Tuesday, October 23, 2007

General Moeen's mysterious Harvard seminar with Sajeeb Joy

WHEN Bangladeshi news media reported that the Bangladesh’s 1st four star general Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed would deliver a seminar at the prestigious Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government (KSG), we the Bangladeshi Diaspora were delighted. We were reported that the Harvard University invited our ‘strongman’ to deliver a historic speech ‘on crisis management of democracy’ that would be a model for nations to adopt. We echoed with General’s emotions that it would bring prestige to Bangladesh military and would build up our much needed image abroad. It would be historic event as the Harvard’s 1st women President Gilpin Drew Faust in her inaugural speech on October 12, 2007 launched many special initiatives for Asia and we were pleased that our General would lead the President’s Asian initiatives.

We were proud and happy at the news and therefore, we called the President’s Office to thank her. Unfortunately her office appears to have no knowledge of our General’s scheduled talk. Being frustrated, we contacted other offices of the KSG basically to get an invitation to listen to his historic speech. But to our dismay, we were told that the ‘Bangladesh general has no public forum or talk at the university’. We were further told that he might have been privately invited by a lecturer of the university for his class. The university administration has no knowledge of it.

Rumors spread quickly. Bangladeshi Diaspora of Boston reported that Professor S. Bose of the Harvard University belonging to West Bengal had requested another well liked Bengali educationist, Dr. Gowher Rizvi, Director of the Harvard’s Ash Center of Governance and Innovation to sponsor a public forum for the Bangladeshi General. Few months ago, he arranged a seminar for Professor Rehman Sobhan of Bangladesh. However, when we searched the Ash Center’s program events, we did not find any public seminar with General Moeen Ahmed. Instead we find that there was a seminar on ‘Muslims in America’ on October 17th. Our frustration prompted us to call the Center. They politely stated that no Bangladeshi general is their guest speaker at this time. We also inquired at the KSG but of no avail. The mystery intensified.

We were simply stunned at it. Our hopes and expectations got a jolt. How a set program could be so illusive? Following our national leaders especially our Law Advisor Moinul Hossain we immediately thought that there must be a ‘conspiracy’ to undermine Bangladesh and Islam. The RAW of India may be behind it!! Others quipped that the Bangladesh Embassy officials belonging to BNP-AL might have foiled his scheduled talk at the KSG. To justify our hunch we concocted arguments. When General Moeen arrived in Boston he was neither been accompanied by the Bangladesh Ambassador, nor the PR, nor the Consul General. Secondly, we thought since former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s son Sajeeb Wazed Joy is a student at the Kennedy School, he might have foiled it. However, his classmates reported that they were very busy with Mid-term exams. Third, the AL and the BNP supporters might have arranged a massive protest owing to which the Harvard University cancelled it. But fact of the matter is, there was no protest, no demonstrations. Interestingly, the local AL Vice President Abul Kalam Azad received Gen. Moeen at the airport. More importantly, we learned that in the 300 plus years history of the Harvard University they never ever withdraw any invitation once it was issued even against all odds and protests. Does it mean that the General’s much celebrated trip was a ‘hawk’ or a total lie?

We don’t know who tried to foil our General’s program or malign our General. Recently, three stories became public about Gen. Moeen. First one pertaining to his receiving loans of Tk99 lakh from the Trust Bank that is recorded in the Bank’s Audit statement submitted to the government, the Bangladesh Bank and the Security Exchange.

Second, the re-appointment of his elder brother at the Trust Bank of which he is the ex-officio Chairperson and Director thus violating the government regulation that no two family members could be appointed as Directors of the same bank. Third, his brother-in-law grabbed properties of few people in Maulvibazar by misusing his power. Are these true or manipulated? It is charged that Bangladesh officials that we trust often do manipulate things to meet the wishes of their boss, the rich and the powerful.

As per reports, he was invited by a Harvard lecturer who is rumored to be appointed as a Consultant in Bangladesh. The said lecturer is an authority on election reform and US congressional issues. He also takes classes of ‘freshman lawmakers’. It is reported that our General would attend one of his classes along with his students. Each teacher in American universities or colleges routinely invites guest speakers in his/her classes and Gen. Moeen might have got such an invitation. Who knows?
We also checked the KSG bulletin boards. The 2-days that our general would be around Harvard, the KSG will be hosting nearly 7 public seminars and none on issues relating to South Asia or Bangladesh. They had an event on Bangladesh on October 13, the Eid day--- a public lecture of Nobel Laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus.

Apparently General Moeen did not arrange any meeting with any leader of Massachusetts or of the U. S. Other than Congressman Crowley of New York, he has no appointments either with any U. S. Senators or US Congressmen/women, or with senior State Department officials. Nor there is any especial meeting with the Pentagon or with senior US Army officers as per media reports. He is visiting the U. S. at a time when nine U.S. lawmakers have placed a bill to allow tax-free imports from developing countries including Bangladesh and his courtesy meetings with the US lawmakers could help passing of such bill. However, he refrained from such lobbying. Then question is; why he made such a long trip to US when his each minute is so precious and crucial?

He had a ‘secret public appearance’ for nearly 50 minutes at a location in Holbrook a tiny town, away from Boston on October 21. The guests were instructed to maintain utmost secrecy of the event. The reason for such secrecy is reportedly due to their fear that if Bangladeshi Diaspora knows about the event, they would stage protest demonstrations as they did in Florida.

It was a private dinner party arranged by one Mr. Shaheen Khan, a convenience store owner and more importantly, Mr. Khan is a friend of General’s younger brother that lives in Florida. Reportedly this was arranged to thank the General as Mr. Khan’s uncle, Nurul Islam, a sacked Secretary to Begum Khaleda Zia has been reinstated. Other than family members, nearly 25/30 local people were invited at the dinner and everybody had to finish their eating before Gen. Moeen enters the venue at 9:15 PM. Private security was arranged by Mr. Khan. However, TV cameramen and selected journalists were invited at the event.

It is irony that General Moeen, the man who started jihad against corruption and corrupt people was welcomed at the dinner party by none other than a businessman who made his fortunate through bankruptcy and defrauding creditors. He was a real estate developer in 1980s and he collected millions of dollars from thousands of people including many Bangladeshis with the promise to double/triple their investments. Unfortunately, once funds were collected, he declared ‘bankruptcy’ and his Ivy Inc. was closed down. For nearly 12 years, he stayed away from public eyes. However, in recent days, he emerged and is currently a leader of the Bangladesh Islamic Society of New England. General Moeen might not know that the man who welcomed him and solicited his help for investment in Bangladesh once defrauded his customers, his bank, and his well wishers. Local TV and print media covered it widely when his lawyer was even jailed for fraud.

It is rumored that General’s mission to the U. S. is to meet Sheikh Hasina’s family members. He visited Florida where his only son, his younger brother and also Hasina’s daughter live. At Harvard, it is rumored that he wanted to meet Sajeeb Wajed Joy. It is rumored that instead of a private meeting Joy suggested an open meeting. The General, therefore, have reportedly invited all the 4 Bangladeshi students of the KSG to have luncheon with him on October 23, the day of his departure to China. It is believed that after this meeting, he would decide as to how to deal with Sheikh Hasina, the leader of the AL party now under detention. It may be mentioned that as per media reports, Joy met Indian Foreign Minister during his trip to New York few weeks ago and that might prompted General Moeen to have a face-to-face dialogue with Joy. Gen. Moeen while answering a question at the Holbrook private dinner jokingly stated that there could be many changes in the next 14 months….a king can die, even a hoarse can fly (something impossible). Now who knows what’s next. #

This commentary was contributed from Boston on October 23, 2007