U.S. Ambassador-Designate for Bangladesh James Moriarty told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee that U.S. goals for Bangladesh are “democracy, development, and denial of space to terrorism.”
Since winning independence from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh’s path to democracy has been obstructed by civil disorder and periods of military rule. In January 2007, Bangladesh’s President Iajuddin Ahmed declared a state of emergency in the face of opposition boycott of scheduled national elections and widespread political violence. In accordance with Bangladesh’s constitution, the president appointed a caretaker government that has embarked on an ambitious agenda to rid the country of endemic corruption, reform institutions necessary for sustainable democracy and hold free and transparent elections.
Restrictions were placed on freedom of expression and the right to engage in political activity. Mr. Moriarty said, “in August 2007, the Caretaker Government received a jarring wake-up call when the country erupted in violent protests.” The government quickly restored order. “But the demonstrations showed what can happen when legitimate means of expressing grievances are unavailable,” he said.
Mr. Moriarty said the U.S. welcomed the head of the caretaker government Fakruddin Ahmed’s announcement of a partial relaxation of the ban on political activity. The U.S., said Mr. Moriatry, urges the Caretaker Government “to take additional steps to restore civic freedom and democracy” and “adhere to the electoral roadmap it announced in July 2007.” That roadmap promises national elections by the end of 2008.
Mr. Moriarty said that since 1971 Bangladesh has received roughly five billion dollars in U.S. economic assistance. That assistance continues. To assist millions of Bangladeshis stricken by the Cyclone Sidr in 2007, the U.S. provided over nineteen million dollars in aid and helped airlift supplies to areas most in need.
Mr. Moriarty said that “despite a long and admirable history of religious tolerance, Bangladesh has become a target for extremists in recent years.” The Jamaatul Muajahideen Bangladesh embarked on a terror campaign in 2005 that included attacks on judges, Bangladeshi government officials, and markets crowded with civilians. According to press reports, Pakistan-based terrorist groups are using Bangladesh to facilitate attacks on India. “The Caretaker Government has identified counter-terrorism as a top priority and has actively pursued extremists,” said Mr. Moriarty.
U.S. Ambassador-Designate for Bangladesh James Moriarty said it’s in the U.S. interest to help Bangladeshis “build a Bangladesh where democracy flourishes, where no child goes to bed hungry, and where no terrorist can find safe haven.”