by R Chowdhury 15 May 2023
“I will not buy anything from those who will impose sanctions (on us),” said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at a Convention of the Institute of Engineers, Bangladesh (IEB) on May 13, 2023.
While the regime-serving media entertained the nation for the “guts” of the Prime Minister, it was the social media that became abuzz with tons of sarcasm and laughing materials.
The only known sanctions so far have come from the United States in December 2021 against the notorious Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) for its proven human rights crimes that included extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, illegal arrests and torture. Thus, the finger-pointing was obvious. Let us examine the stake involved in her indiscrete gaffe.
In 2022, the US imported from Bangladesh goods worth $11.8 billion. Whereas, Bangladesh imports from the US amounted to $2.81 billion, thereby posting a $9 billion surplus for the country.
Business apart, let’s see other areas of US’s involvement in Bangladesh.
- The United States is the largest importer of Bangladeshi products, including its Readymade Garments. If the US stops RMG imports, Bangladesh economy will collapse.
- US investment in Bangladesh is about $8 billion, the largest at 20% of the total Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
- Bangladesh is the largest recipient of US assistance in Asia.
- The US has donated more than $121 million in COVID-19 assistance to Bangladesh.
- The US is the leading contributor for the Rohingya refugees’ upkeep, providing $2.1 billion so far.
- US is the largest source of remittance to Bangladesh, at $966.89 million, which is 20% of the total receipt of $4.82 billion, in the last quarter of 2022 (Source: Bangladesh Bank).
- The World Bank has provided about $40 billion to Bangladesh so far in grants and interest-free loans.
- The IMF has recently announced a Rescue Package Loan of $4.5 billion to Bangladesh, which was in a dire situation because of low cash, mostly because of high level corruption.
The US is also the largest contributor to these funding agencies plus the ADB, Asia Foundation, the UN and many other international and NGOs of which Bangladesh is a beneficiary.
One cannot twist the arm that feeds it? Perhaps the US will ignore it. But the slur may not be digested either. It reminds me of the great lines from Sheikh Sadi, the famous Persian Islamic scholar-poet, we all read as children (in Bangla):
কুকুরের কাজ কুকুর করছে কামড় দিয়েছে পায়, তাই বলে কি কুকুরের কাজ মানুষের শোভা পায় ? (When a dog bites, a human cannot bite it back. No disrespect intended).
Fearing the loss of her power, Hasina is vehemently opposed to an election-time neutral caretaker government (CTG) which alone can ensure a reasonable fairness in polls. Elections under her administration in 2014 and 2018 were absolute farce and condemned by almost the entire world. Even the election which catapulted her to authority in 2009 was also reportedly managed and rigged in her favor by her sponsors.
Having been in power, albeit illegally, and running a fascist administration for the past one and a half decade, the Prime Minister tried to make herself secure by maintaining total control over the entire governing system that included the military and police, through fear and favor. The legislature is almost 100% under the ruling coalition. The judiciary is largely partisan. And, under the draconian Digital Security Act (DSA), no person or media can criticize the government or the ruling family. Hundreds are languishing in crowded jails under the DSA, some succumbing to mistreatment. The intelligentsia, the media and the business community are forced to toe the regime line; otherwise, axe looms large on them. On top of that, she has the unqualified backing of her sponsor India, – the two accruing mutual benefits of the deal.
The political opposition is still sticking to its guns for a CTG. The ruling coterie is doing everything possible to divide, disrupt, discredit and destroy the opposition unity so that she could continue her illegal and corruptive hold in authority by rigging the ballots once again. With a neutral CTG, in other words in a free and fair election, the Hasina regime is likely to be doomed, and a democratic governance could be ushered in. Without a CTG, the country will remain in the grip of the fascists, at least for another 5-year term.
As such, to save the nation and its suffering people, as well as to ensure a democratic and patriotic administration, there is no alternative to a neutral, non-partisan CTG.