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Dhaka Tribune

Has the BNP achieved anything from the US delegation?

  • They have established the importance of the BNP, claims party leaders
  • Bangladesh is politically important to the US, the meeting implies
Update : 28 Feb 2024, 10:31 AM

The BNP sees at least three things as achievements from the meeting with three representatives of the United States held on Saturday. 

Party leaders claim that, through the meeting, they have established the importance of the BNP and that they are more practical. The meeting also implies that Bangladesh is politically important to the US.

Several leaders linked to the international affairs of the BNP told this reporter that the US visa policy, its efforts to make elections fair, free, and participatory, and the propaganda about the direct and indirect role of the US in the anti-government movement” also came up for discussion. Another leader said that the BNP has been asked to be practical. 

However, a member of the party's foreign affairs committee thinks that the US delegation's visit was a post-election fact-finding mission. They will make an assessment and report to Washington upon their return. 

The leader said: “Democracy, freedom of thought, freethinking, and human rights are of utmost importance for the Biden administration. In this case, the delegation will make post-election commentary on several issues, including the newly formed government of Bangladesh and the 12th national polls held on January 7.

US officials took a variety of actions and made a number of statements before the elections. But this visiting delegation had diversity among them, said BNP Special Secretary Asaduzzaman Ripon. 

“I think the delegation is visiting for the post-election evaluation and to report on that evaluation. They discussed various issues with the country's civil society, economists, and labour representatives. They spoke with the BNP as the only political party outside the government. They mainly came to assess the current situation,” he added.

BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul, Standing Committee Member and head of the party's International Affairs Committee Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury, and its Member Shama Obaid met with US Department of State Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Afreen Akhter in Gulshan on Saturday.

The meeting, held from 3pm to 4:10pm, was also attended by Elin Laubaker, Special Assistant to the US President and Senior Director of South Asia of the National Security Council (NSC), Michael Schiffer, Assistant Administrator of the Asian Affairs Bureau of USAID, and Peter Haas, the US Ambassador to Bangladesh. 

A member of the BNP Standing Committee said that there was no policy-making discussion at the meeting. The usual political and internal issues of the country came up in this meeting. 

However, Mirza Fakhrul and Amir Khosru did not talk about this meeting in the party forum.

A BNP leader who attended the Standing Committee meeting held on Monday said that he was still in the dark regarding the meeting with the US delegation.

Asked about it on Tuesday, Amir Khosru said: "I said that day that I would not comment on the meeting. I can't do it even today.”

Anti-India stance was a tactic 

In October 2019, the BNP held a rally to protest some agreements made during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India. It was the BNP's open anti-India rally after at least seven or eight years. After that, the BNP was not seen making any comments against India. 

After a gap of several years, BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi spoke against India on November 26, December 1, December 22, and December 24 before the 12th parliamentary polls.

In a virtual press conference on December 26, Rizvi said: "India is the helper of Bangladesh's botched election." Besides, Gayeshwar Chandra Roy, a member of the Standing Committee, also commented on India several times. But other senior leaders have remained quiet.

Sources close to the BNP Standing Committee and the party chairperson's office said that the party has maintained two visible positions on anti-India sentiments after the elections: to encourage the right-wing parties in their anti-India campaigns and to not announce any program against India.

Analyzing the BNP’s verified Facebook page, it has been found that the anti-India programs of some right-wing political parties, including the Jatiya Ganotantrik Party, 12-party alliance, Gono Odhikar Parishad, and Labour Party, are being regularly promoted on social media.

Asked about the reason for this strategy, several BNP leaders said that they would not launch a direct program against India. However, the drive to appease anti-India sentiments and right-wing political parties within the country would continue.

Notably, the anti-India campaign is a key issue behind the formation of a coalition of several Islamic and pro-Islamic parties.

Some of the main leaders of these parties say India is causing problems with all the neighbouring states. Countries like the Maldives have taken a direct stand. There is also the issue of boycotting Indian products. Some enthusiastic right-wing parties are running various programs to make it a political issue.

One of the leaders of the 12-party alliance, Bangladesh LDP Secretary General Shahadat Hossain Salim, told Bangla Tribune: "The program of the 12-party alliance on the India issue was decided in our alliance meeting. Several leaders of the coalition partners proposed this. India also needs to be more careful with its foreign policy. We want to appeal to the people of India that they need to realize that they are getting lonely.”

Even though the BNP’s like-minded parties are opposing India, the senior leaders of the party do not want to bring this issue to the fore. Some of the top leaders of the BNP protested against the killings at the border and criticized the ruling Awami League government in various ways, but kept the word “India” in their mouths.

The BNP secretary general made a statement on the police blocking the anti-India march of the 12-party alliance on February 25. Mirza Fakhrul said: "Foiling the program of the 12-party alliance in front of the National Press Club is undemocratic, contrary to the rule of law, and the worst example of the government's suppression of dissent."

Mirza Fakhrul did not mention the word “India” in the entire statement.

In this context, a top leader of the 12-party alliance said: “As a large party, the BNP will not speak directly against India. It is natural. They are a power-centric party. This is why they are not openly anti-India.”

Before the BNP started its anti-India campaign around the national election, its urge to improve relations with the country was high. In 2022, several leaders of the BNP had private talks with the former envoy of India, Vikram Kumar Doraiswamy. In this continuation, Prannoy Verma, the High Commissioner appointed in Dhaka on March 16 of the outgoing year, invited five BNP leaders to his home.

Last year, two members of the BNP Standing Committee, Iqbal Hasan Mahmud Tuku and Salahuddin Ahmed, went to Delhi and interacted with various quarters ahead of the elections.

Before the 11th parliamentary elections of 2018, BNP leaders Amir Khosru, Abdul Awal Mintoo, and Humayun Kabir went to India on a visit. 

On February 16, the BNP protested the killing of Bangladeshis on the Bangladesh-India border and organized prayers in a mosque. Before this, on February 12, BNP Standing Committee Member Dr Abdul Moyeen Khan met US Ambassador Peter Haas at the embassy.

A member of the BNP’s Standing Committee said: "I don't know anything about the India issue. I don't agree with it… I'm not interested. The BNP is not like Maulana Bhasani; rather, it is a party that wants to go to power.”

He claimed that the leaders who are speaking against India have their agendas.

Asked about the BNP's position on the India issue, Amir Khosru said on Tuesday: "We have to think about it. I still haven't fully recovered after getting out of prison. The whole thing is not clear to me. The matter must be understood.”

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