by R. Chowdhury 26 December 2022
For some time, envoys of western large democracies in Bangladesh, including US Ambassador Peter Haas, have been urging the host government to ensure human rights, freedom of political activities and hold credible elections. Being a serious defaulter in all these areas, the host authorities could not digest what it called “interference” in its affairs. It inferred Article 41 of the Vienna Convention and reminded the ambassadors that they could not interfere in the internal affairs of the country. However, former Ambassador Serajul Islam contends, in an article in the Dhaka’s New Age on December 14, 2022, that beyond Article 41 there is Realpolitik which follows the ground reality in global activities. Bangladesh graduated from the status of a Least Least Developed Country (LLDC) in the seventies to the threshold of a Middle-Income Country (MIC)-Lower, largely due to the economic support and goodwill of the countries whose envoys it is trying to lecture. In other words, the country which keeps flagrantly flouting international rules in governance has the audacity to point fingers at the hands that feed it.
The regime did not stop at Article 41. It pushed its affiliated groups to challenge the ambassadors at every opportunity. A few of its supporting members of the civil society protested the Joint Statement issued by 15 ambassadors against terror attacks on the peaceful opposition gathering in Dhaka on December 8, 2022. Other groups attempted to assault the US ambassador on December 14 when he went to visit the family of a victim of enforced disappearance for nearly a decade. In Washington, local members of the ruling Awami League submitted a note of protest to the State Department seeking the withdrawal of Ambassador Haas for his undue “interference” in Bangladesh’s domestic matters and “involvement” in opposition BNP politics. Rumor had it that the local Indian mission was involved in the Awami action.
The State Department did not seem to buy it. Its Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sharman reminded her Bangladeshi counterpart on December 22 about the importance of holding free and fair elections, and the safety and security of their embassy personnel in Dhaka.
There is a Bangla saying: অভাবে স্বভাব নষ্ট। (In distress, one tends to lose character). Bangladesh seems to be in that state. Rampant corruption by the ruling coterie left the banks almost collapsed, coffers dry and the international market and support dangerously shrunk. The above-mentioned activities of the ruling element are a few pieces of evidence of disturbed mind. To top it all, the country’s disoriented Foreign Office sought help from the most unlikely quarter: Russia, which usually observes silence on host countries’ domestic matters. Yet, perhaps considering Hasina’s strong support for its war in Ukraine, its embassy in Dhaka obliged. Besides, it was an opportunity to poke at the US, its perennial enemy. The Russian Embassy issued a statement on December 20, 2022, saying that the claimants of developed democracies not only indulged “in intervening in internal affairs of sovereign states, but also resorted to blatant blackmailing and illegal restrictions.” It also extended Moscow’s full support to Dhaka’s pursuit of development goals, free from western “colonial” pressure. The entertaining part of the statement was that Russia remained committed to the principle of “non-interference in the domestic affairs of third countries.”
The US embassy in Dhaka quickly responded by asking if the Russian stance applied to Ukraine, a UN member, on which Moscow has been waging a war of unprovoked aggression since February.
The US is no saint either, if its track record is of any indication. Observers blame Washington for helping install a monster, as well as its questionable continuation in office in Bangladesh, only to see it turn into a Frankenstein soon.
Eminent political analyst Zoglul Husain asserts that Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Israel’s Mossad created JMB and HuJi-B in Bangladesh with ulterior motives. In alliance with Awami thugs, these Islamist outfits conducted attacks on minorities, subsequently putting the blame on the opposition. These dastardly acts were perpetrated to spread the fear of Islamist terrorism and use the pretext to obtain support for their protege Awami League, the supposed secular, otherwise anti-Islamist, party. The US succumbed and became a party to the scheme that saw the January 2007 quasi-military takeover, which most Bangladeshis call a national betrayal. Two years later, a managed election catapulted Sheikh Hasina to power. She stays there to date by defrauding subsequent elections and practicing autocracy.
However, after noting the fascist nature of the Hasina regime, the US slowly distanced itself from direct involvement and left the field open for India to handle. Obsessed with a mistaken notion of Sinophobia–some say a strategic stunt–Washington patronized New Delhi as a counterweight to check Chinese expansion to South Asia and beyond. It even tolerated Indian hegemony over Bangladesh, which soon became a fascist state under the Indian RAW control. To the contrary, the anti-China stance hardly worked, cunning Chanakyas getting best of both sides. The US, however, continued to reflect the Hasina regime’s wrongdoings in its Annual Country Reports. In 2020, in a bipartisan letter addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, the Senators urged the administration to impose targeted sanctions on senior RAB commanders under applicable authorities, including the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. It was recommending sanctions on top law enforcement officials of Bangladesh for its gross violations of human rights that included extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, unlawful arrests and torture.
Things changed for the South Asian nation after President Biden entered the White House in January 2021. Bangladesh was kept away from the First Democracy Summit held in Washington at the end of the year. Soon came the sanctions on the brutal Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and its top officials for serious human rights violations over more than a decade. Consequently, the Dhaka-Washington relations soured, but Sheikh Hasina was in no mood of modifying her fascist practices. Abandoning or relaxing them would mean the end of her regime as she remained extremely unpopular. Another draconian law, the Digital Security Act, ensured that nobody uttered a world against her ruthless administration. For its own geopolitical and economic benefits, New Delhi continued to back Hasina. Its extensive RAW networks in the country ensure that their protégé is not dislodged. At this juncture, in March 2022, Ambassador Haas came to Dhaka with a strong message from his president about democracy, human rights and election integrity.
The war in Ukraine divided the world and weakened the global economy. Bangladesh, which depends on outside money and market, was hard hit. Angered by the US sanctions, Dhaka jumped to the Sino-Russian camp, more so because it was tangled with the two giants by a number of large-scale prestigious projects, in addition to huge case it owes to Beijing. To shield her highhanded corruption and fascist practices, Hasina kept blaming the US for all its economic and political woes.
Seizing the weakening state of the fascist regime, which the opposition calls “illegal” for its repeated election frauds and receiving no public mandate since 2009, the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) made a number of greatly successful rallies around the country, despite facing various hurdles from the ruling elements, demanding the termination of the illegal regime and holding an urgent election under a neutral authority. The concluding rally in Dhaka on December 10 seemed ominous for the regime and it called its sponsor for urgent rescue. New Delhi jetted its spy chief, the Director General of the RAW, to Dhaka and a bloody crackdown on the opposition saved the regime. And, fascism intensified. About 25,000 top opposition leaders landed in jails in ten days, and still counting.
Irrespective of the UN charter of “non-interference,” can the sane world remain silent when 170 million hapless fellow human beings are bleeding and groaning under the fascist practices that at times turn dangerously lethal? Does one of the most corrupt nations that flouts international law on governance and ignores diplomatic norms, randomly kills and gags its citizens, deserve any compassion or consideration?
Whatever! Democracy, human rights and good governance, and above all, humanity cannot be sacrificed at any cost.
“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”Nelson Mandela.
A Bangladesh freedom fighter in 1971, the writer authored a few books and co-authored half a dozen, mostly on contemporary politics of Bangladesh.