US Shifts Policies towards Bangladesh

Jayanta Ghosal

26 October, 2020 12:00 AM printer

Has the spot of blood of Sheikh Mujib dried? The body of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman remained lying in an ice-filled coffin under the garage for the whole day on August 15. The soldiers of Artillery and Armoured Corps remained on guard. The next day on August 16, a few people including military personnel like Major Mohiuddin and Lieutenant Sikander took the body of Sheikh Mujib to Tungipara at around 3:00 in the afternoon. The body was first kept near the bungalow. Major Mohiuddin was creating pressure to hurriedly bury the body in the same condition it was brought there.

But local religious leaders did not yield to that pressure. They insisted that the body of a Muslim cannot be buried without a bath. Then they were allowed only 10 minutes’ time.  However, they were again allowed 10 minutes’ additional time and the body was later washed by a 570 symbolised cloth-washing soap that was brought from a nearby shop. Bangabandhu gave a sari donated by the Red Crescent Society to a poor rural woman and that sari was used as a burial shroud.

I was reading this terrible memoir titled: ‘Bangladesh: Military Rule and Crisis of Democracy’ written by Major Rafiqul Islam. Major Rafiqul Islam was engaged in the pursuit of education. He actively took part in the Liberation War as soon as it started in 1971. And he was commissioned in the East Bengal Regiment during the war. During the War of Independence, he held the responsibility of a sub-sector commander in Sector-7. The holder of a master degree in Chemistry retired from Bangladesh Army in November, 1981.

Why do I suddenly remember his story today? I remember this because several military coup attempts and military coups were repeatedly staged in Bangladesh. Most probably, the army has not forgotten about the November 7 coup of 1975. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman died in a terrible military coup. Of course, the people of Bangladesh witnessed the killing of Ziaur Rahman in 1981. Later, lots of conspiracies were hatched against Sheikh Hasina. When Sheikh Hasina is trying to take Bangladesh towards a secular and democratic state and is striving for the country’s economic advancement and, at the same time, the World Bank and the IMF are giving positive reports then the common people fear for something unforeseen. We simultaneously hear about military coups and advancement of democracy in different countries of the Third World. At the same time, the debt-burdened newly independent countries of Asia, Africa and Lain America lag behind economically. People have witnessed the consequences of illiteracy of people, weakness of democratic organisations and absence of democratic tradition. Both the people of India and Bangladesh have witnessed the same.

On the opposite side, the people have witnessed the colonial tradition of armed forces and their professional training, discipline and organised existence that have widened the path of usurping state power by ambitious military generals. A question has arisen again and again about military rule and its legality. The conscious section of people has revolted against military rule. Sheikh Hasina is guiding towards economic advancement. There also exists religious and ethnic regional conflict.

A long-term policy should also be formulated for determining the inter-state relationship. Whatever is being done by the military rulers, but they never move forward towards the path of democracy. Military rule and strengthening democracy do not go hand in hand. So, no more military rule in Bangladesh. It will have to walk towards the path of democracy. The democratic rule of Sheikh Hasina has been established on a sound footing and is moving ahead with the support of people.

The issue is quite relevant because of US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun’s telephonic press briefing that he held on Tuesday on conclusion of his visit. His India tour that was followed by Bangladesh tour jointly bears significance. Last week, I wrote on Stephen Biegun’s visit. Today, I intend to write on his media briefing. In the briefing, he has repeatedly stressed the need for flourishing of democracy. He has underscored the need for strengthening democracy. When a journalist raised questions about human rights, rule of law et cetera, it was natural on his part to avoid answering them. Not only the US, but the minister and the secretary of any other state cannot speak about such issues of a sovereign state.

From the press briefing it is evident that there exists press freedom in Bangladesh.

India has established a good tie with the US. A lot of people tell that the process had started during the regime of Bill Clinton. Since the premiership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the cordial relationship with the US began. And Bill Clinton came to New Delhi on a visit. He addressed the parliament that raised a hue and cry. When President Bush took over power then many people thought that the relationship would worsen, but it did not. Bush signed a nuclear deal with Manmohan Singh. And there are many examples of warm relationship. A personal relationship grew between Manmohan Singh and President Bush. After Bush, Obama became the US President. Although he belonged to Democrats, but there was no conflict; rather he maintained a trend of sweet relationship with India and Bangladesh. After Obama, Trump took over power. His relationship with Narendra Modi is well-known to all. Not only India, but the relationship of the US with different states of the sub-continent is not associated with Trump or his Republican Party. The difference is quite insignificant.      

The strategy of the US foreign policy is to take forward democracy in Bangladesh, India and the entire sub-continent. A silent message is hiding behind this. And the message is that democracy does not exist in China. There exists a Communist rule for a long time. It is a proclaimed autocracy. There is no multi-party political system. Stephen Biegun in his press briefing mentioned about the Rohingya issue. All must agree that genocide took place in Myanmar that the country denies. It is imperative to create pressure on Myanmar. The US is also playing a positive role for repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar. It is trying and it did not issue any statement that goes in favour of atrocity that is being perpetrated on local inhabitants. But China astonishingly keeps mum. And its stance is almost inclined to Myanmar. 

Democracy is absent in Pakistan, democracy is absent in China, democracy is absent in North Korea. In such a situation, the US, raising a slogan of democracy, is trying to create an axis with India and Bangladesh. And that is important to maintain a strategic balance in the sub-continent. So, last week we discussed about the strategic balance. And it is possible to take forward the discussion through Biegun’s press briefing.

If we make an analysis of the US-Bangladesh relationship, we can see that the ties have improved after lots of ups and down. Sheikh Hasina is also playing an important role in the US bid to create an axis with Bangladesh and India by exhibiting her maturity. Much before the Liberation War of Bangladesh, the US took side in favour of Pakistan as it did not want its disintegration and independence of Bangladesh. It was done as part of the US foreign policy that is related to its war strategy and foreign affairs.

People of the United States and its media stood against the brutality of Pakistani forces. Despite their sympathy to the freedom movement of the people of Bangladesh and plight of one crore displaced refugees, Nixon administration opposed the cause of Bangladesh in many world forums showing sheer indifference to world opinion. This is also a history. The US State Department’s declassified documents are its harsh witness. Now,  the erstwhile attitude of the US government towards different governments of Bangladesh and its present stance differs sharply. I shall tell about the complexity of Bangladesh-India-Pakistan relationship during a period from 1959 to 1975 that has been reflected in the secret documents of the US State Department. As the documents have been declassified, any citizen of Bangladesh or any other country can read or examine them. So, the change in US stance is rare in diplomacy and that it has been changed out of personal relationship or emotional attachment. The scenario of world stage has been changed. India has become stronger enough. The US too suffered a lot from the Chinese dragon’s breathing. In this situation, the geographical location of Bangladesh is important. Noted Indian diplomats and defence experts too admitted it. So, time has come to remain aware about any possible danger that might have to be faced by Sheikh Hasina’s government due to rise in radicalism and Pakistan’s insistence.

The political culture of democracy is not possible under military rule. The people of Bangladesh have a bitter experience of military rule than the people of India. Military coup bids are made time and again. Sheikh Hasina also came under direct attacks. So, when the US tells that Sheikh Hasina’s administration is moving towards strengthening democracy, it can be understood that a change has occurred in the attitude of the US administration towards Bangladesh. In this regard, India thinks the attitude of Sheikh Hasina’s government is very transparent. So, this moment, that the US is trying to build a stronger relationship with Bangladesh is very much relevant and deserves to be discussed further.


The writer is senior journalist of India.

Translated by Z A M Khairuzzaman.