Born in Pittsburgh on 22 March 1934, Orrin Grant Hatch of Salt Lake City, Utah is the longest-serving Republican Senator in the history of the United States. Just recently Hatch announced his retirement after serving the Senate seven terms. Orrin G Hatch, a former Chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee, has been the President pro tempore of the US Senate since 2015. President pro tempore is the second highest-ranking official of the US Senate. US Constitution provides that Senate must choose a President Pro tempore to act in the Vice President's absence.
Hatch has earned a reputation for bipartisanship, sponsoring legislation with Senator Ted Kennedy, among other Democrats, and voting for most of President Bill Clinton's judicial nominees. He served as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee as well as on the board of directors for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. He has authored numerous publications among which "The Equal Rights Amendment Extension: A Critical Analysis," "The First Amendment and Our National Heritage" and "Avoidance of Constitutional Conflicts" deserve mention.
Enayetullah Khan, Editor-in-Chief of Dhaka Courier and United News of Bangladesh (UNB), during one of his US visits in the late Eighties had caught up with Senator Hatch, while delivering a lecture at Columbia University on occasion of the newly introduced graduate course on Bangladesh. At the time Senator Hatch shared with Khan many pertinent issues of mutual interest to Washington and Dhaka. He was one of the very last remnants of that dying breed in Washington: a stalwart of his own party, equally a thorn in the flesh of opponents, but ever aware of the large amount of work falling to Congress that needs bipartisanship. He was known for co-sponsoring several such bills working 'across the aisle,' with none other than the late Edward M. 'Ted' Kennedy, the erstwhile Lion of the Senate, and probably Bangladesh's greatest friend inside that hallowed chamber, during those 9 months in '71. On the occasion of Senator Hatch's passing, Dhaka Courier republishes the interview, where you will find many of his words uttered nearly three decades back are equally relevant today:
Enayetullah Khan: How can the United States help Bangladesh resolve its most basic problems?
Senator Hatch: I would suggest that Bangladesh's most immediate problem is of an economic nature. Its natural crises, specifically flooding, impede the country's tremendous, indigenous energy to operate as a force to change the living conditions of its people. I believe that the United States' approach has been fundamentally correct in assisting Bangladesh in this area. We recognise that above average rainfall in successive monsoon seasons has caused heavy water accumulation in the Himalayan mountains and the adjacent hills. Swollen waters in India have also contributed to the flooding of more than 75 percent of Bangladesh.
World Bank and other efforts also point to deforestation in neighbouring countries, high population densities everywhere, irrational river damming, siltation, inadequate dredging, and indiscriminate road and other artworks such as embankment building have tended to make the problem a recurrent one.
In my judgement, we should begin by helping Bangladesh to help itself. This we have done, and we all know about the $135 million of assistance provided in 1988 which, for example, was an especially bad year. I can say more about the components of this assistance if you wish. I would like to see a somewhat different approach to supplement the fine work that has been done by American assistance agencies along with such distinguished private relief groups as OXFAM/USA Church World Services, the American National Red Cross and others. I might add that most private relief organisations have unimpeachable credentials. However, I do find abuses occasionally, especially in the life style of some of these administering officials.
My approach is more basic. First, Bangladesh's civil engineers are among the world's finest. I have had reports from American engineering authorities that marvel at -the skill and resourcefulness of the (Bangladesh) army's engineers. I have supported the transfer of more engineering equipment. But India and Bangladesh's other neighbours need not fear a military threat. I refer to civil project type of equipment: cranes, bulldozers, graders, dump trucks, loaders, scrapers, and even bridging items. From what I am told about your country's skillful engineers, adequate provisioning would lead to near miracles!
Second, we need to assist neighbouring countries to recognise that Bangladesh's threat is also their threat. Deforestation is as much a problem to 'autarky' in, say, India, as it is to flooding in Bangladesh. I am pleased that there have been offers to assist with reforestation, however. We need to demonstrate the real benefits of this process.
Third, there is an attitude problem among certain political quarters in Bangladesh that troubles me. Our country has about 12 battalions of engineers. They are assets; they should not be treated somewhat-narrow-mindedly as threats to the people when they are deployed in natural crisis situations. I say this because the commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command in Hawaii has sent his own engineering teams to assess the situation. I would be very unhappy for Bangladesh, if politicians reject such assistance because it is military. I would remind them that the Corps of Engineers of the US Army is an arm of Congress, responsible for public works, and report to Congress on such civil projects as river dredging, dam building and airport construction to name a very few activities.
Enayetullah Khan: In one of your speeches on the floor of the United States Senate, you called for closer military cooperation with the United States. May I ask the results of your efforts?
Senator Hatch: In May 1989, I urged Congress to provide the Department of Defense with the authority to establish a closer logistical working relationship with your country. I believe most other senators and members of the Bush administration respect Bangladesh's non-aligned status. We have no desire to tamper with it. What we offer is closer cooperation in the important areas of equipment maintenance, management and modification. In fact your country was a very gracious host in February 1989 to officials from the entire Pacific region and South Asia to discuss this very issue. It was so successful that other countries - Pakistan, Canada and even Mexico - now seek the same form of association with nations in the Pacific. In this Congress, I introduced an amendment to our Defense Appropriations Bill that would support this effort.
Enayetullah Khan: May I have your comments on assistance provided by the US in 1988 in response to the floods and as a long-term solution to the food problems?
Senator Hatch: It was a terrible time for Bangladesh. The government was overwhelmed. Yet, the government organised camps for hundreds of displaced persons and distributed more than 59.000 tons of rice, wheat, biscuits and other food. I don't know how they did it considering the collapse of the infrastructure. Yet, prices were kept as reasonably stable as one could expect as the government wisely released food to the marketplace.
The international community did respond with about $2 million to finance wheat, corn (maize) and vegetable seeds to restore a long-term agricultural base as I seem to recall.
I don't want to ignore the other work that was done by medical and Red Crescent Society teams for example, but I am trying to restrict my comments to food in response to your question. Our so-called "Food for Peace" programme released about 10.000 tons of wheat...We also made transfers of about $85 million of other food commodities to your country. Since you refer in general to 'emergency assistance,' I think the total came to $152 million that year.
Enayetullah Khan: What is your reaction to Bangladesh's decision to send troops to join the multi-national forces in the Gulf?
Senator Hatch: It was a courageous move. I know that it cost your government in terms of lost remittances from Iraq with which Bangladesh, I am told by US sources, had a good relationship. Bangladesh, I believe, was the first non-Arab Islamic state to respond to the United Nations call, offering 5,000 troops, more than the Egyptians. I have never met anyone who didn't hold your forces in the highest esteem. Your officers, and I have known many, including some with whom I have met during their attendance at schools in the United States, are really among the best skilled in any army.
Enayetullah Khan: I've just given a talk at the newly introduced graduate course on Bangladesh at the Columbia University. I understand from the Columbia University authorities that you took a special interest in introducing this course. Do you feel that such projection in the academic world would be helpful and should be expanded further?
Senator Hatch: I am delighted that you raise this topic. In my judgment, the image of Bangladesh was being exploited. It troubled me deeply. The name 'Bangladesh' was associated with misfortune, disaster. There was dreadful ignorance and misunderstanding of this country, the eighth most populated with over 90 million people, and harbouring a rich and ancient culture, evident from the ancient city of Pundra Nagara, or Mahasthangarh, as it's now called.
And Bangladesh suffered in official circles. No one seriously considered the country as a fulcrum for regional stability, as a contributing member of the international community, even though the record speaks for itself. I refer to your country's extraordinarily high dependability in meeting its international obligations.
Yet, there was no respected and responsible source of information on which American policy makers could rely. All countries have lobbyists, of course, but I was anxious to see Bangladesh have more credibility.
My good friend, Dr Golam Choudhury, an impeccably fine scholar as measured by the highest and most rigorous standards imaginable, was teaching at Columbia. In one of his several visits, I discussed the idea with him. I was not as much help as I would have liked to have been. In fact, it was Dr Choudhury who did, as we say, the 'leg work' in getting the course approved, and getting a very modest stipend from the Asia Foundation. I emphasise that it was his reputation that sold the course to Columbia and Asia Foundation officials.
Columbia is a fine place to start. Its South Asian programme was boosted significantly under the leadership of the late Professor Wayne Wilcox, another eminent scholar who died in a plane crash in the early 1970s. It was simply unimaginable to me, that a South Asian programme could exclude Bangladesh! And the information needs that we have in Washington would also be served by a sound resource base at Columbia.
But it is just the beginning. I am eager to see it expand. For example, the State Department has a visiting scholar programme with many universities allowing for ministerlevel and ambassador-level foreign service officers to teach as resident experts. I plan to strongly encourage Secretary Baker to designate one of our former ambassadors, like Willard De Pree, to one of these posts at schools like the Universities of Utah, Washington and Virginia as well as some of our private institutions.
Enayetullah Khan: Lastly, our largest problem is that of economic development. The present crisis in the Gulf has aggravated our economic and financial problems, as is the case of many Third World countries. What role can one expect from the USA in this respect?
Senator Hatch: I was very unhappy that some of our government leaders did not seem eager to cooperate with Bangladesh and expressed my discontent to the White House. Bangladesh is extremely sensitive to the international economic climate. Perturbations like war, and especially the crisis in the Middle East as you correctly said, 'aggravated' the country's economy dramatically.
Things had been going well, especially with respect to the Middle East. Your country's GDP rose 5.7 per cent to US $15 billion-last year, with a 19 per cent increase in exports. I believe.
More than 80,000 of your countrymen were working in Iraq and Kuwait and, I hasten to add, were among the worst treated at the outset of the crisis. I admire the efficient way your country organised the massive evacuation of your citizens. You certainly did not allow the size of your civil air fleet, which I believe is four DC-10s, to hamper your rescue effort, which I understand has been just about completed. The world stood in awe and admiration of your country's profound compassion for its own. Of course, these unfortunate evacuees lost everything. And Bangladesh, with remittances from the Middle East at $477 million will lose much. For one thing, these people are returning home at a bad time. Unemployment is at 30 per cent, and the economy will be suffering in other areas as a result of the crisis, worsening the prospects of meaningful employment for these persons.
For example, your exports to Iraq and Kuwait, mainly jute products, tea, garments, fruits, vegetables, frozen fish and handicrafts, may disappear, making the country incur a loss of over $17 million. Other industries shipping, insurance, banking and even aviation - will also be adversely affected.
In my opinion, the nations that responded to the United Nations call warrant the highest priority for assistance. I think that is already happening within the context of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the United States, which had withheld support from the United Nations for a number of reasons which I consider legitimate, is adding to the coffers of the international organisation.
In the express case of Bangladesh, I want everything possible done for its citizens. The United States' role should not be underestimated: our 'assistance' efforts are too often measured only in donations abroad. In fact we have absorbed more immigration than any other state, including a special visa cohort of persons, more than 20,000 from Bangladesh alone last year. We will continue our in-kind as well as financial assistance. Our immigration policy is much less clear, I must add. I believe the world feels the same way. The response to the country's request for emergency assistance in times of natural disasters, and to the recent evacuation of your citizens from the Gulf are good examples of these sentiments.
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