Can a coercive strategy in South Asia be counterproductive for the US? By Dr. Shakuntala Bhabani


Recent years have seen a perplexing change in the fundamental attitude of the West, led by the US, towards nations in South Asia. The US periodically exhibits a hostile and indifferent attitude towards this friendly country, despite participating in Security Dialogue and Partnership Dialogue with Bangladesh. Not just in Bangladesh is this true. In the past few years, the United States' attitude to countries like Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, and the Maldives has experienced an intriguing change that has caused grave worries about the causes of these policy mistakes and their repercussions on regional dynamics.

Why has the US decided to pursue policies that are antagonistic toward their allies? What potential effects might there be on regional dynamics and the balance of power? These pressing issues emphasize the need to evaluate US policy and its impacts on bilateral ties, regional stability, and other governments' influence in this strategically significant region. Most crucially, the reason why the US/West sought to strategically alienate itself in the Bay of Bengal became clear.

Since the world has seen a rise in polarization and geopolitical upheavals in the policy domains of many actors, the US and the West have played a significant role in facilitating developments. It is a goal of the west, especially the US, to bring independent nations under its wing. However, it irritates other players, prompting them to reconsider their relationship with the West and the US. Ironically, the West then accuses these nations of doing so because they are establishing tighter ties with certain powers.

Sri Lanka: Interfering in Internal Matters?

For allegedly interfering in Sri Lanka's internal affairs, the United States has drawn condemnation. When it comes to internal matters in Sri Lanka, such as human rights and reconciliation, the US has adopted an undiplomatic and hostile posture. The US has put pressure on Sri Lanka without taking into account the delicate balance of the nation's post-war dynamics. Bilateral ties have been strained as a result of the intervention, and questions have been raised regarding the US's objectives in the area. In addition, the US and the West's positions during the most recent political upheavals and economic crisis have sparked doubts about their relationship.

20 Years of Intervention in Afghanistan: A Sudden End 

The dynamics of the Bay of Bengal region have been significantly impacted by the US troop departure from Afghanistan. The US has allowed extra-regional nations to increase their influence in the region by leaving a power vacuum and failing to ensure a smooth transition. This action might upset the balance of power and alter how the surrounding nations see security.

Unsuitable Reaction to Political Issues in Nepal

The US's response to Nepal, a country facing political difficulties, has been insufficient. Despite Nepal's potential as a regional ally and its importance to geopolitics, the US's lack of constructive participation has been alarming. The US has missed opportunities to deepen ties and protect its interests in the case of Nepal by neglecting to provide substantive support during pivotal times, which in turn has had a ripple effect on the Bay of Bengal region.

Regional Power Dynamics and Effects

Other regional and extra-regional countries now have more potential to increase their influence and fortify their presence as a result of the US, a leader of the West, appearing to engage in a strategic self-alienation in the Bay of Bengal. By increasing its economic and strategic ties in the region, China, for instance, has benefited from the perceived US retreat. This change in power has an impact on the political and strategic dynamics of the Bay of Bengal region as a whole, in addition to the interests of the United States.

Bangladesh Case

With repeated interactions through the Security Dialogue and Partnership Dialogue, Bangladesh has been an important ally for the United States. The US's approach to Bangladesh, however, has blatantly seemed inconsistent and unproductive.

The US has acknowledged the strategic value of Bangladesh as a prospective player in the region, but at times, its actions have sent a different message. The US has damaged the relationship and fostered a sense of disenchantment by denying Bangladesh duty-free access to the market and GSP facilities for ten years, placing restrictions on aid, pressing Bangladesh on matters like human rights, and failing to fully resolve bilateral concerns.

In recent years, the United States' policies toward Bangladesh have generated serious concerns and strained relations between the two countries. Sanctions against seven members of Bangladesh's elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a unit in charge of upholding law and order, are one noteworthy instance. Aside from raising questions, this action has strengthened the impression that the US is meddling in Bangladesh's domestic matters while ignoring the nation's attempts to fight terrorism and preserve stability.

It might be argued that sanctioning RAB was a poor policy choice given the context and complexity of Bangladesh's security issues. Recognizing Bangladesh's efforts to thwart terrorism and uphold internal security is crucial. By enacting penalties, the US runs the danger of weakening mutual respect and collaboration between the two countries, which might make it more difficult for them to effectively confront shared security issues.

The new visa policy of the US has come as the final nail in the coffin. Although the formal responses of the government and opposition applaud this action, the fact is that it has sparked anti-American sentiment. The US and the people of Bangladesh have grown more apart as a result. Everyone is aware that the US is interfering in Bangladesh to advance its geostrategic objectives, which is a plain reality. The US diplomatic objectives in the region will unquestionably be defeated by this new visa regime.

The US has implemented policies that Bangladesh finds upsetting and unpleasant. These have included announcing insulting policies, voicing worries about political and labor rights developments, and openly criticizing some facets of Bangladesh's governance. But most of the issues are settled with clarity and international organizations are already praising Bangladesh’s efforts through different reports and indexes. Any bilateral relationship benefits from constructive interaction and dialogue, but it is necessary to approach these dialogues with consideration for the partner nation's sovereignty and internal dynamics.

The US's perceived disregard for Bangladesh's efforts and achievements in areas such as social development adds to the frustration felt by many Bangladeshis. Bangladesh has made significant progress in various sectors, including education, healthcare, and women's empowerment, but the US's policies often fail to acknowledge and appreciate these accomplishments. This creates a sense of alienation and disappointment among the Bangladeshi populace and raises questions about the US's understanding of Bangladesh's realities.

The US's approach towards Bangladesh also needs to consider the broader regional context. Bangladesh has emerged as a significant actor in regional dynamics, particularly in terms of its geopolitical location and economic potential. Neglecting Bangladesh's strategic importance and antagonizing policies risk pushing the country closer to other regional powers.

The US and the West must review their policies toward Bangladesh and adopt a more balanced and practical stance. A deeper comprehension of Bangladesh's goals, difficulties, and contributions is necessary to forge a partnership that is more solid and mutually beneficial. Prioritizing constructive engagement, the US should concentrate on areas of shared interest, including as economic cooperation and counterterrorism initiatives, and address regional issues like climate change and maritime security.

The US's policies towards Bangladesh have caused anxiety and strained the two countries' ties. Sanctioning RAB without taking Bangladesh's security problems into account runs the danger of losing cooperation and trust. The perceived US indifference to Bangladesh's accomplishments and meddling in its internal affairs worsens the situation. To ensure a more fruitful and profitable alliance, it is essential for the US and the West to reevaluate its policies, promote constructive engagement, and acknowledge Bangladesh's significance.


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