Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) members stand guard outside a polling center during the city corporation election in Gazipur, May 25, 2023.
by Nandita Roy 28 May 2023
The new visa policy announced by the United States for the upcoming elections in Bangladesh is not for any particular person or group of individuals. The United States announced it from a very simple position.
They take such a position towards different countries around the world. However, as a reference to the case of Bangladesh, the visa ban will apply to those who will hinder the upcoming elections to be fair, free and peaceful. It seems a bit premature. Because the election is more than six months away. So far, we do not see any environment which indicates that the next elections will not be free and fair. It seems they wanted to send an advance message with this announcement.
Six months ago, the United States decided on a new visa policy for Bangladesh due to the fear that the next election will not be fair. When the United States takes such a position in relation to various countries, such a decision comes in the context of many ‘misunderstandings’. That is, when the bilateral relationship goes through a bit of mis-understanding, the US can take such a decision. Such tension has been going on with Bangladesh for the past few years. It is in this context that the United States has taken such a position. But it does not seem to weaken the government too much. Nor does it seem to have much impact on bilateral relations between the two countries. Because there is an understanding between the two countries, in any context the country has taken such a decision. However, the United States has given a message not only to the government, but also to various parties and forces in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh-US relations are very multi-dimensional. The relationship is based on the interests of both parties. The United States also realizes the importance of Bangladesh. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Donald Lu also made that clear in a televised interview Wednesday night. For 52 years, the foundation of Bangladesh-US bilateral relations has grown considerably. Some conflicts of interest arise in these relationships. For example, the United States often has misunderstandings or conflicts of interest with Japan, South Korea, or the United Kingdom. Yet at the end of the day, they are on the same platform. This kind of conflict between the United States and Bangladesh is not unusual. Especially since the US ban on RAB came on December 10, 2021, a strain in the relationship between the US and Bangladesh began. In this context, the Bangladesh government has tried to convince the United States in many ways that there is no logical basis for the sanctions on RAB. But the United States also tried to interpret it as their own. The US decision is a message to all of actors, including political parties. We are surprised by such messages from them. Such a decision puts Bangladesh under a kind of pressure. The big reason behind this is the failure of all our political parties. That is why we are in this situation today. This is where I feel bad or worried.
We understand that there is a tension in our relationship with the United States. But there are a number of places that are very important in terms of relations with the United States. Economy is one of them. To tell the truth, many countries in the world are not in the democratic process. Some of these countries do not even have a shred of democracy. But the US has relations with those countries. I am not aware that the United States has taken any such decision against them in establishing democracy in those countries.
Bilateral relations are sustained through many efforts. There will be misunderstandings. Any diplomatic relations are managed. Bangladesh also has this diplomatic skill. Surely, they will not take any action harmful to such a relationship.
The USA did not tell any single party or government about the cancellation of visas. Applies to all. Here the government, any political party, law enforcement and their families are also housed. A decision was made with such a large scope and how they (criminals) determine it, it is not clear to me. Visa cancellation is not a big deal here. Coming to such a decision is definitely stressful.
The US is our biggest trading partner. As a single country we export the largest number of products there. As a result, the US is our biggest market. The country is also in the first row in terms of remittances (expatriate income) coming to Bangladesh. As a result, commercial relations should not be affected. Recently, the Prime Minister said that She will not buy anything from those who will impose sanctions, whether this is an indication of deteriorating economic relations, however, I think these are political statements. The implementation of the political statement is very difficult in this age of globalization era. I think, Bangladesh and the USA will be able to dispel their misunderstandings shortly.
However, The US is ‘pleased’ with the Bangladesh government’s response to the new US visa policy aimed at free, fair and peaceful elections, the country’s State Department has said already this.
In a press briefing of the US State Department on Thursday, spokesman Matthew Miller said in response to a question, “I will say that we are happy that our decision has been welcomed by the government of Bangladesh.”
But in the end both sides will come to some kind of compromise. Because here the US wants to use a political issue, where elections are not the only issue. There is of course another factor, which also involves China and India. Now everything will be negotiated between the two parties. The issue of elections in Bangladesh has been questioned by some before, such elections have been held in Bangladesh before. But then no such warning came. It is coming now because the global situation is much more mature, where elections are not the main issue. Elections are a weakness of the government; the United States wants to exploit this weakness. In other words, in the global context, Washington has taken the strategy of putting pressure on Dhaka to save the interests of the United States in Bangladesh. Apart from this, currently Bangladesh’s relationship with China is deepening, Russia is implementing the mega project development of Bangladesh, and the United States is not satisfied with Bangladesh in these matters.
The new visa policy announced by the United States for Bangladesh is a part of their diplomacy. The US does not want Bangladesh to be with countries it dislikes, including China and Russia. For this, Washington has taken a strategy to put pressure on Bangladesh by announcing such a visa policy. This announcement is also largely tactical. Because the announcement seems that the government is under a lot of pressure. But careful consideration reveals a different meaning. The visa policy in the United States is a new strategy. What happened to that? What will happen if we do not go to the United States? The people of Bangladesh understand these strategies of the US that what they want.
The US says the new visa policy applies to both the government and the opposition in Bangladesh. The US ambassador in Dhaka, Peter Haas, has already said that the US will not mediate to bring any party to the elections. This policy is not only any political party. For example, if BNP and its allies try to prevent the election by force, disrupt the election through tactics like violent protests, their leaders may also run into trouble with the new US policy.
Some say that the United States talks about free and fair elections but does not mention participatory elections. There is also no issue of caretaker government. Both of these are the main demands of BNP. Did the United States avoid them for their impartial evidence? I also think that the United States is trying to send a message that it is neutral in the politics of Bangladesh. For this reason, the mentioned topics are not included here.
For months, the United States has tried to say it wants to see free and fair elections in the country. Through this visa policy, it wants to make the speech more important. United States has always been a partner country of Bangladesh. Bangladesh also understands that. This relationship will progress based on the interests of both countries.