The RAB sanctions drama continues to grow putting pressure on the GOB both internally and externally. The announcement by the Foreign Minister that Bangladesh is going to seek India's help in getting the RAB sanction lifted is one example. It's an indication of the government's difficulties because seeking Indian help to ease RAB sanctions carries a political price.

India is the most unpopular country in Bangladesh. The current regime in town is often accused of being in power due to Indian support so the decision must have been a tough one to take because the political risks are obvious. And elections are what it's all about.

Does crossfire work in the long run?

The RAB or for that matter the police are very useful for many reasons. RAB has been plagued by crossfire controversy since its birth. Although they have been effective in controlling violent extremism particularly of the JMB variety and occasional rapists thrown in, the crossfire issue has been chasing them for a while. Now it has taken a larger dimension and can't be ignored.

These crossfires are largely meant to rein in the narco- drug trade and similar crimes, the government contends. It's not a secret and has many supporters. It is seen as the only way to get rid of certain criminals. But as events show, while locally accepted, these practices are not legal. And now the policy is paying bitter dividends.

Using crossfire to deal with the drug trade hasn't worked. Cross firing retail level drug dealers has had no impact on the crime scene. In fact it increased the risk factor of yaba trading thus pushing the street price up making it more profitable for the dealers. In a way, crossfire increased the profit margin.

Drug economies are created by many factors including high profit margins and high level players who have some immunity from law enforcement. Many biggies are involved. The demand for drugs in Bangladesh is so high that law enforcement alone can't work to curb it. Cross firing one dealer is welcomed by the five others waiting to enter the lucrative trade.

Risk analysis of policy shift

The RAB sanction worry is twofold. If RAB service is seen as negative, it may prevent joining on deputation to RAB by army officers and policemen.

The army is at the top of the ruling class cluster. So UN employment options must be kept open for them. However, the GOB also needs RAB and the police. How can both objectives be met is the challenge that may have taken the Government to seek India's help. Whether this will work out is another matter.

Bangladesh has very little international clout as events show. Myanmar has been able to have its way and Bangladesh had to accept that as a militarily weak country with no strategic importance. Thus none aided Bangladesh on the Rohingya issue. So Bangladesh is aware it's not considered a major player by the superpowers.

It has been successful in dealing with India and China by tilting towards one and then another when it suited. It has taken advantage of the Indo-China tussle to gain from both by playing well in the trilateral game. But playing with India and China is one thing and with China and the US is another matter altogether.

This is the global tussle and BD doesn't have much status there. India has an associate status perhaps but not Bangladesh. US sanctions can't be lifted by executive orders and the due process is complex. Lobbying is hardly the main thrust for their removal as BD seems to be saying. It has to be proved to the US authority which sanctioned RAB that the reasons why sanctions were imposed no longer exist.

Seeking India's help in placating the US may work or may not. That depends a lot on the US and not India. The issue is China which is BD's major economic and trade player and they will be offended by the new move. China has said that BD should stay away from all anti-China blocs like Quad so there is no chance of finding a friendly China if BD cosies up to the US.

India may be happy at the possible distancing from China and US may enjoy back bending a small power but what is the long term impact of this policy is not clear? Does it carry the risk in the long term like the crossfire policy for which prices are being paid now? One hopes a quality risk analysis has been done of the consequences as BD moves closer to India/US.

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