Sunday, November 14, 2010
By the way, don't be surprised if the Chief Justice resigns suddenly.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
When Bangladesh plunged into further political crisis which resulted in two military coups in four days, from 3-7 November in 1975, the Indian press was banned from making any editorial comments on the coup of 4 November 1975. (Sorabjee, 1977: 28 ). There was a feeling among members of the public in Bangladesh that the military coup of 3 November 1975, led by Brigadier Khaled Mossarraf, had Indian backing. So the imposition of pre-censorship on the Indian press was aimed at dispelling this notion. Four days later on 7 November when the second counter-coup, this time led by the rebellious soldiers in the Bangladesh Army, removed Khaled from power, all editorials on Bangladesh were also made subject to pre-censorship in India (Sorabjee, 1977:28).
There was no official explanation as to why a "press advice" was deemed to be necessary by the Indian government for reporting political events in Bangladesh. But it appears that the Indian government thought it wise to impose restrictions on the reports that might be used by the anti-Indian lobby in Bangladesh and elsewhere.
(Sorabjee, Soli (1977): The Emergency, Censorship and the Press in India, London, The Writers and Scholars' Educational Trust)
The events in the first week of November 1975 remain a mystery, as Bangladeshi newspapers at that time were unable to report what was really happening as a result of power struggle within the army. On 3 November Brigadier Khaled Mossarraf successfully elbowed out President Mushtaq Ahmed and became new Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA). Chief of Army Staff General Zia was removed from the post and Justice Abu Sadat Mohammed Sayem was appointed as the new President. All these dramatic events, except the official announcement of the new appointments, were simply missing from the newspapers' reporting.
The news of the killing of four prominent political leaders in jail on 3 November 1975 took two days to appear in Ittefaq. Its readers were only informed that the President had ordered a judicial inquiry into the event. A presidential statement issued late at night said: " It is necessary to remind the members of the public that the army was not in way involved in this criminal act."
The jail killing clearly upset the supporters of Mujib, who came out in the streets carrying the picture of the slain leader. Ittefaq's coverage of this protest’ on 5 November damaged the credibility of new CMLA who had already been portrayed as pro-Indian by rival political forces. Lifshultz (1979) contends that it was Ittefaq's picture which shattered the prospects of the second military coup of 3 November. It is difficult to ascertain now the real motives behind publishing this picture. However, the analysis shows that
Ittefaq strongly condemned the jail killing event in its editorial on 6 November. The black-bordered editorial said: "This killing will also alert those who are opposed to political views held by the victims."
No newspapers were brought out on 7 November when the uprising by the general soldiers against the army officers began. The following day, the newspapers gave extensive coverage of the previous day's event. Ittefaq published big pictures of President Sayem and General Zia. It also published a report on the people's jubilation about the "sepoy mutiny". Its editorial blamed adventurist and reactionary forces for attempting to negate the people's victory. A picture of people mixing with soldiers on top of a tank received wide coverage.
Ittefaq's open support for the armed forces was evident from the publication of three editorials within five days of the soldiers upsurge. Its editorial on 11 November urged the members of the armed forces to remain vigilant against evil forces who were trying to mislead and rob them of their victory.
On the other hand, Sangbad tried to show some kind of loyalty to its supporters by giving extensive coverage to strike news on 6 November. News of demands made by student leaders for restoring full status to Mujib as Bangabandhu (friend of Bengal) also featured prominently in the daily. Sangbad was decidedly shocked at the news of the jail killing and it condemned it in the strongest possible terms: "...there is no doubt that killers and butchers of these leaders are enemies of Bangladesh."
Following the soldiers' uprising, Sangbad also published front-page pictures of the three chiefs of services of the armed services on 8 November. A three-column picture of people celebrating-the victory also featured in the same issue. In its editorial it praised the role of General Zia during the troubled time of 3 to 7 November.
On 28 November Sangbad placed a saying of Prophet Mohammed in a reverse box item in the front page. The saying was: "Those who create divisions among friends, give pain to religious-minded people and abuse people, they are surely the wretched among Allah's creation." Another saying of the Prophet was also printed on the following day: "Show honour to honourable people and those who create division will not enter heaven and those creating division will be placed in a separate hell.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
And to make the matters worse, China is slowly but surely moving in to fill the Af-Pak power vacuum.
Welcome to the new GREAT GAME involving both South and Central Asia.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
A very good article by SALIL TRIPATHI. From:
A QUARTER CENTURY AGO I met a man who calmly told me how he had organised the massacre of a family. He wasn’t confessing out of a sense of remorse; he was bragging about it, grinning as he spoke to me.I was a young reporter on assignment in Dhaka, trying to figure out what had gone wrong with Bangladesh, which had emerged as an independent nation after a bloody war of liberation 15 years earlier, in 1971.
The man I was interviewing lived in a well-appointed home. Soldiers protected his house, checking the bags and identification of all visitors. A week earlier he had been a presidential candidate, losing by a huge margin.He wore a Pathani outfit that looked out of place in a country where civilian politicians wore white kurtas and black vests, and men on the streets went about in lungis. He had a thin moustache. He stared at me eagerly as we spoke, curious about the notes I was taking, trying to read what I was writing in my notepad. He sat straight on a sofa, his chest thrust forward, as if he was still in uniform. He looked like a man playing a high stakes game, assured that he would win, because he knew someone important who held all the cards.His name was Farooq Rahman, and he had been an army major, and later, lieutenant-colonel. He had returned to Bangladesh recently, after several years in exile in Libya.
Before dawn on 15 August 1975, he led the Bengal Lancers, the army’s tank unit under his command, to disarm the Rokkhi Bahini, a paramilitary force loyal to President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his Awami League party. When he left the Dhaka Cantonment, he had instructed other officers and soldiers to go to the upscale residential area of Dhanmondi, where Mujib, as he was popularly known, lived. Soon after 5:00 am, the officers had killed Mujib and most of his family.I had been rehearsing how to ask Farooq about his role in the assassination. I had no idea how he would respond. After a few desultory questions about the country’s political situation, I tentatively began, “It has been widely reported in Bangladesh that you were somehow connected with the plot to remove Mujibur Rahman from power in 1975. Would you…” “Of course, we killed him,” he interrupted me. “He had to go,” he said, before I could complete my hesitant, longwinded question.
FAROOQ RAHMAN BELIEVED he had saved the nation. The governments that followed Mujib reinforced that perception, rewarding him and the other assassins with respectability, political space, and plum diplomaticassignments. One of Mujib’s surviving daughters, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, who inherited his political mantle and who was to become the prime minister of Bangladesh, was marginalised for many years. She lived for a while in exile, and for some time, was detained. The political landscape after Mujib’s murder was unstable. Bangladesh has had 11 prime ministers and over a dozen heads of state in its 39-year history. Hasina was determined to redeem her father’s reputation and seek justice, and her quest has larger implications for Bangladesh’s citizenry. Hundreds of thousands—and by some estimates perhaps three million—people were killed during Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971. Tens of thousands of Bangladeshis now wait for justice—to see those who harmed them and their loved ones brought to account. But the culture of impunity hasn’t disappeared. It took more than three decades for Sheikh Hasina to receive some measure of vindication.
SOMETIME IN THE AFTERNOON of 27 January this year, Mahfuz Anam received a call from an official, saying that the end was imminent. Anam was in the newsroom of Bangladesh’s leading English newspaper, The Daily Star, which he edits. He knew what the message meant: perhaps within hours, five men—Farooq, Lt-Col Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan,Lt-Col Mohiuddin Ahmed, Maj Bazlul Huda, and army lancer AKM Mohiuddin— would be hanged by the neck until dead at the city’s central jail. Anam told his reporters to be prepared, and sent several reporters and photographers to cover the executions.“We had hints that the end was near, particularly when the relatives of the five men were asked to come and meet them with hardly any notice,” Anam told me during a long telephone conversation a week after the executions. “The authorities had told the immediate families that there were no limits on the number of relatives who could come, and they were allowed to remain with them until well after visiting hours. We knew that the final hours had come.”Once the families left, the five men were sent to their cells. They were told to take a bath and to offer their night prayers. Then the guards asked them if they wanted to eat anything special. A cleric came, offering to read from the Qu’ran. Around 10:30 pm, a reporter called Anam to say that the city’s civil surgeon, Mushfiqur Rahman, and district magistrate Zillur Rahman had arrived at the jail. Police vans arrived 50 minutes later, carrying five coffins. The anti-crime unit, known as the Rapid Action Battalion, took positions providing support to the regular police force to prevent demonstrations. Other leading officials came within minutes: the home secretary, the inspector general of prisons, and the police commissioner.
Rashida Ahmad, news editor at the online news agency, bdnews24.com, recalls: “Many media houses practically decamped en masse to the jail to ‘experience a historic moment’ firsthand.” Anam told me, “By 11:35 pm, we knew it would happen that night. We held back our first edition. The second edition had the detailed story.”Bazlul Huda was the first to be taken to the gallows. He was handcuffed, and a black hood covered his face.
Eyewitnesses have said Huda struggled to free himself and screamed loudly, as guards led him to the brightly lit room. An official waved and dropped a red handkerchief on the ground, the signal for the executioner to proceed. It was just after midnight when Huda died. Muhiuddin Ahmed was next, followed by Farooq, Shahriar, and AKM Muhiuddin. It was all over soon after 1:00 am.Earlier that day, the Supreme Court had rejected the final appeal of four of the five convicts. Shahriar was the only one not to seek presidential pardon. His daughter Shehnaz, who spent two hours with her father that evening, later told bdnews24.com, “My father was a freedom fighter; and a man who fights for the independence of his country never begs for his life.”Mujib’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina, was at her prime ministerial home that night. She was informed when the executions began, and she reportedly asked to be left alone, and later offered namaz-e-shukran (a prayer of gratitude). Many people, most of them supporters of the Awami League, had gathered outside her house that night, but she did not come out to meet anybody. A few days later, she told a party convention that it was a moment of joy for all of them, because due process had been served.
Former Lt-Col Syed Farooq Rahman, convicted in the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, being led to court in a prison vehicle.The mood was sober and subdued. Dhaka residents I spoke to told me the celebrations were only in certain localities. Ahmad, who was at her news desk until late at bdnews24. com, wrote to me, saying the mood was sombre, and many looked at it as a time for reflection, although that night and the following day there was muted rejoicing in some areas. Many could understand Hasina thanking God, and other politicians welcoming the closing of a dark chapter, but some felt it a bit much that parliament itself thanked God and adjourned for the day, she said.The chapter is not yet closed. In early February, Awami League activists ransacked and set afire the home of the brother of Aziz Pasha, one of the self-confessed conspirators who had died in exile in Zimbabwe a few years ago. Six other conspirators remain at large, and the Government says it is determined to bring them back.
CALL IT JUSTICE, REVENGE, or closure. It has taken 34 years for this particular saga to reach its end. Khondaker Mushtaq Ahmed, who took over as Bangladesh’s president after Mujib’s assassination, had granted the officersimmunity and praised the assassins. General Ziaur Rehman, who later became president, con- firmed the immunity. A series of articles in August 2005 were published simultaneously in The Daily Star and Prothom Alo, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the coup d’état that killed Mujib and much of his family. Lawrence Lifschultz, an American journalist who had been South Asia Correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review in the 1970s, revealed that one of his principal sources, alleging CIA links with the political leadership of the coup, was the US Ambassador to Bangladesh, Eugene Boster.While Boster sought anonymity during his lifetime, Lifschultz disclosed after Boster’s death that the ambassador had in 1977 informed he and his colleague, the American writer, Kai Bird, that the US Embassy had contacts with the Khondaker group six months before the coup, and that the ambassador had himself ordered that all links with Khondaker and his entourage be severed. Boster claimed he learned later that behind his back the contacts continued with Khondaker’s associates until the actual day of the coup.In their book, Bangladesh: The Unfinished Revolution (1979), Lifschultz and Bird document Khondaker’s prior links to a failed Kissinger initiative during the 1971 war. Khondaker’s colleagues in Bangladesh’s government-in-exile had discovered his covert contacts with Kissinger, and it ended with him being placed under house arrest in Calcutta. Four years later, Khondaker—who was in Mujib’s cabinet—became president after the military coup, and once in office, he granted immunity to the assassins.Later governments gave some of the assassins high-ranking posts, even though these men had conspired to eliminate the country’s elected leader. Lt- Col Shariful Haq Dalim represented Bangladesh in Beijing, Hong Kong, Tripoli, and became high commissioner to Kenya, even though he had attempted another coup in 1980. Lt-Col Aziz Pasha served in Rome, Nairobi, and Harare, where he sought asylum when Hasina first came to power in 1996. She removed him; he stayed on in Harare, and died there. Maj Huda was briefly a member of parliament, and also served in Islamabad and Jeddah. Other conspirators served Bangladeshi missions in Bangkok, Lagos, Dakar, Ankara, Jakarta, Tokyo, Muscat, Cairo, Kuala Lumpur, Ottawa, and Manila.The Oxford-trained lawyer, Kamal Hossain, who was Mujib’s law minister, and later foreign minister, told me, “The impunity with which Farooq operated was extraordinary. When he returned to Bangladesh, the government facilitated him and President [Hussain Muhammad] Ershad, who wanted some candidate to stand against him in the rigged elections. [Ershad] let Farooq stand to give himself credibility.”
The flag of Bangladesh raised at Mujibur’s residence on 23 March 1971, three days before the official independence from Pakistan.It was clear that a trial of the assassins would only be possible if Mujib’s party, the Awami League, came to power. That happened in 1996, and Mujib’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina, became prime minister. The cases began and the court found all 12 defendants guilty. But Hasina lost the 2001 elections, and the process stopped, resuming only after her victory in the elections of December 2008. The government now wants to bring the surviving officers back to Bangladesh: Noor Chowdhury is reportedly in the United States; Dalim is in Canada; Khandaker Abdul Rashid, Farooq’s brother-in-law, is in Pakistan; MA Rashed Chowdhury is in South Africa; Mosleuddin is in Thailand; and Abdul Mazed is in Kenya. Bringing all of them back may not be easy, because they will face executions. Canada and South Africa have abolished the death penalty, and Kenya put a stop to it recently, making it harder for those governments to extradite them.How does a nation, whose independence was soaked with blood, which lost a popular leader of its freedom struggle in a brutal massacre, reconcile with that crime? What form of justice is fair? Does the death penalty heal those wounds?Bangladesh thinks so. It is among the 58 countries (including India) that retain the death penalty, but it applies it only in rare cases, like murder. In 2008, five people were executed in Bangladesh. Many governments oppose the death penalty on principle, and the European Union appealed to the Bangladeshi government to commute the sentence of Mujib’s assassins. The human rights group Amnesty International also sought clemency, while agreeing that the men should face justice.Bangladeshi human rights lawyers have found it hard to challenge the death penalty because it is not controversial in Bangladesh. There are also political exigencies. One human rights activist told me, “We are against [the] death penalty but the dilemma is that we are in a country where life imprisonment really means imprisonment guaranteed until your party is in power. The death penalty is almost seen as the only way to guarantee justice for such a grisly crime.” Grisly, it certainly was. This is what happened.
IN 1975, Dhanmondi hadn’t changed much from how it looked at Independence, with roads lined with twostorey houses dating back to the 1950s. Today, there are multi-storey buildings, English-medium schools, new universities, shopping malls and hookah barsto lure younger crowds. Back in 1975, the area was quieter. In the evening, people strolled along the periphery of the large lake in the middle of the neighbourhood and at night you could hear the tinkle of the bells of the cycle rickshaws plying the roads.On 15 August 1975, before dawn, 700 soldiers with 105 millimetre weapons left their barracks and headed for the three homes where Mujib and his family lived. Everyone was still asleep at Mujib’s home, number 677 on road 32 in Dhanomondi. Mujib’s personal assistant, Mohitul Islam, was at his desk when Mujib called him, asking him to call the police immediately. Mujib had heard his brother-in-law Abdur Rab Serniabat’s house at 27 Minto Road was being attacked. Serniabat was a minister in Mujib’s government.Mohitul—who lived to tell the tale—tried calling the police, but the phones weren’t working. When he called the telephone exchange, the person at the other end said nothing. Mujib snatched the phone and shouted into the mouthpiece.The guards outside were hoisting the national flag when the soldiers arrived. The guards were stunned to find army officers rushing in through the gate, ordering them to drop their weapons and surrender. There were a few shots.A frightened servant woke up Mujib’s son Kamal, who got dressed and came down when Maj Bazlul Huda entered the house with several soldiers. Even as Mohitul tried telling Huda that it was Kamal, there was a burst of gunfire; Kamal lay dead. Huda quickly went to the landing of the staircase when he heard Mujib’s voice.“What do you want?” Mujib asked Huda, whom he recognised.The soldiers pulled their triggers, spraying Mujib with dozens of bullets.
Before his burial the following day in his birthplace, Tungipara, the imam noticed at least ten bullets still lodged inside Mujib’s body. When I visited the house in 1986, I saw dozens of bullet marks on the wall and staircase where he was killed. Mujib had collapsed on the stairs; his trademark pipe in his hands. He was dead by the time his body stopped tumbling down the stairs.The killers then went inside the house, and one by one, killed everyone they could find: Mujib’s wife Fajilutunessa, Kamal’s wife Sultana, Mujib’s other son Jamal and his wife Rosy, and Mujib’s brother Naser, who was heard pleading, “I am not in politics.” Then they saw Russell, Mujib’s ten-year-old son, who was crying, asking for his mother. He, too, was killed.
Sheikh Hasina was inconsolable when she returned to her homeland in 1981, after six years in exile.Around the same time, another group of soldiers had killed Mujib’s brother-in-law, Serniabat at his home, and a third group had murdered the family of Fazlul Haque Moni, Mujib’s nephew, an influential Awami League politician who lived on road 13/1, about two kilometres away from Mujib’s home. At that time, Mahfuz Anam was a young reporter at the Bangladesh Times. He lived across the Dhanmandi Lake, and had a clear view of Sheikh Moni’s house. “I saw what happened,” he recalled. “Early that morning I was awakened by the sound of firing. I got up. My room was on the side of the lake. I ventured out to the boundary wall. I saw troops enter Sheikh Moni’s house. I heard plenty of firing, followed by screaming. I heard shots—some random, some from sub-machine guns. I saw the troops leave the house. It was all over in four to six minutes. I could hear the people inside groaning; it continued for some time.” The junior officers’ coup had proceeded exactly as planned. There had been no resistance from the moment Huda and his team had reached Mujib’s home. After taming the Rokkhi Bahini, Farooq arrived at Mujib’s gate, eager to know what had happened at Mujib’s home. Huda told him calmly, “All are finished.”When we met a decade after those killings, I asked Farooq, one of the leading conspirators, “And the ten-year-old boy: did he have to be killed?”“It was an act of mercy killing. Mujib was building a dynasty; we had to finish off all of them,” he told me with a degree of finality, his arm slicing ruthlessly in the air, as if he was chopping off the head of someone kneeling in front of him. There was no mercy in his eyes, no remorse, only a hint of pride.They had tried killing the entire family, but they could not get Mujib’s two daughters, Hasina and Rehana, who were on a goodwill tour in Europe. Hasina was in Bonn, Germany, where her husband, MA Wazed Miah, a nuclear scientist, was a researcher at a laboratory (He died in May 2009).
Kamal Hossain, Mujib’s cabinet minister, was on an official visit to Belgrade. Speaking a week after the executions of Mujib’s killers, he told me, “I first heard there had been a coup. Later, at the home of the Bangladesh Ambassador to Yugoslavia, we sat listening to French radio, and more information began coming out. We heard about Mujib’s death, then we heard about the other family members. My first thought was Hasina’s safety.” He met her in Bonn and decided to sever his relations with the new government. He handed in his official passport to the ambassador, and left for England, which had better links with Bangladesh, and where getting information would be easier. Hasina, too, decided there was no need for her to go back. She was granted asylum in India and lived in New Delhi with her husband until 1981. Hossain returned to Dhaka in 1980.
IN OCTOBER 1986, I visited Mujib’s house, the mute witness to the ghastly events of that dawn. As if to ensure that no one will forget the tragedy, Hasina, who showed me around, had made only minimal changes to the house, preserving the crime scene. The bare walls bore bullet marks. Shattered glass lay on the ground of what was once Mujib’s library. On thestaircase on which Mujib was shot, and on the wall which he tried to grip for support as he fell, darkened blood stains were still visible.
Sheikh Hasina, 10, with her younger sister Sheikh Rehana and younger brothers Sheikh Kamal and Sheikh Jamal in 1957. The two brothers were killed during the 1975 coup.Mujib was 55 when he was killed. He had been in and out of Pakistani jails, and was widely regarded—and initially revered— as Bangladesh’s founding father. At the time of Partition, what is now known as Bangladesh formed the eastern wing of Pakistan. The two parts of Pakistan were divided by thousands of kilometres of Indian territory. Islam united the two, but culture, language and the idea of nationhood divided them. The eastern half was more populous, and should legitimately have commanded greater resources, but the generals and politicians in power in the western half disregarded eastern demands, responding to eastern claims with contempt, if not repression. Punjabis dominated the Sindhis, Baluchis, and Pathans in the west, and they had even less regard for their Bengali compatriots.Things came to a head in 1970, when in nationwide elections, Awami League secured a majority. Mujib should have been invited to become Pakistan’s prime minister, but the generals and politicians in the west thought differently. Mujib’s negotiations with Gen Yahya Khan, Pakistan’s ruler, and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party which had won a large number of seats in the west, continued interminably. Meanwhile, Yahya Khan sent Gen Tikka Khan to Dhaka. Many Bangladeshis remember planeloads of young men arriving on flights from the west. They were military men but not in uniform, and they did not carry weapons. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s navy was shipping weapons through ports like Chittagong, keeping Bengali officers in the dark, and secretly arming the men who had landed in Dhaka.The crackdown began on 25 March 1971, as the Pakistani army brutally attempted to crush Bengali aspirations. Mujib was jailed in West Pakistan. In the east, hundreds of thousands were killed, and millions of refugees made their way to India. A civil war followed, and India aided the Mukti Bahini, as Bangladeshi freedom fighters were called. In early December, Pakistan attacked India on its western front; India retaliated, and its troops defeated Pakistan on both fronts within a fortnight. Indian troops entered Dhaka, and thousands of Pakistani troops surrendered. A few weeks later Mujib returned to the Tejgaon airport. A sea of humanity greeted the leader of the new nation, Bangladesh.Three and a half years later, Farooq and his men annihilated most of Mujib’s family. “Even dogs didn’t bark when we killed Mujib,” Farooq told me.
THE SHEIKH MUJIBUR RAHMAN of 1975 was not the Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of 1971. He squandered his unprecedented goodwill for two reasons. First, he could not meet the phenomenal expectations Bangladeshis had in his leadership. Lifschultz, whowas based in Dhaka in 1974, remembers the day when Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Zulifikar Ali Bhutto, visited Bangladesh for the first time since its independence from Pakistan. As Bhutto’s motorcade moved from the airport into central Dhaka, a section of the crowd lining the street shouted, “Bhutto Zindabad (Long Live Bhutto).”Lifschultz thought this was rather bizarre. He told me there were conflicted feelings among some Bangladeshis who in 1974 were living through the first stages of a severe famine. Clearly, some believed their hopes had been belied, but to him, the cheering of Bhutto seemed particularly perverse, given the circumstances of Bangladesh’s emergence.
BANGLADESHI FRUSTRATION with Mujib was understandable. By mid-1974, Bangladesh was reeling from a widespread famine that experts believe was at least partly due to political incompetence. Citizens were also stunned by the ostentatious weddings of Mujib’s sons at a time of economic crisis. Food distribution had failed, and people were forcedto sell their farm animals to buy rice. Thousands of poor people left their villages looking for work in the cities. Irene Khan, who was until recently the Secretary-General of Amnesty International, was a schoolgirl in the early 1970s. She recalls hungry voices clamouring for food outside the gates of her family home every day.With public criticism over the mass starvation growing, Mujib clamped down on dissent. He abolished political parties and created one national party called Bangladesh Krishak Shramik Awami League (BAKSAL); removed freethinking experts who did not agree with his policies; nationalised newspapers (closing most), and allowed only two each—in Bangla and in English. He stifled dissent within the party, suspended the constitution, and declared himself president. Now editor of The Daily Star, Anam calls those measures the greatest blunder Mujib made. “It is still a mystery what led him to do that. He had it all. There was nothing, nobody in the parliament opposed to his policies, except for a few voices. He was the tallest man in the country. Why did he do it? It was in total contrast to his political heritage. It was a dramatic transformation from a multiparty system to a one party state.”
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with his elder daughter Sheikh Hasina during happier times. Hasina became Prime Minister in 1996.The only time I met Farooq, in 1986, he expressed outrage at those changes, “How do you pass an amendment in Parliament which abolishes party membership in just 11 minutes? No discussions, nothing!” Bangladesh, in his opinion, was becoming a colony of India, and as a freedom fighter, he thought he had to stop that. “I tried to save the country,” he told me, his tone rising, “Mujib had changed the constitution so that the court could not do a thing. All power was with the president.”None of Farooq’s explanations justified the terrible manner in which he and his family were killed, but the famine and his increasingly authoritarian rule partly explains why there was little outward expression of grief after his assassination. At the same time, it was not just Mujib’s killing, but the brutality of it, that many Bangladeshis felt justified the death penalty for the assassins.Justice moves slowly in Bangladesh. According to a recent study, Bangladesh’s jails can hold only 27,000 prisoners, but there are some 70,000 inmates in jail, and some 47,000 are still awaiting trial, according to the inspector-general of prisons. One reason for the backlog is the shortage of judges. The other is that some defendants are too poor to afford legal help.The trial of Mujib’s assassins falls under a different category. There was little political will to try the assassins. That changed when Hasina came to power. The five of- ficers were sentenced to death as early as 1998. They appealed, but higher courts upheld the sentence in April 2001 and November 2009 respectively. They sought a Supreme Court review, and later, four of the five applied for presidential pardon. While the government meticulously followed the constitutional procedures, many have noted the speed with which the final appeals were dealt with.A four-member special bench of the Supreme Court’s appellate division met at 9:25 am and issued a verdict at 9:27 am, on 26 January 2010, rejecting the review petition. Senior civil servants of the law and home ministry met at noon, and discussed the issue for three hours. Farooq, who had resisted writing his mercy petition, did so that afternoon. Officials received and dispatched his petition within minutes, as they were all in one room with colleagues whose approval was needed. A report on bdnews24.com said that President Zillur Rahman rejected the petition at 7:30 pm (the hangings occurred soon after midnight).The quick turnaround of the documents was remarkable. One lawyer told me, “What you saw wasn’t due process; it was process with undue speed.”
THERE IS A SENSE IN DHAKA NOW, that the executions have brought the tragedy to a close. Perhaps; but many other wounds continue to fester. On the day of Mujib’s killing in 1975, the officers had also arrested Tajuddin Ahmed, Nazrul Islam, Kamaruzzaman, and Mansur Ali—four leading Awami League politicians suspected of being pro-Mujib. On thenight of 3 November 1975, soldiers came to the jail, and asked for the four to be brought to one cell. The jail authorities tried to find out what was going on, when a call from the president asked them to cooperate. The soldiers then took out their weapons, and, without reading out any charges, without any trial or any authority, sprayed bullets on them, killing them instantly. Mosleuddin, involved with the 15 August killings, proudly claimed to have played a role in the jail killings. Khondaker gave the killers immunity. Some pro-Mujib of- ficers overthrew Khondaker two days later. A counter-coup followed, and the situation was stabilised weeks later when Gen Ziaur Rahman took over, ending the pretence of civilian rule. Tajuddin’s daughter, Simeen Hossain Rimi, has compiled her father’s writings and sought justice. The government has said it will pursue that case, too.And then there are the war crimes.When Hasina came to power in 2008, one of her electoral promises was to seek justice for the victims of the 1971 war. Without getting into the technical debate over whether what happened in Bangladesh in 1971 was a genocide— which is a legal term with a precise meaning in international law—there is enough evidence to prove that both war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed in Bangladesh. Many of those who committed those acts are still free: some live abroad, some in Pakistan and some in Bangladesh, living with the same impunity as some of Mujib’s killers did until recently. These individuals resisted an independent Bangladesh, and successive governments in Bangladesh haven’t pursued the matter. Some governments lacked the political capital and will, some had little moral authority, and some have even been complicit with some of the crimes.That context has changed with Hasina’s recent victory. Irene Khan, who worked for many years at the UN High Commission for Refugees before leading Amnesty International, told me:
You can have debates about whether particular acts constitute war crimes or genocide. You can debate whether what happened was a war or an internal con- flict. But they were crimes against humanity. There was obviously culpability and collusion of some locals with the Pakistani army. For instance, in December 1971, before the formal handover to the Indian army, there was a whole list of intellectuals who were picked up and killed. These were not political cases; these were civilians. Those crimes have remained uninvestigated; it is extremely important that there is a commission of inquiry, if Bangladesh is to put a closure to this chapter of its history. Even if you will have only a limited number of prosecutions, you need a full record of what happened.Pakistan’s own war inquiry commission report of 1974 mentions that tens of thousands of civilians were killed, and many women were raped. Bangladeshis find that report incomplete because it barely scratches the surface of what happened.Justice for those crimes against humanity won’t be easy. At the time of the final handover of Pakistani prisoners of war, India and Bangladesh signed a tripartite treaty with Pakistan, which effectively granted immunity to Pakistani soldiers. While Bangladesh passed a law subsequently to try war criminals, that law only focused on Bangladeshi collaborators, leaving out the Pakistani army. “That issue has always been brushed under the carpet,” Irene Khan told me. “The real question is: can an international treaty sign away the rights to justice of victims? The treaty absolves the Pakistani army and political leaders.”Realpolitik may have prevented going after Pakistanis, and domestic politics made targeting local collaborators complicated. Hasina’s rival was Khaleda Zia, Ziaur Rahman’s widow. She led the Bangladesh National Party, which has had an electoral alliance with Jamaat-i-Islami, a fundamentalist party. Some of the Jamaat’s leaders and many followers are accused of being collaborationists.The Bangladeshi government had said it would commence trials in March. A tribunal was expected to be set up in Dhaka by 26 March, Bangladesh’s Independence Day, but nobody has been indicted yet, no prosecutors or investigators have been appointed, and only Bangladeshi ‘collaborators’ will be tried. Some observers fear that the process will be seen as an attack on Jamaat-i-Islami. If the initial indictees are only from the Jamaat, they will claim they are being victimised, and the credibility of the process will suffer. A fair process would also investigate the conduct of the Mukti Bahini, the Bangladeshi freedom fighters who are alleged to have committed atrocities against Urdu-speaking Biharis, many of whom supported Pakistan.And all this, to what end? It is a people’s quest for justice; a society’s desire to break the imposed silence. It is to reassert the norms that govern a nation, to re-establish the foundations on which civilisation can rest.Irene Khan is not sure if the recent executions will help turn the tide against the culture of impunity. “This is a systemic problem in Bangladesh,” she says. “There is impunity from the local policeman who beats up a suspected thief, to the security forces who tortured and killed suspected mutineers in interrogation cells.” She refers to the failed Bangladesh Rifles mutiny last year. Guards of Bangladesh Rifles objected to army officers commanding them, so they held officers hostage, killing many of them and ransacking the barracks, before surrendering. Hundreds of mutineers were tortured later, and over 60 died.
THE CULTURE OF IMPUNITY runs deep. Hasina may think of reaching closure for her personal grief. For millions of Bangladeshis, that remains an elusive goal. Projonmo 71 is a social movement, bringing together the children of those who died during the independence war. Staunchly Bengali in their nationalism, many of its members are secular.Meghna Guhathakurta, an academic who taught international relations at Dhaka University and is now the director of Research Initiatives, a development think tank, is one of them.She vividly remembers the midnight of 25 March 1971. Her father, Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta, who was a professor of English at Dhaka University, was correcting examination papers. Schools and colleges were closed, as Bangladeshis had embarked on a non-cooperation movement. She feared her father would get arrested, and they had been warned.An army convoy came to the campus. There were six apartments in the building. The soldiers began banging on the doors. An officer and two soldiers entered their ground floor apartment through the back garden. The officer asked in Urdu, “Where is the professor?” Her mother asked why they wanted to meet her husband. The officer said they had come to take him away.“Where?” she asked. The officer did not reply.
Guhathakurta told me what followed in a calm voice: My mother called my father. The officer asked my father if he was the professor. My father said yes. ‘We have come to take you,’ he said. Meanwhile, several other professors were being brought down. Some families tried to hold them, but we told them—‘let them go, otherwise they will shoot you.’ We turned around, and we heard the firing of guns. And we saw all of them lying in a pool of blood. Some were shouting for water. We rushed out to the front part of our compound. I saw my father lying on the ground. He was fully conscious. He told me they had asked him his name and his religion. He said he was a Hindu, and they gave orders to shoot him. My father was hit by bullets in his neck, his waist, and it left him paralysed. The soldiers had run away. We took my father to the house. We could not take him to the hospital because there was a curfew. He remained in pain, and they could only take him to the hospital on 27 March, when the curfew was lifted. He died three days later.I asked her about the executions of Mujib’s assassins. “I am against impunity, and I am very much happy justice has been met,” she said. “But I am not happy that we have the death penalty. Not every crime has been tried yet.” She is a peace activist and has thought of forgiveness, but there is a moral dilemma around that idea. British writer Gillian Slovo, who was born in South Africa, had faced such a moral quandary in the years after apartheid was lifted. During apartheid, Slovo’s father, Joe, led the South African Communist Party, and he and her mother, Ruth, first lived in exile in Mozambique, from where they carried on their anti-apartheid activism. They were among the few whites to take on the South African regime (her mother had been detained without trial in 1963, and the couple fled South Africa after the African National Congress leadership was rounded up). Tragedy struck in Mozambique, when agents of apartheid sent her a letter bomb, which exploded, killing her.Slovo ended up confronting the man responsible for sending that lethal parcel to her mother. She discovered a copy of her book, which she had autographed, had ended up with that man. I met Slovo in late 2008, soon after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, and I asked her if it was possible to forgive. After all, South Africa had astounded the world with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which offered a non-violent way in which the oppressor and victim could resolve differences face to face. Slovo told me, “Lots of countries like truth commissions because they look at South Africa and think of the miracle. But I am not sure if it was entirely miraculous; it had its flaws, too. The commission was a compromise to stop people from fighting. People need to see if the two sides want to stop fighting first. It is impossible to otherwise start a process that goes so deep. There is a difference between individual and collective responses. South Africa’s experience reflected the thinking of an archbishop [Desmond Tutu], whose church believed in forgiveness.”Guhathakurta had studied at a convent, and the Christian ideas of mercy were ingrained in her as a child. She was 15 when her father was murdered, and the impression of those school lessons was strong. She told me, “I remember the first thing I did was to say: I forgive those who killed my father. But in a multicultural system it doesn’t always work. Not all religions are about forgiveness. Revenge is permitted in many religions. Human beings have a primordial urge to take revenge.” Many years later, Guhathakurta was interviewing victims of 1971 for a film. She was talking to those who escaped from killing fields, and families of people who were victims. That’s when it occurred to her: trauma never really ends. Her nightmares will always stay. She acknowledged her anger. She did not want revenge; she wanted justice. She said:
For me, justice would be when the Pakistani government realises what it did. But they have not even recognised the genocide. For me, justice means something like Berlin’s Holocaust Museum is constructed in Islamabad. I want to see signs where they say that such an event took place, and it was our fault, because we did it, and we are sorry. You can’t ask the daughter to forgive the murderer of her father. Revenge doesn’t make sense, either. Just because my father died doesn’t mean yours has to die. But recognition, that something took place, and the fact that it should not take place again— that’s justice. The Holocaust museum says it happened, therefore it can happen again. Slovo had put it slightly differently: Real reconciliation only happens when the terrible is acknowledged, so that you can’t say it did not happen.
TOWARDS THE END of the Pakistani writer Kamila Shamsie’s novel, Kartography, Maheen tells her niece Raheen, “Bangladesh made us see what we were capable of. No one should ever know what they are capable of. But worse, even worse, is to see it and then pretend you didn’t. The truths we conceal don’t disappear, Raheen, they appear indifferent forms.”
Bangladesh abounds with victims—each family has a horror story of its own, where a loved one has been hurt grievously, and the ones who have committed those atrocities have not faced justice, nor expressed remorse. It is impossible to heal everyone. But honest accounting of what happened would be a good start. Trying Mujib’s killers, seeking the extradition of those living abroad and solving the mystery of the jail killings are useful steps in making sense of their warped politics, where individuals bragging about killing defenceless people were being rewarded.Removing the culture of impunity will be a small step towards justice—not necessarily through death penalties, but through remorse, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Until that happens, the question Projonmo 71 left inscribed on the plaque commemorating the martyred intellectuals at Rayer Bazaar in Dhaka will continue to resound across the wounded rivers and valleys, awaiting an answer: “Tomra ja bolechhiley, bolchhey ki ta Bangladesh?” (Is Bangladesh saying what you had wanted to say?)
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Here is the story:
Dhaka, May 29 (bdnews24.com) — Facebook has been blocked in Bangladesh for a brief period, a senior BTRC official told bdnews24.com Saturday evening after hundreds of users reported the social networking site was down.
The official, speaking on condition anonymity, admitted that elite crime busters RAB requested temporary closure of the site in the country.
"Yes, it's been blocked for a while," the official told bdnews24.com at 8:50pm.
The official would not give further details.
Hundreds of users reported that the social networking site was down after attempting to log on from 7pm.
BTRC's chief technical officer Biplob Chakma confirmed bdnews24.com at around 9.30pm that the site was indeed blocked based on a 'memo'.
He also said that he may be able to provide with further details about the shutdown on Sunday morning after reporting for duty.
However, Biplob declined to reveal the identity of the authority which issued the letter.
RAB arrested a youth from the capital early Saturday for publishing caricatures of prime minister Sheikh Hasina and opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia.
RAB also alleged that the youth was responsible of a number of cyber crimes using a number of fake identities.
A number of religion-based political organisations demanded closure of the site on Friday.
The parties that made this demand in a meeting at Muktangan include the Islami Andolan, Islami Oikkyajot and Khilafat Andolan.
Meanwhile, the leading Bangla blog Somewhereinblog is now flooded with condemnation for this 'ghastly' act of the government. Many bloggers are offering proxy sites to bypass the ban for accessing facebook.
Monday, May 10, 2010
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Thursday, March 25, 2010
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent trip to China, following close on the heels of her January trip to India, demonstrates Bangladeshi leaders are leveraging the country’s increasingly important geostrategic position vis-à-vis Asia’s two rising powers. India is watching closely and with a certain degree of concern China’s growing interest in establishing links to South Asia, India’s traditional sphere of influence. The U.S., too, must find new ways to partner with Bangladesh – a country with the world’s third largest Muslim population – to encourage democratic trends, steady development of the country’s economy, and efforts to keep Islamist extremists at bay .
According to Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, during Sheikh Hasina’s trip to China, she gained pledges from China  to finance further development of the Chittagong sea port as well as rail links from Chittagong through Burma to Yunnan province in China. Though not specifically in the joint statement between the two countries, this move will give Bangladesh the upgrades it needs to increase productivity and capabilities in Chittagong and give China an access route to the Indian Ocean for its goods. The port of Chittagong in Bangladesh, along with ports in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Burma, is often cited as a new outlet for China’s strategic and commercial purposes , giving it access to the Indian Ocean, a counter to Indian influence, and an alternative to the Malacca Straits route.
Yet, in her trip to India in January, Prime Minister Hasina also agreed to the opening up of the Chittagong port to goods shipped to and from India, Nepal, and Bhutan . In addition, the United States has been active in Chittagong with the USS Patriot, a mine countermeasures ship, finishing a week long part call there on March 19. The USS Patriot is already the third U.S. naval vessel to visit Chittagong this year . Thus, it seems Bangladesh is seeking to leverage its strategically located port to bring in as much business, partnerships, and naval visits as possible to increase the country’s economic and political status.
At a multilateral level, press reports indicate Prime Minister Hasina appealed to China to be more active in its observer role in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). In the joint statement , Bangladesh “expressed support for Chinese efforts to enhance cooperation with the SAARC community.”
The U.S. must also remain closely engaged in promoting South Asia regional cooperation, serving as an active observer within the SAARC. Asian allies Japan, South Korea, and Australia also have observer status within the SAARC. In coordination with these Asian allies, the U.S. should encourage South Asia countries to continue to lower barriers to trade, increase mechanisms for consolidating democracy, and improve counterterrorism cooperation efforts.
The increased Chinese engagement in South Asia and visits like that of the Bangladeshi PM to Beijing highlight the need for the U.S. to demonstrate the benefits of its own leadership and influence in the region and to collaborate more closely with India on initiatives that strengthen economic development and democratic trends in the region .
Friday, March 19, 2010
As Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina tours China, a debate is brewing in Bangladesh. Who is a greater friend? India or China? The answers vary.While Hasina is seeking regional connectivity involving Bangladesh, India, China and Myanmar, many Bangladeshis think differently.
“The key to Bangladesh’s global vision is connectivity. This means opening up Bangladesh to India and China, and frankly anyone else who wants,” The Daily Star newspaper said Friday.
That being the case, senior journalist Zafar Sobhan deprecated attempts to draw China in but keep India out. “There is a profoundly foolish school of thought among certain circles in Bangladesh that suggests that Bangladesh should seek to play China off against India and looks to China to provide a counter-weight to what they see as the regional hegemon.
“This kind of thinking, which governments in the past have dabbled in with notable lack of success, is the worst kind of amateurish realpolitik that would only antagonise both neighbours,” said Sobhan.
Leaders of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have advocated using China as a counterweight to India.
Haider Akbar Rono, leader of the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), has called for Dhaka-Beijing proximity to “counter imperialist attacks” from India that he sees is in stratetic alliance with the US.
Lt Gen (retired) M. Mahbubur Rahman, a former Bangladesh Army chief, laments the “tyranny of geography” under which Bangladesh is surrounded by India.
“Although Dhaka’s relation with New Delhi is friendly, India’s military intervention may not be all together discounted in the event of any development in Bangladesh that might be considered prejudicial to the regional giant’s perceived security threat,” he wrote in the New Age.
“Against the backdrop of perceived threat from India, Bangladesh pursues a defence policy of no aggression but defending every inch of her land. To strengthen its position, Bangladesh can seek help from China,” he wrote.
Retired diplomat Mohammed Amjad Hossain wrote in New Age: “Although Bangladesh considers developing relations with China from political and economic point of views, India sees it from a different perspective.”
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
If you're looking for the center of gravity in America's relationship with the populous nation of Bangladesh this week, it's right in the middle of Portland, where some 120 people are attending a working summit that marks the public kickoff of the state partnership program between Oregon and Bangladesh.
At first blush, this may sound like a headscratcher, but it's a handy illustration of the utility of the National Guard Bureau's state partnership program, which pairs state militias like Oregon's with their counterparts in other countries with whom the United States enjoys cooperative relationships. Bangladesh and Oregon, via the Oregon National Guard, have been sending small delegations back and forth over the last year or so, and this week, the two sides are coming together in a big way.
The ambassadors of each nation, Akramul Qader and James Moriarty, each spoke at this morning's session, the first full working day of a three-day workshop. They each spoke of Bangladesh's rapid progress as a democracy, and each cited the continuing challenges the nation faces, from poverty to its proximity to places where terrorists operate. The partnership program is furthest along in forging cooperative military relationships between the Oregon National Guard and the Bangladeshi Army, giving a distinctly military cast to today's proceedings, which were well-attended by blue-uniformed members of the Oregon Air National Guard, their Army counterparts in green, and the visiting Bangladeshis in khaki-colored dress uniforms.
Today's presenters included Maj. Gen. Fred Rees, Oregon's Adjutant General, Gen. Bruce Prunk, commander of the Oregon Air National Guard, Maj. Gen. Peter Pawling, who's acting chief of staff of the United States Pacific Command, and Maj. Gen. Abdul Wadud, Bangladesh's Principal Staff Officer for the Armed Forces.One area that is further along than the others relates to port security, partly because the Port of Portland's chief of security, Mark Crosby, is a lieutenant colonel in the Oregon Air National Guard. He and his Bangladeshi counterparts have conducted talks about best security practices, a point of particular interest to such U.S. agencies as the FAA and TSA, which have sought to push the security screening envelope outside the homeland, to airports such as Amsterdam, London and, yes, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is in the middle of an expansion of its domestic and international air carrier capacity, so the timing for this initiative is good, Prunk pointed out.Here's a Bangladesh fact that I'll bet you didn't know: The country is a leader in providing troops to U.N. peacekeeping missions. Ambassador Qader said the country has provided more than 10,500 peackeepers and more than 2,100 police to the United Nations through the years. (Some 88 Bangladeshi peacekeepers have been killed in the course of this work.)
The workshop continues at the Nines Hotel for two more days. If you're watching the Blazers on TV tonight, you may see a contingent of American guys with short haircuts, accompanied by a group of southern Asians. That's the face of the Oregon-Bangladesh partnership program.
Bangladesh is in the fortunate position of having been far less exposed to the global recession than many other economies, but mild signs of weakness are emerging. Indeed, whereas a number of the Asian economies that contracted sharply during the past year can now expect to post robust recoveries in 2010—albeit from a low base—economic growth in Bangladesh in the coming fiscal year (which starts in July) will do no better than remain at roughly the same level as in 2008/09. Still, at close to 6%, the country's growth rate will remain healthy.
Unlike many economies in Asia, that of Bangladesh has shown remarkable resilience in the past year. Part of the reason is the fact that the export sector accounts for a fairly small proportion of GDP. In 2008/09 (July-June) exports of goods and services accounted for 20% of GDP, compared with more than 200% in Singapore and around 100% in Malaysia, meaning that Bangladesh has been less affected by the downturn in the global demand. Indeed, in real terms exports of goods and services surged by 12.2% in 2008/09, and the Economist Intelligence Unit expects them to grow by a still-respectable 5.6% in 2009/10.
In addition, inflows of workers' remittances have remained strong—although part of this strength is attributable to the repatriation of savings by skilled workers who have returned to Bangladesh after losing their jobs abroad, as well as to fresh remittances from Bangladeshis living overseas, who, prompted by fears of a collapse in the financial systems of their host countries, have sent savings back to Bangladesh. The agricultural sector has also played a part in the economy's relatively strong performance in the past year or so, reporting healthy rises in food production, and particularly in output of rice, the country's main staple.
However, the latest economic indicators also point to signs of weakness. The value of merchandise exports was down by 7.7% year on year to US$1.2bn in November 2009. On a cumulative basis, the value of exports declined by 6.9% year on year in the first five months of 2009/10. A breakdown of various export categories shows falls in the value of exports of frozen food, ceramic products and tea. But the decline in overall merchandise exports is largely attributable to a drop in the value of shipments of readymade garments, which account for more than 70% of total exports.
In the first five months of 2009/10 exports of knitwear fell by 5.7% year on year, while exports of woven garments declined by 7.9%. Exports also followed a downward trend in volume terms in the five-month period. But comments from members of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association hint at a brightening outlook for the garment sector, with many members reporting a rise in orders in recent weeks.
The value of merchandise imports has also been falling, although this largely reflects lower global prices for energy and industrial raw materials compared with the highs of 2008. More worryingly, Bangladesh continues to import fewer items of capital machinery compared with the year-earlier period—a likely indication of weak business sentiment. Like exports, there are tentative signs of a rise in total imports in the months ahead.
The government expects imports of wheat to rise to 400,000 tonnes in April-May, as a result of an increase in consumption and stagnant local production. It also plans to import 300,000 tonnes of rice in 2009/10 to boost food stocks.
We forecast that real GDP growth in Bangladesh will average 5.8% a year in 2009/10 and 2010/11 (the "forecast period"), underpinned by a steady expansion in private consumption and investment. The main determinants of private consumption will be the performance of the agricultural sector and remittances from the Bangladeshi diaspora and those working overseas. Although the agricultural sector accounts for only 20% of overall GDP at factor cost, it is still the country's largest employer and is the main source of income for around one-half of the working population. We expect the agricultural sector to grow by an average of 4% in the forecast period, a slightly slower rate compared with 2008/09, when bumper rice harvests resulted in a rise of 4.6%.
Inflows of workers' remittances will remain another source of growth in private consumption. Such inflows have been healthy in recent months, though the pace of growth in remittances will moderate in 2010 as the rate at which Bangladeshis take up positions abroad will remain relatively subdued. We expect private consumption to expand by an annual average of 5.6% in the forecast period, contributing an average of 3.7 percentage points a year to GDP growth.
We think gross fixed investment will add an average of 1.7 percentage points to the annual GDP growth rate in the forecast period. This component is dominated by the private sector, which accounts for 80% of gross investment. Private investment will be bolstered by improving business sentiment and government efforts to attract greater foreign direct investment from India and from members of the Bangladeshi diaspora residing in OECD countries.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Shouldn't I stand dumb in silence at the Ekushey Minar?
Muhammad Habibur Rahman
Twenty-first February this year
I have got no promise to make.
I have got no vow to take
For all these years
The promises that I made every year
The vows that I took every year
Remain unattended and unfulfilled.
All my efforts came to naught
All were cries in the wilderness
Exercises in futilityLike the dreams of a dumb person.
We thought that these vows
Would inspire us.Didn't they inspire?
Perhaps they did
After liberationI cannot meet these questions anymore
Face to face.
If I go to power I will fulfill my promises.
After forming the governmentI said these were very hard promises
And could not be fulfilled in one term
When you go to power
You get forgetful
And often suffer from dementia
Great intentions become small and smaller
And then forgotten
And turn annoyingly
Meaningless and purposeless
Broken promises do pile up
On twenty-six March
We took vows to build
An exploitation-free society.
On the sixteenth December
We take vows to build
A secular society
Our vows steal the headlines
Of the following day's newspapers
Flashed in bold letters
And sometimes in red ones
Twenty-first February this year
I have got no promise to make.
I have got no vow to take.
For all my vows that are dead long ago I shall stand dumb in silence
With my head hanging down
For honoring all my unfulfilled promises
For all my past vows that are dead long ago.
Twenty-first February this year
Shouldn't I stand dumb in silence at the Ekushey Minar?
(Muhammad Habibur Rahman is former Chief Justice of Bangladesh and former Chief Adviser, Caretaker Government.)
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Political modernity is believed to have begun with the separation of religion from the State. Bangladesh is not the only country where the concept of the secular State and politics has faced serious challenges in recent years. The rise of Hindu nationalism in India continues to be a threat in Indian politics.
Tuesday’s ruling by the Bangladesh supreme court, restoring “secularism” to the country’s constitution and paving the way for a ban on religion-based political parties, is, therefore, of historic significance both for the country and the subcontinent. There are other important aspects of the ruling, especially the one that makes army takeovers “unconstitutional”.
But, more than anything else, it is the return of “secularism” to the country’s constitution that is the high point of the judgment. It reflects the new nation’s struggle to blend Islam with secular democracy and nationalism. The country has a mixed record in achieving this, but the successes seem to outweigh the failures.
However, the legal battle over the fifth amendment shows deep divisions within the political class in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party is clearly upset with the ruling, especially because it makes its founder, Ziaur Rahman, look like a tinpot dictator.
The BNP’s ally, the Jamaat-e-Islami, has even more reasons to be unhappy. As the biggest religion-based party, it may face a ban if the ruling is written into the constitution. But the issues that the ruling raises are not political; they are central to the nation-building process in Bangladesh. Repeated army takeovers and martial laws once threatened to make the country a banana republic. In recent years, the rise of religious fundamentalism made the world worry about Bangladesh.
The court ruling brings an assurance of a change that Bangladesh desperately needed. But only a vigilant public can defend the rights that the constitution gives it.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Mahfuz Anam, editor, daily Star, writes this op-ed in the Times of India.
The history of mutual suspicion, petty bickering on trade negotiations, cavalier attitudes on border killings, dangerous gamesmanship with arms smuggling, etc, of the last three decades of Bangladesh-India relations would not normally justify the agreements that Sheikh Hasina penned sometime ago in Delhi. Only vision would.
A vision of a South Asia doing what ASEAN did several decades ago, of trusting neighbours rather than of subverting them, of fighting poverty and not using it to justify other failures, of a thriving marketplace of goods and services rather than of counting items in the negative list. In the latest agreement, Bangladesh has moved towards such a vision. Has India responded? For us, the jury is still out.
Take the two biggest concerns of the two sides: for India they are security and connectivity with the north-east; for Bangladesh water sharing and trade imbalance. There is a feeling that the clarity and precision with which Bangladesh responded to its neighbour's concerns were not reciprocated in equal measure by India.
On Indian security concerns, Bangladesh's commitment was unequivocal: it will not permit the use of Bangladeshi soil for activities inimical to any other country, basically meaning India. It was in dramatic contrast to the past when India's worries about terrorist links and arms transit fell on deaf ears. India desperately needed friendly borders in the east that Bangladesh has now assured and is following up by decisive deeds. Sheikh Hasina has launched the most determined and widespread actions against internal militants and extremists and is systematically dismantling the terrorist infrastructure.
The permission for the use of the Chittagong and Mongla ports for shipment of Indian goods to the north-east is a very important step forward. With Bangladesh's present position on Asian highway and railway routes, the regional and sub-regional connectivity scenario is set to undergo a fundamental change. On Bangladesh's priorities water sharing and trade imbalance there is no dramatic progress.
On Teesta water sharing, the positive development is that the ministerial level joint river commission meeting will be held within March, 2010. But it still leaves us with an uncomfortable ambiguity about the outcome. On the Tipaimukh dam issue, sadly, there was nothing new. The Indian prime minister reiterated his government's earlier stand that India will do nothing that will harm Bangladesh's interest. Such broad and generalised expression of good intention is definitely welcome.
However clearer wording that further activity on Tipaimukh would only be undertaken after consultation with Bangladesh would have helped assuage remaining worries. On enhancement of economic and trade relations, especially giving Bangladeshi exports (which are meager to start with) zero tariff access, the issue remained mired in the politics of an ever narrowing negative list which will now come down by 47 from 260 items, which earlier was higher still.
The absurdity is that India earns a meagre $10 to $15 million in taxes from exports from Bangladesh of around $300 million. That is what it would have cost India to give Bangladesh zero tariff. The promise of rebuilding of our railways, roads, bridges including the two ports, is welcome. The $1 billion credit line will serve to stimulate early action. However, all these are ancillary to both the functionality and efficiency of connectivity, which is a euphemism for 'transit'.
The offer of 250 MW of electricity is of extreme relevance and among the most significant gains Bangladesh stands to make. Another hopeful sign is the agreement to amicably demarcate our maritime boundary.
Predictably, the Bangladeshi opposition, led by Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party and supported by Jamaat-e-Islami, have called the agreements a total surrender of Bangladesh's interest to India. They have called for opposition unity and are clearly marking time for an appropriate moment to strike against Sheikh Hasina's government. Manmohan Singh's government must guard against the agreement getting entrapped in a bureaucratic maze, implementing its provisions soon.
As a first step, India should formally assure that, as an upper riparian state, it will always consider Bangladesh's interest and display maximum openness and transparency on water sharing. Killings on the border must immediately stop and the promised 24-hour access to Tin Bigha implemented.
On maritime boundary, it should go for a liberal interpretation and allow Bangladesh access to all available hydrocarbon and fish resources. Zero tariff access must be granted to all Bangladeshi exports. This must be followed by elimination of all inter-state taxes and non-tariff barriers. We must institutionalise annual summit and informal meetings in-between, for a few hours on one-day trips, as EU heads of governments have done.
Such a step will do wonders for our relations. The moment is opportune for India and Bangladesh to lay the foundation of a durable, mutually beneficial relationship that will transform the region's strategic and security scene.
Now is the moment for grand visions and grander actions.
If Bangladesh was guilty of being shackled to the mindset of the past, let India not be accused of having failed to think outside the box when opportunity beckoned.
Monday, February 1, 2010
FROM THE ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNIT
There has been a distinct shift in Bangladeshi politics in the year since the Awami League (AL) won the last parliamentary election. The ruling party appears to have worked overtime in its bid to weaken the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and marginalise its Islamist allies. The AL has also taken the bold step of seeking to mend relations with neighbouring India. These moves appear to be succeeding so far, but a backlash cannot be ruled out.
Many analysts believe that the AL has used its first year in office to neutralise the BNP, a local Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, and other pro-Pakistani forces. Proponents of this view believe that the government has the full support of the security forces and thus would remain in control in the event of street protests, terror attacks or a major crisis. However, others fear that such a strategy could have dire consequences.
They believe that the AL is seriously underestimating the risks of alienating the opposition parties, who still managed to garner over 40% of the votes cast in the December 2008 parliamentary election. They fear that that the apparent attempt by the AL to marginalise Islamist groups will make the government a prime target for possible terrorist attacks.
Several of the issues that the government has put at the top of its agenda are extremely controversial.
First, the government's decision to pursue better relations with India is a marked departure from the stance of previous administrations. The initiative is likely to prove problematic, given Bangladesh's strong tradition of anti-Indian sentiment.
Second, the government plans to prosecute alleged war criminals. In practice, this means that leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh's fourth-largest political party, could stand trial for allegedly committing atrocities during the war of secession from what was then known as West Pakistan in 1971.
Third, the government has expressed a desire to revert to the core values espoused in the 1972 constitution, one of which is the prohibition of religion-based political parties.
Fourth, it has expedited criminal investigations into a grenade attack on an AL rally, which took place in August 2004, left 23 AL leaders dead and injured over 300 people. The AL believes that the perpetrators of the attack wanted to kill the party's leader, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, who is now prime minister.
Of the plans outlined thus far, the government's support for a ban on all religion-based political parties could pose the most serious threat to political stability, as such a move would marginalise these parties and their supporters, who might choose to join more extreme groups. Religion-based parties have operated freely in Bangladesh since an amendment to the constitution in 1979.
However, on January 3rd 2010 the Supreme Court lifted the suspension of a four-year-old High Court verdict that had declared illegal and unconstitutional the fifth amendment to the constitution. The amendment legitimised all successive governments after the assassination of President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from 1975 until April 1979, and it was in this period that the ban on religion-based parties was lifted.
The government has said that the latest decision will force Islamist parties to drop Islam from their names. However, the latest ruling from the Supreme Court does not affect constitutional amendments that made Islam the country's official religion in 1988 and incorporated a Koranic verse into the preamble of the constitution.
At present, a dozen political parties refer to Islam, including Jamaat-e-Islami, an important ally of the BNP. Bangladesh's Islamist parties have already threatened to launch a movement if the government proceeds with its plans. The issue is at the heart of the AL strategy to reinstate the country's first constitution, which has four fundamental principles: nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism.
Perhaps the most visible political change since early 2009 has been the start of a process to strengthen relations with India. This has been made possible by the fact that the ruling Congress party in India, which has long-standing ties to the AL, firmly backs the government led by Sheikh Hasina. At the same time, the government appears committed to addressing one of India's main concerns: that Bangladesh harbours terrorists wanting to launch attacks against India on Indian soil.
The AL has started to tackle this problem to improve bilateral relations. In December 2009 Bangladeshi security forces arrested and handed over to the India authorities Arabinda Rajkhowa, the chairman of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), a militant group fighting for an independent homeland for ethnic Assamese in India's north-eastern state of Assam.
For India, the arrest is a big step towards defeating the ULFA, which it has long accused of waging a proxy war in its north-eastern states on behalf of the intelligence services of Pakistan and Bangladesh. India hopes that Bangladesh will hand over other insurgents, as well as suspected members of a group based in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Toiba, which it believes is responsible for the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008.
On January 11th 2010 Sheikh Hasina made a state visit to India. Officials on both sides welcomed a number of agreements made during the visit that aim to strengthen economic and security ties. Economic statistics belie the two countries' shared history and geography. Bangladesh's biggest trading partner is China, and India is not even in the top ten foreign investors in Bangladesh.
The biggest difficulty for the AL may be to explain its new policy of engaging with India to Bangladeshi voters who have a strong tradition of anti-Indian sentiment. The government's new friendship with India has already become a big political issue in Bangladesh, with the BNP accusing the government of "selling out" to India.
Sunday, January 31, 2010
As regional and international relations take on a fresh perspective in the global scenario, where does Bangladesh stand?
In the present day matrix of global interactions, interdependence is the name of the game. All too often, though, the “inter” part of interdependence is obfuscated and the “dependence” part comes to the forefront. This is a cause of concern for the people of developing nations who find themselves caught up in the whirlpool of international political networking, and Bangladesh is no exception.
Make or break
Bangladesh is perched at a critical juncture of its existence, where fitting into the global jigsaw is as important as its hold on ‘sovereignty’. Given its strategic location on the Bay of Bengal and its proximity to both India and China, along with significant presence of mineral resources both on and off shore, Bangladesh is certainly not just an overpopulated poverty-ridden third world country. In recent years it has shown potential for palpable socio-economic growth, despite political ups and downs and natural calamities, and today it stands on the threshold of change. It’s “make or break” time, say analysts.
At this crucial point in time, it is the Awami League government which holds the reins of the nation. Riding the power on “winds of change”, it has raised people’s expectations high. However, the expectations are tinged with a degree of apprehension when it comes to international relation, regional relations in particular, as the Awami League government and its leader Sheikh Hasina, are yet to rid themselves of the pro-Indian label. Whether founded or unfounded, this stigma is there. Even if other governments have been accommodating to India’s demands, somehow it is Awami League which always bears the brunt at home if the neighbour’s overtures are too strong for comfort. And Sheikh Hasina’s recent Indian trip, along with the deals signed during the visit, has given more grist to the mill; speculations run amok.
Pundits of South Asian affairs in recent times have been watching with interest the strengthening nexus between India and the United States of America. This alliance, holy or unholy as it may be perceived, is a reality stretching from Afghanistan down to Myanmar and beyond. Bangladesh finds itself caught up in this plexus of interests and experts call for a honing of negotiating skills to ensure national interests are not sacrificed at the expense of others. “It’s a matter of give and take, and we must make sure we take as much as we give, or at least get the best deal on the table,” says a regional expert, discussing the present predicament of the country.
Now that US-India ties are cemented in no uncertain terms, the relationship equations in Bangladesh have taken a new turn. While leftist leaders have long cried themselves hoarse against “US imperialism”, they may find themselves faced with a confusing conundrum to contend with. Rather any overt presence as feared by many (in the shape of US marines swarming all over the place à la old Hollywood movies), the US is likely to use its regional ally India to do its job here.
India, over the past years, has grown in stature and clout and all indications are that the US is very much behind strengthening India as a regional power. If India has the ability to emerge as economic and strategic super power in the region, and it is proving so, it has full blessings and backing of the US. After all, India has all the features which the US values – democracy, economic strength and more. In fact, among the emerging powers of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China), India enjoys a strong reputation for democracy.
Analysts contend that the US is giving India leeway regarding Bangladesh. Whether it is its business interests or otherwise, it finds it more expedient to utilize India’s services in this regard. After all, India and Bangladesh share a multitude of commonalities in culture, methods of business and transactions, etc. It is not as if the US is giving up its interests in Bangladesh, say analysts, it has long being eying the gas, oil, coal and other mineral resources of the country, as well as the deep sea port and more. It is likely to work to this end through consortiums with India and thus ensure its interests in Bangladesh.
The US also wants to see a consolidation of Bangladesh’s image as a moderate Muslim country. It has always portrayed Bangladesh in this light. This is perhaps a departure from the Indian propensity to identify Bangladesh as a haven for “Islamist militants” or “terrorists”. But the US realizes that the sheer homogenous nature of Bangladesh’s demographic composition is unique – to a greater extent it enjoys one language, one religion and one culture.
Confirming US interests in Bangladesh, there are reports that US President Barack Obama is likely to visit Bangladesh at the end of this year or early next. This will be on the last leg of his scheduled visit to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. He has reportedly met with seven Congressmen in the US concerning Bangladesh. Three points are supposed to have been highlighted during this meeting – Bangladesh’s possible role as a moderate Muslim country; the relationship between the present government and Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammed Yunus; national unity and to what extend democracy is actually being practiced in the country. In the meantime, the Awami League government is lobbying hard to ensure Obama’s visit to Bangladesh. If he does actually come, all pending issues between the US and Bangladesh will be finalized prior to the visit.
In the meantime, China may be maintaining its characteristic inscrutable silence, but it has its eyes wide open where regional developments are concerned. If there had traditionally been more than a degree of coldness and tensions between China and the US, things have relaxed to a great extent. Trade relations have stepped up and the vibes between the two powers are more positive than they have ever been in the past. However, it is not the same story where India and China are concerned. Tensions prevail and relations are strained. The borders between the two are more often than not on alert.
It is the animosity between India and China that had made India all the more determined to strengthen its position in Bangladesh, whether through transit, use of the port, trade facilities or more. The US, on the other hand, would rather maintain its cordial bilateral ties with China. If interests conflict, says analysts, there is always India to do the needy. “With India and the US,” elaborates the analyst, “It’s a sort of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ kind of deal.”
However, the equations may not be all that simple. India and the US may have conflicting agendas in certain areas where Bangladesh is concerned. India’s actions concerning its insurgency-ridden northeastern states added to its present understanding with the Bangladesh government, may well result in a backlash in Bangladesh. The situation in Bangladesh could grow volatile and India has always propagated the idea of Islamist terrorism in Bangladesh. The US, on the other hand, is not against the Islamic forces in Bangladesh, be they Jamaat-e-Islami or other Islamic groups which represent the nation’s moderate stand. They be want to see a Muslim majority sans the stigma of terrorism.
Observers of the region feel that China is none too pleased with recent developments between Bangladesh and India. It is not happy with the position India is assuming in the region either. If its interests are threatened or hurt, China is not one to sit back and lick its wounds. Its power should not be underestimated. It is a dark horse, but has proven to the world that it is a force to contend with. And if India flexes its muscle in that direction, say analysts, China will show India exactly how powerful it is. The US, in the meantime, will be friends to all and reap the benefits.
Hasina’s government is also aware that proximity with India may rub China up the wrong way. This is not something that Bangladesh can afford. To appease the Chinese, Bangladesh is reportedly already planning all sorts of trade and business deals with China. Perhaps the construction of the deep sea port may also go to China. Other big infrastructural contracts with China are also in the pipeline.
The Myanmar factor
Another interesting development in the region was the recent tensions between Bangladesh and Myanmar. The maritime boundary issue had loomed large on the scene as casus belli, the cause of possible war being Myanmar’s claim on nautical territory which Bangladesh considers its own. India has similar claims on the waters in the bay, territory rich in mineral resources. But as Indian influence grew in Myanmar and even the US took a softer stance regarding the Myanmar military junta, the border tensions defused. Some regional experts feel that India had stepped up pressure on Bangladesh, even through Myanmar, but released the pressure as it was getting what it wanted. Others see US intervention, as it has its eyes riveted on the oil and gas blocks in the bay and Bangladesh is its best bet.
Meanwhile, within Bangladesh itself, discontent brews. Nationalist forces are going blue in the face crying foul over the deals with India. Their slogans about Bangladesh being sold out may sound like a broken record of clichés, but when the business community begins to protest, it is time to take notice.
The trade deals and business agreements between India and Bangladesh have not made the business community happy this side of the border. There is a distinct sense of apprehension that the domestic market is going straight to the hands of Indian businessmen and industrialists. As it is, Bangladesh’s poultry sector has been hit hard. If other sectors follow suit, the discontent may be manifest in more vocal and violent terms.
Dilemma over democracy
Despite degrees of dissatisfaction here and there, all seems to be going hunky dory particularly where the US-India collaboration is concerned. And the present government in Bangladesh, already in India’s good books to all apparent appearances, seems also to be winning kudos from the American side too.
However, the US has one particular concern and that is the matter of democracy. Whether through war or peace, the US has always prided itself as the champion of democracy. So when it comes to Bangladesh, it will be vigilant in its watch on democratic practice in the country.
But just how is democracy faring in Bangladesh? Antagonism continues to brew between the ruling party and major opposition BNP. BNP remains away from the parliament and the government is hardly offering them an olive branch. In the meantime, government quarters talk of a ban on religion-based politics, meaning a blow to Jamaat-e-Islami. A prohibition on Jamaat may well lead to an aggressive outburst. It won’t take much for its younger activists to turn from moderation to militancy.
The US will not condone any such detraction from democracy. It has always maintained that if democracy is to survive, a robust opposition must be allowed to flourish. But will the Awami League government allow a forceful opposition to grow? And how will India view a consolidated nationalist opposition waiting in the wings for the next election? Analysts say that they would want to see the present government at the helm for another term at least, to ensure a continuity of their agenda implementation. But what about the US determination for democracy?
Despite the intentions and the agenda, there is no foolproof guarantee that all will go according to plan. After all, “the best laid schemes of mice and men” are often known to backfire.