The recent visit of US Under Secretary Ms. Wendy Sherman is unique on so many counts. Never before any US dignitary was as majestic as she were both in her posture as well as in her rhetorical outbursts. Her remark on why she cancelled call on with BNP Chairperson was nothing short of an Imperial roar. With absolutely no sympathy towards BNP Chairperson or the cause she is fighting for, it is only possible in Bangladesh for a Washingtonian non entity to discount one of our former Prime Ministers in such a discourteous way.
Even her welcoming statement–solution is reform, not withdrawal–is camouflaged with their ulterior motive of milking more cheap products from Bangladesh as she failed to demand rightful wages for our destitute workers. Claiming for labor rights does not necessarily guarantee the abolition of corporate manipulation that bent on keeping their prices as low as they could. As she decidedly refrain from urging US companies-Wal-Mart, GAP-from joining the European initiative of legally binding measures to improve the working conditions in our garments, she sounded more as an agent of oppression, not of freedom. While keeping profiteering onslaught of the likes of Wal-Mart, GAP etc, Ms. Sherman’s rhetorical appeals turns out to be nothing short of an ugly capitalist campaign to keep the deprivation of the destitute on.
If one goes through her transcript at the BIISS, one might be forgiven if s/he wrongly presumes Ms. Sherman as an Under Secretary of India. If she were to be a diplomat of any reasonable stature, she would have referred to India balancing with that of China. When she quoted Indian PM for his comment on “having breakfast in Kolkata, lunch in Dhaka and dinner in Rangoon” she should have been generous enough to allow a “supper” at Kunming, China.
Regrettably Ms. Sherman not only, decidedly it seems, refrained from making any reference to China, she simply failed to acknowledge the reality of this region that no meaningful initiative in South Asia is possible without keeping China as a partner. It was expected that before coming over to Dhaka she have had the time to go through the Sino-Indian Communique signed on 20 May 2013 during Chinese Premier’s visit to Delhi. The communiqué is replete with regional initiatives from BCIM economic corridor to maritime security agreed between China and India. It is interesting to note that Ms. Sherman’s glaring China oversight came at a time when her President Barack Obama is literally shifting the White House acceding to the wish of Chinese President Mr. Xi Jinping who desired to visit California, not to Washington DC in a week time. So, what precisely Ms. Sherman wished to convey?
Being one of the millions of innocent victims of Bangladesh’s oppressive, corruption plagued politics, and as critical as one could be of Hartals’ excesses, I totally disapprove your lecturing on the hartals as you didn’t care to go beneath the surface to look for the root causes of our Hartals. When 90 percent people of Bangladesh are unanimous for restoration of neutral caretaker government, Ms. Sherman only reprimanded the “disease” while knowingly overlooking the “cause” of the “disease”.
If Ms. Sherman had genuinely felt about the people of Bangladesh, how would she not utter a single word about their core problems-corruption plagued governance and a vastly manipulated legal system? How would she not felt anxious at the draconian oppression on the press? How would she not speak once in favor of “human rights”, “press freedom”, “fair trial”, “justice”, and “equality of all”? (After sweeping though all her statements, I haven’t seen these phrases, which are globally seen as the core of what America is meant for, in her transcripts.) How would she overlook the arrest of a seating Opposition MP, on the very day she was lecturing us on democracy, if not thousands of political prisoners, for a crime which is as laughable as she was wrongly mannequining as a modern day Queen..
I found it incredible to believe that she was not adequately briefed by her Embassy in Dhaka about the brutal police actions, or the number of political prisoners, (In Bangladesh, Ms. Sherman, Prison is no longer called “Jailkana”, it is now called “JamatKana” as all our prisons are overflowing with political activists.). How would she not, even once, make any reference to recent concerns expressed by Amnesty International or by her own Department’s report on “religious freedom”?
Bangladesh’s main problem is not that of labor rights alone. The core problem is the quality of our governance. It is because of failed governance, people of Bangladesh stands to spend half of their next year’s budget for constructing the Padma bridge which should have been built with donors money. It is because of governance, millions of young entrepreneurs in the share market forced into destitute for not fault of theirs. It is because of corrupt governance, people of Bangladesh paying with their lives under the rubbles of Rana Plaza? Had governance was in order, Rana plaza would not have been there in the first place.
In Washington DC, Ms.Sherman will have to wait in eternity to meet her own President or for days to months to meet her Secretary of State who seats only three floor above. Here in Bangladesh she was snubbing our second most important person, who still represents millions of people, forgetting the fact that in the list of Washingtonian hierarchy she is not even within one hundredth of the list of important persons. Nowhere in her three country tour-Indonesia, India and Bangladesh-she have had the privilege of meeting Head of Government except that of in Bangladesh. Even in India, which she quite revealingly quoted disproportionately in her statement at the BIISS event at Rupashi Bangla, didn’t allow her the privilege of meeting their Prime Minister or their leader of the Opposition.
If one carefully tries to compare her scripts with that of Dipu Moni’s (or PM Hasina), s/he could not be blamed if one is mistaken for the other. And in the process, she not only poured cold water on the hope and aspiration of those of us who, still, believes in the historical fact the Martin L. King would not have fought the white supremacy in the land of the free and the home of the brave without his sense manifest injustices that could be overcome.
Honestly, it seems she was here to play on a tune not of her own. This is precisely the reason why she sounded so out of place when she dreamt of a Bangladesh which is on course to actualize Goldman Sachs prophecy.