Tuesday, 26 September, 2023

Straight Talks

Let Bangladesh Solve Its Own Problems

Let Bangladesh Solve Its Own Problems

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Since ancient times, diplomats have strived to establish cordial relationship between and amongst nations besides protecting their own economic interest. Except in extraordinary circumstances, countries have tried to maintain such relationship even in war like situations. To facilitate diplomacy amongst nations the United Nations in 1961 drafted a standard protocol commonly known as the ‘Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations’ and it is expected that all the member countries of the world body would adhere to the Articles of this Convention. The Document lays down in details a set of code of conduct for diplomats serving in a third country and the responsibility of the host countries towards their guests by providing all types of security to them along with all the diplomatic staff and their premises. The Vienna convention also in its guidelines mentions that no diplomats will ever interfere in any internal affairs of the host countries. So far Bangladesh has never failed to discharge its duties towards the diplomats operating in this country.

However, there were incidents even in countries like in UK where Bangladesh High Commission offices in London were vandalized by BNP supporters ahead of Khaleda Zia’s corruption case verdict in 2018. The British police could not protect the mission from the goons whereas such incidents are unheard of in Bangladesh. Occasionally some political parties or civil society members rally in Dhaka to express their grievance against certain countries and try to march towards the Dhaka’s diplomatic enclave in Baridhara. The farthest they can go would be up to is Mohakhali where they are stopped by security forces. When Sheikh Hasina recently visited Washington DC to attend a special programme of the World Bank marking the 50 years of partnership between Bangladesh and the World Bank there was a mob of BNP supporters who assembled together to protest Sheikh Hasina’s visit to the World Bank and the language of the protest was quite vulgar and the US security forces failed to prevent such an assembly. Similar incidents were repeated in Britain when Bangladesh’s Prime Minister was in London to attend the coronation of King Charles III. Such incidents are incomprehensible and unheard of in Bangladesh.

 Unfortunately, a handful of foreign diplomats in this country could not stay within the limits of the Vienna convention. There are currently 34 foreign embassies and 28 missions in Bangladesh. Of these embassies and missions few like those of China, Russia, USA, India, UK, Japan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Australia are considered quite important to  Bangladesh because of the long standing trade and economic relationships with these countries. Amongst all these countries the only exception perhaps is the US where its relationship with Bangladesh even before its independence has gone through occasional hiccups though the relationship amongst the people of both countries have always remained warm.

During out War of Liberation when the then US administration under the Republican President Richard Nixon blatantly supported the Pakistan army’s genocide against the people of Bangladesh, the general people of US at that crucial time stood beside our cause. Senator Edward Kennedy from Massachusetts was a very strong voice for the cause of Bangladesh in Washington and regularly came down heavily on the Nixon administration for supporting the Pakistani genocide in Bangladesh. He appeared before the Senate Committee hearing on Bangladesh, visited the Bangladeshi Refugee camps in West Bengal and was the first American dignitary to visit Bangladesh with his wife in February 1972, immediately after its liberation. He met Bangabandhu and expressed sadness over the plight of the people in this country over the entire period of 1971. Nixon’s support of Pakistan’s genocide was due to Pakistan facilitating a US contact with China. The then US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger made a secret trip to China in July of 1971 from Pakistan at the height of our Liberation War. The following year Richard Nixon visited China. It was another example to show that the US foreign policy since the Second World War has  always been driven by its own economic and political interest rather than protecting the interest of others. Often US makes the world believe that it is concerned about the China’s political and economic expansion sweeping throughout Asia and Africa but in reality US very well knows that it is unable to stop the continuous Chinese domination over these regions. It also is aware that it is not possible to stop the global Chinese expansion; so it is better to come to terms with China. In a recent development USA’s all powerful CIA’s Director William Burns travelled to Beijing to meet his counterpart last month. The news was kept secret till the US media broke it.

On March 7, 1971 the day Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was to address the historic public rally at the Ramna Race Course, the US Ambassador in Pakistan, Joseph Farland travelled all the way from Islamabad to Dhaka and met Bangabandhu at his residence and in unequivocal terms warned him that if he unilaterally declared independence that day, US would not endorse it. The relationship between both the countries did not have a good beginning. US recognized Bangladesh in April of 1972 though both President Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger always considered emergence of Bangladesh as their personal defeat. Kissinger always tried to demean the existence of Bangladesh as an independent nation and termed Bangladesh as a ‘Basket Case’ (Bottomless Basket). It was a derogatory statement against an independent nation and will always be on record. When Bangabandhu met President Gerald Ford in his Oval Office on October 1, 1974 Kissinger opted not be in the meeting which is quite unusual. The only senior officer of Ford Administration in that meeting was Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs whereas Bangladesh’s Prime Minster was accompanied by his Foreign Minister Dr. Kamal Hossain and Bangladesh’s Ambassador to US Hossain Ali. One of the saddest moments was when the US Administration ordered ship load of food grain aid destined for Bangladesh to return back to US in 1974, at the height of Bangladesh’s unprecedented food crisis following a series of natural calamity. The reason cited was Bangladesh sold about 25 thousand bales of jute bags to US’s ‘enemy’ country Cuba.

Anyone having trade relations with any US’s ‘enemy’ country could not avail any food aid under US PL480 food for friendship programme. This was not known to the new Bangladesh Government. This unkind action of US Administration only increased the number deaths in Bangladesh due to starvation.

The assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with his entire family on August 15, 1975 was within the knowhow of US Embassy in Dhaka. Few of the assassins had close contact with CIA’s Station Chief in Dhaka Phillip Cherry. He had dinner with Ziaur Rahman along and his wife in Dhaka few days before the fateful dark night in the house of a local businessman. Zia and Cherry had an hour long private discussion in the lawn of the businessman. (Lawrence Lifschultz, A long road in search of the truth, Dhaka Tribune-August 16, 1975, Christopher Hitchens, The Trial of Henry Kissinger). What transpired between the two may not be clear but what is clear the meeting agenda did not include anything holy.

The assassinations of August 15 were never publicly condemned by US and it did not hesitate to recognize the governments either of Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad or General Zia. US still harbour at least one killer of Bangabandhu and his family, in spite of the fact that Bangladesh on a number of occasions has requested the US administration to repatriate the killer(s) of 15 August which never happened. In the recent times the relationship between both the countries has unnecessarily entered a hazy phase. The Bangladesh observers at home and abroad think this is something that could easily been avoided for the greater mutual interest of both nations. For this the local politicians and some civil society member must also share their responsibility. No country on earth is free from domestic political problems. The difference may be in degree but not in kind. But inviting foreign diplomats to interfere in such matters has never been seen as prudent or wise. The local problems have to be solved locally. Nowhere in the world will one see so much of activities from foreign diplomats trying to indulge in the local political problems.

Egyptian military rulers have displaced elected government in that country but every country including US has managed to keep a warm relationship with that country. Myanmar a modern day version of a tyrannical state has a very special place in the hearts of all big powers. Disregarding all these facts all big powers including the ASEAN countries have managed to maintain their bilateral relationship with Myanmar intact. Things went so far that whenever Bangladesh tried to raise the nagging Rohingya issue in the UN Security Council, it was torpedoed by these superpowers. Historically military and royal dictators found a special place in the hearts of US administration. If no dictator was available they created one. Since the end of the Second World War they have set examples of disrupting political stability in countries like Iran, Vietnam, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina, and Haiti and in many other countries of Africa and Latin America.

Over last few decades US foreign policy decisions have always been against the interest  of democracy or even human rights, the latest being the handing over the rule of Afghanistan to the Taliban, the heinous force the US for more  than a decade tried to annihilate. They spent billions of dollars, thousands of people lost their lives for a cause which did not contribute in any way towards establishing peace in the region. Over the last fifty years, the global power balance has changed drastically and so far US has lost many of its long term friends. Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey have settled their old scores which may not make Washington happy. China has virtually monopolized its economic dominance over Africa. Virtually the entire Middle East has moved more towards China for its economic gains. Countries in Latin and Central America have always been suspicious about their neighbour in the North. The US-EU relationship chemistry has changed recently following the Ukraine-Russia war. In Asia still South Korea, Twain, Japan and Bangladesh have good trade and economic relationship with US. India stays on the middle of the road, more aligned towards Russia. The case of Bangladesh is unique in the sense that it enjoys a very important geo-strategic location and has a virtual control of a large part of the Bay of Bengal, a territory perceived to have enormous rich natural resources. Large US corporations have already set their eyes on these resources. During the recent visit of Sheikh Hasina to Washington Chevron Bangladesh President and its Managing Director met her and expressed their intention to explore for mineral resources in the Bay of Bengal. Sheikh Hasina did not commit anything to them. She very well knows that such companies always look after their own interest. The US has always been a very important development partner of Bangladesh. Bangladesh receives a substantial amount of direct investment from US. In 2022 investment from US to Bangladesh has risen by 35% and it is the largest investor in energy sector. It has facilitated the training of our security personnel and provides millions of dollars of scholarship to our students. The Covid-19 time help provided to Bangladesh will always be remembered by the people of this country. Having said all these it will be wise and prudent on the part of US not to interfere in the internal matters of Bangladesh as prescribed under the Vienna Convention. Bangladesh has been a tested friend of US and let it remain so and the bondage of friendship has always grown stronger when the country had a stable government.

 (The writer is an analyst and a commentator)

Source: Sun Editorial