The United States has said it will continue to support a common vision for an “inclusive, prosperous and secure” Bangladesh.
“Every country, whether the United States or Bangladesh, can only achieve its full potential when national debates are channelled through peaceful and open democratic processes,” visiting US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs-Designate Thomas A Shannon said yesterday.
He was speaking at a seminar on “The US-Bangladesh Relationship: Working Together on Global Issues” at Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) in the capital.
Shannon arrived in Dhaka yesterday morning with two senior US diplomats on a one-and-a-half-day visit.
Referring to the upcoming municipal elections in Bangladesh, he hoped everyone would make the most of this opportunity to reaffirm Bangladesh's commitment to democracy.
He underscored the need for ensuring citizens' rights and freedom without “fear of harm”, and said it must be made sure that all can live together in peace.
In democratic societies, it is essential to protect citizens' ability to exercise their political and civil liberty, especially freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, said Shannon.
“Bangladesh is certainly a global example of the strength of tolerance, inclusiveness and democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms lie at the foundation of stable society and lie at the heart of Bangladesh's struggle for Independence.”
The US diplomat put emphasis on peace and stability which he said come from the rule of law and law enforcement.
He thanked Bangladesh's police force for protecting diplomats and their families. “My hats go off to all of those who made it.”
The US diplomat did not say anything about Bangladesh's internal politics or the January 5 election last year that the US did not find credible.
He, however, said citizens' ability to exercise political and civil liberty, freedom of peaceful assembly, tolerance and respect for fellow citizens are some of the basis for an open society that defines democracy.
“We have learned that nations achieved their full potentials only through national debates; even disagreements are processed through peaceful, open and unhindered democratic process.
“Violent extremists and terrorists do not share that vision. They wish for a Bangladesh that is divided, weakened and chaotic. They want to destroy centuries-long traditions of religious tolerance and communal harmony. And they seek to accomplish these ends through savagery and terror.”
Referring to extremism and terrorism, he said Bangladesh and the US share a “common vulnerability” to this threat. “…but we also share a firm resolve to defeat it.”
On the first day of his visit, Shannon called on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, PM's International Affairs Adviser Dr Gowher Rizvi and Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali. He also held talks with Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque.
The US diplomat is expected to meet BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and representatives of civil society and labour organisations today morning. He will also talk to the media and leave for Colombo in the afternoon.
At the seminar, Shannon said he was determined to make the best use of his first visit to Bangladesh and then Sri Lanka, keeping in mind US President Barack Obama's strategic focus on South Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific region.
The US undersecretary said he is here also because of the “important role” Bangladesh would play in US engagements in the region. “We can learn from Bangladesh as we look at ways to improve our relations with countries in the Indian Ocean and South Asia.”
He quoted Senator Edward Kennedy, who visited Dhaka shortly after Bangladesh's independence in 1971, “I have come here to say that America cares.”
Shannon said, “I would like to add just a few words to what Ted Kennedy said 44 years ago. America still cares -- about that there can be no doubt. And to his timeless address I would simply add: Bangladesh matters.”
“Your country is an example of what is possible when a nation founded on democratic principles leverages its pluralistic and entrepreneurial citizens. This is a country the world keenly listens to, whether on peacekeeping, climate change, or counter-terrorism. And Bangladeshis are some of the most resilient, ambitious, and entrepreneurial people on this planet.”
Bangladesh is also an example to the world when it comes to fighting climate change. “We hope to work with Bangladesh to build better warning systems and crisis management centres, further reducing the impact of severe storms and extreme weather.”
Appreciating the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the US diplomat said Bangladesh has made enormous strides in gender equality and women's empowerment.
Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque, BIISS Chairman Munshi Faiz Ahmad and its Director General Maj Gen AKM Abdur Rahman also spoke at the seminar.