Pushing Bangladesh May Aid Extremist Forces, India Indicates to US

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Hasina, who has been in power since 2009 and is eyeing an unprecedented fourth consecutive term, is seen as one of India’s closest allies in the neighbourhood.

India has informed the US that pressuring the Bangladesh government over the country’s upcoming general elections could end up strengthening the hand of extremist forces and affecting regional stability, people familiar with the matter said.

The Indian side conveyed its concerns on this issue to the US during several recent interactions, the people said on condition of anonymity. New Delhi also believes US pressure on the issue of free and fair elections could push Bangladesh closer to China, a development that can have ramifications for the region, they said.

While the Indian side has made it clear that it too wants a free and fair election process in Bangladesh, it has conveyed to the US leadership that too much pressure in this regard will only end up encouraging the extremist and fundamentalist forces the Sheikh Hasina government has successfully kept at bay, the people said.

Besides sanctions imposed on Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a paramilitary force, and several senior RAB officials in December 2021, the US threatened visa sanctions in May 2023 against Bangladeshi nationals believed to be involved in actions that undermine the election process. These actions include use of measures to prevent political parties, civil society or the media from disseminating their views.

India’s concerns about China taking advantage of the situation created by the US pressure have grown following remarks made by Chinese President Xi Jinping at a meeting with Prime Minister Hasina on the margins of the Brics Summit in Johannesburg on August 23. According to a readout from China’s foreign ministry, Xi said China supports Bangladesh in “opposing external interference” and that Beijing will work with Dhaka to support each other on their core interests.

The readout further quoted Hasina as saying that the Bangladesh-China relationship is based on “mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs”.

Hasina, who has been in power since 2009 and is eyeing an unprecedented fourth consecutive term, is seen as one of India’s closest allies in the neighbourhood. Besides cracking down on anti-India insurgent groups, her government has ramped up connectivity with India in crucial areas such as energy and trade, including access to key ports for trans-shipment of goods to the northeastern states.

Pressure on Hasina’s government from the US and the European Union (EU) over the issue of the general election, expected to be held by January 2024, has given a boost to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which has organised a string of large rallies. One of the people cited above said the BNP, which boycotted the 2014 election and won only seven seats in the 2019 election, is expected to win several dozen seats in the upcoming polls.

The rejuvenation of BNP’s close ally, the Jamaat-e-Islami, which has always been anti-India and maintains close links with Pakistan, is also being viewed with concern in New Delhi. On June 10, the Jamaat organised a massive rally in Dhaka for the first time in 10 years.

The Indian side also believes the strengthening of the Jamaat could give a fillip to extremist forces and pose a threat to the country’s eastern and northeastern states that share borders with Bangladesh.

A delegation from Hasina’s Awami League party that visited New Delhi earlier this month at the invitation of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) raised the importance of Bangladesh’s upcoming general election in maintaining regional stability during its meetings with several interlocutors, including senior BJP functionaries and Union ministers.

Source: Hindustan Times