New US visa policy for Bangladesh not against Hasina government

As a result of this new US policy, a major change is being observed in the policy of the Western world towards Bangladesh. If the BNP boycotts the elections as a result of the new policy, they will not get any support from the Western world - that is clear.

Harunur Rasid May 27, 2023
Representational Photo

The United States, in an unusual move, announced a separate visa policy to ensure “free and fair elections” in Bangladesh. US Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken said in a tweet that those responsible for weakening or obstructing the democratic election process in Bangladesh and their family members will be subject to visa restrictions.

After the announcement, US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu gave a clear explanation. He made it clear on a private television channel in Dhaka that the United States government is not supporting any party or candidate in the upcoming national elections in Bangladesh. The country will only support the continuation of a fair democratic process. If any person or group is involved in violence to obstruct a free and fair election or voter intimidation, they will not be granted a US visa. Similarly, any member of the government, or law enforcement agencies involved in voter intimidation, violence, or obstruction of free expression will also be denied US visas. This will also apply to their spouses and children. The main goal of the United States is to help the country's government, civil society, and other stakeholders organize fair elections through the new visa policy, Lu clarified. 

This announcement has been followed by a heated debate in Bangladesh and among the Bangladeshi diaspora, particularly in the US. However, the United States has made it clear that only those who disrupt the democratic process are covered by this ban. If we look back a little, one can see who is responsible for how many times in disrupting the democratic process in the fifty-two-year history of Bangladesh's independence.

 After Ziaur Rahman violated the constitution and seized power, he became the self-proclaimed president, bent the country's laws to his advantage, and formed a political party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). That party has repeatedly obstructed the country's democracy.

No support for caretaker government 

Just as BNP did not allow democracy to develop even in power, the opposition parties also tried their best to obstruct the democratic process. The BNP not only used violence to disrupt elections but also brutally attacked those suspected of not voting for it. The United States State Department's International Religious Freedom Report in 2005 said that after the BNP won the 2001 elections minorities were not allowed to vote. They were attacked, their property looted, women raped, and forced to leave the country. After these attacks, the BNP-Jamaat extremists attacked Hindus because were traditionally Awami League voters.

Firstly, this new US policy does not contain any supportive or sympathetic statements toward the BNP's movement for the establishment of a caretaker government before the elections. There is no mention of a caretaker government in this policy. Besides, in the discussion held by US Ambassador Peter Haas with the ruling Awami League a few days ago, Haas clearly said that they have no interest in a caretaker government. 

Secondly, in the past years, the BNP has virtually left the political field and spent millions in lobbying Western governments, particularly the US, against the Sheikh Hasina government. They wanted to come to power by boycotting all the local government elections in the country. Leaders at all levels, including their policy-making levels, repeatedly talked of the US imposing sanctions on Dhaka. But the sanction did not come. 

Change in Western stance?

Thirdly, in recent years BNP has been saying that they will not participate in any election under Prime MInister Sheikh Hasina without a neutral caretaker government. Their leaders have been saying in all their speeches and statements that they will not allow any elections to be held in Bangladesh under PM Hasina. They will resist such elections at any cost.   Under the new US policy, any activity to interfere with the election will invite visa restrictions. It has become clear that the Western world will not support any initiative of the BNP or any other force to prevent elections in Bangladesh. 

Fourthly, for the past few years, some people of BNP and civil society have been saying that if BNP does not participate in the elections in Bangladesh, these elections will not be considered participatory in the national and international arena. Some countries in the Western world had a similar stance due to this propaganda. Due to this, the BNP often threatened to boycott the elections. 

As a result of this new US policy, a major change is being observed in the policy of the Western world towards Bangladesh. If the BNP boycotts the elections as a result of the new policy, they will not get any support from the Western world - that is clear.

(The author is a London-based Bangladeshi researcher. Views are personal. He can be contacted at

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