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US miscalculated initiative in Bangladesh contradicts the interests of the US and South Asia

US miscalculated initiative in Bangladesh contradicts the interests of the US and South Asia


On June 16, Indian journalist ABM Nasir wrote an opinion piece titled ‘The misguided initiative of the United States’ in the popular Indian newspaper Millennium Post. Considered relevant to Bangladesh, the important part of the article is important for the South Asian readers, policymakers, diplomats. However, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced a new visa policy for Bangladesh on May 24 via Twitter. The new visa policy will impose US visa restrictions on those responsible for or involved in undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh.

This new visa policy is very abrupt and directionless. Because the US attitude is very much “you’re either with us or against us…”. This new visa policy, based on such doubts and doubts, is only a temporary solution to achieve so-called fair elections in a Muslim-majority and traditionally liberal democracy like Bangladesh.

This US policy is haphazard and aimless for a number of reasons.

First, when the United States is in such limbo and doubt, a humiliating retreat like in Afghanistan and Iraq may occur. The recent withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan at a cost of $2.31 trillion over 20 years shows that the US is not truly committed to promoting democracy in other countries.

Second, the moral authority of the United States to ensure free, fair and impartial elections in Bangladesh can also be questioned, since the United States itself has long been unsuccessful in ensuring democratic and acceptable elections. The United States has also been accused of suppressing minority voters, threatening poll workers, rigging voting districts, and limiting the political influence of minority groups over the years. Where 40 percent of the people of the United States of America do not think the 2020 election is fair, how will they determine a free and fair election in Bangladesh? In another poll, nearly 61 percent of Republicans questioned the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s presidency. I am not personally questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 elections. My question is, will the United States consider the opinion of those who lost the election while implementing the new visa policy?

Third, let’s assume that the new US visa policy is able to conduct free and fair elections in Bangladesh; But will they be able to ensure the safety of the voters and supporters of the defeated political party from the post-election violence? Following the victory of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami-led Islamist alliance in the October 2001 parliamentary elections, unprecedented persecution of Hindus ensued. They were targeted for voting for the Awami League and subjected to various forms of torture, including looting, burning of houses, rape of Hindu women and eviction of Hindus from their homes. During the BNP-Jamaat rule from 2001 to 2006, violence against minorities and political dissidents continued, in some cases directly sponsored by alliance leaders.

Fourth, free and fair elections are the only ingredients of “liberal democracy”. Bangladesh’s political parties, and even some civil society groups in Bangladesh, do not seem committed to the rule of law, separation of powers, and protection of freedom of speech, assembly, religion, and property rights. A group of disgruntled members of civil society who often profess to uphold democratic values once again supported the undemocratic government of one-eleven and advocated the ‘minus-two theory’ to eradicate politics. But a massive student-led protest demanding the withdrawal of the military camp from Dhaka University foiled the plan.

Finally, what if a free and fair election brings a fundamentalist Islamist coalition to power like the 2012 Egyptian election? Elected in a free election in Egypt, Mohamed Morsi was an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood and leader of the Freedom and Justice Party. He tried to implement Sharia law using democratic means, but was eventually ousted by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a military dictator.

To ensure US security and economic interests in South Asia, rather than announcing undesirable policies on Twitter, the US needs to:

  1. Make a transparent assessment. Formulate a sustainable strategy to establish “liberal democracy” and avoid lobbying groups that may be accused of disrupting elections, violating human rights.
  2. Ensuring post-election security and political participation of supporters of defeated parties and minorities.
  3. Ensuring the safe return of hundreds of bloggers and activists who were forced to seek refuge in Europe and the US following the killings and widespread attacks on bloggers by extremist Islamic organizations in 2013-15.

If current policies based on hesitation and suspicion fail, the United States could lose its influence in South Asia to China and extremist political parties.

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