Saturday, February 28, 2009

Indian views on Hasina's BDR Challenges

Times of India thinks Bangladesh's situation is serious and speculates about involvement of Hizb-ut-Tahrir in the whole incident. It is also hinting at some DGFI-ISI connection in BDR massacre. According to the paper, the immediate dangers for Hasina are several:

First, there will certainly be short-term instability in her fledgling government specially if a concerted effort is made to weed out the rebellious elements.

Second, there is a total collapse in the command structure in BDR, specially after it's clear that at least 12 senior commanders (including the director-general and his deputy) were killed and their bodies dumped in the sewer. But more positively, the army, under Gen Moeen Ahmed, weighed in on the side of the Hasina government.

In the past few years, the army has taken great pains to cleanse its cadres of BNP loyalists, though, after Thursday, some suspect that a few of those remain. In July 2008, an internal rebellion was crushed and subsequently, many senior officers were "purged". Brigadier Amin of the DGFI was removed. General Masood, the second-in-command in the army, was also removed. Masood is a brother-in-law of Khaleda Zia's brother, and officials are now checking to see whether some of this family connection could have been used.

Indian security agencies are looking at a Pakistan ISI angle, because of a deep closeness with the BDR and DGFI. In many ways, this was a massive intelligence failure. But given the DGFI-ISI ties, could there be a different explanation, sources here wondered.

Here is the full story.

Special tribunal for trying BDR mutineer

Quoting Principal Staff Officer Lt General Mobin news agency UNB reported last night the government will form a special tribunal for quick trial of the mutineers and providing them exemplary punishment.

Briefing reporters at the PM’s official residence, he said, “The general amnesty announced by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina does not mean that those who have killed the officers, staged rebellion, arsons and heinous activities will be spared.”He said, “The nation will not forgive these barbaric acts faced by BDR members.”He said the enquiry committee will be properly represented by the armed forces.

General Mobin said the entire BDR command will be restructured. He urged all patriotic members of the armed forces to hold patience and play a responsible role.“The heinous and cruel incident perpetrated by some disgruntled BDR members on February 25 cast a negative impact on Bangladesh in the international arena,” the general said.

He said an evil effort was undertaken by different vested quarters “to damage our beloved motherland and the image of the patriotic armed forces”.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Army 'subservient' to govt: Moeen

This is from bdnews24

Gen Moeen U Ahmed renewed army's loyalty to democracy Friday, saying the armed forces are always "subservient to the government". "Rumours are swirling ... (but) the army belongs to you," the army chief said after meeting the prime minister at her home late Friday night.

"What happened in Peelkhana was a catastrophe that caused an irreparable loss to the country," Gen Moeen said, in his first public comments since the bloody BDR mutiny. "We will have to overcome it," he said after the late Friday night meeting, joined also by senior Cabinet ministers.

Rumours were ripe that discontent was brewing in the army ranks over the killing of the army officers during the two-day mutiny at the paramilitary force's headquarters.

The general arrived at the prime minister's house at 9:15pm, senior correspondent Sumon Mahbub said. Earlier in the day, Gen Moeen joined the home minister at the BDR headquarters in supervising the rescue and recovery work assisted by his troops.

Khaleda demands inquiry to try killers of BDR massacre

According to UNB opposition leader Khaleda Zia Friday demanded trial and punishment of the killers at the BDR headquarters by identifying them through proper inquiry into each incident of killing and torture.In a statement she read out at a press briefing at her Gulshan office at about 8:15 pm, Khaleda said declaration of general amnesty for the rebels by keeping army men and their family members inside the BDR headquarters was strategically a big mistake.

“This”, she observed, “increased the number of casualties further.”She, however, said the government has already said those involved in the killings would not come under the general amnesty. The BNP chairperson said it has now become crystal clear that provocation from anti-state force was behind the incident. Khaleda said she, along with the people of the country, demand that the conspiracy behind the mutiny be unveiled.

The BNP chairperson who visited Dhaka Cantonment Military Hospital (CMH) this (Friday) afternoon to see the bodies of slain army officers and the injured said, “I have no word to express the terrible and brutal incidents described by the family members of the slain army officers and injured.”She said they told her that after the killing the dead bodies were even hit by bayonets and the women and children were tortured to death.

Khaleda said it is clear that there was a delay in giving permission to start operation to rescue the army members and their family members kept hostage in Pilkhana, resulting in increased casualties.“Everybody knows that time was wasted in the name of discussions, and responsibility was given to a very junior-level delegation,” she said.The leader of the opposition said the nation wants to know how the killers after surrendering arms following announcement of general amnesty could flee.

“I think the government should come up with specific information over these matters in the national interest,” she said.Mentioning the heroic role of the BDR in safeguarding the country’s borders, Khaleda said, “It has become urgent to reorganize this force and establish the chain of command for upholding that tradition.” She said the unrest and mistrust which have broken out across the country among various forces should be resolved soon for the sake of national interest.The BNP chief said it is not the time neither for revenge nor for vengeance as “we as a nation is now in a big trouble.”

Stressing the importance of highest alert and unity at the moment, she called upon all to maintain that. Khaleda also called upon the party leaders and workers, and the countrymen to observe the national mourning day in memory of those killed, “even though it was declared of late”.

The opposition leader saw at the CMH the bodies of the army members killed in the Pilkhana incident and talked to the family members of the deceased.She also visited the injured at the hospital. Khaleda also took part in a munajat with the family members of the slain army officers after their namaj-e-janza.

Bangladesh military's views on BDR tragedy

Army Chief General Moeen u Ahmed has gone to PM's house. He is appraising PM about officers' general sentiment. Chiefs of two other services are also present.

All senior officers gathered today at AHQ at 3 PM and it continued till 7 PM, with a break time for attending congregation where they agitated. Sources confirmed Army Chief was grilled by agitating officers and was given 24 hours to produce a respectable solution to cool their frustrations. The audio of the grilling session was broadcast to all major cantonments.

The officers feel there is more to the story of BDR's grievances. They identified three outcome of the BDR tragedy: 1) national unity is shaken, 2) security has become fragile and 3) two powerful national institutes have become weaker. Military is also doing soul-searching but restraining themselves as they are unclear about the next phase.

BDR DG's deadbody recovered

According to UNB thirty-nine more bodies were recovered, 37 from a mass grave inside the BDR Headquarters at Peelkhana and two from a sewerage tunnel, in continuing search today (Friday), raising the death toll to 60 in the bloody mutiny by soldiers of the paramilitary border force.

Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) Director General Maj General Shakil Ahmed is among those whose bodies were pulled up from beneath the earth near the BDR hospital, official sources said.

The two others were retrieved from Ganaktuli sewerage tunnel near BDR gate No 1. “All other dead bodies are also of army officers, ranking from colonel to major,” said one official.

A police official said a joint force of the elite-force RAB and Police retrieved the bodies, as massive search went on for those still missing, and believed killed in the hara-kiri many say not seen before in the headquarters such a disciplined force. Identities of the victims could not be immediately known.

Earlier on Thursday, 16 bodies of slain BDR officials and jawans and a minor girl were recovered from the Buriganga River and from inside the BDR Headquarters. Five bodies were found shortly after the mutiny Wednesday.

Bangladesh's battered economy to take another hit

From the Economist

POLITICAL instability, natural disasters, and corrupt politicians: Bangladesh’s economy has withstood a lot in recent years. But the global economic crisis will test its resilience as much as any of its traditional afflictions. Both its main sources of foreign exchange, workers’ remittances and garment exports, are at risk.

By January 2007, when the army stepped in to install a two-year interim government of unelected technocrats, Bangladesh had topped international corruption rankings for five consecutive years. Yet the economy had grown at more than 6% a year since 2004, and poverty had fallen faster than ever. Donors called it the "Bangladesh paradox".

Of course, no one ever believed in such a paradox. It was a polite way of telling politicians that the country could do even better if they kept their hands out of the till. Think of the progress it could make if they tackled power shortages, invested in education and infrastructure, and improved farm yields!

One of the world’s poorest countries, only twice the size of Ireland, Bangladesh already finds it hard to feed its people. According to the World Bank, nearly 56m out of a population of 147m are still poor. There will be 100m more mouths to feed by the middle of the century. Bangladesh is trading its only abundant resource, labour. Clothing exports, which account for 75% of total exports, more than doubled in the past five years to nearly $11 billion a year.

Over the same period, annual remittances by 5.5m Bangladeshis nearly tripled to $7.9 billion, or 10% of GDP, among the highest share in the world. So the economy is heavily dependent on spending in the high streets of Europe and America and on the demand for labour in the Gulf. Both are dropping off alarmingly (see chart). A closed capital account has protected the financial system. But Bangladesh’s banks are far from robust. In February Fitch, a rating agency, called them among the weakest in emerging Asia.

Domestic policymakers, who long denied the crisis would have a big impact in Bangladesh, now acknowledge that its pricing advantage over rival garment producers counts for little as demand in the West plummets. Yet no one knows how bad things will get. The IMF has said it is ready to assist, but the government has responded that it does not need help. The central bank insists that GDP will grow by around 6% this financial year (ending in June), compared with a 4.8% forecast from the World Bank last November.

Social unrest in Dhaka and Chittagong, the two big cities that account for about 60% of GDP, is already a real concern. This week, the government announced that it would sell rice at highly subsidised prices to millions of garment workers. But a fall in exports alone is unlikely to trigger a balance-of-payments crisis, since it will be accompanied by a big fall in imported inputs. Foreign-exchange reserves, hovering between $5 billion-$6 billion, are enough to cover two to three months of imports.

And a sharp fall in food and oil prices has already considerably reduced the import bill. But remittances remain a worry. Last year 875,000 Bangladeshis took on jobs abroad. Saudi Arabia, the biggest employer, has hired only a few thousand workers since the start of the year. Airlines have already cut the number of flights ferrying workers to and from the Gulf.

Until the global financial crisis hit, Bangladesh was on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015. Progress on overall poverty reduction will depend on a number factors, including the birth rate. But "cash injections", either through microcredit loans or workers’ remittances, have hitherto played a huge role. Alas, it might not be long before this changes.

Economist Intelligence Unit and Oxford Analytica on BDR tragedy

Economist Intelligence Unit
It is still unclear what exactly sparked the mutiny. The BDR's main role is to patrol the country's borders and in times of war provide support to the army. Following Bangladesh's war of independence in 1971, the BDR refused to join the ranks of the army. But its senior officer positions are usually filled by army officers on short-term secondments. BDR members' complaints about this practice, as well as their inferior pay compared with their army counterparts, have been simmering for a number of years.

However, the country's state of emergency (January 2007-December 2008) probably deterred BDR troops from taking action earlier. That the government could end the mutiny so quickly with a mere promise of amnesty raises the suspicion that the government may have promised much more. But if so, details may never be made public. Indeed, the deaths of dozens of army officers during the mutiny will guarantee that tensions between the army and the BDR will remain high.

If this is not properly managed, it could lead to a total breakdown in the country's security situation. But for now, the most important outcome of the crisis is that Bangladesh's civilian government had the full support of its coup-prone army, which only retreated from politics in December 2008.

Oxford Analytica
Given its weak institutions, Bangladesh is prone to grievances such as these taking a violent manifestation -- particularly in the present conditions of high food prices and a slowing world economy. Sheikh Hasina's success at resolving the conflict while maintaining the confidence of the army will help define the credibility

34 bodies recovered from BDR mass-grave

UNB says thirty-four more bodies were recovered from a single spot inside the BDR Headquarters at Peelkhana and one from a sewerage tunnel today (Friday), raising the death toll to 56 from the revolt by BDR jawans.

A police official said the joint force of RAB and Police recovered 34 bodies till 3 pm from beneath the soil at the BDR Headquarters and one from Ganaktuli sewerage tunnel near BDR gate No 1 at 11:30am. The identity of the victims could not be immediately known.

Earlier, on Thursday, 16 bodies of slain BDR officers and jawans and a minor girl were recovered from the Buriganga River and from inside the BDR Headquarters following the mutiny by the para-military troops.

Chaotic scenes at Dhaka Cantonment janaja

I just returned from Dhaka cantonment central mosque, without performing janaja for which I went there. It was the worst ever janaja that I've attended, so far. Let me narrate.

I reached around 4:35 PM and when moved inside and heard announcement over mike that Asar prayer will be held first and janaja after that. Sound of protests was coming (God knows for what) but I stepped outside the line as I had already offered the prayer at home. Meanwhile loud noises were coming from front rows, some one was shouting at the top of his voice. Those attended felt disgusted. An army officer in front of me left the scene hurriedly. Meanwhile, I saw one dead body, wrapped in military flag, was brought in amid the chaos. Suddenly, there were loud noises again, heated altercation and exchanges of shouts and counter shouts in the front rows. Suddenly, people started moving out from the line, feariing trouble. I didn't feel safe and decided to come out. Saw one officer's hand up in the sky shouting some slogan, couldn't heard the word amid noises. People who came out with me was passing comments like anything else.

While coming out saw Abdur Rajjak, AL's presidium member, being escorted by few army officers, one tall officer wearing panjabi was on cell phone, talking to seniors, probably. Few uniformed officers saw him coming out asking why are you coming out. He said I will come later. Suddenly saw Rajjak bare-footed. He has lost his sandals! The officer was suggesting to drive him out through a military car, he didn't like the idea and asked for civil car. A few minute later, a civil car came and took him away.

Two minutes later I also left the scene, with this prayer, Allah, please help Bangladesh!

BDR tragedy: crisis may be just beginning?

David Montero, a correspondent of the Christian Science Monitor writes BDR revolt is a test for Bangladesh's civilian rule. Here is the story.

Bangladesh was supposed to be back on track, with a newly elected civilian government and a re-invigorated commitment to rooting out corruption and militancy. But that hope suffered a setback when military tanks rolled through the capital on Thursday, seeking to quell a mutiny that has pitted branches of the armed forces against one another and spread to 12 districts outside the capital.

The violence began on Wednesday, when members of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), a paramilitary border security force, opened fire on their commanding officers because of alleged grievances over poor pay and slow promotions.

By late Thursday, the rebelling officers, who are believed to number as many as 4,000, surrendered their arms to the police. But as police determine the true death toll from the uprising, there are fears that the mutineers may have killed more than 100 officers. If true, analysts warn, the news could unleash fresh violence, including a possible retaliation from the Army.

The crisis highlights the challenges for the newly elected government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as she steers a fragile course back to democracy following two years of Army-backed rule. As tanks encircle the BDR headquarters and the bodies of the dead are traced, concern abounds that the stability of one of the world's largest Muslim nations could hang in the balance.

"This is a very great concern for us. It's coming at a time when the government is still new and getting settled," says Brig. Gen. Shahedul Anam Khan (ret.), a security analyst in Dhaka. For now, the scale down of the crisis is registering as a win for Sheikh Hasina and her civilian government, according to some observers.

The government "is only 50 days old. But they have surmounted a totally unprecedented crisis in a very mature manner. We believe that, because of the presence of a parliament, the situation has been dealt with much more coolly than if there were a caretaker government," says Maj. Gen. Syed Mohammed Ibrahim (ret.), who writes on security issues for local newspaper in Dhaka.

A history of coups
Violent coups have long been a feature of politics in Bangladesh, an impoverished nation of some 140 million people. The country was born of rebellion in 1971, when the Bengali-speaking people of what was then East Pakistan violently broke away from Pakistan in a bid for their own homeland. Not long afterward, in 1982, Lt. Gen. Hussain Muhammad Ershad, the Army chief of staff, seized control in a military coup and ruled until 1990, when democracy returned.

The Army stepped in again in January 2007, after months of violent street clashes between the two main political parties left dozens dead and virtually froze democracy.

Only after two years, during which the Army conducted a sweeping crackdown on corruption and cleaned up the national voting list, did Bangladesh navigate its way back to democracy.
The election of Hasina, whose Awami National Party held power between 1996 and 2001, was lauded as a welcome return to civilian government.

But that was interrupted by the rumblings within the ranks of the Bangladesh Rifles that exploded into a mutiny Wednesday.

According to local reports, junior soldiers opened fire on 168 high-ranking officers who were attending a national BDR conference before effectively seizing control of the BDR headquarters in the heart of the capital.

Analysts here say that the ranks of the BDR, which is made up of some 65,000 soldiers making only $70 a month on average, have long felt underpaid and underappreciated.

Accusations of corruption
Hours into the initial uprising, rebelling soldiers accused their commanding officers on live TV of stealing millions from food distribution programs and maltreating their subordinates.

Whether this week's developments will amount to another interruption of democracy has been a matter of intense debate in Dhaka over the past two days. "I don't think our democracy is under threat in any way. I think at this stage, [the government] has managed pretty well, resolving the issue with less violence given the initial killings," says Imitiaz Ahmed, a professor at Dhaka University.

Swift response
Mr. Ahmed highlighted the swift measures with which Hasina's government managed to negotiate a general amnesty for the rebelling soldiers in return for putting down their arms. And as of late Thursday afternoon, 20 officers were released from the BDR headquarters unharmed, suggesting that the crisis was simmering down.

But many say the crisis may be just beginning. Only eight officers' bodies have been recovered, meaning more than 100 officers are unaccounted for.

Their murder would constitute the single largest loss of Army officers in Bangladesh's history – a blow that could invite a violent backlash, analysts say. "People will be shocked. There will be psychological damage. Amnesty will not be possible," says Mr. Khan, suggesting that the amnesty granted yesterday by the prime minister would not be able to last.

As the crisis unfolds, Khan adds, the government's near-term actions will be critical. The BDR's grievances, while not easily solved, must be seriously addressed, he and others say – including better compensation and more efficient promotions.

General Moeen enters BDR Headquaters

Army Chief General Moeen U Ahmed has entered BDR HQ to monitor search operation some 40 minutes ago. According to UNB army tanks and convoys rolled into troubled headquarters of paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) reportedly to conduct search of missing or dead army officers following the two days' revolt by BDR soldiers.

Armed Police Battalion took over the charge of the fallen headquarters after rebel BDR soldiers surrendered their arms at the call of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Thursday afternoon. Witnesses said eight tanks entered the headquarters at around 11am and later more armoured vehicles with army personnel proceeded towards the headquarters.

The tanks were stationed yesterday near Abahani playground. "Don’t worry, no problem,:" an official of the Prime Minister's press wing told UNB when asked if the tanks entered with the permission of the government.

Home Minister Sahara Khatun and State Minister for LGRD Jahangir Kabir Nanak were inside the headquarters. During the rebellion, BDR chief Maj Gen Shakil Ahmed and dozens of mid-ranking officers were killed.

BDR Tragedy: A Wild Speculation

The Economist is suggesting a section of Bangladesh military may have been involved in BDR mutiny. Here is a missing information that may provide some clue to this conspiracy theory.

A majority of the Army officers like RAB, Task Forces, Brigades, Divisional HQs, or Units, who were working in different important areas during CTG period, were all posted to BDR as part of the changes of the Govt.

Now that many of them are gone, who benefits from the demise of these 'witnesses'?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Khaleda smells conspiracy behind BDR mutiny

According to UNB BNP Chairperson and Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Khaleda Zia Thursday demanded the government find out whether there was any deep conspiracy behind the unexpected incidents at the BDR Headquarters to weaken Bangladesh and damage various national institutions.

She also offered the government her party’s all-out cooperation in overcoming the present critical situation in the interest of the country.

Begum Zia said cooperation of all, irrespective of opinions and parties by rising above narrow partisan interest, is necessary in the national interest. “We’re ready to extend all kinds of cooperation in the country’s greater interest,” she said.

The BNP chairperson said this while reading out a statement at a press briefing at her Gulshan office around 9:15 pm on the incidents at the BDR Headquarters.She said the incidents have caused irreparable losses to the country and its defence and security systems.Khaleda made a clarion call to the countrymen and the all disciplined forces to remain calm, united and vigilant at this critical moment to protect the country’s independence and sovereignty and national interest.

Mentioning that she has been observing with sorrow and worry over the last two days the incidents at the BDR Headquarters, Begum Zia said the number of causalities known so far is really terrible. “Such incident of killings of so many officers and members of the disciplined forces at a time had never happened in the past in Bangladesh history,” the leader of the opposition observed.

Khaleda urged the government to immediately inform people and their relatives about the fate of those still missing, saying that the relatives of the missing persons are in deep worry.

Expressing her deep shock for the incidents, the BNP chief prayed for peace for the departed souls and conveyed sympathy to the bereaved family members.She also conveyed her sympathy to those injured and prayed for their early recovery.

Fleeing BDR rebels captured

According to UNB some 90 mutinous members of BDR were arrested by the elite-force RAB in Nawabganj area near their headquarters after their revolt came to an end through arms surrender late Thursday afternoon.

Sources said RAB personnel arrested the rebels while deserting the troubled BDR headquarters, where an unspecified number of officers and jawans were killed and injured.

The arrested persons were taken to Mirpur Shaheed Suhrawardy Indoor Stadium.

The desertion started as army troops with tanks and armored vehicles kept zeroing in on Peelkhana after the 2pm deadline for the mutineers to lay down arms was over.

General Moeen resigns!

Rumours are spreading General Moeen may have resigned couple of hours ago, but this could not be authenticated.

BDR crises is over! Update

Arms surrendering have ended and troops are returning to barracks. Armed Police Battalion is now in charge of armory.

Some MPs are now discussing with troops inside Darbar Hall.

27 officers ranging from Lt Col and Major have been freed so far.

23 mutinous BDR men held on flight from HQ

BDR jawans deserts 24 border outposts in Chuadanga, Meherpur and Jhenidah districts

20-25 military armored vehicles and 14 tanks of the 9th Division, Savar, is still stationed around Dhanmondi 15 road.

Why tanks are rolling towards BDR HQ?

When it was thought things are heading for a peaceful solution, suddenly army tanks have started rolling toward BDR HQ, now stationed near Dhanmondi 27 road.

Who is trying to sabotage?

Salient features of Hasina's address

PM Hasina just completed her address to nation. Salient features:
1. Solution through dialogue, not through force.
2. BDR personnel should follow chain of command.
3. Be patient, we will solve it soon.
4. Certain quarters are creating confusion through rumours.
5. Refrain from self-destructive activities, don't kill your own brothers.
6. Pls help me to solve this.
7. Don't do anything more when I'm forced to take stern action.
8. Surrender arms, you will not be harmed.
9. Don't make comments, remarks , or undertake activities that may jeopardise public security.
10. A committee led by Home Minister has been formed to look into BDR's professional problems.
11. I will take any action for the interest of the nation. Don't force me to take drastic action.

BDR trouble now in Rajshahi

According to UNB BDR troops of the sector headquarters here staged demonstrations and opened fire on Thursday morning in support of the demands of their colleagues who staged a bloody revolt at the Bangladesh Rifles headquarters in Dhaka.

Local sources said they heard sounds of gunfire and saw smoke coming out of the headquarters, under the jawans’ control since Wednesday, at about 8:30 am, triggering tensions in and around the area.Sources inside the headquarters told UNB that the soldiers expressed solidarity with the mutineers of Dhaka Headquarters on their demand.Like Wednesday, no commanding officers did attend office today.

It could not be ascertained whether the officers were still staying in there residences or abandoned those.BDR personnel took position at different points of the sector headquarters in the northwestern frontier town and remained “on high alert to tackle any untoward situation”, the sources added.Earlier on Wednesday, soldiers virtually took control of the headquarters hours after the mutiny by their fellowmen in Dhaka.

Besides, a good number of BDR men from Chapainawabganj and Naogaon camps came to the headquarters at 12 noon Wednesday and took control of it, but they laid down arms after a few minutes.

BDR tragedy: how many officers killed?

A total of 168 military officers were present in BDR Darbar Hall yesterday. Around 15-20 could escape. Rest are liquidated, according to sources.

Mobile network will be shut down soon!

The mobile phone network will be closed down in Dhaka anytime. It has already started to shut down outside of Dhaka.

BDR inviting emergency!

It is learnt emergency is likely to be proclaimed soon.

Military officers are desetring BDR camps across the country.

Wholesale crackdown on BDR after emergency is proclaimed, it is learnt.

BDR trouble spreads

Trouble reported in Rajshahi and UNB says it is spreading across the country.

According to UNB army personnel surrounded the BDR Training Camp in Satkania on Thursday morning.

Local sources said a number of soldiers from Bandarban reached at the training camp and surrounded it at about 9:30 am.

They also put barricade on the nearby roads, disrupting transport movement.BDR personnel from inside the camp are reportedly seeking help from the local people over telephone.

Hasina to address nation soon on BDR mutiny

PM Hasina will address the nation over TV and radio very soon, Channel i reported.

BDR trouble in Feni

UNB said a trouble reportedly broke out at BDR camp at Jaylaskar in Daganbhuiyan upazila as residents close to the camp heard sounds of bullets on Thursday morning.

Local sources said they heard sounds of bullets and also saw smoke coming out of the camp at about 8:30 am.

The panicked residents started leaving the area after hearing the gunshots, which occurred a day after the revolt by their colleagues at the Bangladesh Rifles headquarters in Dhaka.

Reality check on BDR mutiny

1. Is it true surrendering arms by BDR was a token event, meant for media consumption?
2. Is it true grown up female family members of the military officers were abused randomly by BDR personnel?
3. Is it true the number of officers killed would be in the range of 100 plus? It is already reported all officers above Captain were finished.
4. Is it rational to wage this war for corruption of few officers?
5. Why safely of the hostages was made secondary priority to the government? What did the Indian government do first during recent Mumbai massacre?
6. How true is the soldiers’ media statement DG BDR opened fire first? Military sources confirmed one soldier entered Darbar Hall with arms and used altercation incident to trigger this dreadful event.

Glorious history of BDR: what next?

From BDR website:

This force, labelled as 'ever-vigilant sentinels of the border’ started its journey in 1795 as ‘Ramgarh Local Battalion’. Later on, this force had been reshaped more in agency, name and uniform in accordance with the ever growing demand of the time. In 1799, the force established the first camp in the uniquely lush green abode of Peelkhana named as ‘Special Reserve Compaq.

Bangladesh Rifles took part in many military operations including the First and Second World Wars. During Independence of Bangladesh, this force had fought valiantly and successfully in a number of border skirmishes is Lathitila, Dohogram, Laksmipur, Assalong and Boroibari. Major Tofael was awarded the highest military award of erstwhile Pakistan, ‘Nishan-e-Haider’, for his action in the Laksmipur Operation. During the War of Liberation, soldier of this force took up arms against the occupation army. The contribution in the War of Liberation earned 142 gallantry awards including two ‘Bir Sresthos’ (the highest gallantry award).

Here is a chronology how BDR evolved.

Ramgarh Local Battalion (1795-1860)
‘The Frontier Protection Force’ was formed by East India Company. It was re-named as Ramgarh Local Battalion in 1795 and was assigned of suppressing the insurgents in Ramgarh area.

Frontier Guards (1861-1890)
The Frontier Guards war re-organized and re-arranged modern weapons, in 1891. It was named ‘Bengal Military Police’. Commanded by a Subedar (Senior Warrant Officer); the Battalion had four companies located at Dhaka, Dhumka and Gangtok.

Bengal Military Police-(1891-1919)
The Frontier Guards was re-organized and re-modem weapons, in 1891. It was named ‘Bengal Military Police’. Commanded by a Subedar (Senior Warrant Office); the Battalion had four companies located at Dhaka, Dhumka and Gangtok.

Eastern Frontier Rifles (1920-1946)
To revitalize this organization, its strength and re-name as ‘Eastern Frontier Rifles’ in 1920. Its primary task was to protect the box.

East Pakistan Rifles (1947-1971)
After the partition of Indian sub-continent ‘Eastern Frontier Rifles’ was re-grouped and re-named as East Pakistan Rifles. A metropolitan armed police of Calcutta and some 1000 ex-soldiers of West Pakistan merged into the force. Officers from the army were employed and it was assigned border protection and anti smuggling duties. The strength of the force was 13,454, March, 1971.

Bangladesh Rifles (1972)
After the emergence of Bangladesh Pakistan Rifles was re-named as Bangladesh Rifles in 1972. dress of Bangladesh Rifles was introduced in the year 2002.

If this history is any guide, are we going to see another reorganisation of BDR after this rebellion?

Bangladesh media urge for cautious measures to solve BDR problems

The leading national dailies today urged for cautious measures in solving the issues that arose after BDR mutiny.

Daily Prothom Alo's editorial hopes the government including the military would recognize the significance and gravity of the situation and make efforts for a permanent solutions.

Daily Star condemned BDR’s actions regardless of its longstanding grievances and suggested forming a commission to look into the issues.

Ittefaq editorial observed it is not the case that as a nation we are not fully secured and free from conspiracy, hence, maintaining solidarity and unity is a must for greater national interest.

Observing that no overnight solution is available to address strenuous relations between BDR and the military, Daily Samakal suggested quicker solution of the problems.

New Nation cautioned that any move to crush a rebellious situation with the application of superior force could likely to push things to a point of no return and delay the return of normalcy.

BDR's 50 grievances!

New Age today published a list of 5o grievances of BDR personnel, accumulated over the years. Here is the list.

1. Recruiting officers for the BDR through BCS examinations for its modernisation, and withdrawing all officers of the army deputed to the BDR which a major demand of BDR soldiers.
2. No steps have been taken, so far, to provide full rationing for the members of this 200-year old paramilitary force. There is neither any ration for its retired soldiers.
3. Members of all forces and agencies, including the Ansars and VDP are being sent to UN peacekeeping missions but no step has been taken, so far, to send BDR personnel overseas. The pledges, made time and again in this regard, remain unfulfilled.
4. Steps have not been expedited to put an end to discrimination in salary structures and promotion procedures.
5. BDR is being run by the Army’s black law. Punitive measures are been taken under the law of 1984.
6. A policy has been formulated to punish and deprive educated and capable persons of promotion.
7. It is only the BDR which is regularly facing war-like situation on the borders but the Army is enjoying the defence allowance sitting back in the barracks.
8. The Army officers have sent many BDR soldiers home showing different excuses during the Operation Dal-Bhat. In fact, Army officers were responsible for the faults.
9. The Army officers also have distributed among themselves the DA meant for the BDR soldiers.
10. All the forces and agencies, except the BDR, had received allowances for duty during the parliamentary and upazila elections. There is a tug of war between the officers for share of the money.
11. In the name of BDR welfare, retired army officers are running 18 shops in different parts of the capital. These shops do not have any BDR personnel.
12. The vehicles bought in the name of BDR’s welfare are being used by the Army officers for their private purposes.
13. The schools inside the BDR headquarters have only a few students from the BDR families. Most of the students are children of the Army officers and their relatives. It is unfortunate that being in the BDR we have to send our children to outside schools.
14. Our children are not allowed to take admission to the BDR schools and the excuse is that they lack merit although the schools were built to help our children overcome their deficiency. [When the schools were built, we were told they were meant for our children and for that our predecessors gave their labour.]
15. The wife of the present [BDR] DG was appointed to the post above the principal of the school. A teacher in name only she draws Taka 60,000 as honorarium per month without taking any class.
16. There is a dairy farm inside the BDR and only a few people get its milk and eggs. The milk and eggs, given to the 50 members from the Army, are much more than that given to the 8,000 members of BDR.
17. BDR members do not receive good treatment at the BDR hospital. Only their (army) parents and relatives and people from their villages receive treatment. The BDR members are supplied with cheaper medicines while army officers receive expensive drugs.
18. The BDR Durbar Hall has been leased out to the wife of the present DG for an amount which is one-twentieth of its annual income. All the lakes/ponds of the Pilkhana and other property, including ‘Pushpita Simanta’, worth crores of taka were leased out in her name or fictitious names for 99 years.
19. The cooks and sweepers of BDR are working at their [army officers] homes and residences of their relations. The BDR troopers have to clean all the streets of Pilkhana before dawn. They work at their [army officers] homes. Even the naik havildars are doing it regularly. The cooks are taken to prepare foods at functions at their relations’ homes.
20. The soldiers generally receive lesser amount of ration. But the savings from the allocations for different messes are taken to the homes of army officers and their relations.
21. The soldiers have to care for all the trees of the unit. But the fruits of the trees are sent to their [army officers] homes.
22. No vehicles are purchased for the BDR troopers now. But expensive vehicles like Pajeros are bought, which are mostly used them [army officers] and their relations.
23. The army officers living in Pilkhana must have quarters. But the BDR soldiers or officers are residing out of Pilkhana. After the beginning of the construction of a residential quarter for the soldiers near the farm, a plan was taken for a quarter for army officers. Although they are living in their quarter, not a single floor has been completed in the soldiers’ quarters.
24. The soldiers are subjected to harassment over their leave. They are sent to the borders but have to take leave after coming back to the battalion, which is totally inhuman. BDR soldiers have to work on the borders but their families cannot live there. They are not even granted two months’ leave. We cannot enjoy recreation leave although employees in all organisations enjoy it [In 2001 Deshnetri Sheikh Hasina announced two months’ leave for BDR personnel after considering their problems. But the army officers stopped it through machinations].
25. They [army officers] come to this organisation with a small trunk but leave with 2/3 trunks.
26. They carry out all the contractors’ jobs with their own people.
27. Poor quality food is supplied to the BDR. If we protest, they threaten us with termination of our jobs.
28. The posts designated for officers of BDR are not given properly. Although a few are made officers, they are not given ration/housing and other facilities. They are subjected to harassment.
29. In all services and organisations special emphasis is given on education but in this organisation there no such system. Rather those who are a bit more educated, efforts are made to throw them out of it.
30. If statistics of dismissals from different services and other organisations since the independence of the country are taken, it would be evident that dismissals from services without reason are rare in other organisations.
31. More than 400 officers from the army deputed to the BDR consider its 46,000 members their slaves. An officer needs four to five people for cooking his food. Two [BDR men] are needed for work at the residences of their [Army officers] relations. They are treated like African slaves.
32. In the case of problems on the borders, the Indian border guards generally have a meeting with an army officer in command [of the BDR troops.] It often turns out that the officer either leaves for a UN mission or is transferred elsewhere. This results in further complication of the problem.
33. The army covertly makes sure that the BDR does not progress in sports (for example, when the army achieves successes in sports it gets good coverage but the BDR wins go almost unnoticed).
34. The BDR athletes and sportsmen are kept heavily involved in administrative and other activities so that they cannot perform well.
35. It is also made sure that the morales of BDR sportsmen and athletes are low. They are given minor awards for their achievements but at those occasions the arrangement for army officers makes it seem as if the prime minister is due to attend.
36. The director general of the BDR has smuggled Tk 30 crore to his mother-in-law’s account in the United States.
37. 22 army officers have embezzled Tk 2 crore of Operation Dal-Bhat through bank signatures of BDR personnel.
38. Twenty-two army officers have also embezzled Tk 60 crore from the profits of Operation Dal-Bhat.
39. A relative of the DG went missing with Tk 50 crore of Nur Mohammad Rifles Public School, but the matter was never investigated. [Former] director general Rezaqul Haider Chowdhury took away Tk 40 crore and that incident was not investigated either.
40. It was only because of the greed of some army officers that rice worth Tk 18 per kilogram was sold at Tk 40 per kg, and cooking oil worth Tk 56 was sold at Tk 120 per kg through syndication at the cost of the people’s sufferings.
41. Army officers receive 30 per cent extra allowance for being deputed to the BDR, which is sheer wastage of national resources.
42. They do not want to do anything worthwhile for the BDR for it does not bring them [army officers] any benefits. Instead, they are concerned with the army’s interests.
43. They use BDR carpenters and tailors for their personal requirements. They not only use BDR’s trees for furnishing their homes but even distribute the timber among their neighbours.
44. Runners/drivers are kept busy even beyond the official duty hours. This results in high consumption of fuel (if it is needed to go a distance of 40 kilometres to buy a button, the army officers make them do that).
45. Although there are a number of human rights organisations in the country, no one talks about our rights which are being violated all the time. (The army officers are careful not to give any hint of it).
46. Those who are a little intelligent in the BDR, are sent to the mental ward on the BDR hospital’s third floor, which is used like a prison. The medical board there disqualifies the BDR men as unfit for service.
47. The officers deputed to the BDR are mostly of low calibre with little hope for further promotion. So they run their charges at their whims.
48. We are governed by military rules but our benefits are like those of the ansars/civilians.
49. At combined drills and parades, the BDR contingent outperforms other forces all the time. But to undermine the BDR performance, they are trained by inefficient retired captains.
50. The whole nation knows about the contribution of the BDR in the liberation of this country. But army officers appear to have become desperate to erase the name of this organisation from history.

BDR to surrender arms, finally

TV channels are reporting BDR rebels have agreed to surrender arms after a lengthy discussion with Home Minister.

Earlier a technical issue arose as to whom they will surrender arms as chain of command is fully broken. It was further complicated by a rumour that commandos are coming from Sylhet to storm BDR HQ.

BDR commanding officers fled Teknaf battalion

Commanding Officer of BDR 42 battalion stationed at Teknaf and four other officers fled Wednesday night following gun attack by the jawans.

Reliable sources requesting anonymity told UNB that commanding officer Lt Col Abdul Khaleq unarmed the jawans in the afternoon. The jawans on patrol duty on the border returning to the officer came to know about it and got furious. They rushed to the nearby residence of Col Khaleq at about 11-45 pm and opened a barrage of fire.Unhurt Khaleq managed to flee with his wife leaving behind their two kids at home.

Hearing the cries of the kids, the BDR jawans rescued them and handed over to officer-in-charge of Teknaf thana Jamaluddin Chowdhury at about 11:15pm for the safety of the babies abandoned by their parents.

Sensing the trouble four other officers at the battalion fled the post in the darkness of the night.Another report from Comilla said the BDR jawans of the battalion stationed at Kotebari were unarmed in the afternoon. Tension continued among the BDR jawans.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Son's crying message from BDR

The Son of Colonel Mojibul Haque (reportedly killed), who is inside the BDR headquarter, sent text messages to different persons seeking help. Courtesy of this:

“Do something first. They will destroy us. The situation is very critical, please send help. My house is on fire and I am stuck. If I go out, they will shoot me. Please call army or fire brigade. Please brother, please I beg you," the messages read.

Huge gas discovered in Bangladesh

According to Dhaka Reuters, French oil firm Total SA has discovered natural gas in an offshore field about 420 kilometres (263 miles) southeast from Dhaka, a Bangladesh official said on Wednesday.

"We have had confirmation from the firm about the presence of natural gas in two blocks which also covered an island in the sea," said Mohammad Muqtadir Ali, a director at the state-run Bangladesh Oil, Gas and Mineral Corporation or Petrobangla.

"It is a great relief for us as the country at present is facing up to 250 million cubic feet (mmcf) of gas shortages a day," Muqtadir told Reuters.

The firm said that both oil and gas might be there and was satisfied with the data they acquired through seismic survey, the official said.

The European oil giant Total spent nearly $20 million to conduct the three dimensional survey in those structures in the sea near the Myanmar border covering 18,367 square kilometres.
"If the acquired data matches the commercial viability, it will be one of the biggest natural gas discoveries (in the region) and if everything goes smoothly then production will be started by early 2012," Muqtadir said.

Total, the operator of these two blocks holds a 30 percent share while Irish oil company Tullow owns 32 percent shares followed by Thai energy firm PTTEP with 30 percent. US companies Oakland and Rexwood hold the remaining shares.

Blocks 17 and 18 are close to Myanmar's gas blocks where that country discovered around 6.0 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas.

New twist to BDR situation

Despite Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s announcement of general amnesty, rebel BDR personnel declined to lay down their arms complying with their leaders’ commitment given to the head of government.

According to UNB the firing of some shots was heard at around 9:15pm from inside the besieged BDR Headquarters, where the paramilitary force’s lower orders staged revolt in the morning against their top bosses, officials and witnesses said.

Using microphone the mutineers were demanding the withdrawal of the army officers from commanding positions from 36 Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) units all over the country. “If we lay down arms, army officers will repress us,” they said.“We want army-free BDR…We’ll provide our own security,” they spoke out through microphones, as the rebels holed up inside the sprawling premises of their headquarters.

They went on: “We are not enemies of anyone…army officers torture us.”They also alleged that the army officers do not provide them food at mess but take away Tk 4 lakh from the mess.“We’ll do whatever needed to realize our demands,” the rebels said, taking a hard stand.

Meanwhile, Red Crescent ambulances shifted 18 injured persons from inside the Headquarters. It could not be ascertained how many of them are civilians.Police said two bodies believed to be of army officers were found at Kamrangirchar adjacent to the Headquarters.

Unconfirmed sources say the casualty figure may be around 10 to 15. Official confirmation about the casualties was not available.

BDR declines to disarm

UNB is reporting BDR rebels decline to lay down arms, demand written amnesty assurance and pull out of Army.

The problem is far from over.

BDR on high alert in Rajshahi

UNB is reporting BDR troops of the sector headquarters in Rajshahi were on high alert Wednesday after the mutiny by their fellowmen at the Bangladesh Rifles Headquarters in Dhaka.

Sources said no army commanding officer of the headquarters attend office today as they stayed indoors. The BDR soldiers were not allowing army officers to get into their residences, according to the sources.

A commanding officer was turned back when he tried to leave the headquarters at about 1pm, the sources added.Earlier at about 11am, the BDR soldiers drove out the civilians working at the headquarters.

Besides, a good number of BDR men from Chapainawabganj camp came to the headquarters at 12 noon and took control of it, but they laid down arms a few minutes later.A tense situation was prevailing at the headquarters.

Hasina announces amnesty for BDR mutineers

According to UNB Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced general amnesty for the BDR rebel soldiers who staged revolt at the BDR Headquarters Wednesday to press their demands concerning salary and other benefits.

Hasina announced the amnesty after nearly three-hour meeting at her official residence ‘Jamuna’, State Minister for LGRD Jahangir Kabir Nanak told reporters.

He said on behalf of the rebel soldiers BDR deputy assistant director Touhid assured the Prime Minister that they would "lay down arms" and return to barracks.

Amnesty for BDR soldiers

UNB is reporting the government has announced general amnesty for BDR personnel and soldiers have agreed to surrender arms.

BDR-Govt negotiation ends

BDR-Government negotiations has ended a short while ago. Details are not available. Govt said safety of the hostaged military officers and their family members is the first concern. It is learnt from other sources a peaceful solution is reached.

BDR soldiers urge people to stand beside them

According to UNB, a message of the rebel BDR soldiers slipped out of their besieged headquarters urged the people and the journalists to stand beside them and extend cooperation.

The message written on a piece of paper was thrown out to journalists at BDR gate-4 from inside the rebel-taken headquarters.

“We’ve taken up arms today because we’ve been repressed by army officers for long,” the mutineers’ message reads.

“Our rights were snatched away and our back was pushed to the wall. Stand beside us,” says the message of the rebels holed up inside the HQ cordoned off by army and RAB troops.

BDR Update: 4 PM

A 15-member BDR team, led by Nanok, has moved to PM's house to start negotiation. Their immediate demand is to free BDR from military's control.

Meanwhile, UNB reported soldiers took control of Goalkhali BDR camp here after the revolt by their colleagues at the Bangladesh Rifles headquarters in Dhaka, triggering tensions through the southern city.

BDR Update: the negotiation phase

Prime Minister is having marathon meeting with ministers while Nanok has entered BDR HQ premises with white flag.

UNB has other updates:

A rebel BDR soldier put forward three conditions of the paramilitary force, such as announcement of amnesty, army pullout from around the Rifles Headquarters and direct talks with the Prime Minister, for an end to their revolt.

“We’ve been ignored since Pakistan times. Even after the independence of Bangladesh, we have been neglected physically and financially,” he told private television ATN Bangla over mobile phone from inside the besieged Headquarters of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR).

He said several army officers were held hostage and would be handed over to the government only after announcement of general mercy for the mutineers.The rebel, who did not disclose his name, said if their demands were not met, they would simply destroy all establishments around the Headquarters and blow up the Secretariat as well.

The rebel soldier refused to talk with the army and even with a Prime Minister’s delegation led by state minister for LGRD Jahangir Kabir Nanak and Whip Mirza Azam.

Another BDR member told private television Bangla Vision they staged revolt to press for increasing salary and other benefits. He denied any army officer having been taken hostage. He said trouble began at around 9:30am, when their darbar was underway as part of the annual-program BDR Week.

BDR revolt: the larger picture

While the BDR issues is still to be resolved, it is necessary to find out answers to the follwoing questions to capture the larger picture.

1. What are the actual demands of the BDR personnel? Having its DG from BDR people, not from Army? Did they ask for financial support and additional privileges? For how long these demands were made and not being addressed? Why? We need sequential stories.

2. All sector commanders were present in today's meeting at Darbar Hall. So, it cannot be the case that it was an accident. It must be a preplanned event. Who masterminded this?

3. Who gains from a weaker BDR? There must be both internal and external beneficiaries to this disturbances.

4. This is a tricky plot to put military and BDR to fighting each other. Killing two birds with one stone?

5. What is the present state of situation inside military? Is Moeen still in command? Could it be a ploy to remove him?

6. Or could it be a ploy to capture power to contain current spate of aniti-mililtary and anti-CTG sentiment?

7. What is now happening outside capital? Do we know for sure if situation is under control, or not?

This is a defining moment for Bangladesh.

BDR rebels demand general amnesty

A BDR soldier told ATN Bangla over telephone that PM should now announce general amnesty and only then they will sit for dialogue.

Meanwhile, a team of Prime Minister led by LGRD State Minister Jahangir Kabir Nanok has reached the spot for negotiation. He has made loud speaker announcement to rebel soldiers asking then to stop firing and come to dialogue.

DG BDR killed! Update

Military sources said DG BDR Major General Shakil Ahmed is killed, along with four other officers.

The casualty figure is more than 50, according to unverfied information.

TV channels are reporting fierce gunbattle. Morter shells are being fired by soldiers while RAB helicopters are making brush fire.

Ssimilar disturbances are reported from Rangamati district.

Another Dhaka Update on BDR Situation

Rumours have it that scores of troops and officers have been killed in the gunbattle inside BDR HQ. Information are sketchy and unverfied.

ATN said Prime Minister urged BDR troops to surrender arms and promised to listen to them for meeting their demands.

ISPR has warned in a press note stern actions will be taken against those who took law in their hands.

Army personnel have taken positions near BDR HQ.

UNB said Five people, injured by stray bullets in Jigatala area during a gunfight at BDR Headquarters at Peelkhana this (Wednesday) morning, were admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) and Bangladesh Medical College Hospital.

Dhaka Update on BDR Mutiny

This is from news agency UNB:

A trouble reportedly broke out at paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles Headquarters in the capital this (Wednesday) morning.

Residents close to the BDR HQs at Peelkhana heard sounds of bullets and mortal shells and also saw smoke coming out of the HQs at around 8:30 am.

The residents and police sources said they have heard that the trouble broke out between BDR jawans and their officers as the jawans put forward their demands.An altercation ensued between the jawans and officials at the BDR Darbar Hall, which led to the gunfight.

Meanwhile, army troops from Dhaka Cantonment moved towards the BDR HQs to put down the trouble. Unconfirmed reports said at least one officer was killed and several others were injured in the trouble that panicked the nearby residents.

BDR Update from Dhaka

According to media sources, troops have taken control and confined officers and their family members. One is killed so far. DG is also injured. The mutiny happened as a result of unfulfilment of some demands of troops.

Military convoys have started moving into the BDR HQ in Pilkhana.

Official confirmation of the incident is not yet available.

Mutiny at Bangladesh Defense Rifles!

Just got news a mutiny has taken place at Bangladesh Defense Rifles, the paramilitary forces that guards the border. Major General Shakil is the DG of BDR.

Sources said there has been some casualties so far.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Revisiting Bangladesh's 1/11

Bangladesh's English Daily New Age published a Ekushey special, featuring some interesting analyses of the 1/11 events. Here are some salient features of the special edition, in case you have missed those.

New Age Editor Nurul Kabir thinks the real homage to the Ekushey martyrs could only be paid by resisting in parliament the undemocratic aspiration of a small but powerful military-civil coterie who secured its arbitrary social, political and economic actions through 1/11.

Eminent educationist Professor Serajul Islam Chowdhury said in an interview the donors – the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and such other organisations – would have been happier to see civil society leaders run the country instead of the political leaders.

AL presidium member and lawmaker Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir came down heavily on CTG's illegal actions and said the Anti-Corruption Commission assumed every accused as guilty even before their trial.

Eminent lawyer Barrister Rafiqul Huq feels Parliament should condemn emergency regime.

Moudud Ahmed, BNP standing committee member observed the issue of proclaiming the emergency by abusing the existing provisions of the constitution has to be resolved to save democracy in future.

Farhad Mazhar, a leading intellectual viewed 1/11 as result of the workings of a trinity: the international donors, a parasitic middle class, also called civil society, and the military, endorsed by media.

And finally, M Asafuddowla, former secretary and former editor of the Bangladesh Today, lamblasted the Bangladesh military saying Bangladesh has always been under military's control.

Time is not right for South Asia Task Force?

Indian peace activist and a freelance journalist J. Sri. Raman thinks so.

South Asian task force against terrorism - is this an idea whose time has come?

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed of Bangladesh seems to think it has. The task force was one of her election promises and, after winning a tidal vote to power, she has opened talks on it with two important visitors, India's External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher.

Few, however, can miss a familiar pattern in Dhaka's moves in the matter. Election promises, as a rule, sound more enthusiastic than ensuing action on them. If Prime Minister Hasina is sounding far more cautious about the task force than during the poll campaign, official constraints are not the only obvious reason.

Even more obvious is an ironical fact that militates against formation of such a force by the South Asian countries concerned - India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (with the Himalayan states of Nepal and Bhutan figuring only as occasional havens of terrorists and Sri Lanka harboring a different species of terrorism). The fact is that the three countries cannot agree more on terrorism, but cannot act less together against the threat.

Theoretically, conditions cannot be more congenial for action on the idea. The people have pronounced their verdicts against terrorism in all three countries in unambiguous terms. A notable result of the Pakistan elections to decide on the post-Musharraf dispensation was the rout of religion-based parties with a record of relations with fundamentalists and extremists, especially in the frontier provinces. In Bangladesh, the landslide victory for Hasina and her Awami League (AL) came with a lethal electoral blow to the Jamat-e-Islami (JeI), an ally of Begam Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and an accomplice of terrorist outfits.

The electorate in India won't exactly spring a similar surprise with an anti-terrorist vote, though it has rejected the far right Bharatiya Janta Party's anti-minority take on terrorism in a recent round of state-level elections. In the nearly three months since the terrorist strike in Mumbai, both the ruling Congress Party and the BJP have revealed an unstated bipartisan consensus on according prominence to such threats in their campaigns for the parliamentary elections due by May 2009.

Officially, too, the three countries profess anti-terrorist policies of a similarly high priority. Islamabad has repeatedly been at pains to remind the region and the world that the country's democratic forces are a direct victim of terrorism, having lost Benazir Bhutto in a bomb blast. Dhaka makes a similar claim, with the grenade attack of 2004 on a Hasina rally among the oft-recalled instances of grisly terrorism. As for India, the Mumbai outrage of November 26, 2008, was only the latest in a long series of terrorist attacks on the nation and its successive governments.

The popular and official consensus among the three countries on terrorism, however, has not made coordinated action against it any easier in practice. On paper, India and Pakistan have in place a joint mechanism against terror, set up during the five-year old "peace process" as a response to past instances of extremist violence. Even a joint investigation of the Mumbai case, however, remains an impracticable idea, despite India's "dossier" on the subject made available to Islamabad and Pakistan's detailed response to it.

Domestic opposition would not allow further progress in the direction easily. Online tirades against "traitors" in the Islamabad establishment, who have reported findings of the official investigation about Pakistani links to Mumbai, represent only the tip of an iceberg. Experts on talk shows on Indian television channels compare cooperative investigation of the case with consultations over a house break-in with the burglar himself.

Pakistan's investigators may not have pleased many in the Hasina dispensation by publicizing their finding about the possible involvement in Mumbai of the Harakat-ul-Jehad-al-Islam (HuJI) of Bangladesh. Dhaka, however, has concealed any displeasure over the finding. It has, actually, admitted the possibility. It is a safe bet, though, that this is going to be no prelude to any joint Pakistan-Bangladesh exercise on the issue.

Domestic political compulsions, again, are sure to derail any effort in this direction. The opposition BNP is not going to be a silent spectator of any investigation of India's worst-ever terrorist strike involving Bangladesh. Nor is any Dhaka-Islamabad cooperation in the cards, even as the Hasina regime promises to hasten trials in cases of "war crimes," committed during the Bangladesh war of 1971 by fundamentalist and other forces opposed to a break up of erstwhile Pakistan.

Hasina has, of course, discussed the task force with Mukherjee during his recent visit to Dhaka. Even before details of the proposal could be divulged, Khaleda and her party came out with strong disapproval of any arrangement that would let India use Bangladesh's territory for fighting its own battles. The fear is that the task force may help India counter separatist movements on the border of Bangladesh in the name of fighting terrorism.

In theory again, all the three countries are anti-terror allies of the US. Richard Holbrooke, special US envoy for India and Pakistan, has stressed this in Islamabad and New Delhi, while Boucher has done so in Dhaka. The formulation, however, is extremely unlikely to help the speedy emergence of the proposed force.

Experience has shown the extremely limited extent to which the alliance can be advanced in each of the three countries. Washington has not won the unqualified support of the allies for the main objective of its anti-terror war in the region. Pakistan cannot possibly acquiesce on US drones' attacks on Pashtun areas even if described as part of an all-out offensive against al-Qaeda.

India cannot agree to any proposal for US peacemaking in Kashmir, peddled as a ploy to help Islamabad focus on the al-Qaeda terrain. And we do not quite know whether the Pentagon is really unhappy about a splinter of al-Qaeda shifting from the Pakistan-Afghan border to Bangladesh and surviving as the HuJI.

All told, the time for the task force may not be yet. The time will come only when the people of the three countries prevail over political forces with the stake in perpetuating regional tensions and conflicts. It will come only when South Asia chooses to counter terrorism for its own sake and not in the cause of a superpower as it is popularly perceived.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bangladesh media ignore attack on journalist

Why the Bangladesh media blacked-out this story? Strange indeed! Dr. Richard Benkin writes about it here.

At 10 a.m. Sunday, 22nd February, local time, internationally-acclaimed journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, was attacked as he was working in the office of his newspaper, Weekly Blitz, by “a gang of thugs” claiming to be from Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League.

I spoke by telephone with Choudhury as he awaited medical treatment for eye, neck, and other injuries suffered in the attack. The renewed violence marks the first against him since he was abducted by Bangladesh’s dreaded Rapid Action Battalion a year ago.

A large group stormed Blitz premises and attacked newspaper staff until they found Choudhury. At that point, he said, “they dragged me [and two staff] into the street” where they beat them “in broad daylight…They looted my office and stole my laptop” with “all my sensitive information. As of this writing, the attackers continue to occupy the Blitz office.

According to Choudhury, the police were impassive and seemed intimidated when the attackers emphasized their party membership and accused him of being an agent of the Israeli Mossad. They later threatened to attack his home should Choudhury go to the police again.

Choudhury was arrested in 2003 by government agents, in cooperation with Islamist forces, because of his advocacy of relations with Israel and religious equality, and his articles exposing the rise of radical Islam in Bangladesh. He was tortured and held for seventeen months and only released after strong pressure by human rights activist Dr. Richard Benkin and US Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL).

In 2007, the US Congress passed a Kirk-introduced resolution 409-1 calling on Bangladesh to stop harassing Choudhury and drop capital charges against him after extensive evidence confirmed them to be false, contrary to Bangladeshi law, and as admitted by successive Bangladeshi officials, maintained only to appease Islamists.

The Bangladeshi government continues to remain in defiance of that resolution and its provisions.

Bangladesh's role in solving Rohingya problem

Larry Jagan writes a long article on Rohingya prolem in Bangkok Post. The underlysing message indicates Bangladesh will have to play a crucial role in solving this regional problem.

Rohingya: A regional problem

"The Rohingya issue is a very complicated challenge to the entire region of Southeast Asia," Mr Surin told Spectrum in an exclusive interview. "Asean happens to be a foremost regional organisation aspiring to evolve into a community of caring societies, so it has to be an issue of concern to Asean."

The Rohingya issue featured prominently in bilateral talks in the region last week. US Secretary for State Hillary Clinton discussed it during meetings with both the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and the foreign minister, Hasan Wirajuda. Army chief Anupong Paojinda reportedly raised the issue with the Burmese junta's leader General Than Shwe when he visited the Burmese capital Naypyidaw earlier in the week, while Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also compared notes with his Indonesian counterpart during his visit to Jakarta.

"We are going to find a suitable way to raise the Rohingya issue during the Asean meeting," said a Foreign Ministry spokesman. "But it may not be discussed formally at the summit."
But this is unlikely to satisfy activists and human rights groups who believe that unless there is a strong political will on the part of the region's leaders at the forthcoming summit to seriously tackle the issue, the problem will be left to fester.

"The Rohingya issue is a cross-border problem that cannot be handled by one country alone, it needs a regional response," Yap Swee Seng head of a regional human rights group, Forum-Asia, told journalists last Thursday ahead of the Asean summit. "While it may be discussed on the margins of the Asean leaders' meeting, what is needed is a formal consultative meeting of Asean, including Bangladesh and India, who have both been affected by the exodus of Rohingya from Burma."

Thailand and Indonesia have already agreed that the problem will be referred to the Bali Process after the summit. In fact, the Indonesian and Australian foreign ministers, who chair the international group, have already agreed that the next annual gathering will discuss the Rohingya issue. This year's Bali Process meeting is expected to be held next month, or early in April. "We discussed and welcomed the fact that the question of the Rohingya will form part of the discussion at the forthcoming ministerial meeting of the Bali Process," Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told reporters in Sydney last week, after a meeting with his Indonesian counterpart.

"The Bali Process is a very attractive and viable option for the region to get together, to discuss the Rohingya issue," Mr Surin suggested. "Asean member states affected by the problem can come together and pool their expertise and resources to put this problem into a proper context and manage it together."

The Bali Process brings together more than 50 countries, mainly Asian, and at ministerial level, to work on practical measures to help combat people smuggling, people trafficking and related transnational crimes in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. "It is primarily a process and framework for information sharing and training of officials, in law enforcement and drafting legislation, in connection with the smuggling and trafficking of people and other crimes," said Chris Lom, the regional spokesman for the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), based in Bangkok. IOM and the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are part of the secretariat and help facilitate the group's meetings.

The Bali Process was originally set up at the Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime, held in Bali in February 2002.

"The region has faced these kinds of challenges many times before, including the [Vietnamese] boat people in the 1970s, but more recently the influx of people fleeing conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran," Mr Surin said. "That was the origin of the Bali Process, with Australia very much an active participant in the regional efforts to manage that human tide floating across the Indian Ocean."

Thailand has been forced to take the lead on the issue after allegations that more than 1,000 Burmese-Muslim illegal immigrants were intercepted in Thai territory and cast adrift in three separate incidents on the high seas in several boats, with little food and water, and their engines disabled or removed. Some of the survivors ended up back in Thailand, some made it to India's Andaman islands, while others drifted as far as the Indonesian island of Sumatra before being rescued. Many of them accused the Thai authorities of abusing them and treating them inhumanely.

The refugees were on their way to Malaysia, according to activists and UN officials who have had access to the survivors. Most of them paid the equivalent of 10,000 baht to smugglers who promised to get them to Thailand on the first stage of their trip to a better life. "They would then pay Thai traffickers a further 20,000 baht or so to get them to Malaysia," said Chris Lewa, who works with the regional Arakan Project, which monitors the situation of the Burmese Muslims, both in Arakan state and those who try to escape the country.

The refugees are members of the ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority, who live in northern Arakan state, in western Burma bordering Bangladesh. They have fled social and religious persecution by the Burmese military authorities there. Most human rights activists believe that the abuses committed by the junta in the Muslim-dominated areas of western Burma are worse than anywhere else in the country.

"Burma's Rohingya minority is subject to systematic persecution. They are effectively denied citizenship, they have their land confiscated, and many are regularly forced to work on government projects without pay," said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International's Burma researcher. "They are often prevented from marrying or conducting religious ceremonies. They are also effectively prevented from travelling within the country as well. The regime creates conditions and circumstances that make it clear to the Rohingya that they are not wanted or welcome, so it's no surprise that they try to flee the country by the thousands."

Thousands make the hazardous two-week journey from Bangladesh at this time of year - between November and April - when the seas are not so rough. "We cannot tolerate the suffering any more. We would rather risk going to sea than stay and perish little by little," one of those who fled Burma and ended up in Thailand told Spectrum. "Live or die; it's up to Allah."

More than 5,000 Rohingya have left Bangladesh in the past four months, according to researchers at the Arakan Project. Some have managed to make it to Malaysia, but several thousand Rohingya refugees may have perished in the Andaman Sea in pursuit of freedom and a better life, said Mr Lewa. The danger now is that by relying on the Bali Process to sort out the problem of the Rohingya boat people, the issue will be treated as people smuggling rather than as a result of persecution.

"It is important that they [the Rohingya] are clearly identified, not just as economic migrants who have been trafficked," said a UN worker who has interviewed many of the survivors of the latest incidents, but declined to be indentified. "They are asylum seekers escaping oppression, the denial of their rights, violence, land confiscation and religious persecution."

"UNHCR would like to point out that being trafficked or smuggled does not preclude persons also having a legitimate claim to being a refugee," said the regional spokesperson for UNHCR, Kitty McKinsey. "Often people fleeing persecution have no way out of their country other than to resort to smugglers or traffickers."

The root cause of this latest exodus from Burma is the junta's treatment of its Muslim minority, especially in Arakan state. The regime refuses to accept that they are Burmese citizens. "In reality, the Rohingya are neither Myanmar people nor Myanmar's ethnic group," the Burmese consul general in Hong Kong, Ye Myint Aung, wrote in a letter circulated to the press. And what is more they are "ugly as ogres", he added.

The issue of Burma's Rohingya has proved an intractable problem in the past. More than a quarter of a million fled massive human rights violations at the hands of the Burmese army. More than 200,000 ended up in camps in Bangladesh in Cox's Bazaar from 1991 to 1993, largely in the care of UNHCR. Although the UN managed to negotiate a repatriation agreement between Burma and Bangldesh, many thousands remained in Bangladesh, and many of those who returned to Arakan simply fled again at the first opportunity.

So the countries of the region, with the help of the UN and several Middle Eastern countries, especially Saudi Arabia, have tried in the past to help resolve this problem. But all efforts have floundered, largely because of the intransigence of Burma's military rulers. At the height of the last mass exodus of Burmese-Muslim refugees from Arakan more than 15 years ago - the then Bangladesh foreign minister, Mustifizur Rahman (now deceased) said that the Rohingya issue could never be solved while the generals were still in power in Burma.

Many analysts and activists would agree. But that is no excuse for not trying, according to Asian diplomats. "Countries have always been reluctant to deal with this challenge on their own. They are even hesitant to bilateralise the problem. So as a region we must try to face the challenge as a region," Mr Surin said.

"Our image, our profile, and our efficiency as a regional organisation, are being tested by the current Rohingya phenomenon. Strong leadership and a determined political will are needed."

Shadow of khaki rule over Bangladesh?

William B Milam, former US Ambassador to Bangladesh, and now a senior policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington, warns failure of the political leaders to consolidate the hard-earned democracy could invite another bout of khaki rule in Bangladesh. This should be read together with a recent statement by the PM Sheikh Hasina that politcians should guard democracy so that none can stab it from behind.

The younger, more modern members of both major parties must understand thatWe all know that Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous 1886 novella, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, is a literary exploration of the concept of duality in human nature — a struggle between good and evil that many believe characterises human behaviour. Dr Jekyll is the good guy, sort of, but he is progressively pushed further into his evil other half, Mr Hyde, by drinking a potion which brings out the hidden and repressed bad side of his character. In the story, Hyde wins the struggle, and that is the end of Jekyll as well as Hyde.

Stevenson’s allegory, an early paperback that sold for a shilling in the UK and a dollar in the US, was an immediate best seller — 40,000 copies were sold in the first 6 months of its release, and over the next 15 years, sales reached 250,000. The story was widely quoted in sermons on Sunday, and in religious tracts, and is said to have been widely read by even those who didn’t like fiction as a rule. It seems to strike an inter-generational chord in the public and has, over the 120 years since its publication, been adapted innumerable times for the stage, screen (123 film versions alone), and radio.

One reason, perhaps for the universality of this allegory, is that we see it come to life often in our political lives. Political leaders seem to make all too many wicked — or at least wrong — decisions, for motives they believe are good and moral. I wouldn’t be too hard-pressed to write chapter and verse examples of many countries. In the US, for example, our last president was a stark expression of this duality. So far the present one has avoided, in my view, though not in that of his Republican opposition, straying over to Mr Hyde’s side of moral ledger. It would be equally easy come up with examples from Pakistan’s recent history.

But this column is about the wrong turns — atavistic reversions to the bad old days — that the new leaders of Bangladesh have taken in recent days. It seems as if Bangladesh political leaders are reverting to their Mr Hyde personas of the period before January 10, 2007, when they were thrown out of office by the army. Many observers, including yours truly, worried about such a reversion after it became apparent that the two-year interregnum of a military installed and backed interim technocratic government would fail to accomplish many of its reform objectives.

The hope we all felt after the election of December 29 was inspired by the Dr Jekyll-like statements politicians made before the elections and their equally welcome initial actions right after those elections. They said what we wanted to hear, and we inferred that the interregnum had, somehow, transformed their character, and thus the formerly poisonous political culture.More recently their reversion to the politics of earlier days has set me worrying that there is no real change in their thinking, and Bangladesh will be back to poisonous political culture and miserable governance that characterised it between 1991 and 2007.

If so, I fear that, ultimately, we can expect the kind of drastic change there that is the very antithesis of real and sustainable democracy, change which eschews democratic features such as compromise and evolutionary progress.Yet of the choices the military-civilian hybrid interim government faced in the second half of 2008, it chose the right one. The army intervention two years earlier saved a lot of Bangladeshi lives, and the interim government tried, at least, to lay the foundation for a transformation of Bangladeshi politics and governance. Civilian politicians of good faith could have built on these foundations. Even though na├»ve faith in the civilian politicians may turn out to be a failure, the option of turning back power to them was better than the alternative — staying in power until military professionalism and technocratic expertise was corroded beyond redemption.

Military interventions are flawed by their own contradictions. If they are brief interventions, in the Turkish style, the necessary reform is usually impossible to accomplish. The exception to this may be Turkey. In other cases, the vested interests in the status quo seem too strong to uproot in, say, a two-year period. This is especially true if global forces are at odds with domestic needs. Longer interventions come a cropper because of the flaws of human nature exemplified in the Jekyll and Hyde allegory — the lust for power overcomes the good intentions of those who intervene, and the military it self is corrupted by that power.

The list of particulars which sets off this concern about Bangladesh is lengthy, and much of it is very recent. Echoing Barack Obama, Awami League leaders promised to reach out to the opposition and to make parliament work, as it never has before in Bangladesh. Instead recent news stories tell us that the speaker of parliament, representing the party in power, has ruled that none of the 21 issues that the opposition wanted to discuss in the House will be put on the agenda.Of course, many were frivolous — this is politics after all. But some have the look of legitimacy: the unstable law and order situation (including, I presume, the increasing violence on the university campuses); the violence after the recent election; an alleged crisis in the availability of fertiliser (if true, a real crisis in this densely populated agrarian nation dependent on good agriculture methods for its self-sufficiency in food production).

One item the opposition wanted to discuss was “unusual voter turnout in the parliamentary election”. Obviously, this was to give it a chance again to claim that the election was rigged. But what an opportunity such a debate would have been for the Awami League to claim that its super majority in parliament was, in fact, the result of the voters’ acute memories of the opposition’s execrable five years in power, which led to its rejection at the polls and the desire on the part of most Bangladeshis to reform politics.

In another session of parliament, the prime minister stayed long enough to tell the House that the ruling party intended to “reconstitute” the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). The strengthening of the ACC was, of course, one of those foundation stones that the interim government laid during its two-year tenure. Does this signal a return to the years when Bangladesh was continually designated as the most corrupt country on the planet?Nor should we omit the opposition from our disdain. It has boycotted early parliamentary sessions over minutiae.

Perhaps the supreme ironic example that demonstrates that neither party may have understood the results of the election for what they really meant is the silly squabble about the number of front row seats allotted to the opposition. This is not only arcane but derisory in its importance. The BNP opposition demands more, the AL says the demand is disproportionate to the opposition’s numerical strength in parliament. If this disagreement can’t be worked out amiably, nothing can. Yet the intransigent attitude of both parties surpasses all understanding.

I used the word “atavistic” above to describe such behaviour. Webster’s defines that word as “displaying characteristics of a previous cultural era or previous ancestral form”. Surely, the election was a strong expression of the desire of the great majority of Bangladeshis to move on from the era of malfeasance, corruption and rotten governance that obtained between 1991 and 2007. The younger, more modern members of both major parties must understand that.

If the older generation of party leaders is not able to escape from their past mindsets and experiences, it is time for them to go. If they cannot be encouraged and persuaded to do so, Bangladesh will re-enter the hopeless cycle that it escaped for the past two years, and those two years will be viewed increasingly as the country’s halcyon period, a beacon for whatever political movement, democratic or otherwise, that promises to take Bangladeshis back there.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bangladesh and Indian military begin Assam exercise

A two-week small-scale counter terrorism exercise involving Bangladesh and Indian military starts tomorrow at Jorhat, a strategically located district of Assam in the North Eastern part of India. The Indian army and the security forces have been fighting the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) cadres in the state.

This marks the first joint military counter terrorism exercise between the two countries. The exercise will comprise of airborne operations where five officers and 15 other personnel from Bangladesh will train with the special para-commandos of the Indian Army.

This month Bangladesh also participated in Cobra Gold multinational military exercises involving 18 nations held in Bangkok. Cobra Gold 2009 marked the 28th year of a regularly-scheduled joint and combined multilateral military exercise which has become the most visible and largest military cooperative effort in the Pacific region. The exercise prepared the respective militaries for the real-world priorities of peace support, stability and reconstruction, humanitarian assistance and combat operations.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s security officials have also participated in the second Asia-Pacific Intelligence Chiefs Conference from Feb. 18-20 in Singapore. This year’s theme was "Sharing Expertise in Managing Transnational Security Issues” and the participants learnt various aspects of counter terrorism, maritime security and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A turning point for Bangladesh?

Philip Bowring of IHT asks this question in a lengthy article. The writer is clearly advocating for India and USA and asking Bangladesh to turnaround, or otherwise Bangladesh faces the risk of becoming another Assam or Bihar. Veiled threat? Read this here.

Bangladesh is at a turning point, politically, economically and diplomatically. Can Sheikh Hasina Wajed's Awami League produce a stable and effective government which eschews winner-take-all politics?

Can relations with India improve to the point where India becomes a positive factor for Bangladesh? And can the policies and implementation improve to the point where government actions help not hinder private sector development?

Make the right moves now and Bangladesh will not only survive the global economic downturn relatively unscathed but could emerge strong enough to stand a chance of reaching middle income levels within a decade. Fall back into its worst habits and it will drop further behind its giant neighbor and perhaps even become again the aid-reliant basket case which was once deemed to be its fate.

First, the bad news. The dynamics of Bangladesh's economic growth of a respectable 5+ percent a year have been provided primarily by two external factors: the garment export industry and worker remittances. Garment exports grew strongly even in 2008 to around US$16 billion a year, roughly divided between knitwear and woven. Although exports are now falling, Bangladesh is doing a lot better than most Asian exporters as it continues to benefit from rising costs in China, duty free access to Europe and some improvements in its port cargo handling. Its products are mostly at the low end of the quality range so it may eventually gain from the downturn – though not before a sharp fall in orders in the short term. But given likely nil to slow growth in most western import markets over the next few years it seems unlikely that Bangladesh can continue to rely on this sector as a main growth engine.

Likewise, although remittances grew by nearly 30 percent over the past year to almost US$10 billion a decline is now expected. The World Bank expects a drop of at least 10 percent this calendar year given the high proportion of overseas workers in the the Gulf states, where building laborers are being paid off in droves, and in the UK with its devalued currency and worse than average recession.
Between them, these two income sources have sustained both consumer demand and enabled the local savings rate to look healthy by the standards of other low income countries.

Growth has also been underpinned by Bangladesh farmers who continue to overcome natural disasters and maintain food supply increases average 3 percent a year. But they are unlikely to be able to continue to do so if the government cannot make a better job of power supply, irrigation and marketing networks.

Secondly, the social progress which Bangladesh has achieved, in several respects surpassing India, shows signs of stalling. The fertility rate appears to have stopped falling and is above India's and Sri Lanka's, though still far below Pakistan's. Child malnutrition is still widespread and though educational equality is quite impressive general standards are low and school attendance too short. The country relies heavily on NGOs and foreign assistance for social development and improvements in governance are necessary if progress is to be sustained.

Thirdly, there are worrying signs that after the two-year interlude of the army-backed caretaker government, the political parties are now returning to policies of confrontation backed by periodic violence. These may be early days. The election was only seven weeks ago and the incidents of violence, protection racketeering by local politicians etc may prove isolated, at least compared with the past. But there is clearly a danger of a general deterioration in law and order which at some point will lead to another political crisis. Although Hasina has kept some Awami League stalwarts out of the cabinet and brought in new faces, and ones loyal to her, she has also appointed advisers to ministers, not all of whom have clean reputations.
The main burden of meeting public expectations, enhanced by the caretaker era, for improved governance rests primarily with Hasina. But opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party boss Khaleda Zia must learn to play the game too – which also means keeping her money-oriented sons out of influence and on a tight leash. The omens thus far are mixed.

Against this rather daunting list of negatives, Bangladesh has opportunities which a government with a huge majority in parliament has a chance seizing. But to do so it must overcome both self-defeating economic nationalism and policy immobility produced by layers of official corruption. To confront nationalism it also needs help from its focus, India.

Bangladesh's failure to develop known massive high grade coal deposits and estimated huge gas deposits has been based on fear it would be mainly for India's benefit. Exploration concessions have been given but little work has been done in recent years though foreign companies are all optimistic. The export markets needed to develop the coal and invest more in gas exploration would lead, say nationalists, to rapid depletion of the resources. Better to keep them underground, saved for Bangladeshis' future use, say the nationalists. As a result Bangladesh now faces shortages of gas and power generating capacity, lack of progress has deterred Indian investment in energy-related industries.

Although corporate India, notably the Tata Group, has been keen to invest in Bangladesh, which badly needs to expand its industrial base, official India's attitudes have contributed to local paranoia. Bangladesh is mostly unfairly blamed for troubles in India's seven troubled northeastern states, and Delhi likes to give the impression that Bangladesh is a breeding ground of Islamic terrorists. While Bangladesh may have been lax in dealing with these issues, Indian attitudes have been unhelpful.

Likewise India's barriers, tariff and non-tariff, to Bangladeshi goods have hurt its industry and contributed to its massive trade deficit with India. These barriers exist more for political reasons than to protect Indian producers. India accounts for 30 percent of Bangladesh imports – and probably more given the volume of smuggling – but sells very little in return. As a result it relies mainly on western markets and now also to some Asian ones such as Korea.

But Bangladesh contributes to its trade problem with India by failing to implement agreements on transit trade. This would improve India's access to the northeast states but horse trading could also give Bangladesh access to that market. Likewise, Bangladesh could benefit financially from transit traffic, which would justify the expansion of Chittagong port to serve Indian as well as local trade. As it is Bangladesh has thwarted developments such as the Pan-Asia highway which would be supported by World Bank and Asian Development Bank money, and stopped Burma from piping its gas to India.

Bangladesh ought to be able to ride on India's growth but having cut itself off in this way it has had to rely on developing trade with more distant partners.
The negative attitude to India extends in a lesser way to other potential foreign investment which hitherto has been small despite the longer-term potential of such a populous, compact and homogenous country. Corruption and the impression of political chaos (though often more sound than action) have nullified the government's very modest efforts to attract investment. However it will come if relations with India improve and policies on resources are positive in practice as well as theory.
A Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the US may help too. Although such bilateral deals should generally be discouraged as having little practical effect and undermining the principles of multilateralism, in the Bangladesh case the agreement could be a useful statement of intent to foster trade and give comfort to some potential investors. It may also make Dhaka more confident in dealing with India.

The Hasina government should in theory be able to make breakthroughs on several of these fronts. Unlike Khaleda, who has made a career outside of suspicion of India, Hasina has a history of good relations with India and particularly the Gandhi family. Backed by a firmly secular party she can please India by showing a tougher attitude to Islamic extremists. She may be able to break through the obstructionism of rent-seeking bureaucrats and ministers to get projects moving. And she may have the courage, given her majority, to face down the BJP and the combined nationalist and leftist opponents of opening to India and development of gas and coal.

If she does not, Bangladesh's economic performance could go from moderate to poor. And it will have even less chance of coming to agreements with India over vital rivers. At best these could be used both by Nepal and Bhutan for power for India and Bangladesh at the same time as helping flood control and water use in Bangladesh. If India thinks only of its own advantage, Bangladesh, already losing land to rising sea levels and salination, will suffer grievously.

Bangladesh thus has immediate and long term reasons for engaging with India, having enough confidence in its own Bengali identity not to fear being dominated by its neighbor. It has the potential to be as successful as India's best states. If it fails and becomes more like its Indian neighbors Bihar and Assam, it will have itself largely to blame. Given the successes of the past 20 years, that looks unlikely. But the global environment has changed, making it more urgent than ever that a new government chart a new course, one which enables Bangladesh to take advantage of its resources, its geographical position and its human capital.