Democracy and rule of law may be challenges in the days to come

Flags of Bangladesh and the US

Issues like democracy and the rule of law may become big challenges in taking forward relations between Dhaka and Washington, former Bangladesh diplomat has said.

Former Bangladesh ambassador to Washington Humayun Kabir said, "We have to keep in mind that friendly countries like the US primarily want to see us as a democratic country. As a result, they are providing facilities to developing countries like Bangladesh to strengthen democracy."

The former diplomat made the remarks when he was asked about diplomatic relations between the two countries following meetings of various levels between Bangladesh and the US last week.

Bangladesh and the US have expressed satisfaction over the completion of 50 years of diplomatic relations. Both the countries are emphasising on strengthening partnership in the next 50 years.

But the recent sanctions on Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) by the US has emerged as a challenge in taking forward the relations of the two countries to the next step.

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On 4 April, Bangladesh foreign minister AK Abdul Momen held a meeting with US secretary of state Antony Blinken.

On 6 April, the security dialogue between two countries was held in Washington. Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen led the Bangladesh side while Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Bonnie Denise Jenkins led the US.

During the visit to Washington, Abdul Momen held discussions with several members of the US council of representatives and senate. Meanwhile, Masud Bin Momen held meetings with United States Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman and White House National Security Council senior director Sumana Guha.

US officials including the secretary of state have stressed on human rights, the rule of law and freedom of speech alongside taking forward partnership in different sectors.

Returning to the country, while talking to the newsmen, foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen said Wendy R. Sherman talked about the next national election expecting it to be free and fair.

Relations of next 50 years

When asked about relations of next 50 years between the two countries, Humayun Kabir said Bangladesh will concentrate on an inclusive society for the sake of its own interests.

Former Bangladesh ambassador to Washington thinks when Bangladesh will go to the competitive market, the image of the country will come up. If the democratic practice does not exist, Bangladesh may face challenges in different sectors including investment.

Challenge in democracy

Research organisation Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) president Humayun Kabir thinks the challenge seems to be for sanctions on RAB that would not be so challenging in reality. The main challenge would be for democracy.

Explaining the matter, the former diplomat said earlier, the priority of US administration on global policy was to tackle terrorism. After Joe Biden took over as the US president, the policy has been changed. Now their priority in global policy is democracy.

Humayun Kabir said after the establishment of RAB, alongside training, the US is providing the technical and financial assistance. Following the imposition of sanction, these facilities will be stopped.

He said Biden is giving emphasis on democracy in their policy. Keeping China in mind, he is talking about struggle for democracy and against autocracy. In the context of Russia-Ukraine war, the struggle between democracy and autocracy has become clearer. Supporting Ukraine, Washington is making it clear that democracy will be priority.

Under such circumstances, Bangladesh has to keep in mind that the US will give more stress on democracy in the days to come.

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Lacking in understanding

Bangladesh politicians were vocal in criticism in public against US although the country's relations with the US were multifarious in the last one decade.

About the contrary relations of Dhaka-Washington, Humayun Kabir said, "Our concept is very weak about the outside world. The depth needed in the outlook and understanding to go ahead adjusting with all countries is lacking. Alongside this lacking in politics and administration, this lacking also exists at a social level."

Humayun Kabir said, "The US contribution to Bangladesh agriculture is remarkable. The US has a special role in supporting Bangladesh in tackling climate change. Bangladesh has got the highest amount of vaccines as gift from the US. The way these issues should have been evaluated, we don't see in that way. There is a limitation in our thinking. For this we cannot evaluate this properly."

Consideration of economic priority in IPS

Geo-political competition centering Indian and Pacific Ocean is increasing. The US from the beginning is expecting Bangladesh to join Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS).

When asked what would Bangladesh's strategy be over joining IPS, Humayun Kabir said alongside the US, UK, Germany, France, European Union (EU) have declared separate IPS centering Indian and Pacific Ocean. It is being observed all are gradually showing interest centering this region. Whether Dhaka will join it or not, it is the sole decision of Bangladesh. Bangladesh should now concentrate the economic elements of IPS. Bangladesh should not concentrate on military division or military competition.

Humayun Kabir said there is no harm to join IPS if Bangladesh gets assistance in different sectors including ensuring maritime security and tackling risks of climate change.

Considering arms procurement

Emphasis is being given to diversifying arms procurement in a bid to fulfill Forces Goal-2030 to modernise Bangladesh Armed Forces.

Humayun Kabir said this is natural that the US will come forward keeping in mind the requirements of Bangladesh. Several issues should be kept in mind if Bangladesh considers US as the source of military weapons. For example, the arms that can be purchased from the US if it can supply the type of arms Bangladesh wants and if the prices are competitive.

Humayun Kabir said there will be an opportunity for Bangladesh to benefit in various ways if overall relations of trust are built with the US. There is a strategic value too if deep trust of relations is built with the US.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print and online editions, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.