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‘The US is trying to secure a military base in Bangladesh’

World‘The US is trying to secure a military base in Bangladesh’

NEW DELHI: The recent violence in Manipur is a wake-up call for the sub-region, says Squadron Leader (Retired) Sadrul Ahmed Khan, who is Member, Finance and Planning Affairs Sub-Committee, Bangladesh Awami League.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently indicated about a plot by a third country that could lead to the division of Bangladesh on religious lines.
The Sunday Guardian spoke to the Dhaka-based Squadron Leader (Retired) Sadrul Ahmed Khan, who is Member, Finance and Planning Affairs Sub-Committee, Bangladesh Awami League on this alleged plot and the entities behind it.

Q: Recently Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina spoke about a “Balkanization” plot taking place in Bangladesh? What is this plot that she was referring to? And does it impact Delhi?
A: Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina talked about an ongoing plot to create a non-Muslim majority country like East Timor. Kuki Chin Province of Myanmar, Chattogram hill tracts of Bangladesh and Mizoram of Bharat may be the demarcation.
The US is trying to enter the South Asian region using Myanmar territory. As Kuki-Chin province of Myanmar is majority Christian, they are easy to manipulate. Kuki-Chin rebels are fighting with Myanmar army, to help and promote Christian rebels. The USA introduced the Burma Act recently. The recent past violence in Manipur is also a wake-up call for the sub-region.
The current Bangladesh government, led by the Awami League, consistently adheres to the foreign policy principle laid out by our founding father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, which emphasizes “friendship to all, malice to none.”
Bharat is not only our trusted neighbour but also a valued partner and tested friend. If any part of Bangladesh is in unrest due to so-called Kuki-Chin rebels, the repercussions will be felt in Delhi as well. It may incite border-based violence in parts of the Northeast and drug lords may influence young people to take to violence.

Q: She also referred to a “white man” meeting her before the elections and seeking her support in building an air base on Saint Martin’s island. Is the white man referred to by her an official of the United States government? Can you shed light on who was the official?
A: The Joe Biden administration has consistently expressed support for regime change in Bangladesh over an extended period. It is widely believed that during the last parliamentary election, the US ambassador attempted various strategies to overthrow the government led by Sheikh Hasina but was unsuccessful.
Just two months before the election, on October 28th, a US citizen named Mian Arafi, self-proclaimed adviser to US President Joe Biden, visited the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) office in Dhaka shortly after violent protests by BNP activists. This move was seen as a blatant attempt to exacerbate the situation and undermine the morale of the security personnel. Prior to the visit to the BNP office, the alleged adviser had held several meetings at the American Club in Dhaka. However, this scheme failed to materialize as the people of Dhaka remained vigilant and cautious.
Before being reined in by the police, opposition activists attacked the house of the Chief Justice, set fire to houses, and vandalized cars, in a blatant act of provocation. However, their plot failed as the mass populace did not rally behind this movement. The situation in Dhaka in 2023 can be likened to the protests in Kyiv’s Maidan, Ukraine, in 2014.
Prior to the 7 January 2024 election, there were numerous meetings between the US ambassador and the opposition party BNP. Rumours quickly circulated that the US would impose restrictions on Bangladesh on 4 January and that there would be no election on 7 January. However, these attempts failed once again.
During the period of political turmoil, several US envoys met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in an attempt to interfere in Bangladesh’s internal affairs. However, our PM remained steadfast and did not compromise with any external forces. The US pressured Bangladesh to join the Quad alliance, and there were reports suggesting that they proposed leasing Saint Martin island. Bangladesh firmly rejected these proposals. In June 2023, Bangladesh openly condemned the proposal during a meeting held by the Awami League and the 14-party alliance. Furthermore, a lengthy parliamentary debate ensued in the Bangladesh Parliament regarding these matters. Now, when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina hints at the “white man”, it is widely understood that she is referring to the US.

Q: Washington for long has denied any interest in these islands. How seriously should one then take the recent statement of PM Hasina in this regard?
A: The US has indeed been making persistent efforts to acquire Saint-Martin Island from Bangladesh for the establishment of a naval base. Our party leader, Sheikh Hasina, has reiterated this fact in various forums and gatherings. As a member of the Awami League, I have unwavering faith in Sheikh Hasina, and her stance leaves no room for doubt regarding the intentions of the US.
The US indeed maintains legitimate military ties with Bangladesh, with both forces engaging in regular visits and joint exercises. Bangladesh is willing to provide full support as long as the agenda prioritizes peacekeeping operations, humanitarian aid, logistic exercises, and assistance to civil power. However, Bangladesh strongly opposes America’s military ambition to establish a naval base at Saint Martin, as it would jeopardize Bangladesh’s sovereignty and undermine peace and stability in South Asia.

Q: If such an airbase was to come up on these islands then it would raise strategic concerns not just for Dhaka but all the other neighbouring countries. So is Hasina indulging in fear mongering against Washington for domestic and personal purposes?
A: Bangladesh staunchly opposes engaging in an arms race and refuses to serve as a proxy for the US. Bangladesh cannot be manipulated to establish a foothold for any foreign power in South Asia. If the US seeks to contain China, they have ample opportunities to do so in the Pacific theatre, such as by controlling the Malacca Strait. However, they have chosen not to take such actions, possibly due to the importance of bilateral trade. China is India’s largest bilateral trade partner, with trade reaching US$118.4 billion this year. It appears that the US may be leveraging regional power dynamics to gain an advantage in the trade war as well.

Bangladesh asserts its independence and maintains its own Indo-Pacific outlook. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has made it abundantly clear on numerous occasions that Bangladesh will not succumb to external pressure.

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