How an Exiled Bangladeshi Activist’s Fight for Democracy Affects U.S./Russia Relations

Zahid F. Sarder Saddi hails from Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, and has been involved in Bangladeshi politics for his whole life– literally, his parents were politically active and played important roles within the Bangladeshi government.

Saddi served as a foreign advisor to the previous Prime Minister, the Honorable Begum Khaleda Zia, and currently serves as a Special Envoy of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Political exile due to the current oppressive Bangladeshi regime brought Saddi to the United States, but did not put a damper on his tireless fight for democracy in his home country. In fact, Saddi enjoys freedoms in the United States that only further his cause.

One of these freedoms is the ability to participate in various governmental proceedings. He’s participated in panels for Human Rights Watch, Democracy International, the U.S. Congress, and the United Nations.

It also means taking advantage of the United States’ right to a free press. In mid-February, Saddi addressed the media in Washington D.C. regarding the U.S.’ recent sanctions against Bangladesh, personally thanking Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken for issuing them.

Saddi stated: “Since 2009, when Bangladesh’s Awami League regime came to power, enforced disappearances have become a daily occurrence. If Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is serious about ending human rights abuses by UN peacekeepers, he will ensure that units with proven records of abuse, like the Rapid Action Battalion, are excluded from deployment. The role of Bangladesh’s notorious paramilitary force, RAB, should be reviewed following the U.S. sanctions.”

Sanctions can sometimes have a negative impact on the citizens of a country, and U.S. sanctions against Bangladesh pack a serious punch– the United States is the prime market for Bangladeshi exports, and anything that might put that relationship in jeopardy could have dire consequences for all citizens.

Understanding what exactly these sanctions have to do with Russia requires a little background knowledge of the relationship between the United States and Bangladesh. Saddi states that the two countries have enjoyed a positive diplomatic relationship for fifty years, and frequently cooperate on many global issues, including climate change and global security.

Bangladesh is a military ally of the United States’ as well, and the U.S. military and Bangladesh Armed Forces frequently hold training together. The global location of Bangladesh makes them a strategic ally in relations with Russia, but Bangladesh and Russia are also allies. Most wheat and fertilizer in Bangladesh comes from Russia.

Zahid explains that the current sanctions against Bangladesh, while they are ultimately in the best interests of the people of Bangladesh, harbor the possibility of jeopardizing the relationship between the U.S. and Bangladesh, which comes at an inopportune time due to the U.S.’ position in the current Russia/Ukraine conflict.

Still, the sanctions exist for good reason: the protection of human rights is the main priority. Activists like Zahid F. Sarder Saddi, who are fighting for democracy in Bangladesh, emphasize that the dissolution of the RAB would play a vital role in establishing a free election in Bangladesh.

Ultimately, if the RAB is dismantled in response to the U.S. sanctions, the relationship between Bangladesh and the U.S. will improve, allowing the U.S. military a foothold in the East that can only be beneficial during the escalation of current global conflicts.

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