The question of foreign interference into the internal affairs of Bangladesh has come up for discussion again. This has started with a remark by Chinese ambassador to Bangladesh Yao Wen. In an event in Dhaka on Tuesday, Yao Wen said China supports the stance Bangladesh has taken in rejecting foreign interference in internal affairs. Is there any interference in the internal affairs of Bangladesh? This question has arisen.

Many political parties and analysts think the issue of interference arises in Bangladesh at different times and especially ahead of elections. 

A section of analysts, however, do not consider the activities of foreign diplomats ahead of elections as interference. They argue the diplomats try to put a sort of pressure to resolve feuds among the political parties. The analysts blame the political parties for this. However, both ruling Awami League and BNP said there is no foreign interference.

Why foreigners get scope

Both the parties try to woo the support of influential countries. The attempt increases during the election, which is visible this time too. So they consider the activities of foreign diplomats as a normal phenomenon and they have no secrets about this.

But there are differences in the stance of two parties in some cases concerning the activities of diplomats. The party in power acts in one way while the party out of power acts in a different way. The party out of power goes to the foreigners with different issues including human rights and election. The ruling party criticises this. 

Whenever a remark of any foreigner dignitiary goes against the interest of any certain party, it sees the remark as pressure or even interference. On the whole, the political situation in the country enables the foreign diplomats to talk about the internal affairs of the country. The people of the county are well about this.

Ahead of the next general election, the diplomats of Western countries including the US are holding meetings with political parties and expressing their opinions. They are in favour of the participation of all political parties in the next election. 

Indian foreign affairs secretary Vinay Kwatra visited Dhaka in mid-February. He said during the visit that his country has full support for the leadership of prime minister Sheikh Hasina. Japan’s diplomats do not usually make any comment on Bangladesh’s internal politics,  but Bangladesh's strongly objected to a comment the Japanese envoy made on the previous general election.

The interest of foreign diplomats ahead of Bangladesh’s general elections in nothing new. However, experts observe that comments made by some diplomats of influential countries this time around on the political situation had gone in favour of some party or the other. This has led to increased discussion on foreign interference or pressure.   

Blame game of two main parties

Replying to questions of a journalist, prime minister Sheikh Hasina in her press briefing on Monday said she does not bow down to any pressure from the foreigners ahead of the election. The Chinese ambassador on the following day said that China supports Bangladesh’s stance on the question of foreign interference. Many leaders of BNP questioned the remark of the Chinese envoy asking whether the country took any side by making such a statement. And ruling party leaders think the Western world including the US has taken a side over the election.

Foreign diplomats tend to engage on discussions before the elections to increase their own importance. They do this in developing countries
Amir Hossain Amu, AL's advisory council member

Although the two sides have such conflicting interests, neither want to term the activities of the foreign diplomats as meddling in Bangladesh’s politics. They seem to be in the same boat on this question, an exception since the both parties seldom get on the same page even in the issues of national interest.  

The event of Bangladesh-China Silk Road Forum, where the Chinese envoy made this remark, was attended by Awami League’s advisory council’s member Amir Hossain Amu alongside BNP’s senior leader Abdul Moyeen Khan.

Amir Hossain Amu told Prothom Alo that there is no foreign interference in Bangladesh’s politics. “Foreign diplomats tend to engage on discussion before the elections to increase their own importance. They do this in developing countries,” he said.

The senior Awami League leader does not want to term this as interference.

Many BNP leaders think that China, India and Russia are directly supporting Awami League. On the other hand, the ruling party leaders are of the opinion that the US and the Western world have been talking in support of BNP ahead of the general election.

BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir is also of the same opinion. Fakhrul told Prothom Alo that BNP does not see any interference of the foreigners.

The question facing both the parties is whether the foreign diplomats’ stance on Bangladesh is influenced by current global politics. Many BNP leaders think that China, India and Russia are directly supporting Awami League.

On the other hand, the ruling party leaders are of the opinion that the US and the Western world have been talking in support of BNP ahead of the general election. Such observation led to criticize of the Western world by many Awami League leaders.

Awami League leader Amir Hossain Amu told Prothom Alo that the diplomats are talking about the election as the BNP leaders are going to them repeatedly.

BNP leader Mirza Fakhrul, however, thinks that the Western world speaks up on the Bangladesh’s elections from their democratic values and ethical standpoint. He thinks the Chinese envoy has taken an overt stance on Bangladeshi politics by his remarks.

Meanwhile over the recent weeks, the diplomats of Western countries have held several rounds of talks with with senior leaders of Awami League and BNP. Both parties have expressed their respective stances on the next general election during these parleys.

Awami League-led 14 alliance leader and Workers Party president Rashed Khan Menon terms the stance of the two parties as manifestation of their weaknesses. He told Prothom Alo that the foreign diplomats are interfering here and Western diplomats including that of the US are openly making remarks ahead of the election.

He blamed both Awami League and BNP for such situation. He said diplomats cannot meddle in the internal affairs in other countries—India or even in Pakistan—the way they talks about Bangladesh’s internal matters.

Political feud is crux of problem

Many experts think that Awami League and BNP cannot reach an agreement about even any petty issue. The influential countries take the chance of such disagreement of the two big parties and talk on the country’s internal matters ahead of the elections.

The experts exemplified the international pressure on the government during the trial of war criminals of 1971. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina on several occasions also complained of facing international pressure over the trial. She hinted that the pressure was from the US. Experts think the foreigners often try to interfere in Bangladesh’s internal matters directly due to disagreement among the political parties here. 

Former diplomat Humayun Kabir sees the matter from a different perspective. He thinks no country can remain insular in today’s world. As differences prevail among the political parties on the electoral system, it is not unusual for other countries to share their opinion on the problems as our development partners. It is a part of diplomatic relations. And they also speak as our development partners.

Bangladesh’s failure to establish an acceptable electoral system and resultant feud among the political parties has been giving the foreign powers chance to talk on the country’s internal politics. Even Awami League and BNP leaders do not seem to have any disagreement with this notion. But the room for interference of foreigners would remain there as long as our political parties would not be able to bury their hatchet. Even the two big parties should not disagree with this fact. But, question remains as to whether they would walk towards finding a solution.