Bangladesh presses back at United States over visa curbs ahead of election

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Tensions are increasing in between Bangladesh and the west as the United States pressures prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s authoritarian federal government to guarantee the stability of upcoming elections.

Sheikh Hasina, who has actually been in power considering that 2009, has actually punished political opposition and cut democratic flexibilities in what experts state is an effort to sway the result of the surveys, which are anticipated by January.

The United States last month enforced visa limitations on an undefined variety of Bangladeshis for “undermining the democratic election process”. Members of police, the ruling celebration, and the political opposition were amongst those consisted of, the United States state department stated.

Britain has actually likewise pushed Sheikh Hasina’s federal government to guarantee elections are “free, fair, participatory and peaceful”.

Bangladesh’s federal government has actually pressed back versus western censure. Foreign minister AK Abdul Momen stated the visa policy was Washington’s “prerogative” however in an interview with the Financial Times in Dhaka last month, he dismissed criticism of the election accumulation as “false propaganda on Bangladesh”, comparing it with western interventions in Iraq and somewhere else.

“Look at Iraq, what did you do, in the name of false propaganda?” he stated, recommending that some in the west may wish to “make chaos” in Bangladesh.

After the visa limitations were enforced, Momen informed the feet that he had actually been exhorting world leaders to “check their facts correctly” with regard to the scenario in Bangladesh.

“Unfortunately, today people are hard-pressed for time and don’t have a habit of reading,” he stated while in the United States to go to the UN General Assembly.

He included that relations with United States president Joe Biden and secretary of state Antony Blinken were however “very good”.

Any stress in relations might spill into local geopolitics. Sheikh Hasina has actually looked for to promote the nation of 170mn as an advancement success, mostly on the back of its huge garment sector, which counts on exports to the United States and Europe. She has actually likewise cultivated closer ties with India and China.

Supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party rally in Dhaka in August
Supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist celebration rally in Dhaka in August © Monirul Alam/EPA/Shutterstock
Bangladesh’s foreign minister AK Abdul Momen
Bangladesh’s foreign minister AK Abdul Momen, throughout talks with United States secretary of state Antony Blinken in Washington in April © Elizabeth Frantz/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

The nation’s domestic politics have actually been spoiled by a decades-long, frequently bloody competition in between her Awami League and the competitor Bangladesh Nationalist celebration. Sheikh Hasina’s previous re-elections, in 2014 and 2018, were dogged by low involvement and accusations of electoral adjustment.

The United States state department stated its visa charges shown “concerns where we see actions that undermine democracy and human rights in Bangladesh”, including that it supported “the desire of the people of Bangladesh to freely choose their leaders”.

A previous round of United States sanctions in 2021 targeted Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion, a cops system implicated of disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

Michael Kugelman, a senior partner at the Washington-based Wilson Center think-tank, stated Washington’s pressure over the elections became part of a local method to limitation China’s impact by promoting democracy as an option to authoritarian federal governments.

“The Biden administration has made Bangladesh a test case for its values-based foreign policy,” he stated. “It’s a big gamble . . . If Dhaka starts to feel increasingly boxed in by Washington, it could be tempted to gravitate closer to China.”

Kugelman stated maintaining power might be existential for Sheikh Hasina, who likewise ruled Bangladesh from 1996 to 2001. Under Awami League guideline, senior BNP leaders have actually been pestered by legal cases and countless activists detained.

If the Awami League loses power, “they would likely be subjected to ferocious campaigns of retributive politics . . . much like what the ruling party has meted out to the opposition”, he stated.

“The threat of US visa restrictions won’t deter Awami League leaders if they’re bent on holding on to power at all costs.”


News and digital media editor, writer, and communications specialist. Passionate about social justice, equity, and wellness. Covering the news, viewing it differently.

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