Thursday, February 16, 2012

United States softens on threats to relations with Bangladesh

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Bangladesh foreign minister Dipu Moni in Washington DC

SALEEM SAMAD

It now appears that the United States government has softened in exerting diplomatic pressure on Bangladesh soon after the authorities forcibly removed Nobel laureate Professor Mohammad Yunus from the micro-finance institution he founded 30 years ago.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was irked last March and threatened that the bilateral relations with Bangladesh would jeopardize if authorities continue to harass Prof. Yunus, a popular advocate of social business concept.

Visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert O. Blake in Bangladesh capital on Thursday told reporters that with Bangladesh and U.S has developed strong cooperation on counter-terrorism and security issues.

The visiting official emphasized the importance of Bangladesh’s finding an eminently qualified successor to Dr. Yunus as managing director of Grameen Bank, which has credit of empowering 10 million disadvantaged rural women. The Islamist squarely blamed the micro-finance bank for voting against the mullahs in last parliament election.

Blake reiterated U.S. policy against extra-constitutional means to overthrown a democratic government. In a recent botched military coup hatched by mid-level radical Muslim army officers in last January, the U.S. immediately condemned the conspiracy and firmly stood beside Sheikh Hasina’s government in establishing secularism and democracy. The overwhelming majority of Bangladesh 150 million people are Sunni Muslims, followed by 10 million minority Hindu population.

The senior U.S. official hopes that the ruling Awami League and mainstream opposition Bangladesh Nationalists Party would rise above narrow partisanship and will work together to agree for a mechanism in holding free, fair, credible and participatory election, schedule in end 2013.

He urged Bangladesh authority to ensure continued space for free media and vigorous non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The vibrant civil society representatives expressed their fear to Blake that the draft NGO law would curtail their mandate for empowerment of the rural poor.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow, is an award winning investigative reporter based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic extremism, forced migration, good governance, press freedom and elective democracy. He was detained, tortured in 2002 and later expelled in 2004 for whistle-blowing of the safe sanctuaries of the Jihadist leaders in Bangladesh who fled during Anglo-US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Ending his life in exile from Canada he has recently returned home after six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com