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Pro-India Sheikh Hasina wins Bangladesh Elections, Why US Deep State is so rattled?

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Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has won the re-election for a fifth term in the national election that were conducted on Sunday amidst the boycott by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by former PM Khaleda Zia, who is currently in jail.

Sheikh Hasina’s party Awami League has won a fourth consecutive term in the 12th parliamentary election, marking the second lowest voter turnout since the reinstatement of democracy in 1991. Hasina’s party had won 223 seats, but support of other lawmakers including from allied parties, means Hasina’s actual control over the 300 seat parliament is even higher.

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has won a fifth term in power with her party taking three-quarters of seats in parliament, election officials said Monday after polls boycotted by the opposition as a “sham“.

India’s High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pranay Verma during his call on to Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina conveyed, on behalf of the Government of India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, warm greetings and congratulations to her on her election victory.

He expressed hope that during the new term of her government, there will be even stronger momentum and growth in the bilateral partnership in support of each other’s national development.

Meanwhile the United States has raised some seriour question over the Bangladesh Elections. “The United States remains concerned by the arrests of thousands of political opposition members and by reports of irregularities on elections day,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said on Monday.

“The United States shares the view with other observers that these elections were not free or fair and we regret that not all parties participated.”

Since 2022, external actors, predominantly Western countries and US Deep State, have been intervening in Bangladesh’s election process. Following October 28 violence amid demand for free and fair elections in Bangladesh, the US has expressed “concern” and “condemned” the incident as “political violence”, while the European Union (EU) was “deeply saddened” over what it called “violence”.

Seven countries such as Australia, Japan, Canada, Republic of Korea, Norway, United Kingdom and United States have issued a joint statement expressing “deep concern over the violence.”

You must ask a question, that why are western countries meddling in the Bangladesh election?

In international relations, nothing happens in vacuum and no actions by any sovereign nations are taken without self-interests. The US’ intervention in other countries (Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Vietnam, to name a few) to instil “democracy” are cases in point.

Now, with the US using the same rhetoric in Bangladesh, constantly insisting on the need for Bangladesh’s election to be “free and fair” raises concern about Washington’s actual intention and interests in Bangladesh.

Historically, the US had not been in favour of the creation of independent Bangladesh under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and has maintained close relations with Khaleda Zia and the BNP, a sentiment carried from since pre 1971 Pakistan times. The US has been a significant player in brokering a settlement in 2007 between the BNP and the Awami League which resulted in the BNP-led government’s stepping down and the eventual rise of Sheikh Hasina to power in 2009.

In the previous two elections (2014 and 2018) in Bangladesh, the US expressed “disappointment” and “concern” about the election results which were largely alleged to be unfair and rigged. Nevertheless, it continued to cordially work with the Hasina government. However, in this election, one can notice a shift in attitude and in tone. A number of steps taken in the last couple of years by the US also connote that this is not a sudden shift.

It is important to note that Bangladesh is highly dependent on the US economically. The US is the largest foreign investor in Bangladesh, third largest trading partner and largest market of Bangladesh’s ready-made garments and biggest investor in Bangladesh’s energy sector. Moreover, Bangladesh is also the largest recipient of US assistance in Asia and a leading collaborator in the field of education, research and intellectual property.

The growing Chinese investments in infrastructural projects is perceived by Washington DC as Dhaka’s increasing tilt towards Beijing. Bangladesh’s strategic location makes it a significant player in the Indo Pacific region, and hence, it has become a target for influence by two major competing powers; the US and China. In 2020, the then US Deputy Secretary of State invited Dhaka to join the Quad and wanted it to be part of its Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) established in early 2022. However, Dhaka refused to join any military alliance like Quad.

Meanwhile, in 2021, then Chinese envoy warned Bangladesh from joining any military alliance as it would lead to “substantial damage” to (Sino-Bangladeshi) bilateral relations, to which Dhaka curtly responded that “we decide our own foreign policy”. Thus, Bangladesh tried to maintain a cordial and balanced relations between the two major competing powers, without overtly siding with one over the other and following the foreign policy principle of “friendship to all and malice to none.” This is officially reflected in Dhaka’s Indo-Pacific outlookreleased in April.

The suspicion and mistrust between Bangladesh and the US stems from the latter’s criticism of Awami League government’s poor human rights record and its intensifying vocalisation of the country’s democracy issues. In 2021, the US imposed sanctions on Bangladesh’s elite paramilitary force; the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and seven of its current and former members for their alleged extra-judicial killings and disappearances.

In December 2022, US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas visited homes and met families of victims of enforced disappearances, including the house of BNP leader Sajedul Islam Sumon. Haas’s actions triggered reaction from Awami League leaders who accused Haas of supporting the BNP and meddling in the country’s domestic affairs. Washington further refrained from inviting Bangladesh in its Democracy Summits in December 2021 and March 2023.

In February, the US State Department counsellor Derek Chollet expressed concern that erosion of democracy in Bangladesh would limit Washington DC’s cooperation with Dhaka, reiterating its desire of seeing free, fair and inclusive elections. During Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen’s visit to Washington in April, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned Momen that the world is looking to Bangladesh for the next election to make sure Bangladesh sets up a strong example of a free and fair poll. The warnings translated into actions in May when the US announced a new visa policy for Bangladeshi citizens whereby the Washington DC is to take steps to impose visa restrictions to persons and members of their immediate family who are “responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh.”

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