and has remained prominent at its meetings ever since. Along with other South Asian members of the Commonwealth, Bangladesh has used its meetings to push for sanctions against apartheid and South African's occupation of Namibia, and it has even offered military training facilities to anti-South African guerrillas.
Keenly aware of his nation's economic problems and observing the benefits of regional economic cooperation in Western Europe, Zia began to seek opportunities for multilateral development among the nations of South Asia in 1977. In 1981 the foreign secretaries of the seven nations of South Asia met in Sri Lanka to set up the basic framework of a regional development organization that was formally founded in New Delhi in August 1983. With continuous effort by Bangladeshi diplomats, these preliminary steps culminated in December 1986 in the first summit conference of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which was convened in Dhaka. The choice of this site was in recognition of Bangladesh's crucial role in forming the SAARC. Subsequent summits in Bangalore, India, in 1986 and in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 1987 established the SAARC as a functioning international body.
The agenda of the SAARC specifically removes bilateral issues and political programs from the organization's debates, confining committee and summit discussions to areas where member nations may find common ground for achieving mutual economic benefit. However, no large-scale economic projects had emerged from SAARC discussions as of mid-1988. Because many of the most difficult economic problems in South Asia involve long-standing political differences at the bilateral level (for example, Bangladesh's Ganges water dispute with India), the SAARC has not been an effective mechanism for solving problems. Nevertheless, through the mid- and late 1980s, the SAARC's summits have provided its members with a forum in which to exchange ideas and positions and discuss bilateral issues.
Bangladesh's presence in the Nonaligned Movement has provided it with an international reputation as a voice of moderation and compromise. Bangladesh's prime minister, Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury, was elected vice chairman of the Nonaligned Movement summit held in Havana in 1986. This international reputation served Bangladesh well in courting the goodwill of potentially hostile neighbors and attracting economic aid from donor countries with diverse political systems. Although the Ershad regime was politically repugnant to many opposition leaders and was looked at critically by some foreign governments, the regime had brought a new sense of stability to Bangladesh as it made a tenuous transition to civilian rule in the late 1980s.
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