February 22, 2024

M Rahman: The recent visit of highly influential US State Department official, Donald Lu has created quite a stir and confusion in fascist Hasina’s Bangladesh. The spirit of the oppressed people of the country was first dampened when the Biden administration did not follow up on its 2021 sanction against brutal perpetrators of human rights violations in Bangladesh in the 2022 sanction list. Then came the announcement that Donald Lu would visit India and Bangladesh during the South Asia trip in January. The government in Dhaka suffering from a mortal fear of new and wider sanction, breathed a sigh of relief. After all, Washington is signaling a return to the status quo. Then came the astonishing comment from the visiting dignitary regarding RAB! Donald Lu has found ‘tremendous development’ in the performance of RAB, one of the most vicious human rights offender law enforcement units of the repressive government that have denied fundamental rights to its people for the last 14 years and let lose a reign of terror. Even some American human rights activists and former diplomats felt uneasy with the comment.
Let us now briefly review the claimed ‘tremendous development of the Bangladesh state-terror machinery:
IGP and former Director General RAB, Benazir Ahmed not only completed his tenure as IGP but was also given multiple police and state awards after the announcement of the US sanction. He even traveled to New York to attend a UN Police program on a date coinciding with the International Day of the Disappeared causing great anguish to his victims in Bangladesh. He was also allowed to attend a reception given by the Awami League unit in the US which raised many eyebrows. Was he not supposed to limit his activities within the UN compound? In the reception speech, Benazir claimed that his US visa was like the entire Bangladesh getting the US visa and it is a victory for Bangladesh.
Another US-sanctioned Director General RAB, Chowdhury Abdullah Al-Mamun was appointed IGP in place of Benazir Ahmed on 30 September 2022 in direct defiance of the US sanction by GOB. Just prior to the South Asia visit of Donald Lu, IGP Mamun’s tenure was extended till July 2024 to cover the next election on a contract basis to give a message to the fascist apparatus that Sheikh Hasina would not abandon her death squad under any US pressure.
All the sanctioned police and military officers retained their jobs and all other benefits. GOB has not initiated any inquiry against any person in the US-sanctioned list. The fascist government continued its denial mode without any sign of remorse.
Sheikh Hasina’s US-based son, Sajeeb Wajed Joy continued his tirade against the American government and society on social media to justify all brutal human rights abuse in Bangladesh. Taking the advantage of living in a democratic country, an alleged commission agent and money launderer unabashedly justify extra-judicial killing, enforced disappearance, and torture without any remorse.
RAB recommenced its one-sided false narrative on Islamic terror by stage-managing a few photo-op operations in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Although the absurd claim of the nexus between so-called Islamist terrorists and Buddhist rebels has been rejected by independent observers, RAB is desperately clinging to the discredited terrorist card to curry favor from the west. Known Islamophobic media in Bangladesh are also carrying those one-sided narratives as before, without any journalistic investigation with an ulterior motive.
It is true that RAB has been less directly active in the suppression of democratic movements since the announcement of the 2021 US sanction, but the dirty work of RAB has been transferred to the police. The people of Bangladesh witnessed police rampage, atrocities, and killing on 7 and 8 December 2022 in the capital to thwart the peaceful protest meeting organized by the main opposition party, BNP. One innocent person was killed and dozens were injured in the indiscriminate police firing. It is alleged that Harun-Or-Rashid, Biplob Sarkar, Mehedi Hasan, and other death-squad members were personally selected by Sheikh Hasina to lead the operation in the BNP central office. It is widely believed in Bangladesh that both Harun and Biplob and their families are either US citizens or have assets in the US.
Since the departure of Donald Lu, the spin factory of Sheikh Hasina’s government has been working overtime to convey to the people that the estranged relation with the US has been mended and the withdrawal of the US sanction is just around the corner. An embarrassed US Embassy in Bangladesh had to give a sort of mild rejoinder that no such decision has been taken.
Now, regarding the second message from the visit. The US and its allies have not hidden their desire to bring Bangladesh to the so-called Indo-Pacific alliance aimed to counter China. Why a militarily weak, small state like Bangladesh has become so important in a complicated and potentially explosive, geostrategic initiative is a multi-billion dollar question. I can only guess that geographical location may be an important factor. Although it was the Indo-US axis that brought Sheikh Hasina to power in 2009 with the priority to de-Islamize Bangladesh, she successfully courted Beijing to get easy money to finance her mega-projects, get hefty commissions, and bribe deep state. She has even signed a tripartite agreement with China and Myanmar to solve the Rohingya issue ignoring western advice, while simultaneously, receiving aid from the same Western alliance and the Islamic world. We do not know how deeply she is entrapped in Chinese money. But, that is her problem for the present moment. The recent blunt message from the Chinese ambassador conveys some trouble for Hasina. The silence of Bangladesh’s foreign ministry indicates major weakness on the China front.
Indian position on the US initiative is also not very clear. I wrote previously that both China and India are keen to keep the US away from the eastern theatre of South Asia. The two Asian giants may even have a tacit understanding to unitedly manage Myanmar and Bangladesh. After all, minority Muslims are equally persecuted in India, Myanmar, and Uyghur. The Russia-Ukraine war has also exposed the duplicity of India, the much-touted strategic ally of the US in the region. It is up to the Washington policymakers to learn from the mistakes and review its South Asia strategy.
The people of Bangladesh are more interested to have a clearer message from the West about whether it will insist on democracy or take a U-turn and agree to barter the Biden administration’s declared policy of establishment of democracy and human rights with Hasina’s acquiescence in joining Indo-Pacific alliance. We have sadly experienced in the past that, Washington was happy to look the other way when Sheikh Hasina tortured and killed innocent people, destroyed all state institutions including the judiciary, choked the free press, decimated the opposition, and buried democracy. Washington has never tried to go deep into Hasina’s so-called anti-Islamic terror operations, most of which were fake. In her insatiable lust for power and money, she has landed Bangladesh in a precarious geopolitical situation.
Sheikh Hasina has plundered national wealth by taking loans from all possible bilateral and multilateral outlets and dumped all those liabilities over poor countrymen. We cannot allow a fascist ruler to mortgage the future of a country of 170 million hardworking and peace-loving people to ensure her continuation in power. We urge the international community, including the US and China, to stop all engagement with the current vicious regime in Bangladesh and assist the oppressed people in a peaceful and democratic transition. Sheikh Hasina must be forced to transfer power to an interim, neutral government to hold a free, fair, and inclusive election. Is it also not the declared desire of the Biden administration? A democratically elected government in Bangladesh only has the right to decide on the international course of the country.

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