Bangladesh is standing at the door of its 12th national parliamentary election, scheduled to be held at January, 2024. While the internal political field was expected to grow vulnerable in the upcoming months, the USA has declared a new visa policy for Bangladesh relating their intention to ensure free and fair election in the country. Their new visa policy came with possible threats of sanctions on individuals but the question is if their intentions are really supportive.
On May 24, US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken announced a new visa policy for Bangladeshi individuals believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process, including current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of pro-government and opposition political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary, and security services. In a Tweet, he added that the visa restrictions would apply to the immediate family members of such persons.
Following the US new visa policy, the foreign ministry said, the Bangladesh government appreciates that the international community, including the US, firmly stands by PM Sheikh Hasina’s sustained commitment to ensure free and fair elections. The ruling party feels the opposition will not create any chaos due to this policy. The opposition is also considering it as a moral victory as they believe the policy came in supporting their demand of a free and fair election.
The area and scope of the new visa policy is very vast. This new policy allows the US government to put sanctions on any individuals of Bangladesh if they believe a particular person is somehow responsible to disturb the free and fair elections. Though the experts suggested that, the ordinary Bangladeshis will not suffer from this new policy that might not be the case. Moreover, if the US visa is denied for a Bangladeshi citizen, it is possible that, the person will not receive visa from most of the Western countries.
Another critical aspect of the new visa policy is the inclusion of members of judiciary in the possible sanction list. Politics apart, we need to protect the honor of our judiciary at any cost. But imposing a threat towards the judiciary is somehow a threat towards our sovereignty. Now, the judges also need to think about the US visa before passing any judgment and that is ridiculous. They will not be able to pass any judgment without bias as the preference of the US will be always in their mind.
Moreover, the new US visa policy is not only limited to the offenders of free and fair elections but also to their immediate family members. Here we must note that, immediate family members of an individual might not follow the same political ideology as that person or not even be interested in politics. But this visa policy is pushing these family members of the possible election offenders to follow the same path or ideology that the offender holds onto. It is sort of violation of human rights as nowhere in the world, the family members of an offender is punished. If the family members are in threat of suffering, none will be able to freely choose their political side nor will be able to express their views and hence, it will also remain a threat to freedom of speech for the citizens of Bangladesh.
Though Bangladesh has developed tremendously during the last decade under the strong visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the US seems to be very worried about the election and government of the country. We really welcome their concern and affection towards the Bangladeshi people. But we sometime feel that, the people from other parts of the world are not so lucky like Pakistan, which is constantly violating the democratic processes or Myanmar, which conducted ethnic cleansing over the Rohingyas in the Rakhine State. Similar is the case in many other instances and that creates questions over their intentions.
Prior to the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections, as well as the March 18 governorship and State Assembly elections, the US administration warned that anyone attempting to subvert Nigeria’s democratic process in 2023 would face visa sanctions. Though elections in Nigeria were criticized by even the American election observers, the US government hailed the elections as their favorite candidate won the election. There was violence after the elections and the US said it has imposed visa restrictions on specific individuals who undermined the democratic process during Nigeria’s 2023 general elections though they did not disclosed any names yet. The US has done the same prior to 2019 Nigerian elections but democracy could not hail even after such efforts of the US.
The USA is considered to be the flag-bearer of democracy. But unfortunately, wherever US intervened in the name of democracy and humanity, devastation occurred. US actually invest in different countries for their own interest and if that interest is not served, then they quickly pull out like they did in Afghanistan. From their actions, democracy and human rights seem to be out of their priority. Especially with the next Presidential election, the US government should now focus on controlling their own issues, especially when they are visibly being victim of a global power shift.
The US economy is largely dependent on the contribution of migrant residents among which there is a good number of Bangladeshis. The Bangladeshi migrants at the US should protest the new visa policy of the US for Bangladesh as the policy is truly demeaning and possesses scope of tarnishing Bangladesh’s reputation and acceptance to the Western world. With such policy, the US will also face crisis for qualified human resource crisis as the talents from Bangladesh will opt for other destinations like; China for their career.
The USA should realize that, it is not possible to dominate a region without contributing significantly for its development. In today’s world most of the world is development-oriented and the tendency of US to create devastation on the foreign soil will not be welcome anymore. Being one of the most important development partners, we welcome the concern of the US about democracy and rule of law here, but their new policy must exclude the judiciary and the family members of the offenders. Rather than putting sanctions, if the US extends its role as a development partner of Bangladesh, then they will have better affiliation with the people here.
If all political parties of Bangladesh follow democratic practices and let different wings of the state operate independently and honesty, then Bangladesh will advance more rapidly and will achieve immense honor from the world. Hence, we hope all political parties will participate in the next parliamentary election for the sake of people’s welfare as well as country’s honor. Only then, Bangladesh will be able to uphold its sovereignty tackling all foreign pressures.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Editor at Kishore Bangla