Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bangladesh police breaks energy activist’s demos

SALEEM SAMAD

Police in riot gears in the capital Dhaka broke up a demonstration by energy activists on Thursday midday demanding postponement of contracts with foreign companies for power generation and coal exploration.

Police charged batons and fired tear gas shells to disperse the demonstrators who tried to lay siege to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resource to press for termination of Phulbari Coal Project contract with GCM Resources, a London-based resource exploration and development company.

Activists’ spokesperson Prof. Anu Mohammad said at least 35 people of the network National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports were injured as police clubbed the activists marching towards the Ministry of Energy & Mineral Resources.

Among the injured includes Engr. Sheikh Mohammad Shahidullah and Prof. Rehnuma Khanam of the committee.

Earlier, police barricaded the entrance with barbed wire fences to hold back the angry activists.

The energy activist's network of leftists, professional and civil society members after holding a rally in front of National Press Club at the city centre marched towards the Bangladesh Secretariat, where most of the ministries are housed.

Spontaneously the network announced that it would observe countrywide rallies on Jan. 2 in protest of Thursday’s police action.

Bangladesh is in the midst of a severe and worsening energy crisis. Less than half of the country’s 150 million people have access to electricity and those that do have access suffer from frequent power cuts.

Lack of available power is a barrier to the development of industry and also impedes agricultural production.

Presently the country’s power generation is based on natural gas. Therefore coal fired power stations proposed by India could reduce the power shortage significantly.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

India's secret war in Bangladesh

Photo: The Hindu Archives - As a grand finale to the victorious role played in the liberation of Bangladesh and to make their final withdrawal, the Indian Army held a farewell parade at the Dacca Stadium on March 12, 1972 where the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, took the salute. Photo shows Sheikh Mujibur Rehman reviewing the parade.


PRAVEEN SWAMI


Even as the role of the Indian military in giving birth to the new nation is celebrated, the role of its intelligence services remains largely unknown.

FORTY-FIVE MINUTES before 12.00 pm on December 14, 1971, Indian Air Force pilots at Hashimpara and Gauhati received instructions to attack an unusual target: a sprawling colonial-era building in the middle of Dacca that had no apparent military value whatsoever.

There were nothing but tourist maps available to guide the pilots to their target — but the results were still lethal. The first wave of combat jets, four MiG21 jets armed with rockets, destroyed a conference hall; two more MiGs and two Hunter bombers levelled a third of the main building.

Inside the building — the Government House — East Pakistan's Cabinet had begun an emergency meeting to discuss the political measures to avoid the looming surrender of their army at Dacca 55 minutes before the bombs hit. It turned out to be the last-ever meeting of the Cabinet. A.M. Malik, head of the East Pakistan government, survived the bombing along with his Cabinet — but resigned on the spot, among the burning ruins; the nervous system, as it were, of decision-making had been destroyed.

For years now, military historians have wondered precisely how the Government House was targeted with such precision; rumours that a spy was present have proliferated. From the still-classified official history of the 1971 war, we now know the answer. Indian cryptanalysts, or code-breakers, had succeeded in breaking Pakistan's military cipher — giving the country's intelligence services real-time information on the enemy's strategic decision-making.

India's Army, Navy and Air Force were lauded, during the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of Bangladesh's independence, for their role in ending a genocide and giving birth to a new nation. The enormous strategic contribution of India's intelligence services, however, has gone largely unacknowledged.

Seven months before the December 3 Pakistan Air Force raid that marked the beginning of the war, India's Chief of Army Staff issued a secret order to the General Officer Commanding, Eastern Command, initiating the campaign that would end with the dismemberment of Pakistan.

Operation Instruction 52 formally committed the Indian forces to “assist the Provisional Government of Bangladesh to rally the people of East Bengal in support of the liberation movement,” and “to raise, equip and train East Bengal cadres for guerrilla operations for employment in their own native land.”

The Eastern Command was to ensure that the guerrilla forces were to work towards “tying down the Pak [Pakistan] Military forces in protective tasks in East Bengal,” “sap and corrode the morale of the Pak forces in the Eastern theatre and simultaneously to impair their logistic capability for undertaking any offensive against Assam and West Bengal,” and, finally, be used along with the regular Indian troops “in the event of Pakistan initiating hostilities against us.”

Secret army
The task of realising these orders fell on Sujan Singh Uban. Brigadier — later Major-General — Uban was an artillery officer who had been handpicked to lead the Special Frontier Force, a secret army set up decades earlier with the assistance of the United States' Central Intelligence Agency to harry the Chinese forces in Tibet. The SFF, which until recently served as a kind of armed wing of India's external covert service, the Research and Analysis Wing, never did fight in China. In Bangladesh, the contributions of its men and officers would be invaluable.

Brigadier Uban — whose enthusiasm for irregular warfare was rivalled, contemporaries recall, only by his eccentric spiritualism — later said he had received a year's advance warning of the task that lay ahead from the Bengali mystic, Baba Onkarnath.

Less-than-holy war
The war he waged, though, was less-than-holy. In July 1971, India's war history records, the first Bangladesh irregulars were infiltrated across the border at Madaripur. This first group of 110 guerrillas destroyed tea gardens, riverboats and railway tracks — acts that tied down troops, undermined East Pakistan's economy and, the history says, destroyed “communications between Dhaka, Comilla and Chittagong.”

Much of the guerrilla war, however, was waged by the volunteers of the Gano Bahini, a volunteer force. The Indian forces initially set up six camps for recruiting and training volunteers, which were soon swamped. At one camp, some 3,000 young men had to wait up to two months for induction, although the “hygienic condition was pitiable and food and water supply almost non-existent.”

By September 1971, though, Indian training operations had expanded dramatically in scale, processing a staggering 20,000 guerrillas each month. Eight Indian soldiers were committed to every 100 trainees at 10 camps. On the eve of the war, at the end of November 1971, over 83,000 Gano Bahini fighters had been trained, 51,000 of whom were operating in East Pakistan — a guerrilla operation perhaps unrivalled in scale until that time. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Brigadier Uban sent in Indian soldiers or, to be more exact, CIA-trained, Indian-funded Tibetans using hastily-imported Bulgarian assault rifles and U.S.-manufactured carbines to obscure their links to India. Fighting under the direct command of RAW's legendary spymaster Rameshwar Kao, Brig. Uban's forces engaged in a series of low-grade border skirmishes.

Founded in 1962, the SFF had originally been called Establishment 22 — and still has a road named after it in New Delhi, next to the headquarters of the Defence Ministry. The organisation received extensive special operations training from the U.S., as part of a package of military assistance. In September 1967, the control of these assets was formally handed over to RAW — and used in Bangladesh to lethal effect.

From December 3, 1971, Brig. Uban's force began an extraordinary campaign of sabotage and harassment. At the cost of just 56 dead and 190 wounded, the SFF succeeded in destroying several key bridges, and in ensuring that Pakistan's 97 Independent Brigade and crack 2 Commando Battalion remained bogged down in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Some 580 members of Brig. Uban's covert force were awarded cash, medals and prizes by the Government of India.

November 1971 saw the Indian-backed low-intensity war in East Pakistan escalate to levels Pakistan found intolerable — pushing it to act. On December 3, Pakistan attempted to relieve the pressure on its eastern wing by carrying out strikes on major Indian airbases. India retaliated with an offensive of extraordinary speed that has been described as a “blitzkrieg without tanks.”

Rejecting an offer for conditional surrender in the East, the Indian forces entered Dacca on December 15. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi promptly ordered a ceasefire on the western front as well: “if I don't do so today,” she said of the decision to end the war, “I shall not be able to do so tomorrow.”

How important was the covert war to this victory, and what cost did it come at?

India's new communications intelligence technologies were clearly critical; three decades on, the government would be advised to make fuller accounts public, and publicly honour the anonymous cryptanalysts who achieved so much.

The 1971 war history records that their efforts meant “several important communications and projections of the Pak[istani] high command were intercepted, decoded and suitable action [was] taken.” Indian communications interception, the history states, even prevented a last-minute effort to evacuate the Pakistani troops from Dacca, using five disguised merchant ships.

The role of irregular forces, though, needs a more nuanced assessment. There is no doubt that they served to tie down Pakistani troops, and derail their logistical backbone. They were also, however, responsible for large-scale human rights abuses targeting Pakistani sympathisers and the ethnic Bihari population. There is no moral equivalence between these crimes and those of the Pakistani armed forces in 1971 — but the fact also is that the irregular forces bequeathed to Bangladesh a militarised political culture that would have deadly consequences of its own.

India's secret war in Bangladesh would have served little purpose without a conventional, disciplined military force to secure a decisive victory — a lesson of the utility and limitations of sub-conventional warfare that ought to be closely studied today by the several states that rely on these tactics.

First published in The Hindu, India, December 26, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

South Asian plagued by corruption of police, politicians, public officials

SALEEM SAMAD

THE SOUTH Asian regularly have to pay bribes daily when dealing with their public institutions, whether to speed up paperwork, avoid harassment with the police, or access basic services.

International watchdog Transparency International on Thursday stated that police was perceived to be the most corrupt institution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and the second most corrupt institution in India.

Public perceptions of corruption released by Berlin based global corruption watchdog across all six of the South Asian countries– Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – found corruption levels to be highest in political parties and the police, followed closely by the parliament and public officials.

In Bangladesh the most common reason for giving bribe to police was to receive a service and also to avoid problems with the authorities.

However, government leaders were named as the most trusted to fight corruption in Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka. On the other hand, the media was the most trusted institution in India and Nepal.

The Transparency International study between 2010 and 2011 more than 7500 people were interviewed in six South Asian countries on their views of corruption levels in their countries and also to determine their governments’ efforts to fight corruption.

These results demonstrate an important difference in how corruption is perceived in the countries of South Asia. In Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, people were most likely to pay bribes to the police.

Surprisingly the religious bodies were perceived to be the least corrupt institution, the study said.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bangladesh, Russia's Gazprom to drill onshore gas wells

SALEEM SAMAD

ENERGY STARVED Bangladesh has jointly decided on a plan with Gazprom to prepare gas sector strategic master plan for exploration, installation of gas compressors and expanding gas distribution network.

Bangladesh on Wednesday approved a plan by Gazprom, the Russain based world biggest producer and exporter of natural gas to drill 10 onshore wells in the country, state energy exploration agency Petrobangla’s Chairman Hussain Monsur said.

Gazprom will be the first foreign company to partner with Petrobangla in exploration without a production-sharing contract, the official added.

Gazprom in late October offered to drill 10 onshore gas wells in Bangladesh on a turnkey basis at a total cost of $193.55 million, with drilling to be completed within 18 months of approval being granted, Vice-President of Gazprom Ivan Guleb told journalists.

The government recently passed a new law to ensure the quick implementation of power and energy projects that bypasses the tender process. It gives it the authority to bypass any laws that impede the execution of power projects and prevents decisions and deals inked under the new law from being challenged in court.

The shortfall has forced Petrobangla to suspended new gas connections to industries since July 2009, squeezing industrial growth. Gas rationing is widespread and CNG filling stations are closed four hours a day.

On the other hand, leaked United States diplomatic cables said the Kremlin's ambition of turning Gazprom, the world's biggest gas company, into a global energy titan is undermined by Soviet-style thinking, poor management and corruption.

The diplomatic cables from U.S. Ambassador to Moscow John Beyrle paint Russia's biggest company as a confused and corrupt like its predecessor, the Soviet Ministry of Gas.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The birth of Bangladesh

How does Islamabad explain contradictory stand of apology, one on Bangladesh and the other on the attack by Nato forces?


KULDIP NAYAR

I found it strange that no group or organisation in India celebrated the fortieth year of Bangladesh’s independence. I consider this odd because India was an active participant in the war that created Bangladesh. I recall that the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was angry over the stream of people pouring into India from East Pakistan but did not know how to stop the exodus. “Thank God, Pakistan has attacked”, she told West Bengal’s chief minister when General Yahya Khan ordered his air force to bombard the Pathankot aerodrome.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has done well in inviting to Dhaka those Indians whom she thinks have helped Bangladesh win its freedom. However, some official ceremony in India would also have been in order to recall the sacrifices of hundreds of jawans and officers. This is needed all the more because Hasina’s likes and dislikes are not on merit but on her subjective assessment. The criterion for selection should have been people’s role in Bangladesh’s freedom movement, not how Hasina feels about them.

Yet her attitude, however whimsical, is understandable, unlike that of Pakistan. It refuses to apologise for the atrocities its army had committed, especially those committed 48 hours before the surrender. Islamabad is justifiably indignant over the killing of its soldiers by Nato forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan has gone to the extent of asking the Americans to leave the airbase they were using to send drones. The US-Pakistan relationship is in a mess because Washington refuses to apologise for the killing of around two dozen soldiers. How does Islamabad explain the contradictory stand, one on Bangladesh and the other on the attack by Nato forces?

Cases against those who opposed the liberation struggle or committed crimes during that time are justified. Hasina has done well to set up a tribunal to try such people. Yet, maintaining objectivity is most important and such cases should not be used to settle personal scores or to victimise political opponents.

Yet whatever Hasina’s lapses, it is great to remember the finest hour of Bangladesh — when it won freedom. That the two wings of Pakistan had very little to share became more and more evident as days went by. For every ill they suffered, Pakistan blamed the west, which in turn developed the feeling that whatever good it might do for the east would remain unacknowledged. General Ayub Khan, then heading Pakistan, said in an interview to me: “I would have told East Bengal in 1962, when a new Constitution was introduced, that if they wanted to go they could do so. It was no use keeping them if they did not want to remain with us.”

This attitude of the West Pakistanis apart, the Pakistanis also felt the geographical distance to the full when, during the 1965 India-Pakistan war, the east was completely cut off. Partly to exploit the feeling of alienation and partly to keep the theatre of war as restricted as possible, India did not attack East Pakistan in 1965.

After the hostilities ended, when the All-Pakistan National Conference met in February 1966 at Lahore, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman spoke of what he said had been the “neglect of East Pakistan”. This was the meeting where he presented his six-point formula, which became the basis for a national struggle.

Tajuddin Ahmad, Bangladesh’s first prime minister, told me at Dhaka that the six-point programme was the “beginning” and “we knew we would become independent one day”.

First published in The Express Tribune, Pakistan, December 20, 2011

Kuldip Nayar is a syndicated columnist and a former member of India’s Rajya Sabha

Who declared Bangla freedom? Mujib or Ziaur

ANURADHA SHARMA

Bangladesh was born 40 years ago, but there's a lingering debate that continues to this day with no convincing answer. Who was it exactly that declared the country free? Sheikh Mujibur Rahman or Ziaur Rahman?

The answer still divides Bangladeshis, largely on political lines. The Awami League, and also the official line, holds that Mujibur declared independence first before he was arrested on March 26, 1971. This day is celebrated as Bangladesh's Independence Day. The Opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), insists it was Ziaur, former president and BNP founder, who proclaimed independence first on March 27.

On the night of March 25, the Pakistan army launched an offensive in Dhaka and arrested Mujibur in the wee hours of the next day, but not before he had reportedly signed on an "official freedom declaration" on March 26.

On March 27 and 28, it was Ziaur's voice that people heard on the radio, announcing: "This is Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendro. I, Major Ziaur Rahman, at the direction of Bangobondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, hereby declare that the independent People's Republic of Bangladesh has been established. At his direction, I have taken command as the temporary head of the republic. In the name of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, I call upon all Bengalis to rise against the attack by the West Pakistani army. We shall fight to the last to free our motherland."

BNP leader Moudud Ahmed, former prime minister and vice-president of Bangladesh, says, "I was at a tea garden in Sylhet when I heard Major Zia's voice. Everybody heard him. Nobody heard Sheikh Mujib."

To that, Awami League leader Abdul Matin Khasru retorts: "The controversy is just their (BNP) creation. This issue has already been settled in the Supreme Court. Sheikh Mujib was a national leader and had made the official declaration on March 26. Ziaur was just a major in the army, not a leader (of a position to make such declarations). He never made such claims either. It is only after his death (in 1981) that the BNP raked up the issue."

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is Mujib's daughter, and opposition leader Khaleda Zia, who is Ziaur Rahman's widow, have kept the debate alive.

What is undeniable, though, is that the radio announcement was a clarion call to the shell-shocked nation to stand up against West Pakistan's might, their resistance culminating in the birth of Bangladesh on December 16, 1971.

First published in The Times of India, Dec ember11, 2011

The war culture won

It was Bengali language and culture - suppressed by rulers in Islamabad who saw it as a threat to the idea of Pakistan - that was at the root of the revolt, writes MAHFUZ ANAM. No wonder that Bangladeshis have tried to build their new identity through art, music, books and films

I still remember the day. On December 16, 1971, I was in Murti, a training camp north of Siliguri in West Bengal. It was run by the Indian Army both for ordinary freedom fighters and officers of the regular army. We were just a couple of weeks short of being deployed to various sectors after passing out as commissioned officers when the Pakistani army surrendered.

I still remember the exact moment when we all gathered around a small radio and heard the news. Our hearts were pounding. We were embracing and congratulating each other and thanking the Indian Army officers and jawans.

The thought that we finally had a free country filled our hearts with a special joy that comes very rarely in a lifetime, if ever. I clearly remember two thoughts that ran through my mind in those early moments: never again would people be shot at by the military or the police for just being political opponents; and that democratic values would guide our politics and religion would never again be used to instigate communal violence and as an instrument of oppression and exclusion.

Forty years down the line we cannot claim that freedom has prevailed in all spheres of our life or that secularism has found sufficient roots to cleanse our politics of religious bigotry. However, we can claim that as citizens of Bangladesh we have emerged with our distinct identity and culture which remains fundamentally Bengali, and yet is enriched by the special historical experiences that brought in different civilisational impact on us.

Creation of Bangladesh, and the long struggle - from 1947 to 71 - for its emergence, was more about its people's identity than it was about economic and social advancement, though they constituted vital elements of the struggle at the end. But it was the issue of culture, triggered by demand for Bengali as one of the national languages of Pakistan as early 1948 that ultimately caused the creation of Bangladesh. It was during M A Jinnah's first visit to the eastern part of Pakistan that Dhaka University students raised the slogan of Bengali as a national language. Jinnah was arrogant: "Urdu and Urdu alone shall be the national language of Pakistan". As it would turn out, with that utterance he buried the very Pakistan he did so much to create.

In the past 40 years, as we have tried to create a new identity, we have not forgotten even for a moment that in the early sixties the Pakistani dictator Gen Ayub Khan had banned all music and writings in the country. It was our culture that the Pakistanis hated most, terming it to be a threat to the survival of Pakistan. They thought that unless they could destroy and pervert Bengali culture Pakistan would not be safe. In the end it was Pakistan that stood destroyed.

No wonder that since 1971, Bangladesh has made remarkable strides in the field of art and culture, particularly theatre. Almost immediately after 1971, the Group Theatre Movement started giving expression to people's hopes and dreams. The new-found freedom gave a tremendous impetus to this art form and it spread to districts and even to villages within a very short time. These theatres would reinforce our secular and democratic ideals and it was a major force in toppling Gen Ershad's autocratic regime.

Also, Bangla band music has come of age since our liberation. This musical form is based on the very rich folk musical tradition of Bengal, especially the Baul. Building on the legacy of famous poet and singer Lalon Shah and other Sufi poets, young singers with popular bands have brought folk music into the centrestage. Along with this, there has been a revival of Tagore and Nazrul songs. In Bangladesh today, Tagore and Nazrul music festival is held annually in several big towns. And the celebration of the Bangla New Year, Pahela Baishak, has become the biggest cultural festival in the country.

During the Pakistani days, publishing was stifled. But in independent Bangladesh, books, especially novels, have been flourishing. Now, we celebrate the literature in our own language. The most important symbol of this assertion is Ekushey Boi Mela, a festival which is held every year in February to coincide with the commemoration of our Language Movement of 1952. At this festival, several hundred stalls exhibit hundreds of new authors along with thousands of new books that are published during this month and it is visited by millions over a period of 28 days.

Another field where we are making a mark is cinema, with some very creative and bold producers and directors experimenting with new ideas and stories. The international recognition to Matir Moina and Guerrilla has given our filmmakers a new confidence and identity. It will hopefully lead to some extraordinary films.

Today, even as we breathe freedom, we face the formidable challenges of development. But we derive confidence from our diverse cultural heritage and feel secured in the knowledge that as long as we can nurture our rich culture no force can destroy us or prevent us from emerging into a prosperous country.

First published in The Times of India, December 13, 2011


Mahfuz Anam is an award winning editor-publisher, The Daily Star, Dhaka

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Happy 40th Birthday Bangladesh! A Tree Called 'Kennedy'

Photo: The Banyan tree at Dhaka University remembers Ted Kennedy
TAREK FATAH

In the late hours of March 25, 1971, as the citizens of Dhaka slept, the Pakistan Army launched a war on its own people. By the time the sun rose, thousands of students in two university residential halls were dead and countless more lay wounded.

Dhaka University had been a hotbed of political activism for decades. To the generals of the Pakistan Army led by president Yahya Khan and his feared commander in then-"East Pakistan," General Tikka Khan, it had to be vanquished. The army also had a score to settle with an old tree on the campus grounds that was rumoured to have cast magical spells of rebellion on the young men and women who mingled underneath it.

After the first massacres, soldiers were sent to kill the giant banyan tree, lovingly known as "Bawt Tawla." Under its branches, many generations of Bengali students had gathered, conspired and then gone out to change the world.

It was under this tree that the language movement of 1953 was launched. Here in 1968, students had risen up against the military rule of General Ayub Khan, leading to his humiliation.

By the time the sun set on March 25, the Pakistan Army had blown up Bawt Tawla, ripping the very heart out of Dhaka University.

"It was a sad day--as if someone had destroyed the very essence of our lives," says Fuad Chowdhury, a Canadian filmmaker who witnessed the carnage:
"I saw the random killing and shooting of civilians. Canon fire destroyed part of my house, but the next morning when we saw the tree gone, we were devastated. Bawt Tawla was gone forever, we thought. But we were wrong."
A million lives and two years later, after the Bangladeshis had defeated the Pakistan Army and achieved independence, a white American politician would come to the spot where the old tree stood and plant a new sapling.

Today, forty years later, that sapling has grown into a new Bawt Tawla, and under it students mourn the passing of the man who planted that sapling: Senator Edward Kennedy.

Ted Kennedy had a huge following all over the world. Some admired him for his charisma, others because he was the brother of JFK and RFK. But in Bangladesh, he was revered because he spoke up when no one else in the U.S. dared to say a word.

In 1971, when the Pakistan Army began its genocide, Islamabad was a close ally of the U.S. President Yahya Khan had facilitated the Nixon-Mao meeting and the White House was not interested in damaging relations with a military junta that provided an effective counter balance to the growing India-U.S.S.R. relationship.

As Pakistani atrocities mounted, the U.S. consul general in Dhaka, Archer Blood, sent an urgent message to the State Department. It read:
"Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to denounce atrocities... But we have chosen not to intervene, even morally, on the grounds that the ...conflict, in which unfortunately the overworked term 'genocide' is applicable, is purely an internal matter of a sovereign state."
Blood said that Dhaka University students were "either shot down in rooms or mowed down when they came out of building...estimated 1,000 persons, mostly students, but including faculty members resident in dorms, killed... At least two mass graves on campus, one near Iqbal Hall, other near Rokeya Hall. Rain [on the night of] March 29 exposed some bodies. Stench terrible."

Instead of paying attention to the news about the bloodletting, the "Blood Telegram," as it came to be known, was reclassified as secret, and Archer Blood got transferred out of Dhaka.

As the world seemed to have abandoned Bengalis, one man had the courage to defy his own government, thumb his nose at the Nixon administration, and go to the teeming refugee camps where ten million people were living in appalling conditions. This man was then 39-year-old Senator Ted Kennedy.

Kennedy toured the camps and heard eyewitness stories of the massacres all over East Pakistan. Back home, Senator Kennedy wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Refugees about "one of the most appalling tides of human misery in modern times." He wrote,
"Nothing is more clear, or more easily documented, than the systematic campaign of terror -- and its genocidal consequences -- launched by the Pakistani army on the night of March 25th ...All of this has been officially sanctioned, ordered and implemented under martial law from Islamabad. America's heavy support of Islamabad is nothing short of complicity in the human and political tragedy of East Bengal."
Despite obstruction from the Nixon White House, Kennedy worked both sides of the house, pleading for the end of U.S. support for Pakistan. This finally led to the U.S. Congress passing a bill that banned all arms sales to Pakistan.

On December 16, 1971, the war ended and Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan to become an independent country.

Fuad Chowdhury recalls when two months later, Senator Kennedy came back to Bangladesh and planted a tree at the site of the original Bawt Tawla.

"There were thousands of students chanting "Joi Kennedy" (long live Kennedy) as he spoke to us, comparing the Bangladesh revolution to the American Revolution.
"For us, he was a hero then and will always be remembered as the man who stood by us in our darkest days. The banyan tree should now be re-named as the banyan tree called Kennedy."
Today, the tree Kennedy planted in 1972 has grown as large as the original Bawt Tawla.

Tarek Fatah is a writer, talkshow host in Toronto and founder, Muslim Canadian Congress


First published in The Huffington Post, December 16, 2011

Bangladesh: A Gradual Healing

Photo: Bangladesh born HuJI suspected detained in India


SANCHITA BHATTACHARYA

Bangladesh has experienced a dramatic stabilization over the past year, though contradictory impulses continue to create some confusion, particularly in view of the Government's decision to retain Islamist elements within the Constitution, against the ruling Awami League's (AL's) secular commitments in the past. The ongoing War Crimes (WC) Trials and sustained action against extremist elements have, however, pulled the country back from what appeared, just years ago, to be the edge of the precipice, and transformed the profile of governance in the country.

According to partial data collected by the South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP), there have been no fatalities related with Islamists in 2011, as compared to 48 Islamist militants, four civilians and three SF personnel killed in 2010.

By November 6, 2011 the Government had arrested 576 militants belonging to various Islamist extremist groupings, including the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), Jama'at-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), and Hizb-ut-Towhid, as against 958 such arrests in 2010, and 23 in 2009. The pattern of arrests over the year suggests that the principal concentration has been directed against HuT and Hizb-ut-Towhid, because of their active penetration into the Bangladeshi society. A total of 165 cadres belonging to these two outfits have been arrested in 30 incidents throughout 2011, including Mahmudul Bari, adviser of HuT and Rajshahi District Ameer(Chief) of Hizb-ut-Towhid, Mohammad Mizanur Rahman. These two organisations have been involved in the aggressive propagation of extremist Islamist ideologies in the country.

Major Islamist extremist arrests included:
April 25, 2011: The acting 'Chief' of Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami - Bangladesh (HuJI-B), Abdul Hannan Sabbir was arrested, along with another extremist, from a hideout at Keraniganj in Dhaka District.
April 26, 2011: One of the most wanted leaders of HuJI-B, Rahmatullah alias Sheikh Farid alias Shawkat Osman was arrested at Tongi Railway Station area of Gazipur District.
May 26, 2011: Three JeI leaders, identified as Abu Jafar Mohammad Saleh (District Chief), Abdul Kader (sub-district chief) and Shamim Ahsan (secretary), were arrested from Charduani Dakhil Madrasa in Patharghata sub-district of Barguna District.
June 10, 2011: The General Secretary of JeI Alpana unit, Nazrul Islam alias Mamun, was arrested at West Deka of Chauddagram sub-district of Comilla District.
August 18, 2011: Moulana Yahiya, the newly appointed Chief of HuJI-B was arrested along with his two accomplices at Bhairab in Kishoreganj District.
September 3, 2011: A Majlis-e-Shura (central governing body) member of JMB, Sohag Talukdar, was arrested from his house in the Nalchhiti Sub-district of Jhalakathi District.
September 25, 2011: Police arrested a JeI 'chief', Mohammad Jane Alam, from his residence at Katgor in Patenga in Chittagong District.

A total of 22 Left Wing Extremists (LWEs) were killed in 2011 (data compiled till November 6, 2011), as against 46 militants, one civilian and three SF personnel in the preceding year. The District of Pabna has proved to be the epicenter of LWE violence, with the maximum number of incidents taking place there, followed by the Mirpur and Chaudanga Districts.

Significant incidents involving the LWE included:
February 2, 2011: The 'military commander' of Purba Banglar Communist Party - Janajudhha (PBCP-Janajudhha), identified as Hafizul Islam Reza, was killed in Santhia sub-district of Pabna District.
February 3, 2011: A 'regional commander' of PBCP-Red Flag, Abdul Hamid aliasThosha Hamid, was shot dead by Police in Ataikula Sub-district of Pabna District.
February 9, 2011: A 'regional commander' of PBCP-Red Flag, identified as Mohammad Azibor Rahman was killed at Chatmohor sub-district of Pabna District.
April 26, 2011: The Ataikula Unit 'chief' of PBCP-Red Flag, Tikka Khan, was killed in Pabna District.
April 29, 2011: The 'operational commander' of PBCP-Janajudhha, Ziarul Rahman, was killed in Pabna District.

The total number of LWEs arrested through 2011 was 62.

Bangladesh had, for years under the preceding Bangladesh National Party (BNP)-led regime, been in focus for harbouring various Islamist extremist and terrorist elements, and using these to disrupt the political equilibrium of the region (South Asia), with repercussions echoing across the world. Traces of this troubled past continue to surface from time to time, despite the Sheikh Hasina Wajed Government's efforts to suppress Islamist extremism in the country.

On July 20, 2011, for instance, the US demanded the extradition of Bangladesh born militants who were recruited and trained by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Senior officials at the Pentagon submitted a list of Bangladeshi militants and demanded their extradition. Earlier, on February 28, 2011, a Bangladeshi Islamist extremist working for British Airways had been found guilty of plotting to blow up a plane after conspiring with US-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Since November 8, 2011 Bangladeshi law enforcement officials have been on high alert after the Government received information that the Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) was planning attacks in Dhaka and Chittagong.

The 'Islam Pasand' (Islamist) Political parties in Bangladesh are also getting increasingly involved in such conspiracies. On January 6, 2011, a Chittagong Court placed Mufti Izharul Chowdhury, President of a faction of the Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ, Islamic Unity Front), on a four-day remand in two cases under the Anti-Terrorism Act and Explosive Substance Act, for alleged involvement in a HuJI-B plot. It was also reported, on June 26, 2011, that there was a possibility that Hizb-ut-Towhid was a brainchild of the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), as its founder Bayezid Khan Panni aka Selim Panni frequently reiterated his support to separatist groups as well as ISI-backed Islamist terrorists in India. Links between LeT leader Abdul Majed Bhat and HuJI-B, in the context of the August 21, 2004 Dhaka Grenade Attack, in which at least 23 people were killed, have been established by a Crime Investigation Department (CID) chargesheet filed in July 2011. It has also been alleged that Abdullah Khan of the Indian Mujahideen (IM), involved in the Mumbai blast of July 13, 2011, has been hiding in Bangladesh. Further, India's National Investigation Agency (NIA) has revealed that the interrogation of Wasim Akram Malik, a resident of Jammu and Kashmir and key conspirator in the Delhi High Court Blast of September 7, 2011, has mentioned the name of 'Major Yassir' a Bangladesh Army deserter, as a co-conspirator. On August 17, the High Court Bench of Justice A.H.M. Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik and Justice Gobinda Chandra Tagore, directed the Bangladesh Government to form a committee to investigate the nexus between IOJ Chairman Fazlul Haque Amini and JMB, al Qaeda and Taliban.

Linkage between Bangladeshi Islamist elements and the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the separatist group operating in the north east Indian State of Assam have also been disclosed by intelligence sources. Worse, such linkages went up to the highest levels of the establishment under the previous Government. On July 5, 2011, security sources in Dhaka disclosed that former President Khaleda Zia's son Tarique Rahman was a business associate of ULFA chief Paresh Baruah. On September 26, 2011, Bangladesh's National Security Intelligence (NSI) agency launched a probe to investigate Baruah's financial affairs and investments in the country. Baruah was also involved in the in-famous Chittagong arms smuggling case of April 1, 2004. Apart from ULFA, a number of other Indian extremist groups had their bases in Bangladesh, but these have been dismantled by the Sheikh Hasina Government, and a large number of militants and leaders have been handed over to Indian authorities, while some others remain in Bangladeshi custody. Baruah and the leadership of several other groups have escaped into the only surviving safe haven for north-east Indian rebel groupings along the Myanmar-China border.

In an unfortunate shift impacting on the innate character of the country, the Bangladesh Parliament, on June 30, retained Islam's status as the 'State Religion' with the passage of the 15th Constitutional Amendment Bill. Thousands of protesters marched in capital Dhaka against the adoption of an Islamic Constitution by Parliament, which they believe steered the country away from the secular political culture enshrined in the 1972 Constitution. Protestors were enraged by Sheikh Hasina's turnaround from the AL's commitments to a secular ideology from the moment of the country's birth in 1971. The retention of an Islamic character in the Constitution appears to be motivated by an effort to contain an Islamist backlash against the Government's widespread arrests of the extremist leadership and the WC trials.

The WC trials, initiated on March 25, 2010, moved forward through 2011. On September 16, 2011, an International Criminal Tribunal (ICT) confirmed the involvement of JeI 'assistant secretary-general' Muhammed Kamaruzzaman in 'crimes against humanity' during the 1971 liberation war. Earlier, on August 10, 2011, the ICT opened its first case against JeI leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee, charged with atrocities during the 1971 War of Independence, including genocide and rape. JeI Chief Matiur Rahman Nizami and secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed have also been formally charged for crimes against humanity. On June 15, 2011, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told Parliament that, "Permanent and qualitative change will come by in the country's law and order if the War Crimes trial ends." She said her Government wanted to hold the trial of 1971 Liberation War criminals "as a unique symbol of establishing rule of law and we are trying our level best to complete the process".

The Government has also initiated a series of trails connected with the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) (formerly Bangladesh Rifles, BDR) mutiny of February 25-26, 2009. The cases include the mutinies at Jessore, Chittagong, Dinajpur, Shatkhira and Dhaka, with trails going on in the Special Courts. In an important development, on September 12, 2011, the Special Court-8 sentenced 182 troopers of the Signal Sector of the erstwhile BDR to rigorous imprisonment ranging from four months to seven years, and fined each of the convicts BNR 100 in the Pilkhana Mutiny case.

2011 also proved productive in terms of the bilateral relations with India, with an official visit by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Dhaka in the month of September, and the signing of significant agreements, including long-pending accords relating to border disputes and the Adversely Possessed Lands (APLs). The Singh's visit was also preceded by that of Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna. Earlier, in July 2011, it was reported that India and Bangladesh had launched a joint census to count populations in 162 enclaves on both sides of the border. On July 15, 2011, the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Survey of APLs along the Meghalaya-Sylhet frontier resumed amid tight security at the Sonarhat Border point in Gowainghat sub-district of Sylhet District.

The signing of the 'Bangladesh and India Coordinated Border Management Plan', on July 30, 2011, dealing with cross-border smuggling and human trafficking, was also considered a major step towards achieving the goal of establishing a 'safe-zone' across the Indo-Bangladesh border. On August 14, 2011, Bangladesh Home Ministry officials disclosed that India and Bangladesh had, for the first time, prepared strip maps of their 4,156 kilometer International Border (IB), towards settling outstanding border disputes. This was followed by the signing, on September 6, 2011, of the agreement on the demarcation of the entire land boundary between the two countries, resolving the status of 162 APLs. During the bi-annual conference of the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) and BGB, held at Dhaka from September 25 to 30, 2011, the BSF handed over a fresh list of Indian insurgents hiding in Bangladesh to the BGB, requesting action.

A sea change, both in the state's relations with Islamist extremists and Indian separatist groupings, and in Bangladesh's troubled relations with India, has done much to heal the self-inflicted wounds that Dhaka has suffered over the past decades. The shift has been far-reaching in its immediate impact, bringing an unprecedented stability, both to the regime and to the broader social and political milieu in the country. Nevertheless, troubling undercurrents persist, and a mishandling of the complex forces within Bangladesh could, once again, revive threats to the tenuous stability that has been secured over the past years.
Sanchita Bhattacharya, Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

First appeared in The SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW, Weekly Assessments & Briefings, Volume 10, No. 23, December 12, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bangladesh’s second chance at justice

DAVID BERGMAN

Four decades on, trials for the atrocities committed during the 1971 independence war are finally being held.

Bangladeshis will come together this year to mark the nation's 40th anniversary of independence.

The celebration comes at a time when the Bangladesh government, now under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, is making its second attempt to bring to account Bengalis alleged to have collaborated with the Pakistan military during the 1971 war of independence.

The struggle against the Pakistan military, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, had widespread national support.

However, there remained some Bengalis — particularly members of Islamist parties, like the Jamaat-e-Islami — who during the independence war collaborated with the Pakistan military and continued to support a unified Pakistan.

Soon after the creation of Bangladesh, the new Awami League government under the leadership of Hasina's father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman passed a law which allowed for the prosecution of ‘collaborators' — both those who committed violent crimes and those who simply gave the Pakistan military their political support.

The 1972 ordinance led to the arrest of more than 30,000 people (all Bangladeshis), and trials took place across the country.

Allegations, amnesty
However, within two years, following a spate of acquittals, allegations that the trials were turning into witch-hunts and difficulties in pursuing the cases given the lack of administrative capacity, Mujib announced an amnesty for those convicted of ‘political' crimes.

Though, technically, this meant only political ‘collaborators' were exempted, the amnesty effectively resulted in the end of all trials including those involving violent offences.

Significantly absent from this first process of accountability were many of the leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing who are alleged during the war to have been the most ideologically committed collaborators and to have established their own militia called the Al Badr to assist the Pakistan military

In the dying days of the war many key Jamaati leaders fled the new state of Bangladesh.

Indeed, there would be little need for the second current round of trials had many of these men, including Ghulam Azam, the Jamaat's head in 1971, not returned to Bangladesh following the assassination of Sheikh Mujib in August 1975 and restarted their political activities.

During the subsequent 15 years of military/autocratic rule, involving severe restrictions on freedoms of expression and association, civil society groups had little opportunity to raise the issue of these men's alleged involvement in war crimes.

Fall of Ershad
But following the fall of General Ershad's regime in 1990, and the return of political democracy, the demands were re-articulated by citizens' organisations and the families of those who had been murdered or disappeared. These demands were further spurred in response to the Jamaat's success in winning 18 parliamentary seats in the 1991 general elections.

Now finally, twenty years later (during which the Jamaat completed five years in a governing coalition), Bangladesh has initiated a new process of trials for the atrocities committed during the 1971 independence war.

As of today, five top leaders of the Jamaat-e-islami are detained. The trial of one of them, Delwar Hossain Sayedee, has now started. Two other leaders of the main opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party have also been detained, though one has obtained bail. All of them deny any involvement in war crimes.

A second attempt
Though far from perfect, this second attempt at seeking accountability looks like it may well be more successful than the first.

Instead of attempting to prosecute thousands of people, the investigators currently have in their sights less than twenty men.

The trials are taking place in a specially designated court room in front of three judges, two being from the Supreme Court. The process is relatively well organised with the local defence lawyers (advised by three British barristers who are though not allowed into the country), provided with opportunities to present their case.

The Tribunal has also given a number of protections to the accused men which are not usually provided by ordinary Bangladesh courts including short periods of remand for questioning, allowing a lawyer as well as a doctor to be present in an adjacent room during interrogations, and improved medical facilities whilst in jail. In another small but significant procedural improvement, the evidence is also being transcribed contemporaneously by a stenographer.

However, the Tribunal does not provide all the rights available to an accused in an ordinary Bangladesh court. Most significantly, the first amendment of the constitution precludes fundamental rights from applying to these men. Whilst the tribunal's rules of procedure incorporate many of the rights required to ensure a fair trial, it remains the case that during the pre-trial and trail process, the accused still cannot seek any remedy from the High Court or indeed any other court. Only against conviction can an appeal be made.

Domestic standards aside, the tribunal is far from meeting many international standards and practices.

The judges have themselves stated that they are a ‘national tribunal prosecuting international offences.' This formulation has meant that defence arguments that invoke standards from U.N. sponsored international tribunals have had little traction so far.

A concern
One major concern raised not only by the defence but some international observers is that the tribunal's governing law defines the offence of ‘crimes against humanity' without a number of basic elements that are required in international law.

In recent weeks Sayedee's lawyers have also criticised the lack of preparation time they have been given for the trial and questioned the legislation that requires them to provide to the prosecution all the witness statements in support of their client right at the beginning of the trial.

Last week, the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party issued a statement calling the tribunal a ‘rubber-stamping body' and accusing it of being ‘an illegal and unconstitutional process for extra-judicial persecution of political opponents.'

Whilst legitimate concerns about the tribunal exist, there would appear to be nothing in the tribunal's governing law or current practice that justifies such trenchant criticism. Indeed as stated above it is an improvement in many ways from most domestic trials.

Strategically, the BNP's decision also appears myopic since there is significant national support for the tribunal.

However, the fact that all seven accused are prominent leaders of the opposition has raised questions about whether there is an element of political opportunism to the entire process.

The government certainly has a lot to gain politically from the trials, and repeated comments from ministers about their likely outcome have exacerbated concerns about the tribunal's independence.

The optics certainly do not look good.

The best response to this is clear. The trial process must ensure not only that justice is done but seen to be done.

If convictions take place following an objectively fair assessment of the evidence, with all the appropriate protections and opportunities for the accused to defend themselves, objections regarding the political affiliation of the accused will have limited impact.

Whether this happens of course is yet to be seen.

As the trials begin, national and international observers will watch the process closely.

As, of course, will the thousands of victims of war crimes, who have already waited a long time for justice.

David Bergman is the Editor, Special Reports for the Bangladesh paper, New Age, and also runs a blog on the war crimes trial at http://bangladeshwarcrimes.blogspot.com/

First published by The Hindu, December 16, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bangladeshi president’s alleged assassin, who now lives in Toronto, can’t be extradited: diplomat


Photo: Dismissed colonel Noor Chowdhury, a fugitive living in Canada


RANDY BOSWELL

CANADA’S NEW high commissioner to Bangladesh has sparked a controversy in the Asian nation after stating bluntly that Canada can’t extradite the alleged assassin of Bangladesh’s founding president because he could face the death penalty in his home country.

The incident has rekindled a long-running dispute between Canada and Bangladesh, during which Bangladeshi officials have at times accused Canada of giving refuge to the most wanted fugitive in the 40-year history of their country — Toronto resident Noor Chowdhury, now 61.

The controversial comments to Bangladeshi media by Canadian diplomat Heather Cruden, who was appointed Sept. 30 to the high commissioner’s post in the capital city of Dhaka, followed an introductory meeting last week with the country’s foreign minister, Dipu Moni.

During the meeting, according to a statement issued by the foreign minister’s office, Moni had pressed Cruden to facilitate Canada’s handover of the “self-confessed killer” Chowdhury, a former Bangladeshi military officer who, in 1998, was convicted in absentia in the August 1975 killing of Bangladesh’s first president, Sheik Mujibur Rahman.

Rahman, affectionately titled Bangbandhu or “Friend of Bengal” by supporters during and after his life, is viewed as the patriarch of Bangladesh for his central role in the country’s birth after it gained independence from Pakistan in 1971 through an armed struggle.

“Emphasizing the importance of ending the long lasting culture of immunity and impunity and ensuring justice, Dr. Dipu Moni reiterated the call for deportation from Canada the convicted killer of Bangbandhu, Noor Chowdhury,” the foreign ministry statement said. “A country like Canada, which follows the same common law as Bangladesh does, cannot be a safe haven for a self-confessed killer who committed the most gruesome crime.”

But after her meeting with Moni, Cruden was quoted in Bangladeshi press reports stating firmly — apparently for the first time in public — that Canada will not expel any suspected criminal to face a possible execution abroad.

“Our government has a clear policy that we cannot extradite people to a country where there is death sentence,” she told reporters in Dhaka. “The foreign minister raised the issue and I will again raise the issue with my government.”

Media coverage of Cruden’s comments prompted Moni’s office to issue another statement within hours, contradicting the message that the two countries had reached a permanent impasse on the question of Chowdhury’s fate.

Without directly objecting to Cruden’s interpretation of the meeting, the ministry said press coverage of Cruden’s comments “did not reflect accurately the discussions held between the foreign minister and the high commissioner on the issue.”

The statement added that, “Bangladesh has been in constant and deep engagement with Canada on the issue of deportation of Noor Chowdhury.” And it noted that while Dhaka was “cognizant of the legal considerations involved on Canada’s part regarding any individual convicted with death sentence,” the Bangladeshi government “believes that this is an ongoing process which is in progress.”

Rahman was shot dead at his compound in Dhaka on Aug. 15, 1975, during a bloody coup known to have been orchestrated by renegade military officers. Several other members of the leader’s family — including his wife and three sons — were also murdered.

Rahman’s daughter, Sheik Hasina Wajed, escaped death in the massacre because she was travelling in Europe at the time. Now she’s Bangladesh’s prime minister, and has vowed to bring those who killed her father and other family members to justice.

Canada’s fears about returning Chowdhury to a possible death sentence in Bangladesh appear to be well-founded. In January 2010 — less that a year after Wajed was elected for a second time to lead Bangladesh’s government — five of the 12 men convicted with Chowdhury of assassinating Rahman were hanged in Dhaka.

Chowdhury, whose first name is sometimes spelled “Nur,” served as a Bangladeshi diplomat in the years following the 1975 overthrow of the Rahman regime. He fled Bangladesh for Canada in 1996 after Wajed and her late father’s allies first regained power in the politically volatile country.

Though thwarted in his efforts to gain refugee status in Canada and facing a deportation order, Chowdhury has avoided expulsion from this country for nearly a decade because of Canada’s legal obligation — the result of a 2001 Supreme Court ruling — not to deport or extradite suspected criminals who may face execution in another country, except in the most “exceptional” circumstances.

Chowdhury — who reportedly lives a quiet life in an Etobicoke condominium — attended his first refugee hearing in Canada in 1999, and has faced a string of defeats beginning in 2002, when his application was initially denied, court records show.

He was again denied in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

But Chowdhury has not been sent back to Bangladesh by Canadian authorities because of the prospect of execution, Canada’s own abolition of capital punishment in 1976 and subsequent court rulings forbidding this country from extraditing individuals in capital cases without first receiving assurances from foreign authorities that the death penalty will not be imposed.

According to a 2004 fax message contained in Federal Court of Canada filings for the Chowdhury case, Interpol Ottawa told Canada Border Services Agency that some day, “if there’s a change of policy in Canada or Bangladesh regarding the sentencing, the subject may be extradited then.”

But there is clearly strong pressure on Moni and other senior Bangladeshi ministers — particularly with Wajed in power — to convince Canada to extradite Chowdhury over his alleged role in the assassination 36 years ago.

Chowdhury was sentenced to death by firing squad on Nov. 8, 1998 along with 14 other alleged plotters of the assassination and coup — two of whom, also living in Canada at the time, were later exonerated.

Chowdhury, in fact, was accused of personally killing Rahman with a sub-machine gun, Canadian court records show.

According to allegations contained in Federal Court documents, Chowdhury and a group of army officers carried out the killings on Aug. 15 after planning the attack in May.

On the morning of the killings, the plotters packed into a truck and headed for the presidential residence, according to an Interpol summary of the allegations. When the shooting ended, Rahman, his wife, three sons — including a 10-year-old boy — two daughters-in-law, a brother and several security officers lay dead, the document states.

Chowdhury, however, has repeatedly denied the charges during his refugee hearings in Canada. He has claimed he was visiting the woman who later became his wife, helping her brother finish a rush order of T-shirts to be used in a rally supporting Rahman, court records show.

He has said the justice system in Bangladesh is rigged against him and that he was the victim of a “personal grudge” held by Wajed against anyone considered a political opponent of her father and herself.

She and her allies “see (Chowdhury) as their historical enemy because they believe that he was among those that kept them from power for two decades,” one of the court documents states.

As early as 1999, Aminul Islam, Bangladesh’s then-high commissioner to Canada, urged the Liberal government of Jean Chretien to deport Chowdhury and the two other alleged assassins — both of whom were later exonerated.

“Murders and assassinations must not go unpunished,’’ Islam said at the time. “We have requested that the killers be returned to Bangladesh for the sake of justice and for the sake of international law. They have been tried in Bangladesh and they have been found guilty.”

In July this year, Bangladeshi law minister Shafique Ahmed — who has travelled to Canada to lobby for Chowdhury’s extradition — suggested the planned return of the fugitive to Bangladesh was imminent, telling reporters the case is in “the final stage in a Canada court. He’ll be brought back once the issue is resolved.”

First published in The National Post, Canada, December 7, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

Wing Commander Ken Hannah (RAF) led a rescue mission to Dacca in Dec 1971‏

Photo: Ken Hannah with the Duke of Edinburgh

Wing Commander Ken Hannah, who has died aged 85, led a daring operation by three RAF Hercules transport aircraft into Dacca during an armed revolt in East Pakistan, rescuing more than 400 people.

Conflict had broken out in March 1971 when West Pakistan attempted to crush separatists in East Pakistan, who had the support of India. Nine months later the West Pakistani forces in the East surrendered to the Indian Army and the separatists, leading to the creation of the independent Bangladesh.

When West Pakistan was close to defeat, a short truce was called to allow refugees to be rescued, and on December 12, Hannah — who was CO of No 47 Squadron, based with three Hercules aircraft at Calcutta — arrived over Dacca.

For an hour he circled the airfield, waiting for debris to be removed from the runway, which was also pitted with bomb craters. Finally he decided that a landing was feasible, and ordered the other two aircraft to follow him in if he was successful.

The three Hercules landed safely and picked up the waiting civilians. With no time to make detailed calculations, Hannah had to estimate the runway length required for the heavily laden aircraft, and briefed his fellow pilots accordingly .

Having arrived back at Calcutta, Hannah learned that there were more civilians still stranded at Dacca. With only a few hours of the truce remaining, he immediately returned alone to evacuate them. He took off from Dacca within minutes of the end of the truce.

He was awarded an immediate AFC, and the other two pilots received a Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air. The citations paid tribute to their “complete disregard of the risks they were taking, their courage and skill, coupled with the exemplary planning and cool assessment of the situation by Wg Cdr Hannah”. They had rescued 436 civilians of 22 different nationalities.

Kenneth Ernest James Hannah was born in Clapham, south-west London, on August 16 1926 and educated at St Dunstan’s College. As soon as he was 18 he joined the RAF, but the Second World War ended before he had completed pilot training.

In 1946 he joined No 10 Squadron, flying Dakota transport aircraft in north-west India. Following the establishment of Pakistan in 1947, Hannah returned to Britain .

He flew Dakota transport aircraft into Berlin during the blockade of the city before serving in Aden. In early 1952 he trained as a flying instructor on jet aircraft, then spent two years at an advanced flying school in Yorkshire.

After attending Staff College, Hannah joined the Queen’s Flight in January 1958 and was appointed the Duke of Edinburgh’s personal pilot. The Flight had recently been re-equipped with the Heron aircraft, one of which was modified with dual controls to allow the Duke to pilot the aircraft from the captain’s position, with Hannah occupying the second pilot’s seat. The aircraft was used on many of the Duke’s overseas visits, including flights to India, Nepal and to the Far East.

On leaving the Flight in April 1961, Hannah was appointed MVO (4th Class).

After service in the Persian Gulf, in 1970 he took command of No 47 Squadron, based initially at Fairford, before moving to form part of the Lyneham Hercules Wing. He retired from the RAF in 1976.

Hannah became a training officer with the Civil Service, for many years overseeing the work of the Jobcentres at Corsham and Devizes. On retiring at 65, he spent 10 years as a volunteer ambulance driver, and often had to turn out in the night to transfer patients to specialist hospitals. He was an accomplished landscape photographer.

Ken Hannah married, in 1956, Elizabeth Marks, who survives him with their two sons and one daughter.
Wing Commander Ken Hannah, born August 16 1926, died November 13 2011

First published in the Daily Telegraph

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Bangladesh: Arms and the rogues

Phioto: Hidden hand - Former Bangladeshi home minister Lutfozzaman Babar examining a seized rocket launcher at Chittagong jetty. He is now in jail



SYED NAZAKAT/Chittagong & Dhaka


THE WEEK investigates a conspiracy hatched by the ISI to arm insurgents in India

It was past midnight on April 1, 2004, in the coastal city of Chittagong in southeastern Bangladesh. Two trawlers carrying munitions, enough to arm a brigade and procured from the company China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO), reached the harbour. Top officials of Bangladesh's foreign intelligence and internal security intelligence guided the trawlers from St Martin's Island in the Bay of Bengal to the Chittagong jetty, and Nurul Amin, a senior official at the industries ministry, was expected to arrive from Dhaka to supervise the unloading and distribution of the consignment.

Everything went on smoothly, until two policemen, Mohammad Alauddin and Helal Uddin, saw the consignment and blew the whistle, perhaps unaware of the orders from higher authorities.

It was New Delhi, not Dhaka, which was shocked by the haul, as it was revealed that the arms were meant for insurgent groups in India. Bangladesh has become, says an Indian military report on the haul, “a key focal point in the transit route of illegal arms in the subcontinent.”

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Bangladesh investigated the case till July this year, and the police have filed charges against some of the country's top politicians and intelligence officers, including two former ministers and intelligence chiefs.

THE WEEK has unearthed official records on the case in India and Bangladesh, and has got exclusive access to the 3,500-page Chittagong case diary. It has also got the confessional statement of the main accused in the case, notorious Bangladeshi arms dealer Hafiz Rehman, and many important court documents. The documents reveal startling details of how Pakistan procured weapons from China to fuel insurgency in India. And the case is the strongest evidence of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence and China coming together to use Bangladeshi soil against India.

The four-member team of Bangladesh army's ordnance branch, which investigated the arms haul, has also confirmed that all 10 truckloads of arms and ammunition were manufactured in China by NORINCO, a state-owned arms manufacturer. The seized consignment, which included 1,290 submachine guns, 400 semi-automatic guns, 400 Thompson submachine guns, 150 rocket launchers, 2,000 grenade-launching tubes, 840 rockets, 24,996 hand-grenades and 11,40,520 bullets, was the largest arms haul in Bangladesh's history.

The case diary says the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, or DGFI, which is Bangladesh's military intelligence agency, was penetrated by the ISI to the extent that its then director, Maj.-Gen. (retd) Rezzakul Haider Chowdhury, was an ISI mole. Chowdhury was later promoted as the chief of Bangladesh's National Security Intelligence. The NSI, too, was penetrated by the ISI and its then chief, Brig.-Gen. (retd) Abdur Rahim, who reports to the prime minister like the DGFI chief, was discreetly working for the ISI.

The case diary says Chowdhury and Rahim travelled to London and to a Middle East country to meet the ISI's top brass to plan covert anti-India operations (using passports Z0171247 and O0397451). And they often directed sources by using their own cell phones (01812271769 and 01711565850). The investigators have confirmed their contacts with other military and government officials and other ISI moles through emails, phone intercepts, witness accounts and other evidence.

Both Chowdhury and Rahim, currently in prison, were cultivated by two ISI officers posted at the Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka, Brig. Mogisuddin and Col Shahed Mahmud. Mogisuddin facilitated their meetings with ISI officials and arms dealers in Bangladesh, Dubai and London. “Our investigation has found that the weapons came from China and were procured by Pakistan with the help of Bangladesh's top intelligence officials,” said Moniruzaman Chaudhory, chief investigating officer. “All [weapons] were destined for India.” He said his team had figured out six of seven issues that a Chittagong court had directed it to solve during the investigation. “The only unsolved issue is the identification of the vessel that transported the arms consignment,” he said.

The conspiracy began in 2000, when Bangladesh was in political unrest owing to the enmity between the ruling the Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Many leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, who were accused of collaborating with Pakistan during the liberation war and committing war crimes, had returned to the country. The BNP came to power in 2001, forming a coalition with the Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Oikye Jote.

During this time, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, under intense pressure from the US after the 9/11 attacks, declared that no Pakistan-based group would be allowed to commit terrorism in the name of religion. He banned five jihadi groups that his army had long nurtured. Though the camps were closed, terrorists were shifted to hideaways. The ISI shifted at least 100 terrorist commanders, including Arab fighters of al Qaeda, from Pakistan to Bangladesh in special Pakistan International Airlines flights from Karachi to Dhaka. In Dhaka, the houses they stayed in were owned and protected by the DGFI and NSI. Some terrorist commanders were even kept at the NSI director-general's house in the tony Gulshan area in Dhaka.

Saleem Samad, a Dhaka-based journalist who tried to interview a terrorist who was shifted to the city, was arrested by the intelligence agencies and was threatened with death. “My ordeal began the day I went to interview an Arab fighter in Dhaka,” said Samad. Once he got bail he escaped from Bangladesh and took refuge in Canada. (See the box)

Around this time, many Indian terrorist groups were expanding their activities to Bangladesh. This correspondent visited Sector 3 in Uttara, VIP Road in Karnail and Dhanmondi in Dhaka, where commanders of the United Liberation Front of Asom, a militant separatist group in India's northeast, lived for years. It was in Dhaka that Ulfa's military chief Paresh Baruah alias Kamruj Zaman came under the radar of the ISI. He was flown to Pakistan many a time, and at least once to Afghanistan, where he met warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

In Dhaka, Baruah's handler was Mogisuddin. He introduced him to pro-Pakistan Bangladeshi politicians and intelligence officials. One of them was Gulam Faruk Obhi, a Jatiya Party parliament member. It was Obhi who introduced Baruah to arms smuggler Hafizur Rahman. “We met at a fast food joint at Rapa Plaza in Dhaka. Paresh told me that he might need my help in importing some goods,” said Rehman in his confession statement. THE WEEK has a copy of the statement. He said Ulfa leaders and their families were protected by the DGFI and NSI.

According to the CID's case diary, the ISI took the help of a Middle East-based Pakistani channel to fund and smuggle weapons. Brig. Rahim and Mogisuddin held several meetings with the channel's people in Dhaka and abroad. Rahim later admitted that he was hooked to the religious programmes on the channel. “Sahabuddin [then director of the NSI] observed this. He told me that I should start a local franchise with the channel,” said Rahim.

One of the meetings, according to the case diary, was held in a Middle East country in 2003 and another in Dhaka in 2004. The owner of the channel came to Dhaka and was received at the airport by NSI officials. The expenses of his stay were met from Bangladesh's national intelligence fund. Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's son Tarique Rahman was also present at the meeting. Currently living in London, Tarique is widely expected to succeed his mother as BNP chief.

Rahim once met the ISI chief in London. The ISI had not received the payment of 2.5 crore takas of the mobile phone bugging devices that the Bangladesh intelligence agencies had bought from Pakistan. “The ISI chief said the devices were a gift from Pakistan,” said Rahim. He, however, did not say anything in his confession on how and when the weapons were procured from China. The investigators suspect that Bangladeshi intelligence officials were not aware of Pakistan's business contacts with NORINCO.

Headquartered in Beijing, NORINCO is the third largest defence company in China and makes precision strike systems, amphibious assault weapons, anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, night vision products and small arms. It has a long-standing relationship with the Pakistan army. In 1996, the FBI arrested a group of Chinese arms dealers, including three NORINCO representatives, who were trying to smuggle small arms and shoulder-held missile launchers to California. And in August 2003, the US imposed sanctions on NORINCO after it was caught providing Iran speciality steel used in its missile programmes.
Indian security agencies had information on NORINCO's involvement in supplying arms to insurgents.
Jayadeva Ranade, former additional secretary, Research and Analysis Wing, said India had informed China about it but the Chinese repeatedly denied it. “The problem was, neither India's military intelligence nor R&AW had any intelligence or evidence to prove it,” he said.

According to the CID's case diary, the weapons might have been procured in 2003 and a ship, most probably, had come from the Chinese port of Beihai in Qingdao. Confession statements by Hafiz Rehman and another arms dealer, Deam Mohamad, in a Chittagong court revealed that the ship passed through Hong Kong and Myanmar, and when it reached St Martin's Island near the Myanmar border, the consignment was reloaded into two trawlers. “When I asked him [Baruah] about the required permission from the Bangladesh navy, coast guard and customs, he said the NSI and DGFI chiefs had made all arrangements, and the jetty permission had also been obtained,” said Rehman in his confession.

During the final stages of the plan, a tall, stocky man was brought in from Manila to Dhaka via Bangkok. He was Anthony Shimray, the chief arms procurer of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, or NSCN(IM), the biggest insurgent outfit in the northeast. Shimray was arrested by India's National Investigation Agency on October 2, 2010. He said he had procured arms from Chinese defence companies several times with the help of his middleman in Bangkok, Willy Narue.

From Dhaka Shimray went to Chittagong and checked in at the Golden Inn hotel on March 28, 2004. In the hotel ledger he gave his address as 97/5 Sher-e-Bangla road, Mohammadpur, Dhaka. Shimray and Rehman hired two trawlers—Amanat and FB Khazardan—and, along with some other people, took them to St Martin's Island. There they shifted the weapons and ammunition from the ship to the trawlers.
The trawlers passed through Teknaf, in Cox's Bazar district in Chittagong, on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. Escorted by Bangladesh's coast guard, the consignment reached the Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Ltd Jetty across the Karnaphuli river, where the trawlers pulled in. The jetty was under the industries ministry, which was headed by Jamaat-e-Islami leader Motiur Rahman Nizami. He is in prison for his role in the smuggling.

As soon as the weapons were seized, the ISI and its operatives in Bangladesh began their attempts to derail the investigation. Chittagong was notorious for arms smuggling and the BNP government tried to pass it off as a routine incident. Lutfozzaman Babar, then home minister, was allegedly involved in this. Babar was arrested last year and is currently in Dhaka Central Jail. His lawyer Mofizul Hoq Bhuiyan, however, told THE WEEK that he was being victimised. “It is a politically motivated case. He was a bright young politician. His only fault was that he was in the BNP,” he said.

It was a blind case in the beginning. But an unexpected confession changed its course. “We traced Habibullah Rahman, the man who gave trucks for unloading the arms at Chittagong jetty. During the interrogation he told us that one officer from Bangladesh intelligence wing, field officer Mohamed Akbar Hossain, had taken trucks from him,” said Chaudhory. Once Hossain was arrested and interrogated he revealed the name of his boss, NSI director Wing Commander (retd) Shahabuddin Ahmed, and when Shahabuddin was interrogated he disclosed the name of his boss, Brig.-Gen. Rahim. It was Rahim who revealed the involvement of DGFI chief Maj.-Gen. Chowdhury.

When the investigation in the case started, a plot was allegedly hatched by some members of the BNP to assassinate Sheikh Hasina, the opposition leader. Three months after the arms were seized in Chittagong, grenades were hurled from the roofs of neighbouring buildings towards a truck on which she was addressing a crowd in Dhaka. Eighteen people were killed, though Hasina escaped. Now the investigators have found that the assassination was planned by her own security officers.

Things changed when Hasina's Awami League defeated the BNP-led four-party alliance in the parliament elections in 2008. A few days after she became prime minister, Hasina initiated a multi-agency review of ISI contacts in the DGFI and NSI. She also arrested Ulfa leaders and handed them over to India, including its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa. “When we took power we realised that there were a lot of wrong things happening in our country,” said Bangladesh Home Minister Shahara Khatun. “We made a clear decision that we are not going to tolerate any act of terrorism in our country.”

The trial of Chittagong arms case at the metropolitan court in Chittagong boils down to the names that would pop up. As the testimony has begun at the court, Bangladesh is brimming with speculation. Outside the court-room, the walls of the town, which witnessed many atrocities during the liberation war, are painted with graffiti extolling the 1971 heroes. “The guys who were supposed to protect our country from any internal and external security threat were moles of a foreign agency. It was a doomsday scenario for us,” said Maj.-Gen. (retd) Syed Muhammad Ibrahim, who fought against Pakistan in 1971.

He said the historic India-Pakistan enmity provides an important context why Bangladesh has become a spy battleground. “India supported us in 1971 against Pakistan. Today, these guys are collaborating with Pakistan to harm India. It is a painful paradox,” he said. India, it seems, is aware of it, as the timely intervention of its intelligence agencies has foiled many Pakistan-China attempts to create bloodshed in the country.

First published in The Week magazine, India, December 3, 2011