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Possible Outcomes of Donald Lu’s Dhaka Visit

  • A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman
  • 19th January, 2023 05:03:58 PM
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On January 14, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu came to Dhaka on a two-day visit. During the visit, he had meetings with Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, Law Minister Anisul Haque, Prime Minister's Advisor Salman F Rahman, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam and Foreign Secretary Masood Bin Momen. Besides, he also met our labour leaders to discuss labour related issues. Both sides spoke to journalists and answered various questions on the issues they discussed in those meetings. It is to be noted that Donald Lu was a member of the delegation when the US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland was visiting Dhaka in March last year.

Among the issues discussed were- 1) lifting of US sanction on RAB; 2) labour rights; 3) human rights and freedom of expression; 4) Indo-Pacific Strategy; 5) trade and investment; 6) various bilateral cooperation; 7) coming general elections; 8) security of US diplomats working in Bangladesh; 9) safe repatriation and resettlement of Rohingyas; etc. Statements from both sides after the talks indicate that discussions held between them were fairly fruitful. They have also expressed their hope that the relationship between the two countries would be stronger in the future and that the areas where there are some problems, especially the sanction on RAB and the human rights issue, initiatives would be taken to improve the situation. However, the US Assistant Secretary of State has indicated the monitoring of the implementation of Bangladesh's commitment to make the upcoming national elections free, fair and participatory.

Although this visit of Donald Lu was for a short time, he was able to discuss with many people. During the discussion the two sides openly expressed views on important issues. He listened to Bangladesh position and also explained the US position on each matter. In particular, while the US sanctions on the RAB dominated the discussion, there was extensive talk about human rights, freedom of expression and elections. Regarding lifting of the sanction on RAB, Donald Lu said that there had been remarkable progress in reducing extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh. He hoped that RAB would protect human rights while carrying out its counter-terrorism and law enforcement duties. However, he indicated that it will take some time to withdraw the sanction as it is a very complicated process. In this context, it can be said that if further improvement in the current position of RAB is observed during 2023, then the sanction might be withdrawn after the general elections to be held in 2024. The US may take a 'slow way' to lift the sanction to keep the Awami League government under a little pressure until the next election.
Donald Lu has assured his country's cooperation in the development of labour rights in Bangladesh. However, he expressed satisfaction with the progress in this field. During the discussion on bilateral trade, when the restoration of Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) for Bangladeshi products in the United States was raised, it was informed that it needs the approval of the US Congress. One can understand that Bangladesh must put aggressive efforts to get positive results in this regard. The US has always stood by Bangladesh on the Rohingya issue and has assured once again that US will continue to do so in the future. In fact, for the United States, this issue has now become a routine matter. The inclusion of Bangladesh in the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) was also discussed. As informed, there was a substantive discussion on this issue between the two sides. However, Bangladesh is not in a position to say something now on this issue. She has to take decisions considering various regional and sub-regional aspects. The current world political equation and the overall position of India, China and Russia are very important.

Whatever we talk about a country’s sovereignty or equality, all vanishes at the will of a few powerful countries in the world. The stark truth is that in today's world, developing or poor small states have to accept this reality or risk of stumbling or falling. Therefore, the developed countries, including the United States, are not missing the opportunity to dictate the small and poor countries. Bangladesh is not an exception. Sometimes it hurts to think that we liberated Bangladesh from the Pakistani army in 1971 through a bloody war. As many people supported us that day, the governments of powerful countries like the United States or China opposed us. Although the world situation has changed a lot by this time, the mentality of many countries has not changed as required. Maybe we also could not hold the spirit of our great liberation war. The people of this country, especially those involved in politics, need to be more careful about the sovereignty and image of the country.

However, we hold the same sentiments as Donald Lu has said, “The United States has made a commitment to democracy and human rights. We speak when we see problems, when we can offer suggestion. We stand up for freedom of speech, freedom of expression. We look forward to moving very closely with our partners here in Bangladesh.” Bangladesh certainly appreciates the policy of the US not to interfere in the internal affairs of any country, but to help in solving the internal problems through sincere suggestion or cooperation. And Bangladesh also believes in this policy and has been following it. Bangladesh always wants to move forward together as a development partner of the United States.

If the Awami League can make the upcoming national elections free, participatory and as fair as possible, it is very unlikely that it will face any major pressure from outside. In this context, the recent interview of Michael Kugelman, Director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Centre in Washington, taken by Mark Leon Goldberg (a senior journalist) of the Foreign Policy Playlist, may be mentioned. Mr. Kugelman had mentioned several achievements of the current government of Bangladesh, especially in the areas of health, economic growth, poverty reduction, counter-terrorism initiatives, etc. However, he also said that Bangladesh is lagging behind in the democratic aspect. He identified Bangladesh's democracy in the same category as many countries in the world, including this sub-regional countries India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. He also said that before Awami League came to power in 2009, there were repression, torture and disappearances during BNP's rule. According to him, Awami League still has the ability to show success and the party also has massive public support.

As Donald Lu has said, he is here to strengthen the friendship of the two countries, while the world is struggling for peace and justice; the people of Bangladesh also believe in world peace. We want Bangladesh's relationship with the United States to be widened, constructive and stronger. To ensure the well-being and welfare of the two countries and their peoples, the governments of the two countries should move towards development based on mutual respect and trust. However, it is also very important to support all efforts taken by both countries to protect their own interests in global or regional politics. Many problems can be solved easily if one understands the other. The people of Bangladesh can pledge to support the United States in all ongoing struggles for peace and justice as the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the thunder voice for world peace had dreamt in 1972. But all must be done in a spirit of cooperation on the basis of mutual respect and equality, to bring the people of the two countries closer.

Donald Lu's visit bears some significance in the context of the upcoming general elections in Bangladesh, the situation created due to the US Ambassador in Dhaka and the current world political scenario. At the end of every discussion between the two sides, our ministers spoke many positive words and expressed many expectations while talking to the journalists. According to the Foreign Minister, discussions were held on how to make the relationship between the two countries more meaningful and better. He expressed satisfaction that both sides have reached a consensus and look forward to better days ahead. On the other hand, Donald Lu himself spoke a lot of good things while talking to media people, and gave hopeful words. One can expect some positive results from this visit. However, Donald Lu will surely present a report to his government on his return home. What he will say in that report, what would be his recommendations, and what steps the US government would take in response to that are very important. We have to wait till then.
 

The writer is a former ambassador and secretary