Stress and Strain
While Bangladesh faces an imminent crisis, Secretary Clinton’s recent harsh remarks have done little to alleviate the situation. Can Bangladesh afford to annoy a super-power?
The Bangladesh government, already suffering from political indigestion, reacted strongly.
Finance Minister, A.M.A. Muhith, criticized Hillary Clinton’s statements about Grameen Bank and its founder, terming her remarks as “undue.” He said that Grameen Bank was a stateowned organization that did not face any problem after Dr. Yunus’ removal and that the government had been working for its progress. Another minister, Syed Ashraful Islam, who sarcastically remarked that Yunus’ received a Nobel Peace prize even though his area was economics, further confirmed the official stance and questioned if Yunus could stop a war through his micro-credit program. It is obvious that the Bangladesh government is very sensitive about the issue, even risking the displeasure of the biggest super-power when it came to expressing its views.
While one may argue that the removal of the Managing Director of Grameen Bank was an internal issue concerning the Bangladesh govern- ment alone and the terse remarks of Ms. Clinton were not quite relevant, the position of Dr. Yunus was also not that of any ordinary bank official or economist. He has created an image for himself as the pioneer of micro financing for the poor and his significant contribution towards alleviating poverty cannot be ignored. Yunus has served as a global model of progress and many countries have subsequently followed his lead. The US government has been monitoring the situation and considers the Bangladesh government’s handling of the issue unfair. US Secretary of State was required to convey the policy of her government on many issues concerning Bangladesh and this was one of those.
The United States’ position as the only super-power of the world is undisputed and is exemplified when it deals with under-developed countries of the world. Whatever stance Bangladesh adopts in dealing with Dr. Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank, it has to weigh its degree of dependence on the US for its progress. The Bangladeshi business community is aware of the importance of the US market that consumes 40 per cent of Bangladesh’s total exports. The influence of the US in most countries of the world over issues relating to security, economic activity and political environment is not a secret. All international organizations that help an under-developed country monetarily also look towards the US for direction. Despite the rhetoric of Bangladesh’s political leaders, the fact is that the country is faced with the narrowness of a policy choice and can ill-afford to annoy a super power. Any change of direction in its foreign policy, therefore, cannot be expected.
On the other hand, the US also considers Bangladesh a key partner in regional counter-terrorism efforts and maintaining security in the Bay of Bengal. It would encourage strong ties with Bangladesh but would also like to see Bangladesh avoiding confrontational politics, resorting to dialogue as a way to resolve differences in a stable democracy and bringing an end to all violent political activity like strikes, street demonstrations, rallies, etc., to encourage foreign investors. The US umbrella for the progress of Bangladesh is too important for the South Asian nation to risk its friendship for matters such as handling the Grameen Bank issue, the treatment of Dr. Yunus or suppressing the opposition at all costs. This is a lesson Sheikh Hasina and her clique must learn, and learn quickly for a cordial and lasting friendship with US.