Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bangladesh-Oregon partnership


If you're looking for the center of gravity in America's relationship with the populous nation of Bangladesh this week, it's right in the middle of Portland, where some 120 people are attending a working summit that marks the public kickoff of the state partnership program between Oregon and Bangladesh.

At first blush, this may sound like a headscratcher, but it's a handy illustration of the utility of the National Guard Bureau's state partnership program, which pairs state militias like Oregon's with their counterparts in other countries with whom the United States enjoys cooperative relationships. Bangladesh and Oregon, via the Oregon National Guard, have been sending small delegations back and forth over the last year or so, and this week, the two sides are coming together in a big way.

The ambassadors of each nation, Akramul Qader and James Moriarty, each spoke at this morning's session, the first full working day of a three-day workshop. They each spoke of Bangladesh's rapid progress as a democracy, and each cited the continuing challenges the nation faces, from poverty to its proximity to places where terrorists operate. The partnership program is furthest along in forging cooperative military relationships between the Oregon National Guard and the Bangladeshi Army, giving a distinctly military cast to today's proceedings, which were well-attended by blue-uniformed members of the Oregon Air National Guard, their Army counterparts in green, and the visiting Bangladeshis in khaki-colored dress uniforms.

Today's presenters included Maj. Gen. Fred Rees, Oregon's Adjutant General, Gen. Bruce Prunk, commander of the Oregon Air National Guard, Maj. Gen. Peter Pawling, who's acting chief of staff of the United States Pacific Command, and Maj. Gen. Abdul Wadud, Bangladesh's Principal Staff Officer for the Armed Forces.One area that is further along than the others relates to port security, partly because the Port of Portland's chief of security, Mark Crosby, is a lieutenant colonel in the Oregon Air National Guard. He and his Bangladeshi counterparts have conducted talks about best security practices, a point of particular interest to such U.S. agencies as the FAA and TSA, which have sought to push the security screening envelope outside the homeland, to airports such as Amsterdam, London and, yes, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is in the middle of an expansion of its domestic and international air carrier capacity, so the timing for this initiative is good, Prunk pointed out.Here's a Bangladesh fact that I'll bet you didn't know: The country is a leader in providing troops to U.N. peacekeeping missions. Ambassador Qader said the country has provided more than 10,500 peackeepers and more than 2,100 police to the United Nations through the years. (Some 88 Bangladeshi peacekeepers have been killed in the course of this work.)

The workshop continues at the Nines Hotel for two more days. If you're watching the Blazers on TV tonight, you may see a contingent of American guys with short haircuts, accompanied by a group of southern Asians. That's the face of the Oregon-Bangladesh partnership program.