Curiosity Killed the Cat: Peter Haas’ Bangladesh Mission and Russia’s Reaction


Published on January 3, 2023
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Dr. Rashid Askari: 

The US envoy to Bangladesh Peter D. Haas’ clandestine visit to a BNP leader’s house, its leak to the press, his facing angry unwanted protesters airing grievances and beating a hasty retreat have had a knock-on effect on the political environment of the country. The day was December 14, 2022—the Martyred Intellectuals Day in the nation’s calendar, a day the people of Bangladesh observe with due solemnity and patriotic fervour in commemoration of those who were killed by the Pakistani occupation army and their collaborators during the War of Liberation in 1971. The government and people of Bangladesh expected the highly respectable US envoy to pay a visit to the martyred intellectuals memorials and sympathize with the ideals of the Liberation War. Unfortunately, he failed to meet popular expectations. Though the US Embassy on a social networking website, tried to justify Mr. Haas’ paying secret calls on the missing BNP leader’s family on humanitarian grounds, it rang hollow. That a country which sets the world record for extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances is enquiring into another country’s human rights condition sounds quite ridiculous.

However, it is not very hard to find out what lies at the bottom of Peter Haas’ mind especially when he misuses power for his own ends by showing a total disregard of the basic decencies of diplomatic etiquette. After the US Treasury Department’s sanctions on Bangladesh’s elite paramilitary force RAB on December 10, 2021, it has been easy to second-guess what this kind of envoy is going to do.

Maybe Mr. Haas did not want it to happen that way. He may have fallen into the trap of sympathizing with the families of the alleged victims of enforced disappearance in a bid to accomplish Biden’s Bangladesh mission. And the power-starved BNP men awaiting an opportune moment, tried to cash in on his interest and entrapped him into visiting the chosen house. However, when he stumbled upon another group of people who claimed to be family members of the victims of extrajudicial killings of the armed forces officers perpetrated by Gen Zia during his regime as a military dictator, Haas could realize that he got into another fine mess. He felt embarrassed and took to his heels.
That the US meddles in other countries’ internal affairs is a generally acknowledged fact. A report published in the centralized network of comprehensive news media—YC News on October 28, 2020 testifies to it. To quote: “When it comes to interfering in internal affairs and subverting political power, the United States is a recognized ‘professional household’. Since World War II, in order to consolidate global hegemony, the United States has tried every means to transform and subvert those regimes that are not in accordance with its own interests… [by means of] armed intervention, military invasion, economic sanctions, cultural infiltration, inciting riots, and manipulating elections.” Lindsey O’Rourke, a Boston College Political Science teacher and international relations theory and U.S. foreign policy expert, in her 2018 book Covert Regime Change: America's Secret Cold War, contends that the United States carried out 64 operations to subvert the regime of other countries. According to a “Manila Times” report, the US is accused of instigating regime change in about 20 countries in the last decade. Another report published in “The Guardian” sarcastically said that even though the United States is so angry with interference from abroad, they are such experts! (YC News, October 28, 2020).

Joe Biden may have his very own domestic policies, but so far as foreign policy is concerned, he will not be deviating from the legacy of his political ancestors. Jim W. Dean, Editor Emeritus of Veterans Today, one of the world’s most important foreign affairs journals, in his piece published on January 30, 2021 entitled “Will Biden regime continue US interference in other countries’ affairs?” refers to the US legacy of meddling with other countries’ affairs and casts aspersions on Biden’s role in it. As he puts it, “One of the biggest threats to US foreign policy is its hypocrisy. By that I mean our media has a steady flow of material on foreign actors interfering in US domestic affairs and how terrible that is.

But when the US is doing exactly that in other countries it magically becomes ‘pursuing our interest’….We will be watching to see if Biden sleep walks into this policy contradiction and throws away the high moral ground that he is laying claim to.” Biden’s Bangladesh policy reflected in the sanctions on RAB and his trusted envoy’s adventurous trip to the BNP man’s place are living proof of his sleep walk into their ‘policy contradiction’ and his ‘throwing away the high moral ground’.

Russia has expressed concern over the issue of US interference in Bangladesh’s internal affairs referring to the UN Declaration of the Inadmissibility of Intervention in the Domestic Affairs of States and Protection of Their Independence and Sovereignty. Russia is a tried and trusted friend of Bangladesh. During the 1971 Liberation War when overwhelming odds were stacked against Bangladesh and the US had an open hostility, Russia lent a hand. In December 1971 at the fag end of the war, apprehending Pakistani occupation army’s impending defeat at the hands of the liberation forces and their allies, US President Nixon decided to use direct military force on behalf of Pakistan. On December 9, he ordered the Seventh Fleet, most of whose ships were close to Vietnam due to Vietnam War, to sail to the Bay of Bengal. But Nixon’s plan was foiled by Russia’s power play that used words of warning and countermeasures to dispatch a nuclear-armed flotilla called the Pacific Fleet from Vladivostok.

The days of coercive diplomacy are over. Now it is time to use soft power to gain geopolitical predominance. In international politics, soft power, as opposed to hard power, is the power of persuasion, not of coercion. It includes shaping the preferences of others through appeal, attraction and continued support. It includes culture, political values and foreign policies. The US should learn from its past experiences. In the entire gamut of the Cold War, the United States carried out numerous interventions both military and diplomatic. What good was it treading on other countries’ toes. Only the Vietnam War cost them 58,000 troop deaths. Is not the withdrawal of US military from Afghanistan a humiliating defeat? If still they hang on to coercive diplomacy and only talk the talk but do not walk the walk, they will sure keep losing their allies. Biden should mind his own business. Too much curiosity might kill the cat.

Dr. Rashid Askari is freethinking writer, academic and translator.