Mohammad Zainal Abedin writes from NY
Ruling Awami League general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam on November 28 branded American Assistant Secretary of South Asia & Central Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal, as minister of ‘dhuee ana’ (two pennies). This is viewed as crossing the boundaries of diplomatic norms, courtesy and decency. While addressing a conference of the AL at Khulna, he said, “Visiting Nisha Desai Biswal is a minister of two pennies; not even of four.” He, as reported, also insulted US Ambassador to Bangladesh Dan W Mozena comparing him with maidservant. Such childish comments may isolate Bangladesh further from international community while uncovering the mindset some of our ministers.Bangladeshis in America and elsewhere in the world felt insulted and didn’t get the logic why Mr. Ashraf so furiously attacked Nisha Desai side tracking the diplomatic channel in such defamatory manner. The leading members of the Bangladesh community living in various towns and cities of America expressed their utter displeasure and disappointment as they didn’t to know what actually prompted Ashraf to utter such abusive and indignant words against Nisha Desai. They even didn’t find any logic why Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina avoided Desai and opined that at least for courtesy the PM should have talked to her. Such policy of the government needs proper evaluation. The nation remains in dark over this sensitive issue. Neither PM herself nor anyone on her behalf clarified why she avoided Desai both in Katmandu and Dhaka. Nisha Desha is not an ordinary American national. She represents American government wherever she goes. Our PM should have guessed what repercussion Bangladesh may have to face due to the utterances of her minister and her avoidance of Desai.
Knowledgeable circles among the Bangladeshi community criticised the PM alleging her own interest is considered above everything. They said, about a million Bangladeshis now live in America and their annual remittance to Bangladesh is considerable. New Bangladeshis are coming to America almost daily. Bangladesh is the third US aid recipient country after Afghanistan and Pakistan. So we should not make America an enemy country.
America is still a superpower both militarily and financially and will dominate the world for decades to come. A friendly relationship with America will go a long way to strengthen our economy and even secure and safeguard our independence and sovereignty. Bangladesh will get nothing from annoying America.
Some of the Bangladeshis in a bid to unearth the inner reason of such unusual gesture opined that so-called over-reliance on a big neighbour prompted a minister to disregard American Minister.
Desai had an officially scheduled meeting with the PM. So, according to Bangladeshis living in the US, no reason is considered enough to cancel the scheduled meeting. They opined, there is little realisation of the damage if even, America or any other country breaks diplomatic relations with Bangladesh or takes retaliatory steps, and the ultimate sufferer will be the country and its people than the government.
Desai might have asked the government to hold free and fair acceptable midterm election, what is the most unpopular and unacceptable proposal to the Prime Minister. She is ready to give away everything, but not snap polls; rather the government appears desperate to continue to rule.
Observers opine it is not a difficult matter to imagine why Ashraf uttered so harsh words and the government’s lack of warmth towards Desai during her visit. They echoed almost identical reasons of the gesture. Firstly, the government is not ready to hold any election under a non-party neutral government, what is now a prime demand not only of the opposition parties, but also the international community. Secondly, the government is desperate to continue its tenure at least up to 2019 and beyond. Thirdly, the government is determined to crush its opponents branding them as corrupt, militants or terrorists.
The government seems to be assured that none can cause any harm so long as neighbours remain satisfied even if the vital and strategic keys of Bangladesh are undermined. The government allows even third grade officers of neighbours or even so-called cultural delegations to meet her whenever they come to Bangladesh, it is felt.
Overseas Bangladeshis feel that neighbours don’t tolerate that America, China or any other powerful country should have strong and deep relations with Bangladesh. They don’t desire that Bangladesh should have the right to have or develop same relations with America or any other country. There are also efforts to show it publicly that America or any other country shouldn’t poke their noses into Bangladesh affairs.
Prior to the election of January 5 (2014) Salman Khurshid, the former foreign minister of India urged America to see Bangladesh through the mirror of India. He said: ‘America ought to attach due importance to Indian attitude and sentiment towards Bangladesh. (Amader Somoy, Dhaka, January 2, 2014). He added, ‘It is our region, we realise right or wrong centering this region.’ On the other hand, all other ministers in the government fear that they might lose jobs once free and fair election is held under a caretaker government for what the opposition once organised militant movement in the streets of Dhaka and elsewhere in Bangladesh. Their political foes and a large segment of the common Bangladeshis are incidentally considered threats to their interests. According to Bangladeshi expatriates this explains the cruel policy of supressing the patriotic opposition forces applying various unlawful techniques.
By doing so the government isolates Bangladesh from the rest of the world, what unfortunately goes in favour of geopolitican interests of neighbours. Bangladesh has already lost its trusted friends in the Arab and European regions. China and all other East Asian and Southeast Asian countries maintain relations with Bangladesh for their economic and strategic interests. Few heads of state or government of the influential countries like America, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, South Africa and Brazil visited Bangladesh for the last one year.
The latest treatment with the American Deputy Minister will surely affect Bangladesh’s relation with the rest of the world, as none will welcome such gesture and none will come forward to salvage Bangladesh in case of internal violence or external external threat.
Bangladeshi Americans strongly feel bad about the way Nisha Desai was dealt with. They also feel insulted seeing the extent of hollowness of the policies of those who run their country. Still they feel America shouldn’t take any punitive measure against Bangladesh because that will enhance Bangladesh’s dependence on others. They suggest to American policymakers to lift the embargo on Bangladeshis garment products, as it makes the people, not the ruling class, suffer. Americans shouldn’t throw Bangladesh away out of anger caused by some people. Bangladesh or Bangladeshis should not be the victims of such a wrong policy.
American policymakers should also know a group of people at the instigation of some quarters deliberately incite foreign friends. Their prime target is to keep America out of Bangladesh that repeatedly demands holding of free, fair and inclusive election participated by all the political parties. America officially objected to the election of 5th January, as voters massively stayed away from the same. A vested quarter nurses a strong group to launch slanderous propaganda against America. It doesn’t mean that anti-American sentiment is extremely high in Bangladesh. Being liberal and democrats Bangladeshis in general view America as a good friend. A recent survey shows that 76 percent Bangladeshis like America. Americans should attach due importance to the results of this survey and give proper value to the sentiments of the Bangladeshi people. American and international community shouldn’t leave Bangladesh alone and help pave the way for holding credible election under a neutral government for sustenance of democracy in the country.
(The writer is a iournalist and researcher based in New York. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Mohammad Zainal Abedin writes from NY