Shall Biden administration reboot its Bangladesh policy?


As the US President Joe Biden has already made announcement of rerunning for the second term in 2024, key policymakers in Washington DC are now rebooting their policy towards a number of countries, including Bangladesh as it has started realizing that by meddling into domestic politics of any sovereign nation and extending silent support to anti-prosperity and religious extremist groups would significantly tarnish America’s image, which would ultimately turn the United States friendless in the international arena.

Meanwhile, during her meeting with Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Ambassador Masud Bin Momen, the US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Ambassador Victoria Nuland has appreciated Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s commitment to hold free and fair elections as well as her openness to engage international election monitors during Bangladesh’s upcoming general elections, which is expected to be held sometime before January 9, 2024.

According to media reports, during the meeting, Ambassador Masud Bin Momen briefed his US counterpart – Ambassador Victoria Nuland about various measures taken by the Election Commission to pave the way for free and fair elections at both local and national levels.

The foreign secretary also briefed the US side about Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Japan, and later to Washington DC to celebrate the 50 years of partnership between Bangladesh and the World Bank.

He also shared the outline of Bangladesh’s recently released Indo-Pacific outlook.

Ambassador Nuland noted number of areas of convergence between the two countries’ respective Indo-Pacific documents.

Ambassador Masud shared some of the positive developments on Bangladesh’s recent human rights performance. He reiterated the call for lifting the sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and extraditing Rashed Chowdhury, the self-confessed killer of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Ambassador Nuland acknowledged the Bangladesh Government’s announcement to review the Digital Security Act by this year.

Both sides expressed satisfaction over the growing and vibrant business cooperation in a number of critical sectors. They agreed to continue working further on cyber security and data protection to enhance business engagements by the US tech giants in Bangladesh.

Ambassador Nuland appreciated Bangladesh’s remarkable generosity in hosting the Rohingyas from Myanmar and assured USA’s continued humanitarian support. Meanwhile, Ambassador Momen briefed Nuland about the latest situation of the funding for the Rohingya response as well as the renewed pilot scheme for repatriating a limited number of forcefully displaced people to Myanmar.

Both sides agreed to further scale up the resettlement program for some of the most vulnerable Rohingyas.

The two sides exchanged their views on the climate change-related issues and discussed areas of cooperation in this regard.

US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas, Ambassador Donald Lu and senior officials from the US State Department, White House and the USAID were present from the US side.

Washington learns from its Pakistan blunder

For decades, the United States has been helping Pakistan with hundreds of millions of dollars for combating terrorism as Washington considers Islamabad as its “most vital” ally in its battle against militancy and terrorism. But lately key policymakers in Washington DC have come to realize that helping Pakistan with huge amounts of money and considering it as a key ally in combating terrorism was a blunder, as Islamabad has been playing the role of arsonist and firefighter for the past several decades.

While talking to me, commenting on America’s decision regarding withdrawal from Afghanistan and its continuous support for Pakistan, Ambassador John Bolton, American attorney, diplomat, Republican consultant, and political commentator said, Donald Trump’s first, most egregious mistake was negotiating with Taliban terrorists while excluding Afghanistan’s legitimate elected government, which the US helped create at such cost in US lives and treasure.

Ambassador Bolton said:

“It was a grave mistake for the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan and they have NATO withdraw with it. As you said, I think the mistake was back with the Trump administration and its initial decision to negotiate with the Taliban, which undercut the government, which made people and the military, the government and the civil society as a whole, feel that the US government was more interested simply withdrawing from Afghanistan than achieving in real. Please I don’t think statements made by the Taliban, commitments they may have made in the negotiations, whether it’s Taliban or Haqqani Network, or Gulbuddin Hekmatyar whoever it might be.

“Wherever credible, I don’t think Taliban and its allies ever intended to adhere to some of the things that they promised, there’s a condition to get the United States to withdraw so, tragically what we see in Afghanistan right now was entirely predictable and, the negative consequences that the US feels now by bringing greater danger of terrorist attacks coming from Afghanistan. The strategic vacuum that we left for Russia and China and the terrible consequences for the population of Afghanistan, we can all see everyday. So, I think the US’s response to this has to be, number 1: no recognition of the Taliban government directly or indirectly, I think we should certainly try to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan not to the Taliban government, not to have them had any control over the supply or distribution or assistance, really to any fund government provides and then urgently speaking with leaders to the Afghan resistance to see what assistance we might be able to give them, communication assistance, certainly this point non{lethal} military assistance, there are many things we can do but, we need to know and have close conversations with resistance.

“I think all of this for surprise and how quickly the Afghan government fell including many people in Afghanistan who obviously didn’t want Taliban to take over. So, many were caught by surprise, there are resistance leaders outside of Afghanistan now, soon they will have to return. We all remember the lion of the [inaudible] valley, Ahmed Shah Masood, his son is now a leader among the [inaudible] and others, we need to see more of a resistance structure now. That bring me to the issue of Pakistan, you have rightly said, it has been involved in turmoil in Afghanistan for many years and I remember a former American diplomat who worked on the Afghan question for many years, used to say that the government of Pakistan was the only government he knew of that consisted of arsonists and firefighters at the same time. The arsonists we’re the people who have supported a number of terrorist groups including and Pakistan’s dispute with India put also support of the Taliban and Haqqani Network and others. I think now in Pakistan itself, we have got a very complicated situation with respect to the government and who is in charge and what future political events we are gonna see but, I think the US prospective should be that it’s not in the long term interest of the government of the people of Pakistan to support terrorism.

“It may seem advantageous in the near term in certain circumstances, long term. It’s never going to work; it’s never going to benefit. Pakistan, it will cause as it, I think is causing now, trouble inside their own country. So, this is a conversation, we’ve had for many years with Pakistan, but I think, it takes on real urgency now because the Taliban are once again back in control across their border and I think helping to contribute to instability inside Pakistan itself. So, this is also something I think other countries in the region can help out with. But it’s going to be complicated. I say that because it’s been complicated before and I don’t think it’s going to be any simple to this time”.

Commenting on Biden administration’s bias towards Islamist forces in Bangladesh and Washington’s plot of a regime change, Ambassador John Bolton said, “I don’t want to be accused of interfering in Bangladesh’s election, but I would just say this and I think it’s applicable to all of our countries, the rise of religious extremism we’ve seen has been conducive to terrorism. That threatens innocent people all over the world. And the terrorism from Islamist extremists, over the past three decades, has caused the most damage – has killed the most people in Muslim countries. So certainly, the United States has been attacked by Islamist terrorists on 9/11. We all know that. But what people don’t see is the accumulation of the terrible effects of terrorism in the Muslim world as well. So, I just, I wouldn’t give any political advice to the people of Bangladesh, but I would say the idea that the answers to the current problems that confront us is found in that kind of extremism is the wrong road to go down”.

When asked – if he thinks that the international community, including the United States should cooperate with any government in Bangladesh which is committed in combating Islamic terrorism, Ambassador John Bolton said, “Yeah, I think it’s very important that the US be consistent. There’s nothing sort of good terrorism and bad terrorism. And you know, we want to encourage everybody to live under the rule of law and everybody is entitled to due process according to their own legal systems but there’s no upside for the United States and encouraging any political faction or government that’s engaged in or supporting terrorist activity. I mean, I think our strength in this area comes from consistency. Nobody’s perfect in that either, but I think we should be on the watch to avoid inconsistency”.

Meanwhile, a highly-placed source in the US Capitol told me, key officials in the US State Department, such as Ambassador Victoria Nuland are still pressing their idea of unseating Awami League government in Bangladesh and replacing it with any party that would give priority to America’s interest in the region.

“They are in favor of regime change”, the source added.

When asked, why Ambassador Nuland or few other officials are against Awami League and inclined towards replacing the ruling party with Islamist and jihadist parties, the source said, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has been consistently making pledges of “giving priority” to America’s interest in Bangladesh over any other country, including China and India. It also has pledged to materialize any policy that the Biden administration adopts for the South Asian region, while the BNP is ready to allow the United States to use the Bay of Bengal for establishing a naval base. But, several influential figures in Washington DC are not willing to accept the BNP as an ally because of its past record of supporting militancy outfits as well as anti-US elements, including Lebanese Hezbollah. It may be mentioned here that BNP considers Hezbollah as its ally.

It may be mentioned here that, during the 2001-2006 rule of Bangladesh Nationalist Party, it named a new bridge Hezbollah. The bridge is located in the southern part of the South Asian country, spanning the Batakhali River in an area known as Cox’s Bazaar. Junior communications minister Salahuddin Ahmed named the bridge after the Lebanese group at the height of Hezbollah was at war with Israel.

Justifying the naming of the bridge, Salauddin Ahmed, state minister for communication, told the French news agency, AFP “I named the bridge Hezbollah because of our love for the Lebanese resistance group”.

“Hezbollah is the only group which is fighting Israel and the bridge is named after the group as a mark of honor”, he added.

United States has identified Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

Several years ago, US Department of Homeland Security had argued in the court stating BNP qualifies as a “Tier III” terrorist organization.

Meanwhile, Kyle Shideler, Director of the Counter Islamist Grid (CIG) saidBangladeshi National Party is – a sometimes violent nationalist

Bangladeshi political party devoted to implementing an Islamic nationalism for Bangladesh”.

Kyle Shideler said, “BNP is the political ally of Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist political party whose armed wing, Hizbul Mujahedeen, was designated as a terrorist group by the US State Department”.

Canadian Federal Court verdict against BNP

In May 2018, Canadian Federal Court in a verdict said, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) “has engaged or will engage in acts of terrorism”.

Canadian Federal Court case Gazi v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) (2017 FC 94). The case concerned a judicial review application by a former activist of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), named Mr. Mohammad Jewel Hossain Gazi (“the applicant”), against a decision made by a Senior Immigration Officer (“SIO”) in Canada who had rejected the applicant’s plea for permanent residence as a protected person, under s. 72(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, SC 2001, c 27 (IRPA).

The judicial review application was also dismissed in the court. The decision to reject both by the SIO and the court were based on grounds of inadmissibility pursuant to his membership of an organization (BNP) which, there are ‘reasonable grounds to believe engages, has engaged or will engage in acts of terrorism’ pursuant to Paragraphs 34(1)(f) and (c) of the IRPA.

In rejecting the application, the presiding judge, Justice Brown made some interesting observations and comments on the violent nature and activities of BNP. Additionally, other sources cited in the decision, including the statements of the SIO and the applicant himself, shed some important light into the workings of BNP, which has in recent times, come under intense national and international criticism for its wanton violence in separate phases in 2013-2014 and 2015.

The decision refers to a number of comments by the applicant to the CBSA National Security Screening Division about his party’s reliance on violence. He indicated that BNP is a ‘party that uses armed struggle or violence to reach political objectives.’ He specified that when there is a strike, the party uses ‘ammunitions and arms’. The BNP “uses arms like a war. They use hand bombs, pistols, and big swords. They attack the leading government’s people at the time of strike or procession”. (Para 7).

There is also reference to the violent methods used by the BNP on the applicant’s IMM 5669 form (used for background and declaration for the purposes of immigration), where the former activist stated that BNP “…uses sticks to hit people and shoot pistols at people and throw hand bombs. They burn the stores”. He also stated that he was asked by his party numerous times “to throw cocktails” (homemade crude bombs). He also admitted that he witnessed people being hurt by members of the BNP. He narrated that about two months prior to his arrival in Canada, the BNP members approached a car that was running, took the passengers outside, and beat them up.

The court also referred to the original decision of the SIO where the officer stated, while analyzing whether BNP’s activities amounted to terrorist activity within the definition provided in Subsection 83.01(1) of the Canadian Criminal Code, RSC, 1985, c C-46, that: ‘The hartals employed by the BNP have significant economic impact on Bangladesh’s economy and have resulted in both substantial damage to property and both death and serious bodily harm caused by BNP activists and members as well as disruptions in services’. (Para 12).

He added: ‘BNP’s continued reliance on hartals as a tool to coerce the government by creating significant economic disruption as well as the incidences of violence that resulted from the implementation of the hartals caused by BNP members are sufficient to find that the BNP constituted terrorist acts’. (Para 14). In short, this constituted the basis for which the application by the former BNP activist for PR in Canada as a protected person was dismissed by the SIO.

The issue before the court was therefore whether the SIO’s finding that he or she had reasonable grounds to believe that the BNP engaged, is engaging or will engage in terrorism, is ‘reasonable’ (Para 16). The court concluded that the SIO’s decision that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the BNP was, is, or will be engaged in terrorism is ‘reasonable’ as it was supported by evidence having regard to the definition of terrorism under Canadian law (Para 26). The review was therefore dismissed by the court.

According to Canadian law, terrorist activity is defined as acts and omissions whether they are conducted in or outside Canada, that are in whole or in part for a political purpose, objective, or cause, and which are committed in whole or in part with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its security, including economic security, or compelling a person or government to do or refrain from doing any act whether inside or outside Canada, where that act or omission intentionally causes death or serious bodily harm to a person by violence, endangers a person’s life, causes a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a segment thereof, causes substantial property damage or where such acts or omissions intentionally cause serious interference with or serious disruption of an essential service, facility or system [Para 27].

In reaching the conclusion that it is indeed reasonable to believe that the BNP was, is, or will be engaged in terrorism, the court looked at several reports from such sources as BBC, AFP, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Foreign Policy Magazine, Economist, the South Asian Terrorism Portal and the Human Rights Watch which showed the involvement of BNP, especially in recent years, in such tactics as forcibly enforcing strikes, costing a terrible economic price for the strikes, mounting firebomb attacks, causing deaths from arson attacks on buses, killing of civilians during the strikes, implementing targeted attacks on villages, attacking religious minorities, attacking polling stations, burning down schools, using street children to throw petrol bombs and creating and detonating explosives to press home their demands (Para 30).

In declaring his decision to reject the review, Justice Brown, concluded: “The hartals employed by the BNP have significant economic impact on Bangladesh’s economy and have resulted in both substantial damage to property and both death and serious bodily harm caused by BNP activists and members as well as disruptions in services.” He added that these tactics rise above simple peaceful protest or advocacy. He also noted that he reasonably believes that BNP implicitly condoned the use of violence, as they never took a strong stance against them, only meekly condemning some incidents after they had taken place (Para 30).

In a report, the Department of Justice said, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) “promotes Islamism in Bangladesh”, and “also reportedly been accused of having links with Islamist militants”.


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