<%-- Page Title--%> Perspective <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 112 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

July 4, 2003

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Powell's Vague Agenda

Ahmede Hussain

Widely known as doveish in the neo-con administration, US Secretary of State Colin Powell's much hyped visit on June 20 encompassed a large number of issues: duty-free access of Bangladeshi goods to the US market, continued US investment, bilateral trade and the bizarre US National Security Entry and Exit Registration System (NSEERS). The 'visit' that lasted less than six hours, failed to address the issues regarding the diplomatic and trade relationship of the two countries in the aftermath of 9/11.
Powell assured Dhaka that it would consider giving it a duty-and-quota-free access of goods to the US market, according to local newspaper reports. Though US has already extended the facility to many African and Caribbean countries, the carrot of free access to the US market has been dangling before the country since its independence.
On the NSEERS, under which 7,238 Bangladeshis have so far registered and 25 are arrested, US Secretary of State told the newsmen in Dhaka, “ The NSEERS is necessary to protect us and our security. I hope Bangladeshis will understand it.” No promises were made this time on exempting Bangladesh from the list of countries the US reckons as the producers of potential terrorists. The Bangladesh government has done nothing so far to protest this opprobrious law which has exposed its 2.5-lakh citizens staying in the US, to routine humiliation.
Bangladesh's relationship with the US dates back to the days of the country's independence war. United States, because of the war's socialist allegiance, had actively supported Pakistan with diplomatic support and military logistics. The US tried several times to stop the war at the United Nations' Security Council but failed after facing several vetoes by the then Soviet Union. On the eve of our liberation on December 16, 1971, US sent its Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal as a last resort to meddle in the course of our war of independence.
After the liberation, during the rule of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, US suddenly stopped aid, commonly known as PL-480. It paved the way for a famine and political instability that in turn resulted in a military coup, which killed almost all the members of Sheikh Mujib's family.
The country gained the geo political importance it had enjoyed during the so-called cold war after the discovery of natural gas. US investment in Bangladesh has surged to a mammoth $2 billion from an almost zero, followed by former US president Bill Clinton's brief visit to the country, immediately after a bigger portion of natural gas was found in Bangladesh. The visit generated much controversy though, after the US president failed to go to the national Mausoleum to pay homage to the martyrs of liberation war citing security ground.
The two country's relationship took a new turn after the September 11 terrorist attack on the Twin-Towers in New York. Bangladesh actively supported the war on terrorism and the US led war on Afghanistan. But the relationship has soured after US listed Bangladesh under NSEERS.

Visiting US Secretary of State Collin Powell talks to the prime minister at the prime minister's office.

Bangladesh, like many other Muslim countries, fiercely opposed the war on Iraq and the subsequent US led occupation of the country. On his brief stopover, Collin Powell's suggestion on sending Bangladeshi troops to post-Saddam Iraq was vague: “ We discussed it but I made no special request for that. I leave the matter with Bangladesh government, prime minister, cabinet and the legislature to decide on an appropriate way of deployment of troops”.
Bangladeshi Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan's comment on the visit was equally nebulous. The visit helped “to promote of economic growth and reforms, expansion of democracy and the advancement of women and Bangladesh's integration into the global mainstream,” he informed the press.
'The carrot of free-access' took a new shape when the US administration has made a proposal to provide tax-free-special-commercial facilities to 18 Muslim countries in lieu of giving diplomatic recognition to Israel. The bill, dubbed Middle East Trade and Engagement Act, was sent to Economic-relation committees on May 22 from the US senate, Prothom Alo ran the story on its front page on June 24. The government wants to watch the move of other Muslim countries, the report said.
Political observers believe building a diplomatic relationship with Israel, long been seen as an occupier of the Holy Land, will be politically suicidal for the BNP led centre-right government. But Bangladesh can hardly afford to lose this overture from a country, which buys one- third of its total export.


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