An influential US Congressman said the United States stood with the Bangladeshi people seeking free, fair and safe democratic elections but cautioned that Islamist groups like Jamaat-e-Islami posed a great threat to the country’s democracy and progress.
‘Bangladesh is a young democracy that struggles with radical groups attempting to subvert Bangladesh’s progress all while seeking political power for themselves,’ Congressman Jim Banks (R-Indiana) told a discussion in Washington on Wednesday, according to a message received in Dhaka on Friday.
Hudson Institute arranged the discussion on ‘Stability, Democracy, and Islamism in Bangladesh’, where it convened a panel to discuss politics in Bangladesh and the country’s upcoming elections.
Panelists included Liberty South Asia’s Seth Oldmixon, the Middle East Forum’s Sam Westrop, and Abha Shanker of the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
The panel was moderated by ambassador Husain Haqqani, Hudson Institute director for South and Central Asia programming.
The congressman said that Bangladesh was a booming democratic country in the South Asia region with the growing presence in the global stage.
‘However, Islamist groups like Jamaat-e-Islami threatened the country’s prosperity,’ he said.
In his opening remarks, Congressman Banks who recently introduced a bipartisan resolution in the House of Representatives said that these violent theocratic groups had committed violent acts against religious minority Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and moderate Muslims in an attempt to silence their voices and discouraged them from participating in a democratic process.
Banks said that Gono Forum president Dr Kamal Hossain earlier had stated his party would not join the Bangladesh Nationalist Party if Jamaat remained part of it.
The congressman said that the United States should support the efforts of Bangladesh government to combat the radical Islamist groups and to reaffirm the rights of the religious minorities.
Banks said that the resolution he introduced had called on the USAID and the US state department to refrain from any partnership or any funding arrangement from any organisations affiliated with radical Islamist groups in Bangladesh.
He recalled that previous elections has been the breeding grounds for these violent radical groups who had committed hundreds of acts of violence against religious minorities, minority-owned businesses and houses of worships.
Banks said that Bangladesh was a majority Muslim country that had an overwhelmingly positive view of the United States.
Quoting a recent PEU opinion survey, he said that 76 per cent of those in Bangladesh had a positive view of the US.
He said that Bangladesh shared critical strategic partnership with US.
In July 2017, the US and Bangladesh leaders dedicated multipurpose training facilities for Bangladesh Institute for peace support training operations.
The US had provided $3.6 million to facilitate training to peacekeepers deployed for the United Nations peace mission.
The congressman praised Bangladesh as one of the largest contributors of military personnel to the UN machines, playing a vital role in security cooperation.
Keeping in mind the upcoming elections in Bangladesh, Banks said that in a few weeks, the world would watch the elections on December 30.
‘The US stands with the people seeking free, fair and safe democratic elections and religious freedom,’ he added.
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