The divergence between the US and India over Bangladesh
The differences between the US and India regarding Bangladesh are causing rising tensions, particularly as the United States is threatening of taking punitive actions ahead of the forthcoming parliamentary elections, which is scheduled to take place on January 7, 2024. This action has intensified the clash between India and the US over Bangladesh’s political landscape. The State Department’s unequivocal stance on ensuring free, fair, and participatory elections not only signifies a departure from prevailing constitutional voting practices but also tightens the reins on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government, discouraging any repetition of past electoral maneuvers in 2014 and 2018. While the Bangladesh Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina, remains a trusted and tested ally of India, the nuanced articulation of New Delhi’s statements consistently reveals a singular objective — keeping Sheikh Hasina in power. Despite being strategic partners, the United States and India find themselves at odds over the electoral and democratic landscape in Bangladesh, a dissonance accentuated in the aftermath of the 2+2 dialogue in Delhi on November 10, 2023.
The strategic partnership between Delhi and Washington was initially forged to advance U.S. geostrategic interests, countering China, and establishing exclusive American dominance in the Indo-Pacific region. Washington’s persistent efforts to align New Delhi’s perspective on Beijing with its own have met with disappointment. India’s historical ties with Russia, its non-alignment principles, and its inability to impede the expansion of BRICS irked Washington. Tensions escalated further during the last G20 summit, where India’s diplomatic stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict strained relations with Washington. When Barack Obama questions the territorial integrity of India that means the US government is concerned about the issue.
Beijing has a formidable position to compete with Washington at a time when Indo-Pacific nations increasingly lean towards China. Consequently, a significant strategic maneuver has unfolded by the US, centering on the Bay of Bengal, particularly in Bangladesh.
South Asia contends with the emergence of radical Islamist rule in Afghanistan, a precarious situation in Pakistan where Islamist groups gain strength, and the Biden administration’s efforts to bring the ultra-Islamist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ideological ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, back to power in Bangladesh. The US, harboring deep reservations about Sheikh Hasina’s secular government, seeks her removal at any cost, aligning itself with an overt regime change agenda.
India’s national interests vehemently advocate for Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League to form a government and remain in power. India has no viable alternative to Sheikh Hasina. However, the US’s favor towards a regime change, exemplified by its sympathetic stance towards the BNP-Jamaat nexus, disrupts India’s objectives. The Biden administration’s alignment with BNP-Jamaat, evident in its sympathy towards their nationwide blockade and strikes since October 29, poses a stark contrast to its muted response to the violence and losses resulting from their actions. This imbalance, where the US prioritizes labor rights over addressing the atrocities committed by the BNP-Jamaat alliance, underscores the complexity of the geopolitical imbroglio at hand.
India, steadfast in prioritizing political stability over disruptive elections, articulated this perspective during the recent 2+2 dialogue. The joint statement’s notable omission of Bangladesh implies a lack of consensus on the matter, underscoring India’s emphasis on stability, peace, and progress. This stance emanates from India’s concerns about potential unrest, violence, and radicalization in Bangladesh, spurred by the proactive approach of the United States.
The coercive tactics employed by the US are poised to push Bangladesh further into China’s sphere of influence, which will be discomforting for the Narendra Modi government. Additionally, if the BNP-Jamaat nexus assumes power, Dhaka could strengthen Islamabad’s sway over Islamist and jihadist forces in Bangladesh, posing a threat to India’s national security. BNP’s previous tenure from 2001 to 2006 reveals a significant surge in extremist activities, synchronized explosions all over the country, state-sponsored terrorism in the northwestern part of Bangladesh, arms hauls supporting separatist movements, etc. There were concerns about freedom of religion and ethnic minorities. The BNP-Jamaat government failed to protect minority communities, leading to increased marginalization and discrimination.
As Bangladesh emerges as a crucial gateway for South and Southeast Asia, its geostrategic significance in the Indo-Pacific and international sea trade routes intensifies competitive gestures among global powers. Any substantial political shift in the country has the potential to reverberate across the region, impacting regional stability, particularly for India and Myanmar. Washington desires Arakan (Myanmar’s state) as an independent state, and its concerns about India’s territorial integrity add layers to this complex geopolitical landscape.
The relentless pressure from Washington and the Biden administration’s visible inclination towards the nexus of Islamist forces comprising BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami are strategic moves to assert pressure over India, which aspires to be a regional power. India’s balanced foreign policy has jeopardized Washington’s assertive stance in the Indo-Pacific theater aimed at containing China. The US, reluctant to engage with Beijing on India’s behalf, seeks to subdue India rather than allow it to emerge as a regional power.
Consequently, Bangladesh finds itself ensnared in the rivalry of global powers. In my opinion, the scheduled election may proceed on time, Awami League may remain in power, but the post-election scenarios will be extremely poisonous. The prospect of heightened Visa restrictions and sanctions designed to induce extreme chaos looms large. In this precarious context, Sheikh Hasina has nothing to do magically but to leave the situation to roll on the constitutional process. The eventual outcome remains uncertain, and the trajectory of events seems destined for a tumultuous course, with potential repercussions echoing far beyond the borders of Bangladesh.