The Daily Star

Your Right To Know
Friday, November 28, 2014

Friday, July 20, 2012
OP-ED

Pleasure Is All Mine

US limbering up to Bangladesh

US Ambassador to Bangladesh Dan Mozena mixes counseling with diplomacy while speaking at any important public forum in Dhaka. His words are usually a blend of advice and compliments, the latter pointing to possibilities on the horizon for Bangladesh.

Ambassador Mozena conveyed US buyers' concern over labour unrest in garments sector, safety at workplace and freedom of association in Bangladesh at his Meet the Press interaction in the capital recently. The issues no doubt need utmost attention at our end; however, the business community is somehow left with an impression maybe the US is insistent on such issues because it is still not prepared to meet some of Bangladesh's well-known demands. Does his government think the time is not right for such concessions to be accorded to Bangladesh, or is it subliminally looking for a quid pro quo?

Having said that, Mozena has been consistently upbeat in his remarks about Bangladesh in three important respects. First, he recognises the potential of Bangladesh as the seventh largest populous (Muslim majority) country in the world; second, he sees the country emerging as the next "Tiger in Asia" provided it keeps politically stable; and last but not least, the US values Bangladesh for its geo-political importance. Bangladesh is the bridgehead between South and Southeast Asia and a littoral state of Indian Ocean with two seaports of high potential.

The geo-political characterisation of Bangladesh is a sea change from how I remember a USAID chief in early 90's telling me in an interview that Bangladesh was being treated on humanitarian grounds only. This somehow found resonance with Henry Kissinger's labelling of Bangladesh as a basket case in the early 70's. Indeed, we have moved a long way ahead since.

That the US is attaching increasing importance to her relationship with Bangladesh has been illustrated by a flurry of visits by US dignitaries to Dhaka in the recent months. They included US Assistant Secretary of State Robert O. Blake, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy R. Sherman and Assistant Secretary of Political-Military Affairs Andrew J. Shapiro. The series of inter-state contacts climaxed with the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signing up to Bangladesh-US partnership dialogue framework. The maiden annual meeting under the framework is likely to be held in September.

All this was followed by the visit of the highest US defence official, Secretary of Navy Ray Mabus between July 13 and 15. Cooperation between the navies of the two countries was mooted at length.

The US establishment may be buying into some of the latest research material making out a case for the United States to foster closer relations with smaller countries in South Asia. This is not to make a short shrift of an organic rethink in the State Department and Pentagon as part of the USA's "pivoting to Asia" winding down its commitments to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Nilanthi Samaranayake, Strategic Studies Analyst at CNA in Alexandria VA, writing for Asia-Pacific Bulletin (Sept 22, 2011), East-West Center underscored: "The prospects for advancing US security ties with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal deserve serious examination."

The reasons for such a shift of emphasis can be ticked off in the following order: While relations with India "may not progress as quickly as desired" and those with Pakistan and Afghanistan are "in tatters," the USA needs to forge deeper strategic relationship with the "marginal states." Such states," according to Doug Lieb in the Harvard International Review, "are often overlooked in a structural realist world view that privileges the study of large countries."

Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives being maritime countries exude significant potential for securing Indian Ocean sea lanes in the eyes of China and USA, of course with implications for India.

The Maldives is exposed to Somali pirates and Lashkar-e-Taiba seeking harbour on any of its 26 atolls. It could benefit from US counter-terrorism assistance to protect its tourism industry. Sri Lanka's economic and diplomatic ties with China growing, "the United States must try not to alienate Sri Lanka (human rights concerns regardless) given its strategic location in the Indian Ocean," adds Nilanthi Samaranayake suggesting a possible directional change in US geo-strategic thinking.

Myanmar and Bangladesh have the potential gas reserve to substantially meet the energy requirements of Asia -- particularly China and India. With Myanmar opening up, aside from the traditional Chinese presence, India and United States are going forward in forging closer ties with Yangon.

China, Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to build Kunming highway linking Chittagong with Kunming through Myanmar, though a rail link is off the table.

In all, this remains something of a vision statement which even a chink in any pair of bilateral relationships (Myanmar in relation to Rohingya) could queer the pitch for at least a part of a comprehensive inter-regional infrastructure networking.

Bangladesh stands out for its moderate secular values and success in fending off political use of religion. But it has vulnerabilities to non-traditional security threats such as cyclones and earthquakes requiring weather forecasting technologies and assistance in disaster relief and climate change issues. The US wishes to come in on these concerns.

Holistically, Bangladesh is ideally placed to maintain balanced and efficacious relationships with India, China and USA. Only if we can manage our own house efficiently and sagaciously would we be in a position to reap demographic dividends of a large, yet controlled population bridging some of the gaps with all the three giants.

The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.

E-mail: husain.imam@thedailystar.net

Share on



 





Political stability is important, but what king of political governance? is not defined. With the current trend of politics and its executive functions how do we need to look at the efficiency- is much more important. Second, Bangladesh can be sure of its most efficient cost based productivity and this area we should be able to sell well. Trade negotiations and diplomacy goes hand in hand and we are short of expertise in this area. Thirdly, the strategically geopolitical importance is pretty much vague as we do not see eye to eye on this issue. These geopolitics needs discussion in open ground and explanation must be given why we should go for it and how the nation benefit from it.

: Sheikh Monirul Islam, Opee

Bangladesh will not be given any material aids by US and EU until we become a fully functional democracy. Right now we have people who are misusing power and corruption has infected all organs of the state. The Judiciary needs to be cleaned as a highest priority and it should be separated from the executive. After US and EU should reward Bangladesh with duty free access to all our goods.

: Sellma

Comments

  • Sheikh Monirul Islam, Opee
    Friday, July 20, 2012 05:14 AM GMT+06:00 (123 weeks ago)

    Political stability is important, but what king of political governance? is not defined. With the current trend of politics and its executive functions how do we need to look at the efficiency- is much more important. Second, Bangladesh can be sure of its most efficient cost based productivity and this area we should be able to sell well. Trade negotiations and diplomacy goes hand in hand and we are short of expertise in this area. Thirdly, the strategically geopolitical importance is pretty much vague as we do not see eye to eye on this issue. These geopolitics needs discussion in open ground and explanation must be given why we should go for it and how the nation benefit from it.

    We must play our cards well. We are short of fund and around 60 billion $ is urgently required to make the country an Asian Tiger. If only our politicians were smart enough, visionary and knew the business of the day well…I think this is an area of immediate attention. Our universities need to be free from petty politics of cheap & nasty partisan politics. Those universities must go back to their glorious days. Healthy student politics must return to attract meritocracy at all level. All the arms and ammunition from all ground level must be collected efficiently to make campus violence free and freedom of speech & democracy must me restored n true sense. We need around 10 billion for this particular area and a lot of work to me done where we need absolute determinations without any failure. Investment in all area of education is the first precondition.

    We need five (5) billions to construct two (2) nuclear power plant immediately to supply around 3000MW to our national grid along with up-gradation of all existing facilities to make them operational ensuring apple supply of electricity. This we must ensure to attract FDI. All industries and commercial installations within the country must have access to ample supply of electricity.

    We need another five (5) billions to upgrade our national grid of natural gas supply, finding new resources, drilling, building infrastructure, LPG & LNG plants. The Bay of Bengal basin is rich in natural gas and we need to develop our petroleum industry including one more refinery without any delay. Industries need uninterrupted gas supply and domestic use of bottled cooking gas at reasonable price is an absolute necessity.


 

 


advertisement

 


The Daily Star

© thedailystar.net, 1991-2014. All Rights Reserved