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Mind your own business

Posted by Richard Monday, August 01, 2005

In an unusually blunt but long overdue statement, reports New Nation, "Bangladesh's independent news source", foreign minister Morshed Khan told the foreign diplomats posted in Dhaka to observe diplomatic protocol during their tour of duty in this country.

The target of his ire is the group of EU envoys, which for unexplained reasons calls itself the "Tuesday Group". Khan has "pointedly" singled out them out, in effect saying they are not trade unionists that bargain with the government over their demands. In other words, says New Nation, "The implication about interfering in another country's internal affairs is clear enough."

It is high time, the paper continues, that the government asserted itself over its own sovereignty, irrespective of the "Tuesday Group" (in effect,) being this country's "development partners" (some euphemism, this).

It seems the EU has, of late, been making a lot of noises that essentially boil down to wanting to be partners in political engineering in Bangladesh. "Already, primarily through its position of being donors (the correct term; no sugar-coating is necessary by utilising a politically correct nomenclature), it is involved directly or indirectly with much social engineering. It must be placed on a short and tight leash in its bid to venture into the political arena," says the paper.

"Europe, tired and tiresome," it adds, "would do better to try and get its own proposed EU Constitution ratified rather than meddle in another country’s internal political affairs, donors/development partners or no."

The Foreign Minister has "very appropriately" pointed out that the "Tuesday Group" members can discuss bilateral issues with the government, but they cannot publicly discuss any matters concerning political or constitutional reform.

And, as he stated, no country can ask another to effect changes in its Constitution. Anyone can organise seminars in Bangladesh, but he also cautioned that when the topic was in the context of this country's politics or Constitution or about bilateral relations between Bangladesh and any individual country, and related to matters of possible constitutional amendment, diplomatic norms and regulations had to be followed.

Crucially, he said that the foreign diplomats had to notify the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) of any plan for public assembly. The Foreign Minister has made a timely and appropriate statement, but the more important thing is that it should be executed in practice by all concerned. Otherwise, his words would only have been an exercise in futility. And that is an exercise that will inevitably bode ill for the nation and the government.

Needless to say, paper goes on to say with delightful clarity, the MFA will have to shoulder the day-to-day monitoring and necessary execution of the minister's policy statement. And it has a heavy responsibility to bear because over the last few years, undiplomatic forays by foreign diplomats have placed both the government and the nation in some awkward situations.

Bangladesh has not deserved several of these situations. Let the "Tuesday Group" and any other foreign diplomat take recourse to quiet diplomacy rather than in a bonanza of public diplomacy.

Bangladesh may be poor and ridden with problems, but it is by no means a failed state (another reprehensible and quite meaningless term). It may be struggling with the intricacies of liberal pluralist democracy, but it is a struggle that it must carry to a successful conclusion through its own merit, culture and tradition (constructive international advice would be welcome, but not interference). It may be a Third World country, but it certainly does not need the patronising hand of the white man's burden philosophy.

In other words, EU envoys, go way and mind your own business.