Asia

Bangladesh through US eyes  


By Raheed Ejaz/Prothom Alo

Dhaka, May 16: There is a prevalent belief in Bangladesh that Washington views Dhaka’s actions through the lens of Delhi’s interests. A recent claim by a former Indian diplomat supports this notion, suggesting that the US refrained from exerting pressure on Bangladesh due to India’s influence. What is your perspective?Tensions prevailed in US-Bangladesh relations last year centering the 7 January parliamentary election in Bangladesh this year. Th US now wants to look ahead rather than at the past. However, the US remains firm in its stance concerning democracy and human rights. The visiting US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Donald Lu, made these comments during an interview Wednesday evening.

In the interview with Prothom Alo’s Diplomatic Correspondent Raheed Ezaz and the private TV channel Independent TV, this senior US State Department official spoke about the issue of withdrawing the sanctions on RAB, the state of human rights in Bangladesh, the student demonstrations in the US regarding the brutality against Palestinians in Gaza, the steady growth of China’s influence in the region and other issues.

Prothom Alo : Now that the election in Bangladesh is over, both countries are shifting focus towards enhancing ties and increasing engagement in various sectors such as trade, climate change and security. Has the US chosen to set aside governance and human rights issues as sources of bilateral tensions?

Donald Lu: We have some very difficult issues in our relationship. It is no secret that last year there was a lot of tension over the election issues. In addition, we are working on RAB sanctions together. We are talking about a whole range of human rights issues. We are taking about improvements in the business environment. These are complex things. Labour rights, for example. We are working on these issues together. We have made slow progress and it takes time.

What I have said to the government is, in addition of the difficult issues, let us also find some new areas f cooperation. Let’s try to find a positive agenda because my belief is if we can do some positive things like increasing the number of students going back and forward between our countries, increasing investment in trade, finding ways to work on clean energy so that Bangladesh can improve its environment and fuel economic growth. If we can so these things, I think it will make the hard issues easier to solve.

Human Rights Watch said last year that RAB had dramatically reduced the number of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. That’s great. It’s really good progress. Having said that, we still have concerns. We see that other branches of the law enforcement community are still committing some of these crimes

Prothom Alo : Could you provide an update on lifting sanctions on RAB since Bangladesh seems to be actively addressing the issue of extrajudicial killings? What is the US assessment?

Donald Lu: The sanctions against RAB remain in place. I was here a year ago and at that time we talked about the statement that the Human Rights Watch had made about RAB. Human Rights Watch said last year that RAB had dramatically reduced the number of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. That’s great. It’s really good progress. Having said that, we still have concerns. We see that other branches of the law enforcement community are still committing some of these crimes. We also are waiting to see if there is going to be accountability for past crimes that RAB may have committed.

I know the government of Bangladesh is impatient about the process. We have a process in place. What strikes me is, last year it was noted that the numbers went down dramatically of killings and disappearances. To me that says that RAB can conduct its important charter as a mission and law enforcement mission without human rights abuses. And through that, I hope Bangladeshi people are also happy.

Prothom Alo : There have been complaints from various countries including Bangladesh regarding the human rights situation in the US. How does the US administration respond to such concerns, particularly in light of its own human rights reporting on other nations?

Donald Lu: Let me say as an American, we Americans should be humble. We have human rights problems in our country. And it is true, we point out human rights problems when we see them in Bangladesh and we expect Bangladesh, as a partner as ours, if they see problems, they should point it out to us. I have two children both in university now and I hear a lot of complaints from my kids about what’s going in the United States.

Let me say from my perspective in government, we have had thousands of demonstrations in my country over the past weeks about the situation in Israel and Gaza. Almost all of those demonstrations have been peaceful and have been allowed to go on normally and we have respected freedom of assembly, freedom of speech. There are a few that have resulted in violence, vandalism and hate speech. As our president has said, there is no space for hate speech in America. In those cases police have been involved and in some cases people have been arrested. I know some Bangladeshis and some Americans have questioned whether the police have responded always to violence, or maybe they over-responded. In places where there are accusations of police over-response, there is an investigation. If police have acted with more force than necessary, people will be held accountable. That is what happens in a democracy and we appreciate that our Bangladeshi friends remind us of our obligations.

We want you to have positive relations with all the countries that you interact with, including China. But we also want you to have normal relations, relations not defined by coercion or pressure or unusual debt conditions.

Prothom Alo : The opposition BNP in Bangladesh claims that, influenced by Indian mediationm the US has softened its stance on the 12th parliamentary election. What is your take on those claims made by BNP leaders?

Donald Lu: That is ridiculous. We are a big country. We pursue our interests around the world. Nobody tells the United States what to do, we don’t tell Bangladesh what to do. This idea what we have acted in a way because other countries have told us, could not be further from the truth. We are very committed to supporting the will of Bangladeshi people to have free and fair elections, to have non-violent elections, and last year we took several steps to encourage that. We ended up sanctioning police, members of the opposition and members of the ruling party who were engaged in violence or oppression. We also spoke in favour of meaningful dialogue between BNP and Awami League. We spoke out in favour of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. That is normal. We do that around this region and we will continue to uphold those values in Bangladesh.

Prothom Alo : There is a prevalent belief in Bangladesh that Washington views Dhaka’s actions through the lens of Delhi’s interests. A recent claim by a former Indian diplomat supports this notion, suggesting that the US refrained from exerting pressure on Bangladesh due to India’s influence. What is your perspective?

David Lu: America views its interests in Bangladesh through the lens of America’s interests. We don’t look at it through the lens of China’s interests or India’s interests or Russia’s interests. We have important interests here and we have direct discussions with our Bangladeshi frends and I think those are productive and useful discussions.

It is true that America and India are talking all the time. We are talking about things that happen in the region, in Sri Lanka, in Maldives, in Nepal and sometimes in Bangladesh. I would say that sometimes America influences Indian policy and sometimes India influences American policy. That’s what we call diplomacy. We are doing that with countries all throughout this region. It is perfectly normal. But we look at our interests through American values and American priorities.

Prothom Alo : In recent years the influence of China is growing around the world, including South Asia. Recently the election of Maldives reflected such a phenomenon. After signing the deal for the Belt and Road Initiative BRI, China is now eager to sign the Global Development Initiative GDI and Global Security Initiative GSI with Bangladesh. How does the US assess growing Chinese influence in this region?

Donald Lu: We always tell our partners, we do not ask you to choose. We want you to have positive relations with all the countries that you interact with, including China. But we also want you to have normal relations, relations not defined by coercion or pressure or unusual debt conditions. Where we can see that people have good relations and normal relations with China, is when other countries compete.

I was US ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic. Nobody was competing there. Only China was investing in the Kyrgyz Republic. They did some very bad projects, huge expensive projects that went nowhere and did not provide benefits to the Kyrgyz people. In Kazakhstan next door, western countries – Japan, South Korea, Australia, United States – all of us were competing. The number one investor in Kazakhstan is Holland, number two is the United States. China is number eight. And when China is number eight, China competes normally. It has normal loans. It has normal Kazakh people working in their companies, not bringing in Chinese labour. All I am trying to say is for China to be a good partner of Bangladesh, we need to offer competition for investment, for defence equipment, competition for ideas, for education. The United States would like to compete.

Prothom Alo : How does the US evaluate the situation in Rakhine, and Cox’s Bazar, and the ongoing conflict between the Myanmar military and the resistance forces, particularly concerning the heightened risk of human trafficking, drug trafficking and terrorists, as well as the impact of this on Rohingya repatriation and regional security?  

Donald Lu: I had the opportunity to travel to the Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar last year and I was really moved by the experience. It’s the largest refugee camp in the world. I am particularly moved by the generosity and compassion of the Bangladeshi people. You have welcomed a million people into your country. It is a burden for Bangladeshi people. We want to share that burden. The US is the largest single donor providing assistance to not only the refugees, but we also provide assistance to the Bangladeshi families who live near the refugees. We make a commitment to continue that assistance and to increase that assistance to make sure that all the people of this region –refugees as well as Bangladeshi families are able to live a normal, healthy and safe life.

We are a little concerned that other donors are not contributing enough money. So we talked to the foreign minister today and the foreign secretary about how we can work together – the Bangladesh government and the US, to try to go to other places around the world and ask them to contribute to this important effort.

I am worried. I can see the violence in the Rakhine state. I can see the terrible conditions that exist now in Myanmar. I believe it will be very difficult today for people to go back safely. The UN and all of us who are part of the UN family are trying very hard to create the conditions for the safe return of the refugees. Until then, we are asking Bangladesh to be patient, to continue to support this very vulnerable population. We had a great discussion today about how we can improve the lives of refugees by providing some ability for them to make money to support themselves inside the camp, services for other refugees, or handicrafts or something to help them. We have also talked about the tents that they live in. How can we make them safer and more durable for the monsoon season. I see the commitment of the government, of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, to support these refugees. We are grateful to her and to the Bangladeshi people every day for what they do for the refugees.

Prothom Alo : Thank you.

Donald Lu: Thank you too.

END





Source link

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *