Bangladesh needs to enhance mutual cooperation on a number of issues, including lifting the sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), said experts and policy makers in an event.
"Bangladesh and the USA have a 50-year-long relationship. An American sanction on a few Bangladeshi security officials in recent times has only been a tiny part of the picture," said Dr ASM Ali Ashraf, professor at Department of International Relations in Dhaka University, at an programme, entitled "The Dynamics of Bangladesh-US Relations: Democracy and Human Rights or Geopolitical Interest?" held on Saturday at the Bilia Auditorium.
"When the US decided to impose the sanction, it might not have been only motivated by the foreign policy aspects – domestic pressure from the human rights groups, non-government organisations and trade unions might have influenced this decision," he said at the event organised by the Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (Bilia).
"Therefore, we cannot assume that the US sanction on Bangladeshi officials is only a warning to Bangladesh to not strengthen its ties with China," he added.
Toufiq Islam Shatil, director general (Americas) at Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the US-Bangladesh relations are indeed growing despite some outstanding issues.
He further said the sanctions were unexpected and Bangladesh needs to remain closely engaged with the US to create a better understanding for lifting the sanctions as well as enhancing the wider gamut of mutual cooperation.
As the keynote speaker at the programme, Dr Sujit Kumar Datta, chairman at Department of International Relations in University of Chittagong, said, "It is curious why the US is now vocal about democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Bangladesh. Human rights and democratic values are some of the most critical aspects of the Biden administration's foreign policy, but the policy is being used strategically in the US national interest and security."
He said, "Bangladesh attaches great importance to geopolitical equations, especially in the Indian Ocean region. The main goal of the changes in the US policy and attitude towards Bangladesh is to prevent China's domination."
"However, Bangladesh wants to formulate a balanced foreign policy towards the US and China. That is why the country is unwilling to choose between the two big powers," he added.
As the chair of the session, Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen said Bangladesh needs to maintain its strategic balance and also find ways of making closer ties with the US and other major partners.
Regarding US sanctions on RAB, he said, "The sanction was unjustifiable and was imposed based on fabricated and politically motivated inputs given by a vested quarter. But at the same time, we also need to be conscious of the fact that the issue and allegation are not new. In fact, for years, we have been receiving these from the UN system, US and other western countries."
"In the area of human rights and rule of law, there is always scope for further improvement, including remedial measure and course correction, and this is needed to be pursued as continuous efforts," he continued.
He further said the government is working on lifting the sanction.
The event was moderated by Prof Dr Mizanur Rahman, director of BILIA.
Yesterday's event was the first in a series of lectures organised by Bilia on the occasion of celebrating 50 Years of its establishment.