Kerry’s Dhaka visit: A belated effort of mending fences

Abdul Hannan
The recent visit of John Kerry, US secretary of state to Bangladesh at the fag end of current US Administration marked a distinct shift of US policy towards Bangladesh. It was a visit to mend fences and build bridges of friendship with present Bangladesh government. The US overture was a PR exercise to woo, cultivate leverage and win back Bangladesh, considered by US as its traditional ally and sphere of influence, from the threat of expanding fold of Chinese and Russian influence.
The visit was essentially to pursue US policy of ‘Asia pivot’ framework which also includes Bangladesh in order to promote American geo-strategic interests to contain Chinese and Russian influence in the region.
Dhaka-Washington t ies
There is no doubting that Bangladesh-US relation has remained anything but warm. The bilateral relation between the two countries has been palpably sour and cold ever since 2014 general election which United States and the West considered as flawed and lopsided lacking democratic credentials and representative character. That in effect was questioning the legitimacy of the present Government. The bitterness of the government was exacerbated when a US Senate subcommittee resolution sponsored by the state department stressed the need for holding a fresh inclusive election in Bangladesh. The unfavorable report by the state department about human rights condition in Bangladesh together with suspension of GSP (generalized special preference) of trade facilities offering duty free exports to USA added insult to injury in the relation.
Bangladesh government retorted back with studied indifference and at some point defiance of US authority when a government minister used derogatory personal slurs and epithets about senior US diplomats assigned to Dhaka and South Asian affairs. The relation deteriorated to such a pass that the Finance Minister AMA Muhith described it as “uncomfortable”. Meanwhile, the US Bangladesh strategic partnership agreement and the Trade and Investment Cooperation framework agreement contributed precious little to ease the strained relation. Also, there had been no high level US visit for a long time since Hillary Clinton’s, which could bring about a rapprochement and thaw in the frozen relation. Bangladesh was perceived as increasingly tilting to alternative sources of support from China and Russia by signing military purchase deals and expanding economic ties.
Victory of expediency
The terrorist attack in a Gulshan café sent shock waves and alarm bells of security concern to Washington. Bangladesh could no longer be ignored and left to wither in the vines. Kerry rushed to Dhaka to shore up its dwindling influence in Dhaka, control damage to its relationship and make amends of its mistakes.   In a display of stunning positive gesture he visited the Bangabandhu memorial museum in Dhanmondi  and endorsed the government when he wrote in glowing terms about the significant development achievemenents under what he described as ‘strong leadership’ of Bangladesh government.
There was no more lecturing on democracy, human rights, rule of law and freedom of expression, US pep talks to hosts in developing countries, during his meeting with Prime Minister Hasina and official talks with his counterpart and commerce and home ministers. While attributing the cause of terrorism to frustration and despair of youth in course of his meeting with the civil society at the Kennedy centre, he made a passing comment about the need of “inclusiveness’ to combat terrorism. His comment was guarded, unobtrusive and faint hearted.  Kerry assured of careful consideration of pleadings of lifting of GSP ban and request for  extradition from America of a Bangladeshi fugitive convicted to  death sentence for killing Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
John Kerry, the suave and astute top US diplomat acquitted himself of his challenging job remarkably well with aplomb and finesse. The visit, a climb down of US position, is a typical example of victory of expediency, Real Politik and opportunism over principles, ethics and morality in foreign policy of a country.
Source: Weekly Holiday