Earlier this month, US President Joe Biden’s special assistant and US National Security Council’s senior director for South Asia Rear Admiral Eileen Laubacher came to Bangladesh. A couple of days later, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu led a U.S. delegation to Bangladesh. These two top US officials’ consecutive visits were extensively significant for Bangladesh. Especially for Donald Lu, as his role in the decision-making of the US State Department is very important. It was his first visit to Bangladesh which has also caught much attention from its neighbors. This also raised the question, “what were the reasons behind Lu’s Dhaka visit?’’
Reasons behind Donald Lu’s Bangladesh visit
For the mass audience who do not know, Donald Lu is a U.S. top diplomat. He has been serving as a foreign official for the United States government for the past 30 years. As the assistant secretary of state for south and central Asia, Lu is currently focused on this region. The name of this influential official comes to the special discussion by the hand of the former Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan. He claimed that Donald Lu was involved in the conspiracy to shake the foundation of the ruling government through a vote of no confidence. Lu was also alleged to influence the internal politics of Nepal and Sri Lanka. However, in the context of Bangladesh, things were not the same, considering the 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 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. Following Rear Admiral Eileen Laubacher’s visit, Donald Lu had to come to observe the situation as head of the region. Basically, Eileen saw directly, understood, and then submitted a report on which Donald Lu would take political action.
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 intended to visit Dhaka.
Also, against the allegation, Donald Lu wanted to prove through this visit that he was not the mastermind of the regime change referring to the Pakistan incident. Moreover, now he can prove that he has been working to strengthen the ties with the region. Donald Lu’s role in strengthening USA-Bangladesh relations can dispel the misconception amongst the Sri Lankans, Nepali, and Pakistani people that he was not involved in any conspiracy activities in let alone the regime change.
The outcome of Donald Lu’s Visit
Donald Lu met Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister, Minister of State of foreign affairs, and Foreign Secretary separately. Later that day, he said, “I am happy to come to Bangladesh, a country of charming riverside and hospitable people. I am here to strengthen the friendship between our two countries.” When asked if there is any suggestion, he said, “We are very proud, we talked about labor rights today. It is very important for the people and commercial relations of Bangladesh. We are very proud of the progress made in this area.”
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 has been assured that the government is sincere in an acceptable election ceremony. There have been positive discussions on lifting the existing ban on RAB for human rights violations, reinstating GSP, and extraditing Bangabandhu’s murderer.
When asked about the lifting of the ban on RAB, Donald Lu said, “We have had fruitful discussions regarding RAB. Last week’s Human Rights Watch report identified remarkable progress in reducing extrajudicial killings. This is very good work. It is proved that RAB can do the responsibility of preventing terrorism and law enforcement by protecting human rights.”
Before leaving on January 15, Donald Lu said, “The United States wants to strengthen its friendship with Bangladesh and Bangladesh has also extended its hand.” The same message has been given by Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen and Foreign Secretary Masood Bin Momen to improve the relationship between the two countries. The strong bond between US and Bangladesh has benefited thus far from the upcoming high-level bilateral meeting.
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.
This was a “brief but significant” visit to Bangladesh. In addition to increasing bilateral relations with Washington, Dhaka highlighted the withdrawal of the RAB ban, the return of GSP benefits to the US market, and the crisis created in the food and energy sector as a result of the war in Ukraine with the Rohingya issue. All these trips have advanced 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.
Ishtiaq Fardin is a journalist, columnist, and author.