Washington has not yet tabled a formal proposal to Bangladesh as to how the latter could be a part of its Indo-Pacific Strategy.
Dhaka will take its time, despite it being a priority issue for US president Donald Trump’s aide Lisa Curtis, who had recently visited Bangladesh.
During her meetings with foreign minister AH Mahmood Ali and foreign secretary Md Shahidul Haque, Lisa Curtis broached the issue, but on both occasions, she was told that Bangladesh would see the documents first and then make a move, diplomats say.
Lisa Curtis, deputy assistant to the US president and senior director for South and Central Asia at the National Security Council, visited Bangladesh in the first week of March.
During her visit, she put focused on the Rohingya crisis, Bangladesh’s inclusion in IPS and the upcoming national elections.
However, during her talks with the prime minister’s security adviser Tarique Ahmed Siddiqui, she stressed strengthening security ties between the countries and procurement of arms from the US.
She wanted to meet prime minister Sheikh Hasina, but she was given a cold shoulder. The PM’s international affairs adviser Gowher Rizvi met her instead.
While speaking on the IPS and Bangladesh’s inclusion, Lisa mentioned the joint declaration by US president Trump and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi that had wanted Bangladesh to be a part of the instrument.
When asked, foreign secretary Md Shahidul Haque said, “Yes she did say that the Trump administration wants Bangladesh in the IPS. But we have told her that we need to look into the details. So, we have asked them how the US will implement this and what role Bangladesh will play.”
Former Bangladesh ambassador to the US, M Humayun Kabir, said, “I think there is a negative aspect to this policy, which is to contain China. The US wants to serve their own interests, but we have to make it a win-win situation. We have to see how this will benefit us. Besides, it has to be competitive not combative. Both the US and China are our close allies, so we better wait and see what happens.”
China now has access to South Asia through the deep seaports in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which has certainly become a concern for the US. The Bangladesh visit of Chinese president Xi Jin Ping in 2016 and his pledge to make huge investments have further intensified the concern. So, there is no doubt that IPS is just another means to keep China in check.
However, the US cannot rival the huge investments China has been flaunting. It is uneasy over the increasing ties between the two Asian countries.
But Bangladesh has made it clear that it will be with nations that help it in its development. The way the US is moving forward with the IPS, Bangladesh has to make a move, sooner or later.
Experts say Bangladesh will take time and analyse the situation before committing to the IPS.
Over the last decade, US has further strengthened its ties with Bangladesh in combating terrorism and militancy and Lisa Curtis expressed her satisfaction to this end.
During her meeting with Tarique Ahmed Siddique, the prime minister's security adviser, Lisa stressed defense and security cooperation between the nations. She also recommended buying arms from the US.
She stressed faster exchange of information between the countries to better combat terrorism. If both the parties can exchange list of suspects, it will make the fight easier, she said. Dhaka said it has to be done within a legal framework.
Tarique sought US help to augment the ability of Bangladesh’s defense forces.
Major General (retd) ANM Muniruzzaman, a prominent security analyst and president of research organisation Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies (BIPSS), told Prothom Alo, “The policy the US is talking about has to have more clarity. For our own interest we want to work with everyone. We cannot join an initiative that goes against anyone. We have to make the best use of our geographical position cashing in on the changes that are imminent in relation to maritime cooperation. But first we have to take stand on principle, deciding which way we should go.”
*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Quamrul Hassan.