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Dhaka Tribune

US Delegation’s Dhaka visit: Is Washington turning a new page in Bangladesh?

  • Atmosphere changes after the election
  • Biden in a letter mentions beginning a ‘new chapter’ in ties 
  • A delegation arrived in Dhaka on Saturday morning
Update : 25 Feb 2024, 09:33 AM

The United States had a different tone before the parliamentary elections in Bangladesh. The US ambassador had been actively advocating for free and fair elections. Meanwhile, the US administration had consistently used confrontational rhetoric with the government at the time. Washington had also announced plans to impose several sanctions on Bangladesh.

But the atmosphere has changed after the election. US President Joe Biden has written a letter to Awami League President and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after the latter formed the government with an absolute majority in the 12th parliamentary elections, where he mentioned beginning a “new chapter” in ties between the two countries.

Following this, a delegation headed by Afrin Akter, a deputy assistant secretary in the US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, arrived in Dhaka on Saturday morning. The Director General of the North American Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is scheduled to meet with the team. Besides, the Foreign Secretary can also pay a courtesy call. After this meeting at the official level, many more meetings are scheduled.

On Saturday, Afrin Akter met the BNP high command before meeting Bangladesh government officials. At the meeting held at a hotel in the capital, the BNP discussed the ongoing political situation in Bangladesh. In a message from the embassy’s X handle, it was also informed that their communication with BNP will continue in the future.

In the handle, the embassy wrote: “Engaging in constructive dialogue is key to understanding different perspectives and finding common ground. We welcomed a fruitful discussion with @bdbnp78’s (BNP X handle) Secretary General about the current political landscape in Bangladesh and the thousands of opposition members in prison. Looking forward to continued engagement.”

Analysts say that the US government’s positive interest in Bangladesh after the election will help create a new chapter in the future. Apart from improving the country’s diplomatic relations, economic development will generally become a new milestone. This will make Bangladesh a high-income country by 2041.

Before the 12th national election, the United States made various comments regarding the civil rights of Bangladesh. The country even issued a statement after the election that the vote was “not free and fair.” But if times and circumstances change in diplomacy, behavior also changes, says Jahangir Sur, a researcher at the Political Science Department of Dhaka University.

He said: “Each time each country has different priorities. Each time each country behaves differently. The same has happened in our country.”

On the sudden positive behaviour of the Americans, he said: “Considering the recent situation, a new chapter of Bangladesh-US partnership has been announced. Among the areas of cooperation between the two countries, regional and global security can be considered first. Also, another area of cooperation is Rohingya refugees. A shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific is also important. This includes economic development, climate change, energy, and other cooperation.”

Jahangir Sur said: ‘‘The discomfort that was created before the elections will gradually subside, but the anger will remain. The report will be published on labor rights issues. This may have repercussions in Brussels and Geneva. I think Bangladesh will give full support to either side – it is not likely and it will not be right.”

Bangladesh aims to become a developed country by 2041. For this, the government has introduced a variety of economic activities, from the construction of large infrastructures to radical changes in the education system. In this regard, Tanjim Uddin Khan, a Professor of International Relations Department of Dhaka University, said, “For this campaign, foreign support is also needed. Not only finance, but technical know-how or technology or education is also important. The United States can help in these cases.”

However, Jahangirnagar University economics department teacher Istihak Rayhan said: ‘‘The United States has an economy of 27 lakh crore ($27 trillion). On the other hand, the amount of trade between Bangladesh and the United States is about 1 thousand crores ($10 billion). As they have a bigger economy, this bilateral trade is more important to Bangladesh than the US. Naturally, they may want to look at Bangladesh through a broader i.e., core and non-core security lens.”

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