The recent withdrawal of “extra” police protocol for foreign diplomats of six countries - including the United States, the United Kingdom, India, and Saudi Arabia by the Bangladesh government has raised a hue and cry. It is however only among people who either tend to believe in rumour or find faults with whatever the Sheikh Hasina government does. They think that critiquing any of government moves will discredit the present incumbent of the Ganabhaban on the eve of the next parliamentary election. The ones who are raising a storm in the teacup about it are the same old ones who treat everything what the government does as discreditable. As an expression of the long-standing political rivalry, the BNP men are shouting from the rooftop that the decision to revoke security protocol for ambassadors will ostracize Bangladesh from the diplomatic world. However, it is very interesting to note that the critics of this recent extra police protocols withdrawal bid would like to conveniently omit the term “extra” from the government statement and want to put a negative construction on it as though the government had withdrawn all security protocols for the foreign diplomats and risked being isolated from the international community. When the BNP folks, who are champions of smear campaigns against the country for their vested interests, are seen to shed crocodile tears for the country’s global diplomatic image, their concerns must come under suspicion.
However, the other side of the story unravels that the government has been surprised to see how, what they have done and not done, has been wrongly construed by their oppositional groups. The concerned ministry has ensured that the withdrawal of extra police protocol for six foreign envoys in Dhaka will not at all strain bilateral ties with those countries. The government has also reassured that they would never compromise the basic security for the embassies and the ambassadors following the state obligations and international conventions. The additional security protocol, the ambassadors and high commissioners of some particular countries were provided with in the wake of the Dhaka 2016 Holey Artisan attack when fears of militancy gaining ground in Bangladesh which later became a mere unit to clear traffic, has been withdrawn as the situation has returned to normality. But the normal security measures for them must remain in place, as per the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961), which contends that “any host country must uphold its obligations to ensure the protection of all diplomatic mission premises and personnel and take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on personnel.” The measures that were being provided under Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s Diplomatic Securities Division have not changed at all. Besides, the police gunmen, as the government sources have confirmed, will continue to accompany the envoys during their movements, and the police personnel designated for guarding the offices and residences of senior diplomats will remain unchanged.
The news of the withdrawal of security protocols from foreign envoys is absolutely preposterous and misleading. Bangladesh government initiative to cut the cost of the extra or additional security protocol, which is a superfluity at this moment in time, is a very timely drive that will do justice to the austerity measures and economic reforms taken by the Bangladesh government in the wake of Covid-19 and the Russia-Ukraine War. It is a welcome decision by all accounts to quit rendering unnecessary and extra service to the foreign diplomats with the country’s taxpayer’s money.
It will also herald that the fears of any terrorist attacks like that of the Holey Artisan no longer exist in Bangladesh. Besides, Sheikh Hasina’s government sounds quite aware of the obligations of a host country to ensure the security of foreign missions and diplomats. How could it be so foolish as to deal with the representatives of the international players without due care and attention? The government is committed to dispensing equal/equitable security protocol to the foreign envoys in Bangladesh, and if anyone feels they need more of it, they can get it at their own cost. The home ministry has already started training a group of Ansar personnel for the security of the diplomats as some embassies have asked for equal facilities for them.
We all know that our capital city Dhaka is worst plagued by the traffic congestion. The extra police protocol, once rendered to the foreign envoys to meet the need of the hour, would contribute to the jam. So, doing away with this must be a positive drive in favour of the reduction of traffic congestion. In addition, the bold decision of withdrawing extra police protocol for the foreign envoys will help the country in many other ways. We are obliged to treat their excellencies – the foreign ambassadors and high commissioners, stationed in Dhaka – the same way as our ambassadors and diplomats, stationed in other countries, are treated by them. For emergencies however, we may have to make some “extra” security arrangements, or take some additional/exceptional measures; but we have to make sure that those exceptions do not become the rule. The practice of preferential treatment of a few foreign diplomats will also do an injustice to all other emissaries employed in Bangladesh. And that will vitiate the true spirit of Bangladesh’s foreign policy spearheaded by the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman—Friendship with all and malice towards none.
Dr. Rashid Askari is a freethinking writer, academic, translator, and former vice chancellor of Islamic University Bangladesh