Let Dhaka-Washington ties reach new heights

Mizanur Rahman Khan | Update:
Dan Mozena became a friend of Bangladesh. He is possibly the only foreign ambassador who visited all 64 districts of the country. He even took part in eastward diplomacy to attract investment for Bangladesh. The son of a farming family, perhaps Mozena found reflections of his childhood in the green fields of Bangladesh.

His farewell article touched us deeply. He kept his pain to himself and shared his happiness. This is something that his colleague Ambassador James B Cunningham in Afghanistan, failed to do just 20 days ago. In Bangladesh many people view Hamid Karzai as a pet of the Americans. Yet Karzai harshly criticised the US in his farewell speech two months ago. He said that US mission in Afghanistan was nothing but a betrayal. US hadn’t wanted peace there, it had just wanted to meet its own ends.

In response, the US Ambassador to Afghanistan James B Cunningham called Karzai ungrateful. In his last statement too, Cunningham described his relations with Kabul as “bittersweet”.

Mozena met with much criticism in Dhaka. Yet the words of his article yesterday virtually buried Kissinger in Dhaka once again. He said if Bangladesh could ensure good governance, transparency and accountability, it could strut around the globe like a tiger.

Farewell, Dan Mozena, we shall remember you. And welcome Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat. This is a chance to make up for the bitterness displayed towards Mozena, particularly in the undiplomatic comments made by Syed Ashraful Islam. Best behaviour must be extended to the new ambassador Marcia Bernicat. As it is, a few ministers have already expressed their annoyance at her statement regarding participatory polls while speaking at the senate hearing.

The foreign ministry accorded a warm farewell reception to Dan Mozena, but that could have been rounded off with a farewell from the prime minister. Diplomatic gaffes shouldn’t be carried on. India’s diplomatic relations with the US plummeted over the Devjani incident, but it took no time to recover either.

We hope the government actively encourages and backs the foreign ministry to nurture a professional attitude. While Delhi-Washington relations soar, Dhaka should make sure it follows suit.

When Washington realised that things had gone too far with the Devjani incident, and that the attitude of Indian people was taking a turn for the worse, they immediately withdrew US Ambassador Nancy Powell from India. Her withdrawal from India took pressure off the strained relations.

After six months without any ambassador, Washington has now posted a new ambassador there, named Richard Rahul Verma. It was a correct decision on the part of the Obama government to select an ambassador of Indian origin. Devjani was released immediately after Verma’s name was announced.

Bangladesh should accord a special invitation to Rahul Verma. He is the first Indian descendent to be posted there as US Ambassador, a choice supported by both parties. He left India with his parents 50 years ago. He won over America and now is back. It would not be surprising if Rahul is the US President one day.

We have no idea how much truth lies in the accusations made recently by the prime minister, blaming Hillary Clinton for the Padma Bridge fiasco. Richard Verma was long in the senate foreign affairs committee. He was assistant secretary in the US state department. President Obama has said that the 21st century would be a defining moment in US relations with India. As a close neighbour of India, Bangladesh must include itself in this defining moment. It must not stay way.

There is no effort to create an aura of friendship with certain countries. The ice doesn’t thaw. Yet India, China, Japan, Russia go ahead despite so many contentions, including border tensions and more.

Rahul Verma is important in many dimensions. He has worked for long on national security and foreign policy in relation to South Asia. Even when working with the military, he kept South Asia in focus. He is a favourite of the possible future US president, Hillary Clinton.

Rahul is being sent to India in a hurry because Obama will pay a historic visit to India in January. US Secretary of State John Kerry is coming to India. When a US president visited Bangladesh for the first time during Sheikh Hasina’s first government, the issue was hugely highlighted. Much importance was also attached to the visit of the then US secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Why don’t we want to bring John Kerry now? Martin Luther King was the ideal of Gandhi and Bangabandhu, and Obama is the materialisation of Martin Luther King’s dream. Yet we make no effort to invite him to Bangladesh.

India-US bilateral trade went up five times in 2001, reaching eight trillion taka. In 2001, Bangladesh-US trade went up only two-and-a-half times to about 470 billion taka. Obama and Modi plan to increase bilateral trade by another five times. This will create employment opportunities for millions of people. Turning away from such an opportunity would amount to hara-kiri for Bangladesh.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken some dynamic foreign policy moves. She displayed acumen in improving diplomatic relations with India, China, Russia and Japan. Relations with India, Russia and China had taken a nosedive during the BNP government rule. Both India and China had felt BNP has declared “war” against them. China had taken exception against the Taiwan signboard hanging in Bangladesh, just as India objected to its northeastern state insurgents being given shelter here. The Taiwan signboard had, of course, been hurriedly removed.

Sheikh Hasina has erased the mistrust of India and China. Now she has to do away with the bitterness that has developed with Obama and Hillary’s country and make amends. If Dhaka could go ahead without US ties, then surely Delhi could do so even more. But Modi held no grievances for not being granted a visa. He met with US Ambassador Nancy Powell during his election campaign.

Russia was Bangladesh’s friend during the 1971 war, but it is China who is the biggest supplier of arms to Bangladesh. China provides Bangladesh with 70% of its total arms. And the US has now become the biggest supplier of arms to our closest friend in 1971, India.

Obama, for the first time in history, will be a guest at India’s Republic Day march past. He will be the first US president to visit India twice. Narendra Modi’s US visit last September was extremely successful. The Washington-Moscow standoff has not deterred Putin’s visit to India.

There have been tensions with India over Professor Yunus and the Rana Plaza collapse. But Ticfa went through. The defence dialogue agreement was signed. Senior US military officials visit frequently. US is openly insulted, secretly supplicated.

It is time for Bangladesh to look up. The change of government in India is no longer a source of anxiety. The Saarc leaders are acknowledging Sheikh Hasina. During the Kathmandu Saarc summit, Nawaz Sharif and Ashraf Ghani called upon Hasina at her hotel suite. Modi even praised her dress sense. So now the question is, if India and the US have no problems over South Asian policies, then can there be any justification of our anti-US stance?

Instigative bravos must be ignored. Former US ambassador David N Merril made an emotional appeal for the return of Bangabandhu’s killers. Obama and Kerry may take note of that. Bangladesh shouldn’t been seen through Delhi’s eyes. Exit Mozena, enter Marcia. Let Dhaka-Washington relations reach new heights.

The writer is a journalist

mrkhan@gmail.com

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