A decade ago, Bangladesh used to be on global news for being one of the most politically unstable countries. Violence from strikes, blazes from instigated fires, deaths and murders, bombings, and mayhem were the order of the day. The path of democracy has faced many blockades since its inception. Democracy was derailed after the gruesome assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 15th August 1975. Military or military-backed parties ruled the next 15 years with kangaroo parliaments. In 1991 democracy returned but street politics was more in sway than debates in parliament. Opposition parties used strikes and violence as a method to voice their opinion, but it holds a disruptive effect on the socio-economic development of the countries. The power of the parliament altered between Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Bangladesh Awami League after each election cycle. Again, on 11th January 2007 democracy was paused when another military-backed unelected government took control of the real and tried to push the historical political parties out of the picture.
But resilience from people about the democratic process was strong enough for the return of democracy. In 2009, Bangladesh Awami League came to power under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, daughter of the slain Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. She took a strong development policy with political stability in mind.
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As a result, she helped her party win the next two national parliamentary elections of 2014 and 2018. In her third consecutive term as Prime minister of the country, Sheikh Hasina has brought Bangladesh the official recommendation from United Nations to be classified as a developing country. Bangladesh has shown an incredible growth rate on the major socio-economic indicators. Surely, everything is not perfect at all. And there are still major grounds to cover such as rooting out corruption, diversifying the political foray, ensuring long-term social security, etc. But there is no major violence in the streets. No shutting of the economy for days in the name of strikes. No bomb attack in opposition party rallies.
The world is going through a tough time at present in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and the onset of a raging global event with the Russia-Ukraine war. In the national arena, we are facing price hikes in essential materials such as food and fuel. The rise in fuel prices is a global phenomenon linking it with the Russia-Ukraine war. From the United Kingdom to Zimbabwe, the shortage of fuel supply is an inevitable crisis every government has to handle. On the other hand, the rise in food prices is due to a growing conspiracy by internal business syndicates to an undue increase in profit margin. Both of the reasons can generate political instability, but one is a natural consequence another is created.
In global geopolitics, world superpowers have always tried to interfere in other countries’ domestic affairs and politics. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the old-world order of Imperialism began to defunct. New countries emerged after declaring independence from colonial or imperial rules. With that democracy started to become the most common form of government. Democracy by nature serves the interest of a country’s own citizens first. And with that conflict of interest can often be created with stronger countries. Thus, political direct or indirect political intervention became a tool for the global powers to serve their interest in mind. After World War II, the rift between the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the cold war in the global political landscape. Democracy faced another challenge with the emergence of communism. There are now documented proofs of interference in other countries’ political stability. Iran, Cuba, Egypt, South Korea, North Korea, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, and Argentina are a few of the examples that had to face direct political interference from foreign powers. Sadly, Bangladesh was one of the most suffered countries from political interference. The fall of the Soviet Union saw a period of mono-polar world dominance in the late twentieth century. But, in this millennium Russia and China emerged as global political players. India, Saudi Arabia, and Israel came to the scene as regional powers who have the soft and hard powers to pursue their own interest as well. International institutions such as the UN, IMF, World Bank, etc have also been used to create pressure and disability on targeted countries.
Now, in all the disruption of the democratic process in the history of this country, foreign interference through different diplomatic missions can be traced. Bangladesh faced immense diplomatic challenges since its independence. First, the United States openly opposed Bangladesh’s independence and covertly supported or at least ignored genocide committed by the Pakistani military junta. The US formally recognized Bangladesh in April of 1972. But the socialist policies taken by then President Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman were deeply unpopular with the US policymakers. On 15th August 1975, Bangladesh witnessed one of the darkest chapters of its history with Bangabandhu assassinated along with most of his family in a military coup.
The dark conspiracy of this gruesome event eventually became known through communication between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and cohorts of the coup. Investigative journalist and former South Asia Correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review Lawrence Lifschultz confirmed that CIA’s station manager Phillip Cherry was in contact with several killers before the coup. On 20th March US Embassy in Dhaka received a note from the US state department saying,
“We want your thoughts on the ability of the army to take effective control over the short run, consequences for army control if Mujib is killed, jailed, or forced into exile.”
This effectively proves that officials of the USA at least knew about the coup beforehand. But the further proof of USA involvement in the 15th of August massacre becomes clear when then US secretary of states Henry Kissinger put forward the message of assurance to Khondokar Moshtaq Ahmed who became president of Bangladesh in the aftermath of the killings. US ambassador of that time Davis Eugune Boster received advice from Kissinger,
“you may continue to assure president Mostaq that the US government remains concerned about his personal welfare. We are gratified that a resolution of this crisis in a way that will avoid bloodshed appears possible. You may tell Mostaq that he would be welcome in the United States if he desires to come here. At your discretion, you may also inform the president that, if his life should appear to be in imminent danger, we would be prepared to provide temporary refuge within the embassy.”
The man who gained the most from the aftermath of 15th August 1975, Major General Ziaur Rahman also met with CIA station chief Cherry in a private residence. Ziaur Rahman went to become the president of Bangladesh and ruled for almost six years. Many ally countries of Pakistan only recognized Bangladesh after the 1975 coup including China and many Muslim countries. But he was also assassinated by fellow army officers in another bloody coup. There are many conspiracy theories regarding foreign involvement with his murder also, but no definite proof can be found as all his killers were also eliminated almost immediately without much inquiry. Bangladesh went through another 9 years of military-backed democracy under General Hussain Mohammad Ershad until democracy returned in 1991 through a multi-party general parliamentary election. Bangladesh became a parliamentary democracy from a presidential one.
Even though it was often volatile, and violent, there was democracy in Bangladesh after 1991. On the morning of 11th January 2007, there was another silent coup as top military officers once again stepped into the political process. The caretaker regime backed by Chief of Army Staff General Moeen U Ahmed officially courted diplomats in their effort to disband the traditional political order of Bangladesh by implementing the ‘minus two’ formula. Many ambassadors of Bangladesh openly backed noble laureate Dr. Mohammad Yunus, a friend of ex-US first lady and secretary of state Hillary Clinton, to form a political party. But those attempts remained in theory as they failed to generate any popularity.
Considering Bangladesh’s growing importance in terms of economy, politics, and security, the United States is abandoning its old conception of Bangladesh and attempting to chart the next 50 years of the two countries’ relationship in a new way. In recent times political interference from the USA is significantly increasing compared to a previous times. One of the major examples of interference in Bangladesh politics is to launch a website (https://www.politicsmatters.com.bd/) to tutor the political & governance people of Bangladesh under the direct guidance of the USA embassy in Bangladesh.
In addition, in recent times various comments from the USA regarding our politics, human rights, elections, etc. have also been a matter of concern for Bangladesh. It should be observed that the pattern of democracy, politics, human rights, culture, election, and voter behavior in Bangladesh is completely different from the USA. The tendency to inject the USA pattern of democracy, politics, and culture into Bangladesh is not a sign of good intention. Overall, Bangladesh will have to pay the price in terms of extinction of its democracy, culture, politics, etc. Another fact is that the USA is launching various kinds of barriers like different sanctions, cancellation of GSP, and limiting the facility of international trade from Bangladesh to fulfill their above-mentioned agenda without any significant obstacle from the Bangladesh government end.
ALLEGATION OF HUMAN RIGHT ABUSE HAS OFTEN BECOME A TOOL TO INSERT PRESSURE ON THE GOVERNMENT BY THE USA
“When it comes to democracy and human rights, the United States has raised our concerns publicly and privately. We are concerned about press freedom, especially the Digital Security Act, and several draft laws and regulations that could inhibit press freedom. We are concerned about human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.”Peter Haas, US ambassador
India is Bangladesh’s closest neighbor and ally. She has been a proven friend of Bangladesh since our independence struggle. Bangladesh-India is the longest border shared between the two countries with shared waterways. The bilateral trade between the two countries is over eight billion dollars. Both share a common platform in culture, the fight against terrorism, regional frameworks, and religious harmony.
Unnecessary tensions are often generated between the two countries by irresponsible comments from politicians and the press in recent times. Officially India has always maintained its position of neutrality in Bangladesh’s politics. While it has a visible good relationship with Bangladesh Awami League, it has maintained the same with other political parties including Bangladesh Nationalist Party too. But the generated controversies still put pressure on the political landscape of Bangladesh.
INDIAN HIGH COMMISSIONER’S COMMENT SUGGESTS NEUTRALITY IN BANGLADESH POLITICS
“We look forward to seeing the election process happening in Bangladesh, we look forward to the result of the election and we will work with the next government. For us, we do not want to make any comment on the election of Bangladesh,” –Vikram Doraiswami, Indian High Commissioner
Bangladesh has a colonial root of connection with the United Kingdom. The UK has also maintained that Bangladesh is a key ally in international affairs including security and trade. A large diaspora of Bangladeshis resides in the UK thus the political influence from that soil is inevitable. Tarique Rahman, an opposition leader who is convicted of corruption charges and a conspirator of a grenade attack on an Awami League rally that resulted in multiple deaths, has been given asylum by the UK government. While the UK officially maintains the politically neutral line, the decision to host a convicted person gives a different sign to some quarter of the country.
“The next national election in Bangladesh is going to be a very important moment for all which will help the country build better and productive relationships with its friends globally”BRITISH HIGH COMMISSIONER TO BANGLADESH ROBERT CHATTERTON DICKSON
Bangladesh had a confronting relationship with China early in its history. China opposed Bangladesh’s independence in favor of its ally Pakistan. It took four years for China to officially recognize Bangladesh and that was too after the gruesome murder of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. But the present relationship with China is based on mutual respect for trade and development. China rarely interferes in other nations’ political matters which is their official l policy and that is the case with Bangladesh also.
China has a huge investment in Bangladesh in its development. The debt trap from China can often be a warning cry in international communities as a geopolitical influence. But this could be a big challenge for Bangladesh politics if China ever decides to put pressure. China’s support of Myanmar in the aftermath of the Rohingya crisis in 2017 has inflected a long-term effect on Bangladesh’s socio-economic affairs. China is still a major geo-political block to overcome to achieve the repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar. China also vigorously blocked Bangladesh’s inclusion in QUAD, a regional security cooperation framework.
LI GUANGJUN, ECONOMIC AND COMMERCIAL COUNSELOR AT THE CHINESE EMBASSY IN DHAKA IN 2018
“China hopes the election in Bangladesh scheduled to be held this year will be peaceful, smooth, and stable. We are of course concerned as so many Chinese people and Chinese companies are engaged in trade and business, and also have their investment in Bangladesh.”
Bangladesh has significant international interest with Saudi Arabia and other gulf nations. Islam, the religion of the majority in Bangladesh and the gulf countries is a relationship factor. A huge number of Bangladeshis go to these countries to work and in return sends foreign remittance back home which is a major asset in Bangladesh’s economy. This gives the Arab countries huge leverage over Bangladesh’s political affairs. The gulf countries are a major source of energy security as well. While Bangladesh does not import any significant amount of fuel from any of the gulf nations, they are still a major player in the supply chain.
United Nations, World Bank, International Monitory Fund, etc. are major partners of Bangladesh in its socioeconomic development. Intentionally or unintentionally sometimes the action of these organizations creates political ripple effects. For example, World Bank withholds its funding for the Padma Bridge project with unfounded corruption claims. This was a huge blow to the political stability of the country. Most recently, the fuel price increase measurement by the government was seen as a precursor for IMF to be qualified for funding. UNHCR has become a key organization for Bangladesh since the mass exodus of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to her border.
As we have declared earlier, political interference in other countries is a common geopolitical tool by global and regional powers to serve their interest. As an independent democratic nation, the responsibility also lies within the political community and citizens alike to understand these interferences and prevent them. Often political parties take advantage of these interventions to gain quick access to power. But as a consequence, they get bowed to the foreign powers as masters and the interest of the nation suffers. As Bangladesh is entering a mature age of socio-economic development and political stability, it is very much necessary to keep the nation’s interest first. While we have put the interference aspect of each nation in this article, their contribution to the development of Bangladesh is undeniable. They are all genuine allies of Bangladesh. Therefore, as an ally, it is hopeful that there will be an understanding that Bangladesh is now mature enough to go forward with her democracy without interference. In fact, any interference can derail Bangladesh’s current track of development and rock the boat which can be counterproductive.