Bangladesh and the Principle of Non-Interference: Where Does South Asia Fit Within the Geo-Political Arena?

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India has recently made it loud and clear that the domestic affairs of Bangladesh is its sovereign and independent sphere. This voice came in the 5th round of India-US 2+2 dialog held on November 10, 2023 in New Delhi.

This ministerial dialogue witnessed a categorical articulation of India’s stance on the impending parliamentary elections in Bangladesh, affirming the intrinsic nature of these elections as an internal affair of the Bangladesh, wherein the trajectory of its polity is contingent upon the autonomous agency of its citizenry.

Within the framework of India-US relations, a binary delineation emerges, comprising a global dimension and a regional facet. However, amidst this diplomatic understanding, the geo-political architecture in South Asia stands apart, marked by its distinctive contours.

The geo-political choreography within the region intricately interweaves itself with global events. The distinctive feature of geo-politics in this sphere is accentuated, reflecting a regional specificity that distinguishes the South Asian geo-political paradigm. Academic inquiry unveils a contextual richness, wherein the geo-political discourse in South Asia unfolds as a distinct scholarly terrain, uniquely contributing to the broader canvas of international relations.

The historical trajectories of South Asian nations are marked by distinctiveness, with each country possessing a keen understanding of its internal dynamics. A profound cognizance of our internal affairs is intrinsic to our national consciousness. Notably, India, our closest neighbour, shares a distinctive comprehension of our internal issues. The acknowledgment of our internal intricacies by India, within the diplomatic discourse, underscores the depth of their engagement and the shared cognizance of the complex drapery that constitutes the internal affairs of our nation.

The dynamics of Bangladesh-India relations have undergone multifaceted transformations across various epochs of history. The interrelationship between these two nations within the Asia Pacific region exhibits a nuanced and distinctive character, shaped by the intricacies of historical, political, cultural, and infrastructural changes. The people of this region, possessing an intimate understanding of these fluctuations, uniquely grasp the refined evolution of their respective nations.

In contrast, comprehending these realities poses a challenge for entities outside the region, particularly the Western world and the United States. The idiosyncrasies embedded in the history, politics, culture, and infrastructure of South Asian nations elude full comprehension from those situated outside this geographic sphere. Reciprocally, the geo-political reality of North America and the Western world remains elusive to countries within South Asia. This intrinsic divergence is compounded by the fact that, despite the global context, each nation maintains its distinct political situation and self-identity.

External attempts to intervene in the internal affairs of sovereign nations often fall prey to a myopic focus on transient issues, risking the transmission of misguided messages. While acknowledging the diverse dimensions characterizing India-US relations within the South Asian context, it remains unrealistic to anticipate a homogenous perspective in monitoring the region. A case in point is the complex scenario in Myanmar, where the intricacies of regional dynamics may elude a synchronized interpretation between these two influential nations.

The geo-political stances of India and the United States on Myanmar diverge notably. India, fostering a positive rapport with Myanmar, extends support to the Myanmar government, particularly on the Rohingya issue. This collaborative approach aligns with India’s constructive diplomatic engagement in the region. Conversely, the United States has opted for a more stringent approach, imposing a series of sanctions on Myanmar and enacting the Burma Act, indicative of its critical stance toward the Myanmar government.

The dissonance in the positions adopted by India and the United States toward Myanmar raises pertinent questions among analysts. In the face of geo-political antecedents, the query emerges: How do these analysts anticipate the maintenance of a consistent stance between the United States and India? The complex interplay of geo-political forces and divergent national interests prompts a nuanced exploration of the factors shaping the foreign policy dynamics of these global powers.

The bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India are deeply embedded in both a geo-political and historical context, a narrative that holds equal significance for both nations. However, the United States perceives Bangladesh within the framework of a broader global political strategy, unlike India, which views its relationship with Bangladesh through the lens of regional realities and its own state interests. Consequently, while Bangladesh may not hold the same level of importance for the United States as Canada or Mexico in terms of fundamental interests, it assumes immense significance in the context of India’s bilateral relations.

Examining the trajectory of Bangladesh-India relations over the past fifteen years illuminates the evolving dynamics and challenges intrinsic to these interactions. During this period, the two countries have fortified their ties significantly. Notably, a transformative shift, characterized by a reduction in instability and security crises in the Northeastern region of India, underscoring the tangible impact of strengthened ties between the two nations.

India’s stance is rooted in respect for Bangladesh’s sovereignty, as they recognize the complexities of historical and political contexts. India, aligned with this sentiment, refrains from endorsing interventions by external powers. Emphasizing the need for refined understanding, it is reiterated that overarching comments based on isolated events can often convey misleading messages. This underscores the imperative for diplomatic engagement that is grounded in a comprehensive understanding of the local dynamics, fostering a more constructive and respectful discourse between nations.

External interventions often render a country’s situation precarious, as evidenced by instances such as Afghanistan, where socio-economic stability has been further undermined due to foreign interference. This pattern is recurrent in other regions, including Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine, as well as numerous African countries, where external meddling has frequently jeopardized the lives of the populace. The protracted era of apartheid in South Africa serves as a poignant illustration of the adverse consequences wrought by external forces.

The resolution of internal crises is hardly seen through foreign interventions. Rather, transformative change tends to emerge from domestic movements, as exemplified by the leadership of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. This trajectory underscores the importance of contextualizing a nation’s internal challenges within the framework of its geo-political position and regional characteristics.

Forcing a country to conform to geo-political or global strategies often proves counterproductive In various diplomatic dialogues, Indian policymakers consistently advocate for a principled approach that recognizes the intrinsic connection between a nation’s internal dynamics and its geo-political context. This understanding reflects a commitment to fostering positive, sustainable change that is rooted in the realities of the region and the time-tested principle of non-interference under the Westphalian system.

Bangladesh must not be seen as an exception to it. South Asian geo-politics provides a lesson for the world, particularly for the great powers, to give proper attention to its uniqueness for applying foreign policy strategy and tactics. The principle of non-interference is fundamental to maintaining productive international relations.

Bangladesh’s leadership and diplomats are tasked with articulating this expectation, ensuring that dialogues and engagements at the bilateral and international levels are conducted with regard for the autonomy and political realities of each nation. Through such diplomatic endeavours, Bangladesh seeks to build relationships that are rooted in mutual respect and understanding which will serve democracy and political stability in their best manner.

– Delwar Hossain, PhD is Professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh and the founder of the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in Dhaka Tribune [Link]