Talk about history repeating itself. As Bangladesh goes to the polls exactly a month from now on 7 January 2024, the international community has begun to openly take sides for and against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Fifty years ago, as India fought the Pakistan Army in support of the creation of the new nation of Bangladesh, the US Seventh Fleet sent the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier in a show of strength for Pakistan, but before it could enter the Bay of Bengal, the former Soviet Pacific Fleet had dispatched one of its own ships. There was never a face-off, but the message was clear.
The Cold War was at its height and the world was divided into two blocs, so it was relatively easy to take sides. Today, 52 years on, you would think that the big powers would have learnt from their arrogance of the past. That smaller nations can no longer be used as playthings in service of their own ideology. That if you’re not with us, you’re against us.
Today’s story begins in May with the US announcing a visa policy for Bangladesh that openly called for the promotion of democratic elections in the country. Now, nobody can, or should, argue against the need to safeguard citizens from voter intimidation, stuffing ballot boxes and general violence.
But this new visa policy clearly disapproved of the manner in which Sheikh Hasina was running her country and everyone understood whose side the US was on. (Certainly, not on hers.)
According to the US think-tank Atlantic Council, the visa policy is a “clear rejection” of Hasina’s government. The think-tank cites a number of examples that offends the human rights sensibilities of the Joe Biden administration—ranging from the behaviour of the Bangladesh elite police force called the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), seven of whose officers were censured by the US in 2021, to why the US twice refused to invite Bangladesh for its Democracy Summit.
Fast forward to the last week of November, when the Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, accused the US ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas of interfering in the political affairs of Bangladesh by meeting politicians from opposition parties to discuss anti-Hasina matters and organisation of “anti-government rallies”.
“Such actions amount to nothing less than gross interference in internal affairs,” Zakharova said in a briefing in Moscow on 24 November.
“We have repeatedly highlighted the attempts by the US and its allies to influence the internal political processes in Bangladesh under the guise of ensuring that the upcoming parliamentary elections in the country are ‘transparent and inclusive’,” she added.
Two days later, the US roundly issued a denial, saying it was aware of Zakharova’s “deliberate mischaracterisation” of US foreign policy. On Thursday, the National Security Council spokesperson in the White House followed this up by describing the Russian accusation as “classic Russian propaganda.”
According to the Russians, Peter Haas met an opposition politician in the end of October and talked about mass protests against the Hasina government and promised him support in case the authorities used force against the protesters. The UK, Australia and other Western countries also pledged their support to the Bangladeshi opposition, the Russian embassy posted on its Facebook page.
Source : The Print