Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bangladesh and now Independent Balochistan

Independent Balochistan flag
SYED ATIQ UL HASSAN

First East Pakistan to Bangladesh and now towards Balochistan to independent Balochistan, political reasons may be un-identical but the tale of injustices; ignorance and autocratic behaviour of the establishment and civilian federal bureaucracy remain the same.

In May 1954, Army dictator and then Governor-General, General Malik Ghu¬lam Mohammad appointed Iskandar Mirza as the Governor of then East Pakistan supposedly to maintain peace in troubling East Pakistan. Iskandar’s first step, as a Governor, was put up more than 300 prominent political leaders including Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman and Yousuf Ali Chaudhary behind bars. Within 4 to 5 weeks more than 1000 arrests were made including professors, scholars and 33 parliamentarians. At that time, Nawabzada Mohammed Ali Borgra was the Prime Minis¬ter of Pakistan who was a close friend of Mohammed Ali Jinnah and a prominent vocalist of Pakistan’s movement.

On 24th of October (1954), General Ghulam Mohammed dissolved Constituent Assembly and declared emergency in entire Pakistan. On the next day (25th of October), Pakistan signed a defence agreement with the United States that US will provide assistance to Pakistan if they face war conflict with any country. From 1954 to 1958 Pakistan went through an unsettled democratic process followed by more than ten years (1958 to 1969) rule by Field Marshal Ayub Khan. The feel of deprivation and ignorance further heated in East Pakistan yet no one in West Pakistan acknowledged the boiling hatred against the establishment that could result dangerous consequences to the sovereignty of the country.

First General Election under the newly formed Election Commission was held in Pakistan in 1970. There were 31,211,220 voters in East Pakistan and 25,730,280 in West Pakistan. There were 300 national assembly seats each in West and East Pakistan of total 600 seats of the National Assembly. Awami League of Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman won 288 seats in East Pakistan nil in West Pakistan. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won 144 seats in West Pakistan and nil in East Paki¬stan, 13 seats won by other parties and independents in East Pakistan and 157 seats won by other parties and independents in West Pakistan. Therefore, it was very much clear that Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman of Awami League deserved to be called to form the National Government but the power was handed over to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. It was obvious to understand that the military establishment and civilian bureaucracy of West Pakistan did not trust on East Pakistan’s leadership. The biggest dilemma of Pakistan which led to the split in the geography of Pakistan is that the conspirators were treated as heroes and heroes as traitors.

Mujeeb-ur-Rehman was the rising young leader of All India Muslim League during the Independence movement in United India. He joined All India Muslim Students Federation in 1940. The founder of Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah brought him in a leading role in Muslim Students Federation. Mujeeb fought for Pakistan from the Muslim League platform. He was among the pioneers of Pakistan. If we look at the post 1970 election fiasco and the two main contenders of the new government, there was no comparison of Mujeeb with Bhutto as a leader for the nation.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s political life started in hands of Field Marshal Ayub Khan who was Bhutto’s mentor. Bhutto served Ayub Khan and his then newly formed convention Muslim league. Bhutto was the Secretary General of Ayub Khan’s convention Muslim League. Bhutto and Ayub were the pioneers of damaging Jinnah’s Pakistan Muslim League. Yet, the so-called champion of democracy and Jialey (activists) of PPP and many others title Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as Quaid-e-Awam and founder of democracy in Pakistan. Unfortunately, the army establishment and civilian bureaucracy treated Mujeeb as a leader of Bengalis not as a leader of Pakistanis. For me, the first black day in Pakistan’s political history was 26th of March 1971 when Mujeeb-ur-Rehman announced the declaration of independence of East Pakistan and the establishment of the sovereign People’s Republic of Bangladesh. And the reason was one, the army dictator General Yahya Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto preferred army-civil nexus on the solidarity of the country. Eventually, the people of Pakistan had to go through a painful and appalling saga of East Pakistan to Bangladesh in 1971 and the world saw the shameful images — high ranking Pakistani army officers and about 100,000 soldiers surrendered and bowed down in front of Indian Army in December 1971.

Jinnah’s Pakistan came to end when East Pakistan became the Bangladesh. Pakistani politicians and army officials blamed people of East Pakistan as being burden on Pakistan’s treasury. They were called coward and beggars. Today, Bangladeshi economy is better than Pakistan’s. Today Bangladeshi Taka is better than the Pakistani rupee in international market. Today, Pakistan is begging Bangladesh to play cricket in Pakistan with assurance to provide them full security so that the Pakistani image can be restored for holding international cricket events in Pakistan.

The people of East Pakistan were not against the ideology of Pakistan rather they were the founders of Pakistan. People of East Pakistan demanded for separation when they were refused to form the national government despite of the fact that they had majority of seats in the house of the federal parliament.

Balochistan is now on the verge of taking separation from Pakistan. Balochistan is a state full of natural resources. Located at the most important strategic location, Balochistan is 44 percent of Pakistan’s total territory. Balochistan is the only province of Pakistan which has close borders with Middle East, South-West, Central Asia with hot Arabian Sea coast which means if Balochistan is separated from Pakistan, the existence of Pakistan will be on stake.

Having the least population compared to the other three provinces of Pakistan, Balochistan has been providing gas, coal and other natural resources to the rest of the country. On the other hand the basic facilities like drinking water, power, education, health, transport and security in Balochistan are close to none, even in most of the inland people have not been provided gas which they own.

Instead of working for the people of Balochistan and for the development of the province, Pakistani federal powers (army, bureaucrats) and even political leaders when in power made deals with Sardars (Tribal Leaders) paying them ransoms from public accounts for the security of sensitive installations, gas pipelines, electricity grids, railway lines, etc. These Sardars of Balochistan are enemies of their own people. For them the ordinary Baluch are consumable commodity to use them as and when needed to fight against Pakistani forces if federal government don’t pay attention to their demands and take any action against them. They receive millions of dollars from the federal public accounts on the name of peace in Balochistan but they hardly spend any money on the people of Balochistan. So, it is very important to look the background of these Sardars and why and how they became the part of Pakistan.

Before the Partition of United India in 1947, the State of Qalat was an independent State but running like a British Colony headed by Mir Ahmed Yar Khan (under the shelter of UK). Qalat was comprised of about 22 percent of then Balochistan.

Looking into Balochistan mayhem it is very important to remember that in 1947, Mir Ahmed Yar Khan reportedly approached India to be in the dominion of India but then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, refused Mir Ahmed.

Mir Ahmed then joined Pakistan on the agreement that defence, currency, foreign office and finance will be controlled by the federal government of Pakistan. Later, when One-Unit was formed in Pakistan in 1954 Balochistan became the part of West Pakistan.

Khan of Qallat had differences with the other Sardars even within his family on his decision to join with Pakistan. That is why just in a year time - in 1948 – insurgencies against Pakistani army and law enforcement agencies began. They have formed Baluch nationalist movement which was basically structured by Sardars to play double games in case if Pakistani government don’t follow their demands. Brother of Ahmed Yar Khan, Abdul Karim Khan denied the accord with Pakistan. He claimed that the Pakistani government forcibly asked Mir Ahmed Yar Khan to join Qallat with Pakistan. He declared separatist movement in 1948 and launched guerrilla war with his followers against Pakistan forces. Ahmed Yar Khan with other Sardars launched insurgency against Pakistan law enforcement agencies.

Since 1960 the insurgency against Pakistani forces gained substantial increase. Pakistani establishment instead of paying attention to win the hearts and minds of the common Baluch and activists, they engaged Sardars (tribes; Bughti, Mengal, Mari and so on) and tried to make them happy. That is why; the activists’ movement of independent Baluchistan never attracted by the common and poor people of Baluchistan and spread at the grass level. The goals of running these movements are to create insurgency by their paid insurgents and slaves when needed in order to threat and negotiate best deal with the Pakistani establishment.

The tale of Baluchistan’s uncertainty spread over half a century, it is not possible for me to sum-up all those mayhems in this write-up, however, I could boldly say that from 1973 military operation by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to 2005 military operation by General Pervez Musharraf, I found that that these operations were launched supposedly to eliminate the anti-Pakistan movements but basically behind these operations were the conflicts between the federal powers and the tribal powers of Baluchistan. These operations never end any trouble in Baluchistan instead created more hatred among the common Baluchis, at the same time, provided Sardars opportunities to use poor Baluch against Pakistani law enforcement agencies.

The unfortunate saga is that Pakistani army, civil bureaucracy, and selfish politicians are still putting their interest in front of the interest of the people of Baluchistan and the integrity of Pakistan. Today, they are still trying to negotiate with those Sardars (tribal) who have always looked their interest and protection on the cost of the betterment of the common people of Baluchistan. Due to the remote territory, less population and lack of access to the media, Baluchistan political disorder and instability have been hidden from the people of rest of the country particularly from the people of Sind and Punjab.

Today, some sections of Pakistani politics are blaming murder of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti as the cause of current instability in Baluchistan. Akbar Khan Bugti had been the Governor and Chief Minister of Baluchistan in the past. When in power, he was asked in an interview by Emma Duncan, an international journalist, how many people has he killed by himself as a tribal leader, he replied he did not count. In 2005, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Mir Baluch Marri gave a 15-point agenda to Musharraf’s government. Their demands included greater control of the province's resources and freezing of army bases were total threat to the sovereignty of Pakistan and the actual reasons behind these demands were that Bugti wanted power of Baluchistan and increase in the annual ransoms on name of protection of sensitive installations of the country. At the same time, they made several attacks on military convoys, helicopters and other vehicles killing many army personnel including Inspector and Deputy General of Frontier Corps. Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was killed in 2006 during the fight between his militia and Pakistani forces.

Today, Bughti’s grandson, Brahamdagh Khan Bugti has now taken the role. He has stood-up threatening Pakistan’s sovereignty. Unfortunately, the political pundits in Pakistan who are calling him as representative of deprived Baluch must answer how many personnel of Pakistani law enforcement agencies they have already killed and how much damaged they have done to the infrastructure of Baluchistan. Brahamdagh’s and his partners don’t allow Pakistan flag to be waved in their jurisdictions. They maintain their own jails and armed detachments. They do their own policing the people and run their own courts. Brahamdagh himself is now living a lavish life in Switzerland and getting funds for his separation movement from anti-Pakistan elements.

According to reports he is receiving huge funds and other logistic support from India. These Sardars of Baluchistan have very simple strategy. As long as their vested interested are being served by the Pakistani government and establishment stick with Pakistan, as soon as the things are going against their interest, make the freedom movement alive.

Pakistani interior minister Rehman Malik announced that he would welcome Brahamdagh and others in Pakistan and withdraw all charges against them upon his returns to Pakistan. I would like to ask Mr. Malik that he should also reveal the list of murders of Pakistani soldiers and other important figures these Sardars have committed before gave them asylum. How long Pakistani establishment and bureaucracy listened to the threats of tribal leaders and make them happy on their demands.

Recently, three US Congressmen passed a resolution for independent and sovereign Baluchistan. This resolution has not value other than that United States want to pressurise Pakistani government against Pakistan’s decision of freezing NATO supply to Afghanistan and banned CIA activities in Pakistan passed a resolution.

There is no question that the situation in Baluchistan is alarming and needs urgent attention. Not attention to the threats and blackmailing of tribal leaders and foreign powers but attention to the needs of poor neglected poor of Baluchistan. Pakistani government should use the cane and carrot policy - canes for Sardars and carrots for the common people. Pakistani government should launch massive development program for the people of Baluchistan, provide extensive security to the ordinary people, build roads and damaged infrastructure, open new education, health and law & order enforcement centres and win the hearts and minds of the common Baluch. At the same time never bow down against Sardars and foreign powers, use full power to deal with anti-Pakistan elements, there should not be any comprised on the sovereignty of Pakistan.

Another important matter is the continuation of democratic process in Baluchistan. Military operation cannot be the solution – Pakistan should not forget what happened in East Pakistan. At the same time, no concession to the anti-Pakistani elements doesn’t matter how Sarar is involved as these Sardar and their system is the biggest hurdle in the development of Baluchistan. And to win the hearts and minds of the people of Baluchistan so that they could feel that their future is with the Pakistan which is linked to the development of Baluchistan and providing basic rights and facilities to the common people of Baluchistan.

Syed Atiq ul Hassan is the Sydney-based journalist and a media analyst, his homepage is http://www.sahassan.com/
First published in The Frontier Post, Pakistan, February 29, 2012

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bangladesh reinventing itself

Shiekh Hasina, daughter of the assassinated Bangladesh founder on his death anniversary
S. K. CHATTERJI

When Bangladesh’s neighbours woke up to the news of another aborted coup last month, the fragility of its democracy was vividly evident. In 1971, erstwhile East Pakistan had emerged as an independent, secular, democratic nation — Bangladesh. The transition had cost between 300,000 to 5 million Bangladeshi lives, by various estimates. Bangladeshi radicals had collaborated with the Pakistani army to enact a genocide that barely found adequate coverage in the West’s humanitarian reporting.

Military coups, thereafter, have been routine — the first one in 1975 killing its founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The drift away from secular culture started in 1977, when General Ziaur Rehman, then president, substituted the word “secularity” in the constitution with “Absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah …”.

Later, another President, General Ershad made Islam the state religion. When the Bangladesh Nationalist Party came to power from 2001 to 2007 with the Jamaat-e-Islami as its partner, the jihadi establishment flourished and displayed its organisational strength by conducting 500 synchronised blasts in less than an hour’s span in all but one district of Bangladesh.

The radicalisation spiral was stalled when a civilian caretaker government came to power in 2007. Maulana Abdur Rahman, Jamaat ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) supremo and six top leaders of the jihadi establishment were hanged in accordance with a Supreme Court verdict.

The greater turning point was when Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League came to power in the 2008 elections and moved against the jihadi establishment. The riposte to destabilise democracy came in the form of a revolt on February 25-26, 2009, by Bangladesh Rifles personnel, killing 56 army officers.

Evidence of strengthening those institutions that are democracy’s pillars followed, with the Bangladesh Supreme Court rejecting the appeals of five army officers convicted of the murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Lately, the International Crimes Tribunal set up by Bangladesh has started hearing the cases of crimes against humanity during the independence struggle. The tribunal has already summoned known radical leaders.

Hopefully, the trials will be fair, transparent and also lead to pursuing evidence gathered about the roles of non-Bangladeshi nationals in the 1971 genocide, political costs notwithstanding.

Today, as Bangladesh tries to revive its traditional secular and tolerant culture, there is hope and faith re-emerging in a country that was already being cast as a failing state; another potential sanctuary for global jihad. However, Sheikh Hasina’s effort to subdue terror requires assistance from the global community. In addition to intelligence sharing, training and equipment, rapid economic development to address abject poverty is essential. Bigotry spreads much faster in filthy bylanes buzzing with young men sans hopes.

The U.S. and European nations have definitely not been as sensitive to Bangladesh’s needs as a lot of them have been to Pakistan. India, of all nations, has the greatest responsibility and stakes and needs to invest a lot more in Bangladesh to build its counter-insurgency capabilities and economy. Failing to do so could not only lead to having another entrenched jihadi establishment on one more flank, but also the enhancement of Chinese influence in that country.

Should Prime Minister Hasina be able to steer her country out of the morass, developing countries, where Islamist terror groups are spreading their influence, will have a model to learn lessons from.

First published Reuters on February 19, 2012


The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

February 21 is International Mother Language Day

ABDUS SALAM

Today is the Twelfth International Mother Language Day.

November 17th, 1999 was the day when UNESCO declared that February 21st each year would be observed as ‘International Mother Language Day’ and from the year 2000, this day has been marked as the day when All Mother Languages throughout the world are celebrated in their own uniqueness and at the same time have a chance to know and show respect to all the other languages.

Also interesting is the fact that the very first proposal to the UN and UNESCO for this day to be observed went out from the Lower Mainland of Greater British Columbia.

In keeping with the long tradition of Canadian involvement for peace in the world it is noteworthy and significant that such a proposal of respecting each other by respecting ones and others language would only bring the different cultures and people even the ones on the verge of extinction to breathe new life and hope afresh and feel that they are also inclusive of the greater human society.

Canada’s assertiveness in making peace can be traced to Lester B. Pearson’s efforts as External affairs minister when in 1956 he diffused the Suez crisis. His proposal was instrumental in the creation of the ‘UN Emergency Force’ which was the First Peace Keeping Force. The world sees this Peace Keeping force even now scores of years later in strife ridden regions of the world interceding and dividing the combatants and endeavoring to maintain and establish peace. Such was the contribution of one Canadian diplomat and for which of course when awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957, the committee quoted that Lester Pearson “saved the world”.

Canada was another pioneer in devising the Race Free immigration system; the policy that took shape under Prime Minister John Diefenbeiker in 1962 and the Discrimination free Points based Immigration System introduced during the time of his successor Lester Pearson and which is prevalent till today. This went a long way for the successful multilingual and multicultural fabric of Canada that we see and experience today.

Termed the Godfather of Glasnost, USSR’s ambassador to Canada Alexander Yakovlev was the intellectual force behind liberalization in USSR under Gorbachev when he saw and studied the agricultural and other sectors in Canada.

Canada had been an inspiring beacon throughout the world not only for multiculturalism and the practice of democracy and Charter of Rights but also in social fields where its own people have been immensely benefitted.

The Universal Health Care, Pension Plan and Student Loan are to name a few as our nation has carved out a neat niche for itself in the world stage where it is relevant as an assertive, soft Power, a role which by dint of its own sincerity it has successfully managed to play in the world stage.

Now the time has come for Canada to play another role and that is of integrating people of various languages living in various extremities of this planet so that people in general feel important and view the rich and powerful not as masters but friends. Imposition of ones own culture or language or ideas and trend assuming it to be superior cannot impose or bring peace but only the exercise of mutual respect can and this can only bode well for humanity.

Canada which holds the distinction of so many firsts towards augmenting peace also is incidentally the birthplace of the organization that initiated to establish a universal day to celebrate, protect and appreciate the beauty of all the mother languages remembering the ultimate sacrifice of the Bangali people to protect their own mother tongue way back in Feb 21st, 1952 in the streets of Dhaka , Bangladesh. The first Mother Language Monument in Canada termed ‘Lingua Aqua’ has also been erected at the Bear Creek Park, Surrey which is dedicated to all the Mother Language Lovers of the world.

Canada should go steps ahead and way beyond others in raising this subject and awareness at world forums, in diplomatic circle dialogues and world bodies about equality of people , equality of languages and equality of cultures so that the world dares to stare at a better and peaceful future for all mankind.

Its left to be seen now if the Canadian beacon remains aloft in this case also, just like it has been before.

First published in Vancouver Sun, February 21, 2012


Abdus Salam is one of the founders and director of The Mother Language Lovers of the World. He is based in Vancouver contributed the article special to The Vancouver Sun


© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Time to think different

Lots of expectation: Sheikh Hasina & Manhoman Singh 
Ties with Pakistan is bedeviled, while relations with Nepal, Bangladesh & Sri Lanka impaired by minor irritants


INDRANI BAGCHI

Indias size and strength both have been a source of insecurity for the smaller nations that ring the subcontinental giant. Thats made the strategic dimension of bilateral relations with neighbouring countries critical. While ties withPakistan have been bedeviled by terror attacks and territorial claims, better relations with Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have been impaired by minor irritants.

Thankfully, Indian mandarins have woken up to the country's intimidating size and capacity and how that can overwhelm smaller neighbours. As the new conversations with Bangladesh and Nepal demonstrate, New Delhi appears to be moving towards the strategic view that the larger "give" will have to come from India.

But there are new elements that have to be infused to Indian strategic thinking -- first, that implementation is even more important than the declaratory diplomacy India is fond of. Second, the central government has to partner seriously with state governments where foreign policy intersects with domestic issues. Certainly, in the case of Bangladesh, West Bengal should be a key interlocutor for the Bangladeshis as well as for the MEA.

In return, Indias smaller neighbours will have to be mindful of Indias huge security concerns and how leaving these unaddressed can impact other key areas of the relationship.

Bangladesh has transformed into a good news story for Indian foreign policy. After decades of a blow hot-blow cold relationship, both India and Bangladesh can say with a great deal of certainty that sharing prosperity is a strategic imperative for both.

This week, India decided to start work on a $51-million railway line between Agartala and the Bangladesh border town of Akhaura that will enable Tripura to get grain and food supplies through Bangladesh. For India, Bangladesh is the gateway to southeast Asia. For Dhaka, India is the safest partner for its growth and development. For the ordinary Indian and the ordinary Bangladeshi, this is not hard to understand. Yet, establishments on either side of the border are still lumbering and the atmosphere remains still peppered with mistrust. In New Delhi, strategic experts fear that India may be falling short in taking this relationship forward, a fact that is worrying the top foreign policy leadership here.

Manmohan Singhs Bangladesh initiative had been the most important piece of neighbourhood diplomacy undertaken by the UPA government, but it seems to be slowing down. The exercise was started during the caretaker government before the last elections, and taken forward afterSheikh Hasina took over in Dhaka.

Sheikh Hasinas initial steps to address Indias security concerns went a long way in setting the ground for intensified engagement. In response, Sheikh Hasina was Indias Republic Day chief guest in 2010, an event that kicked off a massive Indian outreach programme with Bangladesh. A second marker of improved ties came with the reciprocal visit by Manmohan Singh to Dhaka in September, 2011. As we go into 2012, its important to realize that in fact, India and Bangladesh have actually had a very productive year. A land boundary has been demarcated, the vexed issue of enclaves and adverse possessions resolved. The land boundary agreement will not only change the map of India, it will be the first resolved boundary that India has with any of its neighbors. The agreement will essentially formalize the status quo on enclaves and areas under adverse possession -- that is, there will be no transfer of territory or people. The 53,000 people in the enclaves, who have just been counted in the first ever census there, will get the citizenship of the country they reside in.

India has been generous with tariffs leading to greater trade and investments, especially in the garments sector. Recognizing the growth potential for Indian investments in Bangladesh, AMA Muhith, the Bangladesh finance minister recently announced the establishment of new special economic zones that would simultaneously spur Bangladeshi industry, not just in the garment and textiles sector where Bangladesh enjoys enormous advantages, but also foreign investment.

The residual unhappiness in the relationship stems from the fact that India failed at the last minute to stitch together the Teesta River agreement with Bangladesh after promising to do so, because the UPA government botched up in getting West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to agree to the deal. Banerjee, famously capricious, dumped Manmohan Singh at the eleventh hour, diminishing the PMs transformative visit to Dhaka in September.

"Our inability to settle the Teesta issue is making small incidents flare up," a source said. The Sheikh Hasina government had gambled big on the India relationship, but with India failing to come up to scratch, there is the inevitable bad blood that affects the relationship. The lack of an agreement on Teesta has overshadowed progress on many other fronts. Miffed, Bangladesh now wants to hold cooperation on transit, an issue considered important by India, until the Teesta issue is settled.

India has just appointed a new envoy to Dhaka, whose brief it will be to put the bilateral relationship on a more sure footing. Because ultimately, the strength of the relationship will be its survivability -- that it should be the same no matter who is in power in Dhaka. Pankaj Saran, currently a key official in the Prime Ministers Office, has just been named the new high commissioner to Bangladesh, a sure sign that India continues to place a high value on getting the Bangladesh relationship right.

The good thing is that India acknowledges the importance of Bangladesh and is willing to take small steps to keep the ties afloat, even as domestic politics has grounded substantive movement on issues that matter to Dhaka.

Sheikh Hasina was in Agartala on January 11 to receive a doctorate from Tripura University. But more important, she went down memory lane, because Agartala holds memories for their independence struggle, as well as some personal memories of her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. These are important gestures -- because the bilateral relationship should not be confined to governments, but people. For instance, Bangladesh politics continues to pressure the Hasina government on the Tipaimukh dam prompting a recent urgent visit by Hasinas foreign policy advisers, Gowher Rizvi and Matiur Rehman, who met the PM to apprise him of the brewing crisis. There are any number of creative solutions to the Tipaimukh Dam issue, including making Bangladesh a beneficiary of it. These should be collaborative efforts on finding solutions to common problems or certainly, problems that have the potential to derail a good news story.

First published in The Times of India, February 17, 2012

Thursday, February 16, 2012

United States softens on threats to relations with Bangladesh

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Bangladesh foreign minister Dipu Moni in Washington DC

SALEEM SAMAD

It now appears that the United States government has softened in exerting diplomatic pressure on Bangladesh soon after the authorities forcibly removed Nobel laureate Professor Mohammad Yunus from the micro-finance institution he founded 30 years ago.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was irked last March and threatened that the bilateral relations with Bangladesh would jeopardize if authorities continue to harass Prof. Yunus, a popular advocate of social business concept.

Visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert O. Blake in Bangladesh capital on Thursday told reporters that with Bangladesh and U.S has developed strong cooperation on counter-terrorism and security issues.

The visiting official emphasized the importance of Bangladesh’s finding an eminently qualified successor to Dr. Yunus as managing director of Grameen Bank, which has credit of empowering 10 million disadvantaged rural women. The Islamist squarely blamed the micro-finance bank for voting against the mullahs in last parliament election.

Blake reiterated U.S. policy against extra-constitutional means to overthrown a democratic government. In a recent botched military coup hatched by mid-level radical Muslim army officers in last January, the U.S. immediately condemned the conspiracy and firmly stood beside Sheikh Hasina’s government in establishing secularism and democracy. The overwhelming majority of Bangladesh 150 million people are Sunni Muslims, followed by 10 million minority Hindu population.

The senior U.S. official hopes that the ruling Awami League and mainstream opposition Bangladesh Nationalists Party would rise above narrow partisanship and will work together to agree for a mechanism in holding free, fair, credible and participatory election, schedule in end 2013.

He urged Bangladesh authority to ensure continued space for free media and vigorous non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The vibrant civil society representatives expressed their fear to Blake that the draft NGO law would curtail their mandate for empowerment of the rural poor.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow, is an award winning investigative reporter based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic extremism, forced migration, good governance, press freedom and elective democracy. He was detained, tortured in 2002 and later expelled in 2004 for whistle-blowing of the safe sanctuaries of the Jihadist leaders in Bangladesh who fled during Anglo-US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Ending his life in exile from Canada he has recently returned home after six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Australian energy firm struck gas reserve in Bangladesh offshore

Energy activists protest contracts to energy giants
SALEEM SAMAD

AN AUSTRALIAN energy corporation has struck huge gas reserves in off shore Bay of Bengal, which is commercially viable.

The president of Santos Bangladesh John Chambers briefed journos on Wednesday that they are confident to start supplying gas from the reserve from the first week of April.

John Chambers, said that the Aussie company will be able to quantify Sangu-11's reserves in the next couple of weeks when necessary assessments are completed.

From the new well in shallow water block 37.2 miles from the Bangladesh coast, at least 25-30 million cubic feet of gas per day will be available for Chittagong's energy starved industrial customers within March – April, the official added.

For the second time, commercially viable gas reserves have been found in offshore Bangladesh, following the previous discovery by the U.K's Cairn Energy in 1996. Cairn, the previous operator of the Sangu field, found gas in the same block.

Unlike other energy giants globally, Santos has agreements to sell gas from its well to private consumers at market price, the Santos official said. The Aussie company has already received expressions of interest from over a dozen large privately owned companies in Chittagong to buy gas at market price due to a growing gas shortage in the country.

The energy crunch has forced Petrobangla, state energy regulatory agency to suspend 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. Bangladesh economy is entirely dependent on gas and electricity for production of the huge export industries.

Earlier, energy activists have been protesting the government ink a deal with Santos and other American energy giants for allowing them to sell gas privately, which they term is anti-nationalism, said its leader Professor Anu Mohammad of a state university.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow, is an award winning investigative reporter based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic extremism, forced migration, good governance, press freedom and elective democracy. He was detained, tortured in 2002 and later expelled in 2004 for whistle-blowing of the safe sanctuaries of the Jihadist leaders in Bangladesh who fled during Anglo-US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Ending his life in exile from Canada he has recently returned home after six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Heart throb’s suicide pact on Valentines Day

SALEEM SAMAD

A LOVE pair in a suicide pact dies on Valentine Day with a hope they would be united in eternity, on Tuesday.

Saud Sheikh, 17, and Mitu Mollah, 16, from a village Kathibazaar in Gopalganj in southern Bangladesh decided to give away their lives, after stiff opposition from both their families against their bondage.

Demoralized and frustrated by the attitude of their parents, the teens were driven to end their life.

Both are students of high school in grade ten, were in love, said the village leader Mejbah Uddin Chowdhury.

Shiekh had an affair with Mollah for a long time, but Saud’s family refused to accept the affair, a ridiculed as fairytales. The parent transferred Shiekh to the capital Dhaka. In the meantime Mollah’s family forced her to marry a groom whom he never met, said the village leader Chowdhury.

Police said, Shiekh returned to the village a day before the incident. The lovers tied a knot in their hands with a scarf and jumped from a mobile phone tower. They died instantaneously, Gopalganj police officer Sarojit Biswas said.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow, is an award winning investigative reporter based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic extremism, forced migration, good governance, press freedom and elective democracy. He was detained, tortured in 2002 and later expelled in 2004 for whistle-blowing of the safe sanctuaries of the Jihadist leaders in Bangladesh who fled during Anglo-US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Ending his life in exile from Canada he has recently returned home after six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bangladesh TV journalist couple brutally murdered

Journalists threaten to take to the streets if the killers of journalist couple Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi are not arrested immediately in line with the home minister's promise. Photo: Safin Ahmed/Demotix
SALEEM SAMAD

A YOUNG journalists couple was cruelly murdered by unknown assailants in their apartment in the small hours in the weekend in the capital Dhaka, sparking widespread protest prompting authorities to issue orders for an investigation.

The couple’s five year-old son Megh informed her grandmother at 7:00 am on Saturday that two assailants killed his parents and he was locked inside a room. Police found Sagar Sarowar, news editor of private Maasranga TV both his hands and feet tied and his wife Meheren Runi, special correspondent of private ATN Bangla TV channel lying dead in a pool of blood.

Police security has been deployed to protect the only child who had survived the gruesome murder of his parents.

Sarowar returned to Bangladesh in 2011 after a few years stint with Deutsche Welle in Germany as a broadcaster.

The motive of the killing is unknown and police have yet to determine whether it is related to their work.

Chief Coroner at a state hospital said after the autopsy, Sarowar and Runi were hacked to death and had bore scores of stab wounds in their bodies.

Police detectives and intelligence agencies jointly launched a massive man-hunt ever in the history of Bangladesh and is desperately looking for clues.

Detectives and anti-crime agencies after two days is yet to make any progress in resolving the mystery of the most talked about murder story of the popular television journalists.

The police chief Hassan Mahmood Khandaker on Monday was evasive when crime reporters asked him barrages of questions regarding the progress of the investigation and whether the suspects have been nabbed. He, however, said there was significant progress and would not disclose any information for the sake of investigation.

Earlier the grieved journo leaders at a rally in front of the National Press Club on Sunday has set a 24 hours deadline, otherwise they threatened to boycott press coverage of the Home Affairs minister Sahara Khatoon.

Bangladesh is among the worst nations in the world in combating deadly anti-press violence. Bangladesh ranks 11th on New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Impunity Index, which calculates unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country's population. Twelve journalists have been murdered in reprisal for their work in Bangladesh since 1992.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow, is an award winning investigative reporter based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic extremism, forced migration, good governance, press freedom and elective democracy. He was detained, tortured in 2002 and later expelled in 2004 for whistle-blowing of the safe sanctuaries of the Jihadist leaders in Bangladesh who fled during Anglo-US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Ending his life in exile from Canada he has recently returned home after six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Friday, February 10, 2012

Air pollution in Bangladesh capital kills thousands

SALEEM SAMAD

Nauseating air pollution in the Bangladesh capital annually kills thousands of urban poor and millions more suffer from respiratory diseases, a burden on inadequate health budget.

Authorities in Bangladesh assume if air pollution in its overcrowded capital could be reduced by only 20 to 80 percent, an estimated 1,200 to 3,500 lives annually could be saved.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) claims that another 80 to 230 million cases of respiratory diseases could be averted each year.

The recently completed Country Environment Assessment, conducted jointly by the government and the World Bank identified air pollution as the leading cause of mortality and morbidity related environmental issues.

Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (CASE), a project of the government with the support of the Bank to reduce the capital Dhaka’s smog (smoke and fog) squarely blames scores of brick industries at the fringe of the city and clogging of limited road by large number of vehicles for 16 hours during weekdays.

The study says if the air pollution is reduced, it would also save $170 to 500 million in healthcare costs and simultaneously increase the productivity of city dwellers.

Traffic congestion in the capital and smoke from brick kilns are the main reasons for air pollution in Dhaka city, according to the World Bank and the Bangladesh government.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests says that vehicles in Dhaka move 14kmph on an average, which is very slow and causes them to burn more fuel and contribute to air pollution. They say the average speed could come down to 4kmph by 2025 if things do not improve.

The urban environment experts recommends for immediate introduction of energy efficient technology for a pro-green brick industry and rapid mass transit in Dhaka metropolis to ease traffic gridlocks through out the day.

An independent newspaper Daily Star on Friday quoting an official of the Department of Environment (DoE) said the density of airborne particulate matter is around 250 micrograms per cubic metre in Dhaka, which is five times the acceptable level.

The air consists of common pollutants, sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ground-level ozone (O3), volatile organic compounds, hydrogen sulphide (H2S), sulphates and nitrates, the DoE official said.

Additional air pollutants of concern include toxic metals (lead, mercury, manganese, arsenic and nickel), benzene, formaldehyde, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), dioxins, and other persistent organic compounds, he add.

In another study Environmental Performance Index 2012, undertaken by the U.S. universities of Yale and Columbia, found Dhaka to be the 31st most polluted city out of 132 cities across the world.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow, is an award winning investigative reporter based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic extremism, forced migration, good governance, press freedom and elective democracy. He was detained, tortured in 2002 and later expelled in 2004 for whistle-blowing of the safe sanctuaries of the Jihadist leaders in Bangladesh who fled during Anglo-US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Ending his life in exile from Canada he has recently returned home after six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Indian border guard chief remark outrage Bangladesh

SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH GOVERNMENT, as well as the rights groups are outraged after the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) chief said that it is not possible to stop border firing completely.

The BSF director general U.K. Bansal told the BBC on Tuesday that it is not possible to stop border firing completely and his Bangladesh counterpart Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) chief Maj.Gen. Anwar Hossain disagrees and said on Thursday that killing at the border under any circumstances is not acceptable.

The remark is contrary to Indian government’s agreed policy and continues to maintain a shoot-at-sight policy for any Bangladeshi illegally crossing the international divide, foreign minister Dipu Moni told reporters on Thursday.

Last July, the Indian home affairs minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said the Indian guards will no longer shoot people crossing the porous border from Bangladesh. Instead the guards will use rubber bullets after warnings.

Two days after the anger is still being raged, two more Bangladeshi citizens on Thursday have been shot and wounded by BSF at Satkhira in south-east, lieutenant colonel Abu Bashir confirmed with the private wire service bdnews24.com.

Bangladesh Human Rights Commission chief Prof. Mizanur Rahman on Wednesday threatened to raise the issue at the United Nations Human Rights Council, unless BSF stops killing and torture of innocent Bangladeshis.

In December 2010, New York based Human Rights Watch in a report described the Indian border guards as "Trigger Happy" force and documented hundreds of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture, and ill-treatment by the BSF.

In January 18, 2012, Indian news channel NDTV showed a disturbing video of what appears to be a group of BSF guards in uniform beating up a young Bangladeshi man ruthlessly near the Bangladesh border after he allegedly refused to give them a bribe. BSF top officers acknowledged that this incident took place and the perpetrators were fired.

The rights groups Odikhar and Ain Shalish Kendra (ASK) documents the killings on the border have denounced the border killings as extrajudicial murders.

The NGO’s stated that it is one of the most dangerous international borders, where an estimated 350 Bangladeshis and 165 Indians have been killed by Indian forces since 2006, since India began to fence the borders.

India in the east, shares 2,544 miles of porous and soft border with Bangladesh and have constructed walls with barbed wire, roughly 70 percent border with Bangladesh to stop illegal border crossing. The rest of the border is running across the delta's shifting rivers, which are unfenceable, but patrolled.

Livestock, food stuffs, gun-running and drug trade are regularly brought from India into Bangladesh. Illegal immigrants from Bangladesh cross into India to find jobs.

However, Gen. Hossain said on Thursday that the incident of killing at the border is on the decline in the last two months.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow, is an award winning investigative reporter based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance, press freedom and elective democracy. Ending his life in exile from Canada he has recently returned home. He was detained, tortured in 2002 and later expelled in 2004 for whistle-blowing of the safe sanctuary in Bangladesh of the Jihadist leaders who fled during Anglo-US invasion of Afghanistan. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Bangladesh: Coup bid against Sheikh Hasina foiled

SALEEM SAMAD

In late December last year, a secret letter went from New Delhi to Dhaka. It was delivered directly to Sheikh Hasina, 65, the prime minister of Bangladesh. It warned her that Islamist radicals embedded within the Bangladesh Army were planning a coup. Hasina had reason to fear coups. On the night of August 15, 1975, her father, Bangladesh's first president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, her mother and three brothers were massacred by officers of the Bangladesh Army. Hasina and her sister would have been dead as well, but were abroad on a tour of Europe.

Along with the letter, India had worked out a contingency plan to evacuate the prime minister, her cabinet and key figures of her Awami League party in the event of a coup. There was a military plan as well. Indian helicopter gunships would be launched from two airbases in West Bengal and Tripura into Dhaka to provide air cover for the operation. Landing zones and evacuation sites were identified in and around the capital for the air corridor.

All through December, Bangladesh's spy agency, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), which reports directly to Hasina, quietly went to work. It was headed by Major General Sheikh Mamun Khaled, whom Hasina had personally chosen. They tapped phone communications, smss and emails of suspects in the conspiracy. Social networking sites were monitored. A series of arrests was made from December-end to January.

Opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), who is anti-India by conviction and hates Hasina with a rare passion, alleged at a public rally in Chittagong that army officers were becoming victims of "sudden disappearance". The army's media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations Directorate (ISPR), warned Khaleda to refrain from making any statements. The army was worried that public discourse might soon include details of the impending coup.

The coup attempt began innocuously. Posts on a Facebook group, 'Soldiers Forum', instigated soldiers to work against the government. Major Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haq, a graduate of the military academy who was training at the Military Institute of Science and Technology, Dhaka, was identified as the mastermind. He used a mobile phone with a UK number to share details of the conspiracy with 11 other army officers. On his Facebook account, he bragged that "mid-level officers of Bangladesh Army are bringing changes soon". On January 8, the banned fanatical organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) distributed provocative leaflets based on his post.

Major Zia regularly updated his Facebook account with "information" on arrests of army officers by "anti-terrorism agents", including those of India's external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW). His messages spread to blogs and were even picked up by a pro-BNP newspaper, Amar Desh. The DGFI and other security agencies kept the suspected plotters under surveillance. They discovered that the likely date of the coup was January 10 or 11. One by one, the plotters were picked up and are now detained in military headquarters, Dhaka.

On January 19, the army unveiled the plot. In its first ever press conference, held at the Army Officers' Club in Dhaka, ISPR spokesperson Brigadier General Muhammad Masud Razzaq took questions, didn't reveal specifics, but talked about the threat to Hasina's "pro-secular and democratically elected government". Brigadier Razzaq claimed between 14 and 16 former and active mid-level radical Muslim officers were behind the conspiracy to topple the government and install an Islamist regime. Two retired officers, Lt Col Ehsan Yousuf and Major Zakir, were arrested on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government and they "admitted their role in the plot". Major General Mohammad Kamruzzaman, commander of the Comilla-based 33rd Infantry Division, was removed from his command and detained in Dhaka. Another brigadier, Tariqul Alam, commander of 71st Brigade of 9th Division, and Major General Shabbir Ahmad, commander of the Rangpur-based 66 Division, are under surveillance. Eleven other officers from Dhaka and other cantonments across the country have been confined in the capital.

Bangladesh Army chief General Mohammad Mainul Islam says the major general and some religious bigots had planned to indoctrinate pious officers. "They had targeted the deeply religious officers, who they felt would be amenable because they were pious, to execute their conspiracy to overthrow the democratically elected government," he says.

On January 21, Hasina said, "I would like to thank the Bangladesh Army. Had they not unearthed the conspiracy in time, a great disaster could have taken place. The army saved the patriotic forces and the country as well by throttling the conspiracy to topple the democratic government." She accused arch-rival Khaleda of plotting to overthrow her government. The BNP dismissed this as well as allegations that self-exiled BNP leader Tarique Rahman, Khaleda's son, was involved in the aborted coup attempt.

The Bangladesh Army says Major Zia, the alleged coup mastermind, evaded arrest. His whereabouts are unknown. Yet, it was the resurfacing of an underground Islamist organisation that caused concern. The Bangladesh Army linked the conspirators to the Hizb ut-Tahrir. The Tahrir, an international Sunni pan-Islamist political organisation, advocates an Islamic Caliphate governed by Shariah law. Founded in 1953 in Jerusalem, it has spread to more than 40 countries, and is also active in Pakistan.

The Hasina government had banned the Tahrir in October 2009. Agencies such as the Rapid Action Battalion, National Security Intelligence and Detective Branch repeatedly claimed they had succeeded in containing them. They based these claims on the detention of key figures such as Towfiq Elahi, a teacher of a prominent private university, and Dr Golam Haider Rasul, 45, who practises at Dhaka's United Hospital, besides hundreds of others. Tahrir leader Maulana Mamunur Rashid, principal of a Dhaka madrassa, remains a fugitive.

Nearly 500 Tahrir members were detained mostly for organising rallies and distributing leaflets. Police officers now admit their inability to curb the well-funded organisation merely through arrests. "It's tough because families of the detained activists get money from their global network," says Lt Col Ziaul Ahsan, director of the Intelligence Wing of the elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion. Most of the detained militants released on bail rejoin the outfit. The outfit has resurfaced more aggressively after its ban.

Besides the men in uniform, the Hizb ut-Tahrir has spread its invisible tentacles among the social elite, government professionals, academics and politicians. "They have a new approach to radicalism, the cuckoo's eggs in the crow's nest (trying to covertly embed themselves in society)," says Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, a political scientist in Dhaka University.

Since their 1975 putsch that killed Mujib, the Father of the Nation, the military in Bangladesh has overthrown the civilian government four times. The army has killed two elected presidents and coerced three other presidents into declaring military-backed emergency. The last coup was in January 2007 and since then, attempts have been made to keep the military in the barracks.

The Supreme Court has been a key force. A landmark judgment by a full bench headed by former chief justice Mohammad Tafazzul Islam on July 28, 2010, declared three military regimes between August 15, 1975, and February 1979 as illegal. The new constitution, adopted by Parliament in November 2011, has restored equality of religions. But as UK-based terror analyst Chris Blackburn says, "The recent coup plot shows that extremism in South Asia has many forms. There has always been a trend within the ranks of the military to push the importance of religion in binding a country together. There are certainly officers who see themselves as guardians of both state and religion. But I still think it is too early right now to speculate on Hizb ut-Tahrir's role in the attempted coup. They are an extremist group."

Hasina has been under threat since she swept to power in early 2009. More than 1,000 paramilitary border guards of Bangladesh Rifles, now renamed Border Guards Bangladesh, revolted against the military's hegemony over their institution. It was symptomatic of the unrest in the armed forces. India helped even then. Sources in the prime minister's office said that as soon as the mutiny broke out, India kept its special forces 50 Parachute Independent Brigade on standby to fly into Dhaka in case of an emergency. New Delhi's support for Hasina is clear. In her third stint as prime minister, Bangladesh has ceased to become a safe haven for militant groups operating in India.

The military has moved in swiftly to initiate a court of inquiry against the rogue officers. The military brass, meanwhile, reassured the president of its secular credentials and their support. "There is no room for religious zealots in the Bangladesh Army," army chief General Islam told a seminar in Dhaka a week after the botched coup. The civilian government can only hope that it is true.

First published in India Today, New Delhi, January 28, 2012


@ Copyright 2011 India Today Group

Monday, February 06, 2012

The Rise and Fall of One of the World's Worst-Performing Stock Markets

Bangladeshi investors shout slogans as they protest in Dhaka in January 2012
Photo: Munir Uz Zaman / AFP / Getty Images


NEEL CHOWDHURY

Nobody in Hafizur Rahman's family asked too many questions when the money they sent home to Bangladesh doubled or even tripled within two to three months. "He was like a prince," says Mirza Golam Sabur of his brother-in-law. So when Sabur was told last May that his 55-year-old brother-in-law died suddenly of a heart attack, he was shocked. Shocking, too, was the discovery that the tens of thousands of dollars sent to Rahman by relatives in Europe and North America was largely gone. The funds that they planned to use to buy retirement homes for relatives in the southern port city of Khulna had disappeared in Bangladesh's volatile stock market.

Woeful tales like the Rahmans' are multiplying across Bangladesh as the country's benchmark stock index, which has dropped 55% since early 2011, continues to fall. Although Bangladesh has seen booms and busts before during its stock exchange's 58-year history, the steep losses suffered over the past 12 months by millions of small investors threaten to bring fresh economic and political turmoil to a long-suffering nation that seemed, at last, to be gaining ground.

Between 2006 and '11 Bangladesh's booming garment industry fueled average economic growth of 6.3%. In 2005, Goldman Sachs included Bangladesh among the "Next 11" rapidly emerging economies to succeed Brazil, Russia, India and China. J.P. Morgan followed suit in 2007, including Bangladesh in its "Frontier Five" markets. Today, though, the market's dramatic rise — and swift fall — seems like a cautionary tale for emerging-market investors oblivious to the perils of hasty banking deregulation and rapid capital inflows.

So what went wrong? The country's growth spurt was fueled by the garment industry, where some 2.5 million workers toiled for about $40 a month, a third of wages in southern China. Low costs helped Bangladesh become a hub for global apparel makers, including H&M and Li & Fung. In 1993, the value of Bangladesh's garment exports was under $2 billion, according to Stockholm-based Brummer & Partners, a large private-equity-and-hedge-fund company that invests in Bangladesh. By 2011, garment exports had risen sixfold to $17.9 billion.

Polo shirts and blue jeans were paired with another fast-growing export from Bangladesh: Bangladeshis. Some 5 million Bangladeshis work abroad, many as construction workers, mariners and restaurant owners in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Great Britain, and the $12 billion they sent home last year swelled Bangladesh's $100 billion economy with cash. Coupled with the earnings from garment exports, that cash flooded into more than three dozen banks across the country, many of which were newly licensed, small and unprofessionally managed. As inflation crept up and more banks entered the marketplace, the pressure to generate higher returns for depositors mounted. That, in turn, turned banks into stock-market players. The central bank allowed banks to invest a tenth of their total liabilities in the market. "This was considerably less restrictive than the international norm," says Ifty Islam, managing partner at Dhaka-based investment firm AT Capital.

As banks poured money into stocks, the market rocketed skyward. In 2010, the benchmark index of the Dhaka Stock Exchange climbed over 90%. Such heady gains fed a hunger for investing among small-time players, even among those who knew little about the stocks they were trading. According to AT Capital's Islam, retail brokerage accounts in Bangladesh jumped sevenfold from roughly half a million in 2007 to 3.5 million by 2010. "Many people didn't have any investment knowledge," says Sabur. "But the market was so bullish everyone was buying."

Unsurprisingly, the bubble soon burst. By the end of 2010, inflation had climbed past 11%, pushing up the price of staples. Alarmed, the central bank began tightening, in part by proposing stricter limits on banks investing in the market. That became the trigger of a punishing one-year-old market decline that's wiped out all the gains of 2010 and is now threatening to widen into a more serious economic and political crisis. As Europe's demand for garments slows and fewer Bangladeshis find work abroad, the country has begun to run a current account deficit. That is eroding the value of the Bangladeshi taka, which has dropped by roughly a fifth against the dollar over the past two years and is accelerating the market's slide. "It's going to get worse before it gets better," predicts Arjuna Mahendran, the Singapore-based head of investment strategy for HSBC Private Bank.

Worryingly, high food prices are stoking public anger against the government Sheikh Hasina. Over the past year, groups of disgruntled investors have been regularly gathering outside the stock exchange's Dhaka headquarters to burn tires and protest, venting their frustration with a regime they feel has not taken adequate steps to curb market speculation and protect small investors. Last April, a committee led by Khondkar Ibrahim Khaled, a respected former banker, submitted an official report to the government that alleged extensive market manipulation prior to the initial Jan. 2011 crash, ratcheting up tensions ahead of a general election to be called by mid-2013.

Decades of steady economic progress won't be necessarily unraveled by a market rout alone. Kiron Bose, chief investment officer of Brummer & Partners' Bangladesh-focused private equity fund, emphasizes that the stock market has not traditionally been a major source of capital for Bangladesh. Analysts say the country's larger banks are solvent enough to continue lending to companies and individuals, albeit at double-digit interest rates. "I still believe in the country's long-term story," echoes AT Capital's Islam, who points out, for example, to a report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., which says if Bangladesh can upgrade its road and ports and Chinese manufacturing rages continue to rise, the country's garment exports could further double to surpass $40 billion over the next decade. Even so, to small investors like Sabur's late brother-in-law, hitching his fortunes to a roller-coaster market was a devastating ordeal.

First published in TIME magazine, February 02, 2012

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Grave robbers shock relatives in Bangladesh

SALEEM SAMAD

Robbers stole 23 human skeletons from graveyards at a village in Gazipur, north of the Bangladesh capital, leaving scores of relatives in shock.

Zaher Ali was found crying beside his elder brother’s grave following the bizarre discovery. “My brother died nearly six months ago. Miscreants stole his skeleton from the grave,” was speaking to reporters in tears.

The relatives are in pain and agony that they would never be able to pay respect to their near and dear ones. Like other religions, graves are sacrilegious for the Muslims and desecration of a grave is attributed as a sin.

Umar Ali, chairman of the graveyard supervisory committee of the village Gojarichala said he found 23 graves were exhumed to the spot and the skeletons are missing.

The committee chairman said there are about 280-300 graves at the graveyard and grave robbers have stolen these skeletons in the last few days. He believes that the thieves robbed the skeletons in the darkness of the night.

Abdul Baten, police chief of Gazipur on Tuesday rushed to the place of occurrence after locals reported the heist. He said police has been deployed and will take necessary measures in this regard.

The rapacious thieves steal human skeletons for a lucrative underground market which is abroad. Nobody could however provide accurate information on the final destination of the bones.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow, is an award winning investigative reporter based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance, press freedom and elective democracy. Ending his life in exile from Canada he has recently returned home. He was expelled in 2004 for whistle-blowing of the safe sanctuary in Bangladesh, of the Jihadist leaders who fled during Anglo-US invasion Afghanistan. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

From Antarctica to Bangladesh: The Story of Rising Seas

AL GORE

After crossing the legendary Drake Passage, we came in sight of the Antarctic continent. It is a majestic, otherworldly place. The Antarctic Peninsula, which juts northward toward South America, is lined with ice-covered mountains and surrounded by abundant wildlife in the sea. But even on this continent that looks and feels pristine, a troubling process is underway because of global warming.

The ice on land is melting at a faster rate and large ice sheets are moving toward the ocean more rapidly. As a result, sea levels are rising worldwide. Most of the world's ice is contained in Antarctica -- more than 90 percent. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which lies south of the Peninsula, contains enough water to raise sea levels worldwide by more than 20 feet. Part of the ice sheet, the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf, is among the many in Antarctica that are shrinking at an accelerating rate. This has direct consequences for low-lying coastal and island communities all over the world -- and for their inland neighbors.

In analyzing the relationship between melting ice and sea level rise, it is important to distinguish between two kinds of ice: the ice on land and the ice floating on top of the sea. When floating ice melts, sea level is not affected, because its weight has already pushed the sea level upward.

But the melting of glaciers and ice sheets resting on land does increase sea level rise. So far, the melting of small mountain glaciers and portions of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland has been the main contributor to sea level rise from the loss of ice. (As the oceans warm up, their volume naturally expands, and this too has been a contributor to a small portion of the sea level rise that has occurred in the age of global warming).

Scientists aren't yet sure precisely how much sea levels will rise over the next century. What we do know is that sea level rise is occurring already, with real consequences for human beings who live near the coasts. In the world's largest port cities, 40 million people are now already at risk of severe coastal flooding. That number could well triple within the next half-century or so.

Even wealthier countries are not immune to the impacts. In the United States, for example, particularly vulnerable areas are: Miami Beach, the Chesapeake region, coastal Louisiana, and coastal Texas. In some of these areas, the land is sinking even as the oceans rise. This will have implications that extend right up to the steps of our nation's Capitol. A recent study found that sea level rise of only a tenth of a meter would lead to $2 billion in property damage and affect almost 68,000 people in Washington, D.C. In addition, the enhanced threat of storm surges was illustrated last year when tropical storm Irene led to warnings that the New York City subway system and tunnels into the city could be flooded.

But the most vulnerable regions lie in developing countries, where populations are still rising fast and there is little money to shore up infrastructure. The cities most threatened by sea level rise are places like Calcutta and Mumbai in India; Guangzhou, China; and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. And of course, there are more than a few low-lying island nations -- like the Maldives -- that are already in imminent danger.

Then there is Bangladesh. A one-meter sea level rise -- which could happen as soon as 2050 according to some Antarctic specialists -- could result in between 22 and 35 million people in Bangladesh relocating from the areas in which they now live and work. Two-thirds of this nation is less than five meters above sea level. For the nation's 142 million people packed into a small space, climate change poses a nearly unimaginable challenge.

The threat of sea level rise is not simply flooding, but saltwater intrusion that hurts the production of rice, the country's staple crop. Increased damage to rice farmers could soon put 20 million farmers out of work and force them into crowded cities.

Here in Antarctica, it's easy to feel isolated from the rest of the world. But as I look at this exquisite continent buried deep under the ice, it's troubling to think about what will happen as this ice melts ever more rapidly.

First published in The Huffington Post, January 31, 2012

Al Gore is former Vice President of United States Al Gore is chairman of Current TV, an Emmy award winning, independently owned cable and satellite television non-fiction network for young people based on viewer-created content and citizen journalism. He also serves as chairman of Generation Investment Management, a firm that is focused on a new approach to sustainable investing.
He is chairman of the Alliance for Climate Protection, a non-profit he founded to educate citizens in the U.S. and around the world about solutions to the climate crisis. He is a member of the board of directors of Apple, a senior adviser to Google, a partner with the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and is a Visiting Professor at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Author of the bestsellers Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, Earth in the Balance and An Inconvenient Truth and is the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary. Al Gore is the co-winner, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for “informing the world of the dangers posed by climate change.” He and his wife have four children and three grandchildren.

India plans war games with U.S, Russia Bangladesh

SALEEM SAMAD

INDIA ARMY will hold war games with top global powers, including United States, Russia, France, Bangladesh and Singapore to learn from India its experience of counter terrorism and urban warfare operations.

Indian Army will hold around 15 war exercises this year with friendly foreign countries, Indian private news channel NDTV reported on Sunday quoting army officials.

In its immediate neighbourhood, Indian Army will conduct these joint training exercises with Bangladesh and Singapore too. Earlier, India and Bangladesh had two limited scale war games in 2009 and 2001.

The war game will kick-off with Singapore army in March, when the two sides will field their mechanised forces in the training engagement.

The for anti-terrorism drills and urban warfare is going to be an important part of all of these war games, an officials said. The schedule with other countries will be finalized soon.

The army troopers will also engage the American mechanised forces in the deserts of Rajasthan in the exercise which will see the U.S. fielding its tanks there.

Earlier in 2009, the U.S. had participated in exercise with the Indian Army, when it had taken its Stryker infantry armoured vehicles outside of its operational area to a foreign land.

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

Pakistan textile industry relocating to Bangladesh

SALEEM SAMAD

PAKISTAN EXPORT oriented textile industry are relocating their business to Bangladesh for a slice of preferential trade agreements with United States and European Union as poor country.

Pakistan Textile Minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin on Tuesday confirmed that the textile industry in Pakistan is gradually shifting to Bangladesh to seek more profit, while the industry leaders argue that there relocation was because of electricity and gas outages prevailing in Pakistan.

Bangladesh authority has given the Pakistan textile producers special area in export processing zones to enable to establish their business. Energy starved Bangladesh is also making all efforts to improve augmentation of power and gas supplies for its crucial export industries.

The industries located in the textile hub of southern Punjab in Pakistan had effected the jobs of 60,000 workers and nearly 200,000 families of indirect employments. The authorities nor the industry owners have any plan to compensate the job loss.

Shahabuddin, a senior politician of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party said that Bangladesh textile receives special privileges from E.U. and U.S. Both E.U. and U.S. are major market destination for textile companies. To increase their market share, the industry is shifting to Bangladesh, he said.

According to the minister, more than 40% of the textile industry and around 200,000 power looms have been shifted to Bangladesh in the last five years, causing employment problems.

Defending the electricity crisis, the senior politician said that it is not the only problem in Pakistan, other Asian countries are also facing this predicament. He claimed that electricity shortage would be minimized soon and power tariffs would be brought down according to the demand in the country, to encourage investment climate in Pakistan.

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