Monday, 24 January, 2022

Sanctions on RAB Officials

India May Lend Support to Bangladesh

Jayanta Ghosal

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Bangladesh and India before her retirement from office. At that time, she also came to Kolkata where she sat in talks with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. On return to her country, she stated that her tour objective was to visit Bangladesh. As a reason she mentioned that she could not visit the country during her tenure as the US secretary of state. Hillary Clinton commented that it is most essential for the US to strengthen diplomatic ties with an independent and sovereign state like Bangladesh. Hillary also mentioned that Bangladesh might be smaller in size, but considering its geographic and strategic location, it is imperative on the part of the US to maintain a cordial relationship with Bangladesh.

Not only Hillary Clinton, but another US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, too mentioned time and again in her autobiography that she had stressed on taking forward the US-Bangladesh relations in the coming days. We have never forgotten the past events of 1971. America was not in favour of recognizing Bangladesh as a separate and sovereign state which was born through a bloody freedom fight. At that time, America openly took the side of Pakistan.

Today, after so many years, the expectations of Hillary and Condoleezza Rice faced a big jerk following an unfortunate event of slapping sanctions on some incumbent and past officials of Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). RAB is engaged in combating terrorism and the US 2020 Country Report on Terrorism (CRT) has also implicitly acknowledged it by stating that Bangladesh experienced a decrease in terrorist activity in 2020. The report issued by US State Department also stated that the Bangladesh government continued to articulate a zero-tolerance policy toward terrorism and the use of its territory as a safe haven for terrorists. The US report was issued just a week after the US imposed sanctions on RAB officials, and RAB itself as an entity allegedly over human rights abuses. After the incident, the US Ambassador to Bangladesh was summoned at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka to convey the government’s discontent. He was also asked to explain as to why the sanctions were imposed by the US Departments of Treasury and of State.

Can anybody imagine about imposition of such sanctions without any consultation? Similar sanctions were imposed against Myanmar and China. Insiders at the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs think it as a diplomatic move. India is concerned about imposition of sanctions on the RAB officials.

The incident happened at a time when Bangladesh was celebrating its 50 years of victory in the Liberation War as well as the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The way India and Bangladesh celebrated the 16 December Victory Day is praiseworthy. On one side, Narendra Modi came to the War Memorial close to the India Gate, while a big contingent of army arrived at Kolkata's Fort William. And, on the other side, the Victory Day was celebrated in Dhaka by holding a grand programme. It was attended by Indian President Ram Nath Kovind, his wife and daughter. He stated that he had been overwhelmed at the sight of Bangabandhu and hearing his fiery speech. He instantly took a decision to do something in his lifetime by following the ideals of Bangabandhu.

When India is engaged in establishing fraternity with Bangladesh and trying to bring the country closer to it, just at the moment, the US took the haughty decision. What is its main objective? The US intends to face China technologically as part of its war strategy. In such a situation, Bangladesh was harmed when China assisted the country by supplying the vaccine as well as by strengthening its defence sector. Not only China, but Pakistan too is eager to establish friendship with Bangladesh. At this moment, the US step is not at all deemed as a right decision. At least India thinks so.

Then what will be the role of India while maintaining cordial ties with the US? At the moment, India’s political conflict with China took an intense turn. If war breaks out, then it will be on two fronts. Bipin Rawat openly announced this before his death. In this situation, India is too much dependent on the US. At a period when sanctions were slapped on the RAB officials, it is the duty of India to lend support to Bangladesh and take necessary initiatives to start a dialogue with the US on this question. Till now, India did not issue any statement in this regard. According to sources at the Indian foreign ministry, a communication process has just started.

In recent times, the US imposed sanctions on 15 persons and 10 forces/ oganisations around the world. These seven former and incumbent RAB officials are included in the list. Amid sanctions row, the US secretary of state made a phone call to Bangladeshi foreign minister and expressed good wishes to Bangladesh government when Mujib Year and 50 years of the country's Victory Day got underway.

So, it can be assumed that the US can realise very well that it would finally be the loser if it adopts the path of conflict with Bangladesh. Always the diplomatic status and importance cannot be determined by the geographical size of a country. Now, the Sino-Indian enmity is on the rise. Similarly, the Sino-US enmity is growing too. Now it would not be wise to offend Bangladesh and push it to China-Pakistan-Russia axis.

In this situation, it is hoped that India would play its role in creating pressure on the US through diplomatic channel so that the latter finally comes to an understanding with Bangladesh.     


The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.

Translated by Z A M Khairuzzaman