Bangladesh Has High Hopes For Future US Assistance – OpEd


Recently the US Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya visited Bangladesh to discuss shared humanitarian concerns. The US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu and Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Asia, Anjali Kaur were also part of the delegation. They traveled to Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar from July 11-14.

This was a “brief but significant” visit for Dhaka, as this high official’s visit aimed at advancing “shared solutions” to global challenges; contributing to a more free, open, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific; and bolstering humanitarian support for refugees and host communities throughout the region. Since the new US visa policy, there had been misunderstandings between the US and Bangladesh. However, the visit has taken the edge off the ties and assured future assistance; honoring the 50 years of partnership between the countries.

Why did top US diplomats visit Dhaka?

Under Secretary Uzra Zeya is a senior US official and her mandated area is quite wide. Zeya leads global diplomatic efforts to strengthen democracy, advance universal human rights, support refugees and humanitarian relief, promote the rule of law and counternarcotics cooperation, and eliminate human trafficking. As this was her first visit to Bangladesh, it has caught much diplomatic attention from its neighbors. This visit was the subject of widespread fascination in the political circle due to its proximity to the general elections a few months away. This also raised the question, “What are the reasons behind these top diplomats’ Dhaka visit?’’

According to the concerned office and diplomatic analysts, it is known that the country’s political issues were not in the US delegation’s tour schedule. They came mainly to visit the Rohingya camps, to discuss how to work together more broadly on human rights issues in Bangladesh. During this three-day visit, Zeya discussed labor rights, human rights, human trafficking, freedom of expression, and protection of the rights of the minority with the representatives of the civil society as well as the government. 

While in Bangladesh, Under Secretary Zeya had warm and productive meetings with the Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Law Minister Anisul Huq, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, Foreign Secretary Masud bin Momen, and other senior officials from the Government of Bangladesh.  She also met with labor activists, civil society leaders, and human rights defenders. During these meetings, Zeya emphasized the importance of working together to achieve Bangladesh’s goal of free and fair elections; the crucial role of civil society, human rights defenders, journalists, and labor activists; accountability for human rights abuses; and the need to continue support for Rohingya refugees. She also visited Rohingya refugees, humanitarian partners, and Bangladesh senior government officials in Cox’s Bazar.  

Moreover, Under Secretary Zeya announced more than $74 million in additional U.S. humanitarian assistance to support Burma and Bangladesh’s response efforts, including nearly $61 million to support Rohingya internally displaced in Burma, Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, and their host communities. This brings total assistance to more than $2.1 billion since 2017 to help Rohingya and host communities. Under Secretary Zeya also announced a $1 million grant from the State Department to the Freedom Fund and its partners. This program will provide reintegration services to more than 500 children who have been exploited by human traffickers.  

Under Secretary Urza Zeya concluded her Bangladesh visit with a commitment to stronger ties. “Bangladesh is a vital partner in our goal to ensure a freer and more open Indo-Pacific.  Our partnership is anchored by shared democratic principles and respect for human rights,” Zeya stated. As in the aftermath of any important meeting, everyone had been searching for indications about what the future may hold. As the purpose of this visit was to clear up misunderstandings on certain issues, Bangladesh may expect future US assistance in the upcoming days too.

Bangladesh wants to deepen ties

Since the inception of diplomatic ties, bilateral relations between Bangladesh and USA have come a long way and improved to a great extent. Over the last decade, cooperation in trade, investment, and security, particularly in counterterrorism, has strengthened. Bangladeshi items have a large market in the US. Along with this, the trade balance between the two countries favors Bangladesh. The US is Bangladesh’s single-largest export destination, with annual exports of about $11 billion. 

Following this, Bangladesh and the US can “move faster together” in expanding trade and investment connections. Bangladesh not only stressed developing the factories but also made a significant improvement in terms of labor rights, including the amendment of the labor law and registration of trade unions. However, instead of all these, the US has been focusing on the remaining issues. At the meeting, Bangladesh called on the US to provide duty-free facilities to Bangladeshi readymade garment products made using cotton imported from the Western country.

Bangladesh expects that Uzra Zeya will work to transform the existing bilateral relations into a strategic partnership in which Bangladesh will be considered on its merit. For the US, Bangladesh is one of its major partners in South Asia with extensive bilateral cooperation on trade, investment, climate change, counterterrorism, and so on. Apart from economic benefits, a strategic partnership with Bangladesh can help the US to gain its strategic objectives in South Asia. The US must recognize that Dhaka is allied with Washington. Peter Haas, the US Ambassador to Dhaka, praised Bangladesh’s contribution to promoting peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, saying the US wishes to work with Bangladesh to achieve their common goals.

To establish the finest ties possible between Bangladesh and US, this meeting played an important role. The entire relationship between USA and Bangladesh has benefited thus far from the high-level bilateral meeting. All these visits have advanced the friendship and bilateral cooperation between the two nations while fostering stronger ties. Differences between Dhaka and Washington narrowed through these high officials’ visits. It is hoped that Bangladesh and US relationship would reach a new height through this top official meeting as Bangladesh hopes high about future US assistance.

Ishtiaque Fardin

Ishtiaque Fardin is a freelance columnist and author.

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