Will the ‘cold war’ in Asia affect Bangladesh election?

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The present Indian government has appreciated Bangladesh’s role in maintaining their relationship and China also is not suspicious about the present policy of Bangladesh
Abdul Gaffar choudhury

Recently I had a talk with a prominent BNP leader in the UK. I wanted to assess the opinion of the grassroots level of the party whether they are in favour of joining the election. He said, ‘I would not say publicly that we would join the election without our leader Begum Khaleda Zia. But I hope my party will ultimately join the election. You have seen the statement of Barrister Maudud Ahmed that BNP will participate. But before that they will go for a hard bargaining”. I told him that my intuition is that BNP this time will not repeat the blunder they had made in the last election. They are already in the election campaign. The BNP leader said that he agreed with me and told me that he is almost certain that they will win the election if the government does not play a foul game.

I asked him, “What is the game plan of your party?” Awami League is now in a good position. Under their governance the country has become a developing one from a least developed country. Sheikh Hasina is personally very popular both nationally and internationally. How can BNP hope they can confront a confident Awami League and defeat them? The leader of BNP is still in jail and her party failed to organise a movement with people’s support to free her and compel Awami League to agree to form a neutral government to conduct the election. So what is BNP’s election strategy to defeat a mighty party like Awami League in the election?

My friend, the BNP leader said, “We know BNP is not strong enough to organize a mass movement or mobilize the support of foreign countries to keep pressure on Awami League strongly to come to a settlement with us regarding the election procedure. But we still we have a last and very strong hope. He said without hesitation that this hope is the looming cloud of the cold war in the sky of Asia. “Our new leader Tareq Rahman is very much hopeful that the power conflict between China and India encouraged by America will be beneficial for BNP’s election success’ he said.

After this discussion with a local BNP leader in London, I read a long report in a Bangla Daily of Dhaka. In this report published on 19th March, the paper said that BNP has now a new election strategy, that they will now try to benefit from the cold war between China and India. So long, Hasina government has been enjoying both the country’s support. They think now that the support is waning gradually. In 2016 Bangladesh purchased two submarines from China for their naval force. India was not happy with this. To prevent China’s gradual infiltration in Bangladesh, India’s defence minister and foreign secretary immediately rushed to Dhaka. In last year April Bangladesh agreed to sign a defence agreement with India.

This agreement is a proof of a successful balancing act of the Hasina government with her two giant neighbours. Sheikh Hasina personally invited Indian journalists in her official residence and assured them that her government will not go against Indian interest, but for her country’s benefit she will strengthen the economic ties with China. Bangladesh attaches great value to her friendship with India and at the same time wants to make China an economic partner in her development. The present Indian government has appreciated Bangladesh’s role in maintaining their relationship and China also is not suspicious about the present policy of Bangladesh and that is the great success of the foreign policy of the Hasina government.

Recently, an Indian journalist commented that China had established a strong economic hegemony in South-east Asia including Myanmar, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, but Bangladesh is still out of this hegemony and maintains friendly cooperation with both China and India. That is why Hasina government is still enjoying the support and cooperation of the two giant neighbours. BNP first tried to use its Pakistan connection to woo the friendship of China, then they tried their best to gain the support and cooperation from India’s Modi government. In both cases BNP’s diplomacy failed.

Now in the eve of a general election in Bangladesh BNP is unable to organize a mass movement in the country and is again looking towards foreign support. The report published on19th March in a Bangla Daily of Dhaka said that the power game between India and China over Asia has now reached its peak. In this situation BNP thinks that Hasina government’s balancing act between the two great neighbours is not working. Her government’s close relationship with China is now irritating for Delhi. On the other hand, China so long was satisfied with their economic expansion in Bangladesh, but now may be they also want to have a political say and may not be satisfied with Hasina government’s political ties with Delhi.

With this speculation BNP is hopeful that both India and China will look towards them to pressurise Hasina government, or have other alternative. In that case, BNP will have a fair chance to gain the support of India or China, or even both the countries. The pro BNP observers and intellectuals have also joined this propaganda and encouraging BNP saying that Awami League is losing the support of both India and China. In its report the Dhaka Daily quoted a pro BNP political observer, who is also a professor of International Relations at the University of Dhaka. He said, Bangladesh has annoyed India by purchasing two submarines from China and India is also not happy with Hasina government’s closeness with China. So the professor thinks that in the next election of Bangladesh Modi government might not put all their eggs in one basket. This would mean they may change their friend in Bangladesh politics.

In London there is strong rumour that Tareq Rahman, the new leader of BNP is very much hopeful that this time he can change the support of Modi government towards BNP. In the past, all his efforts to have a connection with ‘R’ of India failed. But this time they think that they will be successful. Another pro BNP political observer said that with the backing of America, India will not back off from the cold war with China. That will reflect on Bangladesh election, and Hasina government may lose their support from the two great neighbours. BNP thinks their last hope to win the election lies in this cold war.

If BNP believes in this observation and depends on foreign power support to win a general election they are living in a fool’s paradise and their so-called intellectual friend’s advice is misleading. Some prominent western observers already predicted that America’s attempt to create a new cold war in Asia between India and China is not going to be successful. Though there is heavy competition between the two to expand their hegemony and economic dominance in South-east Asia, there is indication that this confrontation may soon transform into cooperation.

India and China both are now cautious about the enmity between them and the secret American hand behind it. They have seen how in the past America created enmity between two communist giants the Soviet Union and China and ultimately destroyed Soviet Union and is now after China. They wanted to play the same game between the two emerging Asian powers-India and China and they want to go after China first and then, after India. China is going to expand its economic empire but not for military confrontation, even in the Himalayan border also.

India, on the other hand, has also taken positive steps not to disturb China. That is why they have recently changed their Tibet policy. Even some Indian Generals are giving advice to Modi government to go for Chinese friendship and to maintain the present status quo. Recently an Indian newspaper commented that the present Modi government is satisfied with the Hasina government in present Bangladesh. Whatever their relationship with China Bangladesh is a reliable friend of India. They may play diplomatic game with BNP, but may not want to change the present political set up in Bangladesh.

China also knows that BNP at present is not a properly organised party and its present leadership is immature and infantile. Hasina government is their best bet at the present moment. BNP should abandon its policy on dependence first on Cantonment and then on foreign countries. Their so-called intellectual friends are not giving them proper advice, but are drawing a wrong picture of the present Asian situation.

London, Thursday 22 March, 2018

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