A perplexing change in the West's core policy towards the Bay of Bengal region, led by the US, has occurred in recent years. In spite of participating in security and partnership dialogue with Bangladesh, the US has periodically shown hostility and indifference towards this friendly country.
In recent years, the United States' policy towards countries like Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, and the Maldives has intriguingly changed, raising major questions about the causes of these policy mistakes and their impact on regional dynamics. This applies to all countries, not just Bangladesh.
The US's strategic selfalienation in the Bay of Bengal has raised questions about the reasons for and consequences of its actions.
Why does the US choose to pursue unfriendly policies towards its allies? What potential effects might there be on the power balance and regional dynamics? These pressing issues underline the need to evaluate US policy and its impacts on bilateral ties, regional stability, and other governments' influence in this strategically significant region. The subject of why the US/West chose to strategically alienate itself in the Bay of Bengal also became clear, and it was the most significant development.
The US and the West have played a vital role in facilitating those changes as the world has seen a surge in polarisation and geopolitical developments in the policy domains of various actors. Independent-minded nations are encouraged to settle under the protection of the west, particularly the US. However, it enrages some actors, forcing them to reconsider their relationship with the West and the US. Ironically, the West then accuses these nations of cooperating too closely with certain superpowers.
Invasion of Internal Affairs in Sri Lanka? For allegedly intervening in Sri Lanka's domestic affairs, the United States has come under fire. When it comes to internal matters in Sri Lanka, such as human rights and reconciliation, the US has adopted an undiplomatic and adversarial approach, applying pressure on the island nation without taking into account the sensitive dynamics of the post-war nation. Due to this meddling, there is now tension between the two countries, and questions have been raised about why the US is intervening in the region. Additionally, the US and the West's actions throughout the most recent political upheavals and economic depression have aroused doubts about their relationship.
Twenty -year intervention in Afghanistan came to an abrupt end. Significant effects on regional dynamics in the Bay of Bengal have resulted from the US troop departure from Afghanistan. The US has given extra-regional countries a chance to show their influence in the region by leaving a power vacuum and failing to facilitate a smooth transition. This action may alter the security perceptions of surrounding nations and upset the balance of power.
Nepal's response to political challenges has been insufficient.The United States has not responded adequately to Nepal's situation, a country that is facing political difficulties. Although Nepal has potential to be a regional ally and is important from a geopolitical perspective, the US's lack of constructive engagement has been alarming. The US has missed chances to deepen ties and protect its interests in the case of Nepal by failing to provide substantive support during pivotal moments, which in turn has had a ripple effect on the Bay of Bengal region.
Regional Power Dynamics and Effects.
Other regional and extraregional states now have more potential to increase their influence and fortify their presence due to the US's ostensible strategic self-alienation in the Bay of Bengal. The US is a leader of the West. China, for instance, has increased its economic and strategic commitments in the region by taking advantage of the perceived US withdrawal. This change in power has an impact on the Bay of Bengal region's political and strategic dynamics in addition to the interests of the United States.
A Friend Country Antagonised: Bangladesh with repeated lengthy interactions through the Security Dialogue and Partnership Dialogue, Bangladesh has been an important ally for the United States. The US's approach to Bangladesh, however, has blatantly seemed inconsistent and unproductive. This raises questions regarding the possible repercussions of inciting hostility in a friendly and important partner nation like Bangladesh.
Although the US has acknowledged Bangladesh's strategic significance as a prospective player in the region, at times its actions have sent a different message. The US has damaged the relationship and bred disappointment by denying Bangladesh duty-free access to the market and GSP facilities for ten years, placing restrictions on aid, pressing Bangladesh on matters like human rights, and failing to fully resolve bilateral concerns.
Recent American measures towards Bangladesh have given rise to serious worries and strained the two countries' relationship. One significant instance is the levying of fines against seven members of Bangladesh's elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), which is in charge of upholding law and order. Such a decision has not only drawn criticism, but it has also strengthened the impression that the US is meddling in Bangladesh's internal matters while ignoring the nation's efforts to fight terrorism and uphold stability.
It might be argued that sanctioning RAB was a poor policy choice given the context and complexity of Bangladesh's security issues. Recognising Bangladesh's efforts to thwart terrorism and uphold domestic security is crucial. By enacting penalties, the US runs the danger of weakening mutual respect and collaboration between the two countries, which might make it more difficult for them to effectively confront shared security issues.
The United States' new visa policy has served as the death knell. The US's decision to disgrace Bangladesh and the country's War of Liberation veterans is extremely surprising and amusing. Although the government and opposition have expressed nominal support for the measure, in practice it has sparked anti-American sentiment. It has increased the US's distance from Bangladesh's citizens and government. Anyone can easily understand that the US is interfering in Bangladesh to advance its geostrategic goals. The US diplomatic objectives in the region would undoubtedly suffer as a result of this new visa regime.
The US has implemented policies that Bangladesh finds upsetting and unpleasant. These have included announcing disrespectful policies, voicing worries about political and labour rights developments, and openly criticising some facets of Bangladesh's governance. Any bilateral relationship benefits from constructive interaction and dialogue, but it is necessary to approach these dialogues with consideration for the partner nation's sovereignty and internal dynamics. However, this should not be done while a nation is still experiencing these problems; in Bangladesh's case, everything has been resolved amicably, and foreign organisations have already commended Bangladesh's efforts in a number of reports and indexes.
The irritation felt by many Bangladeshis is increased by what they believe to be the US's contempt for Bangladesh's efforts and successes in areas like social development. Bangladesh has achieved considerable strides in a number of areas, including women's empowerment, healthcare, and education, yet US policies frequently fail to recognise and value these achievements. The population of Bangladesh feels alienated and let down as a result, and this calls into question whether the US comprehends the realities of Bangladesh.
The broader regional environment must be taken into account when deciding how the US should handle Bangladesh. Bangladesh has become a key player in regional dynamics, especially in light of its geopolitical setting and economic potential. Bangladesh could get more enmeshed with other regional powers if its strategic relevance is ignored and its actions are antagonistic. The US and the West must review their policies towards Bangladesh and adopt a more balanced and practical stance. A deeper comprehension of Bangladesh's goals, difficulties, and contributions is necessary to forge a partnership that is more solid and mutually beneficial. Prioritising positive engagement, the US should concentrate on areas of shared interest, including as economic cooperation and counterterrorism initiatives, and address regional issues like climate change and maritime security.
The bilateral relationship has been damaged by the US's policy against Bangladesh. Without taking Bangladesh's security problems into account, imposing sanctions on RAB runs the danger of losing trust and cooperation. The US's alleged disrespect for Bangladesh's accomplishments and meddling in domestic issues only makes the situation worse. To ensure a more fruitful and advantageous collaboration, it is crucial for the US and the West to reevaluate its policies, give constructive engagement top priority, and acknowledge Bangladesh's importance in the area.
Writer: Professor Dr. Mohammad Badruzzaman Bhuiyan, Treasurer, University of Barishal
BDST: 1421 HRS, July 12, 2023