Dhaka, Wednesday, May 19, 2004
Rocca expresses concern over anti-Ahmadiya campaign
A visiting senior US State Department official on Tuesday raised concern over alleged attacks on religious minorities in Bangladesh, and urged the government to ensure rights of all as enshrined in the Constitution.
Religious minorities must be protected, not stigmatised or victimised by book banning and attacks on their places of worship, Assistant US Secretary of State Christina B Rocca said at a meeting in Dhaka with the American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh (AmCham), in an oblique reference to Ahmadiya community, one of Bangladeshs religious minority groups.
Now on a three-day tour of Bangladesh, the US official is scheduled to meet leaders of the Ahmadiya community in Bakshibazar in the city Wednesday noon.
It will be the first spot visit by any senior official after the recent attacks and threats on them and their places of worship by hard-line Islamic groups who refuse to accept Ahmadiyas as Muslims.
In the face of rising protests by Islamic zealots, the government banned all publications of Ahmadiya Muslim Jamaat on January 8.
Speaking to the AmCham at a city hotel on Tuesday, the US official described Bangladeshs inclusive society as a quality having commonality with the United States.
She said measures to undermine social and religious equality and promote disharmony are viewed with great concern from outside Bangladesh.
Rocca sees a cloudy picture on Bangladeshs domestic front as bitter and deep political rivalries between the leaders of the two main political parties degraded democratic values and institutions, particularly the parliament.
She listed a number of problem areas, including hartal, street agitation, violence, intimidation, general strike, death in custody, poor law and order and rampant corruption.
Hartals serve only to aggravate the sufferings of general people, Rocca said at the monthly luncheon meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh (AmCham).
She advised the opposition to participate in the parliamentary proceedings as it is the proper venue for pursuing their political agenda.
The US official expressed the conviction that rampant corruption, poor law and order and doubts about Bangladeshs political and economic future propel many Bangladeshis to seek their future abroad.
Till now the United States invested $1.3 billion, but new foreign investment is going down, not up. Privatisation, export diversification, deregulation, financial sector reform, and major infrastructure investments are essential to reverse the declining foreign investment trends and achieve steady economic growth, she said.
It is up to the leadership of Bangladesh to put it on the path to sustainable development. Democratic, economic, and legal reforms are needed quickly, Rocca said, adding immediate action is in Bangladeshs interest and in the interest of the entire region.
Terming Bangladesh as voice of moderation, she said: As the fourth most populous Muslim country in the world, Bangladeshs role in regional and international fora is widely respected and appreciated.
Turning to Washingtons South Asian policy, Rocca said, The threat to regional stability resulting from differences between Pakistan and India over Kashmir has long been a focus of American diplomacy. As recently as the summer of 2002, war between India and Pakistan seemed possible. Since that time, we have been working very hard to turn our parallel improvement of relations with India and Pakistan.