Monday, August 29, 2016

Kerry's visit to Bangladesh

Kerry at the house where Sheikh Mujib was murdered
The significance of the current trip to Bangladesh of the US Secretary of State, John Kerry remains unclear.

There is much talk about the visit seeking to strengthen the country's relationship, and no doubt there will be some announcements of increased cooperation.

It has been widely trailed that a key component of the visit will be discussions about counter-terrorism assistance. 

Whilst, it is important for the US government to find ways to assist Bangladesh to counter the continuing threat  of militancy - one would hope that the US government is cautious as to whether the Bangladesh government can be trusted to use any new tools provided to them without misusing them against the political opposition and without violating basic human rights

The issue of human rights is likely to be part of Kerry's message - which the Awami League government will not like. In a recent US state department fact sheet, it is stated that:
 "We believe the existence of viable political parties and ensuring freedom of media and speech are essential for Bangladesh to fulfill its true potential as a vibrant, secure democracy."
It is however unlikely that Kerry will voice any stronger public criticisms concerning the lack of democracy and the human rights situation in Bangladesh. The US needs the cooperation of the Bangladesh government - and public criticism does not go down well here.

Any concerns will be made in private meetings - though I would not be surprised if Kerry does not talk more publicly about about the need for increased freedom of expression. He is giving a speech today at the EMK centre, so it will be interesting to hear what he says.

However it has been announced that Kerry will visit Khaleda Zia, the leader of the opposition - though not the leader of the so-called parliamentary opposition - who may well soon be convicted for corruption. The very fact that he is meeting Zia, is significant; the visit is part of the public messaging of the US government's support for a multi-party democracy in Bangladesh.

If Kerry had not met Zia, this would really have put a further nail in the death of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. The visit is a shot in the arm for the BNP, which is reeling from state repression and its own disorganisation and lack of focus.

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