Many of our senior citizens use the word “sanction” to denote the allocation of money for a project. A different connotation of the word is “economic embargo,” which comes from America’s deliberations on a state which Washington has considered to be an aggressor or at least dangerous.
Such punitive action was being discussed, rather speculatively, during the tumultuous days of the one-sided ballot in Bangladesh, although no country had threatened to do so.
The United States has exerted its influence by imposing sanctions on countries such as Iran and North Korea on grounds of nuclear stand-offs, and Russia for annexing Crimea.
Despite the effectiveness of the blockade in weakening a “hostile” regime, it has a price, which is paid by the people of that country. Bangladesh was lucky not to have been perceived as a rogue state.
It’s not in the limelight of crisis either, unlike the cases of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Ukraine which invited global actions. So, given Washington’s long list of priorities, a sanction against Bangladesh over a boycotted election was not likely.
Communiqué and interactions with diplomats further suggest that the West was unwilling to punish the people by using economic weapons, thanks to our progressive track record, in spite of the undemocratic policies of the party in power.
That kind of stance has presented the Awami League with some much needed relief that it has at least survived in office in the post-January polls period.
The party is, however, reluctant in acknowledging that nobody forgets a two-fold reality: Bangladeshis have been deprived of the opportunity to vote for choosing their representatives, and the main contender for power has been pushed out of parliamentary politics.
Dodging harsh international actions, the administration of Premier Sheikh Hasiina has tried to create the impression that a number of important countries like China and Japan, though not India and Russia, were joining her initiative to build rapprochement, and hence, strengthen economic ties with Bangladesh.
Dhaka is already marketing its stance against Islamist militancy to the West and the Indians to make Hasina’s stay in power be “taken for granted,” irrespective of her autocratic attitude towards all dissenting voices. Thus, the regime has amassed enough self-confidence-turned-arrogance.
Simultaneously, it is ignoring the fact that the heart of the national economy is being bled continuously, with a decline in remittances and uncertainty in the export market, stagnation in investment, shrinkage in the domestic job market, fall in sales of apartments, rising corruption, embezzlement of bank money, a sick share market, and revenue shortfalls being observed.
The AL, once again proven poor in economic management, is confident that the commoners won’t understand the technicalities of the economy.
Yet, struggling with depleted popularity at home and occasional embarrassment abroad, Premier Hasina’s trusted men have turned increasingly audacious in their policy pursuit; they don’t care about anyone's opinion, including the lone superpower of the world.
Following suit with his colleagues, AL general secretary and LGRD minister, Syed Ashraful Islam’s “pooh-poohing” of Washington’s call for a fresh, inclusive election has exposed the party's collective frustration and its deliberate policy of embarking on power(s) other than the US for its global pampering.
Awami intellectuals are trying to discover in his discourteous statement a “strong message” which can be sent to the US. Ah! Unpopular regimes often become super-patriotic, smell conspiracies everywhere, or resort to crusades to find an escape route.
The costs of Syed Ashraf’s derogatory remarks may have to be borne by the people alongside the rulers if Washington decides to take any punitive measures. Will his abusive words about American officials help Dhaka in any way to regain the GSP facility in the US market? His cabinet and his party boss too have expressed readiness to sacrifice America’s amity.
The Hasina regime has embraced the “Look East” policy, by attempting to get closer to China, Japan, and also India from where Bangladesh does most of its importing, suffering a huge trade deficit.
Conspicuously, the AL government is not being received cordially in the countries where we export goods and manpower, enjoying a healthy balance of surplus payments. In the multilateral forums, the Padma Bridge corruption scandal remains a stigma for this regime.
Premier Hasina is about to exhaust all options to persuade foreign investors and governments by only making “fervent calls.” She will have nothing to do if investors go to Myanmar, evading Bangladesh, or if the Middle East doesn’t come to terms with Dhaka on how to resume recruitment of Bangladeshi workers.
Also, if the government can’t deliver on what it pledges with ample lip-servicing – land, gas, infrastructure, proper regulatory atmosphere, and stability – Chinese and Japanese investors may eventually shy away.
Still, a section of investors will come in, but only for predatory gains, like the way some multinational corporations go to Nigeria or Iraq for windfall profits. Illegitimate regimes can never ensure a fair share for the nation in any deal with foreign players.
We fear that lest Bangladesh – despite its strategic blessing in Asia and the potential of emerging as a bridge between global powers – is lost in the narrow personal interests of the powermongers who have shown no hesitation in quarantining the country itself.
The current leadership, clearly incapable of matching the thinking of the new generation, may not foresee the undeclared sanction it is courting by its increasing isolationism and missed opportunities for the nation in the global arena.