Nikkei Asia:Uneven Treatnent makes little sense?

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina contends that the U.S. is pursuing a strategy of regime change in her country. (Pool via Reuters)
Brahma Chellaney is professor emeritus of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi and a former adviser to India’s National Security Council. He is the author of nine books, including “Water: Asia’s New Battleground.”

How does one explain the fact that the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has made Bangladesh a focus of its democracy promotion efforts by dangling the threat of visa sanctions against officials who undermine free elections while staying silent on the undeclared martial law situation in Pakistan, where mass arrests, disappearances and torture have become political weapons?

The short answer is that U.S. promotion of democratic rights has long been selective, with geopolitical considerations often dominant. The pursuit of moral legitimacy for the cause of democracy promotion has also contributed to making sanctions the tool of choice for U.S. policymakers.

In the case of Bangladesh, the Biden administration is seeking to leverage two other factors: that close relatives of many Bangladeshi politicians live in the U.S. or Britain, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s son who holds an American green card; and that the bulk of Bangladesh’s exports go to the West, with the U.S. the top destination.

Few can object to what Secretary of State Antony Blinken says is the U.S. goal: that Bangladesh’s next election in early 2024 is free and fair. However, his threat to withhold visas from individuals “responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process” is hardly conducive to the promotion of this aim. If anything, it is likely to prove counterproductive.