AL, BNP leadership degrade democracy
Rocca tells AmCham luncheon
Visiting US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca yesterday blamed the leadership of the two main political parties for degrading democratic practice in Bangladesh.
Deep and bitter rivalries between the leaderships of the two main political parties degrade democratic values and institutions, particularly parliament, Rocca told an audience at a luncheon meeting organised by American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh (AmCham) at Hotel Sheraton.
She spoke on US policy in South Asia, on the first day of her three-day visit. Representatives of the diplomatic missions in Dhaka and leading businesspeople also attended it. AmCham President Aftab ul Islam delivered the inaugural speech.
Earlier, Rocca arrived in the morning and after the luncheon meeting met Foreign Secretary Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury at the foreign ministry. She raised the issue of Chittagong arms seizure among other bilateral issues and expressed the US concern over the huge weapons cache.
She offered the services of US customs department for the ongoing probe into Chittagong arms haul. If needed, we will seek their help, Shamsher said.
At the AmCham meeting, Rocca said, Corruption is rampant, law and order is poor and doubts about Bangladeshs political and economic future propel many Bangladeshis to seek their future abroad.
Criticising the current practice of political dissent, Rocca continued, Street agitation, violence, intimidation and general strikes belong to a bygone era and have no place in a democracy. Hartals serve only to aggravate the suffering of Bangladeshis.
She reiterated the US belief that parliament should be used by all members, including the opposition, to pursue their political agenda.
We hope to see greater effort to end attacks on journalists and deaths in police custody, Rocca added.
She obliquely referred to the government actions against the Ahmadiyya sect in January and said, In keeping with Bangladeshs constitution, religious minorities must be protected, not stigmatised or victimised by book banning and attacks on their places of worship.
Measures to undermine social and religious equality and promote disharmony are viewed with greater concern from outside Bangladesh, contributing, in the end, to what she termed was a cloudy outlook on Bangladesh.
Rocca is scheduled to visit the Ahmadiyya complex in Bakshibazar today, talk to sect leaders and see the complex that was attacked by Sunni hardliners in January.
Representing the biggest foreign investor in Bangladesh with a total investment of $1.3 billion, Rocca cautioned that new foreign investment is going down and said to reverse the trend, deregulation, privatisation, export diversification, financial sector reform and major infrastructure investments are essential.
She, however, hoped that quick activation of an independent and effective anti-corruption commission and separation of the judiciary would attract more foreign investment.
The US assistant secretary stressed the need for prompt democratic, legal and economic reforms and said, It is up to the leadership of Bangladesh to put it on the path to sustainable development.
She said that South Asia is now, and will long remain, at the forefront of Americas foreign policy concerns.
On the US role in the Kashmir conflict, she said, We do not seek to impose ourselves as a mediator [but] to urge them toward reconciliation by peaceful means.
Shamsher also said in the meeting that the US economic assistance programme in Bangladesh has increased to $109 million, a big improvement from last year.
Later, emerging from the meeting with the foreign secretary, Rocca told reporters, We talked about a broad range of all bilateral issues ... US and Bangladesh are close so we talked frankly about the issues.
Shamsher informed reporters that they discussed issues concerning trade unions in the export processing zone, the progress of Tifa (trade and investment framework agreement) and Saarc. He also received assurances from Rocca that the two sides will continue talks on trade issues.