On his first visit to Bangladesh as the US secretary of state last week John Kerry drove from Shahjalal International Airport straight to Bangabandhu memorial museum to pay respect to the father of the nation and the architect of independent Bangladesh. Wrapping up his emotional tour of the museum at 32 Dhanmandi, Bangabandhu’s official residence where he was gunned down along with most of his family members on Aug. 15, 1975 Kerry wrote: “What a tragedy to have such brilliant and courageous leadership stolen from the people of Bangladesh in such a moment of violence and cowardice.
“But, today Bangladesh is growing in the vision of Bangabandhu – and under the strong leadership of his daughter. The United States is proud to be a friend and strong supporter of the fulfillment of his vision. We look forward to growing and working together for peace and prosperity.
In paying tribute to Bangabandhu, Kerry, who became the first US secretary of state to visit the museum, also admired the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the illustrious daughter of the great leader, respected as the greatest Bengali to be born in thousand years. His description of Hasina’s leadership as strong was significant in Washington’s new attitude toward Bangladesh and its leader, Sheikh Hasina.
Though it was Kerry’s first visit to Bangladesh, he was not the first top US diplomat to tour Dhaka. Before him came his predecessor Hillary Clinton, who is fighting against Republican tycoon Donald Trump to become the first woman to get elected as the American president in upcoming November.
In tone and contents Hillary’s Dhaka visit, even though for a longer period of two days, came more as an irritant to Hasina’s government. Kerry’s visit has just been the opposite: warm and admiring. He has responded well to the feelings of Bangladesh, a gesture Hillary had failed to show.
During her Bangladesh visit in May 2012 Clinton’s focus was more on Nobel Laureate Prof. Muhammad Yunus, the Grameen Bank, a little known labor leader Aminul Islam than really on issues that matter for the people of the Bangladesh and the United States. That time Hillary allowed her friendship with Yunus to cloud the overall aspects of Dhaka-Washington relations. In lapse of diplomatic courtesies Hillary went public to voice her concern about Yunus’ losing the office of Grameen Bank’s managing director, a post he had been holding in violation of the country’s laws. Yunus too went out of the way in dragging Hillary in his most personal fight to keep the Grameen job unlawfully. He used his friendship with Clintons to pressurize Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to reinstate him as the MD of Grameen Bank. Hillary, the secretary of state during President Barrack Obama’s first term, obliged Yunus ignoring the fact that Sheikh Hasina stood as a staunch ally of Washington in its global fight against terrorism. To Hillary Yunus and Fazle Hasan Abed was too important to ignore the father of the nation Bangabandhu. She excluded a visit to Bangabandhu Memorial Musuem from her itinerary in Bangladesh knowing well that to do so meant hurting the sentiments of Bangladesh people. The problem with Hillary was she saw Washington’s relations with Dhaka through the prism of her friendship with Yunus. That attitude created a distance between Obama and Hasina administrations.
In an effort to correct the mistakes and bring the ties back to the tracks Obama, in his twilight as the US president, sent Kerry to Bangladesh. Kerry did his home work well and sidelined Yunus and Grameen Bank issues to instead focus more on the core aspects of Dhaka-Washington ties: a common interest in increasing cooperation in counter terrorism, economic, trade relations and climate change. Kerry talked about democracy and human rights but he was low on emphasis signaling that these subjects can wait at the back seat. So, Kerry had words of administration for Hasina’s leadership that is taking Bangladesh along a path of economic advancement. The US secretary of state had reasons to smile warmly as he shook hands with Hasina on his arrival at her office straight from Bangabandhu Memorial Museum for talks with her.
Kerry spent only 10 hours in Dhaka. His visit was short but the impact would stay long.
“Bangladesh has an extraordinary development story, pleased to meet w/PM Sheikh Hasina today,” Kerry tweeted after his visit. Kerry spoke for the millions in Bangladesh and the US.