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Bangladesh Foreign Minister Throws in with the Radicals


Dr. Richard L. Benkin writes from USA


Ahmed Al-Jarallah, Editor-in-Chief of the Arab Times noted recently that “Forgetting the interests of their own countries the Hamas Movement and Hezbollah have gone to the extent of representing the interests of Iran and Syrian in their countries...without worrying about the consequences of their action.”  Has Foreign Minister M. Morshed Khan with his recent remarks on the Middle East conflict demonstrated that Bangladeshi interests fall somewhere below his own?

Last week, while the Bangladesh government weighed the root causes of the current Middle East fighting and its implications for Bangladesh, Khan took it upon himself to issue a statement that placed him squarely in the radical camp with Iran and Syria, and against the positions of any number of Arab states including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates, and others.  Worse, unless he was using a figurative plural, he purported to be speaking for the government of Bangladesh when he said, “We feel the world community should come forward to restrain the state terrorism of Israeli aggression on Lebanon and the people of Palestine.”  He also called Israel’s action “fundamentalism and religious terrorism.”  Moreover, Khan made these remarks to the Overseas Correspondents Association of Bangladesh deliberately insuring an international audience.

His remarks exceeded in vitriol even those by the most radical regimes, Iran and Syria.  They exceeded in vitriol even those of the parties warring with Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority.  Compare them with those of the Saudi Foreign Minister who said, “It is necessary to make a distinction between legitimate resistance and uncalculated adventures adopted by certain elements within Lebanon without the knowledge of legal Lebanese authorities….these elements must take responsibility for their irresponsible actions and they alone should end the crisis created by them.”  The Arab League called an emergency session last week, during which the above Arab governments and others supported the Saudi statement and position.  Only Syria, Yemen, and Algeria, and Lebanon opposed it.  (Not being an Arab country, Iran is not in the Arab League.)  Which of those nations fare best for their people?  Which are models from which Bangladesh might find direction for its actions?  In its final communiqué, the League criticized Hezbollah, not Israel.  Elsewhere, the leaders of Egypt and Jordan said, “adventures that do not serve Arab interests.”  Khan decided to snub them, too.

In most capitals, the Foreign Minister’s remarks were dismissed as bizarre and little more than sloganeering.  How he came up with the term, religious terrorism is a mystery that he never explains.  That Khan chooses to depict this as a religious war firmly installs him, not Israel, with the fundamentalists.  And since the American president and Congress has gone on record that Israel’s actions are part of the war on terror, by extension, Khan is suggesting that is a war on Islam, too.  Not a wise move for building diplomatic credibility with important allies.  The Foreign Minister seems to have abandoned the correct role of a nation’s chief diplomat; that is to build bridges and find common ground, not to dig trenches that separate his country from its allies and benefactors.  These most undiplomatic remarks by the nation’s top diplomat are counterproductive to the very interests he is in office to represent; namely, those of the Bangladeshi people.

Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States have gone on record opposing Hezbollah actions.  They are concerned about growing radical strength in the region, and they recognize the Shiite militia as an Iranian lapdog.  As noted in the New York Times, there has been a “readjustment of risks Arab governments say they face.”  Khan’s refusal to acknowledge those realities (or his inability to perceive them) and his ill-conceived statements could endanger a significant element of the Bangladeshi economy: remittances from Bangladeshis working outside the country, which represent more than one fourth of the country’s foreign exchange.  A 2003 IMF report showed Bangladesh to have the highest dollars in net remittance inflow of all countries worldwide, with 82 percent of Bangladeshi migrant workers thus far going to various middle eastern nations—most of them in the Gulf, over half to Saudi Arabia alone, and virtually none to radical regimes like Iran and Syria.  The Gulf States are becoming more and more security conscious with regard to radical terrorists, and a radical-sounding Bangladesh could find itself facing suspicion if not outright restrictions on the number of workers allowed in those states.  Calculations of the Gulf States are changing, and a Foreign Minister should keep his nation ahead of that curve, not behind it.

Not content with jeopardizing those relationships, Khan also went on the attack against the United States.  He mockingly referred to the US as the “guardian of democracy” and accused this ally of “patronizing the aggression,” which he already had called terrorism.  For the past year or more, Bangladesh diplomats have been working overtime trying to convince the United States that Bangladesh is a moderate Muslim nation and a strong ally in the war on terror.  Much of the effort has been taken in the hopes of securing a US-Bangladesh Free Trade Agreement and other forms of aid.  At times, they have been more convincing than others, with many Americans still on the fence.  Khan’s recent comments already have undermined those efforts, causing several to wonder whether Bangladesh stands with the US’s moderate Muslim partners or with more radical regimes that seek to damage the United States.  Yet, either through venality, personal interest, or incompetence, the Foreign Minister chose to place all of that effort—including the jobs, new business, and increase in capita—in jeopardy.  No wonder he and his team in Washington have thus far failed to achieve the goals set for them.

Compare instead the way that Indonesia’s Foreign Minister criticized Israel but maintained high standards for his country.  He went to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and offered his support for a multi-national team in the area and even offered to send Indonesians as part of it.  Or what of the statement by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, “I appeal to the world and Israel to end this crisis, move towards a ceasefire and resolve through dialogue.”   Does Khan insist that he is “more Muslim” than they are?

So far, Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia has remained above the fray and is trying to maintain her country’s moderate credentials, not to mention its key international relationships.  Why the Foreign Minister decided to be so unministerial has confounded many; one source noting that Khan “does not understand diplomacy, foreign policy, or global reality.”  Beyond that, he not only hurts his own people, but if adopted, Khan’s clumsy approach would only harm chances for a just and lasting peace in the region; as he wants to dictate the final terms instead of recognizing that both parties must walk away satisfied or the killing will continue.  Mr. Khan, what in the world were you thinking?

Finally, only the most radical organizations in Bangladesh have demonstrated on the same platform enunciated by Khan.  By doing so, he has furthered a process to give those groups a measure of legitimacy and increase their chances of defeating his own Bangladesh National Party and turning the nation into a radical state.

Posted on 25 Jul 2006 by Weeklyblitz

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