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Mainstream, VOL LI No 52, December 14, 2013 | Focus on Challenge of Religious Fanaticism to Democracy in Bangladesh

Is Bangladesh a Target for a New Cold War?

Thursday 19 December 2013

by Abdul Gaffar Choudhury

When the vicious Cold War between the East and West ended with the collapse of the then Soviet Union, the famous American intellectual, Gore Vidal, predicted that very soon a new cold war will start in surrounding Asia—this time not between America and the Soviet Union, but between America and China. This prediction did not take a very long time to become true. During the previous Cold War America very shrewdly seduced China to become its ally and destroyed its opponent, the Soviet bloc. It was a marriage of convenience between those two countries. America wanted to use China against its rival superpower, the Soviet Union, and China wanted America’s military assistance and economic partnership to become a superpower replacing the Soviet Union. Now that marriage has not broken yet but is on the verge of breaking.

After its rapid economic and military growth in many fields superseding America, China is now trying to expand its economic and political hegemony over many parts of Asia and Africa. America is feeling threatened and trying to halt China’s expansion with the help of India and with that aim in view it is also trying to make India stronger with military and economic pacts. Now in South Asia China and India are engaged in some sorts of economic, political and military rivalry and America is exploiting this situation and keeping these two Asian lions fighting each other posing as an arbitrator. In reality America wants to maintain its own hegemony.

India and China, both sub-superpowers in Asia, are now aware of this American game. So there are currently many attempts from both Delhi and Beijing to mend fences and resolve their longstanding problems. But still we are witnessing the continuance of some sort of covert expansionism of China and India and a kind of their covert rivalry in some South Asian countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar. Particularly in Bangladesh the new cold war involving China, India and America has been set in motion and some observers feel that America and India are not viewing the present political turmoil in Bangladesh from the same angle.

There is no doubt that the present conflict between the Awami League Government and BNP-led Opposition is nothing but a power struggle between the secularist and non-secularist political forces. In this regard some observers think America does not consider the BNP-Jamaat fundamentalist coalition as dangerous as the Middle-Eastern Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. They believe that the coalition holds moderate Islamic views and they should be accommodated in Bangladesh’s politics. So the American embassy in Dhaka is more sympathetic to the BNP-Jamaat coalition than necessary and a section of Bangladeshi intelligentsia and media under the patronisation of Western countries including America are also very vocal against the Awami League.

However, observers think that India’s stand is different in this regard. Delhi fears the BNP-Jamaat alliance in Bangladesh is supportive of the Middle-Eastern fundamentalist terrorism and if they come to power in Bangladesh not only would the fragile democracy in the country be destroyed but the security of the whole of eastern India would be threatened. This might have an adverse effect on peace and democracy throughout South-East Asia.

If this assumption of some observers is correct then what is the role of China which has equal interest like India in Bangladesh? There was a rumour a few days ago that the American ambassador in Dhaka, Mr Mozena, is visiting China. There was speculation in some political quarters at that time that Mozena wanted to persuade China to toe their Bangladesh line for China’s own interest against India. Mozena did not visit China, refuted the report and it was clear that though China is a rival of India in Bangladesh, it did not toe the line of Washington. China has its own agenda. That became clear when the envoys of India, America and China in Dhaka met the new Foreign Minister of Bangladesh separately.

I have some reliable contacts in Washington. Talking to them and reading some recent analysis about America’s South Asian policies in different dailies, including the Washington Post, the picture I get does not corroborate the speculations of the observers that I have mentioned above. Though the Obama Administration is more or less sympathetic to the BNP-Jamaat alliance, they fear that by annoying India on the Bangladesh issue they will not gain anything but lose. By opposing India they will open a Pandora’s Box for China that will cripple the American interest even more. After Myanmar if the Chinese political and economic hegemony spread over Bangladesh then the American strategy for the entire South Asia will be in jeopardy. India will not be able to pose a similar threat to American interest. This was proved in India’s Afghan policy. India’s presence in Afghanistan with America is not competitive but cooperative. Though The New York Times took an offensive stand against the Dhaka Government, some other equally influential American media warned the Obama Government that they should learn lessons from their failed policy of 1971 in Asia and should not invite the new-born Russia to become an ally of India in the subcontinental politics again.

In my opinion, the Obama Administration has also shown their pragmatism and proved that they would not hesitate to offend their friends in their own interest. In the Syrian crisis America did not attack the Assad regime to please their close ally, Israel, and recently Washington made a deal with their known enemy, Iran, offending Saudi Arabia, their Middle-Eastern satellite. In their Bangladesh policy too it will not be surprising if they prefer the Indian friendship rather than that of their other close friends—Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Inside Bangladesh a section of the intelligentsia and media, posing as a great friend of Washington, is spreading rumours about a great rift between India and America on the Bangladesh policy and continuing their onslaught against the Hasina Government to topple her. Now, the BNP-Jamaat are creating terror in the country in the name of hartal and seige. On the other hand, the propaganda against the Hasina Government by this section of elite class and media has combined and taken a concerted form while creating a volatile situation in the country. They hope that with powerful foreign patronage they will defeat the government.

I do not see this to be a probable scenario in Bangladesh. The rumour about a serious rift between India and Washington on their respective Bangladesh policy is far exaggerated. Even China is not interested in toppling the present government because they have their problem with fundamentalist terrorists in their own land. Moreover, their relationship with the Awami League Government is more stable than in 1971. So only by looting, arsoning and killing people or by mischievous propaganda no political group or groups in Bangladesh can overthrow a government. Dr Kamal Hossain, one of the prominent leaders of our chattering class, is now demanding Sheikh Hasina’s resignation and telling the people that her resignation as the Prime Minister is the only solution for the present crisis. It shows that Sheikh Hasina is the only target of this combined Opposition. The interest of the country and welfare of the people are not their main objective. The solution of the country’s present paradox is to join in the scheduled election by all parties and to make if free and fair by all means.

By concentrating all their propaganda against one person (Sheikh Hasina) and by involving conflicting interests of foreign powers in the country’s politics they will not help the country or the people to overcome the present impasse. In 1971 they did not succeed in spite of American help, this time also they will fail. And American help for them is also not certain.

The author is a London-based leading Bangladeshi intellectual.

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