urge parliamentary scrutiny of the state within a state of the Khakis, especially the dreaded spy agency (DGFI). The interference of the Khakis into state politics will once again jeopardize institutionalization of elective democracy, good governance and secularism. The rogues fear social justice activists, critics, politicians and journalists too - Joy Manush!
Candle light vigil for those dead in massive landslides - Photo: Facebook
Rangamati is cut off from rest of the
Bangladesh. The unprecedented landslides in Rangamati which damaged the vital
road infrastructures to and from the picturesque hill town.
Two roads which connect Rangamati have been
devoured in the landslides during torrential rains in advent of monsoon.
Already, Barrister Anisul Islam Mahmud,
Minister, Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts
Affairs (MoCHTA) Bir Bahadhur, State Minister, Secretary of MoCHTA, Naba Bikram
Kishore Tripura, Additional Secretary Kamal Talukder, Joint Secretary, MoCHTA,
Sudatta Chakma, are in Rangamati to assess the situation.
The Ministers and senior officials in
Rangamati held coordination meetings with officials of the district
administration officials and Bangladesh Army and that the crucial road
communication “will take a long time to repair”, wrote Bikram Kishore Tripura
in Facebook on Saturday.
A crucial meeting of Relief and
Rehabilitation Coordination was held on Friday at Deputy Commissioner,
Rangamati's Conference Room. The meeting was attended by Tarun Ghosh, Vice
Chairman, Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board (CHTDB), Brig Gen Faruk,
Region Commander, Rangamati, Ushaton Talukdar MP, Chakma Circle Chief Barrister
Debashish Roy, Riaz Ahmad, Director General, Disaster Management, Rangamati
Police Chief Syed Tariqul.
The Secretary also wrote that at “the
moment Rangamati is [only] accessible through waterways from Kaptai.”
The death tolls of the massive landslides have
killed more than 100 people and nearly 40 are still missing. Rescue operation
is going round the clock to find any survivors.
Meanwhile, Rangamati District
Administration has banned procession and rallies in the Hill district for a
Some has also posted in Naba Bikram Kishore
Tripura’s Facebook that the nature has taken its revenge for man-made
deforestation, hill-cutting to build houses and agriculture farms.
Former Conservator of Forest, Mihir Kiran,
writes: “Very sad and heart breaking. Demographic balance is must for the soil
condition of the region. Otherwise we have to face the same unbearable fate
Tripura in a response said: Ideal but
difficult to implement. You (Mihir Kiran) were one of the longest serving CCF
of FD. You had the experience of failure in plantation in CHT, of course it was
our collective failure, not at all personal. Nature has given us a grim signal.
We must act without further delay. Time is running out fast.
However, Kirti Nishan Chakma writes in
Facebook that “We can and must dissect the causes that has led to this tragedy.
But this can wait a little later.”
“Urgent help is needed at the moment. There
is a real risk of crisis of the essentials (rice, dal, salt, medicines, etc.)
as that the two roads that connects Rangamati to the rest of the country are
now completely cut off and repairing them is likely to take a long time given
the hilly terrain,” opines writes Kirti Nishan Chakma, General Secretary at
Moanoghar a home for distressed children in the Hills.
real scarcity of the essentials, maybe it is panic buying or hoarding by the
people that is exhausting the available stocks, maybe it the typical dishonest
traders who are trying to make quick bucks on the back of this catastrophe.
Whatever are reasons, immediate interventions by the government is needed,”
writes General Secretary at Moanoghar.
Already the price of the essentials is
rising. It is not only Rangamati town, the entire or most of the Rangamati
district could be affected.
However, the MoCHTA Secretary affirms that
the government will do the needful for the relief, rehabilitation of the
distressed people and repairs and reconstruction of the infrastructures. We
have to have some patience. First published in The Asian Age, July 19, 2017
Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow (USA), is an award winning investigating journalist and is Special Correspondent, The Asian Age, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Impunity reigns high in crimes against
journalists and freethinkers in Bangladesh.
The media in Bangladesh continued to
experience intimidation, harassment, attacks and arrests during the period May
2016 to April 2017. Bangladeshi journalists and freethinkers to be framed,
attacked and killed for exposing corruption and reporting the news. The
downward slide of press freedom in Bangladesh continued in the reported period.
Although freedom of expression and freedom of the press are constitutionally
guaranteed for every citizen of Bangladesh, the governments enacted various
laws hindering these rights. The increased offensive of extremist groups, though
not targeting journalists directly during the period of the review, continues
to remain a big threat.
Most of the intimidation, detentions and
arrests were made under the infamous cybercrime law, Section 57 of Information
and Communication Technology Act of 2006 (ICT Act). The draconian law has taken
a heavy toll on journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and social media activists,
especially users of Facebook. The period has also been challenging for print
and electronic media.
The ICT Act, which empowers law enforcers
to arrest any person without warrant, has a maximum punishment of 14 years
imprisonment. Section 57 of the law criminalises ‘publishing fake, obscene or
defaming information in electronic form.’ Critics say that several provisions
of this law are either vague or unnecessarily criminalise legitimate expression
and recommend that clauses 46 and 57 of the ICT Act should be repealed in their
ICT ACT CHALLENGED
Considerable confusion exists within
government circles about the draconian law. Several contradictory statements have
emerged. The authorities in August 2016 announced that the government was set
to amend the ICT Act, but did not set a timeline or comment on scrapping of the
The government said it was contemplating
abolition of Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology
(Amendment) Act, 2013, by enacting a new law, the ‘Digital Security Act, 2016’,
which has been prepared by the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Division.
The explanation given for the proposed amendment was that the law conflicts
with four Articles of the state constitution and also muzzles the freedom of
speech and expression of the media.
However, the proposed draft of the Digital
Security Act has drawn some criticism as well and there are fears that it could
be more repressive than the existing ICT Act. The draft Act proposes setting up
a Digital Security Agency for monitoring and supervising digital content;
communications mediums including mobile phones to prevent cyber-crime; a
Digital Forensic Lab; and a Bangladesh Cyber Emergency Incident Response Team
(Bangladesh-CERT). The Digital Security Agency would be able to order a ban on
communication in extraordinary situations on any individual or service provider
and these agencies could be legally mandated to carry out activities such as
internet shutdowns or surveillance contrary to freedom of expression and press
The proposed Act also has provisions to
control cyber crimes in the form of hacking, impersonation, violation of privacy;
and states that ‘any derogatory comments, remarks, campaign or propaganda in
electronic media made by a person, institution or foreign citizen, against the
war of liberation, or father of the nation or any issue that has been settled
by the Court shall amount to an offense’ which are ‘cognizable and
non-bailable’. The offense carries punishment ranging from three years in prison
to life imprisonment and/or a hefty fine. The wording leaves huge gaps in
interpretation and journalists could face a tougher time for their writing published
A writ petition was also filed with the
High Court on August 26, challenging the legality of Section 57 of the ICT (Amendment)
Act, 2013, according to which, if any person deliberately publishes any
material in electronic form that causes law and order to deteriorate,
prejudices the image of the state or person or causes hurt to religious belief,
the offender will be punished for a maximum of 14 years and minimum seven years
of imprisonment. The petition placed before the High Court, challenges the
section and notes that the provision is in conflict with Articles 27, 31, 32
and 39 of the Constitution. The Editors' Council has demanded cancellation of
subsections 1 and 2 of Sec 57 of the Act, saying misuse of those subsections
can hinder freedom of the press.
However, in the face of the outcry by media
leaders and rights groups, Information Minister Hasanul Haq Innu argued in
favour of the controversial Sec 57 of ICT Act.
On January 10, 2017, Bangladesh Law
Minister Anisul Huq said the new law on cyber security would supersede the controversial
section 57 of the ICT Act.
Nervous about social media networking
platforms, especially Facebook, the government published draft guidelines in
March 2016 for the civil administration officers on use of social media. The
11-point guideline, advises government officials on how to use their official
and personal accounts in social media. The guideline will be applicable for all
ministries, departments, agencies, field-level offices, educational and
training institutions. In a circular issued to civil administration officers in
districts and small towns on October 28 2016, the cabinet division observed
that some field-level officials were sharing personal matters on Facebook,
unrelated to their work.
PRESS IN PERIL
Media workers in Bangladesh continued to
face risky situations while reporting. On February 2, 2017, 40-year old Abdul
Hakin Shimul, a local correspondent of the Bangla-language daily Samakal in
Shahjadpur, was shot in the face while covering clashes between rival factions
of the ruling Awami League. He died on following day, when he was rushed to a
hospital in capital Dhaka. Police have arrested Shahjadpur municipality Mayor
Halimul Haque Miru, the prime accused, and the ballistic test report has confirmed
that the bullet found in Shimul's body was fired from the mayor’s shotgun. The
mayor and other accused are being investigated by the police after the victim's
wife filed a murder case against 18 people, including the mayor and his two
Veteran journalist Shafik Rehman, editor of
Bangla monthly magazine Mouchake Dhil and advisor to opposition leader Khaleda
Zia, was arrested in April 2016 for allegedly attempting to abduct and murder
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s son Sajeeb Wazed Joy in the USA. Rehman had been
in detention since his arrest, including the prison hospital after his health
deteriorated. He was placed in solidarity confinement in prison.
On August 16, 2016, the IFJ, Reprieve,
Index of Censorship, Reporters Without Borders and 21 other international press
freedom organisations had written a joint letter demanding the immediate
release of Rehman. The joint letter that was sent to Bangladeshi Minister for
Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Anisul Huq, called for Shafik’s immediate
release on the grounds that after more than three months since his arrest, he
has been detained without charge and his health is deteriorating. On August 31,
the highest court of the country granted bail to octogenarian journalist Shafik
On June 11, 2016, a dozen people assaulted
reporter Shakil Hasan and cameraperson Shahin Alam of Jamuna TV as they were
reporting on the illegal polythene bag factories in the old city of Dhaka.
On January 26, private TV network ATN News cameraperson
Abdul Alim and its reporter Ahsan Bin Didar were assaulted and beaten by police
during protests by activists of a movement demanding the halting of a
coal-fired power plant in the Sunderbans mangrove forest. Riot police with
bullet-proof vests along with shotgun-wielding-officers pounced upon the
cameraperson without any warning. Alim was pushed to the ground, and kicked
with boots and struck several times with batons and shotgun butts. He needed three
stitches on his right eyebrow as a result of the beating.
JOURNALISTS OR CYBER CRIMINALS?
By far the largest number of arrests was
made under the ICT Act, bringing into sharp focus the misuse of the law. According
to Deutsche Welle, more than 100 arrests have been made under the ICT Act for
alleged defamation of the Father of the Nation and his kin. None of these cases
were filed by the victim; rather, party men took the matter to court.
On July 12, police had arrested a reporter
of a largest circulated local daily Prothom Alo Asaduzzaman Obaed Ongshuman,
who is the accused in two cases, including extortion and the notorious ICT Act.
Ongshuman was in the court office and was browsing into court documents to determine
how many suspects were given bail on drug trade related cases by Chief
Metropolitan Magistrate Court in capital Dhaka. Some lawyers who were present
in court office had an altercation with Ongshuman. He was punched and dragged against
his will to the Dhaka Lawyers Association office across the street, where he
was confined in the offices.
On August 8, 2016, the elite anti-crime
force, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested editor Shadat Ullah Khan,
executive editor Maksudul Haider Chowdhury and newsroom editor Pranto Polash of
online news portal banglamail24.com at the offices in the capital Dhaka. The
arrests followed a story addressing rumours that Sajeeb Wazed Joy, the son of Bangladesh
Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, had been killed in an air crash.
The RAB filed a case against the
journalists under the ICT Act. Following the arrests, the government’s Press
Information Department (PID) cancelled press accreditation cards for nine journalists
from banglamail24.com, without providing a reason.
Later in August, the Dhaka Cyber Tribunal
granted bail to the three journalists Shahadat Ullah Khan, Maksudul Haider Chowdhury
and Pantho Polash.
On September 1, 2016, Siddiqur Rahman, the
editor of an specialised education portal ‘Dainik Sikkha’
(www.dainikshiksha.com) was arrested for publishing six news articles on
corruption and favouritism of senior officials of the Department of Education.
Rahman, an award winning reporter was detained after Prof. Fahima Khatun, wife
of a ruling Awami League parliamentarian Obaidur Muktadir and also sister of Food
Minister Kamrul Islam, filed a case under Section 57 of the ICT Act. Khatun,
the former Director General of the Higher Secondary Education Directorate,
claimed that news claiming corruption during her tenure in the Directorate,
‘defamed and tarnished’ her image and that of the state.
Police spokesperson said, he was arrested
on charges of 'cyber crime' by publishing what it described as multiple
“fictitious, false and shameful” news on his portal.
On September 1, police arrested Dilip Roy,
a left-aligned leader of Rajshahi University's student organisation Biplobi Chhatra
Maitri (Revolutionary Students’ Unity), for his Facebook post criticising Prime
Minister Sheikh Hasina over her press briefing on a controversial Rampal coal
fired power plant.
The university’s pro-government Chhatra
(Student) League unit filed a case against the left leaning students’ organisation
leader under the Section 57 of Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
Act for his two posts in less than an hour.
On December 24, police arrested Nazmul Huda
a correspondent for private satellite network Ekushey TV (ETV) from Savar, in
the outskirts of capital Dhaka for inciting unrest with garment workers over
wages and benefits. Huda, is also the local correspondent of largest circulated
Bangla daily Bangladesh Pratidin. He was accused of "inaccurate
reporting" on almost daily protests in Ashulia, home to the industrial
zone which produces garments worth USD 30 billion for export, said the local
Journalist leaders and media were baffled
to hear that the journalist has been booked under section 57 of ICT Act. Huda's
arrest comes after mass protests by thousands of workers prompted the closure
of 55 garment factories in Ashulia.
On August 4, 2016, the telecom regulatory
body, Bangladesh Telecommunications and Regulatory Commission (BTRC) ordered
all International Internet Gateway service providers in Bangladesh to block
access to 35 websites, including pro-opposition Sheersha News and Amar Desh
Both are news portal of a pro-opposition
Bangla daily that was shut down in 2013, following government’s cancellation of
its license. The BTRC said they were blocked ‘for making objectionable comments
about the government’.
After few days, the telecom regulator
decided to scrap licenses of 204 internet providers as they allegedly failed to
provide operational documents to it after frequent requests.
An order has been issued and copies of the
letter effective from August 25 have been sent to the Internet Service Providers
In 2016, the Freedom House’s Freedom of the
Press report noted that Bangladesh slid down to ‘not free’ from a ‘partly free’
status due to increased hostility against journalists and freethinkers. The
government received a lot of backlash for not initiating concrete action to
tackle the situation. The government made no efforts in the period under review
to improve the situation and the country remains at the dangerous edge of
falling further in its press freedom status.
The threats and attacks on journalists from
extremists, the harassment on media using repressive laws such as ICT Act, and
the increased self-censorship due to fear has led to a situation where
independent media and critical opinions are fast perishing.
The Bangladeshi government does not take kindly to criticism of its Constitution or its state religion, Islam. Journalists and bloggers who resist censorship or self-censorship on these subjects risk life imprisonment, the death penalty, or murder by Islamist militants, who often issue online calls for the deaths of outspoken secularist bloggers and writers.
There is real pluralism, but media self-censorship is growing as a result of the endemic violence against journalists and media outlets, and the systematic impunity enjoyed by those responsible. In 2016, the government took a tougher line towards its critics and the media in general. This was made clear by official statements expressing hostility towards the media, the blocking of dozens of websites, and the many lawsuits brought against journalists by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League.
Bangladesh's embattled leader has made stunning concessions to Islamic fundamentalists critics say could undermine secularist support for her regime
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has turned to the right to placate hardline Islamists after facing flak for her recent visit to neighboring India, a trip her opponents have claimed sold out national interests to its giant western neighbor.
Hasina’s concessions to hard-line Islamists have upset her own party supporters who value Bangladesh’s secular heritage and could also rattle India, which sees rising radical Islamist activities in Bangladesh as a growing security threat.
Hasina’s recently concluded four-day visit to India led to 22 new agreements with India, including a crucial US$4.5 billion concessionary line of credit to finance development projects and defense purchases. It was the largest amount India has ever offered Bangladesh or any other neighbor.
The two defense-related memoranda of understanding, however, set tongues wagging in Dhaka, with the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) claiming the deals undermine the autonomy of Bangladesh’s armed forces vis-à-vis India.
BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia, for one, has vowed to review all of Hasina’s deals with India and would scrap those found to go against “national interests” if she rises to power at the next polls, due in December 2018.
BNP joint general secretary Ruhul Kabir Rizvi has claimed Hasina’s decision to deport anti-India rebels, allowances for India to traverse Bangladesh territory to reach its northeastern territories and use its ports have been one-way deals where Dhaka has received nothing in return.
The biggest issue, however, was Hasina’s inability to notch a water-sharing treaty Bangladesh has sought with India since 2011 on the contested Teesta river. BNP has said Hasina should raise the issue at the United Nations, a confrontational step the premier has declined to take.
Former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh carried a draft of the proposed treaty to Dhaka in 2011, but fierce opposition from influential Indian West Bengal state chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who has claimed the treaty would parch her state, forced him to return without a deal.
Singh’s coalition government was dependent on Banerjee’s support for its survival.
Banerjee’s opposition to the treaty also apparently stymied Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid for a breakthrough with Hasina on the issue, which has vexed bilateral relations for years. The joint Hasina-Modi declaration vaguely promised an “early resolution” to the Teesta issue as well as seven other less contentious common rivers.
“Now Modi has to push these deals within this year to give Hasina a fighting chance in next year’s elections,” said Bangladesh watcher Sukhoranjan Dasgupta. “Otherwise the stigma of being an Indian surrogate will sink her.”
Underscoring that political risk, Hasina asked her ruling Awami League party to cancel a public reception it had planned for her return from Delhi. A close aide to Hasina, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the cancellation was motivated by her inability to secure a hoped for breakthrough on the emotive issue.
The local press smelled blood in the water. “India only knows how to take, not how to give,” shrieked Bangla Tribune, a top local broadsheet. “Hasina comes back empty-handed,” wrote another. “Only warmth, no water for Hasina,” The Daily Star ran on its front page.
On one TV channel after another, panelists tore into Hasina, with some commentators even suggesting that India may not have pushed the Teesta deal to send a signal it would not mind a change of regime in Dhaka.
Hasina has responded to the rising criticism with a surprising appeasement of Islamic fundamentalists, a lurch that critics claim could erode support among her government’s most ardent secular backers.
After harshly suppressing past rallies staged by the fundamentalist Hifazat-e-Islam, an Islamist pressure group of madrassah teachers and students, Hasina has recently conceded to two of the group’s key demands: government recognition of Qaumi madrassa degrees, which allow such graduates to compete for state jobs, and the removal of a Greek statue from the premises of the Supreme Court in Dhaka.
Secularist groups view Hasina’s concessions as a conciliatory first step towards bringing hardened Islamists into her beleaguered government. Hifazat-e-Islam’s chief, Allama Shafi, has frequently threatened to curb many of the freedoms women enjoy in Muslim majority Bangladesh, including access to higher education and ability to work outside of their homes.
Shafi heads the board that runs the so-called Qaumi of the Madrassas, widely seen as a breeding ground for jihadis and other Islamist militants.
Bangladesh’s powerful nationalist secular constituency, including veterans of the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan, have been openly peeved by the moves.
“We vote for Hasina and her party, we have shed our blood for this country, but how can we accept a deal with these arch fundamentalists,” said Haroon Habib, now secretary general of the Sectors Commanders Forum, an organization of 1971 liberation war veterans. “This may be a costly mistake.”
Certain ministers in Hasina’s cabinet were also fumed by the concessions to fundamentalists. “The way Hijazat articulate their demands, it seems Bangladesh is not a people’s republic but rather an Islamic republic,” said Cultural Affairs minister Asad U Zaman Noor, a former leading theatre artist and Awami League member.
Other members of her party, however, defended the moves, claiming bizarrely that Hijazat leader Shafi is a voice of Muslim moderation. “Allama Shafi has strongly criticized militancy and suicide bombings as anti-Islam,” said Awami League general secretary and roads minister Obaidul Quader said “That’s a major gain.”
Some analysts suggest Hasina may be seeking to split the hardline Islamist constituency by courting Hifazat to counter BNP’s fundamentalist ally Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest hard-line Islamist group, though at a significant political cost.
“She risks upsetting her own hardcore support base, secular men and women, who are the majority in my country,” said Shahriar Kabir, who heads the Nirmul Committee, a group that pushed for 1971 war crimes trials that led to the conviction and execution of several Jamaat-e-Islami leaders.
Kabir contends that Awami League won elections in 1996 and 2008 because it was able to leverage popular demands for trials of fundamentalist war criminals accused of murder, rape and torture in support of Pakistan’s efforts to break-up the Bengali nationalist struggle.
“But when the swing has been towards fundamentalism, like after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Awami League has lost,” Kabir said.
A report prepared by the Bengal government indicates that India and Bangladesh may not be fighting over anything substantial as they try to end the impasse over sharing the waters of Teesta.
The report says the river, in its present state, has only a sixteenth of the water that is needed for agriculture by Indian and Bangladeshi farmers on either side of the border during the dry season, which stretches from February to May. The report has now prompted the Centre to send the Parliamentary Committee on Energy to Sikkim on April 23 to study the eight dams there on the Teesta and whether they are affecting the flow of water in any way.
Prepared by an expert committee set up by the Mamata Banerjee government, the report says the river has only 100 cumecs (cubic metres per second) of water between February and May when the requirement for farmers of both countries (mainly for irrigation of the dry season boro paddy) is around 1600 cumecs.
"It is a rough estimate but the flow of water is so inadequate that, if 50% of the water is given to Bangladesh, it will not only fail to serve Bangladesh's purpose but will also ensure that North Bengal risks facing drought," a senior official at the state secretariat said. "Our chief minister is not against giving water to Bangladesh but she is opposed to sharing Teesta's waters simply because there is no water at all. There are 54 rivers, other than the Teesta, that flow into Bangladesh through Bengal. The state government is ready to share the water of these rivers," the official added echoing Mamata Banerjee's stand at the recent meeting with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in New Delhi.
The report, which has been sent to the Centre, further says that Teesta caters to more 16 lakh hectares of combined land in Bangladesh and India, 9.2 lakh hectares of which are in West Bengal and 6.8 lakh hectares in Bangladesh. "So, if we go by the volume of land on either side of the border that depends on Teesta, West Bengal should get 920 cumecs of water and Bangladesh 680 cumecs. But the flow of water is so inadequate that the state has now decided to irrigate only 52,000 hectares with Teesta's water. It is just not possible to satisfy Bangladesh's demand," the official added.
But Hasina contended during her recent visit that Bangladesh used to receive some water from Teesta till 2011, when the Trinamool Congress came to power in Bengal. Now, it gets only about 20 cumecs during the peak dry season (mainly from a tributary of the Teesta called Dhorla).
Mamata, however, told PM Narendra Modi and Hasina that the projects in Sikkim — eight dams have been built on Teesta there — used up around 60% of the waters available during the lean period, leaving only 40% for North Bengal.
ENGULFED by India, its giant neighbour to the west, north and east, Bangladesh can look small. But it is the world’s eighth most populous country, with one of its fastest-growing economies. And its location, between India and South-East Asia, with a long littoral on the Indian Ocean, puts it in the thick of things, geopolitically speaking. China clearly sees some potential. Xi Jinping, its president, visited last year and pledged $15bn in loans. China is Bangladesh’s biggest trading partner—and arms make up a good chunk of that trade. Two Chinese submarines arrived on credit in March. Bangladesh is the third-biggest buyer of Chinese arms, after two other neighbours of India. India is responding with a charm offensive of its own. When Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, made a four-day state visit to Delhi that concluded on April 10th, her Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, made sure she did not go back empty-handed. He offered $5bn in loans, including $1bn for a Russian-backed nuclear plant, Bangladesh’s first; and $500m to buy Indian arms. The two countries signed a defence agreement committing them to deeper co-operation. India promised more cross-border electricity and railway lines. But there was no progress on what mattered most to Sheikh Hasina: a treaty on how to share the water of the 53 rivers that flow from , Pakistan and Myanmar. India to Bangladesh. One river in particular, the Teesta, has become the focus of attention. Bangladesh wants the water split evenly, whereas the Indian state of West Bengal claims 55%. Mr Modi has promised to resolve the issue, but his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governs only one of the four states bordering Bangladesh. The chief minister of West Bengal refuses to let him bid away her state’s stake in the Teesta. Sheikh Hasina had made an urgent pitch in the Hindu, an Indian newspaper, arguing “friendship is a flowing river”. She went home shrugging: “We sought water, but got electricity.” Even if the water of the Teesta was his to give, Mr Modi might find it awkward to become too chummy with Sheika Hasina. Stoking resentment against Muslims, and against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in particular, has proved a successful electoral formula for the BJP. Sheikh Hasina, for her part, is ignoring the Bangladeshi army’s instinctive suspicion of India to sign the security pact. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has accused her of selling out, and promised to scrap it if it comes to power. The Teesta is another handy stick with which the BNP can beat the government. Geography has thrust India and Bangladesh together, but domestic politics still pushes them apart. Published in the Economist magazine, April 14th 2017
Parliamentarians at the 136th Inter-Parliamentarian Union (IPU) are poised to adopt a resolution to deal with terrorism and militancy. Terrorism is a global phenomenon and is a threat to all countries.
The delegates of IPU are discussing to forge unity globally to combat terrorism, Secretary General Martin Chungong told the media at press briefing on Monday.
He said the Dhaka Assembly is expected to adopt three resolutions. The first is the role of parliament in preventing outside interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states and the second, promoting cooperation on SDGs with focus on women, and third emergency item resolution.
Parliamentarians are debating on two pressing issues. The first is non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign nation states. The second is inclusive financing of women in development.
"Process is in progress in at the conference venue in Dhaka for global parliamentary community," said Chungong at the mega IPU conference in Dhaka.
The five-day IPU Assembly in progress from Saturday with the participation of over 1300 delegates from 131 member states of the century-old organization. The dignity of human rights, sovereignty and women's empowerment were agreed in the conference.
He said women in parliament are very less, IPU is advocating political empowerment of women.
Regarding terrorism, Chungong said that terror networks active in various countries are not localized. There is need for global parliamentary community prevents to fight terrorism, he remarked.
Regarding the general debate on Redressing Inequality: Delivering on dignity and well-being for All, Chungong said IPU will highlight an action-oriented proposal that parliaments are making here when the 136th assembly concludes, it will have a number of things that parliamentarians can follow up theses concretely and device a program to gain measurable achievements over reducing inequality.
"What I'm proposing in the strategy is a series of actions that will help the global parliamentary community prevent those things that lead to terrorism and militancy," IPU Secretary said.
Chungong said, "Violent extremism was born out of frustration, out of inequality in society, out of injustice, violation of human rights and lack of opportunity - so, those are the things we're addressing in the strategy to combat terrorism and militancy."
He said he will brief the executive committee today (Tuesday) on the strategy that the IPU devised to enable the parliamentary community worldwide to combat terrorism. "We shouldn't allow terrorism to occur before you do something about it."
"How parliaments can take practical actions at national and international levels to alleviate inequality and restore the dignity of human being in all aspects of social, political and economic arena," Chungong said.
The emergency item resolution will focus on famine affecting the population of Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Northern Kenya. This proposal was jointly placed by Belgium, the United Kingdom and Kenya.
Besides, the documents of outcomes of the general debate on 'redressing inequalities, delivering on dignity and wellbeing of all' will be adopted at the IPU Assembly on Wednesday, the last day of 136th IPU assembly.
First published in The Asian Age, April 4, 2017 Saleem Samad is an Ashoka Fellow (USA), an award winning investigative journalist and Special Correspondent of The Asian Age
It was predicted that Pakistan
would stay away from participating at the ongoing 136th Inter-Parliamentary
Union (IPU) in capital Dhaka. Pakistan, on Friday last announced to boycott of
the mega parliamentarian assembly, alleging a "malicious propaganda"
and unfriendly attitude.
The last minute pull-out of 10-member delegation led by Pakistan national
assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq was due to participate in the IPU assembly in
Dhaka. Further to slay the slain, Pakistan
took the issue of Bangladesh
observing "Genocide Day" on March 25 to memorialize genocide of three
million people and sexual abuse of 400,000 women during the Liberation War in
Sadiq's statement was not a surprise Bangladesh government. He said the Pakistan national assembly members noted with
disappointment the actions and "negative public statements" coming
out of Bangladesh despite Pakistan's
"restraint and overtures" to the country.
The bilateral relation between the two countries has been in roller-coaster
since the independence of Bangladesh
and surrender of Pakistan
armed forces in eastern front in December 1971.
The boycott of the IPU conference is another sign of strain in
Bangladesh-Pakistan ties. The relationship further plummeted when Pakistan has
officially protested the sentencing and hanging of Jamaat-e-Islami leaders for
war crimes committed during the bloody war in 1971.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government strongly reacted to Pakistan's
reactions in regard of the judicial verdicts, which her administration stated
tantamount to meddling in internal affairs of Bangladesh and also asked
Islamabad to apologize for atrocities committed by marauding Pakistan army
during the Liberation War.
However, diplomatic relations between two countries enjoyed best of ties during
the two military regimes of General Ziaur Rahman (1975-1981) and General HM
Ershad (1982-1990). The bilateral relations between Bangladesh
and Pakistan had risen and
shined during the regimes of Begum Khaleda Zia (1991-1996 and 2001-2005), when
dreaded Pakistan spy agency
ISI was given legitimacy for covert operation against India.
ISI operatives in a bid to destabilize the north-eastern states, had provided
weapons, training and helped money laundering of funds to run the separatist
groups, who were engaged in violent actions against the Indian authority. The Pakistan spy agency was also active in raising
militant groups from among the Rohingya Muslims to wage war against Myanmar for a
Since Sheikh Hasina came to power in 2009, her government was able to
neutralize the ISI operations in Bangladesh
and all the separatist leaders of Indian north-east were deported to India. Once the
Pakistan's covert operations
were blocked and regular seizure counterfeit Indian currency smuggled into India, Pakistan
began tirade against Bangladesh.
Bangladesh also with other
South Asian countries including India,
Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka,
Maldives and Bhutan pulled out of the 19th SAARC Summit to be
hosted by Pakistan
in November 2016, citing incitement in terrorism in the region.
This episode further angered Islamabad and
blamed Dhaka taking cue from New Delhi and
adopts an anti-Pakistan posture, writes an editorial in a Pakistan
newspaper published on April 1.
Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, quoted in an influential newspaper "Aaj News"
expressed grief that "all such dedicated efforts, unfortunately, fell in
vain and Pakistan
was time and again targeted and maligned…. It was, therefore, decided, with a
heavy heart, not to undertake a visit to Bangladesh at this time."
United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) seeks equal treatment for all Rohingyas in Bangladesh and help to provide basic aids to new arrivals.
Apparently the appeal was made amidst confusion created after fresh influx of refugees who fled violence in Myanmar are dubbed 'undocumented' and miss out on vital aid, while those arrived in Bangladesh are considered 'refugees'.
The new influx has highlighted the urgent need to verify the number and location of the new arrivals. Without this information, vulnerable refugees risk falling through the cracks while others could be receiving duplication of assistance, says a top UNHCR officials in Bangladesh.
The influx of refugees in the early 1990s, lives in two government-run camps serviced by UNHCR, and its partners the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Food Program (WFP) in Ukhia, Cox's Bazar, bordering troubled Rakhine State.
The 33,000 registered refugees in Kutupalong and Nayapara camps in Ukhia have access to basic services including food assistance, healthcare and education for children, but the registered refugees do not have any legal status in Bangladesh.
More than 70,000 Rohingya are believed to flee during a security operation between October 2016 and February 2017. The security operation by Myanmar Army has recently been postponed after international outcry, including the United Nations, European Union, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The Bangladesh government has announced it will conduct a census of undocumented Rohingya living outside the two camps to include the new arrivals.
"We are advocating for a joint verification of the new arrivals with our partners as soon as possible," said Shinji Kubo, UNHCR's Representative in Bangladesh. "This exercise will help the government and humanitarian agencies to better target assistance to those who need it the most, be they new arrivals, refugees who came earlier or locals who host them."
A third category consists of an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 'undocumented' Rohingya who arrived in Bangladesh between the two influxes. They live in makeshift sites and local villages, and until recently had no access to humanitarian aid.
"The current situation is not sustainable," said Shinji Kubo. "Regardless of when they came and where they live, these people have the same needs and deserve equal access to protection and assistance," he told UNHCR press.
Several thousand new arrivals are presently accommodated in the two official camps, pressuring on the capacity of existing refugees and the infrastructure. Many more new arrivals are living in existing makeshift sites or new ones that have sprouted spontaneously.
"In the long run, we hope that all Rohingyas in Bangladesh can be documented to ensure full respect for their rights," said UNHCR's Kubo. "Knowing the profile of this population will also help us to identify longer-term solutions for them."
India eyes a comprehensive defence pact with Bangladesh, while Teesta water-sharing is off the radar during the official visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India's capital New Delhi in early April.
Bangladesh is nervous on the outcome of the India visit, which is expected to further take the bilateral relations to new heights, said a top official of the Ministry of Foreign Ministry on Monday. She is also slated to visit Ajmer to pay homage to Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti.
Political hype on the crucial issue of twice postponed the Teesta water-sharing treaty has caused much embarrassment to the government and ruling political allies. For Hasina, inking another sensitive military pact will not be easy to keep afloat in rough weathers, observes former Bangladesh envoy to Delhi Ambassador Liaquat Ali Chowdhury.
The anti-Indian political lobby, both ruling Awami League's arch rivals Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami, is likely to make noise to the government's getting closer to India, "but Hasina is not afraid of the wolves", said Chowdhury.
Since Hasina returned to power in 2009, she walked extra miles in addressing India's concerns over north-east India's insurgency and connectivity. Nevertheless, India understands that a military pact with Bangladesh would be beneficial for the two neighbors.
If the pact comes through, India will offer highest ever credit line for defence cooperation with other friendly counties. Delhi is also willing to commit up to 500 million USD in line of credit for military cooperation with Dhaka, writes Jayanth Jacob in Hindustan Times.
Earlier, India had not given line of credit for defence hardware purchases, a source told The Asian Age. On the other hand, the crucial parleys on the outlines of the defence pact is going on, which comprises training, sale of military hardware and military to military cooperation.
Hindustan Times confirms that the "discussions for a defence pact is progressing and yet to reach a final shape". Unfortunately, Delhi is unable to keep pace with Hasina in reciprocating her political desires from her largest neighbor.
The much-awaited Teesta water-sharing deal and two neighbors to share 54 rivers remains a far-cry. Negotiations on Teesta were on for the past 18 years, Chowdhury noted. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi opined for water sharing of all 54 rivers during his maiden visit to Bangladesh two years ago.
The good offices of an elderly politician and President of India Pranab Mukerjee in Delhi are trying to break the ice to resolve the Teesta water sharing issue at a parley between Sheikh Hasina and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been planned.
Bangladesh is confident that she will not return home with empty hands, said a Foreign Office official. The draft agreement prepared by Delhi in 2011 was not signed due to opposition from Mamata, the two sides agreed to share the river's water 50:50, the same as the 1996 Ganges (Padma) water-sharing pact.
Bangladesh is embarrassed. So are the top officials of Interpol, security experts, academicians, police chiefs from the region attending the three-day long conference organized by Bangladesh Police and the Interpol in the capital.
Bangladesh Police top brass AKM Shahidul Hoque has denied the presence of Jihadist of Islamic State (IS or ISIS) in the country. "There is no presence of the Islamist terrorist outfit here," the inspector general of police maintained at impromptu press briefing on Monday morning.
"These are baseless propaganda. What we call militants are actually 'homegrown' who might have been embodied with IS philosophy and ideology. But they don't have any link with the IS," said Hoque. His reaction came in the wake of Prof Rohan Gunaratna, an international security expert, who affirmed on the presence of IS jihadist in Bangladesh and that the outfit carried out the Gulshan café attack on July 1.
What further embarrassed the government was the joint forces operation to disengage and neutralize the militants, release the hostages and regain control of the café, when his paper, "Deradicalization of Militant: An Approach for Disengagement and Reintegration into Society,"
Government was enraged not only with his observation on presence of IS in Bangladesh, the military brass took the scholar's comments on delayed commando operation to regain the seized café, as an exception and interference into internal affairs.
Gunaratna said police should have immediately responded to the café attack and should not have lingered on for the commandos to join the operation. The conference seeks to build regional cooperation in curbing violent extremism and transnational crime.
In a typical IS strategy, Gunaratna explained that the IS second phase was propaganda and the third phase was showdown. "The group that mounted the Holey Artisan attack is not the JMB. In fact, it is the IS," opined the expert.
But unfortunately, the Bangladeshi political leadership did not accept that the group that is operating is the IS, Gunaratna remarked.
Administration top officials, including Home Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Khan and the inspector general of police have repeatedly said that there is no presence of ISIS in Bangladesh. Prime Minster Sheikh Hasina described any such claims as local and foreign conspiracies.
There could be various reasons why the government is determined to justify non-existence of jihadist or Islamic militants who are linked to Al Qaeda or Islamic State. Head of Singapore based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research Rohan Gunaratna, has claimed that terrorist network Islamic State has physical presence in Bangladesh.
Police chief Shahidul Hoque described Gunaratna as an academician, a professor of a university. In a virulent attack, Hoque observed that "he does not deal with any security issue. He has done his academic research on his own. But he does not have experience of the real issue of Bangladesh."
"What Mr Rohan said is his own statement. We don't endorse his statement," the IGP concluded. Born in Sri Lanka, Gunaratna interviewed terrorists and insurgents in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Saudi Arabia and other conflict zones, according to his brief biography presented at the conference.
The United States 9/11 Commission formed after the attack of Twin-Tower in New York invited Gunaratna to testify on the structure of al-Qaeda.
Gunaratna, who teaches security studies at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, is also a trainer for national security agencies, law enforcement authorities and military counter-terrorism units, said his bio distributed at the conference.