Thursday, February 28, 2008

Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh - A mix match of ISI, Al-Qaeda and Taliban

R. UPADHYAY

LIKE MOST of the Islamist terrorist groups, the origin of Harkat-ul Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) also lies with the Afghan War of Nineteen-eighties. A group of Mujahideens (Holy Warriors), who returned from this war to their native land Bangladesh formed HuJI-B in 1992 and announced its formation in a press conference at the Jatiya Press Club in Dhaka same year on April 30.

Historically, Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 stirred the Islamist world and prompted them to launch jihad (Holy War) against it. Getting support from the ISI in Pakistan, the then Reagan administration of U.S.A. and Saudi Arabia, they formed Harkat-ul-Jihadi Islami (Movement of Islamic Holy War) in 1980 and gave a call to the Mujahideens (Holy Warriors of Islam) from all over the Muslim world to join this 'Holy War' against the Russian Army.

Responding to the call, the Islamist establishments form different parts of the world sent Mujahideens to Afghanistan. Jamaat-e- Islami, Islami Chattra Shibir and other Islamist groups of Bangladesh also sent a large number of Madrasas trained Bangladeshi Muslim youths in response to the clarion call of this Pan- Islamic jihad. Afghan War gave an interesting meaning of Jihad and created a new trend in Muslim youths for whom Wahabbisation took a prime seat in their religio-political evolution. In course of their training they were told, "If you had spent some time with a whore in Bangkok, you would come to fight jihad to purify yourself" (Warriors of the Prophet by Mark Huband, 1998, page 3).

Bin Laden was reportedly not happy with the concept of Bengali nationalism among the Muslims of Bangladesh. Accordingly, after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989 he convened a meeting of some of his trusted Mujahideens from Bangladesh and advised them to organise the Muslim youths to transform their country into Dar-ul-Islam. Abdul Salam Muhammad alias Fazlur Rahman, Mufti Abdul Mannan, and Shawkat Osman alias Farid were reportedly present in the meeting. Of them Hannan, with his initial madrasssa education in Bangladesh reportedly had higher Islamic education in Deoband and Aligarh University in India. Later he also studied in Gouhardanga Madrassa in Pakistan, trained in the Peshawar City and then sent to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet Army.

Indoctrinated in the mould of the radical Islam of Bin Laden and Talibanised militia of HuJI Pakistan, Afghan War-returned Mujahideens set up a subsidiary unit of HuJI Pakistan in Bangladesh, which was known as HuJI-B. Not believed to be a separate organization but a common name for several Islamist groups under the aegis of 'Jihad Movement of Bangladesh' led by Fazlur Rahman, HuJI-B's primary mission was to establish Taliban type Islamic rule in Bangladesh. This was evident from its slogan: "Amra Sobai Hobo Taliban, Bangla Hobe Afghanistan" (We will all become Taliban and we will turn Bangladesh into Afghanistan). Following the footsteps of Taliban, it also regarded music, dance, movies, concept of Bengali nationalism etc as un-Islamic. It considered them as corrupting influence on the Islamic way of life under the cultural influence of the Hindus and the Christians.

In the initial period HuJI-B used the favourable regime of Begum Khaleda Zia (1991-96) to strengthen the organisation and recruited both the locals and the foreigners as its members. There was once instance when 41 HuJI-B cadres were arrested with firearms on February 19, 1996, subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment by the court, though released on bail by the High Court during the second term of Khaleda Government (October 2001-2006).

Although, Madrasas that were mostly financed by Arab charities were the primary source of recruitment of its cadres, Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar, who had fled from their native land allegedly due to religious persecution were it’s another significant source. With the assistance of ISI it imparted training to the Muslim Rohingya insurgents from Myanmar and also sent them along with its operatives to fight against the Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir besides providing sanctuary for the northeast insurgents. Awami League was accused Government for giving protection to Islamist terrorists.

Installation of the Awami League Government led by Sheikh Hasina in June1996 created some set back for the HuJI-B. But formation of an International Islamic Front (IIF) for Jihad against the Jews and Crusaders in January 1998 by Bin Laden of which HuJI-B was also a constituent made the latter an important militant Islamist organisation of the world. With a view to translate the objective of Al Qaeda in action Osama Bin Laden in association with the terrorist groups from Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh announced the formation of IIF and issued a fatwa on February 23 same year for Jihad against the USA and calling for attack on all Americans including civilians.

With long-term strategy to replace the existing political structure of the word with Caliphate, his immediate priority was to destroy the USA and its allies. Apart from Bin Laden other signatories of this fatwa included Abdul Salam Muhammad alias Fazlur Rahman, of 'Jihad Movement of Bangladesh' (an activist of HuJI-B), Ayman al-Zawahiri and Rifai Ahmad Taha aka Abu Nasir of Egypt and Sheikh Mir Hamzah, Secretary of the Jamiat-al-Ulema-e-Pakistan. (Networks, Terrorism and Global Insurgency -Edited by Robert J. Bunker, 2005, page 115).

After becoming a constituent of IIF HuJI-B increased its violent attacks on the Hindu minority, progressive intellectuals like poets, journalists and liberal Muslims. It was alleged that HuJI-B had a plan to kill 28 prominent intellectuals, including National Professor Kabir Choudhury, writer Taslima Nasrin and the Director General of the Islamic Foundation, Maulana Abdul Awal. It was also alleged that HuJI-B with a view to assassinate Shiekh Hasina mobilised the support of the killers of her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh. Although, Awami League Government made some attempt to crackdown on HuJI-B, its operatives escaped into Indian territory. Bangladesh Home Minister Mohammed Nasim in his interview with BBC Bengali Service on 11 December 1999 disclosed that during his visit to India in 1999 he had confided to the then Union Home Minister L.K. Adwani and Buddhadeo Bhattacharya, the then Minister in Jyoti Basu cabinet in West Bengal about the presence of HuJI-B operatives in India. He said, "his government had definite information about HuJI militants taking shelter in India particularly in West Bengal, to flee from the crackdown unleashed by Awami League Government after the bombing attempt of Kotalipara". (Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict in South Asian Region - Edited by Om Prakash Mishra and Sucheta Ghosh, 2003, page 280).

With the help of ISI and the patronage of radical Islamists it became easier for the HuJI-B operatives to merge among the Muslim groups in states like Assam, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi and set up their cells there. Various reports suggest that in addition to its links with Indian terrorist groups like the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), it also maintained links with terrorist groups outside Bangladesh, including Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) in Pakistan. Calling its members as Bangladeshi Taliban, HuJI-B gradually emerged as one of the most militant Islamist outfits and became an important link in the chain of the wider net work of Al Qaeda.

Prime suspect in 2000-assassination attempt on then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, HuJI-B had a history of carrying out violent attacks on secular and progressive intellectuals, writers and journalists. It was also involved in assassination of a senior Bangladeshi journalist for making a documentary on the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh. Mohammad Salim, the prime accused in the New Jalpaiguri explosion incident in a troop mobilisation train for Kargil War was believed to be an activist of the HuJI-B (Ibid.).

Post September 11 American's attack on Taliban, which enraged the Islamist forces all over the Muslim world also had its impact on the general election in Bangladesh in which a relatively secular party of Sheikh Hasina led Awami League got defeated. Return of Khaleda Zia led coalition Government in October 2001 provided a favourable environment to HuJI-B to expand its jihadi influence not only in Bangladesh but also in the international terrorist circles. The ruling coalition that included two Islamic fundamentalist parties, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Islamic Oikya Jote overlooked the arrival of a sizeable number of Arab and Afghan Mujahideens of Al Qaeda and Taliban, who were forced to flee Afghanistan after the fall of Kandahar in December 2001. In fact Islamic Oikya Jote's chairman, Azizul Huq, who was said to be a member of HuJI's advisory council openly expressed support to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. HuJI-B hosted those Mujahideens and worked with them in its assigned operational action plans in India including Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of the world like Indonesia, Southern Thailand and Cambodia. Some reports suggested that this combined group of terrorists also imparted training to the newly recruited HuJI-B cadres and sent them to some other countries like Chechnya and Philippines. With powerful patrons in the government and financial support from Osama bin Laden and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other Islamic countries through the Muslim non-governmental organisations in Bangladesh, HuJI-B emerged as a potential threat to global security.

Despite the publicly known militancy of HuJI-B, Khaleda Zia Government (1991-1996 and 2001-2006) persistently denied the presence of the Afghan-returned 'holy warriors' in Bangladesh. It was however, the pressure from USA that forced her to impose a ban on it followed by the arrest of its operational commander Mufti Abdul Hannan, on October 1, 2005. Mufti Abdul Hannan had reportedly confessed that Altaf Hossain Choudhury, Minister in Khaleda Zia cabinet, had assured him of protection and guaranteed his freedom from the case for his involvement in the assassination attempt of former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in July 2000. Although, Hannan along with some of his associates were arrested, various cells of the HuJI-B under the overall command of its present chief Shawkat Osman alias Farid and General Secretary Imtiaz Quddus remained active both in Bangladesh and India.

In the absence of any authoritative information it may be difficult to know the actual cadre strength of HuJI-B, but various reports suggest it to be around 15,000. Establishing training camps in the coastal areas of Bangladesh stretching from Chittagong hills to Burma border HuJI-B built its operational bases in this area. Notorious for smuggling the area is also convenient rendezvous to infiltrate its operatives to India. While HuJI-B's original mission was to set up Islamic rule in Bangladesh, its ambitions and its geographical spread particularly in India should be cause for concern.

Although, it was an open secret that HuJI-B was hand in glove with ISI, Al Qaeda and Taliban, absence of will in the successive regimes in Bangladesh to crack down on its operatives transformed this country from a democratic establishment to an emerging Islamist State. The present military backed regime assured India that it would not allow any terrorist infrastructure in the soil of Bangladesh. But if its stand at the two-day Home secretary level talks between the two countries on August 3-4, 2007 in New Delhi is any indication it is only a repetition of the earlier stand of Khaleda Zia Government All concerned in Bangladesh are aware that the top ULFA leaders like Arbind Rajkhowa and Paresh Barua are enjoying their safe stay in Bangladesh and are operating from there and yet Mohammad Abdul Karim, Home Secretary of Bangladesh did not admit their presence! #

First published in DanielPipes.Org, on August 11, 2007

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bangladesh reminded of its obligation to hold a free and fair election

A SEMINAR attended by distinguished speakers on Bangladesh titled “The Roadmap to Parliamentary Elections” was held today (Monday 25 Feb 2008) in The Moses Room at the Houses of Lords, organised by the International Bangladesh Foundation and chaired by Lord Avebury, the Vice Chair of All Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group and Chairman of International Bangladesh Foundation. The seminar was attended by MPs, MEP, Peers, Councillors and representatives of human rights organisations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Global Human Rights Defence, Jumma Peoples Network, Nirmul Committee and the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council.

Lord Avebury in his opening remarks said, we are concentrating on the conditions that will enable free and fair elections to be held as scheduled before the end of the year. He reminded that according to the electoral roadmap published by the caretaker government, talks with political parties were to be completed by the end of 2007, and the reforms to the laws on elections were to be passed by March. These targets have slipped. It would surely be useful if a revised roadmap were to be published with new deadlines for the remaining stages of the process.

Saida Muna Tasneem, Counsellor of the Bangladesh High Commission in London, gave a presentation and an overview of the caretaker government’s commitment to the roadmap to parliamentary elections by Dec 2008 & progress in vote registration and various reforms it has already implemented including the separation of the judiciary and the formation of independent election commission, anti corruption commission and an independent national human rights commission. Ms Tasneem called for continued support from international partners to successful completion of the caretaker government’s roadmap and reforms which was followed by respondents from Baroness Pola Uddin, Chairman, Britain-Bangladesh All Party Parliamentary Group, Anne Main MP, Chairman, Conservative Friends of Bangladesh, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Britain-Bangladesh All-Party Parliamentary Group & Vice-Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group, Robert Evans MEP, Chair of the European Parliament’s South Asia Delegation, Dr Charles Tannock MEP, Conservative Friends of Bangladesh. Vice-President, European Parliament's Human Rights subcommittee, Tim Parritt, Deputy Asia Programme Director, Amnesty International, Brad Adams, Asia Director, Human Rights Watch, Sultan Shariff, Awami League Joshna Miah, BNP, M A Rauf, Gano Forum and Dr Ahmed Ziauddin, Bangladesh Centre for Genocide Studies, Belgium. Ms. Sally Kebble MP also attended the seminar.

In the general discussion that followed contributors from the floor included Cllr Ayub Korom Ali, former Cllr M A Rohim, BNP President Md Kamar Uddin, Communist Party of Bangladesh representative Dr Rafiqul Hasan Khan, Westminster Cllr Mustaq Qureshi, Jenny Lundstrom of Global Human Rights Defence, Lord Bew, Koysor Syed of Mukti Joddha Sangsad, Murad Qureshi, Member London Assembly, Sally Keeble MP and Simon Lever from the Foreign Office.
Speakers expressed their deep concern at the human rights abuses under the country’s state of emergency and the caretaker government’s failure to restrain the security forces. Other speakers raised the issue of the trial of war criminals and the failure to bring the perpetrators that has led to culture of impunity. Speakers also appreciated the various steps taken by the present government against corruption, terrorism and welcomed Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed's recent comments against the war criminals but stated that it is the duty of the government to initiate the cases and take initiatives against the alleged war criminals.

All the UK and the European parliamentarians reminded Bangladesh government as friends of a free and democratic Bangladesh, the caretaker Government should live up to its political obligation by lifting emergency rule to allow political activities and political reform. Human rights violations, lifting of emergency rule must be placed on the reform agenda as a top priority and the government must respect human rights of its citizens and ensure no torture takes place.

Lord Avebury in his concluding remarks said, “There has to be freedom of expression and of assembly if elections, are to be free and fair. Elections aren’t only about having the right laws, an accurate register and impartial officials. They depend on the preconditions in the months before polling day, and crucially, on the maintenance of a peaceful environment during election campaign. #

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bangladesh Military Accused of Stalling on Elections

Activists, Others Say State of Emergency Is Camouflaging Efforts to Delay Vote Date

NORA BOUSTANY

A STATE of emergency in Bangladesh that has included the banning of political activity and a free press and led to extrajudicial killings is masking efforts by the military and its backers to stall parliamentary elections, human rights activists and observers say.

President Iajuddin Ahmed declared the state of emergency Jan. 11 to quell months of political unrest generated by charges from the opposition that voter registration rosters had been inflated by the ruling Bangladesh National Party ahead of elections originally scheduled for Jan. 22.

In a report Sept. 11, the nonprofit National Democratic Institute for International Affairs expressed alarm over preparations for the vote and the composition of the electoral commission. An institute delegation led by former senator Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) said in a statement that voter lists with 93 million names, in a country with a population of 144 million, were "substantially inconsistent with the 2001 census data." The institute said it would not certify the election process as fair or unfair.

Under threat of a boycott by the Awami League, an alliance of opposition parties, the elections were postponed; a new date has not been set. In his first address to the country, Fakhruddin Ahmed, who took over as head of a caretaker government Jan. 12, promised early this week that the vote would be "meaningful" and "free of corruption and terrorism."

A crackdown to quell election-related violence has resulted in 19 deaths in the past 10 days, according to Odhikar, a Bangladeshi human rights group. About 2,000 people have been arrested, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Bangladeshi journalists say.

Street protests initially began in the fall when Iajuddin Ahmed, the outgoing president, put himself in charge of a caretaker government, forgoing procedures that mandated appointing someone from the judiciary, Hameeda Hossain, a human rights activist, said in an interview by telephone from New York.

The caretaker government had three months to organize the elections. By law, voter rosters must be published and sent to voting centers.

When U.S.-based civic rights groups criticized the preparations for the elections, pointing out that 14 million extra names appeared on the voter lists, the opposition and its supporters vowed not to participate. The United Nations and the European Union said they were pulling out their observers because conditions were not adequate for a free and fair election.

The state instituted draconian measures, including press restrictions, some of which were subsequently lifted. Then, the army stepped in.

"The military has a very dangerous record of using extrajudicial force," Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch said in an interview from New York. In 2002, Operation Clean Heart, ostensibly an anti-crime program, led to the arrests of many, and 50 people died in custody, he added.

Tasneem Khalil, an editor at the Daily Star, an English-language newspaper, said Ahmed and his government took charge with military support. Khalil referred to what the Financial Times of London labeled "military-backed technocratic rule."
Another question is "who is running the show, what is exactly going on backstage," the journalist said. "To cloud the situation more, a section of the army along with a section of civil society, with extra-special ties with the army, want to defer elections at least a year and a half," Khalil said in an e-mail Tuesday.

"We don't really want a Pakistan-like solution, where someone like [Gen. Pervez] Musharraf decrees he is staying in power," Hossain said, referring to the Pakistani president. "What he ends up doing is encouraging the fundamentalists if the army stays on and on."

Hossain, the wife of Kamal Hossain, one of the original drafters of Bangladesh's constitution, lamented the unhealthy confrontation between the country's two main parties, a situation that has typified the country's numerous strikes and street protests, but added that her countrymen were ready for change and were looking for individuals who are not into politics for the money.

"I am sure people are tired of political parties. Out of 35 years, 15 years we have had military rule, ever since we won independence from Pakistan in 1971. Right now what happens if one party wins the election? They go all out to intimidate the other," Hossain said, adding that she plans to return home Jan. 29.

In one neighborhood of Dhaka, 20,000 people were evicted from their slum a few days ago. "The government is going out of its way to do what, cave in to business interests? They are using force against street peddlers and hawkers," she said. "None of this would have happened if the military had not stepped in. The army should come under the constitution and not act above it."

Poverty in Bangladesh has made its mostly Muslim population vulnerable to recruitment by Islamic militant organizations. Hossain said such groups exploited previous situations to make political headway.

"If people cannot express their rights freely, then fundamentalist groups will have more influence," she said. "Now, no political activity is allowed. With the absence of political participation, mosques will be used by the right-wing religious parties. This cannot be a good thing." #

First published The Washington Post, January 25, 2007, Page A22

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Historical facts of the Bangla Language Movement

MOHAMMAD BARI

September 15, 1947
Tamuddun Majlis (Cultural Society, an organization by scholars, writers and journalists oriented towards Islamic ideology) in a booklet titled State Language of Pakistan: Bangla or Urdu? Demands Bangla as one of the state language of Pakistan.

The Secretary of the Majlis, at that time a Professor of Physics in Dhaka University, [Abul Kashem] was the first person to convene a literary meeting to discuss the State Language issue in the Fazlul Huq Muslim Hall, a student residence of Dhaka University. Supporters and sympathizers soon afterwards formed a political party, the Khilafate-Rabbani Party with Abul Hashim as the Chairman. (-Talukder Maniruzzaman)

November 1947
In Karachi, the representatives of East Bengal attending the Pakistan Educational Conference, called by the Minister of Education Fazlur Rahman, a Bangla, oppose Urdu as the only national language.

February 23, 1948
Direndra Nath Dutta, a Bangalee opposition member, moves a resolution in the first session of Pakistan's Constituent Assembly for recognizing Bangla as a state language along with Urdu and English.

The resolution "... was opposed by Liaquat Ali, the Prime Minister of Pakistan and other non-Bangalee members in the Assembly. Regrettably, this was opposed by Khawaja Nazimuddin - hailing from the eastern wing - and a few other Bangalee collaborators of the West Pakistanis in the Assembly. Later, D. N. Dutta came up with a few amendments to the original resolution, and every time these were opposed by the west Pakistanis and their Bangalee stooges. The West Pakistanis were uncompromising to such a genuine demand of the majority Bangalees." (-Rafiqul Islam)

"The demand for Bangla as one of the state language gathered the spontaneous support of the Bangalee Civil Servants, academics, students, and various groups of middle class. Several members of the Provincial Assembly, including some ministers, were reportedly active in supporting the movement. By the end of February 1948, the controversy had spilled over on the streets. The East Pakistan Student League, founded in the first week of January by Mujibur Rahman, was in the forefront of the agitation." (-Hasan Zaheer)

March 1948 (1st week)
A Committee of Action of the students of Dhaka University, representing all shades of opinion - leftists, rightists, and centrists - is set up with the objective of achieving national status of Bangla.

March 11, 1948
Students demonstrating for Bangla as state language is baton-charged and a large number of students are arrested in Dhaka.

“The situation grew worse in the days that followed. The Quaid-e-Azam was due to visit Dhaka from 19 March. The provincial government became nervous and Nazimuddin under pressure of widespread agitation, the impending visit of the Governor-General, sought the help of Muhammad Ali Bogra to enter into negotiations with the Committee of Action. An agreement was signed by

Nazimuddin with the Committee which, inter alia, provided that (1) the Provincial Assembly shall adopt a resolution for making Bangla the official language of East Pakistan and the medium of instruction at all stages of education; and (2) the Assembly by another resolution would recommend to the central government that Bangla should be made one of the state languages." (-Hasan Zaheer)

March 21, 1948
Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and its first Governor-General, while on a visit to East Bengal, declares in Dhaka University convocation that while the language of the province can be Bangla, the "State language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language. Any one who tries to mislead you is really an enemy of Pakistan."

"The remark evoked an angry protest from the Bangalee youth who took it as an affront: their language Bangla was, after all, spoken by fifty-four percent of the population of Pakistan. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, then a university student, was among those who raised the protest slogan and was placed under detention. The Dacca University campus became the focal point for student meetings in support of the Bangla language." (-Siddiq Salik)

Jinnah meets the student representatives of Committee of Action to persuade them of the necessity of having one national language, but the students are not convinced.

"The discussion of Jinnah with the student representatives could not bear any fruit but blurred the difference between the student group led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his associates and the student group led by Shah Azizur Rahman. The National leadership resorted to repressive policies in order to crush the Bangla language and put its supporters behind bars." (-Md. Abdul Wadud Bhuiyan)

January 26, 1952
The Basic Principles Committee of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan announces its recommendation that Urdu should be the only state language.

In a public meting at Paltan Maidan, Dhaka, Prime Minister Nazimuddin declares that Urdu alone will be the state language of class Pakistan.

Both the developments spark off the second wave of language agitation in East Bengal.

January 28, 1952
The students of Dhaka University in a protest meeting call the Prime Minister and the Provincial Ministers as stooges of West Pakistan.

January 30, 1952
In a secret meeting called by the Awami League, which is attended by a number of communist front as well as other organizations, it is agreed that the language agitation can not be successfully carried by the students alone. To mobilize full political and student support, it is decided that the leadership of the movement should be assumed by the Awami League under Bhashani.

January 31, 1952
Bhashani presides over an all-party convention in Dhaka. The convention is attended by prominent leaders like Abul Hashim and Hamidul Haq Choudhury. A broad-based All-Party Committee of Action (APCA) is constituted with Kazi Golam Mahboob as Convener and Maulana Bhashani as Chairman, and with two representatives from the Awami League, Students League, Youth League, Khilafat-e-Rabbani Party, and the Dhaka University State Language Committee of Action.

February 3, 1952
Committee of Action holds a protest meeting in Dhaka against the move 'to dominate the majority province of East Bengal linguistically and culturally'. The provincial chief of Awami League, Maulana Bhashani addresses the meeting. On the suggestion of Abul Hashim it decides to hold a general strike on 21 February, when the East Bengal Assembly is due to meet for its budget session.

February 20, 1952
At 6 p.m. an order under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code prohibiting processions and meetings in Dhaka City is promulgated.

This order generated tension and resentment among the students.

February 21, 1952
A general strike is observed.

Noon - A meeting is held in the campus of Dhaka University. Students decide to defy the official ban imposed by Nurul Amin's administration and processions are taken out to stage a demonstration in front of the Provincial Assembly. Police starts lobbing tear gas shells to the students. Students retaliate by batting bricks. The ensuing riot spreads to the nearby campuses of the Medical and Engineering colleges.

4 p.m. -The police opens fire in front of the Medical College hostel. Five persons - Mohammad Salauddin, Abdul Jabbar, Abul Barkat, Rafiquddin Ahmed and Abdus Salam - are killed, the first three are students of Dhaka University.

"The news of the killing spread like wildfire throughout the city and people rushed in thousands towards the Medical College premises." (-- Talukder Maniruzzaman)

Inside the assembly, six opposition members press for the adjournment of the House and demand an inquiry into the incidents. But Chief Minister Nurul Amin urges the House to proceed with the planned agenda for the day. At this point all the opposition members of the Assembly walk out in protest.

February 22, 1952
Thousands of men and women throng the university, Medical College and Engineering College areas to offer prayers for the victims of the police firing.

After prayers when they go for a procession, the police open fire. The police also fire on angry mob who burned the offices of a pro-government newspaper. Four persons are killed.

As the situation deteriorates, the government calls in the military to bring things under control.

Bowing to the pressure, the Chief Minister Nurul Amin moves a motion recommending to the Constituent Assembly that Bangla should be one of the state languages of Pakistan. The motion is passed unanimously.

"For the first time a number of Muslim members voted in favour of the amendments moved by the opposition, which so far had consisted of the Hindu Congress members only. The split in the Muslim League became formalized when some members demanded a separate bloc from the Speaker; the Awami (Muslim) League had attained the status of an opposition parliamentary party." (-Hasan Zaheer)

February 23, 1952
A complete general strike is spontaneously observed, despite the resolution by the Provincial Assembly. The government again responds with repressive measures.

APCA decides to observe a general strike on February 25 to protest the government's actions.

The students of Medical College erect overnight a Shaheed Minar (Martyr's Memorial) at the place where Barkat was shot to commemorate the supreme sacrifices of the students and general population. Shaheed Minar later became the rallying symbol for the Bangalees.

February 24, 1952
The government gives full authority to the police and military to bring the situation in Dhaka back to normal within 48 hours.

"During these 48 hours the police arrested almost all the student and political leaders associated with the language movement." (-Talukder Muniruzzaman)

February 25, 1952
The Dhaka University is closed sine die.

"In the face of these repressive measures, the movement lost its momentum in Dhaka. But it spread widely throughout the districts ... In addition to demands for recognition of Bangla as one of state languages of Pakistan, students now began to call for the resignation of the 'bloody' Nurul Amin cabinet ... Nurul Amin claimed that the government "had saved the province from disaster and chaos" by its repressive measures. The students, however, argued that they had already "written the success story of the movement on the streets with their blood." In retrospect, whatever the merits of government and student actions, it is clear that the movement did sow the seeds of a secular-linguistic Bangla nationalism in east Bengal. Its immediate impact was to prepare the ground for the complete routing of the Muslim League in the 1954 elections by a United Front of opposition political parties, on a nationalistic platform of cultural, political and economic autonomy for East Bengal." (-Talukder Maniruzzaman)

"The Language Movement added a new dimension to politics in Pakistan. It left deep impression on the minds of the younger generation of Bangalees and imbued them with the spirit of Bangla nationalism. The passion of Bangalee nationalism which was aroused by the Language Movement shall kindle in the hearts of the Bangalees forever ... Perhaps very few people realised then that with the bloodshed in 1952 the new-born state of Pakistan had in fact started to bleed to death." (-Rafiqul Islam)

Social and Political impact

May 7, 1954
The Pakistan government recognizes Bangla as a state language.

Feb 26, 1956
The Constituent Assembly passes the first Constitution of Pakistan recognizing Bangla as a State Language.

March 23, 1956
The first Constitution of Pakistan comes into effect.

March 26, 1971
Bangladesh becomes an independent nation. #

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bangladesh's model offers an alternative for countries immersed in conflict

Pics: Defacto military ruler Lt. General Moeen U. Ahmed

ROBERT I. ROTBERG


WITH PAKISTAN on edge ahead of Monday's parliamentary elections and opponents vowing to oust beleaguered President Pervez Musharraf, this is a good time to look at how another nearby predominantly Muslim country is faring under military rule.

Bangladesh and its nearly 150 million people have remained stable and largely peaceful under a very differently focused strongman, Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed.

Under Moeen's direction, the military intervention in Bangladesh has been largely measured. His approach offers a potential alternative path for developing countries immersed, as so many are, in interminable political conflict and infected by rampant corruption.

Bangladesh, once known as East Pakistan, has been a sovereign nation for less than four decades. It wrenched itself from the heavy grip of post partition Pakistan only in 1971, after a short but bloody civil war.

Since then, however, Bangladesh has been convulsed by its own internal battles. Many have occurred between civilians, and some between soldiers and civilians. But almost all have been about control and the spoils of Bangladesh. Few of the differences among the various contenders, whether in uniform or civilian dress, have been about ideology.

Chief among the civilians have been the dynastic political oligarchies of the Awami League and the Bangladesh National Party. The Bangladesh National Party has been somewhat closer to India, and India's size, interests and relative economic power have greatly affected Bangladesh. But otherwise, there is little to separate the Bangladesh National Party from the Awami League.

What the two have most in common is a striving for power, a power that has provided access to great wealth. Transparency International has rated Bangladesh either the most corrupt country in the world, or nearly so, consistently since the 1990s.

Many nations are riven by ethnicity, language, religion or caste. Not so Bangladesh, one of the most homogenous large nations on Earth. About 95 percent of its people are Bengali-speaking Sunni Muslims.

The country was governed by Britain and British India until partition in 1947 as East Bengal; from partition to 1971, it was run by Musharraf's predecessors in what was then known as West Pakistan.

The American-trained Moeen assumed power in January 2007 after Bangladeshis, prompted by the Awami League, rioted in the streets of Dhaka, the capital.

The protests were aimed at the corrupt rule of the Bangladesh National Party and the prospects of unfair elections that would perpetuate BNP power.

Moeen expressed shock at television images, broadcast around the world, of Bangladeshis killing each other and destroying Dhaka.

The army had to separate the politicians, according to Moeen, and intervene to prevent bloodshed. Indeed, at the time and since, Bangladeshi public opinion has broadly supported the intervention.

The Awami League and the BNP had been feuding, with occasional bloodshed, since 1991, when civilians led by Khaleda Zia of the BNP replaced a previous military junta.

Power changed hands a few times over the next decade. But the various governments brought little economic growth and/or stability to Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world.

Moeen's intervention, unlike Musharraf's coup in Pakistan in 1999, led not to direct military rule, but to the installation of a caretaker government of civilians. Moeen and the military act as the behind-the-scenes backbone of a largely technocratic government.

The acting president is styled as "chief adviser." The various Cabinet ministers are called "advisers" as well, such as "foreign affairs adviser," and so on.

Though Moeen and his fellow generals hold the ultimate reins of power, they largely try to stay in the background. Moeen "consults" with the chief adviser only a few times a week, according to officials. And he refrains from issuing "orders."

That makes Moeen's approach unusual, and conceivably more effective than the common, hands-on approach of soldiers in the developing world.

Moeen frequently reiterates that, as promised, full civilian rule will resume and elections will be held in December. Indeed, Moeen asserts that the dangers of soldiers staying on too long are greater than the risks posed should politicians reassert control and further corrupt the country.

Moeen has not invented a mechanism for vaccinating Bangladesh against a resumption of the feud between the Awami League and the Bangladesh National Party. Nor will he. The army also refuses to intervene in the court cases now under way to determine whether former political rulers should be convicted of corruption, and thus of misrule.

Ready or not, the generals in Bangladesh will let civilians retake power in less than a year, in December.

Conceivably, a new national security council could be installed constitutionally to give the soldiers some continuing oversight of the country's political direction. That would be innovative, and it would provide another lesson for Pakistan and troubled developing countries everywhere.

Moeen and his colleagues are attempting to craft a new trajectory for a troubled Muslim country, a nation with its own potential for Islamic extremism. So far, the generals have succeeded in at least charting a new path between corrupt, inefficient civilians and heavy-handed military tyranny without arousing civil discontent or demonstrations.

Their quasi-democratic instincts could plot a path for others, even Pakistan, to follow. #

First published in Chicago Tribune, USA, February 17, 2008

Robert I. Rotberg directs Harvard University's Kennedy School program on intrastate conflict and is president of the World Peace Foundation. He recently visited Bangladesh

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Languages Matter

RIPAN KUMAR BISWAS

ON 16 MAY 2007, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2008 to be the International Year of Languages and formally recognized the observance and its resolution of the International Mother Language Day. To encourage all of its partners to increase and reinforce their activities in favor of the promotion and protection of all languages, particularly endangered ones, in all individual and collective contexts, UNESCO launched the slogan “Languages Matter!”

“Languages are indeed essential to the identity of groups and individuals and to their peaceful coexistence. They constitute a strategic factor of progress towards sustainable development and a harmonious relationship between the global and the local context,” said Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO on the eve of the International Mother Language Day 2008. He further added that the date of 21 February 2008, that of the ninth International Mother Language Day since 1999, has a special significance and provide a particularly appropriate deadline for the introduction of initiatives to promote languages.

Mother tongue is the language of nature, which is intimately related to the individual because it is structured and upheld by local laws of nature, which structure the physiology of the individual.

In recognition of the tremendous creativity involved in formulating a language, given that there are some 7,000 languages spoken amongst the planet's population, mother language has been acknowledged as an important and precious element of the cultural heritage and identity of a community. The date 21 February, corresponding to 8 Falgun 1359 in the Bangla calendar was chosen in homage to those "language martyrs" from Bangladesh who were shot on 21/22 February 1952, during public demonstrations to promote their mother language, Bangla, as a national language along with Urdu, in the then newly created Pakistan.

After hearing the heart-breaking dictation at a public meeting in Bangladesh on 1948, 21 March while the then Governor general of Pakistan Mohammed Ali Jinnah said that Urdu would be the only state language for both west and east Pakistan, the people of the East Pakistan (now Bangladesh, whose main language is Bengali) started protest against this.

A student meeting on February 21, 1952 called for a province-wide strike. But the government invoked Section 144 on 20 February. The student community at a meeting on the morning of 21 February agreed to continue with their protest but not to break the law of Section 144, but the police opened fire on them and killed the students along with other language martyrs- Abdul Jabbar, Rafiquddin Ahmed, Abul Barkat, Abdus Salam, Shafiur Rahman and others.

The origin of this Day is attributed to an organization known as "Mother Language Lovers of the World" in Canada along with some notable Non-Resident Bangladeshis, who proposed this idea to the United Nations and UNESCO and were told by UNESCO that this request should be presented through a Member State. The Government of Bangladesh obliged and 21 February was proclaimed the International Mother Language Day by UNESCO on November 17, 1999.

In Bangladesh, from 1953 until today, Feb. 21 has been observed as a martyrs' day. The memorial erected in their names has turned into a national meeting place. The love and respect that these martyrs had aroused for the Bengali mother tongue and culture eventually laid the foundation of the war of liberation of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971.

Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing the tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.

It is sad that languages are no longer being learned as mother-tongue by children. The belief that language diversity is healthy and necessary is often compared to biodiversity, and the idea that a wide array of living species is essential to the planet's well-being.

A language dies when there is nobody left to speak it. Within the space of a few generations, more than 50% of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world may disappear in the next century — that's 1,200 months from now. So this means that somewhere in the world, a language dies about every two weeks. However, less than a quarter of those languages are currently used in schools and in cyberspace, and most are used only sporadically. Thousands of languages – though mastered by those populations for whom it is the daily means of expression – are absent from education systems, the media, publishing and the public domain in general.

There are many reasons of disappearing languages— natural disasters (for instance, if an entire village of speakers is killed in a flood, or wiped out in a disease epidemic), social assimilation (speakers cease using their native language and adopt a more popular language in response to economic, cultural, or political pressures). Genocide, colonization, and forced language extinction are causes.

World body should act now as a matter of urgency to encourage and develop language policies that enable each linguistic community to use its first language, or mother tongue, as widely and as often as possible, including in education, while also mastering a national or regional language and an international language. It is important to promote languages as a tool for social integration or to explore the relationship between languages and the economy, languages and indigenous knowledge or languages and creation.

According to the French writer Stendhal, the first instrument of a people’s genius is its mother language. Everything transits through language, which embodies national, cultural and sometimes religious identity for each person. It constitutes one of the fundamental dimensions of a human being. So mother languages should be promoted everywhere. #

Published on February 20, 2008, New York

Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York. Email: Ripan.Biswas@yahoo.com

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Why is Obama receiving undue attention from Bangladeshi Americans?

A.H. JAFFOR ULLAH

WHILE SENATOR Barack Obama’s campaign is running in high gear and in the process Senator Clinton’s bid for Democratic Party’s nomination to run in November 4, 2008 is about to be fizzled out, some say Obama’s campaign has been transformed into a civil society movement. A movement to squish partisan bickering and to end divisiveness in Washington politics.

We all know that Senator Obama’s message is big on vision but short in specifics. Contrary to this, Senator Hillary Clinton’s message has no vision but is big on technical details. The senator from New York has become a technocrat. Her stump speeches are loaded with numbers. How many families will be benefited by her proposed universal health coverage, how many low income families will be benefited by her administration’s tax proposal, so on and so forth? Electorates all across America have heard these kinds of speeches both from aspiring Democrats and Republicans. Senator Obama’s speech however lacks details. He is promoting hope for the future. His thesis is that unless we do things very differently in Washington, partisan politics will not allow the nation to move forward. Mired in divisive politics the government will be run in the same fashion as it was done in the last few decades. Thus, his message is getting through especially to younger voters. Is it then a mystery that wherever he goes to address the voters, a swarm of college kids flock to his political rally and shout en masse “Yes We Can.” By uttering the slogan they meant they could change the way Washington does politics. Obama is aptly called by the media the “Agent of Change.”

With the above introduction let me delved into the issue of why all of a sudden Obama is getting the attention of Bangladeshi Americans? Mind you, Democratic Party never had appealed to our deshi Americans. In 1980 quite a few of my friends and acquaintances from Bangladesh voted for Ronald Reagan. When I asked them why they sided with Republicans, the answer that I received was Democratic Party was dominated by American blacks, homosexuals, lesbians, and super liberals (read atheists). In the same vein they did not vote for Walter Mondale in 1984 nor did they vote for Michael Dukakis in 1988. In 2000 the deshi Americans overwhelmingly rejected the candidacy of Vice President Al Gore. I heard from reliable sources that goaded by Mullahs most Muslims in America who seriously offers their Jumma prayer (Sabbath Day prayer) at mosque cast their vote in favor of George W. Bush not that they had faith in Bush, a born-again Christian, but to put roadblocks to Gore-Lieberman ticket. You may recall that Senator Joseph Lieberman is a practicing Jew and that is what was causing consternation among Muslim voters. Had the Muslims in Florida voted for Al Gore-Lieberman ticket, George Bush could not have been elected in 2000. In a way, the Muslim Americans had helped Bush enormously become the president. Of course, Mr. Bush helped the Muslim world by sending troops to Afghanistan and Iraq. They surely received their comeuppance.

I recall one Bangladeshi writer by the name Fakhruddin Ahmed from Princeton, NJ who fit the bill of anti Al Gore-Lieberman ticket. This person writes article for Daily Star of Dhaka. In 2004 Mr. Fakhruddin wrote an article as President Bush waged his campaign for reelection in which he virulently attacked George Bush for invading Afghanistan and Iraq. After reading his article Jamal Hasan, a Bangladeshi American writer, and I wrote rebuttals to Fakhruddin’s article, which was published in Daily Star. We both pointed out that it was the action of Fakhruddin and many like him who sided with Bush in 2000 presidential election that led to the victory of the Republican ticket. Therefore, the writer could not have it both ways. Mr. Fakhruddin was taken to task by us; however, he never wrote any rejoinder against our strong rebuttal. Surprisingly, the same writer is now penning pro-Obama article. One such article was published in Daily Star just after Super Tuesday’s (February 5, 2008) primary election. Mr. Fakhruddin is gaga on Obama but for all the wrong reasons. Like him, many deshi Americans are fascinated with Obama because his father was a Kenyan Muslim. The senator took the name of his father. His first and last names are African but his middle name is Hussein. Therefore, the deshi Americans who are Muslim are gushing over Obama’s success as a candidate. This scribe will not be surprised hearing the statistics that Bangladeshi Muslim Americans have given their nods to Senator Obama despite the fact that there is not even an ounce of Muslimness in him. They will be dead wrong thinking that a Muslim man is going to live for the next four years in the White House.

Senator Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, met and befriended a Kenyan scholar by the name Barack Obama Sr. at University of Hawaii’s East-West Center. They married and Obama Jr. was born in 1961. The couple was divorced and Obama Jr. was raised by his mother and later by his maternal grandfather who were from Kansas. Senator Obama was steeped in Christian upbringing and there is no ounce of Muslimness in him. He married in early 1990s to a Chicagoan, Michelle, who is also a Christian. In his biography it is mentioned that Senator Obama had been a lifelong Christians. Sheer out of curiosity Senator Obama had visited his ancestral paternal village in Kenya. In all probability his father was a Muslim.

I jotted down a brief family history of Senator Obama for a good reason. Our delusional deshi Americans should not have any reason to think that the leading candidate from Democratic Party is a Muslim. In my opinion, a contender for the highest public office should not be judged by his or her religion but by his vision, agenda, political philosophy and a slues of other factors.

A year ago if anybody would have asked me about the prospect of a minority candidate for the office of U.S. presidency, I would have answered very negatively. Hardly six months ago had I held the opinion that America is not ready for a woman nor it is ready for an African American to be elected for the highest public office in the land? But how wrong was I? The electorates are to some extent color blind.

All the opinion polls are indicating that older generations are mostly voting for Senator Clinton but younger generations are siding with Barack Obama. The senator from America’s heartland was able to patch a coalition of African Americans, college-going voters, and highly educated and liberal Americans who are the supporters of the junior senator from Illinois. The Clintons thought they had the monopoly in Democratic Party. Despite the name recognition and help from Bill Clinton, Senator Clinton’s campaign for the White House hit a big wall. All indications are pointing toward an Obama victory. By the first week of April 2008 it will be crystal clear that Obama will have enough delegates to lock the victory.

Our deshi Americans should not be so effusive about Senator Obama. Habitually they have sided with Republican candidates in presidential elections. They can vote for Senator McCain who promised to fight Muslim extremists in Iraq and keep the GIs for another 100 years if the need be. They should not vote for Obama because his middle name is Hussein. #

A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA

Friday, February 15, 2008

‘Reform-Minded’ Government Not Addressing Arbitrary Detention and Torture

Bangladesh: Tortured Journalist Describes Surviving Military Beatings

THE ARBITRARY arrest and torture of journalist Tasneem Khalil by Bangladesh’s notorious military intelligence agency highlights abuses under the country’s state of emergency and the interim government’s failure to restrain the security forces, Human Rights Watch said in a new report today. Human Rights Watch called upon the Bangladeshi government, as well as the country’s donors, to urgently tackle the endemic problem of torture.

The 39-page report, “The Torture of Tasneem Khalil: How the Bangladesh Military Abuses Its Power Under the State of Emergency,” graphically details Khalil’s 22-hour ordeal in May 2007 in Bangladesh’s clandestine detention and torture system – a setup well known to the government, ordinary Bangladeshis, Dhaka’s donors, and diplomatic community.

“Rampant illegal detention and torture are clear evidence of Bangladesh’s security forces running amok,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “Tasneem Khalil’s prominence as a critical journalist may have prompted his arrest, but it also may have saved his life. Ordinary Bangladeshis held by the security forces under the emergency rules have no such protections.”

At a detention center operated by the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), the military intelligence agency, officers brutally beat and threatened Khalil, a journalist for the English-language Daily Star, part-time consultant for Human Rights Watch, and a news representative for CNN. Demonstrating just how confident they are that they will not be held accountable, DGFI officials even brought Khalil to meet the editor of his paper before returning him to the detention center for further beatings.

After his release and a month in hiding, Khalil fled Bangladesh for safety in Sweden, which granted asylum to him and his family. This report represents the first time that Khalil has spoken publicly of his experiences.

Late one night in May 2007, armed men presenting themselves as belonging to the “joint forces” came to Khalil’s apartment in central Dhaka. In front of his wife and infant, they pressed a gun against his lips, blindfolded him and brought him to a waiting car. He was taken to an interrogation center run by the DGFI, where he was held in a cell specially designed for torture. Khalil was threatened with execution and repeatedly kicked and beaten with batons on the head, arms, abdomen and other parts of the body. He was forced to confess to – and implicate friends and colleagues in – anti-state and anti-military activity, and to smuggling of sensitive national security information to foreign organizations.

Khalil was punished for his criticism of the security forces’ role in extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, and other abuses.

After tremendous international and national pressure, Khalil was released after 22 hours in custody. He then had to go into hiding for a month, before international pressure compelled the authorities to allow him to leave Bangladesh safely for asylum in Sweden.

Human Rights Watch said that tens of thousands of people have been arbitrarily detained by security forces since January 2007, when the current government came to power on a reform agenda. Many of these individuals were tortured in custody. In its popular public campaign against corruption and abuse of political power, the government has routinely used torture to extract confessions or to gain information. Torture has also been used to punish and intimidate peaceful critics of the government and army’s role as the de facto rulers of the country.

Human Rights Watch urged the interim government in Bangladesh to make the protection of human rights as much of a priority as its fight against corruption. It should discipline or prosecute, as appropriate, members of the security forces, including the DGFI, the army and paramilitary forces such as the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), police and other government officials, regardless of rank, who have been responsible for arbitrary arrests and torture or other mistreatment of persons in detention.

“While few would dispute that corruption, organized crime, politicization of the bureaucracy and political violence had to be addressed in Bangladesh, the interim government must realize that reform cannot be built on midnight knocks on the door and torture,” said Adams. “A peaceful democratic society requires respect for basic rights.”

International human rights law permits limitations on some rights during an officially proclaimed state of emergency to “the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation.” However, certain basic rights, such as the right to life and the prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, may never be restricted. Bangladesh is not only obligated to prohibit torture, but to actively adopt measures to end the practice, bring those responsible to justice, and provide redress for the victims.

“The security forces have been arbitrarily detaining and torturing people, but there have been no serious attempts at holding those responsible for these criminal acts to account,” said Adams. “Why hasn’t the government made the protection of Bangladeshis from this scourge a priority? Are they reformers, or do they just say they are reformers?”

Human Rights Watch expressed its appreciation for the efforts by members of the international community to gain the release of Khalil from custody and secure his ability to leave the country afterward. But it called on donors, who have significant influence, to place a higher priority and to act with greater urgency to press the government to address torture and arbitrary detentions. Human Rights Watch noted that the government and donors know who was responsible for Khalil’s illegal detention and torture and where the facility is located, but no action has been taken.

“Bangladesh’s international friends need to make the eradication of torture a top priority in their relations with Bangladesh,” said Adams. “And they should press for the prosecution of the senior military and law enforcement officials responsible for running Bangladesh’s torture industry.”

Excerpts from Tasneem Khalil’s statement:
“[A member of the arresting party] jumped up from the chair, pulled out a revolver from his holster, pushed it against my lips, and started shouting, ‘You are under arrest.’ I started shouting back, telling them that what they were doing was illegal. Then all of them started shouting abusive words at me, telling me to shut up, otherwise there would be problems for my wife and child. Throughout, my wife Shuchi and son Tiyash were watching the whole thing.

“Then they asked me about my connections with Human Rights Watch. I told them I work as their consultant. When they inquired further, I told them I had worked with Human Rights Watch since 2006. I worked with Human Rights Watch on a report about extrajudicial killings by RAB. That suddenly infuriated them so much that all of them started hitting the table with hands and sticks and started shouting at me. ‘How dare you write against our brothers in RAB? You are a burden on society. You are an immoral, unethical insect, an anti-state criminal.’ Someone came around the table and started punching me on my head again.

“The Forum article made my interrogators furious. They started beating me again mercilessly, from all possible directions with hands and batons and kicks. I pleaded with them to give me one last chance. I said I would not do those things again. But one person said I had already ‘made the blunder.’ I think this was a reference to my lunch with the diplomats.

“The beating continued for some time. Then another person said, ‘We will think about giving you a chance, but you have to do as we say.’ He said I had to write a confession to the AIG [Additional Inspector General] of police, saying what they wanted me to say. Then I had to beg for his mercy.

“They dictated some points I should include, such as admitting that I was engaged in anti-state, anti-military, anti-RAB activity, and that I smuggled out sensitive national security information to foreign organizations. That I keep close ties with the opposition Awami League party [I am friends with many in the Awami League, but I was not a member and was not involved in party politics]. That I am engaged in propaganda against the current caretaker government. That I want to destabilize Bangladesh, that I am immoral and unethical, a yellow journalist. That whatever I write, I write for name and fame and money.

“With my blindfold off, I could finally see where I was. The room I was in was a torture cell. It was a small room with no windows, one doorway with a wooden door, and a second grill, like in a prison. The room was soundproofed with a wooden wall covered with small holes, like in an old recording studio. There were two CCTV cameras in the corners attached to the ceiling. There was a fan. I was sitting in front of a table and three batons were on the table, along with some stationery. One was a wooden baton, about a meter long. The other two were covered with black plastic. Poking out of the end of these two were metal wires which appeared to fill the plastic covers. The plastic and wire batons were a little shorter than the wooden one. I assume these were the batons they tortured me with. When one guy saw that I was looking at them, he put them aside. I’m not sure if they used electricity on me. The pain often came like shocks, but they were hitting me so hard that I’m not sure whether it was just the force that hurt like this or if it was electricity.

“Then I glanced behind me and I saw what looked like a metal bed frame. It was the same size as a normal single bed, but it was placed on a platform with steps up to it. The bed had straps fitted at the top and bottom, presumably for tying people on to it. There was a wheel to change the angle of the bed to lift it up or down. There were spikes at the top of the bed. Right beside that there were ropes fitted to the ceilings with rubber loops for wrists to go through.”

Fortunate Tasneem
In a sense, Tasneem was fortunate. He had the advantage of foreign friends, colleagues, and diplomats who were in a position to appeal to the government for help. However, there are thousands now in custody, unable to secure bail and often subjected to torture, who are not so well connected.

The consequences of the emergency for many Bangladeshis have been severe. The interim government had initially been welcomed by many Bangladeshis because it was installed by the army on the promise to end corruption, abuse of power, and political violence. But after one year, the state of emergency remains in place, seemingly as much to limit party political activity, restrict freedom of expression and assembly, and provide political protection to the government as to address corruption or real internal security problems.

Many Bangladeshis are worried about the indefinite suspension of rights and have begun to question whether the military will be willing to give up power to one of the main parties following the 2008 elections. As The Daily Star, a newspaper that has often supported the interim government, lamented in a July editorial:

The only reason that the caretaker government has survived six months in power, and the chief advisor acknowledges it every time an occasion arises, is because the general public think of it to be an instrument to strengthen democracy. But now if this very instrument of “strengthening democracy” becomes a symbol of mindless and arbitrary use of power, then how will the public distinguish it from such previous abusers of power and continue to lend it support?30

When challenged on the rights situation, government officials often claim that the human rights situation is no worse than under the previous democratically elected government. This is a highly contested assertion. However, even if true, this is not the appropriate standard. Torture is never acceptable. The government’s failure to address it seriously is a black mark on its record.31
The government as well as donor countries point to the scheduled 2008 elections as a panacea, suggesting that the government needs to focus on elections and that other problems either will be resolved by, or can wait for, elections. This is a false assumption. Ongoing and future victims of abuses cannot wait for a future government to end their suffering, provide redress, and prosecute those responsible.

The interim government may claim that it does not have the power to move against the DGFI and other human rights abusers in the security services. It is unclear how much control the army, under the interim government, has over the DGFI. Many senior Bangladeshi officials and some diplomats have told Human Rights Watch that they believe that the DGFI operates as a de facto independent entity beyond army control. Others argue that it is under the control of the army. Under elected governments, the DGFI reported directly to the minister of defense. Both Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina simultaneously held the defense portfolio while prime minister, ensuring the DGFI was under their direct control.

However, referring to article 61 of the constitution, the current interim government does not have responsibility for defense. Instead, this rests with the president. But President Iajuddin Ahmed was removed as chief advisor by the army in January 2007 and is in no position to supervise or give orders to the military. Thus, at present, the army and DGFI appear to be powers unto themselves. For this reason, many argue that DGFI now has the ability to run a de facto parallel government in Bangladesh with no institutional or legal oversight. The result is rampant impunity for DGFI officials, who continue arbitrarily to arrest and detain suspects without charge and to torture detainees, such as Tasneem Khalil.

But, whatever the extent of its power, there are no signs that the interim government has made any attempt to rein in the DGFI or that it even disapproves of its actions when taken against government critics and opponents. Politically, however, the interim government is in a strong position to take on issues like torture. It has claimed to be reformist, it has considerable international backing, and the army needs the interim government as much as the government needs the army, since if it resigned it would expose the reality of military rule.

The government knows who was responsible for Tasneem Khalil’s torture—Human Rights Watch informed government officials soon after he was released—and that of the many other DGFI victims. The government knows where they work and where the torture centers are located. To date we are unaware of any disciplinary or legal action taken against any of those responsible for Khalil’s arrest and torture. The government is aware that his case was not an isolated one—credible reports of torture continue to be legion, suggesting that torture continues to be frequently used by both law enforcement officials and members of the armed forces. The chief advisor and other members of the government chose to enter government. We do not believe they did so in order to preside over a government and security forces that routinely abuse human rights. But that is the reality in Bangladesh today. #

To view the Human Rights Watch report, “The Torture of Tasneem Khalil: How the Bangladesh Military Abuses Its Power Under the State of Emergency,” please visit: http://hrw.org/reports/2008/bangladesh0208/

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Try telling Bangladeshis that elections are bad for the poor

POLLY TOYNBEE

The march of democracy - so impressive in the past 50 years - must not stumble over indifference and fears of violence

IT WAS a moving sight: hundreds of people on rows of long benches under canopies, enthusiastically waiting to register to vote. Kaliakor is a district of Bangladesh preparing for elections, elections no one is entirely certain the military government will call. Many fear a return to democracy will bring political violence. Look what elections did to Kenya - democracy is dangerous. Many query whether imposing late western systems on dirt-poor developing nations is a good idea.

David Miliband, the foreign secretary, was visiting Bangladesh and urging a safe return to democracy. "Clean and effective government," he called for here - as he had in Afghanistan two days earlier - and in Pakistan, whose imminent elections threaten yet more bloodshed.

Voting alone doesn't guarantee democracy. Political violence, feudal patronage and corruption may break out the day after hotly contested elections. Leaders of both main Bangladeshi parties - "the two ladies" - are locked up on widely believed corruption charges. Frankly, it needs the pen of an Evelyn Waugh to do justice to the personal grudge war between these two 67-year-olds, one a daughter and the other a widow of founding heroes of the war of independence, who refuse to speak or compromise despite barely a sari's thickness of policy difference between them.

Today, back in Oxford, Miliband gives a lecture with a strong message on democracy in honour of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's imprisoned leader. He reaffirms the need to back democrats wherever they are in a post-Iraq and China-influenced world growing dangerously blase about democratic values. Despite all the turmoil he has observed, he declares that a universal democratic "civilian surge" means "there are no regional or continental values that are inhospitable to democracy".

The march of democracy in the past 30 years makes an impressive list: Europeans liberated in Portugal, Spain and Greece; all of Latin America (save Cuba) now democratic; the collapse of the Soviet empire and authoritarian regimes in Asia, from Indonesia and the Philippines to South Korea and Taiwan, while Mandela's election seemed to mark new hope in Africa. Now 60% of the world's people elect their leaders. Put like that, democracy looks unstoppable - only a matter of time before the Middle East, the Gulf states and China succumb.

Yet democracy has many enemies. China's and Singapore's leaders claim rapid economic progress needs nothing of the kind, pointing to less successful poor countries struggling with elections. Meanwhile the left is increasingly suspicious of the word "freedom", hijacked by neocons. Democracy at the point of a gun can look like a fig-leaf excuse for enforcing neocolonial western interests. If democracy is such a good thing, why does the west prop up and arm autocracies such as Saudi Arabia? Why kowtow so abjectly to Chinese wealth? It was Ken Livingstone who in 1987 - back in his red-hot days - wrote a book called If Voting Changed Anything, They'd Abolish It. (He's rightly rather keen on Londoners getting out to vote now). On the right there is always a business phalanx that finds stable despotism good to do business with - no problem trading with China or the Gulf.

Democracy struggles to take root in countries so poor that the rice needed to keep a family alive is willingly traded for a vote: patronage and clans promising corrupt favours will trump political ideals every time. Political scientists observe that democratic governments rarely survive in countries with per capita incomes of less than $1,500 a year: Kenyans and Pakistanis live on under $1,000. The same research finds democracy rarely fails once per capita incomes rise to $6,000 a year.

But no rules about human life are absolute: in Bangladesh political passions run high, though pockets may be empty; and people impressed on Miliband time and again the importance of elections. Look at India, whose per capita income is still under $1,000, yet its democracy thrives with a free press and independent judiciary. Meanwhile Russia backslides on $8,000 a head.

There is another endemic problem with democracy - the chasm between rhetoric and reality, between promise and performance. Nothing again is ever as exhilarating as the moment the Berlin Wall fell or Mandela walked free. Afterwards disillusion with the drudgery of everyday governance turns things sour. The longer established a democracy, the more secure and better run it is, then the more cynical citizens become - less likely to vote, more heartily despising their relatively uncorrupt and efficient politicians. But telling jaded Europeans to value their vote is no more use than telling well-fed western children to eat crusts that would be the envy of starving Zimbabweans.

Democracy does need constant renewal. In Britain neither of the main parties - not David Miliband in this speech - are yet willing to reform the profound dysfunctions of a system that lets the next election revolve around the super-votes of just 8,000 swing citizens in key marginals. Though in a previous job Miliband was forward-thinking in reviving the power and pride of Britain's great cities, electoral reform is still out of bounds for Labour.

China's People's Daily was quick to gloat over the Kenyan fallout: "Western-style democracy simply isn't suited to African conditions, but rather carries the roots of disaster." Miliband's Oxford lecture will be a resounding refutation of this, and a restatement of universal values. But he avoids Blairite hubris and triumphalism. Although he is "unapologetic about a mission to help democracy spread", he also stresses the "need to be cautious about our capacity to change the world", emphasising the power of international institutions - the international criminal court, the World Trade Organisation, the EU, the UN - to build the culture of democracy. "Democracy can and will take root in all societies".

In the end, this argument always falls back on Churchill: democracy is the least bad system yet devised, which is hardly a ringing endorsement with which to confront China or Saudi Arabia, the left or the right. Waiting with trepidation for what elections may unleash in Pakistan and Bangladesh, or next year in Afghanistan, can make orderly military rule look a better option than Kenyan-style slaughter. But then ask why were so many very poor, mostly illiterate, people queuing under those canopies in Kaliakor. They were driven by the universal desire to chose their own rulers, however difficult and dangerous the road to democracy. #

First published in The Gaurdian, London, Britain, February 12 2008

Polly Toynbee is a Guardian columnist and president of the Social Policy Association. She was formerly BBC social affairs editor, columnist and associate editor of the Independent, co-editor of the Washington Monthly and a reporter and feature writer for the Observer. She could be reached: polly.toynbee@guardian.co.uk

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Scattered memories of 1971

ANTARA DATTA

Forgetting and remembering the birth of Bangladesh at Dhaka’s Muktijuddho Jadughor.

THE CLOSE links between history and memory have been written about at length, but in the context of South Asia the line between the two is blurred to the point of near non-existence. For a region where the two oldest countries only just passed their 60th birthday, the people’s memories of the past, and the ‘truth’ about what really happened, are inextricably linked. Researchers attempting to write about Partition, the 1983 anti-Tamil riots in Colombo or the 1984 anti-Sikh riots of Delhi and elsewhere often run into similar obstacles: there are so many who lived through these experiences still alive today that their emotion-laden memories of those dark days tend to overshadow efforts to analyse and objectively re-examine the past.

For Bangladesh, the traumatic memories of 1971 continue to haunt its very sense of identity, similar to how the memories of 1947 continually reflect on the way India and Pakistan deal with each other’s existence. Indeed, there is much that is similar between 1947 and 1971: both involved the dramatic and traumatic dismemberment of nations, followed by a massive migration of people, and violence that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions. As with 1971 between Pakistan and Bangladesh, India and Pakistan continue to define much of their national sense of selfhood vis-à-vis one another, with 1947 forming the traumatic backdrop.

While much has been written about the ‘high politics’ of 1947, for a long time there was little printed material about the human cost of the tragedy. On the other hand, there is no dearth of literature about 1971. The bookshelves of the Muktijuddho Jadughor, the Liberation War Museum, in Dhaka, are overflowing with personal accounts of heroism, flight and suffering that took place during that year. But almost all of those who have written about the war were either directly involved in it, witnesses to its events, or have a vested interest in airing their opinion after the fact. Somewhat counter-intuitively, this wealth of information ends up dramatically complicating the attempt to separate fact from fiction, emotion from reality, and rhetoric from ‘truth’, in the course of any attempt to construct a nuanced account of 1971.

The Muktijuddho Jadughor, which opened in 1996, has embarked on a remarkable oral-history project. Even as hundreds of schoolchildren visit the permanent exhibition in Dhaka, as well as the museum’s constantly travelling mobile exhibit, they are asked when they return home to interview a surviving muktijoddha, someone who fought in the Liberation War of 1971. Day by day, these accounts are being slowly compiled into a fascinating archive, with already some 6000 accounts having been collected from across the country. But while the availability of oral sources is a clear boon for the anthropologist, it can be something of a bane for the historian.

Rotating textbooks
In Bangladesh, as elsewhere, the writing of history can often be a political project, with a choice made between competing narratives jostling for space. In the post-1971 period, there were several attempts made under the Awami League government to document the war. These resulted in an impressive collection of primary documents published by the Ministry of Information, a 16-volume series that includes not only official documents, but also oral histories, FIRs and police reports, as well as a collection of press clippings from around the world.

With the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in August 1975 and the coming to power of General Ziaur Rahman, the writing of history in Bangladesh took a decidedly political turn. Since then, each successive government has sought to impose its own stamp on the country’s history. In so doing, every minute detail of the 1971 war has been hotly debated, including who purportedly issued the first cry of independence, the true part played by India, and the highly contentious role of the Razakars, the militia recruited by the Pakistan Army consisting of non-Bengali Muslims and some pro-Pakistani Bengalis. Textbooks prepared under the military regimes and the governments of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) tried to drop all references to India, and refer to Pakistan not by name but as hanadar bahini, the ‘enemy army’. This skewed presentation in the textbooks has led legions of Bangladeshi schoolchildren to believe that the mukti bahini, the Liberation Army, actually fought against India in 1971.

Immediately after 1971 and again in 1996, during times when the Awami League was in power, history textbooks have likewise been focused on presenting a version of history that emphasises the heroic sacrifices of Bengali martyrs and the contributions of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Between 1996 and 2001, Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina (daughter of the assassinated Sheikh Mujib) tried to re-introduce her father to schoolchildren, a move that resulted in a comical tit-for-tat vis-à-vis the BNP over whether Zia or Mujib was the first to declare independence. For the first time, there were also references included in these textbook revisions to the role of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party and its supposed link to the Razakars. The Awami League textbooks describe the Pakistan Army as the“aggressor Pakistani invaders” or the “occupation forces”, stressing the terrible toll on Bengali lives with no acknowledgement of the violence inflicted on non-Bengalis. In 2001, when the BNP again came to power, all such revisions were in turn removed.

Similar tinkering with nationalist narratives has gone on in the former West Pakistan, as well. Students in modern-day ‘Pakistani Studies’ classes use textbooks that argue: “Since independence, the leadership of East Pakistan has been in the hands of [separatists who,] in collaboration with Hindu teachers, polluted the political air and spread poisonous propaganda among the young students of East Pakistan.” Bangladesh is subsequently seen as the result of that ‘poisonous propaganda’, in which separatist elements and pro-Hindu teachers are conflated.

As also happens in India, military accounts dominate the Pakistani narrative, such as Lieutenant-General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi’s 1998 work The Betrayal of East Pakistan. Niazi was the army officer who ultimately signed the surrender document that signalled the end of the war, and in his book he places the blame squarely on Zulfikhar Ali Bhutto and the political leaders of Pakistan for ‘betraying’ the army. He reserves particular vitriol for Bhutto, whom he sees as not just responsible for the debacle but also for rigging the subsequent Hamood-ur Rehman Commission in an attempt to gloss over the role of the politicians in the separation of West and East Pakistan.

There are, then, a plethora of oral sources ‘recounting’ the events of 1971, as well as an equal variety of somewhat dubious official sources, and many bookshelves’ worth of memoirs. The combined effect of this flood of information, however, leaves us with more questions than answers. For instance: What happened to those who opposed the Awami League’s agenda? What was the role played by the non-Bengalis, and what of those who ‘collaborated’? Who were they, and what happened to them after 1971? What of the non-Bengalis in Bangladesh, the Biharis, who for the past three and a half decades have been a stateless people (see Himal Oct-Nov 2007, “Bangladeshi at last”)? The exhibits at the Muktijuddho Jadughor, while paying homage to the memory of 1971, also undertake to begin answering some of these questions.

Conflicting narratives
The main displays at the Jadughor are seen by following a yellow line on the floor, which zigzags back and forth through the various exhibits, many of which take as their starting point some of the most well-known events of 1971. On 14 December of that year, for instance, two days before the end of the fighting, the erstwhile East Pakistan was witness to a night of despicable violence, which today is commemorated in Bangladesh as Martyrs’ Day. That night, with defeat imminent, the Pakistan Army massacred almost a thousand engineers, journalists, physicians, lawyers and professors. Their bodies were later found tossed into mass graves. Perhaps the most haunting display at the museum is the memorabilia donated by the families of those killed that night. There is a thumbed-over book of poetry by Yates, donated by the family of a professor of English literature; the blood-spattered t-shirt of four-year-old Rehana, daughter of Mukti Bahini commander Abdus Salam Khan; and clothes, pipes, books and diaries lovingly donated by the families of those who died. Today, these personal possessions are possibly the starkest reminder of the violence that was unleashed on Bangladesh during the ten months between March and December 1971.

As with the lived experiences, however, the exhibits at the Jadughor are far from monolithic in the realities they present. Scattered along the hallways and staircases of the museum, for instance, are a collection of posters exhorting people to support and join the Mukti Bahini – “Era apnaderi santan” say some of them, “They are your sons, too”. These pictures also reveal that, other than those members of the Mukti Bahini who were part of the East Pakistan Rifles or the East Bengal Regiment, the rest of the army was made up of volunteers, peasants, students and workers, and was often a ragtag fighting force. A picture showing the Mukti Bahini taking over enemy positions at Dinajpur in early May 1971 depicts most of the fighters dressed in lungis, holding their rifles aloft and posing, somewhat mockingly, for the cameras. Other photographs meant to depict the heroism of the Mukti Bahini are unintentionally funny, reflecting just how desperately under-armed the fighters really were.

This conflict, between the reality of 1971 and the narratives that have evolved over the past three and a half decades, can be seen in any number of examples. The roles of both the Mukti Bahini and the Indian Army during the war of 1971, for instance, remain controversial to this day. For example, many Bangladeshi nationalists argue that the Mukti Bahini fighters were significantly more than a mere source of irritation for the West Pakistani army, and that they had virtually won the war by the time the Indian Army stepped in to clear up the debris. While this notion may be a trifle romantic, it is in stark contrast to the memoirs of various Indian generals, who argue that they used the Mukti Bahini for little more than intelligence-gathering and reconnaissance missions.

Similarly contested is the number of East Pakistani women who were raped during the chaos of 1971. There are no reliable numbers on this, and estimates vary from 3000 to as many as 400,000. While there is no question that rapes did occur on a tragically mass scale, the issue of whether there was a systematic policy of rape is much harder to uncover. Many of the first-person narratives about 1971 – including Nilima Ibrahim’s haunting Ami Birangona Bolchhi (I Am a Heroine Speaking) – contain accounts of rape. At the same time, however, there exists a veil of silence over the fate of individual women; other than a few films, a PhD thesis or two, and the occasional newspaper article, this issue remains a notoriously sensitive one. Bangladesh’s initial state policy was similarly confused. The new Bangladeshi state tried to incorporate these women into national life by calling them birangonas, or heroines, but simultaneously refused to grant citizenship to the children born of rape.

The exhibit at the Jadughor on sexual violence is particularly noticeable because it is in English. While most of the exhibits have Bangla commentary with English translations, there is no Bangla translation beneath the wrenching photograph of a woman covering her face. The use of this picture has suggested to some that that those who were raped were covered in shame, and could not lift their head to face the country. But while this may seem problematic, the plaque beneath the photo contains a sensitive summary of the issue at stake:

Part of the reason interested quarters today are able to question the existence of war crimes against women is that there have been no histories written of this episode of the war, there are no testimonial, or interviews. For the most part, this issue has been brushed aside, since it requires us to look within ourselves, at the strictures and structures of our own society as well as to condemn the brutality of the other. Clearly the ambiguous figure of the birangona (the shamed one) cannot be easily contained within a generalised glorious narrative of the nation.

This paragraph adequately captures the dilemma that lies at the core of the portrayal of raped women in Bangladesh: on the one hand they are nationalist symbols, while on the other the country remains unsure of how to deal with them. At the same time, the lack of Bangla discourse in this particular instance is disconcerting, inevitably doing more to confuse the discourse than to clarify it.

Collaborative complexity
A third area of controversy that the Muktijuddho Jadughor alludes to is the presence of ‘collaborators’ among the Bengali Muslim population of Bangladesh in 1971. An exhibit titled “Forces Opposing Bangladesh Independence” discusses three primary groups in this regard. The first two are the Pakistani armed forces and the “Civilian Administration in Occupied Bangladesh”. The third, however, is referred to as the “Local Collaborators”, said to include the “Peace Committees, Al-Badr and Al-Shams”. To counter the increasing guerrilla activity in the late summer of 1971, a decision was taken by the Pakistan Army to create a series of paramilitary forces. The Razakars was set up in an effort to concentrate support among the religious youth, and was split into two wings. Al-Badr was recruited from the madrassas, and its fighters were used for raids. Al-Shams, on the other hand, had much more lax recruitment policies, and was used exclusively for protecting bridges in and around urban neighbourhoods.

The Jadughor exhibit alleges that there were 50,000 such ‘collaborators’. It includes the identity card of one such individual, one Hossain Ahamed, a member of the Muslim League and of the Dacca City Razakar Organisation. There is also a letter to the secretary of the Thana Peace Committee written on 7 June 1971 by a certain M Joynal Abedin, stating that he had been forced to flee his house, as the Mukti Bahini had “attempted to arrest and kill” him. Abedin also noted that he was a “supporter of the Muslim League and worked in favour of the same during the last general election” – before asking whether he could move into a house, the particulars of which he listed as follows:

Owner: Kumar Dhirendranath Chakrabarty, s/o late Monoranjan Chakrabarty (Manik babu), Village Ulipur (Jotder Para), one south facing tin shed, measuring 20 x 10½ and two bamboo houses.

What is intriguing about this information is the level of detail provided. The use of nicknames suggests a particular level of familiarity. It is certainly possible that Abedin knew Chakrabarty, whose name suggests that he was Hindu, and whose abandoned house suggests that he might have joined the ranks of the refugees who fled to India.

The wounds of a war run much deeper than the physical manifestations of the destruction it leaves behind. There is emotional scarring – the mental trauma of a people who have seen the unforgettable, and are haunted by their dreams. But how does that fit into the history of that people, and of that country? In the case of 1971, much has been remembered, of course, and has been significant to the construction of the Bangladeshi nationalist narrative – the heroism of the Mukti Bahini, the brutality of the West Pakistani army, and the euphoria of 16 December 1971. But much also has been forgotten: the non-Bengalis of East Pakistan, the fate of those who opposed the Awami League, the women who were raped and abandoned.

There is little doubt of the immense human tragedy that accompanied 1971. But, as with 1947, such human tragedy was also accompanied by great hope and celebration – the birth of a new nation, and, for many, liberation from oppression. However, the Bangladeshi dream has not quite gone the way it was originally envisioned, and Bangladesh has spent many years under military rule, including today. Perhaps the final question to ponder has to do with the legacies of 1971. Do the divisions that surfaced in 1971 carry with them a portent of what is to come? And, in perhaps the bitterest of ironies, why has Bangladesh’s political history, in the 35 years since independence, begun to resemble that of Pakistan? #

First HIMAL South Asian, Kathmandu, Nepal