Skip to main content

Why foreign diplomats must maintain diplomatic etiquette, protocol in Bangladesh

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* 

Foreign governments and organizations are not allowed to dictate how a sovereign country like Bangladesh should run its politics.
The 12th national parliamentary elections are drawing near, and the election wind has started to blow in Dhaka. The political parties have already begun to plan their voting strategy through a variety of events. However, this time, the diplomatic community in Dhaka is very active.
A number of Western ambassadors frequently meet with government departments, political party representatives, the Election Commission (EC), and members of civil society in Dhaka. At numerous forums, they discuss upcoming elections' management, fairness, and impartiality -- issues that are unquestionably domestic to Bangladesh and in no way fall under the purview of diplomacy. Additionally, it has been noted that diplomats have made public remarks on these subjects in front of the media.
It raises the question of how much authority diplomatic protocol has to design election diplomacy in the host nation. Foreign diplomats' propensity to interfere in developing nations is not a recent development in world politics. Instead, it is a recurring problem that has persisted throughout history.
After a bloody Liberation War, Bangladesh attained independence in 1971 but struggled to establish strong democratic foundations. The nation's efforts to establish itself as a stable democracy, however, were hampered by numerous political setbacks and military coups over the course of its more than 50 years of independence.
Four years after Bangladesh gained its independence, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated, creating a political crisis for the young country. The struggle for control between various groups in the years that followed prompted foreign diplomats to meddle openly or covertly in domestic affairs of the nation. It cannot be said that such intervention is over, even though the perception of it has significantly changed.
Bangladesh has a history of using foreign ambassadors to mediate political crises due to the country's severe political divisions. Major political parties frequently complain to foreign embassies about internal problems, whether they are in or out of power.
In an effort to reach an election-centered settlement, diplomats aim to position themselves as a solution to issues, potentially opening the door to entering the nation's politics.
Bangladesh is heavily reliant on financial assistance from its development allies. This connection occasionally compels the nation to accept restrictions on matters of democracy and governance.
Additionally, under the guise of aid diplomacy, some have charged diplomats with wilfully interfering in the domestic affairs of developing nations. Additionally, they attempt to advance their foreign policies, such as maintaining US hegemony and Western centrism, by interfering in the internal affairs of developing nations using democracy and human rights as effective means.

Beyond the bounds of etiquette

The goal of diplomacy is to build and diversify relationships, promote collaboration, trade, and investment, prevent confrontations, and ultimately benefit both parties.
In order to navigate an ever-expanding list of common issues like the economic crisis, climate change, pandemics, transnational terrorism, and the arms race that could be fatal if left unresolved, effective and skillful diplomacy is essential.
A diplomatic representative is a representation of the two states' bilateral relationship. Although winning the "hearts and minds" of the local community is a diplomat's top responsibility, there is regretfully a growing trend for diplomats to abuse their position.
There have been numerous instances in Bangladesh when diplomats, especially from the UK, the US, and the European Union, have continued to speak publicly about the fairness and climate for voting in the impending elections, which are in no way within the scope of traditional diplomacy.
Ambassadorial intervention in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state is in no way justified, despite the fact that the goal may be thought to be honorable.
The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, Article 41 paragraph 1, expressly prohibits diplomats from interfering in the internal affairs of the receiving state and reminds them to follow its laws and regulations.
Once more, there may be concern that if civic and democratic spaces are reduced, people who oppose the government may be pushed toward religious extremists, with unanticipated political repercussions.
They are interested in making investments in Bangladesh because of the friendly business climate and strong democratic system. They may therefore worry about political unrest connected to the elections. However, it is offensive and bizarre to use investments as a cover to sway Bangladesh's internal matters.
As long as they don't go beyond the bounds of diplomatic etiquette, friendly countries, development partners, or leaders of various organizations (of which Bangladesh is a member) are welcome to offer their advice and opinion on various important issues.
The people and the political parties of the nation must decide how the election commission will operate or how elections will be held because it is a domestic matter. Foreign governments and organizations are not allowed to dictate how a sovereign country like Bangladesh should run its politics.
In any democratic nation, an ambassador can without a doubt visit the highest levels of government, meet the leaders of the opposing parties, or speak with civil society to convey the specific issues of his government. However, when they meet with them in reference to a domestic political issue in the host nation, it is improper and wrong.

Sometimes it appears like they are siding in the present political climate based on their actions. It's not necessarily a negative thing for ambassadors to offer constructive criticism. However, such criticism must be delivered to their hosts covertly and away from the spotlight.
Bangladeshi government critics claim that the country's declining democratic credentials jeopardize the democratic values upon which it was founded. Foreign diplomats interfering in Dhaka's political problems, however, produces the perception that the country's political system is being controlled by external forces rather than functioning on its own to address its own political concerns. It suggests that diplomats will decide how Bangladeshi politics will be discussed moving forward.
The debate surrounding alleged Russian meddling in the US presidential election is proof that the US does not allow outside meddling in its national elections. Following allegations of "Russian government-directed attempts to influence the 2020 US presidential election," which Moscow has vehemently denied, President Biden announced penalties on a number of Russian people and organizations in 2021 and expelled 10 Russian diplomats.
Under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, diplomats are protected from legal action by the host nation, but this does not give them free rein to meddle in domestic issues. Despite the Vienna Convention, no proud nation will let ambassadors to openly criticize its politics or system of government.
Therefore, diplomatic missions in Bangladesh should remember that democracy is a universal value and that no nation has the right to lecture others about it. Political parties shouldn't aid the unpleasant actions of foreign ambassadors to gain an advantage over their opponents on the political stage. They should keep in mind the Chinese proverb, which reads, "The same water that floats a boat can also sink it," meaning that people (water) can both propel a boat and bring it to power.
*Researcher and strategic affairs analyst, Dhaka



Cave of Spleen - a feminist perspective: Status of women in early 18th century England

The Cave of Spleen: Aubrey Beardsley's illustration for Pope's “The Rape of the Lock” By Pragya Ranjan  "The Rape of the Lock" by Alexander Pope published in 1712 is a mock-heroic narrative which satirically glorifies trivial incident of cutting of locks of protagonist Belinda. This poem was written in the Augustan Era (1660-1784) which is marked by the period of scientific reason and rationality, whose effect can be seen on the writers of those times. This timeline is particularly important to analyse the episode of the Cave of Spleen.

Sengol imbroglio suggests reason why Modi, BJP don't respect modern Indian history

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  The new parliament building opened on February 28. It looks it is not the Parliament but part of #Pratinidhisabhas ' started by earstwhile #princelystates in India. The #BJP for long has been acting as if India is a #Kingdom and Modi ji the new #King of India. Even at the coronations of Kings, you find a large number of people, and dignitaries but look at the opening ceremony we have only one face as if he build everything. Is it the dream of a republic.

Abrogation of Art 370: Increasing alienation, relentless repression, simmering conflict

One year after the abrogation by the Central Government of Art. 370 in Kashmir, what is the situation in the Valley. Have the promises of peace, normalcy and development been realised? What is the current status in the Valley? Here is a detailed note by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties , “Jammu & Kashmir: One Year after Abrogation of Art. 370: Increasing Alienation, Relentless Repression, Simmering Conflict”:

Release of dabang neta: Rule of law can't be allowed to be slave to political rhetoric

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  When we look to politicians for solutions and politics as the 'final solution' for every evil then we are disappointed most of the time. In politics, we knowingly or unknowingly become part of the propaganda tool of the ruling elite which exists everywhere across different castes. We often provide issues and talk about them in binaries which suit our elites. The minorities among the marginalised who have no political space and representation rarely get heard by these majoritarian parties whose agenda remain power communities. Every political party in today's time is following the 'successful' formula of 'democracy' which is keeping the 'powerful' 'jaatis' with them leaving aside the marginalised one. The BJP started this but yes they cobbled together all other communities too through a diverse narrative.

Discussion on making school education meaningful to vulnerable communities

ActionAid note on workshop to boost National Curriculum Framework operations: *** Leading educationists and activists striving to make education meaningful to vulnerable communities gathered in Delhi to discuss the National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCFSE). Acting in response to the call of the NCF Steering Committee appointed by the Ministry of Education, Government of India, ActionAid Association had organised the meeting to gather feedback on the draft NCFSE. This is part of ActionAid Association’s commitment to promote inclusive and gender-responsive education. The two-day national workshop titled ‘NCF Perspectives: Seeking Feedback on National Curriculum Framework (NCF)’ on May 30 and 31, 2023, was held at India International Centre, New Delhi. The workshop aimed to ensure a structured approach to gathering feedback from key stakeholders and enhancing their active participation in shaping the response sought by the Government of India. Stakeholders representing e

Why are 17 Indian cos, including Sterlite, blacklisted by Norway bank

By Venkatesh Nayak* Readers may recall the gory incidents that took place at Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) in Tamil Nadu in the southern part of India on 22 May, 2018. Thirteen protesters died on the spot when the police opened fire to disperse an assemblage of thousands of local residents and representatives of civil society groups. They were protesting against the adverse environmental impact of the industrial operations of Sterlite Copper which runs a copper smelter plant in the area. Accusations against the company have ranged from polluting local water resources to plans for expanding the installed capacity of the plant without the necessary environmental clearances. A ground report published in The Wire recently, mentions the decision taken by Norges Bank a few years ago to not invest funds from Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) in Sterlite “due to an unacceptable risk of complicity in current and future severe environmental damage and systematic human rights violations

J&K RTI activist denied opportunity to address audience, bring forward critical issues

Statement by Er. Irfan Banka, Founder of J&K RTI Foundation and convener of the Nalae Ferozpora Bachav Movement, regarding the incident of official misconduct during the My Town My Pride Jan Abhiyan Program and communication to Raj Bhavan: *** Er. Irfan Banka, a prominent RTI Activist and advocate, has come forward to address an incident of misconduct that occurred during the My Town My Pride Jan Abhiyan Program held at Mugam Town Hall in  Budgam. Additionally, Er. Irfan Banka has communicated the matter to Raj Bhavan, seeking appropriate action. During the event, Er. Irfan Banka was denied the opportunity to address the audience and bring forward critical issues concerning the people and services in the community, including waste management, traffic management, and the achievement of sustainable development goals. The incident involved the Additional Registrar Co-operative Kashmir, who not only prevented Er. Irfan Banka from speaking but also subjected him to public humiliation. E

Danger ahead: Smartphones making teens sexually smart, but mentally disturbed

By Harasankar Adhikari  We live in a digitally globalised society. Bombarded consumerism and imitation of foreign cultures and practises reshape our everyday lives. Life choices and lifestyles are the driving forces of modernity at present. People of almost all ages are within this realm and rhythm of consumerism for happiness.

Big challenge for environment movement: How to link with justice, peace movements?

By Bharat Dogra  The biggest hope for resolving life-threatening environmental problems of our planet increasingly rests now not with the world-level political leadership, which has failed miserably in many critical contexts, but instead with those highly committed environmental activists who have many significant achievements to their credit despite working in the middle of many difficulties. Alas, even they too are often grim today instead of being enthused because of the rather overwhelming conditions of world which force environment protection to go two steps backward even when the activists and movements achieve the difficult task of moving one step ahead.

Worship practice of Hindu religion in official functions should be considered appropriate

By NS Venkataraman* The new Indian parliament building was inaugurated with much fanfare, pomp and show by Prime Minister Modi befitting the occasion. While the magnificent building with several technological features was built in just over two years , the style and structure of the building has been acclaimed by millions of people who saw the inaugural programme. Those who saw this programme in person or in visual media could not miss the fact that the installation of Sengol ( Sceptre) was the hall mark of this elegant programme . In India, historically, Sengol is considered to be the symbol of justice and good governance.