At that meeting, the Japanese ambassador was asked about the 2018 election. The government didn't appreciate his reply. He had said, "I had heard, (in the last election) that police officials had stuffed the ballot boxes on the night before the election. I have not heard of such an example in any other country. I would hope that this time there is no such scope and such an incident will not occur." Ito Naoki said that it was necessary for a free and fair election to take place here. This was his strong hope. The government was not happy with this, and the election commission and police felt spurned and were offended.
The police's anger was expected because they can say it is their duty to carry out the government's orders, though there are allegations against them that they act like party activists in favour of the ruling party. When the voting took place on the night before the elections in 2018, that was during the Huda commission and everyone of that commission at various times later on, even admitted this. The association of police officials at the time, as far as I remember, did not issue any statement denying the night-time voting.
One of the commissioners of the present election commission, Anisur Rahman, termed the ambassador's statement as unwarranted. The question can certainly be raised as to why did he go out of his way and try to defend the scam of the previous commission?
A pro-government TV channel owned by the family of a former minister, recently ran a report alleging a think-tank that of making purposeful programmes to allow opposition politicians ask foreign diplomats questions that went against the government. Foreign minister Abdul Momen exhorted journalists to spurn the culture of questioning foreign diplomats about internal affairs of the country.
"They should remember that we are no longer a country ruled by others," he said at a press briefing on 21 November.
No one asked him if he had that realisation only after his meeting in April with Blinken. Did he have the same realisation on 18 August when, at a Janmastami event in Chattogram, he said that he had asked for India's help in keep Awami League in power.
"They should remember that we are no longer a country ruled by others," he said at a press briefing on 21 November. No one asked him if he had that realisation only after his meeting in April with Blinken. He also did that have that same sentiment on 18 August when, at a Janmastami event in Chattogram, he said that he had asked for India's help in keep Awami League in power.
Another unthinkable incident occurred in August that seems to have escaped our media's eye. I only saw this appear in The Business Standard.
On 17 August, the foreign ministry organised a dinner at the Foreign Service Academy for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the time, Michelle Bachelet, hoping to win her praise and support.
Intellectuals of the Awami League ilk were also invited to the dinner so that they could highlight how well Bangladesh was faring in the area of human rights.
The Indian high commissioner at the time, Vikram Doraiswami, also spoke at the dinner, saying that the human rights situation in Bangladesh must be seen from an overall perspective. He said that India and Bangladesh were going through similar circumstances, adding that certain human rights organisations were publishing reports based on information provided by anti-government elements (Government representatives, eminent citizens brief UN rights chief on Bangladesh human rights situation, 18 August 2022). Will the foreign minister explain why it was necessary to seek a foreign diplomat's testimony at home to defend Bangladesh to the UN representative?
When people go missing in the US for various reasons, our ministers waste no time in terming these are enforced disappearances. Does Washington summon our ambassador for such remarks?
The government, the ruling party and intellectuals of their camp claim that it is the opposition that gives the foreigners the chance to poke their nose into the country's internal affairs. But the examples given so far indicate that this is not entirely true. Foreigners, generally speaking, do not openly take sides when it comes to which party or leaders will run the country, though the subcontinent is rife with exceptions in this regard.
However, the representatives of these foreign countries (whether diplomats or observers), do take note of the state of human rights and whether the elections are free and fair, that is whether people managed to cast their votes or not, and then they give their assessment of this. That is a part of their regular duties.
They officially, from a government level, release statements on countries where there are discrepancies in the voting and then they release reports with their analysis. The decision on whether the newly elected government or the reelected government is to be congratulated, depends on that evaluation. That is why the Japanese ambassador quite rightly pointed out that his government normally does not comment on the country of any election, but 2018 was an exception. It would be outdated and obsolete to expect that they would shut their eyes and encourage investment and business, and provide assistance, to a country where human rights (including voting rights) were violated.
In this age of globalisation, it is rather surprising to see certain international relations experts having such outdated perceptions. They are unable to comprehend that in countries like the US, UK and other democracies, it is no longer seen as untoward for foreigners to directly or indirectly comment on the internal politics of those countries. Or they intentionally turn a blind eye for political reasons. Let me give a few examples.
Have we forgotten that the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016 during his US visit campaigned for the reelection of President Trump urging Indian Americans, ‘Aab ki bar, Trump Sarker’. Did the US state department in Washington summon the Indian ambassador and protest? Then there was the Black Lives Matter movement with which the politicians and representatives of so many countries of the world expressed solidarity. Then in the ongoing World
Cup too, England's team knelt in silent protest against racism and discrimination and FIFA had to accept this.
Recently in the UK, Liz Truss' mini-budget created an uproar and the US president termed her plan as incorrect and directly criticised it. Is that something that can escape attention? He said he did not support that policy, adding that it was, or course, the decision of the British. Two days later, Liz Truss resigned.
Our ministers have repeatedly mislabeled missing US citizens as victims of enforced disappearences. Does Washington summon our ambassador for such remarks? Surely the foreigners will not get the scope to lecture us if human rights and democratic norms are followed properly. Otherwise, even spending millions on lobbying, it will not be easy to get their certificates.
* Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist.
* This article appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir