On 24 May 2023, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new US visa policy under Section 212 (a) (3) (C) (“3C”) of the Immigration and Nationality Act to support Bangladesh’s goal of holding free, fair and peaceful national elections. Under this policy, the United States will be able to restrict the issuance of visas for any Bangladeshi, believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh. This includes current and former Bangladesh officials, members of pro-government and opposition political parties, and members of law enforcement, judiciary and security services.
According to this announcement, actions that undermine the democratic election process include vote rigging, voter intimidation, the use of violence to prevent people from exercising their right to freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, and the use of measures designed to prevent political parties, voters, civil society, or the media from disseminating their views. The Secretary of State also said that holding free and fair elections is the responsibility of everyone— voters, political parties, the government, security forces, civil society and the media. This announcement is to support all those seeking to advance democracy in Bangladesh.
According to the announcement, the purpose of this new addition to the US visa policy is to extend US support to the Government of Bangladesh in holding free, fair and peaceful national elections. However, if this visa ban is not given, will not the election in Bangladesh be fair or if it is given, will it be fair? Can the United States implement this policy to guarantee fair and free elections in an acceptable environment? What does the United States care about if something untoward happens while holding fair elections in Bangladesh? It can be said that the United States wants the welfare of Bangladesh as a friendly country. It may be that there is some other purpose behind it. Only US leaders know the answer to that question.
As per practice, if one wishes to go to America, he/she will apply for US visa in the prescribed manner. If people who have no plans to go to the US want to disrupt the fair elections, this ban will not work at all and it will be meaningless. In that case, only Bangladesh authorities can take appropriate measures against the disruptors. So, on what logic did the United States assume that election disruptors would seek visas to travel to the United States and then they will deny them visas? In such situations, what would be the role of this visa policy for fair and peaceful elections in Bangladesh? There remains a gap, a gap in purpose.
The United States will ask for fair elections, and we will follow that order, it is not the right way for the United States to think so. We will hold fair elections for our needs, to continue the democratic process in the country, to advance the development of the country and people. The people of the country will form the government according to their wills by voting in a fair and peaceful environment. This responsibility lies with all political parties, people and related institutions of the country, not with the US government. Yes, as a friend one can wish well to a friend, but not by denigrating Bangladesh to other countries. Has the United States confirmed that this policy will not be criticised in the international arena?
Who will certify that there is no fair election in the country? Who will be responsible for identifying those disrupting fair elections? Who will give the neutrality certificate to those who will be given the responsibility to identify the disruptors? Will the United States appoint an organisation to monitor the election, or will their embassy in Dhaka do it? It should be ensured that no innocent person is subjected to undue harassment. Because in the political context of Bangladesh, especially in the way that political figures are usually running to the US Embassy with so many complains, there remains every possibility of unnecessary harassment. This issue has not yet been clarified by the US government.
Although no other country in the world has taken any such action towards Bangladesh, but we can guess the reasons why the United States has taken it. They did not do it just to show the world community. What is their necessity? Time has come to consider whether the matter is for the purpose of unnecessary bossing or some other particular reason is working behind it. This time, there is certainly a reason for their interest in Bangladesh which they like to accomplish in the name of elections. Are not they going to stage a new drama? Are they unhappy with Awami League with some of our Prime Minister's recent statements? However, it remains a difficult issue to understand what is in their minds.
A friend can advise a friend, help him, stand beside him in danger, but not bully him. Friendship cannot be sustained by an attitude of lordship or bullying. Such unfriendly behaviour cannot be expected in the friendly relationship existing between Bangladesh and the United States. Such behaviour is unexpected, seen as bad, especially because the world might take it differently. The US leaders are well aware of this. Then for what reason they have to do this with Bangladesh?
Is it wrong that Bangladesh wants to stand on its own feet keeping warm relations with friendly countries? Bangladesh has never involved itself in the dirty affairs of world politics. Bangladesh has continued to walk in the international arena based on its foreign policy principle of friendship with all, malice towards none. The freedom of Bangladesh came in exchange of the blood of millions of martyrs. Bangladesh wants to live happily and peacefully with everyone in the world. Just as Bangladesh does not like to interfere in anyone's internal affairs, it also does not want to poke its nose in anyone's internal affairs. In the United States, there are occasional killings of children in schools, inhumane treatment of blacks, where we do not interfere. We believe they will solve their own internal problems.
The new visa policy has also mentioned the right to peaceful assembly. But this policy will not be very effective in cases where the implementation of rights is resorted to incendiary activities. Those activities involve thousands of workers who never think of going to the United States. However, it is not an easy task to list them by collecting necessary evidences. And such events will not be limited to one place. It can happen all over Bangladesh. In such cases, maybe the names of some leaders of the party will come out. So, one should not think that the question of transparency of the process will be aroused not only by Bangladesh but some members of the international community.
Many political parties have welcomed this visa policy, calling it a positive step for the people of Bangladesh. Is it really so? No matter how the ruling or opposition political parties of Bangladesh, people of different political ideologies, other government or non-governmental organisations, cheered the announcement of the policy or kept tallying their own gains and losses, the US government in fact issued this policy to undermine Bangladesh. It is not difficult to understand. The United States may change or amplify any of its policies, but that should not be framed to undermine other countries. Anyway, it remains doubtful whether this visa policy will be able to bring about any significant change in the political behaviours of our politicians or the ongoing politics of Bangladesh.
The writer is a former Secretary