This despite full knowledge that the BNP and its permanent ally Jamaat e Islami are aligned with China and Pakistan. During the earlier BNP regimes in Bangladesh, major state-supported anti-India terrorist camps were running in that country, mainly in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, which also had instructors from Al Qaeda and Pakistan’s army-ISI.
Political turmoil is running deep in Bangladesh with general elections due in January 2024. With large political rallies by the opposition dominating the scene, protests, blockades and violence on the streets are periodic in Dhaka and elsewhere.
A series of opposition rallies targeted police with crude bombs. The UN Human Rights Office stated on October 30 that at least 11 people died in connection with the protests in many parts of the country. The victims include two policemen, six opposition party members, and two bystanders."
In the first week of November, the opposition launched a 48-hour blockade, disrupting road, rail, and waterway transportation. Some 8,000 opposition members have been arrested while some leaders have been accused of killing policemen.
Demand for caretaker government
The main opposition party, Khaleda Zia-led BNP, is demanding a Care Taker Government (CTG), which was in place during elections from 1991 to 2009. However, this system was officially scrapped when the Awami League government led by Sheikh Hasina came to power in 2009.
The significant issue is that the CTG was scrapped after the Bangladesh High Court ruled the CTG unconstitutional in 2011, saying the Election Commission can competently oversee fair elections. The Sheikh Hasina government has been ruling for 15 years now.
In 2021–2022, Bangladesh registered a GDP growth rate of 7.2 per cent after the global pandemic, one of the fastest growing economies in the world - $446.35 billion (nominal; 2023 est.) $1.47 trillion (PPP; 2023 est.) In 2023, Sheikh Hasina unveiled Bangladesh’s first universal pension program.
However, inflation rose from 9.7 per cent in July 2023 to 9.9 per cent in August 2023 and is expected to remain high during 2024, with the currency having weakened after authorities loosened controls on the exchange market.
In a report published in August this year, the United States Institute of Peace referred to a survey by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and Focus Group Discussion (FGD) study, which says that while Bangladeshi citizens are pessimistic about the economy and elections, policies on infrastructure and development have buoyed Sheikh Hasina’s public support.
The BNP has been saying it would boycott the elections in the absence of a CTG. However, the above survey-cum-study says that though the opposition is popular because of their demand of a CTG, the public is sceptical about their boycott calls, implying the BNP will participate in the general elections.
US plans intriguing
Most conspicuous are the activities of the self-appointed global policeman - the US and its appendage the EU - harping about the need for “free and fair elections”. Is this denouncing the constitutional amendment of 2011 based on the ruling by the Bangladesh High Court that the Election Commission is competent to hold free and fair elections?
The BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) have been actively campaigning despite the 78-year old Khaleda Zia under house arrest (undergoing treatment for liver cirrhosis and heart since October 9) and her son Tarique Rahman in exile in the UK.
British High Commissioner Sarah Cooke has been meeting BNP leaders to discuss the prevailing political situation. This is not without reason, with Khaleda Zia’s son living in the UK. Cooke is obviously doing all this as America’s emissary. Clearly the US-led West wants a regime change in Bangladesh to possibly install a BNP government.
This despite full knowledge that the BNP and its permanent ally Jamaat e Islami are aligned with China and Pakistan. During the earlier BNP regimes in Bangladesh, major state-supported anti-India terrorist camps were running in that country, mainly in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, which also had instructors from Al Qaeda and Pakistan’s army-ISI. In addition, Bangladesh Army was practicing a ‘cold start’ in India’s Siliguri Corridor.
It may look intriguing why the US wants a BNP regime in Bangladesh which appears tilted towards China despite the US-China estrangement. But this is actually quite simple and in line with America’s demonstrated strategy over the years.
The US has been waging/initiating wars all over to further its own strategic and economic interests, disregarding the interests of its friends and allies, strategic or otherwise. One recent example is the war in Ukraine which has brought Europe into recession. Another is the Israel-Hamas war which the US continues to fuel, albeit feigning restraint, which will harm Israel economically and otherwise in the long run.
In popularity, President Joe Biden is trailing behind Donald Trump in five of the six major states of the US. The Ukraine project has slowed down and conflagration of the Israel-Hamas into the Middle East may not leave the US mainland unsinged although America’s arms producers are elated at the prospect of raking in millions through mammoth supplies of arms and ammunition.
But the best bet for the US is an India-China war - to gain much more strategically and economically. It would divert Beijing’s focus from Taiwan (which the US may find difficult to defend), provide new deployment avenues for NATO, hopefully slow down the Chinese economy (although Ukraine did not damage the Russian economy as expected), and the US can continue to sit on the fence.
A regime change in Bangladesh would set the US plan in motion. Isn’t that what America’s strategic partners should expect?
(The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views are personal)