Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bangladesh's Big Brothers


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.

US-India nexus
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.

Inscrutable China
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.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bangladesh's secularism under Islam remaining as state religion


Secularism was one of the four pillars on which the independent Bangladesh was founded after its liberation from Pakistan in 1971. But this pillar crumbled after the murder of the founder president of Bangladesh, Shaikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975.

When Zia-ur-Rahman became president, he introduced the Fifth Amendment in the constitution of Bangladesh. This amendment legitimised all governments that had been in power following the coup of August 15, 1975, until April 9, 1979, including the late President Zia-ur-Rehman’s ascension to the presidency. It also legitimised “Bismillah-ar-Rahman-ar-Rahim” in the preamble of the country’s Constitution, and ratified over a hundred military proclamations and orders. Subsequently, when General Ershad became president he brought in Eighth Amendment to the constitution and declared Islam as state religion.

The result of these amendments was change in the nature of polity of Bangladesh. It led to formation of parties in the name of Islam. It helped top leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami who were seen as war criminals in Bangladesh to return from Pakistan. All this led to massive rise in extremism in Bangladesh.

The growing Islamisation of polity in Bangladesh made Awami League suffer greatly during the rule of four-party alliance. There were several attempts on the life of party Chief Shaikh Hasina. In fact, in one such attack on 21 August 2004, Shaikh Hasina barely survived, but lost her 23 party members including Ivy Rahman. Another top party leader Shah AMS Kibria was also murdered by the Islamist forces in a grenade attack at a rally in Habiganj on January 27, 2005. The attacks on Awami League leaders continued during the whole tenure of four-party alliance.

This sinister development in Bangladesh made very difficult for other political forces to survive. It also forced Awami League to chart a different course, and on eve of December 2008 election, party clearly decided to shun Islamist forces.

The landslide victory of Awami League in Bangladesh elections created hope of revival of the 1972 constitution. But before the government could do anything the mutiny in para-military Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) happened. Once the government got control over the situation it started acting on promises it made during the electioneering.

During the electioneering Awami League had promised that it would act against the war criminals. It also promised to stop misuse of religion in politics. The party has now an opportunity to fulfill this promise after the Bangladesh Supreme Court on January 3, 2010 lifted a four-year stay on the “abuse of religion for political purposes.” The apex court of Bangladesh has also endorsed the August 29, 2005 judgment of a three-judge Bench led by Justice ABM Khairul Haque which declared the Fifth Amendment to the country’s Constitution as “void ab initio and illegal”. This is a significant development in a country where Islamists have been threatening to establish their sway.

At the same time, however, it is also important to note that the government has decided to keep the words “Bismillah-Ar-Rahman-Ar-Rahim” in the preamble to the constitution and declaration of Islam as state religion. According to the Bangladesh prime minister Shaikh Hasina these things have been kept as they reflect the beliefs of the people. She also told her alliance leaders that they must accept the reality. Shaikh Hasina however was of the view that the spirit of the constitution would be restored with the High Courts verdict.

This cautious return towards secularism in Bangladesh shows the political realism of the Awami League. The party now knows that in the last several decades Islamist tendencies has grown in a section of people in Bangladesh which is not going to go away overnight. Though the party sometime back had announced certain measures to deradicalise the population, this strategy has still not been implemented. The arch rivals of Awami League always allege that Islam would be in danger if Awami League comes to power.

Though there is no threat to Islam per-se in Bangladesh as ninety percent of its population is Muslim, still Awami League knows that turning the clock back is not going to be easy. Hence it has made cautious move to restore secularism while leaving Islam as state religion of Bangladesh.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

India-the Elephant in the Room

Think for a moment about which countries cause the most global consternation. Afghanistan. Iran. Venezuela. North Korea. Pakistan. Perhaps rising China. But India? Surely not. In the popular imagination, the world's largest democracy evokes Gandhi, Bollywood, and chicken tikka. In reality, however, it's India that often gives global governance the biggest headache.

Of course, India gets marvelous press. Feature stories from there typically bring to life Internet entrepreneurs, hospitality industry pioneers, and gurus keeping spiritual traditions alive while lovingly bridging Eastern and Western cultures.

But something is left out of the cheery picture. For all its business acumen and the extraordinary creativity unleashed in the service of growth, today's India is an international adolescent, a country of outsize ambition but anemic influence. India's colorful, stubborn loquaciousness, so enchanting on a personal level, turns out to be anything but when it comes to the country's international relations. On crucial matters of global concern, from climate change to multilateral trade, India all too often just says no.

India, first and foremost, believes that the world's rules don't apply to it. Bucking an international trend since the Cold War, successive Indian governments have refused to sign nuclear testing and nonproliferation agreements -- accelerating a nuclear arms race in South Asia. (India's second nuclear tests in 1998 led to Pakistan's decision to detonate its own nuclear weapons.)

Once the pious proponent of a nuclear-free world, New Delhi today maintains an attitude of "not now, not ever" when it comes to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. As defense analyst Matthew Hoey recently wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, "India's behavior has been comparable to other defiant nuclear states [and] will undoubtedly contribute to a deteriorating security environment in Asia."
Not only does India reject existing treaties, but it also deep-sixes international efforts to develop new ones.

In 2008, India single-handedly foiled the last Doha round of global trade talks, an effort to nail together a global deal that almost nobody loved, but one that would have benefited developing countries most. "I reject everything," declared Kamal Nath, then the Indian commerce and industry minister, after grueling days and sleepless nights of negotiations in Geneva in the summer of 2008.

On climate change, India has been no less intransigent. In July, India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, pre-emptively told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton five months before the U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen that India, a fast-growing producer of greenhouse gases, would flat-out not accept binding carbon emissions targets.

India happily attacks individuals, as well as institutions and treaty talks. As ex-World Bank staffers have revealed in interviews with Indian media, India worked behind the scenes to help push Paul Wolfowitz out of the World Bank presidency, not because his relationship with a female official caused a public furor, but because he had turned his attention to Indian corruption and fraud in the diversion of bank funds.

By the time a broad investigation had ended -- and Robert Zoellick had become the new World Bank president -- a whopping $600 million had been diverted, as the Wall Street Journal reported, from projects that would have served the Indian poor through malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and drug-quality improvement programs.

Calling the level of fraud "unacceptable," Zoellick later sent a flock of officials to New Delhi to work with the Indian government in investigating the accounts. In a 2009 interview with the weekly India Abroad, former bank employee Steve Berkman said the level of corruption among Indian officials was "no different than what I've seen in Africa and other places."
India certainly affords its citizens more freedoms than China, but it is hardly a liberal democratic paradise.

India limits outside assistance to nongovernmental organizations and most educational institutions. It restricts the work of foreign scholars (and sometimes journalists) and bans books. Last fall, India refused to allow Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan journalists to attend a workshop on environmental journalism.

India also regularly refuses visas for international rights advocates. In 2003, India denied a visa to the head of Amnesty International, Irene Khan. Although no official reason was given, it was likely a punishment for Amnesty's critical stance on the government's handling of Hindu attacks that killed as many as 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat the previous year. Most recently, a delegation from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a congressionally mandated body, was denied Indian visas. In the past, the commission had called attention to attacks on both Muslims and Christians in India.

Nor does New Delhi stand up for freedom abroad. In the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Human Rights Council, India votes regularly with human rights offenders, international scofflaws, and enemies of democracy. Just last year, after Sri Lanka had pounded civilians held hostage by the Tamil Tigers and then rounded up survivors of the carnage and put them in holding camps that have drawn universal opprobrium, India joined China and Russia in subverting a human rights resolution suggesting a war crimes investigation and instead backed a move that seemed to congratulate the Sri Lankans.

David Malone, Canada's high commissioner in New Delhi from 2006 to 2008 and author of a forthcoming book, Does the Elephant Dance? Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy, says that, when it comes to global negotiations, "There's a certain style of Indian diplomacy that alienates debating partners, allies, and opponents." And looking forward?

India craves a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, seeking greater authority in shaping the global agenda. But not a small number of other countries wonder what India would do with that power. Its petulant track record is the elephant in the room.

Two Bangladeshis make the country proud

Retired city librarian A. Aziz Chowdhury dedicated a Bangladesh Peace Clock on the Ouellette Avenue median north of Wyandotte Street, Windsor, Canada. “This clock is my gift to the City of Windsor and Canada,” said Chowdhury. Read full story here.
Mukul Asadujjaman, a medical student who drives taxi in New York City, tracked down the person who left thousands of dollars in cash in the back of his cab. After turning down the offer of reward, he said: "I'm needy, but I'm not greedy, it's better to be honest."

Monday, January 11, 2010

India needs to respect Bangladesh

From: New York Times

India has for so long been obsessed with the security of its north-western frontier and relations with Pakistan that issues on its eastern borders have been neglected. But various events are forcing New Delhi to focus on some interrelated security challenges in the east and northeast. So the four-day state visit to India by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed of Bangladesh that began Sunday has an importance far beyond the ceremonial.

While geography alone makes Bangladesh highly dependent on its giant neighbor, India is beginning to appreciate that bullying Bangladesh makes other problems worse. In reality, both nations have security and economic issues that require cooperation.

Three particular issues have brought home India’s eastern vulnerability. The first is China’s newly confrontational stance over its claims to much of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. China regards these areas as part of Tibet. That in turn links to the second issue: separatism in some of India’s seven northeast states. The insurgency in the largest state in the region, Assam, may now be at least as troublesome as that in Kashmir. China does not at present appear to be helping the insurgents but clearly has the potential to do so.

One cause of these tensions is the third issue: the relative lack of development in the region, including nearby eastern Indian states such as Bihar and Jharkhand, which has spawned the growing insurgency. The Naxalites, radical communists who have informal links to the Maoists recently in government in Nepal, have become a major threat to the state, killing officials and disrupting rail traffic. Bangladesh may be a poster state of poverty but it has been outshining neighboring Indian states in social development.

The election of Sheikh Hasina last year has opened an opportunity for cooperation with India to which Delhi needs to respond generously. Her Awami League has long been seen as less suspicious of India than the rival Bangladesh National Party of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. She has bought some Indian good will by arresting and handing over to India the chairman of the separatist United Liberation Front of Assam. Her government is also seen as less likely to turn a blind eye to Islamic militants. But for her own credibility she must get something meaningful in return if good relations with India are to be a vote winner at home.

Top of the Bangladesh wish list is a reduction in trade barriers that contribute to a 10-to-1 trade advantage in India’s favor. But Bangladesh in turn needs to be more open to Indian investment generally and development of its gas industry in particular, which have long been stymied by nationalism and corruption.

Likewise both countries have long hurt each other by impeding transit rights and thwarting the full use of rail and river links that date back to British rule. India also has been frustrated by Dhaka’s unwillingness to be a conduit for piping Myanmar gas to energy-short eastern India.Indeed, oil and gas exploration in the Bay of Bengal is frustrated by lack of agreed boundaries between Bangladesh, India and Myanmar.

Even more fundamental issues need to be addressed. Bangladesh’s biggest security issue is water. It has legitimate worries about Indian plans for dam building on shared water resources that are the lifeblood of all of Bangladesh and much of northern India. Can the two cooperate for mutual benefit — and to oppose any plans China, the source of many of these rivers, has to divert them for its own use?

Indeed, given the depth of Chinese influence in Myanmar and its fostering of relations with Bangladesh, it is surprising that India has not made more effort to treat its neighbor with respect, not condescension. But a new chapter in relations between two nations that share so much culture, language and history could be opening if Delhi responds to Sheikh Hasina’s visit with the generosity and leadership that should be expected of the regional power.

Joi Bangla. Jai Hind.

Times of India today published a special supplement to commemorate Bangladesh's Prime Minister's state visit to India. In an article, the writer Sumali Moitra termed Hasina as 'daughter of democracy' saying her "biggest achievement is the empowerment of the masses while keeping the fabric of democracy and secularism intact."

In another article, Tariq A. Karim, Bangladesh High Commissioner to India, reminisced upon the shared history, culture and traditions of India and Bangladesh, and stressed upon further strengthening of ties between the two nations. He concluded the write-up saying: 'Joi Bangla. Jai Hind. Joi Bangladesh-India moitree'.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A little political will can do miracles in Bangla-India relations


It is one of the strange paradoxes of life that neighbours, who should have the greatest interest in living together peacefully, are often at loggerheads with each other. India and Bangladesh have also followed this pattern for the last quarter of a century. Happily for both countries, however, saner counsels seem to be prevailing now. The result is that after an unconscionably long period of mutual recriminations, India and Bangladesh have started to mend their relationship.

Much of the credit for this must go to the Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, who won a historic election in December 2008. The promise of change came in the Awami League manifesto in the 2008 election. The manifesto was a comprehensive document covering the entire range of issues relating to security, terrorism, fundamentalism, economic development with social justice, improved communications and infrastructure, and the need for good relations with India.

Although on all these issues, Sheikh Hasina’s perspective is a nationalist one, she has not lost sight of the need to improve relations with India. Her ideas for change have provided the template for moving India-Bangladesh relations forward. So, after the Hasina government came to power, the goodwill for India in Dhaka has increased and both sides are working to address their differences and promote cooperation in a wide range of areas, including commerce, railways and power.

It was perhaps for the first time that eminent participants from Bangladesh in a recently concluded Track II Dialogue organised by the Asian Institute of Transport Development stressed that Bangladesh should allay Indian concerns regarding security and terrorism. The game-changer has come in the form of Bangladesh’s highly cooperative and much appreciated attitude towards India’s security concerns. To mark its seriousness and to underline the fact that it recognises these concerns, Bangladesh has, in a significant gesture, handed over to India one of its most wanted fugitives from Assam.

India had invested so much in the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. Now that the atmospherics are favourable, India should lend its helping hand once again. A secular, democratic and stable Bangladesh is in India’s long-term interest. Getting Bangladesh on board for pursuing anti-terrorism is particularly important to keep at bay those who have often used that country as a base to destabilise India. From Bangladesh’s perspective, it can take advantage of India’s strategic opening to the east and be a partner in the growing economic integration of the region.

There appears to be a feeling in India that it is only Bangladesh that would benefit from the India-Bangladesh engagement. But the truth is that there is a great deal that India can also learn from Bangladesh, especially in the area of service delivery to the poor, be it in health, education, microfinance or the empowerment of women. On all these indicators, Bangladesh has outperformed India by a significant margin.

Because of asymmetry of size and resources, India should not necessarily insist on immediate reciprocity in all matters. It has greater options and can afford to wait awhile for the dividends that will come with growing trust and confidence. Issues like the unresolved land and maritime boundaries, exchange of enclaves, improved connectivity and sharing of water resources are capable of early resolution given a modicum of political will and pragmatism on both sides.

Illegal migration remains a contentious issue, but India will have to recognise the fact that prosperity attracts not just capital — as can be seen from capital inflows — but also labour. More rapid development in Bangladesh, with Indian assistance, and the ability to exploit economies of scale by tapping the vast Indian market could provide a powerful stimulus to the Bangladesh economy and generate additional jobs and opportunities that would restrain labour outflows.

While there are 25 trading points between India and Bangladesh, infrastructure facilities are woefully inadequate. Cumbersome transshipment procedures at borders, lengthy documentation required at the check-posts and deficiencies in smooth transportation — all put constraints on trade activities. Traders on either side of the border are required to furnish multiple documents that need to have about 250 signatures of different officials on both sides.

It takes around five days to transport goods over a distance less than 100 km from Kolkata through Petrapole in India to Benapole in Bangladesh. Complex regulations have been instrumental in the proliferation of usurious intermediaries and a rise in 'informal' trade, a euphemism for smuggling and criminal activities.

India can help in improving the transport infrastructure of Bangladesh, particularly its rail system. Railways, as a mode of transport, need a critical mass in terms of network and volumes of traffic to sustain themselves. Bangladesh Railways lack both. Indeed, the partition of the subcontinent has in a way meant the death of smaller railway systems dismembered from the subcontinent rail network.

Hence, the imperative of connecting once again with the Indian Railways network to provide through movement of goods to the north-eastern states of India. In the process, Bangladesh Railways would gain the required volumes to become a viable entity. “Connect” was the mantra given by the well-known British novelist E M Forster to mend ties between countries, races and civilisations.

The visit by Sheikh Hasina should hopefully help to connect the two countries at political, strategic and economic levels. Indeed, it could well mark a turning point in their relationship for the good of the people, particularly the poor of the subcontinent who live at the margins of existence.

Bangladesh ranks 144th position among 194 countries as the Best Places to Live

International Living recently released its 2010 Quality of Life Index and Bangladesh secured 144th place among 194 countries that offer the international travelers the best quality of life.

The Quality of Life Index consider nine categories: Cost of Living, Culture and Leisure, Economy, Environment, Freedom, Health, Infrastructure, Safety and Risk, and Climate. The best 10 places to live are: France, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, New Zealand, Luxembourg, United States, Belgium, Canada and Italy.

Bangladesh’s total score was 50 with the following breakdown of numbers in nine categories:

Cost of Livin 65
Leisure & Cultur 30
Economy 42
Environment 62
Freedom 50
Health 36
Infrastructure 52
Risk & Safety 57
Climate 49
Final Score 50

For details, visit here:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bangladesh's political reality


First: Bangladesh’s strategic location over the past 40 years or so has attracted keen interest from Britain, America and more recently China. These powers compete with each other— China to a much lesser degree— to influence Bangladeshi politics. It is true that India exercises the greatest influence over Bangladesh, but it is not included in the same rank as aforementioned powers. This is because India’s control over Bangladeshi affairs is largely shaped by Britain and America, and executed by their political servants in the Indian government. For instance it is quite evident that during the rule of the Congress Party a favorable British policy is pursued towards Bangladesh. However, the exact opposite is true when BJP is in power, which actively seeks to safeguard American interests in Bangladesh.

The crafting of such colonialist plans and their subsequent execution through political intrigues are influenced by four strategic factors related to Bangladesh’s location, geography and mineral deposits. These are:-

1. India strategic weakness is Bangladesh, as it is laterally located in India’s belly and separates India from seven of its North Eastern states known as the ‘Seven Sisters’. These states Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh are effectively landlocked by Bangladesh. Assam is the gateway through which the sister states are connected to the mainland. But Assam’s only link between motherland India is a 13mile wide conduit known as Shiliguri Corridor or the chicken’s neck.

The latter term reflects the extreme vulnerability of India, which can be easily exploited by Bangladesh to dismember mainland India from the seven sisters. In fact the only effective means of transporting goods between mainland India and her North Eastern states is Shiliguri Corridor. And for some of the remotest North Eastern states such as Tripura the supplies have to traverse a distance of circa 2000km from mainland India. Furthermore, in the absence of a trade agreement between India and Bangladesh, that permits India’s North Eastern states to use Bangladesh’s Chittagong Port – located hardly 40 miles from Tripura— exporting goods from the seven sisters is cumbersome, expensive and inefficient.

The apparent neglect of the region by successive governments in New Delhi has fueled resentment against India and spawned several secessionist movements backed by foreign powers. The main insurgent groups in the northeast include two factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in Nagaland; Meitei extremists in Manipur; and the all Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) and the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) in Tripura. Another factor that complicates India ’s relationship with its North Eastern states in China ’s proximity to the seven sisters . China abuts Arunachal Pradesh and is known to support several rebel movements in the region. In 1962, China occupied almost half of Arunachal Pradesh with relatively ease.

All of this implies that the longevity of the Seven Sisters as part of India is greatly dependent upon India’s ability to provide basic services and security to the people. To mitigate risk of war with China and quell insurgencies, India maintains about 400,000 troops in the area and has established its largest air base near Shiliguri Corridor.

2. Bangladesh is considered the gateway to Bay of Bengal with its 45000 sq. miles of sea territory in which lies valuable marine resources such as hydrocarbon, fisheries etc. Its well developed sea ports offer both economic and military opportunities for India, UK, US and China. India can use the port facilities to increase trade with its land locked North East region. Whilst the US views the control of Bangladesh’s ports as means of extending its Naval power in the Bay of Bengal and curbing China’s ambitions to expand its navy eastwards. Establishing permanent US military bases in the area will facilitate the rapid deployment of US soldiers to the Chinese borders should the need arise.

Moreover, there are certain areas along the Bangladeshi coastal line that offer protection to radar instruments thereby making it difficult to detect US submarines. Meanwhile China’s interest in the sea ports is to use the facilities to safeguard oil shipment and trade routes in the Indian Ocean. Chinese navy is making rapid progress in developing relations with Myanmar and Bangladesh to gain access to their ports and use them to help china sustain a considerable naval presence in the area. Britain on the other hand is content in pushing the Indian navy under US auspices to counter China’s naval expansion and protect the sea routes for her goods to the far eastern markets.

3. India’s rapid industrialization has made the country the sixth largest energy consumer in the world. India is forced to import oil to meet 70% of her domestic demand at a cost of 40% of her total export earnings. To wean herself off Middle Eastern oil, India has tried to diversify and look at Iran and Venezuela as alternative suppliers of hydrocarbons. But political pressure by Washington has forced New Delhi to almost abandon plans to import gas from Iran and look towards Bangladesh and Myanmar as potential suppliers of energy. Hence Bangladesh’s gas reserve has added another dimension to relations between New Delhi and Dakka.

4. The colonialist view Bangladesh as a means of consolidating globalization in South Asia and South East Asia by connecting remote areas and countries such as the seven sisters, Nepal, Bhutan and Burma together—effectively connecting SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) and ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) countries—to facilitate trade, and economic liberalization of the region’s economies. Once linked by Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway, the South and South East Asian nations will be able to use Bangladesh as the main transit point to increase economic trade and boost profits for western multinationals.

Second: Ever since the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan, India has done its utmost to keep Bangladesh in its orbit of influence. The role between the two countries was initially led by the English through Indira Ghandi of the Congress Party in India, and through Shaikh Mujib ur-Rahman of the Awami League in Bangladesh. The English used a variety of means and tactics to weaken Bangladesh and prevent America from consolidating its presence in the country. Furthermore, the measures adopted by the English were design to keep Bangladesh perpetually dependent on India. These measures can be described as:-

1- India has repeatedly refused to resolve territorial issues with Bangladesh despite a signed agreement between the two countries in 1974. Instead, India has used the non ratification of the border agreement and its reluctance to find solution to maritime border dispute to pressurize and keep successive Bangladeshi governments preoccupied with border disputes. The belligerent stance of Indian border forces along 4096 km.

2- India has poignantly declined to meet its water sharing obligation with Bangladesh. Bangladesh has 58 trans-boundary rivers, and many of these rivers are fed by the river Ganges that flows from Northern India into Bangladesh. One such example is that in 1974, India intentionally built the Farakka Barrage 10km away from the border with Bangladesh to control flow of the river thereby depriving Bangladesh of water.

3- India’s aggressiveness towards Bangladesh is not limited to border disputes and the abuse of water sharing treaties. India actively supported— and still does today— a number of secessionist movements in Bangladesh. India took advantage of Bangladesh’s geographic proximity to its Tripura state and mobilized its military and intelligence apparatus to provide assistance to Shanti Bahini. The aim of the movement is to exploit the desire of the local Chakma tribes for greater autonomy with an ultimate goal of creating Jumma land-an independent state for Chakmas. Indian involvement in providing money and weapons to tribal insurgents in the Chittagong Hill Tracks since 1976.

4- India has also adopted a protectionist policy on trade with Bangladesh. India has extracted heavy concessions for its goods but has not reciprocated for Bangladeshi goods reaching the Indian market. This has resulted in a trade deficit of $2 billion dollars with India. The net effect of this policy is that India has managed to exert a considerable economic stranglehold over the Bangladesh economy.

To counter some of these measures America instructed the Bangladeshi army to support insurgent movements in India — like the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). The US also worked to strengthen ties between Bangladesh and Pakistan. But these initiatives made little headway and failed to lessen the grip of pro-English Congress Party and her allies. However, when BJP came to power in India in 1999 and the Bangladeshi National Party (BNP) took the reigns of power in Bangladesh in 2001 tensions between the two countries cooled. This was because both leaders of both parties in both countries were American agents.

Nonetheless, America was unable to turn this advantageous situation into a successful outcome, as she was completely consumed by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hence no significant progress was made on any of the important bilateral issues as mentioned above.

Third: Sequence of political events in Bangladesh
When the formation of Pakistan was announced in 1947, it included the territory of Bengal and this was then known as the East Pakistan and later came to be called as Bangladesh. It was led by the National Awami Party which was under Mujib ur Rehman who was raised and grew up in Christian missionaries and started a national campaign for the people of Bengal separate itself from Pakistan. In 1966, he set a 6 point programme for his party which he founded in 1960 on the name of Awami League which was aimed at separating East Pakistan from the Western part. General elections were held in Pakistan in December 1970 in which the Awami Party won a majority and secured 162 of the 313 seats in the Pakistani parliament.

Then president of Pakistan, General Yahya Khan indefinitely delayed the formation of the new parliament on the ground that the Awami Party was to demand that the parliament lays down a constitution for the country within 120 days as provided in the constitutional clause for amending it and it proposed to incorporate its six-points program which would lead to bifurcation of Pakistan. Therefore Yahya Khan asked Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the leader of the Peoples Party, which was opposed to Mujib ur Rehman’s demands and Insist on the unity of Pakistan, to hold discussions with Mujib ur Rehman and convince him to go back on his demands. But Mujib ur Rehman refused to budge and persisted in his demands and called for nation wide protests and demonstrations which created major chaos across the country.

There was a major rebellion in East Pakistan in march 1971, Mujib ur Rehman who unilaterally declared the formation of Bangladesh was arrested and taken to prison in West Pakistan, but India in connivance with guerillas and militant supporters of the Awami party in East Pakistan launched a military attack in December 1971 infiltrated into East Pakistan and reached the capital city Dhaka on 16th December, 1971and declared the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan on the same day. Mujib ur Rehman, who was released by Pakistan in early 1972 immediately left for the British capital London and held a press conference there on 6th January, 1971 and then came to his country as the ruler under the patronage of Indian soldiers.

India was then ruled by the Congress Party led by Indira Gandhi who pursued a pro-British policy and supported Mujib ur Rehman and his party, the Awami League to come to power in Bangladesh. Indian armed forces stormed into capital Dhaka and helped Mujib ur Rehman to achieve his objectives. He was also supported by Britain whose media services created an anti-Yahya Khan atmosphere of public opinion.

In January 1975 decided to take over the president ship of the country and consolidate the armed forces under his direct command. He introduced a single party rule then banned and harassed all the opposition parties. The armed forces staged a coup against him on 15th August, 1975 accusing him of creating chaos, indulging in corruption and subjugating the country under Indian hegemony by forming a special armed forces command under the name of Rakkhi Baheti(The Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini was a highly controversial political militia force formed in 1975 with a status of an elite force which was loyal to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

It was assigned an apparent functionality of recovering arms from the civilians but actually acted as an armament to protect the Sheikh Mujibur Rahman-regime from military coup and other armed challenges.) to achieve his aims. He was further accused of serving Indian interests. Some of the soldiers assassinated him and his entire family except his daughter Sheikha Hasina and her sister Sheikha Raihana who happened to be outside the country on that day.

Situation worsened in the coming years and the country faced coup after coup in quick succession and in fact three military coups took place within three months until the pro-US General Zia ur Rehman seized power and promised to hold general elections in the country. A referendum was held in April 1977 which brought General Zia as president. Presidential elections were conducted where he was elected as president of the republic. Martial law was revoked in 1979 and elections were held and General Zia’s Bangla National Party (BNP) won a majority of seats. In the new political environment created by General Zia wherein political activity was permitted, Sheikha Hasina could now return to her country.

She came to Bangladesh on 17th May, 1981 after a six-year stay abroad –in Germany – following the killing of her father Mujib ur Rehman and his family members. During this year’s period, she shuttled between England and India since her relations with these two countries were excellent like her father’s, and she is like her father’s which are agents of the British. Her return emboldened her party which was backed by Britain and during this period, General Zia was murdered on 30th August, 1981. However the armed forces did not allow her and her party to return to power in the wake of General Zia’s killing, rather Abdul Sattar, an aide to the late General Zia was appointed as president of the country.

When the army found Abdul Sattar to be weak and feared the return of the Awami Party to power, Abdul Sattar was dethroned in a bloodless coup by General Hussain Mohammed Irshad in 1982 and he became the president towards the end of 1983. Although General Hussain Mohammed Irshad formed a political party called the Jatiya Party to make a political base for himself, his tenure as president until 1990 was marred by chaos and there were widespread and violent protests against his rule and he was forced to resign. He was sentenced to jail and was later released.

Thus the period from General Zia’s assassination on 30th August, 1981 and until 1990 was not stable from America’s position, but even the British influence was not much in evidence. But by February 1991, when elections were held, America was able to turn the tide in favour of the BNP led by Khalida Zia, General Zia’s widow and she won the elections. In August 1991, the parliament approved a law to transform the country from a presidential form of governance to the parliamentary system and in September 1991 the constitution was amended to give executive powers to the prime minister rendering the president’s post as a titular and honorary head of the republic.

Situation remained so and sometimes the British would have the upper hand through the role of their Awami League and sometimes the US would gain power through their allies the BNP coming to power….

Parliamentary elections were held in February 1996 wherein the BNP led by khlaida won the election easily because all the other parties boycotted it, so the election was ordered again in June 1996 in which Sheikha Hasina Wajid, the daughter of Mujib ur Rehman won the election and became the prime minister . Her role continued until 2001.

In October, 2001 elections were held again wherein the BNP led by Khalida Zia won in coalition with the Jatiya Party of General Hussain Mohammed Irshad and the Jama’at e Islami. Sheikha Hasina alleged irregularities in the elections, refused to accept the results and demanded fresh elections, but America was quick to support the BNP and accepted the results as valid. The spokesman of the US State Department issued a statement on 5th October, 2001 and declared that America accepts the election results and urged all political parties of Bangladesh to do the same. [BBC: 05.10.2001]. Thus the coalition led by Khalida Zia continued in power until October 2006.

Under the law of Bangladesh, formation of an interim or transitional government is required for a period of 90 days until the next elections are completed. But the Awami League refused to accept the appointment of the K.M Hassan, the ex -Chief Justice of Bangladesh as the interim President, accused him of being inclined towards the BNP and demanded the removal of the Chief Election Commissioner M Azeez and his deputies accusing them also of being in league with the BNP. When these demands were not met, her party created disturbances and violent events took place lasting for full week which forced the Chief Election Commissioner M Azeez to resign from his post. Accordingly, the Bangally president Yaj-uddeen Ahmad decided to be him self the interim prime minister to held the elections in Jan 2007 .

This strengthened the popularity of Sheikha Hasina and she became more popular than Khalida Zia of the BNP since the latter part of Khalida Zia’s rule i.e. from 2001 until 2006 was very corrupt and she lost her popularity. Hence America feared that if the elections were allowed to be held under such circumstances, Sheikha Hasina was certain to win and the British would again gain influence in the country. Therefore it supported the armed forces to hold on to power and delay the holding of elections as long as possible until the US and her allies were in a position to set things right in their favour so that their influence could prevail in the country.

So the army forced the president Yaj-uddeen Ahmad to impose emergency and cancel elections which were scheduled to be held on 22th January, 2007. The emergency was imposed in 11 Jan 2007, and the elections were canceled. After that the president resigned, and the ex-Bangladesh central bank chief Fakhr uddin Ahmed became the interim prime minister, then he formed a so-called ‘technocratic’ government in order to rescue Bangladesh from dire economic chaos, because Fakhr uddin Ahmed was an economist and aimed fight political corruption the country.

In order to postpone the elections indefinitely, the armed forces chief of staff of Bangladesh remarked that democratic elections were not feasible in an unstable country like Bangladesh. More than 150 politicians, businessmen and government officials were arrested on charges of corruption including the former prime minister Sheikha Hasina. The British exercised their influence to secure her release and deputed six of the parliament members who sent a letter to the Bangladesh government which was published in the British daily ‘Times’ on 23rd July, 2007 wherein they had demanded the release of Sheikha Hasina.

The Bangladesh government did not respond to their letter and when emergency was proclaimed in early 2007, she spent her time outside the country as she was prevented by the interim government from returning to the country. But Sheikha Hasina insisted on returning and spent two weeks at the Heathrow Airport in London before finally heading home. But she was arrested on arrival in Bangladesh on 7th May, 2007 and remained in prison for one year. But this imprisonment did not serve the purpose it was meant to and her popularity increased in public… then on 3 September, 2007, the interim government arrested Khalida Zia who also spent a year in jail. This was meant to seize the opportunity from the British and their agents in Bangladesh so that they could not exploit the arrest of Sheikha Hasina and affect the popularity of Khalida Zia and her followers.

But America realised that by now the popularity of Khalida Zia was waning, so they tried to cobble up a coalition that could withstand and confront the forces loyal to the British and their Awami League. Hence America began to nurture Mohammed Yunus, a Nobel Prize winner and other politicians from Sheikha Hasina’s party immediately after the formation of the interim government. Mohammed Yunus was called as the ‘Poor man’s banker’ and he was asked to form a new political party called the Nagrik Shakti (People’s Power) and this formation was announced on 18th February, 2007.

This new political party had the backing of the interim government as well as the armed forces so that the US could have a new base after its former BNP had lost its popularity or at least have another political force parallel to its earlier ally which could confront Sheikha Hasina’s Awami League and weaken it by enticing the poorer sections of the society to its side. Sheikha Hasina expressed her displeasure at this development and told her followers:” The new generation of politicians is dangerous elements and they should not be trusted, they may cause more harm than any good.” [BBC: 19.02.2007]. However, Mohammed Yunus could not make use of the advantage he had been given and was stopped by Sheikha Hasina.

Now the US had no other option but to reach some sort of an agreement with Sheikha Hasina or other British agents and remove any obstacles in the path of her coming to power and protect American interests, and indeed it did so. As soon as Sheikha Hasina was released from prison 11th June, 2008, she travelled to the United States on the very next day and stayed there until 6th November, 2008. It appears that mutual issues were sorted out during this period and arrangements were made with her in consultation with Britain that America’s security and trade interests will be protected.

This became evident when after her victory in the elections and assuming charge of country’s prime minister she offered an investment and trade agreement with the United States and America called for setting up of a new regional force to fight terror….it was clear that these agreements were concluded earlier but were not announced. These agreements were reached before the elections and Sheikha Hasina herself stated this in a statement reported by Reuters on 7th February, 2009, she said:” I had this idea before the national elections held on 29th December, 2008, but the details were not public until today.”

Thus, as a result of her understanding with the US, and after two years of emergency, elections were held on 29th December, 2008 wherein her Awami League achieved a landslide victory securing 75% of the votes. The national opposition led by Khalida Zia received a major drubbing at the polls getting merely 10% votes.

The huge margin of victory could not have happened without America’s consent or intervention by the Bangladeshi army. Indeed, US welcomed Hasina’s victory. In testimony to Congress, US Assistant Secretary Blake said that President Barack Obama’s administration was upbeat about the world’s third-largest Muslim majority country due to its commitment to democracy and because “extremism finds little popular support.”Blake said the election was “the fairest and most transparent” vote in Bangladesh’s nearly 40-year history.

This indicates that America expects Hasina to make use her newfound majority in parliament to press ahead with the pro-American reforms started by the interim government. On a visit to Bangladesh last month, US Assistant Secretary Blake reiterated the type of reforms US had earmarked for Bangladesh. He said, “The U.S. will continue to support Bangladesh as it extends its democratic roots and will help Bangladesh with economic development, education, and humanitarian response to natural disasters.” If Hasina does not reciprocate then it is fully anticipated that the US will oust her from power.

But this may not be easy for America to accomplish. This is due to two major factors. First, the opposition has been decimated by the general elections and is in disarray. It will take considerable time remould the BNP and its allies to mount an effective challenge to the Awami League. To mitigate this hurdle the US has told Hasina to reach out to the opposition. Second, the continuation of the Congress Party’s rule in India means that the British have substantial means at their disposal to not only thwart such a move, but also increase the magnitude and scope of the existing problems that have plagued bilateral relations between the two countries.

The Indian government has already started to meddle in Bangladesh’s internal affairs. In April 2009, Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon met Hasina during what was widely reported as “a surprise visit” and told her that her life was in danger. Subsequently, Hasina took steps to upgrade security for herself and her family.

Fourth: It must be noted that though the British agents were able to assassinate General Zia ur Rehman in 1981, the US had acquired excellent means of control over the armed forces during his tenure. This is why despite his murder; the British agents were not in a position to assume power following the demise of General Zia ur Rehman and Abdul Sattar, the late president’s deputy became the new president. And when the army realized the weakness of Abdul Sattar and feared that this weakness could be exploited by Britain and her agents to come back to power, General Hussain Mohammed Irshad staged a bloodless coup in 1982.

Yet, the atmosphere during that period was not very conducive for the US either; this is evident from the conduct of General Irshad who restored the parliamentary form of government in 1986 and revoked it again the next year only to restore it once again in 1990 in an attempt to stabilize the political situation. This hesitation and wavering indicates that this relative stability was not really to the advantage of America. General Irshad was pursuing the policies of General Zia who was pro-US especially in leading the country towards market economy which the US had fervently pursued during the era of President Ronald Reagan and by trying to entice the Muslim sentiments by officially declaring 1988 that Islam is the state religion of Bangladesh which he incorporated into the constitution and included a clause to that effect.

He pursued in this General Zia who revoked the secular foundation of the state and the constitution which Mujib ur Rehman did, and had laid down and replaced this with Islam. Also General Irshad changed the name of his Jatiya Party into National Islamic Party, and formed an alliance with Khalida Zia in 1999 and included the Jama’at e Islami of Bangladesh. This coalition under Khalida Zia succeeded in winning the 2001 general elections.

The Bangladesh army tried its best to weaken Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League, so when the armed forces realised that after the 2006 fall of Khalida Zia’s government which was allied with the US, the balance of power was tilting to Sheikha Hasina’s Awami League’s advantage, it imposed martial law “emergency” through the country’s president. And canceled the elections which was scheduled in 22 Jan 2007.

All this signifies the differences that the army had with Sheikha Hasina which were visible even when she was in power. India wanted to exploit her closeness with Sheikha Hasina as fast as it could. India wanted to weaken the border guard (Bangladesh Rifles) and create a rift between the Bangladesh Rifles and the Bangladesh army, so it launched a bloody attack against them in connivance with Sheikha Hasina’s government in the end of Feb last which resulted in the killing of some 100 guards. The BBC reported on 7th March, 2009 that the army was angry at the performance of the government in this matter.

It was also reported on ‘YouTube’ that there was a heated exchange of argument between the army leadership and Sheikha Hasina which lasted 3 hours wherein the army expressed their anger and displeasure with her and severely criticized her handling of the issue. The government was clearly embarrassed when this exchange was leaked and therefore it announced the banning of this website as well as other similar sites. This clearly demonstrates that all is not well between the army and Sheikha Hasina’s government, as well as that she is still very close to India and therefore with Britain and not completely allied with the US despite her agreement with them.

The army is not on good terms with Sheikha Hasina and her government and it harbors Islamic sentiments which means that it would work better with governments that are similarly placed and not with those that are inclined towards secularism. Which means the army is closer to Zia ur Rehman and his party rather than Mujib ur Rehman and his party…

The geographical location of Bangladesh is strategic, both in regional terms as well as globally and this is because of its location and natural advantages…

The political situation is volatile; sometimes Britain dominates through the Awami League and sometimes it is the US which uses the BNP to exercise its influence.

The present political situation is worrying and that is because although Sheikha Hasina is loyal to Britain, she has made some concessions to the US as well and offered a trade and investment agreements with it. The US has called for setting up of a new specialized force to combat terrorism.

In fact, the US had floated this much earlier, Reuters reported a statement of Richard Boucher, US Asst. Secretary of State on 7th February, 2009, wherein he urged Bangladesh for setting up of this force. This was after his meeting with the Bangladesh Interior Minister Sahara Khatoon, he had said: “This is an excellent idea and we want to study it carefully.” But six months later, the US had still not approved the Bangladesh proposal because it wanted this force to be a regional force under its political influence and executive control.

On the other hand under British influence, Bangladesh wanted it to be a regional force comprising Britain and India along with the US, which is not acceptable to America… Further, Bangladesh continues to be allied with Britain and concludes agreements with India that facilitate Indian influence. One instance of this is the suggested transit agreement and setting up of a port in the Bay of Bengal…

Thus, Sheikha Hasina’s agreement with the US is rather fragile and America will do its utmost to keep Bangladesh tightly under its stronghold. And in future, Britain along with the Congress Party of India will also exert all its efforts to retain Bangladesh within its grip. This does not bode well for Sheikha Hasina’s government because a conflict between US and Britain in Bangladesh will be volatile and not passive except if one of them succeeded to make the balance of power tilting to his side. Their agents are the fodder for a conflict.

Allah has hardened their hearts, may Allah protect the Muslim from their mischief and sustain them on truth, and He (swt) is all powerful.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

BNP's obstructionist politics is undermining Bangladesh

From The Daily Star editorial:

WE are distressed by the tone and tenor of Begum Khaleda Zia's remarks at Paltan Maidan on Friday. The BNP leader has in effect held out a good number of threats and warnings at the government with regard to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's forthcoming official visit to India.

The leader of the opposition has made it clear that if, in her opinion, the prime minister concludes an honourable deal in Delhi, she will be welcomed home with garlands; but if, again in her words, she fails to preserve the national interest, her path once she returns home will be strewn with thorns. Such remarks are plainly and disturbingly abrasive and certainly do little to help either the opposition or those it presumes to speak for.

The unvarnished truth here is that the opposition is presuming a little too much and clearly expects the prime minister to resolve all outstanding issues with India to our satisfaction with just one visit. The position the BNP chairperson has taken is thus quite indefensible, given that she is patently prejudging the outcome of the talks between the Bangladesh and Indian heads of government.

In diplomacy, while it may be all right to analyse issues before a summit takes place, it is all wrong to give people the impression that failure will be the eventual result of such a meeting and that national interests will be trampled underfoot. Patriotism cannot be the monopoly of a group or party, which is why we believe Begum Zia should have been more circumspect in her remarks before a partisan audience as the one she addressed at Paltan Maidan.

As a former prime minister and as one who ought to be well acquainted with the issues the country faces vis-à-vis dealing with its neighbours, she should have demonstrated more maturity rather than draw the premature conclusion that Sheikh Hasina was on her way toward undermining Bangladesh's interests in Delhi.

Such obstructionist politics has constantly undermined the country. Where the BNP's position on the performance of the present government is concerned, one needs to raise the question of what it itself did about handling the issues the nation is now burdened with when the party was in power. Begum Zia and her followers are today justifiably raising such questions as Tipaimukh and the like. Unfortunately, the nation is not aware of what steps the BNP government took between 2001 and 2006 to handle the crisis.

Begum Zia's assertion that her party is committed to the democratic process is praiseworthy. And yet such an assertion is belied by the fact that the opposition, for no credible reason and despite new assurances by the Jatiyo Sangsad speaker, has stubbornly stayed away from Parliament. Now, the issues Begum Zia raised at Paltan Maidan on Friday should have been placed in the House, for that is where the nation expects all matters to be deliberated on and resolved. By threatening to go for an agitation on the streets, the former prime minister has deeply disappointed and embarrassed the country. The extent to which such a position can undermine democracy and push the country toward chaos can only be imagined.

It is time, we believe, for Begum Zia and her party to rethink their politics. A year ago the nation voted for change. It remains the moral duty of all, especially the opposition, to respect that verdict. Let the nation not be taken for granted any more by anyone.