Friday, October 28, 2011

Bangladesh, India, Pakistan vulnerable to climate change

SALEEM SAMAD

A NEW global ranking of climate change finds most Asian countries including Bangladesh, India, Philippines, Vietnam and Pakistan will face the greatest risks to their populations, ecosystems and business environments.

The index rates 16 countries as ‘extreme risk,’ including nations that represent new Asian economic power and possess significant forecasted growth. The highest risk categories are major contributors to the ongoing global economic recovery and are vital to the future expansion of Western businesses in particular, which worries environmentalists.

The new Climate Change Vulnerability Index released by global risks advisory firm Maplecroft recently, which enables organizations to identify areas of risk within their operations, supply chains and investments.

Principal Environmental Analyst at Maplecroft, Dr Matthew Bunce said that over the next 30 years their vulnerability to climate change will rise due to increases in air temperature, precipitation and humidity.

Maplecroft rates Bangladesh as the most at risk due to extreme levels of poverty and a high dependency on agriculture, whilst its government has the lowest capacity of all countries to adapt to predicted changes in the climate.

In addition, Bangladesh has a high risk of drought and the highest risk of flooding. This is illustrated during October 2010, when 500,000 people were driven from their homes by flood waters created by storms.

However, despite the country’s plethora of problems, the Bangladesh economy grew 88 percent between 2000 and 2008 and is forecast to by the IMF to grow 5.4 percent over 2010 and up to 6.2 percent over the next five years.

According to Maplecroft, the countries with the most risk are characterized by high levels of poverty, dense populations, exposure to climate-related events; and their reliance on flood and drought prone agricultural land.

Throughout 2010, changes in weather patterns have resulted in a series of devastating natural disasters, especially in South Asia, where heavy floods in Pakistan affected more than 20 million people (over 10 percent of the total population) and killed more than 1,700 people, said Environmental Analyst at Maplecroft, Dr. Anna Moss.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bangladesh population pegged at 150.5M, compromising contradiction

SALEEM SAMAD

WORLD'S POOREST nation Bangladesh present population has been counted by a United Nations agency at 15.5 million on Wednesday, five-days ahead of when the world population is expected to reach 7 billion.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated country’s population, which is a contradiction to Bangladesh census announced in March 2011 the population of Bangladesh stands at 142.319 million.

The UNFPA in its annual flagship publication State of World Population 2011 also indicated the number of males and females at 76.2 million and 74.3 million respectively, and pegged the country's annual population growth rate at 1.3 percent.

Whereas the UN population agency in its 2010 annual report said the current population of Bangladesh was 164.4 million, which is 15 million more than the figure released by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, responsible for national census.

The UNFPA had to revise its 2010 population figure after Bangladesh rejected the head count figure.

However, planning minister A.K. Khandker said on Wednesday he was 'happy' to see the projection which were 'close to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics'.

The minister, decorated war veteran said the population growth would lead to invasion of agricultural land and forests for construction of new townships if the explosion in human population is not checked immediately.

“Energy crisis, unemployment problem, economic problem, health and education problem, housing problem - everything will become more acute. There will be human abodes everywhere with no space to move freely,” he said.

According to the UN, the world's population grew to 1 billion in 1804, 2 billion in 1927, 3 billion in 1959, 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1999 and 7 billion in 2011.

Experts, however, say the world at 7 billion will be marked by achievements, setbacks and paradoxes as in some of the poorest countries a growing population stands in the way of development, while some of the richest countries are worried about low birth rates and ageing populations.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Bangladesh keen to send thousands of workers back to Libya


Photo: Panic stricken Bangladesh migrant workers makes desperate escape to neighbouring Tunisia

SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH IS keen to send thousands of workers to Libya who fled the beleaguered country in April.

Khandker Mosharraf Hossain, the government minister for expatriates' welfare and overseas employment, on Sunday said officials plan to resend tens of thousands of construction workers and other employees back to Libya.

The Bangladesh embassy in the Libyan capital of Tripoli is negotiating with several Korean, Japanese and other private companies who had employed Bangladesh migrant workers but who were repatriated soon after the country plunged in civil war that ended last week with the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Diplomats in Tripoli said many international companies that shut down factories during the violence were also keen to reinstate Bangladeshi workers.

Despite its poor economy, Bangladesh had to bring home at least 36,000 migrant workers who had abandoned their jobs in Libya after the outbreak of civil unrest in North Africa.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) helped repatriate panic-stricken workers who poured into the neighbouring countries of Tunisia and Egypt.

Hossain is confident that the country will be able to send tens of thousands of workers as there is need of a huge workforce to rebuild Libya.

Thousands of Bangladeshi doctors, nurses and engineers have opted to stay back at their work station in Libya. In fact they were asked not leave the workplace by employers, despite risk of their life during the eight months civil war.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Telenor refuses to pay $400M in fines to Bangladesh authority

SALEEM SAMAD

NORWEGIAN TELECOM giant Telenor has refused to pay the Bangladesh telecommunications authority $400 million in penalties for tax evasion and revenue sharing costs.

Telenor chief executive officer Jon Fredrik Baksaas dashed to Dhaka to meet Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina over the weekend to apprise her of the standoff between Telenor’s venture partner GrameenPhone (GP) and the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC).

GrameenPhone’s chairman, Sigve Brekke, in a press briefing Sunday, threatened to take the regulatory authority to court to achieve a settlement of the purported audit findings.

Brekke, also head of Telenor’s Asia operations, said he wants the audit done in a proper way, a position the country's leading mobile phone operator has maintained since Oct. 3, when BTRC sent a letter to GP claiming the operator owes $400 million (BDT 30.34 billion) in revenue sharing and taxes.

Executives of the Norwegian phone company initially responded that the audit findings did not follow international standards, but maintain there is still room for settling the dispute through dialogue.

GP was asked to pay the dues by Oct. 23 otherwise the regulator might take legal action. BTRC chairman Zia Ahmed has described GP’s attitude as arrogant.

Meanwhile on Sunday, Hasanul Haque Inu, chairman of the parliamentary oversight committee on telecommunication, questioned whether the methodology by which the assessment of GrameenPhone was conducted had been defined.

Telenor, with a 55.8 percent share of GrameenPhone, dominates the telecom industry in Bangladesh. The company boasts of 32 million mobile phone subscribers, nearly 43 percent of the country's total mobile phone users. It has an income of $1 billion annually.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sea change in Indo-Bangla business ties

NISHA TANEJA and NEETIKA KAUSHAL

Dhaka has created investment opportunities for India, while New Delhi has agreed to removing entry barriers on Bangladeshi textiles.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Dhaka on September 6-7 has changed the course of Indo-Bangladesh economic relations. To be sure, there were disappointments, such as the delay in arriving at a water sharing accord on the Teesta river due to resistance from the Indian side, and backtracking by Bangladesh on its offer of transit to India through its territory. However, the initiative taken to promote greater investment and trade between the two countries was very promising.

INVESTMENT PACT
In order to enhance investments, the Prime Ministers of both countries issued a joint statement on completion of the talks, paving the way for a bilateral investment promotion and protection agreement. Such an agreement would grant investments made by one country in the other a number of guarantees, which typically include fair and equitable treatment, protection from expropriation, free transfer of means and full protection and security.

It is expected that with the signing of this agreement, there will be a substantial increase in investment flows, which so far have been insignificant. Cumulative Indian investments in Bangladesh until 2009 were only US$ 248 million, with only 26 per cent of it having taken place up till 2007. Along with the investment agreement, the announcement regarding establishment of a special economic zone for Indian investments is a complementary measure, which is expected to facilitate Indian investments further.

On the trade front, the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, announced the the Government of India's decision to remove 61 items, including 46 from textiles, from India's negative list for LDCs. This implies that Bangladesh products will now be allowed to enter Indian territory through any port, without paying duty.

TRADE CONCESSIONS
These tariff lines are a part of the list of 164 apparel items in which India allowed duty-free access to Bangladesh up to a limit of eight million pieces in April 2008, and recently raised the limit to 10 million pieces in April 2011.

Bangladesh is India's largest trading partner in South Asia, accounting for 28 per cent of India's total trade with the region. In 2009-10, India's exports were $ 2,434 million; imports were $255 million and its trade surplus with Bangladesh was $2,179 million. For several years, Bangladesh's concern has been its burgeoning trade deficit with India.

Therefore, increased market access has been a core concern for Bangladesh in all its trade negotiations with India, both bilaterally and regionally under the South Asian Free Trade Area. Perhaps, what is of significance is the approach that India has followed in offering these concessions. Instead of negotiating with Bangladesh on the reduction of items in the sensitive list, India requested Bangladesh to send a list of items on which the latter wanted zero duties. Bangladesh requested India to allow duty-free access in the case of 61 items.

Clearly, this novel approach left no room for dissatisfaction on the Bangladeshi side. This unique method has been adopted by India for Bangladesh alone. Such an approach has not been followed by India in any other bilateral FTA.

IMPACT ON TEXTILES
It is not difficult to understand why Bangladesh had problems with India's market access policies. Apparel is a major item of export accounting for about 70 per cent of Bangladesh's total exports.

These items were on India's sensitive list, restricting market access in a category that was of crucial importance to Bangladesh's economy. Now with the agreement in place, Bangladeshi local manufactures, particularly those from the medium and small sectors, expect considerable gains through increased market access to the Indian market. While Indian textile manufacturers may express disappointment because of the fear of influx of Bangladeshi garments, the positive impact of these measures will unfold in the next few years as they will help both countries integrate their textile sectors with global supply chains.

Recent evidence indicates that Indian investments are moving into Bangladesh. This trend is likely to intensify, following the investment measures that have been announced. Since the domestic market in Bangladesh is small, Indian investors in Bangladesh will be targeting export markets. Indian investors will benefit on two counts. First, they will be able to avail the GSP benefits accruing to Bangladesh from the European Union countries.

Second, Indian investors can enter into collaborative ventures to manufacture higher value-added items, in which Bangladeshi firms have developed capabilities in recent years.

Clearly, the trade and investment measures, among several others, will lead to tangible outcomes for both countries. The measures related to duty-free access for Bangladeshi items, increased investment in Bangladesh and setting up of export processing zones seem like a win-win for both countries.

First published in the Hindu Business Line, India, September 20, 2011


Nisha Taneja and Neetika Kaushal are with the Indian Council for Research in International Economic Relations

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Grandmotherly Bangladesh Leader Unfazed by Problems at Home

Photo: Mary Altaffer/Associated Press:  Sheikh Hasina Wazed with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the United Nations headquarters.


RICK GLADSTONE

While Bangladesh’s prime minister has been attending the United Nations this week, stock market investors back home rioted over steep losses, the police arrested hundreds of Islamist protesters and the main political opposition party threatened a general strike for Saturday, when it is her turn to speak at the annual General Assembly.

The prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wazed, appeared unfazed.

A stern grandmother figure with a calm voice and cool gray eyes, Mrs. Hasina, who turns 64 this month, has survived far worse in her rollercoaster political career in Bangladesh, one of the world’s most impoverished countries, with a history of political chaos and military interventions over much of the 40 years since it won independence from Pakistan.

Her father was Bangladesh’s most important independence leader. He, her mother and three brothers were assassinated at home by gunmen in 1975. Mrs. Hasina, a career politician herself, has been the target of multiple assassination attempts. She suffered hearing damage because of an explosion from a grenade meant to kill her in 2004. She is no stranger to house arrest, prison and conspiracy plots. In 2009, two months into her current term as prime minister, she faced a bloody revolt by border guards in her own military.

Today, she says, Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority nation of 150 million, is far more stable, and support for secular democracy has taken hold. “We are doing well,” she said in an interview at her hotel, dressed in the customary Bengali sari that covers her head, with a portrait of her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, on the wall behind her.

In December 2008, after the last military emergency was lifted, Mrs. Hasina’s political party, the Awami League, swept to power in parliamentary elections, with a large majority over the rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party. “We had a great victory,” she said.

Her government has been criticized, however, for failing to curb abuses by the police and the military, in particular an elite anticrime force known as the Rapid Action Battalion. Last May, Human Rights Watch said the force had killed nearly 200 people since January 2009.

Mrs. Hasina has also been criticized for government intimidation of Bangladeshi journalists who report unfavorable news. “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government has a record of not tolerating criticism from the media,” Bob Dietz, the Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said when a Dhaka news editor was arrested this summer after reporting on government corruption.

At the same time, Bangladesh under Mrs. Hasina has achieved one of the strongest economic growth rates, 6 percent annually, despite the global recession. She has sought to nurture friendly relations with Pakistan and India, her mutually suspicious, nuclear-armed neighbors. She has promoted education, health care and political empowerment for women. And she has enforced a zero-tolerance policy toward the type of violent religious extremism that, she says, was permitted by the BNP when it was in power.

“Our position is very clear — we will not allow terrorist activities in our country,” she said. “Our people are against this. That is why they voted for us.”

On Wednesday, when President Obama greeted Mrs. Hasina at a General Assembly reception, he said, “You and your government are doing an excellent job in empowering women and countering terrorism,” according to members of the Bangladesh delegation who were present. Mr. Obama also accepted her invitation to visit Bangladesh.

In a speech earlier in the week at the Asia Society in New York, Mrs. Hasina extolled the advantages of investing in Bangladesh, enumerating its rising-star status in appraisals by Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan. “We are pleased that our efforts to become an investment-friendly country are slowly being recognized,” she said.

In the interview, she showed little concern about a stock-market riot in Dhaka, the capital, a few days earlier, when investors unhappy over sharp price drops smashed cars and torched tires near the stock exchange. Nor did she seem concerned about the BNP’s latest general strike threat, nor about a police crackdown on protesters angered over the prosecution of senior officials of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamist religious party, by a tribunal investigating atrocities carried out in the country’s independence struggle in 1971.

“The police had to take action,” she said, not seeming to give it a further thought.

Her demeanor turned a bit testier, however, when asked about her relationship with Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the founder of Grameen Bank, a pioneer of microfinance — the granting of tiny loans to the poor.

She and Mr. Yunus, once close colleagues, had a falling out in 2010 after negative publicity from a Norwegian documentary that accused Mr. Yunus of improperly moving a $100 million donation from Norway to an affiliate. The money was re-transferred afterward and Mr. Yunus was never accused of wrongdoing.

But scrutiny of him and of Grameen in the Bangladeshi media intensified as a result. Mrs. Hasina said Mr. Yunus had violated other banking rules, and that many Grameen loan recipients, meanwhile, were unable to pay off loans. She has accused him of “sucking blood from the poor in the name of poverty alleviation,” which he denies.

Last April, Mr. Yunus lost a legal battle in the Bangladesh courts to retain his job as managing director of the bank, and has criticized Mrs. Hasina and other Bangladeshi politicians.

Mrs. Hasina was unapologetic and said the law had taken its course.

“The courts went against him,” Mrs. Hasina said. “Why he’s blaming me, I don’t know.”

First published in The New York Times, United States, September 23, 2011

Saturday, October 15, 2011

U.S. cautioned Bangladesh not to shackle the press, civil liberties

SALEEM SAMAD

UNITED STATES government has cautioned Bangladesh to ensure that media outlets are able to exercise freedom of the press and that civil societies have the opportunity to be outspoken on civil liberties.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday voiced concern over the functioning of the Grameen Bank properly after its managing director Nobel laureate Prof. Mohammad Yunus was removed early this year.

Clinton speaking to visiting Bangladesh foreign minister Dr. Dipu Moni at the State Department office in Washington stressed transparency and objectivity in the proceedings of War Crimes Tribunal, which has detained seven Islamist as suspects for their war crimes during the bloody war of independence in 1971.

The US secretary of state also urged the government to ensure that media outlets were able to exercise freedom and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had the opportunity to be a vibrant contributor to the future of Bangladesh.

On the issue of the war crimes trials in Bangladesh, the secretary of state expressed her satisfaction with the meetings US ambassador-at-large for war crimes Stephen Rapp earlier had with the Bangladesh authorities and hoped that the trials would be conducted in conformity with international standards.

On Friday, at a regular press briefing at the State Department, spokesperson Victoria Nuland said United States is supportive of that initiative for war crimes trial.

United States earlier expressed concern regarding removal of Grameen Bank’s founder Prof. Muhammad Yunus, pioneer of banking the poor and urged not to harass him. The Nobel Prize winner empowered a million rural women to help alleviate poverty.

During the 40 minutes meeting, Clinton praised Bangladesh for combating poverty and terrorism.

In response her Bangladesh counterpart said, as a secular democratic country, having a free and robust media, vibrant civil society, looks forward to more effective cooperation with United States, a development partner.

Dr. Moni raised extradition of the mastermind of military putsch in August 1975 when the Bangladesh independence hero Shiekh Mujibur Rahman assassinated.

The foreign minister mentioned that among the six fugitives, the mastermind Colonel A.M. Rashed Chowdhury has recently moved to Los Angeles. She sought Washington's cooperation in the repatriation of the self-confessed assassin in order to bring an end of the culture of impunity prevailed in the country for more than thirty-four years.

In response to extradition, she said the issue had been under judicial process and assured her that the State Department would look into it, as quoted in official press release.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Friday, October 14, 2011

Environmentalist fears climate change will push millions of Bangladeshis into cities

SALEEM SAMAD

ENVIRONMENTALISTS AND international aid agencies are alarmed by forecasts that millions of “climate refugees” will be forced to migrate to cities for livelihood and shelter, causing human tragedy in Bangladesh.

Shayer Ghafur, an environmentalist and professor of engineering and technology, told a non-governmental organizations network for urban poor on Thursday that 400,000 people have already begun to migrate to the Bangladesh capital Dhaka annually after tidal surge twice inundated the coast in recent years.

Bangladesh is vulnerable to global warming and the sea level is predicted to rise along its coastline at the Bay of Bengal by one meter in the next 40 years. If that happens, 14.8 million people living along 11,500 square miles of the coastal region would be displaced.

The trek to the cities under extreme weather events would reach staggering proportion, according to the fourth annual report of the International Panel of Climate Change.

The arrival of climate refugees in cities would raise immediate policy concerns about project design, implementation and resource mobilization for their shelter and livelihoods. The influx would create major impacts on scarce shelter and services, livelihood opportunities, and health and education needs, said Ghafur.

In the climate change scenario, the adaptation and mitigation measures need to be expedited rather than waiting for compensation packages from the rich nations in near future, Khondker Rebaka Sun-yat, chief of the Coalition for Urban Poor, told the seminar.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina told the Washington Post newspaper Tuesday that Bangladesh has developed a Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan as a quick response to an immediate need to address the impacts of climate change.

“It is impossible for Bangladesh alone to take action against the rising sea level, as it has been a cumulative effect of global emission in which Bangladesh does not have any role," she said. "It is the responsibility of global community to address this issue as urgently as possible."

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Eight Beheadings on Justice Square

JALAL ALAMGIR

IT'S FRIDAY, the holy day of the week. The Kingdom's law enforcers gather up eight Bangladeshi migrant workers from their prison cells and bring them to Justice Square in the capital, Riyadh.

Blindfolded, they are led to the center of the square, and made to kneel down. A small crowd forms in anticipation. At 9 am, a robed man walks up and slowly raises a sword, four feet long and shining. Ambulances wait, stretchers ready.

The sword sweeps down.

The sleek expanse of Justice Square is patterned with beautiful granite. There is no stage, no unnecessary equipment, no fanfare. Underneath runs an efficient drainage system, with a receptacle the size of a pizza box at the center.

Regardless, the head often rolls in unexpected directions. It's collected and laid alongside the body before being taken away on stretchers. Some of the blood spilled on the granite drains quickly, and the rest is hosed down. Those spraying the water are themselves migrant workers.

This is justice, square and fair in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, one of the most backward regimes in the world. Here, hands are chopped, bodies are decapitated. Torture is common in extracting confessions. The accused have little protection.

And racism is stark: Arabs get away with a lot more than dark-skinned migrant laborers do.

The Kingdom, in general, is used to getting away with its practices. Besides oil wealth, two special relationships allow it such liberties.

First, by virtue of Mecca, it extracts loyalty from Muslims worldwide, from whom it demands adherence to a dangerously conservative Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.

Alongside, it cultivates close ties with the world's superpower. It exports oil, imports defense equipment, gives out lucrative contracts, and finances the US national debt.

The eight Bangladeshis who were beheaded publicly on October 7th were guilty of armed robbery at a warehouse and assault on its Egyptian guard, who later died. Once their confessions were recorded, the legal outcome was a foregone conclusion. After all, this is a kingdom where, as Human Rights Watch put it, "neither criminal nor personal status law is codified, and judges...rely on vague, thousand-year-old interpretations of un-codified Islamic law."

Appeals for clemency from many, including the President of Bangladesh, could not save the workers from execution. Their fate was sealed.

It was sealed first by that thousand-year-old medieval idea of justice: eye for an eye, a philosophy popular also in America, the only industrialized democracy that still exercises the death penalty. Bangladesh itself allows capital punishment, so the president's arguments could not be rested on moral grounds any different.

Their fate was also sealed by their social status. Migrant workers are the lowest rung in the Saudi caste system. They do the least desirable and most hazardous jobs; they have virtually no rights; they are abused verbally, physically, and sexually; their benefits policies are dismal --they are essentially modern-day slaves.

Their fate was sealed also by the Saudi practice to keep workers terrorized under a constant state of pressure. The Kingdom browbeats poorer governments if they advocate better treatment of their émigrés. Disputes between migrant workers and Arab bosses can result in wholesale persecution of a community.

Two years ago Saudi Arabia, annoyed with the conduct of some unruly overworked laborers, meted out collective punishment by stopping the intake of Bangladeshi workers. It took a lengthy series of pleas, assurances and sweet-talk from the Bangladeshi government to get the Saudis to withdraw the ban.

The Kingdom, buttressed by its special relationships, does not waste any opportunity to show who the boss is. A public execution is just such an opportunity. The beheading of the eight was a shameful shock-and-awe tactic, a warning to the millions of other workers to remain submissive, however back-breaking their life may be. The message is clear: obey, and keep your head.

First published in Huffington Post, October 11, 2011


Jalal Alamgir is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Boston

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An interview with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

ANUP KAPHLE


Sheikh Hasina is the prime minister of Bangladesh, and one of the country’s leading politicians as the head of the Awami League since 1981. She spoke with The Washington Post’s Anup Kaphle in New York last month during her trip to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting. The following is an edited transcript from the interview.

The Washington Post: Last year Bangladesh’s poverty rate dropped to 31.5 percent, from about 40 percent in 2005. Can you tell us what’s working for Bangladesh?

Sheikh Hasina: Since my last tenure we have been trying to find the root causes of poverty and how we could reduce it. We wanted to ensure food security so we put all our force into producing more food and also the distribution system so that food should first reach to the poorest of the poor. Then we tried to create job opportunities for them in the rural areas. Now our farmers can open bank accounts with 10 taka (about 13 cents), a very small amount, and the subsidy we give goes directly to the farmer. So they use this money for cultivation and also it creates job opportunity. We also established one bank to create job opportunities for the younger generation. Without any collateral, they can take out a loan from the bank to start a business. I believe that educating our people will also help to reduce the poverty level. So our education is free up to primary level (fifth grade) for everyone, and for girls it is free up to high school level.

The Washington Post: Since you brought up the microcredit initiative, let’s talk about Grameen Bank. During the first term in the late ‘90s you had praise for Mohammad Yunus and you talked about how his vision would help Bangladesh. Lately there have been controversies that you’ve fired him and you called him a loan shark?

Sheikh Hasina: I am sorry, I didn’t fire him.

The Washington Post: Local media in Bangladesh have reported that he was fired.

Sheikh Hasina: No.

The Washington Post: But you are not a fan of microcredit?

Sheikh Hasina: It’s not true. Microcredit is to help people, not to create problem for people, right? We found that it was not helping people and it was not reducing the poverty level. Rather, they were nursing poverty.

The Washington Post: Can you talk a little bit more about that? How is it nursing poverty?

Sheikh Hasina: Look, Grameen Bank is a government bank; it is not private bank. It is government statutory body, it has its own law. According to Grameen Bank law, one can remain its [managing director] up to 60 years of age but not above that. We just reminded him that it is the law, rule of the law of the country and you have to follow that. He was absolutely a government employee but he never followed any rules, regulations, nothing. Now you tell me how I can reduce his age?

The Washington Post: But when you say it is not helping to alleviate poverty but it nursing poverty, what do you mean?

Sheikh Hasina: Tell me one thing. If I give you $20,000 can you pay 40 percent interest every week?

Washington Post: Probably not.

Sheikh Hasina: Probably not, right? Sitting in New York, if you cannot do it then tell me if a poor person from a village can earn money and pay such a high rate of interest. After that how can you claim that you are reducing poverty? The government now gives microcredit to the poor people; sometimes it is interest free, sometimes it is 5 percent or 3 percent interest. Like for housing, we give money to the NGO with a 1 percent service charge, but there is a binding that they cannot charge more than 5 percent interest.

Washington Post: So no banks can charge more than 5 percent?

Sheikh Hasina: No, this is a specialized fund we have created. In Bangla, that means “building houses for the poor.” It’s a special bank from which people can take loans for housing. We created all this just to give incentive to the people.

Washington Post: Let’s talk climate change. It is a huge issue for Bangladesh and there are reports that say that by the end of this century, a quarter of your country will be under water. As a prime minister of a country, what do you think when you hear things like that?

Sheikh Hasina: Bangladesh is one of the worst victims of climate change while it contributes practically nothing to the emission of the greenhouse gases. Bangladesh’s share is only 0.02 percent at most of the global total. Bangladesh would face the adverse consequences of climate change in a way that her development will be arrested if the global community does not come forward to help her. Food security will be under grave threat while millions upon millions of people will be pushed below the poverty line. Health will be a major casualty. Coastal storms and surges will kill and displace people who will migrate both internally and also outside the country while the economy of the coastal areas will be shattered.

It is impossible for Bangladesh alone to take action against the rising sea level, as it has been a cumulative effect of global emission in which Bangladesh does not have any role. It is the responsibility of global community to address this issue as urgently as possible. But Bangladesh has developed some of its own strategy to fight the threat.

Washington Post: Can you talk about the major steps that the government is taking to ensure that the country is climate proof?

Sheikh Hasina: My government has developed a Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan as a quick response to an immediate need to address the impacts of climate change. The Strategy and Action Plan is built on six pillars of which five are related to impact management and one is related to mitigation through low carbon development. The government has also promulgated the Climate Change Trust Fund Act 2010 by which a Climate Change Trust Fund has been constituted from its own resources. We have already allocated $300 million to it since 2009. Next, my government has established the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund to receive contributions from development partners for implementing projects. But we need the developed countries to keep their promise and help us.

Washington Post: How much money would Bangladesh need in order to fight climate change?

Sheikh Hasina: As much as you can get. I cannot say a specific number because day-by-day the situation is becoming worst and demand is increasing. If I give you some specific number, it may increase the following year.

Washington Post: What does Bangladesh hope will come out of the next climate summit in Durban?

Sheikh Hasina: Well, I told you that we received only very good commitment but it is not fulfilled. The demand still remains. We see no results.

The Washington Post: There is a perception that Bangladesh’s Rapid Action police play the role of judge, jury and executioner and they operate with impunity. Is that true?

Sheikh Hasina: No, there is a law, there are rules, regulations. This Rapid Action Battalion is under home ministry, so they work according to their rules. And Bangladesh at one time had terrorist activities. Since we have formed our government, we have reduced this terrorist activities.

Washington Post: So the perception that these police operate with impunity is wrong?

Sheikh Hasina: If anybody indulges in any wrong, we immediately bring them to book. If you go through old reports, then you will find out that this force was used politically.

Washington Post: What I am trying to get here is that there are news reports saying this police battalion operates with impunity.

Sheikh Hasina: It is totally wrong. Actually in 2004 this force was established, but it is true that at that time the former government used this force politically and they were allowed to kill many people and this and that. At one stage they become so popular because there was no one to talk against them. I think I was the first one who opposed those actions. Since we formed the government, they act according to rules and regulation and there is no case for political victimization and if you see, go through all the records then you can see that. If anybody, any person, or any member of this force does anything wrong under the rules and regulations, they face trial, they can lose the job. But you should notice one thing that since we formed government we are able to reduce the terrorist activities.

Washington Post: So how has Bangladesh become successful in dealing with terrorist activities?

Sheikh Hasina: On Aug. 17, 2005, within half an hour, there were 500 bomb blasts in Bangladesh in 63 districts. Then there was a grenade attack, of which I was the victim, and 22 people died. Since we formed government we declared zero tolerance to terrorism and we have taken action and you can see the result. In the last two and a half years, there have been no bomb blasts, no terrorist activities, nothing. All our law enforcing agencies, police, then RAB, all the intelligence groups, they are working very hard. We have also involved local imams, local community leaders and other social elites to raise awareness about terrorism. But I don’t understand one thing: when the previous government used this Rapid Action Battalion against the political opponent, somehow nobody raised their voice at that time…but when we reduced terrorism, suddenly some quarter started blaming all this on law enforcing agencies who are helping us to curb the terrorism. I don’t understand why.

The Washington Post: So you feel like people are wrong for accusing the special police force?

Sheikh Hasina: Exactly. There is no impunity to anybody.

First published in The Washington Post, Published: October 11

Rights groups moves high court on beheading 8 Bangladeshi

SALEEM SAMAD

A human rights organization has moved the Bangladesh high court on Tuesday to probe into government’s role in beheading of eight Bangladeshi immigrants in Saudi Arabia.

Manzill Murshid, the lawyer for Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh told journalists that the judges will hear the petition on Wednesday.

On Friday, eight Bangladeshis were beheaded in public at Justice Square in Saudi capital Riyadh after they confessed to guilt of robbing a warehouse and killing the security guard, Egyptian national Hussein Saeed Mohammed Abdulkhaleq, in April 2007.

The Saudi authorities turned down clemency appeal from Bangladesh amid outcry from rights groups, including Amnesty International.

The United Nations human rights office called on the country to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

On Tuesday, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is deeply distressed by the recent execution of at least 58 people in Saudi Arabia this year, 20 were migrant workers.

Dr Abdullah Al Bussairy, Saudi ambassador in Bangladesh has defended the execution of eight Bangladeshi workers on charges of killing an Egyptian security guard and robbery.

The diplomat said the convicts were given legal assistance and enough time to argue their case during the four-year trial, which contradicts Amnesty International’s claim that the trial was not free and fair.

The ambassador said under Sharia law practiced in Saudi Arabia only the victim's family can forgive the accused in exchange for blood money, but the Egyptian victim's family declined to accept the blood money despite repeated efforts by Bangladesh embassy.

“The Saudi government acts to implement the law of Allah. We had nothing to do but to uphold the sanctions of Allah. The Sharia law has been implemented through the execution," the ambassador said.

The Egyptian embassy in Riyadh also joined hands with Bangladesh embassy to satisfy the family of the Egyptian security guard Abdulkhaleq, but the family rejected any negotiation and blood money, and rather wanted "Kisash", which means blood for blood.

Asked about the criticism of the execution by international rights organizations, Bussairy said the law of Allah gets precedence over what the rights groups interpret Saudi divine laws.

Journalists asked whether the execution would strain bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia, he said Bangladesh-Saudi relations are deep rooted and such an incident would no way affect the ties.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Bangladesh ranked world’s 5th most vulnerable country for climate change

SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH HAS been named one of the top countries in the world most vulnerable to a climate change-induced food crisis and hunger.

International aid agency ActionAid, in a research study revealed Monday, found Bangladesh among 28 developing countries more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than its South Asian neighbors India, Pakistan and Nepal.

The report titled “On the Brink: Who's Best Prepared for a Climate Change and Hunger Crisis?” warned that the era of cheap food was near its end due to the triple crises of climate change, depleted natural resources and skyrocketing food prices.

Bangladesh, among other countries, may not be prepared to face the consequences, the report said.

ActionAid, an international non-governmental organization focused on poverty and injustice, said that Bangladesh is facing severe water-related challenges due to scarcity of fresh water, salinity, increased flood and erosion, and frequent and prolonged drought.

The organization said the country's early warning system for floods, cyclones and storm was considered state-of-the-art.

With nearly half of Bangladesh's 150 million people already living below the poverty line, higher food prices will have a severe impact on people's ability to buy enough food, the report said.

It recommends that Bangladesh needs to produce 30 million more tonnes of rice each year to achieve self-sufficiency in food production. The challenges of losing more than 80,000 hectares to climate change or urbanization every year would complicate the ability to attain food autonomy.

While rural women play a central role in agriculture production, social norms and customs limit their mobility, according to the report.
The NGO argues that although the number of undernourished people in Bangladesh dropped to 27 percent as of January, prices of rice and wheat increased by 42 percent in April over the previous year.

ActionAid fears that climate change would add half a billion people to those facing chronic hunger around the world by 2050. Alarming rises in the price of food would push 44 million more people into poverty, while the poorest people would lose more arable lands as a result of unsustainable farming practices and an unprecedented rush by investors to control resources such as oil, minerals, bio-fuel and water.

Moreover, in the World Risk Index 2011, jointly conducted by United Nations University (UNU), Germany and the Institute of Environment and Human Security, published in September, Bangladesh ranked sixth among countries that are most vulnerable to natural disasters including typhoons, earthquake and tsunamis, as was listed in second place among Asian countries.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Wasfia conquers Africa



Bangladesh first women Wasfia Nazreen to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro on October 2, at 7:29 am (Tanzanian time).

Previously, in her launching expedition to Mount Elbrus in July 2011, adventuress Wasfia hired a female guide. True to her style, she again hired a female guide during her mountain climbing. Meredith Riley, a female guide of Mountain Guides International (MGI) and one of the official trainers for this campaign led Wasfia and her team in this historic journey.
Out of the 6-7 routes that Kilimanjaro has to reach the summit, Wasfia’s team climbed the mountain through the second toughest approach. They were met by severe thunderstorm and heavy snowfall on the summit night - an anomaly in the African continent.

Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and fourth highest of the Seven Summits, which are the highest points of each continent. Its highest point, Uhuru Peak, rises to an altitude of 5895 m or 19341 ft.

‘Bangladesh on Seven Summits’ is a campaign supported by the Liberation War Museum, in celebration of 40 years of Bangladesh’s independence. Bangladesh on Seven Summits is a tribute to those women and men, who through sheer resolve overcame enormous ordeal for the birth of our nation.

Wasfia called upon the youth of the country to work like ‘siblings of the same womb’ and take the Nation forward to the best of our abilities. She also expressed great concern on the environmental situation of the planet and called upon the industrialized nations to take urgent actions.

This young adventuress has received the full support and encouragement of the volunteer wing of JAAGO Foundation, Volunteer for Bangladesh. This is the first time a Bangladeshi has initiated such a campaign.

For more information and further development, please contact Korvi Rakshand, Spokesperson, Bangladesh on Seven Summits, media@bdon7summits.org, info@bdon7summits.org, +88 017 1161 7858

Saudi Arabia executes 8 Bangladeshi migrants, despite mercy appeal

Photo/Amnesty International: Executions have resumed in Saudi Arabia at an alarming rate since Ramadan

SALEEM SAMAD

Saudi Arabian authority beheaded by sword 8 Bangladesh born migrants in capital Riyadh on Friday amidst protest by Amnesty International (AI).

The authorities in Bangladesh embassy in Riyadh confirmed their execution. The Labour Counsellor of the mission Harun-or Rashid said that the slain convicts were buried in Saudi Arabia.

Promptly the London based rights group AI condemned the execution in a statement on Friday. Criticizing the process of conviction, the rights body said that it might have been only based on confessions obtained under duress or deception.

Bangladesh officials said the convicts were sentenced to death for armed robbery and alleged murder of an Egyptian man in April 2007.

Riyadh authorities refrained from informing the Bangladesh mission, but the diplomat said the embassy will seek permission whether the dead bodies could be brought home for the mourning relatives and also observe rituals according to Muslim custom.

A letter on behalf of the president of Bangladesh was sent to the King of Saudi Arabia seeking his mercy to the convicts, the diplomat said.

Rashid said that in response to the appeal by the president, the foreign ministry of Saudi Arabia communicated that only the family of the deceased have the right to pardon the convicts according to the Koran.

Scores of Arabs at Justice Square near Al Hakam Palace in Riyadh witnessed the executions of the Bangladesh citizens were Ma'mun Abdul Mannan, Faruq Jamal, Sumon Miah, Mohammed Sumon, Shafiq al-Islam, Mas'ud Shamsul Haque, Abu al-Hussain Ahmed, Mutir al-Rahman, the rights watchdog report said.

Three other Bangladeshis were sentenced to prison terms and flogging indicted in same crime.

Most of the defendants have no defense lawyer, have insufficient fluency of Arabic language to follow proceedings and in many cases are not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them, said AI’s Middle East and North Africa director, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

The organization also pointed out that majority of those executed recently in Saudi Arabia is migrant workers from poor and developing countries.

The beheadings bring the number of executions in Saudi Arabia this year to at least 58, more than double than the 2010 figures. Twenty of those executed in 2011 were foreign nationals, the AI press statement said.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Inadequate hygienic toilets cost Bangladesh $4B in health bill

SALEEM SAMAD

DISMAL SANITATION facilities for the poor costs Bangladesh $4.22 billion every year in health-related economic impacts and cultural development, according to a study by the World Bank.

The report, “The Economic Impacts of Inadequate Sanitation in Bangladesh,” reveals that the total amount of these losses is five times higher than the country's national health budget and three times higher than the national education budget in 2007.

The report, released Thursday, says that premature death and the ill effects of poor access to hygienic toilets contributed 84 percent of the total cost.

The report also cites the productive time lost in accessing sanitation facilities or sites for defecation, as well as drinking water-related impacts.

Diarrhea and cholera result in the biggest health-related economic impact from poor sanitation, accounting for two-thirds of the total cost, the report said. Acute lower respiratory infections account for about 15 percent.

Bangladesh's basic sanitation coverage rose from 33.2 percent in 2003 to 80.4 percent in 2009. This report shows that despite great success, much can still be done in the sanitation sector of Bangladesh, observed Ellen Goldstein, the bank's country director in Bangladesh.

The bank’s Water Sanitation Program urges Bangladesh authorities to pay attention to investments in better hygiene. A comprehensive sanitation and hygiene interventions can result in preventing 61 percent of the economic loss due to health impacts linked to sanitation and all the adverse impacts of inadequate sanitation related to water and welfare losses.

Efforts to improve sanitation could yield a potential gain of about $2.26 billion, the equivalent to 3.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), the report states. This implies a potential gain of $15.9 per capita.

Bangladesh follows other South Asian nations such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka in having appalling sanitation facilities for the urban and rural poor.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Friday, October 07, 2011

British Islamist protest trial of 1971 war crimes perpetrators

Five key leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami are war crimes suspects
The Wrath of Plod (or ex-plod Bob Lambert)


CHRIS BLACKBURN

ON MONDAY (October 3, 2011), British Islamists and their supporters under the banner of the Bangladesh Crisis Group gathered at the London Muslim Centre to preach to their flock that Bangladesh was committing serious human rights abuses in their desire to finally try the perpetrators of the genocide of 1971.

This group of supporters of radical Islamism have finally crossed the Rubicon and they have potentially shot themselves in the foot by amassing Jamaat and Muslim Brotherhood leaders together. Strategically, for them, it is bad to inject them into the highly contentious issue of their fellow Islamists committing genocide in Bangladesh. The genocide happened. It’s been well documented. Arguing against it is like trying to push the tide back. It’s irrational. It obviously has Islamist leaders worried. They are claiming there are mass human rights abuses by the Bangladesh government and that there is massive US counter-terrorism involvement in the tribunals as a way of gathering support from useful idiots in Britain’s academia.

Bangladesh does lag behind in human rights, it is undeniable, but it’s usually down to corruption, lack of education on procedure and ethics which is mainly through a lack of finances. They haven’t got the money. It shouldn’t be an excuse, but it’s reality. To think that Bangladesh, which is still one of the poorest nations in the world, can have a model police force beyond reproach is wishful thinking. The scandals around Rupert Murdoch and News International has show that even the highly developed and politically corrected, brow beat Metropolitan Police Force at Scotland Yard aren’t beyond temptation.

Bob Lambert, an ex-Special Branch Officer and ex head of the Muslim Contact Unit (MCU) at the Met gave a speech at the event. He has been one of the leading lights, or probably more accurate the last beacon of hope, for Islamists in the remnants of Londonistan. He wants to retain the policy of allowing radical Islamists to have London as their centre of operations away from the Middle East and South Asia. He seems to think there is a wide gulf between Islamists and Salafists, but in reality this isn’t the case. It’s a false debate.

Osama Bin Laden the worlds most celebrated Salafist leader has pumped money into Pakistani political parties in the past. Salafists don’t believe in democracy. They aren’t allowed to have any part in elections. It’s Haraam (forbidden) in Islamic law. Lamberts narrative has major holes in it. This means Bin Laden was a hypocrite or the religious side of Islamist terrorism has been overplayed. Lambert reckons that “moderate” Islamists are an effective counter-balance to Salafists. Has Lambert and other Western academics been suck into a false and misleading debate and been played for fools? Yes, I would argue they have. Lambert is still trying to cling onto his woeful theory. Islamists and the ignorant are still his major audience. Judging by the content of the speeches at the event on Monday the lack of knowledge on Bangladesh is clearly apparent from the non-Islamist speakers. So, why did they wade into it?

The covenant of security which was believed to have existed between the British Government and Islamists before 9/11 was half torpedoed when Tony Blair joined the US led war on terror. Blair’s bi-polar policy against radical Islamism was half-cocked he believed he could launch dodgy invasions of Muslim countries, yet leave British Islamist figures and institutes that were suspected of supporting terrorism untouched. The British government should have upped its efforts to do its own spring cleaning while the Arab Spring was at its height. They hinted at it with a review of Project Contest, the government’s counter-terrorism strategy. This would have helped to level the playing field for all political parties in the Middle East and South Asia. Londonistan will be important in the future of the Muslim world and will undoubtedly have an impact on which way the wind eventually blows.

Lambert thinks he’s a realist and a good attentive listener: a new breed of copper for a new way of policing. When he worked for the Metropolitan Police he was not the, “lock-them-up-throw-away-the-key” type of law enforcement official. He likes to think he’s a thinker. He rightly believes that crimes, mainly terrorism, often have more complex psychosocial factors. Irish Republicans had legitimate grievances and violence came from it. Talking to Sinn Fein and addressing the issues of Northern Irish Republican was a noble way to end a protracted conflict driven by sectarian hatred and distrust. Conflict resolution and dialogue was a good thing. It wasn’t appeasement. It wasn’t as simple as allowing terrorists to get away with murder. But, there aren’t many parallels between Irish Republicans and Islamists. Hugging an Islamist won’t work. The Pentagon even tried it with the late terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki in the early years. It failed.

Islamists like to latch onto divisive causes and make them worse. Hijacking others causes. Islamists certainly haven’t enjoyed great public support in the Muslim world, even though they have been exceptions such as in Algeria, Gaza and Sudan. It is a bit unfair and premature to say that because democracy hasn’t been allowed to flourish there. There is one thing that Islamists thrive on and that is violence. They, like other extremists, need conflict. Hamas showed that they are perfectly willing to bring pain on their populations if they can get some kind of political reward for it. Get a suicide bomber to attack Israelis, let the Israeli’s respond (mostly, I concede disproportionately) and let your charity fronts help the victims. It proved to be a winning political formula for Hamas. They cynically keep the cycle of the violence going. They use jingoism and violent racist rhetoric to increase hate and ignorance. Then claim they are defending their populations from aggression. Pakistan’s military, religious parties and dreaded ISI have the same strategy.

A major worry for outsiders looking at the event is that speakers and organisers at the event gave thinly veiled threats of pushing Bangladesh into a revolution or their “own Arab Spring” or “Asian Spring” which is highly misguided and dangerous. It’s also a highly undemocratic charge and smacks of irrational arrogance. I wonder what the late Edward Said would have made of it. I bet he would have asked Lambert for a quiet word.

Bob Lambert, Toby Cadman and others should have stayed away from the event as a result of this key demand. The promotional literature clearly pointed this was the conference’s main objective. If I was advising the Government of Bangladesh, I certainly wouldn’t give Toby Cadman a visa to enter the country now he’s spoken on this platform. Islamists and their apologists aren’t democrats. They don’t care about people’s needs or their franchise. They ignore it. The apologists have narrow minded short-term goals which would lock countries like Bangladesh into uneasy alliances and irrational compromises with Islamists. The people of Bangladesh have spoken, they don’t want radicalism in Bangladesh, but do people like Bob Lambert and Oliver McTernan ever care to listen to the people?

Bangladesh had elections and the overwhelming majority of Bangladeshis want the end to the “Culture of Impunity” and believe the war crimes tribunals are the start of this process. But, what do you expect from Islamists and their supporters? If the ballot box fails and justice starts to creep up on them, they believe it’s time to pull down civil and political society and rebuild it in their own warped image.

If Lambert and Co want to build lasting bridges they should get their Islamist friends to renounce the worst of their ideology and apologise. They need to take responsibilities for their crimes. It will give them much need credibility and their detractors confidence in the future. Sometimes, only justice can steer you through the complexities of conflict resolution. If you try to subvert that and the truth you will always fail to create a lasting solution. Papering over cracks is often needed in conflict resolution, but in Bangladesh, Jamaat-i-Islami broke the foundations. They are going to have to face reality.

Chris Blackburn, based in London, specialises in Jihad, Islamic militancy and Jamaat-e-Islami global network

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

U.S. urged to deport an assassin of Bangladesh founder

Bangladesh prime minister Shiekh Hasina sitting on extreme right in an undated family photo with Bangladesh independence hero Shiekh Mujibur Rahman


SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH ONCE again has urged United States government to deport the assassin of a hero of Bangladesh independence Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, presently living in the United States.

Foreign Minister Dipu Moni on Tuesday issued a formal diplomatic letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to expel the fugitive Lt. Col. M.A. Rashed Chowdhury, who has recently moved into Los Angeles.

Bangladesh Ambassador in Washington Akramul Quader has confirmed information from sources regarding the whereabouts of the convicted colonel after he fled the civil strife Libyan capital. He along with other fugitives was given sanctuary by Colonel Muamar Gaddafi in 1975.

In early 2009 international police organization Interpol issued a red alert against the fugitive assailant of Mujibur Rahman, also popularly know as Bangabandhu (friend of Bangladesh).

Interpol officials said they conducted a drive called Operation Infra-Red 2010 from May 3 to July 15 and gathered information of the movements of the truants.

In August 1975, the first president Rahman along with his family members in his private resident were killed in a military putsch, led by a dozen young military officers from the armored corps. The coup d’état was short lived and the rogue military officers were forced into exile.

When Rahman’s daughter Shiekh Hasina, who survived the killing as she was abroad with his scientist husband, became the prime minister in 1996, she tried the assassins, who boasted in a series of television interviews in London describing the conspiracy and murder of the Bangladesh founder.

The duo coup leaders, Chowdhury and his brother-in-law Col. Syed Farook Rahman were held responsible for conspiracy to overthrow an elected government and murders of the Rahman’s family. Rahman was captured, tried and hanged, while Chowdhury, the key conspirator remains a fugitive.

Earlier in 2009 the U.S. deported A.K.M. Mohiuddin Ahmed to Bangladesh after his application seeking political asylum was refused. Ahmed along with five other key coup leaders were hanged last January in a maximum security prison in capital Dhaka soon after Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of 12 self-confessed assassins of Bangabandhu.

The Canadian immigration turned down Colonel S.H.B.M Noor Chowdhury refugee petitions several times, but he is unlikely to be deported because he faces death penalty in his home country.

Meanwhile, Law Minister Barrister Shafique Ahmed said on Wednesday that the fugitives would be able to appeal to higher courts against their conviction after they are expelled from abroad.

In absence of extradition treaty between Bangladesh and North American countries, the deportation of the assassins will be further delayed.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Risks in Indo Bangladesh Relations

RAHUL K BHONSLE

INDIAN PRIME Minister Dr Manmohan Singh paid a State Visit to Bangladesh on 6-7 September 2011 at the invitation of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. The presence of the Chief Ministers of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura added significance to the visit. The Prime Minister held extensive discussions with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. The visit of Dr Man Mohan Singh to Bangladesh was long overdue as momentum for improvement of relations had been built when Sheikh Haseena visited New Delhi in January 2011. Thus it was after a year and eight months that the Indian Prime Minister choose to reciprocate with a visit to Dhaka. Much water has flown under the Ganges or Padma so to say during this period which has resulted in a number of seminal agreements.

Amongst significant agreements, the Protocol to the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement, signed on 6 September 2011 by the Foreign Ministers of India and Bangladesh in the presence of the Prime Ministers, paves the way for a settlement of the long pending land boundary issues between the two countries. While the people on the borders are likely to be the larger beneficiaries, those in the Indian states in the North East particularly Tripura, Mizoram and Manipur may also find transit through Bangladesh a boon. For instance Agartala, the capital of Tripura is 1,650km from Kolkata and 2,637km from New Delhi via Guwahati, the distance between the Tripura capital and Kolkata via Bangladesh is just about 350 km However there are many challenges that are to be overcome at various levels before relations assume normalcy permitting free access of goods and people on both the sides, some of which are outlined as per succeeding paragraphs.

Political Management. Much touted to be a major break through in relations between India and Bangladesh, the visit of Dr Man Mohan Singh to Dhaka in some ways turned out to be a damp squib in some ways as two main agreements the Teesta River Waters Sharing and Transit could not be inked. These were the main touch points. Clearly the West Bengal Minister Mamata Banerjee played spoil sport as she did not agree to ink the Teesta agreement given fall out that it would have in local State politics. Lack of effective political management is therefore evident for the deal should have been worked out well in advance to be acceptable to the state government.

At the same time, the West Bengal Chief Minister lost a chance of emerging as a leader with wider national perspective and able to shape internal space by providing alternate relief to the people through measures such as subsidies and land for loss they may have suffered due to the water treaty.

The Bangladesh opposition was also in a similar mood raising fears of surrender to India thereby vitiating the larger atmosphere for bilateral amity. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) slammed Sheikh Haseena and the Awami League for having given too much and not getting the Teesta River Waters deal through. The need for political consensus on both the sides of the Indo Bangladesh divide could thus be well appreciated given nature of deal with swap of land as well as distribution of water being the most emotive issues in societies which are primarily agricultural economies with small land holdings.

Implementation of Agreements. The people in the enclaves on both sides are keen that agreements should be implemented earliest. A 10-day agitation programme was announced by the India-Bangladesh Enclaves Exchange Coordination Committee simultaneously in all the 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India and 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, to underline the demand for merger of the enclaves with the mainland without wasting any further time. Thus any delay will only add to trepidation at the ground level.

On the other hand there are many challenges for implementing some of the agreements due to poor infrastructure such as roads, barriers at the border and lack of development of railways and inland water transport. Indian government is trying to increase the pace and has sanctioned Rs 267 Crore for construction of a new railway link between India's Agartala and Akhaura in Bangladesh. Similar impetus on other infrastructure issues including roads in Bangladesh will be necessary.

Teesta Water Sharing. Apart from the political aspect there are reportedly a number of court cases pending in the Indian courts over the water issue related to Teesta River. How a water sharing agreement will impact the same remains to be seen and should not lead to further complications.

Exchange of Land. The land award has already raised protests in the Indian state of Assam. The impact of the agreements to people on the ground would also have to be carefully factored in land being a very sensitive issue. Resistance at the local level by state officials particularly in India where opposition is likely to continue with a programme of agitations resisting swap given political implications of loss of land at the grass roots may lead to exacerbation of frustration of the people in the enclaves leading to a cycle of protests. Managing the same would be important.

Political Polarisation in Bangladesh. Political polarization in Bangladesh while traditionally being on the lines of two main parties the Awami League which is in power and the BNP in opposition is leading to further factionalisation of politics and may spill over to Indo Bangladesh issues as well. The opposition BNP has raised three key internal issues of differences. Caretaker Government during next elections, removal of name of Tarique Rehman the son of the BNP Chair from the tainted list and August 21 attacks case and finally relief to ally Jamaat e Islami by releasing Jamaat chief Matiur Rahman Nizami and Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed charged with war crimes in 1971.

Both Parties have divergent aims on these issues, thus polarization may grow over a period and since the BNP does not have adequate seats in the parliament the aggressive mood will be reflected on the streets of Dhaka and other cities thereby resulting in clashes from time to time. The two party’s inability to see eye to eye has been the bane of Bangla politics and minimum consensus would be the order of the day for effective management of administration which is lacking hopefully this should not spill over to Indo Bangladesh space as well.

First published in Sri Lanka Guardian, October 5, 2011