Finding a sense of belonging

Malaysia’s Acting High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Amir Farid Dato’ Abu Hasan, makes no secret about his fondness for Dhaka’s Kachchi Biriyani and Bangladesh’s delicious Fazli mangoes. In an exclusive interview with Color’s Advisory Editor ZiaulKarim, he enthuses about Bangladesh’s progress as a nation and is appreciative about the country’s special relations with Malaysia.

‘Seeing is believing’ is what Malaysian diplomat Amir Farid Dato’ Abu Hasan has discovered in his tenure in Bangladesh. He sees it as a fast growing nation that is striving to change its fortune and is blessed with extremely friendly people. Although familiar with Bangladeshis in his home country, the envoy is quite amazed by witnessing at first hand their initiatives to make the country a better place. He finds Bangladesh to have done great things in ways which are still not fully known to many foreigners.

“What I see here — and I am interested in — is the way Bangladesh has managed to overcome so many difficulties…Being what you are today is clearly the result of hard work and people here are resilient. It’s all about wanting to be a better place,” Abu Hasan said in lauding the country’s achievements in different areas. Apologetic about the perception of Bangladesh’s state of development among Malaysians, he candidly notes that his compatriots in general sees Bangladesh “not as a major tourist destination”. “But once some of them come here, what they see are high rise buildings, big cars and all that – their impression changes then. I believe that you need to come here to see what Bangladesh has become today.” And of course, he humbly suggests, Bangladeshis need to brand their country better all over the world.

On the trade and investment front, the High Commissioner notes that Bangladesh is rated highly among Malaysians since there are a lot of economic opportunities in this country; after all, it has attained more than 8 per cent GDP growth recently. He points out that a lot of Malaysian companies are interested in investing in Bangladesh, especially in infrastructure, housing and solar power, following the success of Robi-Axiata, a major joint venture telecom operator, here. 

He believes that export of garments to Malaysia is a sector that has great potential since Bangladesh has become a major player in the global apparel supply chain. To promote foreign investment inflow into Bangladesh even more, he suggests, the government should simplify business procedures for foreign investors, including profit repatriation and providing a better tax regime for foreign investment. However, he observes that the country has made slight improvement in easing business procedures for foreign companies recently.

For increasing Bangladesh’s exports to Malaysia, the diplomat recommends value addition to agriculture products including jute. As Kuala Lumpur discourages use of artificial fiber, jute-made bags and some other reusable products could be made more popular in Malaysia, one of the Asian tigers in terms of prosperity attained within the lifetime of a generation. Bangladesh is now the 22nd biggest trade partner of Malaysia; the latest annual trade between the two countries is worth US$2.4 billion and has a growth rate of 35 per cent.

Malaysian diplomat Amir Farid considers Bangladesh his second home

Abu Hasan also cites the example of mango that is so abundant in Bangladesh. “You can’t export mango as it is perishable, but you can value add by making mango juice and other mango products. I can guarantee, such products would be popular in Malaysia,” he adds with a broad smile. “I am a big fan of Bangladeshi mango, especially the big Fazli,” he says.

He notes that when the Malaysian Foreign Minister visited Bangladesh recently, he was presented with some mangoes and he loved it. He has no doubt that if imported by Malaysia the Bangladeshi mangoes will win the heart of the consumers there.

In his first official assignment outside his immediate neighborhood, the diplomat finds similarity in culture and food habits between the peoples of Malaysia and Bangladesh. “When you are a Malaysian, you always see a welcoming gesture here. It’s so similar to Malaysia! Biriyani, chicken curries… Food is something which binds us,” he observes. 

An avid foodie, he is fond of Kachchi Biriyani.“Every time I eat it, I have to go for running to burn the calories, but I love it! Kachchi Biryani is something that I have tested nowhere except in Bangladesh,” he declares and quotes a Malaysian minister as saying after taking it, “I had never had such good Biriyani like this one in my life.”

“Every time I eat it, I have to go for running to burn the calories, but I love it! Kachchi Biryani is something that I have tested nowhere except in Bangladesh,”

The Malaysian diplomat has explored the beauty of Bangladesh and its villages to some extent. He has already visited Sylhet and Cox’s Bazar tourist spots. He braved a long tailback to join the wedding reception of a Bangladeshi staffer of the High Commission, held in Cumilla. He is eloquent not only about the food but also the hospitality of Bangladeshis. “In Bangladesh, I feel a sense of belonging.”

He further appreciates the contribution of Bangladeshis in Malaysia’s development process and also the community building carried out by some of them in Kuala Lumpur. Some 1,000 Bangladeshi students are also studying in Malaysia. “Bangladeshis even hold top positions in Malaysia. I admire the character of the people,” the High Commissioner states.

Asked when the restrictions imposed on hiring Bangladeshi workers would be lifted, he says, “It is a work in progress – one thing is pretty much sure—Malaysian industries are fond of Bangladeshi workers. They are honest people. They work hard and do not cheat… The demand for them is there…. The (Malaysian) government is just revising the nitty-gritty of the matter… I am quite confident, it will be reopened.”

The government of Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad, which returned to power only last year, is recalibrating the country’s priorities. The diplomat observes that Bangladesh has now come up in Malaysia’s priority list. He also highlights his country’s ambitious target of doubling inflow of tourists by observing 2020 as “Visit Malaysia Year”. Malaysian authorities also want to pull more medical tourists the way its neighbors Thailand and Singapore have done, but want to do so by offering lower costs, he says. 

Amir Farid has joined the diplomatic service because diplomacy runs in his blood. His father was a diplomat. His wife is a diplomat as well. “When I started working for the private sector as fresh graduate from the UK, I didn’t feel the satisfaction. I wanted to make a change, somewhere… The only way you can change people’s lives, of course in my view, is if you are involved in policy matters. Being in the government is the way to do significant contributions to the society.”

He listened to his inner calling, gave up his highly-paid corporate job and joined foreign service.

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