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Does the BNP Actively Seek to Anger the US?



For the third time in six months, the Bangladesh government has refused to allow me into the country.  They first refused my visa application for a March visit but said they would approve one if I delayed my trip for a month.  Despite the personal hardship and cost, I complied with the request.  Yet, when I applied in April, my request was turned down flatly.  The refusal not only came through the Bangladesh embassy in Washington but also from no less a personage than Home Minister Lutfuzzamen Babar.  Most recently, I wished to visit Bangladesh in part to attend the anniversary celebration for Weekly Blitz.  October 12, 2006 will mark one year of continuous publication for the courageous newspaper, and I was invited to take part in commemorating that event.

For months, Blitz Editor and Publisher (and my brother) Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury was given assurances by several prominent members of the BNP-led government that my visa application would be approved.  Having been denied twice before, I was skeptical; but Shoaib was optimistic.  And why should he have been otherwise; the assurances were most definite and unequivocal?  But last week, Babar summoned him and informed him that I should wait until the caretaker government is in power.  Reminding the Minister that the invitation was for a specific event, for which arrangements had already been made, Shoaib was rebuffed.  Babar told him that he would not allow my visa to be approved.

The government’s equivocations and false assurances in the spring had cost me a considerable amount of money and forced me to refuse or re-arrange business appointments here in the United States.  Fortunately, I did not take any such steps this time, saving myself the lost income.  Unfortunately, considering the government statements dubious did not forestall the personal disappointment and heartache at not being part of the Blitz anniversary or seeing my brother.  But my personal angst is secondary.  More important is what this says to Americans about Bangladesh.

Ever since his arrival in Washington a year and a half ago, Bangladesh Ambassador Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury has been working overtime, trying to convince American lawmakers that Bangladesh is a friend to the United States, a moderate Muslim country, and an ally in the war on terror.  And that makes good sense since there are the same people who will vote on aid to Bangladesh, a US-Bangladesh Free Trade Agreement, and other matters.  Unfortunately, however, the message is periodically contradicted by actions in Bangladesh itself.  The continued persecution of Weekly Blitz editor and publisher Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury with admittedly false sedition charges is one of the obstacles that concern several key members of Congress.  Periodic news of the rise of radicals or the persecution of minorities has the same impact.

Which leads one to another self-defeating aspect of Babar’s and the government’s decision about my visa.  Americans hear little about Bangladesh and form their opinions of your country based on the little they do hear.  The major news agencies tend to cover stories such as those noted above and reinforce negative images of Bangladesh, which Shamsher Chowdhury has not been able to change.  They also affect lawmakers’ perceptions and their votes, as well.  One major source of positive information about Bangladesh has been me.  I have written a number of pro-Bangladesh articles, provided positive reports about Bangladesh to members of Congress and others, and arranged for high level meetings between US and Bangladesh officials.  Yet, the BNP-led government considers me unfit to visit your country.  What kind of sense does that make?  I wrote so many positive things about Bangladesh that some months ago, the opposition Awami League falsely accused me of being on the government payroll!  And for being a friend of Bangladesh the government sees fit to “reward” me with this punishment; decides in light of all that to tell me I am not worthy to enter their country.

That is merely a personal disincentive for others who might want to speak positively about Bangladesh.  Of even greater concern should how seemingly small decisions within government can have significant and negative impacts on overall international relations.  For instance, Americans value their freedom and do not take kindly to those who for no reason want to take them away—and their representatives in the US government agree.  That confirms negative images of Bangladesh.  Further, if Bangladesh truly is an ally of the US, why would it prevent an American from entering the country?  That certainly is not the action of an ally.  And, in fact, the biggest rap in Washington on Bangladeshi officials is that their actions too often do not match their words.  Perhaps the most damning example of this is the frenetic attempt to convince US officials that Bangladesh is firm in its stance against Islamic extremism, but when the government takes actions such as these and others of interest to US lawmakers, the excuse given is that the BNP does not want to alienate these same extremists.  These days in Washington, few people give much credence to the soothing words or ultimately false assurances of Bangladesh’s representatives there.  (Just look at the lack of any progress by them toward an FTA.)

In the end, however, one has to ask how it benefits the government or people of Bangladesh to refuse entry to this American.  It does not, and stacked up against the pile of negatives cited above, that should make one wonder what in the world Minister Babar and others could have possibly been thinking when they told me I was not allowed to come to Bangladesh.

Posted on 13 Sep 2006 by Root

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