Why do foreign diplomats speak in our domestic affairs?

Why do foreign diplomats speak in our domestic affairs?

Bangladesh is in the grip of a political crisis because the ruling and the opposition parties are unable to reach an understanding on the nature of the poll-time government while the next parliamentary elections must be held by January 24 under the constitution.

Due to unresolved issue, BNP the opposition party for some time has called hartals and as a result many lives are lost, apart from disrupting seriously day-to-day activities of people. On 22nd November, Acting BNP Secretary General reportedly threatened to paralyse the country through a tough movement if the schedule of for the parliamentary polls was announced by the Election Commission.

Gana Forum President Dr. Kamal Hossain reportedly on the same day alleged that the government was hatching a conspiracy to hold what he called a “stage-managed election” for political interests.

No wonder the international community including international powerful media is very much concerned with the confrontational politics of the country. The situation is so serious that the UN Secretary General had to telephone to both the leaders of the parties urging them to come to a consensus on the nature of the poll-time government. The UN Secretary General sent its envoy twice in the country to speak to the political leaders.

Besides the Ambassadors of US, Canada, Australia, Germany and European Union expressed similar concern and urged the political leaders of both sides to arrive at a settlement. The political stalemate is so grave that even China and Japan which normally keep quiet in the internal matter also expressed concern on the situation.

Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jun reportedly said in a statement on 10th November that he deeply worried about the recent development of the political situation. He also hoped that the two prominent political parties would make concrete efforts to signal each other goodwill, and work to reestablish people’s confidence in resolving the differences through dialogue.

Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh Shiro Sadoshima also reportedly voiced deep concern over the escalation of violence in the country and urged both the ruling and opposition parties to exercise restraint to prevent losses on its citizen’s safety and welfare over the path of the resolving the political confrontation..

The Ambassadors do not speak publicly on a domestic matter until they are authorized by their governments. While the European Union on 21st November adopted a resolution on Bangladesh’s political situation, the US House of Representative’s Sub-committee on Asia and the Pacific held a hearing titled — “Bangladesh in Turmoil: A Nation on the Brink ?” on November 20th and reportedly observed that rigid stance of both the major political parties and the increasing violence and attacks on minorities, were the main concern of the US government..

Chairman Royce briefly stepped in to offer an alarmist statement toward the end. Despite the Awami League government cracking down on Islamist terrorism, why compare Bangladesh to Pakistan, a nation with pervasive US intervention due to the global threat of terrorism? Furthermore, upon concluding his Bangladesh trip, why did Congressman Chabot label the opposition leader as: “probably soon-to-be again Prime Minister Khaleda Zia?”

John Sifton from Human Rights Watch reportedly said that the Prime Minister was leading the country towards one-party elections and thus remarked: “I think at some point the Prime Minister will have to come to the reality…she may not realise it today but she eventually will have to realise.” He reportedly concurred that spill-over of such dangers could affect India.

The international powerful media such as the New York Times, the Economist and The Hindu came out with critical editorials on Bangladesh government. The NY Times even hinted about imposing sanctions on Bangladesh, if necessary. The Hindu editorial stated that “Bangladesh was sliding” and that “Bangladesh’s political impasse appears all set to worsen in the coming weeks unless the two main political parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, demonstrate maturity of a high order.”

Activities of foreign diplomats: Two Views:

The foreign diplomats are found to be very active in meeting political leaders and members of civil society in ensuring a credible poll acceptable to people for peace and stability of the country.

Many people however think that their activities are interference in domestic affairs and not permissible under diplomatic practices and norms. The then Foreign Minister Dipu Moni on October 30 reportedly hinted that some of the diplomats were not following diplomatic norms while expressing concern on different issues regarding Bangladesh.

She reportedly said: “If any ambassador or the diplomatic community has any concerns with Bangladesh, it is a norm to discuss it with us. It is not within the norms to discuss it outside. We hope that they will follow the norms,” About the trip of US Ambassador to Bangladesh Dan W Mozena to India, she said he could always go there to discuss the US policy towards the Indian Ocean region, meaning thereby the security of the Indian Ocean and not discussion on internal political matters of Bangladesh with India.

However there is another view about the activities of the diplomats. It is argued they are Bangladesh’s friends as development partners. The countries, they represent, are involved with many development and social- oriented projects with their aid or soft loans in Bangladesh for the welfare of the people. Against the background, as between friends, one can provide advice to the other if one is placed in a difficult situation and therefore their activities may not be perceived as interference in a domestic matter.

There are other reasons and some of them deserve mention as follows:

First, in the current globalised world, countries are closely interconnected with each other. It is similar to living in apartments and not in a separate house. One who lives in an apartment is affected by what occurs in other apartments. Furthermore there are certain rights and obligations on the inhabitants of the apartments toward each other.

Likewise any event, bad or good, in one country has an impact on other countries. Any instability in Bangladesh may destablise the whole neighbouring region and peace and tranquility of the region will be at stake.

Furthermore Bangladesh is the 8th most populous country in the world. It is the third Muslim -majority country among 57 Muslim- majority countries. Bangladesh is the only Muslim-majority country which is surrounded by non-Muslim majority states with which its interactions are extensive because of historical and cultural roots. Any instability in Bangladesh may give rise to violent Islamic extremism in which religious minorities may not feel safe and take refuge in other countries and such situation poses a threat to regional instability.

Second Its location is strategic because it shares borders with India and reformed Myanmar. It is also a near neighbour to China and stands as a bridge between South Asia and South East Asia. Bangladesh is a maritime nation and its access to open sea–Indian Ocean– is strategically and commercially important. .

Third, Bangladesh is emerging as an economically vibrant country where businesspeople have been innovative and imaginative in pushing the economic growth consistently above 6% through decades. There has been also a change in the economy as 60% Bangladesh’s economy is connected with global economy. Many foreign investors have invested in the country for return of profit and therefore the diplomats are eager to protect not only the investment of their nationals but to see that their investment gets profit.

Fourth, many foreign countries provide soft loan and aid to Bangladesh. The figure of foreign assistance given to Bangladesh in 2013 stood about $5 billion dollar and $16 billion is on the pipeline, according to a report.

The foreign assistance is meant to fight poverty and help build a prosperous and stable country. The strategy of for the development work in Bangladesh of all the foreign development partners is to build on the progress already made and aims to help the country achieve its ambition to become a middle-income country that no longer needs aid. They do not want to see their assistance does not meet the goals because of political instability.

Fifth, in no small measure our politicians are responsible for it. They tend to allow the diplomats to involve them in internal matters so as to exert pressure on government, forgetting the nation’s pride and self-respect.

Finally, it is a pity that it is not the first time that foreign friends have been involved in the internal matter of Bangladesh. In 1996, it may be recalled Bangladesh faced a similar situation on the nature of poll-time government and the Commonwealth got involved in it. The Commonwealth envoy Sir Ninian Stephen, Australia’s former Governor General came to Bangladesh and tried his best to resolve the political impasse with the political leaders of BNP and AL but eventually failed.

Give the background, the foreign friends may give advice but it is up to our leaders to arrive at a consensus on the nature of the poll time government. After all, the results of the election must be acceptable to the people of Bangladesh.

It is relevant to mention that on 18th November replying a question on whether the election would be credible without BNP, the visiting US Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal reportedly asked: “Is it credible to your people? The international community will be making a determination based on the assessment of the Bangladeshi people. And that’s the bottom line”.

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