Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Bhutan not invited to Biden’s Democracy Summit; India, Pakistan, Nepal & Maldives among invitees

Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan--the three South Asian democracies --are not among the countries US President Joe Biden has invited to attend its much-touted Summit for Democracy scheduled for next month

Nov 24, 2021
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US President Joe Biden

Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan--the three South Asian democracies --are not among the countries US President Joe Biden has invited to attend its much-touted Summit for Democracy scheduled for next month. Interestingly, Pakistan features in the invitee list released by the US State Department, drawing criticism for Washington's supposed biases in its geopolitical calculations. 

India, Nepal, and the Maldives are among the countries in the South Asia region invited for the event which will be held virtually in December.

Despite its poor track record in addressing human rights issues and war crimes, Sri Lanka is relatively a healthy democracy, holding regular elections without any significant allegations of fraud and rigging. However, ever since the current government headed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took charges in 2019, Colombo’s relations with the West took a hit. 

Furthermore, Sri Lanka’s downslide in human rights situations and its failure to hold provincial elections--designed to empower politically marginalized ethnic minorities-- may have played a role in Biden’s move to not invite Colombo for the summit. 

Bangladesh has somewhat similar issues. In the last few years, political opponents in the country have been systematically targeted and jailed in cases many call politically motivated. The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in her third straight term in office, however, dismisses these charges. 

Rights groups and activists have repeatedly raised concerns over the excesses of state power in suppressing criticism of the government. Authorities often invoke the Digital Security Act (DSA)-- a highly controversial law that many allege is designed to suppress online criticism--to jail critics, including journalists and activists in Bangladesh. 

However, all these parameters also hold true in Pakistan-- a country that Biden chose to invite for an event that aims to promote the cause of democracy. Pakistan, despite holding elections, is far from being a democracy. Its last general election in 2018 was one of the most controversial elections, where its military and intelligence agencies openly interfered to make sure Prime Minister Imran Khan wins.

Furthermore, human rights situations, media censorship, and systematic targeting of political opponents are, in fact, far more serious than in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. If one has to consider other parameters--that, however, matter little to democracy --Islamabad still remains relevant, or say important, to US counter-terrorism objectives in the region. 

Bhutan is a democratic, constitutional monarchy, and has been holding elections since 2007, but may not have been considered important enough geostrategically in US' larger scheme of things. 

Biden, who has prioritized the promotion of democracy at home and abroad, maybe trying to bring democratic forces together through his Summit For Democracy. But the reality--through his invitee list--also tells one thing: Democracies that don’t fit into US’ geopolitical calculus won’t be welcome. 

(SAM)