The author Brahma Chelani, a professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi and a former adviser to India’s National Security Council said in an article tilted ‘Uneven U.S. treatment of Bangladesh and Pakistan makes little sense’ in the Nikkei Asia published on June 12 that the USA has adopted a double standard policy towards Bangladesh. He is the author of a total of 9 books, including ‘Water: Asia’s New Battlefield’. He also said that the USA has a vested geostrategic interest thus it has targeted Bangladesh like peaceful small country. On the other hand, despite having various human rights violation, it hasn’t targeted Pakistan. Thus, it can easily understand, the USA has vested interest in the Bangladesh case for the so-called violation of human rights etc.
Mass arrests, disappearances, murders and torture have become a regular occurrence in Pakistan under undeclared military rule. The US is not making any noise about it. But on the contrary, the country has stepped up to protect democracy in Bangladesh by imposing the ban that ‘those who obstruct the election will not be given US visa’. How exactly can such contrasting behavior towards the two countries be explained?
In short, the US has always been partisan about this democratic right. There are always geopolitical benefits involved. In this regard, democracy promotion serves as a major tool for US lawmakers to impose sanctions on vested interests.
Two factors put the US in a very advantageous position in imposing a new visa policy on Bangladesh. One is that a large number of relatives of Bangladeshi politicians live in the United States. Even Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s son is a US green card holder. The other is that the big market for Bangladeshi products is the western world. Among them, the United States is at the top.
Few people would disagree with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s statement that ‘the US’s goal is to ensure that the 2024 elections in Bangladesh are free and fair’. However, his threat to suspend visas for those ‘responsible for or involved in obstructing the democratic electoral process’ does little to promote this cause and may even be counterproductive.
Sheikh Hasina, the leader of Bangladesh’s independence struggle and the daughter of the first president Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, has alleged that the United States is trying to implement a strategy to topple the ruling government in Bangladesh. Last April, he told the National Parliament, “They want to uproot democracy and install a government that will not have democratic legitimacy.” This would be very undemocratic behaviour.’
She ensured political stability and rapid economic growth in the country. But recently, the country’s economy has suffered a bit due to the global economic crisis and the war in Ukraine.
Bangladesh’s excellent economic growth is the exact opposite of Pakistan. The country is currently on the brink of bankruptcy. Despite having so many positive aspects, Bangladesh was not invited to the democracy conference organized by the United States. But Pakistan was invited to two democracy conferences organized by the Biden administration. Although the country never joined.
The US has continued to support Pakistan for short-term geopolitical considerations. On the other hand, the United States has deprived Bangladesh by alleging that the democratic process is being disrupted in Bangladesh. In 2021, the Biden administration also imposed sanctions on Bangladesh’s elite force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and six of its top former and current officers. They were charged with human rights violations and their assets in the United States were seized.
In December last year, Bangladesh’s US ambassador Peter Haas demanded an investigation into police violence with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the country’s largest opposition party allied with hardline Islamists. And Blinken recently expressed concerns about “violence and intimidation against the media and civil society” to Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abdul Momen, the US State Department said.
The visa ban announced by Blinken clearly targets members of the Sheikh Hasina government. This includes members of law enforcement agencies and other security officials. But the new policy also mentions opposition parties. Sanctions against foreign officials are usually more than symbolic and hamper diplomatic efforts. Sometimes it can even lead to unintended consequences.
Let me take China as an example. Earlier this month, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin expressed interest in meeting with Chinese Defense Minister General Li Shangfu. But China did not respond. Beijing has made it clear that Li is on the US sanctions list. As a result, he will not meet with any official of the US government.
Similarly, countries like Myanmar, Iran, Belarus and Cuba can be mentioned. Leaders and officials of countries where sanctions have been imposed. But these sanctions did not bring any political results. The relative erosion of US influence and the ongoing shift of global power from West to East are making US sanctions less effective. However, the West still controls the global financial structure and the dollar still remains the world’s primary reserve medium. So, sanctions are still an attractive option to US policymakers.
The tough stance of the US towards Dhaka makes little sense. Because, Hasina’s government could have been an important partner in the US’s War on Terror and helped boost security in Asia. But on the contrary now, the relationship between the two countries is strained. Sheikh Hasina visited Washington last month and met with officials of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, but she did not meet with any official of the Biden administration.
However, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced at a conference in Singapore earlier this month that the US will not back down from Chinese threats and coercion in the region. But they again chose the path of threats and coercion in the case of Bangladesh. But that would advance US interests in Bangladesh very little.
Furthermore, instead of helping the world’s seventh most populous country to conduct free and fair elections, coercion and coercion will remind Bangladeshis of the painful memories of 1971. At that time, when Bangladesh was trying to gain independence from the rule of Islamabad against the massacre of the Pakistani army, what was the role of the United States could become an awakening in the minds of Bangladeshis. So, what will be the position of Washington now considering all these things?
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.