Farhad Chowdhury: Every time while the national elections come up in Bangladesh, foreign diplomats become active. Along with the visit of delegations from different countries, the engagement of ambassadors appointed in Dhaka increases. The 12th National Assembly election is no exception. Foreigners have been active in the politics of Bangladesh for almost a year. Among them, the activity of the United States has increased more than at any time in the past. Analysts believe that especially the US Ambassador Peter Haas’s running has surpassed the activities of politicians around the elections.
According to those concerned, US Ambassador Peter Haas is conducting various activities before the national elections. In this he is leading Western diplomats. The government has repeatedly expressed its displeasure with the activities of the US envoy on politics and elections. Despite that, Peter Haas continues to talk about fair, free and participatory elections, dialogue-reconciliation, non-arrest of opponents of the government and media freedom in discussions with various circles. Even recently he has been calling for unconditional dialogue.
The positions of the two main political parties in the country regarding the 12th National Assembly elections are completely opposite. According to the constitution, the ruling Awami League is stubborn in the elections under the current government. However, they also promised to make the elections fair and free. On the other hand, BNP has clearly stated that they will not go to the elections under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government. They are agitating for the resignation of the government and one-party elections under a non-partisan government. The party’s general secretary and top leaders were arrested and sent to jail due to the violent incident centered around the BNP’s general meeting on October 28. Massive arrests are going on across the country. Analysts believe that the distance between the two sides has increased due to these reasons.
They say that in the present reality it is difficult to reach an agreement through dialogue between the two main parties. The US ambassador should also understand that. Despite this, questions have been raised in various quarters about the purpose of Peter Haas’s activities just before the schedule was announced.
Related sources say that the United States has been involved in Bangladesh elections since the beginning. Washington continues to send messages to Bangladesh to ensure free, fair, participatory and peaceful elections. But above all else, Peter Haas’s diplomatic activity in Dhaka has caught everyone’s attention. Often, he is having public and secret meetings with various political parties, important people of the government, civil society, business representatives, etc. Talks between the officials of the two countries are also continuing in Dhaka and Washington. After October 28, they also increased their activities with the message of dialogue to resolve the ongoing political crisis.
Analyzing recent developments, the US announced a new visa policy for Bangladesh to ensure fair elections on May 24 amid the ban on RAB. After this announcement, the activity of US Ambassador Peter also increased significantly. Meeting after meeting and tea-party took place at the US Embassy in Dhaka, Peter Haas’s residence, the American Club, and even the offices of major political parties. At this time BNP and their allies also became stronger. Along with the movement, their speech became stricter.
It has been found that the US ambassador has held several important meetings in the last two months. Notable among these are – discussion with the editors of various national dailies on October 19, meeting with Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal on October 22, meeting with Principal Secretary Tofazzal Hossain Mia on the same day, meeting with Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal at the Election Commission Secretariat on October 31, 2 Closed-door meeting with Foreign Secretary Masood Bin Momen at Rashtriya Bhavan Padma on November 6, the US Ambassador met with Saber Hossain Chowdhury, Member of Parliament of Awami League and Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Climate Affairs. Apart from this, Peter attended a dinner with BNP leaders at his Gulshan residence on the initiative of Syed M Altaf Hossain, director of Pragati Life Insurance Company, on October 25. There has been widespread discussion and criticism in various arenas around that meeting. Although there was also a representative of Awami League. However, most of the discussions of the meeting have not been disclosed in detail by either side to the media. It is believed that these meetings could exchange messages from Washington on the ongoing political crisis, especially elections and dialogue. However, Ambassador Peter Haas, after the meeting with the CEC, faced the media and called for an unconditional dialogue between the political parties.
It is known that on October 25, at the initiative of Syed M Altaf Hossain, Chairman of Pragati Life Insurance Company, the US ambassador attended a dinner with BNP leaders at his residence in Gulshan. Among the foreign diplomats at the dinner were Yusuf M Ashraf of the Singapore Embassy, Sheela Pillai, Chief Political Counselor of the US Embassy Shreyan C Fitzgerald and others. Among the BNP leaders, party standing committee member Gayeshwar Chandra Roy, vice chairman advocate Zainal Abedin, Barkat Ullah Bulu, Abdul Awal Mintu, international affairs committee member Tabith Awal, Barrister Mir Helal, Gazipur district BNP president Fazlul Haque Milan and others participated in the dinner. Related sources said that Land Minister Saifuzzaman Chowdhury also participated in the dinner.
On October 19, Daily Star Editor Mahfuz Anam, Prothom Alo Editor Matiur Rahman, Dainik Jugantar Editor Saiful Alam, Dainik Bhorer Kagoj Editor Shyamal Dutta and Bangladesh Pratidin Editor Naeem Nizam participated in Peter Haas’s exchange of views with leading newspaper editors of the country. Members of the Media Freedom Coalition were also present. The US Embassy later released a 29-second photo-story of the event. The message was also captioned with the words ‘media freedom’.
During the recent visit of US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Afrin Akhtar to Dhaka, a tea circle was organized for civil society at Peter Haas residence on October 16. Devapriya Bhattacharya, Honorary Fellow of Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Executive Director of TIB, Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director of TIB, Adilur Rahman Khan, Editor of Human Rights Organization and Director Nasiruddin, Bela Chief Executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan and Rani Yen Yen of Chakma Circle were present in it.
Some of those present at the event said that how the civil society views the issue of free and fair elections and how much their role is, how much the US measures like visa policy are playing or will play a role in fair elections, what are the obstacles in the work of the civil society – these issues were asked by the US.
According to the related sources, in addition to the public meeting, the US ambassador is also secretly discussing with various circles including politicians. It was heard that there was a meeting with the BNP Secretary General on October 12, but both parties denied it. After the arrest of some senior leaders, the US envoy is said to be in contact with middle-ranking leaders of various political parties, including the BNP.
Former diplomat Waliur Rahman sees this diplomatic activity of the US ambassador as an exaggeration before the elections. He told, ‘Any diplomat must follow the Vienna Convention. Even if they want to, they can’t talk freely about the internal affairs of another country. They can discuss any issue through diplomatic channels. This is the custom.
He said, ‘The United States is doing what Peter Haas says. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Defense Minister Lloyd Austin spoke about Bangladesh in the Delhi-Washington dialogue during their visit to India but did not tell the media. However, after the dialogue between the two countries, Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said that Delhi’s position on the Bangladesh issue has been informed to Washington. India respects the democratic process of Bangladesh. How the development of Bangladesh will be, how the elections will be, is an internal matter of that country. The people of Bangladesh will decide that. They will determine the future of their country.
Waliur Rahman also said that the United States, being the biggest investor in Bangladesh, is creating discomfort in bilateral relations on various pretexts including democracy and human rights. They have done this all over the world. But at the end of the day, it was seen that nowhere was successful. Rather, those countries have caused terrible damage. Because there is no similarity between their thoughts and reality.
Commenting on Washington’s political decision on the diplomatic activities of Peter Haas, former ambassador M. Humayun Kabir, president of Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, said, “The ambassador of any country implements the direction of the foreign ministry of that country while performing his duties.” The US ambassador is doing the same. Although Peter Haas is more active. His activity can be explained in various ways. Because the Dhaka-Washington relationship is more multi-dimensional now than before. So even if we call the activism of Peter Haas transgression, they will say, they are fulfilling their duty.
According to this former diplomat, the importance of Bangladesh has increased in all fields including geo-politics, strategic and economic. Bangladesh is the fourth most populated country in the region after India, China and Indonesia. The United States sees our aging population as a reservoir of political, economic, and social power. Bangladesh, which they underestimated in 1971, is now a very creative country. This country is also very important in their Indo-Pacific strategy. Maybe they are so eager to keep Bangladesh by their side.
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