By John Rozario
Bangladesh is increasingly recognized as an important country in Indo-Pacific competition. As a result of this, the upcoming parliamentary elections in the country are gaining importance in the international community. In such a situation, the diplomatic neighborhood has become active with the national elections ahead. In the last few months, the movement of important diplomats and public officials of influential countries has increased in Dhaka. its number will increase in the future.
A high-level delegation of the United States is coming to Dhaka next week. The delegation includes US Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Uzra Jaya and Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Donald Lu. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Jose W. Fernandez may Come next week. The visit will start from July 10 and the delegation members will stay in Bangladesh till July 13.
Meanwhile, India’s Foreign Secretary (East) Saurabh Kumar came to Dhaka on Wednesday (July 05) before the American delegation. Saurabh Kumar, who is on a one-day visit, will hold a meeting with various officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka. That is, Saurabh came before Lu. All in all, electoral diplomacy has accumulated in Bangladesh this year. The government will spend a busy time till next September with the activities that have started in the international arena around the elections of Bangladesh.
There was already curiosity about the US delegation’s visit. Curiosity has increased with the arrival of the new Foreign Secretary (East) of India. But the interest of many revolves around Donald Lu. This will be Donald Lu’s second Dhaka visit to Bangladesh after last January. The new US visa policy for Bangladesh was announced in May shortly after Lu’s Dhaka tour. Before this, the name of Donald Lu has been discussed the most to oust the Imran Khan government in Pakistan. Ousted former prime minister Imran Khan directly blamed Donald Lu for ousting the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government. Since then, Lu has been dubbed by many as a ‘regime change’ specialist on the social media platform Twitter.
However, it is thought that the United States delegation coming to Dhaka ahead of the elections, through dialogue, their misconceptions about Bangladesh will be removed. Foreign Minister Momen said at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday that Bangladesh welcomes the talks of the United States on the elections. A dialogue with high-ranking diplomats from the United States who are coming to Bangladesh will remove misconceptions about Bangladesh. However, the foreign minister thinks that whether the United States sanctions some members of the Rapid Action Battalion or RAB – it is a matter for that country.
He said that the issue of lifting the ban on RAB depends entirely on the political will of the United States. The foreign minister said that the United States was given a wrong idea about Bangladesh. That effort is still ongoing. He also said that the government is not worried about the US visa policy based on the election.
Incidentally, the United States announced the visa policy for Bangladesh on May 24 to ensure free and fair elections. Since then, the field of politics has started to heat up to a new level. Amnesty International, Human Rights and 12 Congressmen have issued strong letters and statements questioning various issues including human rights and democracy in Bangladesh. In response to this, the United States has been severely criticized from Bangladesh government. As a result, there is an uneasy atmosphere between the two countries in the discussion of foreign policy. In this situation, the multifaceted importance has increased as the visit of this delegation of the United States is final.
The agenda of the US delegation’s visit mainly includes issues like elections and democracy. Along with politics and elections, the Rohingya crisis and labor rights will be important in this discussion. The Bangladesh government, however, does not like foreign intervention in resolving political crises. This visit carries considerable importance. The United States is talking a lot especially about the upcoming elections in Bangladesh. Maybe they will talk about these things. All in all, the tour seems to be anything but conventional.
This election year has started with various diplomatic challenges. The backlash between the US and Russia and China over Bangladesh’s internal affairs has added a new dimension to the challenge after the untoward incident with US Ambassador Peter Haas in Dhaka last month. In addition, the opposition political parties are continuing negative propaganda against the government in the international arena. Public comments and activities of diplomats of various powerful countries posted in Dhaka on the election and human rights situation in Bangladesh are increasing the discomfort of the government. Considering such a context, the government is emphasizing on diplomacy to enhance and maintain friendship this year. The aim is only one, that relations with any country should not deteriorate during the election year. Instructions have also been given to the concerned heads of missions to strengthen relations with the important states for the country’s economy. Along with the government, the government has taken various initiatives as a party to face the diplomatic challenge.
The closer the elections, the more such visits will increase. The activities of the West regarding the elections of Bangladesh were there before. This time there will be more. But Bangladesh must be committed to held free and fair elections. The United States supports free and fair elections everywhere. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government have committed to supporting free and fair elections in Bangladesh. Had PM Hasina any other intention, she would not have requested the Commonwealth, international community to send election observation teams. Bangladesh wishes to see this announcement in the larger context of the government’s unequivocal commitment to conduct free and fair elections at all levels to uphold the country’s democratic process. Moreover, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has on several occasions reiterated her commitment for fair polls. During talks with the UK Foreign Minister, Hasina expressed her belief in Westminster type of democracy and made it clear that her government is determined to hold fair polls and she assured it at the Qatar Economic Forum (QEF).
India’s Foreign Secretary (East) Saurabh Kumar is coming before the US delegation – it is not unusual when asked if there is any other message here. India also has an interest in Bangladesh elections in particular. Not only India or USA, many other countries will want to come in the context of socio-economic progress of Bangladesh.
Some issues are gaining importance in the discussion as the time of national elections in Bangladesh approaches. These are: how the election will be conducted, how strong the opposition is and what the impact of American pressure might be. However, it is true that in the past year, several senior officials of that country, including US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu, US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas and State Department Counselor Derek Cholett, have publicly called for free and fair elections in Bangladesh. Several other countries have followed the US lead. All in all, the Bangladesh elections are being closely watched by the US, India and China. Bangladesh’s long border with India, strategic location on the Bay of Bengal and economic potential makes it an attractive ally for Indo-Pacific competitors.
These top US officials’ consecutive visits are extensively significant for Bangladesh. Especially for Donald Lu, as his role in the decision-making of the US State Department is very important. It is his second visit to Bangladesh which has also caught much attention from its neighbors.
Lu was also alleged to influence the internal politics of Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. However, in the context of Bangladesh, things are not the same, considering the first visit went smoothly in terms of various priority issues between the countries.
According to the US embassy, Donald Lu visited Bangladesh to deepen the comprehensive global strategic partnership. Of course, he had brought some agenda of Washington to Bangladesh in this visit. During his first visit, Lu delivered a few messages about the political security of this region. Lu emphasized democracy, participatory elections, human rights, and the security of embassy officials in Dhaka as the meeting successfully wrapped up.
The United States is one of the most important countries considering Bangladesh’s diplomatic interests. Recently, the USA is very interested in further strengthening bilateral relations. Bangladesh also intends to deepen and enhance its ties with the US. The US is indeed increasing its engagement with Bangladesh not only to press for free and fair elections, human rights, and labor rights, but also for drawing the country on its side under its Indo-Pacific Strategy. Despite differences in opinions on some issues, the US wants to advance its relationship with Bangladesh and push for its foreign policy. And this was one of the major reasons why Lu intends to visit Dhaka. Dhaka has already declared its 15 points ‘Indo-Pacific Outlook’. Washington and Delhi interest is same here.
Here, the United States wants to see an acceptable election with the participation of all parties, which will truly reflect the aspirations of the people. On behalf of Dhaka, the U.S. minister had been assured that the government is sincere in an acceptable election ceremony.
US policymakers and diplomats have traditionally played a crucial role in strengthening the US-Bangla friendship. The same role was played by Donald Lu. In the last 2 years, 17 mid and high-level bilateral visits have taken place. The reason behind such many visits is expanding relations and short-term disagreements that need to be solved. The Indo-Pacific strategy and Bangladesh’s geo-strategic significance are also behind this deepening engagement.
As a result of deep engagement and long list of priorities, the visit will bring several implications for Bangladesh. Firstly, the visit will increase diplomatic communication bilaterally and will serve as a continuation. As Lu is the top diplomat for the US in this region, the meeting will provide opportunity for both countries to hold talks on pressing issues. And lastly, this visit will also provide Lu with a personal opportunity to regain his image as he has gained notoriety in other South Asian states. It could be an opportunity for Lu to reconstruct his image by working on mutual interest rather than using coercive methods.
The US-Bangladesh relations and its latest trend is favorable both countries. Bangladesh’s neutrality and balancing policy is also accommodative of US objectives in the region as it will not bring any threat to any rivals. The routine visits are good signs for the bilateral relations as these provide opportunities to share on disagreements and helps locating opportunities to pursue together. For Lu, it is also an opportunity to reconstruct his diplomatic image. Coercive diplomacy only drives nation far away. In this context, Lu’s visit may bring many positive implications not only for Bangladesh but also him.
This would be a “brief but significant” visit to Bangladesh. In addition to increasing bilateral relations with Washington, Dhaka should clarify and highlight its recently declared Indo-Pacific outlook, commitment to held free and fair elections. All these trips will definitely advance the friendship and bilateral cooperation between the two nations while fostering stronger ties. More US officials are likely to visit Dhaka later this month and the next.