Since the withdrawal announcement, it sparked extensive yet superficial media coverage. Social media overflowed with speculations about the government’s strained relations with Western countries or its frustration over a foreign envoy’s perceived interference in internal affairs.
by Kamal Uddin Mazumder
Recently, Bangladesh Government decided to withdraw “additional police escort” services provided to the foreign envoys in Dhaka from four countries- the UK, the US, India, and Saudi Arabia. Under this “extra escort” facility, policemen equipped with riot gear used to escort in their vans the envoys from those countries during their movement in the city.
Since the very announcement of the withdrawal, it received an expansive but shallow media coverage, with social media flooded with speculations over whether the withdrawal has resulted from the government’s apparently frayed relations with specific Western countries or its frustration over the recent activities of a foreign envoy that the government reasonably deems interference into the country’s internal affairs. Moreover, the way the decision has been trumpeted in national and some international media seems as if, from the very moment of the decision enacted, those envoys’ movements would be entirely unescorted and their chancery complexes or residences be unprotected.
|A Look Down Aerial view Of Hatirjheel Lake Bridge at Dusk; Dhaka, Bangladesh [Photo Credit: Salman Preeom/ Unsplash]|
The decision, however, is to pull out “additional escort” facilities once added to the existing “usual arrangements” out of internal security expediency and rendered so far to the envoys from selected countries. Responding to the unnecessary fanfare and panic, the foreign ministry has already clarified that the police gunmen will continue to accompany the envoys while their movements and the security personnel from the designated policy unit will remain assigned as usual to guard the chancery buildings and residences of the senior diplomats.
For all the curious and appetizing speculations, to a large extent misperception, about the government’s sudden decision to withdraw “additional security” escort, the current internal and external political dynamics with respect to the country’s upcoming national election have incentivized the way the decision has received that much level of avid speculation. Western countries’ increasingly express attention on, and, in some cases, assertive articulation about how the election will have to be held, has recently been seen causing heated debate in domestic political and diplomatic ambit.
However, the government’s decision- devised upon well-explained and logical foundations- is in no way out of its resentment toward certain countries’ plainly unsolicited activities around the country’s internal political developments, notably its imminent national election. To discern the merits behind the decision, one needs to look back to what sort of security circumstance had previously prompted the government to introduce such additional escort facilities to specific countries.
Bangladesh government introduced this facility in 2016 out of heightened security exigency in the wake of the Holey Artisan terror attack. In the aftermath of the terror attack, the overall security atmosphere concerning the Islamist terror threat both within and beyond the country has substantially improved. For instance, Bangladesh ranks 43rd among 163 countries in the 2023 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) with a score of 3,827 out of 10, whereas it stood at 22nd in 2016. With a span of 7 years. It has been elevated by 23 notches, thanks to the country’s comprehensive, whole-society anti-terror measures.
Apart from this security standpoint, two more potent factors offer merits to the withdrawal decision. Firstly, the ongoing economic hardship emanating from the global economic downturn due to the years-long pandemic and the current war in Ukraine has been forcing Bangladesh, like many in the Global South, to adopt fiscal austerity across a number of economic aspects. The cost of providing additional escort facilities to several countries is, given the country’s current economic extremity and the government’s struggle to maintain rigorous fiscal hedging, by no means meager as it may seem to affluent others.
Secondly, providing specially designed security facilities to specific countries stands in contrast to the egalitarian principle of treating all foreign envoys equally. Such a facility, in the naked eye, may seem discriminatory, leaving other envoys out of this special facility’s purview being treated lightly and undermining their enthusiasm for diplomatic engagements. Moreover, from this sort of egalitarian outlook, as the foreign minister said earlier that more countries were demanding such additional facilities, if Bangladesh would have gone for providing every country with similar escort services, it had put further strain on the already ailing economy, and scarce security resources as well.
So, the withdrawal decision is nothing but a realignment of security resources in response to the improved security environment in the country and the nation’s prevailing economic priorities without compromising due diligence to ensure optimum security for the foreign envoys hosted in the country. Bangladesh’s long diplomatic history has had no evidence of taking any implicit or explicit diplomatic retaliatory measures out of resentment.
Kamal Uddin Mazumder, Security and strategic affairs analyst, Dhaka, Bangladesh.