Govt’s commitment to fair polls: US to keep close watch
US Under Secretary Uzra Zeya has made it clear that Washington will not get involved in Dhaka's internal political issues, be it caretaker government or dialogue between political parties.
She mentioned the commitments made by the prime minister and several other ministers to hold free, fair and peaceful elections.
Foreign policy analysts say the government considers this as a matter of relief as there was widespread speculation that Zeya would put pressure on the government over the upcoming election after Washington's two actions -- visa policy against Bangladeshis who seek to "undermine the democratic election process" and sanctions against Rab.
A foreign policy analyst said the US appreciated the government's commitment to free and fair polls, but it didn't say anything about the possible implications if the pledge is not met.
"The US takes the commitment seriously, allows time for its implementation and closely watches the situation. It will also observe how the commitment translates into action," the analyst said, preferring anonymity.
Zeya, accompanied by Donald Lu, US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, left Dhaka early yesterday after a four-day visit.
The US under secretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights visited Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar and met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, her Private Industry and Investment Adviser Salman F Rahman, the law minister, home minister, state minister for foreign affairs, and the foreign secretary. She also had talks with the leaders of some civil society platforms.
In those meetings, Zeya spoke about elections, human rights, labour rights, civilian rights, freedom of expression, role of police during elections and voluntary repatriation of Rohingyas.
The ministers pledged to amend the Digital Security Act and Bangladesh Labour Act.
After a meeting with Zeya over dinner on Thursday, Salman F Rahman told reporters that a misunderstanding occurred between Dhaka and Washington, especially with regards to sanctions against Rab, but the distance reduced through the high-level engagement.
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam said, "They highly appreciated our openness about dialogue. They invited us to Washington for further talks."
Former foreign secretary Shahidul Haque said the US-Bangladesh relations should be viewed from the broader perspective of the Indo-Pacific.
Bangladesh has announced its own Indo-Pacific Outlook, which has some values in common with the US Indo-Pacific Strategy, he added.
The US priorities are democracy, human rights and good governance, and that's why they speak about these values, said Shahidul Haque, senior fellow at the South Asian Institute of Policy and Governance of North South University.
Another former foreign secretary Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury said Zeya's visit and her public statements indicate that her discussions with government high-ups were very positive.
However, pending issues like human rights, labour rights, and media freedom, should be seriously taken into consideration by the government, he observed.
Seeking anonymity, another foreign policy analyst said Zeya spoke about the PM's commitment to free, fair, and peaceful elections. This means the US will be closely watching the whole election process.
The analyst said the US closely studies an issue for long before taking any actions. The same happened in the cases of sanctions against Rab and the visa policy: The country was not happy with Rab's activities, and allegations of irregularities in the 2014 and 2018 parliamentary polls.
"So, Washington is not likely to reverse these decisions quickly," the analyst told The Daily Star.
The US state department counsellor, Derek Chollet, during his visit to Dhaka in January said erosion of democracy limits America's ability to cooperate with any country.
The US also expressed serious concerns over the Digital Security Act, EPZ Labour Act, and the shrinking space for civil society.
"So, Washington will keep a close watch not only on the government's commitment to free, fair, and peaceful elections but also on labour and civilian rights," said the analyst.