How will the new US visa policy affect Bangladesh?
The Business Standard reached out to a few experts to gauge the implication of the new policy
The United States has decided to deny visas to individuals, from law enforcers to political leaders, believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh.
The wide range of people under the purview of the new policy includes current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of pro-government and opposition political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary, and security services, as per an official US release.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement and also tweeted about the development on Wednesday.
In response to the new policy, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam said on Wednesday the new policy "does not bother" the government of Bangladesh as authorities are "committed" to holding a free and fair election.
"It's not a sanction. BNP should be worried as violence before or during election is another criterion that will trigger visa restriction," he told UNB in a quick response when his reaction was sought.
The Business Standard reached out to a few experts to gauge the implication of the new policy.
This policy is a primarily a warning to election commission officials'
M Sakhawat Hussain, Former Election Commissioner and Retired Brigadier General
The implications of the US’s new visa policy is comprehensive and stronger than a targeted sanction.
This policy is unlikely to affect simple immigrants. But highups of the political parties and state wings like administration and security forces, more specifically those directly involved in undermining free and fair elections, will be barred from US visas.
Past experience suggests that a free and fair election is not solely dependent on the Election Commission. We have observed the roles of inactive or partial law enforcement personnel, presiding and returning officers, who supported election rigging in the past. Sometimes ruling politicians intimidate voters.
These activities are definitely not congenial to organise a peaceful election. So the mentioned professionals will be under the US's radar. Meanwhile, the Election Commission will be responsible, if it comes across as relaxed, or fails in playing its due role. This [US visa policy] is a warning primarily to Election Commission officials.
I think this move is not only limited to the election day, but also activities involved in creating the election atmosphere. We should keep in mind that the announcement has been made from one of the top US officials and this will not be an ineffective one.
Many people in Bangladesh may display ignorance towards the US visa policy, saying there will be no negative impacts. Practically, the new visa policy is not only targeting individuals, but also their immediate family members. Moreover, this policy will be a matter of Bangladesh’s image. I don’t think the image of Bangladesh has been glorified after the worldwide circulation of Blinken’s announcement.
The last important thing is that revoking US visas may also impact visa applications to other countries.
'Innocent people will not face visa-related problems'
Humayun Kabir, Former Ambassador of Bangladesh
There is no scope for speculation on the US’s new visa policy because the announcement is very specific. The US has made this announcement requesting creation of a congenial atmosphere for a democratic election in Bangladesh.
With the announcement, the US government hopes that all parties, including the ruling and opposition parties, civil society, media and others will go through constructive dialogues for a free, fair, peaceful, and inclusive election.
The internationally-accepted policy is that a country has the sovereign rights to grant, deny or revoke visa applications on specific criteria. Hence, the US can set a new policy or revise previous visa policies any time, so does Bangladesh.
The announcement specifies visa cancellation criteria for Bangladeshi citizens: those who are involved in vote rigging, or intimidate voters using violence or prevent people from exercising their right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and use measures designed to prevent political parties, voters, civil society, or the media from disseminating their views, will not be granted US visas.
Hence, the innocent people will not face visa related problems, I believe.
'If constitutionally-mandated institutions play their role, we don’t need foreign guidance'
Muhammad Nurul Huda, Former Inspector General of Police, Bangladesh
Law enforcement agencies, specifically the security forces, are mandated under constitutional directives and procedural laws [as the supporting wing of Election Commission] to ensure a peaceful and disciplined election.
Misdeeds by security forces may influence the whole election process. Perhaps in that sense, the US’s new visa policy has included members of law enforcement and security services.
I believe this is all about supporting Bangladesh’s goal of holding free, fair, and peaceful national elections.
But I would only take this policy as the sole matter of the US government and I do not think it is a guidance for Bangladesh. Because Bangladesh has its own constitution, which is the best guide for maintaining democracy in the country. The Election Commission itself is a constitutional organisation with specific and instrumental laws and the power of holding a democratic election.
If the constitutionally-mandated institutions play their due roles and hold credible elections, I think we don’t need guidance from any foreign countries.
'If the US finds any member of the judiciary did injustice, they would deny their visa'
Shahdeen Malik, Bangladesh Supreme Court Lawyer
In recent years, Bangladeshi citizens’ visa access to some developed countries have already been limited for unknown reasons.
However, the US’s new visa policy includes some specific criteria which are focused on the national elections of Bangladesh.
As long as it is the matter of the US government, we don’t have much to say about it. In my observation, I would say the inclusion of the members of judiciary in the policy may relate to those who are responsible to resolve polls-related disputes.
During an election day, executive magistrates are appointed to oversee and maintain polls-time security under the supervision of district magistrates. Someone aggrieved with the election management and results may go to the tribunals for justice.
If the US officials find any member of the Bangladesh judiciary did injustice, they would deny or revoke his or her visa. It’s all about the US’s decision.
The Business Standard senior feature writer Sadiqur Rahman took the interviews over phone.