US sanction on Bangladesh feared as the House passes a resolution

Anita Mathur

A House Resolution – HR 1169, introduced by William R. Keating, from the Democratic Party, has been unanimously passed on December 12, 2018 reaffirming the commitment of the United States to promote free, fair, transparent and credible elections in Bangladesh.

In the resolution it is said:

“Whereas Bangladesh achieved independence in 1971 and established a secular democratic state, which is home to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, and atheists;

“Whereas Bangladesh is the eighth most populous country with nearly 160,000,000 people;

“Whereas according to the United States Agency for International Development maternal and child mortality rates in Bangladesh have declined by more than 60 percent, production of rice has tripled, and growth in gross domestic product has averaged more than 6 percent annually for over a decade;

“Whereas Bangladesh has fulfilled the criteria to initiate graduation from the United Nations “Least Developed Country” status and could become a middle-income country within the next 3 years;

“Whereas in 2017, the generous people of Bangladesh welcomed more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees following the Burmese military and security force’s crimes against humanity and genocide against the Rohingya in Northern Rakhine State;

“Whereas in recent years, Bangladesh’s democratic system has faced challenges, including political violence, environmental strain, Islamist militancy, a refugee crisis, and challenges to freedom of speech and press;

Whereas free, fair, transparent, and credible elections are the cornerstone of every democracy;

“Whereas legitimate elections that respect fundamental freedoms are characterized by transparency, accountability, security, and accessibility for all voters;

“Whereas strong democracies worldwide make for better trading partners, provide new market opportunities, improve global health outcomes, and promote economic freedom and regional security;

“Whereas attacks on democracy and democratic institutions undermine the sacrifices of the Bangladeshi people and the country’s commitment to human rights and the rule of law;

“Whereas one of Bangladesh’s main political parties boycotted the 2014 general election due to concerns about the impartiality of the electoral process;

“Whereas Bangladesh is scheduled to hold general elections on December 30, 2018;

“Whereas democratic stability, regional security, and economic prosperity in Bangladesh and South Asia are vital to the national security interests of the United States;

“Whereas the United States-Bangladesh relationship is built on a foundation of shared values and cooperation on issues including economic growth and development, labor rights, peacekeeping, counterterrorism, and the environment and climate;

“Whereas the United States should more actively engage with the Government of Bangladesh with respect to their shared interests in safeguarding human rights, religious freedom, and secular democracy in Bangladesh, while preventing the growth of religious extremism and militancy; and

“Whereas repeated attacks on religious minorities, expanding religious intolerance, and growing destabilization caused by radical groups undermine United States economic and strategic interests in Bangladesh: Now, therefore, be it

“Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

“(1) reaffirms the commitment of the United States to promote free, fair, transparent and credible elections in Bangladesh;

“(2) calls on the Government of Bangladesh to respect the freedom of speech and of the press and to heed the Bangladesh Election Commission’s request to ensure security for minorities and maintain communal harmony for a peaceful election;

“(3) urges political leaders and judicial authorities in Bangladesh to respect the will of voters and ensure that all Bangladeshis will be able to participate freely in the upcoming elections, and that the elections will be impartial and inclusive; and

“(4) commends the government and people of Bangladesh for their generosity in hosting Rohingya refugees despite the hardships associated with responding to this man-made humanitarian disaster created by the Burmese military and security force’s crimes against humanity and genocide against the Rohingya in Northern Rakhine State.”

Congressman William R. Keating is a senior member of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Following the passing of the House Resolution, Rasky Partners, in a press release said, “Humaiun Kobir, advisor to the acting chairman and secretary of international affairs of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), is meeting with key members of Congress and State Department officials to bring attention to the deteriorating political situation in Bangladesh ahead of national elections scheduled for Dec. 30. With fewer than three weeks before the elections, the potential for a free and fair process remains remote absent significant international intervention.

“Earlier this month, Bangladesh’s Election Commission rejected the nomination papers of nearly 150 opposition political party candidates, including longstanding BNP leader Khaleda Zia. These disqualifications were based on arbitrary standards not equally applied to candidates from the ruling party, the Awami League. Moreover, those opposition candidates not disqualified have been effectively unable to campaign for fear of reprisal from ruling party officials and the police.”

Dana Doran of Rasky Partners is working on getting Humaiun Kobir interviewed by the US media. Additionally, Rasky Partners also is trying to hire some prominent columnists in the US, for getting favorable opinion editorials published in the US newspapers.

Who are Rasky Partners?

Rasky Partners Inc was founded nearly 30 years ago (1989) to provide public affairs and strategic communications counsel to clients who operate at the intersection of business, government (public policy) and the media. Prior to starting the firm, now Chairman and CEO, Larry Rasky, served as Director of Policy and Communications for Chairman Ed Markey on the House Telecommunications and Finance Subcommittee and as Communications Director for then-Senator Joseph Biden. In 1997, along with partners Joseph Baerlein and Ann Carter, the trio launched Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications, which led the firm to become widely regarded as one of America’s leading independent public relations and public affairs firms.  The firm has consistently been recognized by PR Week as one of the top firms in the country and was selected by the prestigious Holmes Report as a Top Public Affairs firm of the year.

Today the firm continues to be headed by Rasky along with Managing Directors Justine Griffin (Communications) and George Cronin (Public Affairs). Rasky Partners combines over 50 seasoned experts between Washington and Boston, offering client’s custom tailored strategic counsel on a wide range of public policy and strategic communications matters.  In addition to public relations and government relations services, the firm also specializes in reputation management, crisis and litigation support, ballot question initiatives, and digital advocacy and communications.

What may be the possible consequences?

US House Resolution is a reflection of the desire of the American voters. The administration is obligated in exhibiting fullest respect to such resolution. As Bangladesh has a past record of ignoring the US Resolution (HR-64 of 2007), the notion of the latest House Resolution 1169/2018 may even lead to sanctions imposed by the United States, if the demands and observations of the House Resolution either are ignored or unimplemented. The possible consequences of the resolution depend on how it would be pressed with the US administration by the members of the US Congress.

It may be mention here that, in every case of imposing sanctions (including the sanctions on North Korea and Iran), there had been similar resolutions adopted by the US Congress and Senate.

What role India can play?

India is known as an ally of the ruling Awami League government in Bangladesh.

There are members in the US Congress known as “India lobby”. In this particular case of HR 1169, the same “Indian lobby” had either been silent or even supportive to the House Resolution; as this has been passed unanimously.

Moreover, India has been maintaining silence over the upcoming general election in Bangladesh, mostly because of the challenges Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been facing from their arch rival Indian National Congress (INC). The next general election in India is scheduled to be held in 2019 and BJP already is seen as a loser.

In 2014, India played exposed role in favour of Awami League. The ruling party in Bangladesh is known to be pro-Indian and committed to protect Indian interests. But this time, while India is maintaining silence, Pakistan has been actively working in favour of BNP-Jamaat nexus to ensure its return to power.

President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy clearly signals the supremacy of US over any other country in the world. United States may not be inclined in listening to any dictations or suggestions from a third country, including India on its policies towards Bangladesh. Instead, Trump administration may consider India’s involvement into this issue as audacity.

Talking to this correspondent, political analysts, specialized on the Capitol said, the House Resolution 1169 has already put the Bangladesh authorities under obligation of complying with the observations and demands registered in it.

It may be mentioned here that, United States is the biggest development partner of Bangladesh for many decades.

The BNP-Jamaat nexus:

The nexus of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat e Islami Bangladesh (JIB) has been actively working and spending lavishly in the US for past several months in gaining support of the American policymakers in exerting pressure on the Bangladesh authorities in ensuring a free and fair election. The next general election in Bangladesh is scheduled to be held on December 30, 2018 and it is widely anticipated that pro-Islamist vote bank may lead to a landslide victory of the BNP-Jamaat nexus.

Humaiun Kobir’s connections:

In the US, Humaiun Kobir, a former ambassador (now advisor to Tarique Rahman, acting chairman) and secretary of international affairs of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has connections with several top politicians, Capitol and key figures in the Department of State. He also has relations with several influential journalists and members of the American media.

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