[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he India authorities’ refusal to Nikki Haley’s proposal of involving Donald Trump’s administration in de-escalating tension between Pakistan and India may sound an abrupt and unplanned response, but was actually a result of meticulous and thorough examination of different factors that may affect India’s regional and transregional ties.
US ambassador to the United Nations(UN) Nikki Haley in remarks at a news conference on Monday, 3rd April 2017, said that the United States is concerned about the current India-Pakistan impasse and would like to “find its place” in moves to ameliorate tensions between both the neighbors. The newly appointed US Security Council Chair said this in response to a question: “It’s absolutely right that this administration is concerned about the relationship between India and Pakistan and very much wants to see how we de-escalate any sort of conflict going forward”. She further added, “ I would expect that the administration is in going to be in talks and try and find its place to be a part of that and we don’t think we should wait till something happens. We very much think that we should be proactive in the way that we are seeing tensions rise and conflicts start to bubble up and so we want to see if we can be a part of that.” However, just a few hours after this press conference, India sent a strong signal to the United States that its suggestion wasn’t welcome. Although Haley appeared to be signaling a shift in American position when she emphasized the US President Donald Trump direct involvement in efforts to mitigate the India-Pakistan rift, but the New Delhi’s rebuff to the US offer has adumbrated the need to examine the Indian policy in solving the issue with Pakistan bilaterally.
The first reason of India not wanting the United States to meddle in India-Pakistan rift is India’s strong position of not being open to any third party intervention in the issue. It has stressed upon it in the past and has again reiterated its stance on Tuesday in a press release in response to Haley’s proposal where it enunciated that New Delhi’s stance on the importance of the bilateral redressal of all issues between the two countries has not changed. The Indian government believes that peace talks between India and Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir, the Indus Water Treaty and the Line of Control (LoC) should be held in an environment free of terror and violence. However, India does expect the United States to enforce international mechanisms & mandates concerning terrorism emanating from Pakistan that continues to be the single biggest threat to peace in Subcontinent region and beyond.
Secondly, India wants the United States to stick to its Post-Cold War policy of not interfering in the Kashmir issue. Though the history indicates that the United States have kept on playing an affirmative role in Kashmir problem, but it has always respected the privacy and freedom of both the countries to solve the problem by themselves. That is precisely the reason that Barack Obama administration revoked from interfering in the Kashmir issue even after declaring that it will play an active role to defuse tensions between India and Pakistan. After this, former state department spokesman John Kirby formally announced that the issue of Kashmir is for the two nations to work out and the United States had no role to play in it. Kirby also elucidated that it is for India and Pakistan to determine the pace, scope, and character of talks on the Kashmir issue. Therefore, India now wants Trump’s administration to continue to follow the preceding government policies and India’s blatant response to Haley the other day was a clear indication of that.
Thirdly, India does not trust the US’ intentions because of its nebulous policy in South Asia region. Along with the United States, other major powers also backed India in the war of 1965 and betrayed it at the last moment. During the early 1960s, the United States has been openly and secretly providing military aids to India which it during the war. During the war of 1965, when Pakistani troops invaded Kashmir, India moved quickly to internationalize the regional dispute. It asked the UN to reprise its role in the First India-Pakistan War and end the current conflict. The Security Council passed Resolution 211 on September 20 calling for an end to the fighting and negotiations on the settlement of the Kashmir problem, and the United States supported the UN decision by cutting off arms supplies to both belligerents. Though the UN resolution and the halting of arms sales had a definitive impact on the conclusion of the war, but it did affect the India and Pakistan’s trust in the United States.
Moreover, in the war of 1971, the United States sympathized with Pakistan, because of various reasons. Among them two reasons were that: firstly, Pakistan belonged to American-led military Pact, CENTO, and SEATO; secondly, the United States believed that any victory of India will be considered as the expansion of Soviet influence in the parts gained by India with the victory, as it was believed to be a pro-Soviet nation, even though they were non-aligned. Andrew Small has also written in his book “The China-Pakistan, Axis” that, how Henry Kissinger, United States Secretary of State of that time, planned to move American ships in the vicinity, allowing Jordan, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to send American arms to Pakistan when it was on the brink of losing the war of 1971 against India. Because of this mistrust developed towards the United States, India has the inkling of being betrayed from the Leading super power again and because of this ersatz surety of its belief, it does not want the Unites States to take part in peace talks with Pakistan.
Furthermore, Indian envoys and policy experts believe that American improved relationship with India post-1990s has made possible the further exacerbation of the prickly relations between India and Pakistan. They believe that increased American exports of military technology have acted as a security threat to Pakistan, engendering it to accrete its military resources as well. This has resulted in the increase in military and nuclear arsenal competition between the two countries, leading to the further obfuscation of the tortuous bilateral relations.
Finally, The recent report card of the United States involvement in the Middle East and Afghanistan shows a record of misunderstanding, hubris, and failure. Therefore, India would not want the United State to indulge itself in the India-Pakistan conundrum and to turn South Asia as its next battlefield. India has witnessed the Unites State involvement in Syrian Conflict where it has supported Syria’s main opposition alliance, the National Coalition, and provides limited military assistance to the “moderate” rebels. Also, since September 2014, the United States have been conducting air strikes on IS and other jihadist groups in Syria as part of an international coalition against the jihadist group. Furthermore, the United States had also started a program to train and arm 5,000 Syrian rebels to take the fight to IS on the ground. This, along with the India’s learning from four wars experience with Pakistan, has a comprehensive idea that how any conflict between Pakistan and India can escalate the involvement of the superpowers, nuclear-armed states and neighboring countries which might turn into a World War three. India also knows that both Pakistan and India have nuclear fusion weapons now and a slight misunderstanding between both the states can lead to a nuclear war, the results of which will be more devastating than the catastrophe caused by dropping the fission bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Therefore, India has a wary and chary diplomatic policy towards Pakistan and believes that it will be a facetious decision to involve the United States in India-Pakistan subtle relations.
Many critics have excoriated the India’s snub to the US offer, arguing that it will result in demurring the India-US burgeoning ties. However, critics have failed to realize that involving the United States will impair the current mushrooming relations between the two countries sorely as compared to the damage that a rebuff will cause. Prime Minster Modi has taken calibrated efforts at the highest political level to transform bilateral relations between India and the United States. Modi has been extremely careful while dealing with the United States as he believes that India’s developmental priorities cannot be met without substantive cooperation with the United States. Also, India constantly requires the support of the United States for the structural changes in India’s security environment brought about by an aggressive China and its growing strategic convergence with Pakistan via CPEC, leading to a re-think on ‘non-alignment’ as a guiding principle of foreign policy. Moreover, Modi has taken painstaking efforts to seek economic opportunities in deepening defense ties and technology cooperation with Washington. Modi had been proud to stand among the tech CEOs of Silicon Valley to announce the transformation of India into the “Digital India”. Moreover, India is proud to be the only country outside Washington’s formal treaty allies that will gain access to almost 99 per cent of latest U.S.’s defense technologies after being recognized as a ‘Major Defense Partner’. It certainly captures what is emerging as a unique relationship between India and United States and India does not want the banal India-Pakistan babbling to act as a hurdle in it.
Taliban and the crisis in Afghanistan
In 2021, the Afghan Taliban took back control of Afghanistan after fighting a rebellion for twenty years. The Taliban reformed and began regaining territory less than 10 years after the American-led invasion that overthrew the previous regime in 2001. In line with a 2020 peace agreement with the Taliban, they staged a swift assault as the US started to evacuate its last forces from Afghanistan.
Even though they promised to preserve the rights of women and communities of religious and racial minorities, the Taliban have enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law. The Taliban have failed to provide Afghans with sufficient food supplies and economic possibilities as they have evolved from an insurgent organization to a functioning administration.
Numerous instances of human rights violations have been documented by the UN mission in Afghanistan. Because the Taliban scared off journalists and put limits on press freedom, more than 200 news outlets had to close. Activists and protesters have been tracked and forcefully disappeared, and their government has ruthlessly suppressed protests. They also reinstated the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which was previously in place, and enforced laws against actions judged to be contrary to Islam. They instructed judges to apply their version of sharia in November 2022; in the following weeks, authorities resumed public hangings and floggings.
Women’s rights have been undermined. Due to restrictions put in place by the Taliban, girls are not allowed to go to high school, and women are not allowed to go to college or teach there. The group banned women from working for local and international voluntary groups in December 2022. According to estimates from the UN Development Program (UNDP), limiting women’s employment might cost Afghanistan’s GDP up to 5%. Amnesty International reports a substantial increase in the number of women jailed for defying discriminatory rules, such as those requiring women to cover their whole bodies while in public and to only appear with male chaperones. In addition, there are now more child marriages.
The UNDP says that the Taliban’s rule has also taken away the gains that Afghans made in their living conditions in the 20 years after the US invasion. In a study from October 2022, the organization claimed that practically all Afghans were living in poverty. Since the takeover, the economy has contracted by up to 30%, and there have been an estimated 700,000 job losses. More than 90% of individuals are impacted by food insecurity. The problem is getting worse because several countries and international groups have stopped giving aid, which is vital to the economy and public health.
International observers are nonetheless worried that the Taliban pose a danger to national and international security through their funding of terrorist groups, especially Al-Qaeda. Taliban leadership might convert Afghanistan into a haven for terrorists who could launch attacks against the US and its allies, despite Taliban pledges that the country’s territory wouldn’t be used against the security of any other country. The violence has also increased along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, which has always supported the Taliban. Tehrik-e-Taliban, a terrorist organization commonly referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, has gained strength due to the Taliban’s ascent to power. The organization broke off a cease-fire with the Pakistani government in 2022 and began carrying out assaults throughout the nation. Officials from Pakistan have charged the Afghan Taliban with giving the extremists a safe harbor in their country.
For many years, the Afghan government relied on help from a number of countries; according to 2019 World Bank research, contributions from foreign partners funded 75% of the government’s public expenditures. Many of these countries stopped off aid when the Taliban took control, fueling concerns about potential future economic turmoil. Nevertheless, aid rose in 2022 as donors sent more than $2.6 billion. The US has donated more than $1.1 billion in help since the coup. However, according to UN authorities, the pledges fell short of the nation’s humanitarian requirements.
Many Western countries, most notably the US, shut down their diplomatic posts in Afghanistan when the Taliban took power. Diplomatic relations and recognition have been withheld from the Taliban regime, which refers to Afghanistan as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The UN General Assembly has also postponed a decision on who would indefinitely represent Afghanistan at the UN. The Taliban are now being investigated by the International Criminal Court for suspected atrocities, including crimes against humanity, committed against Afghans.
Decoding Donald Lu’s Visit: A Positive Upward in US-Bangladesh Relations?
The U.S Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Donald Lu paid a visit from January 12 to 15. During his brief but swarming itinerary the two parties discussed various issues ranging from diplomatic to political. Interestingly, this is the 11th visit of any U.S high-official in the past two years. The frequent swapping of delegations from the both sides pose a critical juncture between the U.S-Bangladesh relationship. Experts believe that recurrent visits from US high-ups are definitely an auspicious sign between the relationship of the two nations. Therefore, the visit of Donald Lu is an offshoot of the “growing reciprocity and renewed engagement” between Dhaka and Washington.
Needless to say, Bangladesh has a long standing and steady relationship with the US since the latter recognized the former shortly after independence on April 04, 1972. Recently the US-Bangladesh celebrated the completion of 50 years of bilateral relationship and US President Joe Biden termed this as “robust partnership”. Amid such backdrop, it goes without saying that the recent visits signal to a significant positive tie-up between the two parties and the visit can be interpreted in the context of international and domestic backdrop of international politics.
The US is the largest market for Bangladesh’s RMG export. Naturally, the issue of GSP reinstatement plays a key role in bilateral camaraderie. Under such circumstances, Lu’s visit is important to hold talks of economic in the context of Bangladesh’s growing needs, especially after the LDC graduation. Moreover, in the annual Global Firepower 2023 Military Strength Ranking, Bangladesh is placed 40th out of 145 nations. On the other hand, Bangladesh came in 12th place on the GFP review’s list of ‘Strengths on the Rise,’ which emphasizes national military powers based on strong growth patterns until 2023. In this context, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and Acquisition and Cross-servicing Agreement (ACSA) agreement indicates to a deeper and strategic engagement from the US rationale.
Bangladesh’s stands at the heart of a strategic position of the US’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, which aims to counter the increasing footprint of China in the Indo-Pacific region. However, Bangladesh maintains a neutral position in terms of its foreign relations and has been carefully helming without taking any side of any major powers. Washington’s focus on free and fair election is important to maintain a stability in the greater Bay of Bengal neighborhood- an important feat in it’s IPS. Conversely, Bangladesh values economic partnership to sustain her ongoing upward trend. However, at the same time Bangladesh should be careful not to succumb to any pressure, a case in point when the Foreign Minister announced that the US proposed strategy is being vetted under the lens of economic opportunity.
On the domestic fore, arguably, the U.S has been advocating for a free and fair election, upholding democratic values, and condemning extra judicial excesses. However, continuous engagement between the two parties resulted helping to mitigate tensions and create a more positive atmosphere. The crux of Donald Lu’s visit is to reaffirm democratic ideals in state mechanism, rule based international system and Bangladesh to be part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy. Accordingly, Bangladesh has committed to hold a fair election and the recent decline of the controversial RAB’s extrajudicial excesses reported by Human Rights Watch as well as peaceful demonstrations of the opposition have been markedly praised by Donald Lu. From Bangladesh’s perspective rescinding of sanctions, reinstatement of GSP, and more support for Rohingya Refugees were reiterated. More importantly, Dhaka’s impartial foreign policy goals align with Washington’s interest in the South Asian region and it will be of American interest to consider Bangladesh as an important ally in the geopolitical chessboard of the Indo-Pacific region.
However, the visit is also crucial for Donald Lu who is accused of meddling with the internal affairs of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. But, Donald Lu manifested his diplomatic acumen to “manage the fissures of the diplomatic ties’ and “highlight on the areas of convergence” in the recent visit. Evidently, the past year has been tumultuous for South Asian nations, following the collapse of Colombo, the Pakistani Economic Crisis and the revolving debt crisis around the region. Amongst her neighbors, Bangladesh has endured relatively steady political and economic pursuit. Therefore, US needs to formulate a comprehensive South Asian policy to accommodate the interests of the respective nations on its own merit.
Bangladesh’s relationship with the U.S is vital in both economic and political stance. Continued engagement and partnership between the two states is critical for the security of South Asia as well as Bangladesh’s ongoing economic prosperity. On a pragmatic tone, it would take more than just this one visit for Bangladesh to solve these complex geopolitical issues. For now, the visit has symbolized strengthening of U.S-Bangladesh relationship going forward by exonerating the mutual interests to diplomatically resolve pressing bilateral issues and elevation of continuous engagement.
Praiseworthy Development of RAB in the Last Year
On December 10th 2021, the United States of America (USA) announced sanctions against Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and its seven current and former officials on allegations of Human Rights violation. Such unilateral decisions of the US on the elite force surprised many. But Bangladesh chose to respond maturely through diplomatic communication. Since then, Bangladesh increased diplomatic engagement with the US, a method lauded by many as ‘prudent’ also.
Since the sanction, Bangladesh enhanced its effort to uphold the Human Rights situation in Bangladesh. RAB as an elite force also acknowledged the sanction and behaved in a more professional way. And it seems after one year, there are significant developments regarding both RAB and government policy. Foreign dignitaries and organizations are also lauding these developments.
Efforts from Bangladesh
After the announcement of the sanctions, Bangladesh immediately contacted the US diplomatic institutions to understand and assess the situation. As a part of the efforts, Bangladesh established Human Rights Cell in the Foreign Ministry under its United Nations wing.
Bangladesh also increased its diplomatic communications with the US, not necessarily because of the sanctions, but also due to growing geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific region, and commitment to deepen bilateral relations with the US. In the last two years, both countries undertook 18 bilateral visits of mid and high-level. Bangladesh sent 7 delegations to the US while the US sent 11 delegations including Donald Lu’s latest.
Both countries also hold the bilateral Partnership Dialogue and Security Dialogue in March and April of 2022. In the same year, they also celebrated 50 years of their anniversary. Bangladesh’s foreign minister also met his counterpart in April 2022.
While many rogue states such as North Korea, react to the US sanctions by projecting hard power or test-launching missile, Bangladesh resorted to diplomatic means to raise and provide an update about the agenda to its counterpart. Almost in all diplomatic meetings, Bangladesh raised its concern about the sanction. Bangladesh even gave a ‘non-paper’ dossier to Under-Secretary Victoria Nuland, when Nuland came to Bangladesh in March 2022.
Since the US sanctions on 10th December 2021, the allegations of extrajudicial killings have gone down in Bangladesh. It has reached zero after one year. There were no new allegations of extrajudicial killing by RAB for the last 13 months. RAB’s name was not also mentioned in any other allegations or negative deeds. Therefore, RAB is maintaining a ‘clean record’ at least for last 13 months or so.
Apart from that, the Human Rights situation also improved in Bangladesh in the meantime as the government gave extra effort to project the situation to the international community. During Under Secretary Nuland’s visit in March, she also acknowledged that the situation has improved.
The US Assistant Secretary Donald Lu also acknowledged the further development regarding the allegations against RAB. Secretary Lu visited Bangladesh on January 14th and 15th. He also acknowledged the falling extrajudicial killing in Bangladesh. He also said that there was ‘tremendous progress’ in reducing extrajudicial killings after the US sanctions.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Kamal also told the media that the US delegation is satisfied with RAB’s current activities. In another expert talk with The Business Standard, the Home Minister further said that the US also praised the actions of Bangladesh in combating militancy, terrorism, arson, and radicalism.
Apart from the US, global watchdogs are also acknowledging the fact. Human Rights Watch World Human Rights Report 2023 mentioned that there is a ‘drop-in abuse’ in Bangladesh (See Page 68).
Such transformation in the US perspective within only 13 months regarding a sanction is very unique considering the history of sanctions. Bangladesh’s diplomatic efforts and commitment to upholding Human Rights deserve praise in this regard. Till now Bangladesh is dealing with the issue prudently.
Lifting the sanctions in a diplomatic manner will require making it a national security interest for the USA. An elite force with a ‘clean record’ and its die-hard effort in curbing terrorism and militancy, fighting drug and human trafficking, and anti-piracy drive can easily draw US national security interest in this region. And RAB has the ability to become so. Considering the historic relations between the US and Bangladesh, the Sanctions are the only ‘strain’ in this bilateral relationship. Lastly, as there are praiseworthy developments, both countries are likely to pass beyond this issue in the near future if Bangladesh continues to maintain the positive trend.
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