Next polls will be crucial
Bangladesh's national election next year will be critical in determining whether the country moves towards greater democracy or greater autocracy, said a recently released policy document of the US.
"If democratic space continues to shrink in Bangladesh due to the increasing authoritarian nature of the central government, lack of progress on achieving this objective could lead to increased political instability and human rights violations," said the US Integrated Country Strategy (ICS) on Bangladesh.
It could also undermine Bangladesh's economic progress, and impact Bangladesh's ability to serve as a net security provider, while negatively impact ties with the US and likeminded partners, potentially deepening Bangladesh's engagement with malign actors, read the document.
The ICS, which details how the US maintains its relationship with the UN, international organisations and 180 countries, was approved on April 8 and made public in late June on the State Department website.
"Since the flawed elections of 2018, civic space has shrunk considerably. Through the Digital Security Act and other forms of intimidation, the government has curtailed freedom of the press, the ability of labour to organise, the rule of law, and the right of people to engage in legitimate social discourse.
"We seek a greater commitment to democracy, human rights, and protection of Rohingya; flourishing people-to-people ties, improved business climate and labour conditions; increased ability to tackle the climate and pandemic crises; and a strengthened capacity to contribute to regional security."
Efforts to strengthen Bangladesh's "fragile democratic institutions" and bolster its secular, tolerant, and pluralistic traditions will be essential, it said, adding that reforms of the security services -- particularly in the wake of US human rights sanctions on the Rab in December 2021 -- are key to this objective, as are democratic reforms ahead of the 2023 national elections.
"We will continue to engage the government of Bangladesh to address the human rights issues, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and restrictions on core civil liberties."
The US businesses increasingly see Bangladesh as a future market and investment opportunity, but the country must strengthen labour rights and workplace safety to reap the benefits.
It also suggested that Bangladesh addresses infrastructure deficiencies, pervasive corruption, regulatory issues and the lack of diversity in its economy.
As a traditionally moderate, secular, peaceful, and stable country, Bangladesh plays a key role in supporting international peace and security and is an important partner in the US' global effort to defeat terrorism.
The US also supports Bangladesh's battle against extremism, improving investigations, judicial system capacity to prosecute terrorism cases and preventing recruitment by violent extremist organisations.
It also will support Bangladesh's military through a growing range of training, exchanges, exercises, and military sales so that Bangladesh becomes more stable, has more capacity to provide for its own security, counter threats to US interests, and serve as a growing security contributor in the Indo-Pacific and globally.
Deepening the US-Bangladesh defence relationship through bilateral defence agreements and increased sales of more advanced US military equipment to Bangladesh will expand US access and enhance interoperability with Bangladesh.
To support Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) goals, Bangladesh must protect its freedom-of-navigation, ensure equitable access to sea lanes, and promote maritime security to help advance regional stability, integration, and trade.
Failure to achieve this objective would compromise US relationships and influence in Bangladesh, hamper growth of bilateral trade, and, by extension, impede implementation of the IPS, the ICS said.
The US also wants Bangladesh to improve capacity and accountability of governing institutions, enhance public services and the human rights record to instill citizen confidence.
Bangladesh faces increased politicisation of the justice system; and the concentration of authority and resources at the national level.
Failure to address these challenges could result in economic and political instability due to the further decrease in citizen confidence in government institutions, as well as diminished respect for the rule of law stemming from adverse public reaction to government corruption, it said.