There is a need for the government of Bangladesh to stop those who incite and commit violence and to protect the rights of its minorities.
Until recently, only a few people in Bangladesh had heard of US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. And yet, the member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific has been grabbing headlines after she introduced a bipartisan resolution regarding the country.
Although the resolution may have surprising origins, it raises some pertinent points about the flaws and inconsistencies in Bangladesh’s political system. It presses the government to enhance human rights protection of minorities, strengthen democracy and thwart the growth of extremism in the country.
Overall, the timing of the resolution is likely to generate a positive effect. South Asia has become a breeding ground for radical Islamic groups who are gradually trying to curb the freedom of minorities and derail the democratic process. Bangladesh is not insulated from this emerging trend. For little over a year, extremist groups have pierced through the social and political fabric and posed new challenges for the country.
At this critical juncture, Gabbard’s resolution heralds a new beginning. However, there are some loopholes which could limit the effectiveness of the move.
When the resolution was introduced in July, the US Congresswoman criticized all the major ingredients that make Bangladesh “a country in turmoil”.
During her speech on the House floor, Gabbard voiced her concerns over the country’s stability and insisted the mismanagement in recent elections had resulted in political violence.
The US Congresswoman feared that religious freedom and minority rights would die their natural death in such a toxic environment. She insisted that the latitude shown to perpetrators of crimes against minorities will weaken the scope for justice. As a result, Gabbard urged the government of Bangladesh to take matters into its own hands and protect minorities.
At first glance, the resolution has adopted a strictly human rights approach and gives priority to legal concerns to change the status quo and quell extremism. However, Gabbard’s request is largely based on unrealistic demands which can be difficult to implement in an objective manner. The well-being of minorities cannot be quantified so easily unless a proper system of assessing the level of satisfaction is chalked out and implemented. Minority rights cannot be safeguarded unless proper mechanisms are put in place. If such measures are not taken, the resolution will fail to generate the desired impact.
In addition, Gabbard’s criticism and suggestions may stand a risk of being swept under the carpet as yet another attempt by the west to enforce a sense of order in the east. The resolution pits the desire for justice as a clash between human rights and bigotry. A series of unhelpful and vague comments by its co-sponsors serve as welcome proof of how the move could impose undue pressure on Bangladesh’s government to set things right. According to Congressman Matt Salmon, the resolution will help Bangladesh eliminate political violence and extremism and uphold the rule of law and democratic principles. Salmon expect Bangladesh to respect human dignity, honour commitments to freedom of expression and protect human rights.
On the other hand, Congressman Bob Dold rather condescendingly believes the US has the right to send unequivocal messages to Bangladesh over its failure to protect minorities. Such resolutions may not only impose a fixed standard of right and wrong but also undermines the role of cultural nuances in the overarching debate on human rights.
Interestingly, Gabbard, who is the only Hindu US Congresswoman, has predominantly focused on the persecution of Hindus to emphasize the need for minority rights. This raises a series of speculations over how enthusiastically she would defend the violation of minority rights if other religious communities were in the line of fire. As an active proponent of human rights, Gabbard may discount such concerns as entirely baseless because her resolution encompasses a range of other vulnerable communities. However, doubts and uncertainty looms large as the US Congresswoman has been known for supporting a Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in India. These contradictions could undermine the sincerity of her cause and lead to countless problems.
The resolution also serves to infringe some of the US Congresswomen’s actions in the past. In January 2015, Gabbard announced that she had voted against the Defence Authorization Bill that would grant $1 billion to Pakistan as military assistance. This goes to show that the US Congresswoman is unwilling to support efforts to curb the roots of militancy.
For little over a year, Pakistan has launched a series of military offensives to eliminate militancy and restore peace and stability. In June 2014, Operation Zarb-e-Azb was initiated in North Waziristan and has reached its final stages. A few months later, offensives were launched in the Khyber Agency as well to destroy the hideouts of militants. The decision to adopt a firm stance to eradicate terrorism was taken after the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi was attacked by Tehreek-e-Taliban militants. Pakistan has paid a heavy price to reduce the threat of militancy. On December 16, 2014, an army-run school in Peshawar was attacked and nearly 151 people, including 132 children, lost their lives.
The mood of doom and gloom surrounding Pakistan’s war against militancy is visible to all. However, Gabbard appears to have overlooked these challenges and has refused to focus on tackling the roots of the problem. Furthermore, she has completely ignored the fact that over a million people have been displaced from their homes due to these military operations. As a result, the resolution – with its growing emphasis on human rights – has its limitations as it provides problems without providing a solution.
Nevertheless, the US Congresswoman’s condemnation for the crimes orchestrated against minorities in 1971 is the only silver lining. At a time when the past continues to irk the people of Bangladesh, Gabbard’s resolution raises the spectre of the East Pakistan imbroglio in an effective manner.
Gabbard’s criticism and suggestions may stand a risk of being swept under the carpet as yet another attempt by the west to enforce a sense of order in the east.