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Why is US annoyed with Sheikh Hasina?

Extraordinary. There is no other word to describe the US’ interference on the question of what has come to be known as ‘Grameen independence’. The facts are rather simple. The Bangladesh government has decided to remove Muhammad Yunus from the post of managing director of Grameen Bank. Whether it was politically prudent to touch a high profile Nobel Laureate is a different matter, but the issue is now under sub judice. And Bangladesh is not lacking in a judiciary that can arrive at a fair judgement on Yunus’ appeal. What has Obama administration got to do with it – especially when the Supreme Court in Dacca is gearing up for the appeal?

US state department spokesman Philip Crowley said on Tuesday that he felt ‘troubled’, US will ‘continue to follow developments closely and await clarification’ from Dacca and that Washington hoped a ‘mutually satisfactory compromise can be reached that will ensure Grameen Bank’s autonomy and effectiveness’. This was 4 days after Senator John Kerry said he was ‘very concerned’ and warned of negative consequences for US-Bangladesh ties. 
The first thought that occured to me was that Crowley must be joking. Okay, Kerry is a politician and it could be that he is grandstanding. But who is Crowley to pass judgment? What is his locus standi? But Crowley had a ready explanation, which goes like this: “I mean, he’s a Nobel Prize winner, Medal of Freedom winner, Congressional Gold Medal winner. His public service is widely recognised and respected, and civil society organisations such as the bank play an important role in Bangladesh’s development and democracy. So it is both to show support for his ongoing efforts and the efforts of the Grameen Bank and also to express our concern about developments in Bangladesh.” 
Really? When pressed further by the press, Crowley let it slip that Hillary Clinton spoke to PM Sheikh Hasina ‘a few weeks ago’ on the issue. 
Now, bingo, the very next day, Crowley is back – this time merrily ‘Twittering’ that “Secretary Clinton spoke yesterday with Dr Muhammad Yunus and expressed support for the independence of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.” 
Now, bingo, 24 hours after Crowley ‘Twittered”, here comes Robert Blake, the south asian bureau chief in the state department. He gives an exclusive interview to FT just on the strange case of Yunus. FT asked Blake point blank whether it is US’ business at all to interfere. Blake not only stood his ground but took a great leap forward, linking the Yunus case to all the God created in Sonar Bangla – its thriving ‘moderate secular democracy’; its ‘vibrant civil society and a history of religious and ethnic tolerance’; its ‘partnership’ with US on issues such as ‘counter-terrorism’, climate change, etc.
Blake claimed US is also concerned because “They’ve [Dacca] also I think made a lot of progress in relations with India, which is extremely important for us, particularly on this very important area of counter-terrorism. So this is a country that’s doing a lot of things right and a lot of things well. Some of their recent actions with respect to Grameen Bank are a little bit out of step with that, so we just felt as a friend that it was important to point that out and express our interest in seeing an amicable resolution of this.” 
Without doubt, Yunus case is a high stakes affair for Washington. Blake made a vague hint that given the state of play he “wouldn’t want to make any predictions about the larger [US-Bangladesh] relationship.’ He concluded underscoring “This is something that is of wide concern inside the United States government, and as I said earlier, Professor Yunus has a great many admirers, not only in the current administration but also in our Congress.” 
Why is US annoyed with Sheikh Hasina? For example, it is doubtful Washington will even whimper if our prime minister chooses to sack someone in Delhi who has ‘a great many admirers’ in the Washington circuit. [We do have a few such admirable people.] Not that our government will ever do such a rash thing. But, suppose it does – for argument’s sake. I doubt if Crowley and Blake and Clinton and Kerry will take the microphone or waste their breath. So, why double standards on Hasina? 
Quite obviously, Americans are cheesed off with H over something and have been looking for a moment to put her down. There is nothing that can be more humiliating to be lectured publicly by middle-level officials of a foreign country. Hasina is an elected leader of a sovereign country. It seems to me that Washington had a few expectations when Hasina, who lived for several years in the US with her son in exile [like Benazir Bhutto], was elected as PM. What could have been the expectation? Hm…NATURAL GAS? Highly likely. When Big Oil interests are involved, Uncle Sam spares no effort to put pressure. And Bangladesh has a lot of gas and Big Oil has been keenly scavenging for quite sometime already.
There could also be some geopolitics thrown into it – considering that Blake drew India into his thesis quite deliberately. 
Are we somewhere on the outskirts of Bangladesh-China relationship? Or, on Bangladesh-Russia nuclear cooperation? China is developing a massive container terminal and deep sea port and a road connecting Bangladesh to China via Myanmar. Russia is going to build nuclear power plants in Bangladesh. 
Hasina has been told that in April on a visit she was planning to Washington to attend the World islamic Forum meet, she wouldn’t be granted an audience with Obama unless a compromise on Yunus is worked out which is ‘personally agreeable’ to the Nobel Laureate. Obama should know that’s carrying things a bit too far even if it were to be by a Nobel for another Nobel. Besides, Obama should know it’s unwise to project Yunus as if he is an American puppet on a string. It won’t do any good to Yunus’ career. 
Hidden in all this, isn’t there a kernel of truth for India, too. What are the US motivations in stepping up interference in South Asia? Is this what securing ‘global commons’ can come to? If so, are we two countries – India and US – on the same side? Can India afford to be seen in its own backyard as the sidekick of a rumbunctious bully?

Posted in Diplomacy, Politics.

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6 Responses

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  1. tick says

    The notion of Global Commons is a different idea. The context is protecting international law and rights pertaining to open access to seas, space, human rights from being usurped by national states. In the issue under discussion it is not relevant.

    What converges policies of India and US in the context of Bangladesh is safeguarding of secular democracy in Bangladesh. China does not share this interest, and Russia does not seem to share this inclination. Dr. Yunus, it has been reported earlier, has political ambitions. He perhaps could spawn a credible political party. If the actions against Dr Yunus is interpreted as political vendetta, then pressures would not be construed as interference in inner working of law, but safeguarding it. India may differ with US whether this interpretation is applicable here, if yes then there is commonality of interests and values for concerted diplomacy.

    Our neglect earlier, or may be the inability to intervene led to horrible killing of Banga Bandhu and derailing democracy there. It then led to resurgence of terror threats emanating from there. People in India have suffered due to such non-interference.

    The economic interests which drives China, and US are pertinent to Indian economic needs as well. To insure working of civil law and fair play norms in our neighbourhood provides to spin off of furthering the economic interests as well and this makes diplomacy viable.

  2. lankapat says

    Nothing is India’s backyard. India needs to remember that if it considers South Asia as its backyard then it becomes a hegemon. India cannot bully its neighbours. The only person who could teach india a lesson was Premedasa. India interfered in Lanka’s internal affairs by sponsoring terrorism in the 80s and then used that as an excuse to send in IPKF. One part of the IPKF agreement was the trincomalee harbour. I mean if India believed that Lanka was discriminating tamils, then why put the harbour into the agreement. Lanka was at India the bully’s mercy so essentially it signed off sovereignty of the harbour to India.

    In came Premedasa who wanted to win Lanka’s sovereignty back from the hegemon. He gave arms to the LTTE and the tigers crushed India. Lanka went on to defeat the tigers a decade later. Lanka might have taken its time to defeat the tigers but at least it did not get defeated by the tigers as India did.

    Premedasa might have been the only person to stand up to Indian bully. But since then Rajapakse has done very well by inviting Chinese investment and port into Lanka.

    Jeyawawa Lanka.

  3. Babu C says

    US will never learn from their mistakes. When will they learn to mind their own business and NOT to poke around others nose and make a mess out of everything they touch.

  4. Babu C says

    US will never learn from their mistakes. When will they learn to mind their own business and NOT to poke around others nose and make a mess out of everything they touch.

  5. shaikh abdul dayan says

    Thanks for bringing out such an important piece of information. Important it is from India’s point of view. Today the U.S is using such bullying tactics every where in the world. Bangladesh is just one such example. Tomorrow they will actively start intervening in our day to day affairs and our good for nothing, spineless politicos will make due refrence to U.S views and spew some favorable policies. To the U.S the world is an arena to flex its muscles, Indian terrain, South asia has become one such ground. We should not only stay away from such browbeating but also make sure our policies are not offending our neighbours. INFACT the development jobs being done should have been done by our companies as these are surely business opportunities and both the parties can be benfitted in long run.

  6. Sanjay S says

    Just kick out USA from the world.

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