In January 2009, when the Awami League came to power through a landslide victory in December’s general elections, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina saw terrorism and militancy as key factors threatening the security of the entire region. During the 2001-2006 rule of the Al Qaeda-connected Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its coalition partner—the pro-Islamist and pro-Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) – the country had become a safe haven for terrorists and jihadists.

By Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

Within a couple of weeks of assuming office, Sheikh Hasina declared an all-out war against terrorism and militancy, where the country’s law enforcement and security agencies, including the elite force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), played a sincere role in successfully eliminating hideouts of these notorious elements, thus saving Bangladesh from becoming another Afghanistan. Sheikh Hasina’s success in fighting terrorism has been applauded by the international community, including the United States.However, at a later stage, Washington, alongside some dubious NGOs accused of operating as mere mercenaries for their funders in implementing secret blueprints, began an orchestrated campaign especially targeting RAB, branding it a violator of human rights. On December 10, 2021, the US Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions on several officers of RAB for “widespread allegations of serious human rights abuse”, which went against Bangladesh’s determination and commitment to fighting terrorism for the sake of national, regional, and international security. At this juncture, several NGOs accused of being used by Western nations to destabilize targeted countries began a well-orchestrated propaganda campaign favoring these sanctions.

Although these shocking sanctions targeting RAB greatly demoralized its members despite the elite force’s effective role in fighting terrorism, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina remained undeterred in continuing her drive against terrorism and violent extremism as part of her commitment to protecting Bangladesh from falling into the grips of these rogue elements.

Two years later, though Washington in its ‘Country Terrorism Report 2022’ applauded Sheikh Hasina’s zero tolerance for terrorism, it has not yet withdrawn the sanctions on RAB.

Meanwhile, on March 21, 2023, US President Joe Biden in a letter to Sheikh Hasina applauded “Bangladesh’s demonstrated commitment to protecting the most vulnerable as the largest contributor to peacekeeping operations” and praised her for setting an “example for the world of empathy and generosity” by opening its arms and welcoming more than 1.2 million Rohingyas from Myanmar. Although Biden pledged to “find long-term solutions to the Rohingya refugee crisis and hold perpetrators of atrocities accountable”, Washington has done nothing except offer mere lip service.

Meanwhile, the US administration in particular, as well as its European allies, are continuing to exert direct and indirect pressure on Bangladesh by bringing allegations of corruption and kleptocracy, calling for a massive drive against corruption, money laundering, and black money. They are even indirectly threatening to impose sanctions on various individuals, organizations, and institutions if found involved in corruption and money laundering.

In this case too, America and its European allies, including Britain, are clearly playing a double standard. For example, while there are hundreds of allegations against Bangladeshi citizens buying properties and investing in businesses in the United States and Britain, the authorities concerned of the respective countries are turning a blind eye to the most important point – how these amounts have entered those countries.

In fact, America, Britain, Canada, Australia, and European Union nations have a rogue culture of letting money launderers, criminals, gangsters, corrupt individuals, and even terrorists operate within their borders.

A significant number of corrupt individuals from Asian nations, including Bangladesh, launder a substantial portion of their ill-gotten money to Western countries, especially the US, Britain, and Canada. These nations, despite their stringent anti-corruption rhetoric, often turn a blind eye to the influx of illicit funds, thus enabling the perpetuation of corruption and financial crimes globally.

For Bangladesh authorities, the smartest move in launching a drive against corruption, black money, and money laundering would be to issue letters to the authorities concerned in the United States, United Kingdom, European Union nations, Canada, and Australia asking them to provide information on Bangladeshi nationals or Bangladesh-born citizens of those countries owning properties or investments in businesses. Once those letters are sent, Bangladesh may reveal this information through a press conference by inviting local and international media. This should be the first step.

Secondly, it is up to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to decide if her government is willing to launch a massive drive against corruption and black money throughout the country with the firm determination of showing zero tolerance to the perpetrators of such financial crimes.

To decisively combat corruption, black money, and money laundering, the Bangladeshi authorities must take bold and transparent actions. Issuing formal requests to authorities in the United States, United Kingdom, European Union nations, Canada, and Australia for information on Bangladeshi nationals or Bangladesh-born citizens owning properties or investments abroad is a crucial first step. Publicly disclosing this information through a high-profile press conference with local and international media will demonstrate Bangladesh’s unwavering commitment to rooting out financial crimes. This move will not only pressure other countries to cooperate but also expose the global networks enabling corruption and illicit financial flows.

Ultimately, it is incumbent upon Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to spearhead a nationwide, relentless crackdown on corruption and black money. A zero-tolerance policy must be enforced with unwavering determination, targeting all levels of perpetrators. Failure to address the rampant corruption and money laundering undermines the nation’s economic stability and jeopardizes the significant achievements of the Awami League government. Drawing lessons from past anti-corruption efforts, the government must ensure that this drive remains impervious to external influences and internal corruption. Only through such resolute and sustained actions can Bangladesh hope to overcome the current inflation and financial crisis, fortifying its economic future and safeguarding the prosperity of its people.

Addressing corruption and money laundering head-on is not only essential for Bangladesh’s stability and growth but also offers a unique opportunity for the Awami League government and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to solidify their legacy as champions of reform and progress. Such a drive would affirm their commitment to the nation’s prosperity and secure their place in history as transformative leaders.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is an internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, writer, research-scholar, and Editor, Blitz, a newspaper publishing from Bangladesh since 2003. He regularly writes for local and international newspapers. Follow him on X @Salah_Shoaib