The storm of discussions over the two-day visit of US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu of Dhaka has continued even after the end of his visit. And, it is expected that its impact on the international geopolitical arena will continue for a long.
The reason for this is that, as a result of this visit, the Government of Bangladesh has become somewhat convinced of the threat of new sanctions; on the other hand, Assistant Secretary Lu has been seen speaking softly so a long, moving away from the policy of putting pressure on Bangladesh under the excuse of Democracy and Human Rights.
Perhaps the Bangladesh government takes comfort in the fact that it has not commented specifically about the tensions that have arisen in the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) since the end of 2021 in Bangladesh-US relations. Moreover, US Assistant Secretary of State Mr Lu has praised the efforts of the Legal Enforcement Agencies to reduce the law and extrajudicial killings while there are still sanctions on RAB.
In December 2021, the United States imposed sanctions on seven current and former officers of the RAB, on charges of serious human rights violations, including the current chief of Bangladesh police Benazir Ahmed (Former chief of RAB). As a result, ‘RAB’ as an organization cancelled all the support it was getting from the United States and its allies, as well as the confiscation of the assets of the people under the sanctions if they had assets abroad. Since then, the Government of Bangladesh has said that the sanctions will be lifted on several occasions, but there has been no response from the United States.
Since the founding of the RAB, the US has supported anti-terrorism actions as well as other initiatives including training and various assistants. Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen stated that the United States and the United Kingdom were engaged in the formation of RAB, adding that RAB was founded at the suggestion of the United States and the United Kingdom. Considering the situation at that time, those countries gave the concept of RAB. They gave this equipment to the then government. It is because of them that RAB was initially launched. Many believe that one of Washington’s objectives was to capture the Government of Bangladesh. Chile’s Augusto Pinochet and Argentina’s military ruler Jorge Rafael Videla was facing trial for human rights violations.
However, the US itself persuaded Pinochet and Videla, as well as cooperating with their law enforcement agencies with training and weapons, again same America trialled Pinochet and Videla by excusing to restore democracy. All we know about the history of the Taliban. Therefore, many foreign experts regard such behaviour of the United States to be a “Double Standard”. America sometimes identifies a country as a violation of Human Rights to punish for its interests, and sometimes it identifies someone as a bearer of humanity to profit itself. America’s “Double Standard” mentality is very old in world history. But what happens in the name of Human Rights in their own country is probably rarely kept by US officials! How many robberies take place every day in just one New York City? How do they treat black and Asian Americans in their country?
After the imposition of the sanctions, Bangladesh also protested against the unreasonable sanctions of the United States and it has stuck to its stand. After a long one-year ban on RAB, the United States has softened the start. On January 17, foreign minister A. K. Abdul Momen and state minister Shahriar Alam held a bilateral meeting and held a joint press conference with Visiting US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu has praised RAB’s efforts to reduce extrajudicial killings, years after sanctions were imposed for alleged human rights violations. He quoted a Human Rights Watch report as saying that extrajudicial killings at the hands of the RAB have decreased since the ban was imposed.
“The issue of remarkable progress has come up there, we are also seeing it. It’s a great job. It has shown that RAB is capable of combating terrorism and maintaining law and order concerning human rights” his remarks were. Not only that, if the US gives GSP benefits to any country, then Bangladesh will be the first country, the US Assistant Secretary of State said. Why there is a sudden soft tone in America’s throat concerned about Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh, what is the Americas’ interest behind it?
The US wants Bangladesh as a partner in the Indo-Pacific strategy, which is not a new desire. It is for the geopolitical purpose of the United States to soften the tone of the human rights question of Bangladesh. Depending on geopolitics, the United States adopts different foreign policy strategies in different countries of the world. China is the main target of the United States using the excuse of restoring democracy, protecting human rights and fixing the law and order situation as a strategy regarding Bangladesh.
The US administration is trying to get Bangladesh to sign the ACSA (Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement) and GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement) agreements on defence to prevent China. In the 2018 elections, the United States was largely silent at the time, despite claims by the opposition that the election was not fair. The US has been raising questions about its interests recently, even though there was no question about the law and order situation at that time.
China’s continued presence in Bangladesh in the name of development cooperation has made the United State concerned about the security and dominance of the Indian Ocean region. So, Washington is trying to bring Bangladesh under control on the excuse of Human Rights violations to stop China. Just as Bangladesh is geographically important in the reality of South Asia, the socio-economic condition of Bangladesh has also improved tremendously in the last decade.
Bangladesh’s capabilities have increased greatly, and Bangladesh has maintained very important diplomatic relations with its two contrasting neighbours, India and China. The seriousness with which the US administration is judging Bangladesh, it is also clear that there has been a change in the US view of South Asia.
As before, the countries of the region are being considered beyond just India centre considerations. Lu’s multiple visits to Nepal are also proof of that. But it is also true that the US considers India, its closest ally in the region. Lu visited India before coming to Bangladesh, what was discussed about Bangladesh there and how much it will affect US policy is also important. Now, the international world is waiting to see how much the US will benefit from the upcoming national elections in Bangladesh.
*The author is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Relations from East China Normal University, Shanghai, China.
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Asia LIve.