By A K M Zakir Hossain
In the complex tapestry of South Asian geopolitics, India finds itself at a critical juncture with its neighbour Bangladesh.
Recent political developments in Bangladesh, marked by a crackdown on opposition leaders and activists, raise concerns about the stability and democratic values of the nation. As India contemplates its role in the region, a careful examination of its approach is imperative.
India, as a responsible regional player, needs to reconsider its stance on Bangladesh and the ruling Awami League. While diplomatic ties are essential, overt support for any political faction may undermine India’s reputation as a neutral observer.
It is crucial for India to foster friendly relations not just with the government but with the people of Bangladesh. The recent surge in anti-Indian sentiment highlights the need for a more nuanced approach, one that prioritises the interests and sentiments of the Bangladeshi population.
Supporting authoritarian leaders and overlooking questionable electoral practices risks alienating a significant section of the Bangladeshi populace. India must recognise that a stable and friendly Bangladesh is in its best interest, and this stability should rest on democratic foundations.
By advocating for inclusive governance and respecting the democratic aspirations of the people, India can contribute to the long-term stability of the region.
The United States, with its global influence, should play a pivotal role in restoring democracy in Bangladesh. Concerns about authoritarianism under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s leadership should be addressed through diplomatic channels. The US, in its strategic considerations, must prioritise the promotion of democratic values over short-term geopolitical gains.
A neutral and inclusive caretaker government, as advocated by the opposition, is essential for conducting free and fair elections. The US can leverage its influence to facilitate negotiations between the government and opposition forces, working towards a political solution that reflects the will of the Bangladeshi people.
This intervention aligns with Washington’s broader strategy of promoting democracy and balancing geopolitical interests in the region, particularly in its strategic competition with China. Bangladesh may be a small country, but the US now views it as strategically significant. The nation shouldn’t be left to its fate by Washington once more.
The socio-political and economic consequences of the current situation in Bangladesh are far-reaching. Marginalising mainstream opposition parties not only undermines democratic principles but also creates a vacuum that radical elements may exploit.
According to the US Institute of Peace report on extremism highlights ‘Political Exclusion’ as one of the conditions for extremism. In addition, the economic leverage India enjoys from Bangladesh is remarkable. Indians remit $4b from Bangladesh.
Economically, Bangladesh is faced with pressing issues such as dwindling foreign exchange reserves and rising inflation. Inflation in October 2023 was 9.93% while foreign exchange reserves reached $20,710.1 million.
The political turmoil further exacerbates these challenges, jeopardising the nation’s economic stability. A democratically elected government, representing the will of the people, is essential for addressing these economic woes through transparent and accountable governance.
India’s approach to its neighbours, particularly Bangladesh, should be characterised by neutrality and respect for democratic values.
The US, as a global proponent of democracy, can contribute significantly to the restoration of democratic processes in Bangladesh. The socio-political and economic consequences of the current situation necessitate collaborative efforts to ensure a stable, democratic, and prosperous future for Bangladesh and the broader South Asian region.
(The writer is a UK-based Bangladeshi teacher, researcher, human rights activist, and a former military officer)