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?

Southasia - - Cover story - By Mu­nir Ishrat Rah­mani Mu­nir Ishrat Rah­mani is a former Colonel of the Pak­istan Army. He is a grad­u­ate of the Com­mand and Staff Col­lege, Quetta and has fought dur­ing the 1965 and 1971 Indo-pak­istan Wars. He was sta­tioned in East Pak­istan dur­ing the 1971

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.

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