Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bangladesh introduce new wheat variety tolerant to the deadly fungus


SALEEM SAMAD

AN INTERNATIONAL cereal research center has introduced a new wheat variety, which is tolerant to deadly Ug99 fungus to Bangladesh, a traditional rice growing region.

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, or Cimmyt, said it introduced a wheat variety in Bangladesh in March, which is tolerant to the Ug99 strain of stem-rust fungus.

The new wheat variety, named Francolin, has “good” resistance to all varieties of Ug99 as well as yields that are about 10 percent higher than the most commonly grown wheat variety in Bangladesh, wrote El Batan, the Mexico-based Cimmyt uploaded in an online report on March 23.

This step toward mitigating the threat of Ug99 was made possible in part by a USAID seed-multiplication famine fund program. The WRC and CIMMYT-Bangladesh are working together under this program to identify suitable Ug99-resistant varieties, and carry out seed production and delivery.

Agronomists and soil scientists from state Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute (BARI) and CIMMYT-Bangladesh were also involved in its validation and promotional activities.

“The danger posed by the Ug99 strain of the disease stem rust to global wheat production is well recognized, and Bangladesh is no exception,” Cimmyt wrote.

Cimmyt said it’s working with the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute on the new wheat variety. The introduction of Francolin was helped in part by a USAID seed-multiplication program, according to the research center.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow in journalism, is a Bangladesh based award winning investigative reporter. He is student of Islamic militancy, forced migration, good governance, press freedom and elective democracy. He was twice detained and tortured. Once in 1982 and second in 2002. Later he was expelled in 2004 from Bangladesh for whistle-blowing of the arrival of Jihadists from international terror network. He recently returned home from Canada. His email: saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Foreigners honoured for role in Bangladesh independence


Photo:Julian Francis, received the coveted Friends of Bangladesh award for his role in the refugee camps in India

SALEEM SAMAD

Bangladesh has not forgotten them! After 40 years of Bangladesh independence, the nation salutes those foreigners on Tuesday who have contributed to the 1971 war of independence of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh, then the eastern wing of Pakistan, gained independence through a nine-month war that ended with the surrender of thousands of Pakistani soldiers on Dec. 16, 1971. The war cost the lives of about 3 million people while about 200,000 women were raped and nearly 10 million people took shelter in refugee camps in India


Bangladesh felicitated some 561 foreigners and some 83 were present. The list of foreigner were heads of state or government of eight countries, politicians, philosophers, artistes, authors, and litterateurs, journalists and social justice activists.

The personalities who received the honour are from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bhutan, Canada, Cuba, Denmark, England, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Netherland, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, United States of America, Venezuela, Vietnam, and former Yugoslavia.

Among them was Beatle’s George Harrison for the best seller fund-raise campaign “Concert for Bangladesh” and heartthrob Indian singer Lata Mungeshkar.

The international organizations are the then communist party of Soviet Union Politburo, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), International Committee for Red Cross, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and aid agency Oxfam.


Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Prime Minister said she is excited that we could honour the foreign friends of Bangladesh for their contribution in the freedom struggle in 1971.

She (Hasina) said many American, British and Indian foreign journalists demonstrated courage to report on the bloody war of Bangladesh. They published their report at the risk of their lives. Some had been thrown into prison and others lost their jobs, she said.


Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow in journalism, is a Bangladesh based award winning investigative reporter. He specializes on Islamic militancy, forced migration, good governance, press freedom and elective democracy. He was detained, tortured in 2002 and later expelled from Bangladesh in 2004, for whistle-blowing of the arrival of Jihadists with links to international terror network fled during Anglo-US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Ending his life in exile in Canada he has recently returned home after six years. His email: saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bangladesh: The Plights Of The Indigenous People


PANTHA RAHMAN REZA, translated by Rezwan Ul Alam

In Bangladesh there are more than 45 indigenous tribes (adibashis) of which 11 resides in the Chittagong hill tracts. The rest are scattered in other parts of the country. Many of them are not well. Every day some of them are being subjected to discrimination, oppression and abuse. A report by Kapeng Foundation and Oxfam titled “Human rights situation of the adibashis - 2011″ reveals that last year violent racial clashes related to land disputes resulted in burning down of 111 indigenous homes. Seven tribal people were killed and twelve houses were ransacked. Eleven tribal women were raped in different incidents and five of them were killed.

Mithushilak Murmu commented on the motivation of these attacks:
It seems that our neighbors, the bigger communities are being mobilized by racial thoughts. The father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's secular thinking, non-racial and inclusive perspectives are being blacked out by his successors. The indigenous people are afraid most of the times, they are living in fear.
Malobika Tudo said:
The tribal children learn their first words in Bangla, which is not their mother tongue. And it seems there is nobody in this country to speak for them.
Ajal Dewan came to Dhaka from Chittagong Hill Tracts for higher studies. He wrote in the Adibashi Bangla (Indigenous Bengali) blog how he faced problem with his tribal features:

Most of my experiences in this short lived life are bitter. But the most bitter ones include being bullied for my distinct face and language. The waiter at the restaurant frowns at me and if I sing a song in my own language in an open street I face the same consequence. If I sing or recite in Bangla, there is no problem. (It seems) its a crime to speak in my language.

There is no respite even in the University. My classmates think that we savor on snakes and frogs as we live on the hills. I have to answer questions all the time whether we eat cockroaches or sleep in tree houses. [..]

Antoni Rema has similar experiences:
We are bullied (by men) when we walk down the streets. Especially the fair skinned tribal (women) like us are facing this trouble the most. On the streets, we are being frowned upon with nonsense words (like chang, chung), we are being teased, taunted and distracted. Do they know how much it hurts us?
We can get a feeling about the type of repressions the tribal people are subjected to from the posts of Ajal Dewan and Antini Rema. This is not only true for the indigenous people of the hills, all tribes of the country has similar stories to tell.

The oppression on them is motivated by mainly the urge to grab and occupy their lands and livelihoods. Journalist Biplob Rahman wrote in an article after visiting the tribe of the North of Bangladesh:

In recent times the minority Santal tribes of Birganj, Chirir Bandar, Fulbari and Nababganj of Dinajpur Zila have continued to lost their lands to occupiers. Almost 500000 indigenous Santals have virtually no asset after losing everything over the years.

On the other hand Mithushilak Murmu writes about the plights of the indigenous labors who work in the tea gardens of Sylhet after visiting them:
They get a wage of Taka 30 (35 US Cents) after the days hard work. In the early morning they start to pluck tea leaves and fill the bamboo buckets and continue till the evening and takes them to the factory. [..] The price of tea has increased day by day, but their benefits and wages haven't.
The plights of the discriminated, abused and oppressed tribes were deepened by a remark by the foreign minister. Several months ago in a discussion with the delegates of development organizations and diplomats she mentioned “there is no indigenous people in the country“. In her opinion, because in the past centuries several tribes have come from neighboring countries to settle in the hills of Bangladesh, they should not be termed as indigenous, but tribal minorities. The indigenous tribes reacted strongly to this statement. The took the streets to protest and claim constitutional recognition.

Odong Chakma in a post in Mukto Mona blog depicts how a poster on indigenous people in the Dhaka (Hajrat Shahjalal) International Airport have been altered. A white band has been placed on the caption “smiling indigenous women of Chittagong Hill-Tract” under the picture and it reads now “.. women of Chittagong Hill-Tract”.

The blogger says:
“Can you wipe out the indigenous population by wiping the name?”
It may be mentioned that although the tribal and Bengali people have lived together for centuries, after the partition of India (1947), Muslim settlers came pouring in from India and started to settle in the Chittagong Hill tracts. The confrontations started from there which became acute when in 1979 the government undertook a program to settle almost half a million people in the indigenous lands.

Ramdaschand Hasda says in this context:
[..] After living hundreds of years together, the Bengalis and the indigenous people could not be friends.
First published in Global Voice, On 20 March 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

Anatomy of military image: Dhaka debacle

BRIGADIER A. R. SIDDIQI

The Mughal emperor Babar wept after the loss of Samarkand. My eyes were painfully dry and gritty, hurting like sand grains as I blinked. Thus fifty-four percent of the country was gone


“Countries which worship armies tend to use them” (anon). The strong belief in the ‘invincibility’ of the Pakistani soldier and ‘unfailing divine help’, the sheet anchor of the nation and the military underlined all along the triumphant image of the Pakistani mujahid (warrior) against Hindu India.


Five days after the fall of Jessore, the last bastion of defence against the advancing Indian army regulars and guerrillas of the Mukhti Bahini, the redoubtable Z A Suleri, in his column Men and Matters titled Jessore: The Stalingrad of Pakistan wrote: “Our soldier is a wholly different species from others, specially his Indian (Hindu — parenthesis mine) counterpart. He is armed in weapons, but he is also armed in iman” (The Pakistan Times, Rawalpindi, December 10, 1971). On that very day, it had been my painful duty to announce that it was all over with East Pakistan.


The Chief of the General Staff Lieutenant General Gul Hassan Khan summoned me peremptorily to his office to tell me that, “So you must do your usual PR stuff to prepare the nation to accept the shock...” Prepare the nation to accept the loss of East Pakistan. Good heavens! As simple as that. “Exactly how...?” I mumbled. “Well you may use your PR verbiage to lessen the impact.” I stood thunderstruck staring into the eyes of the General. He stared back in turn before reassuring, “Something like, though we were outnumbered and outgunned, we were not outclassed — you know what I mean.” “Is that all...?” I said. “That’s all. Go back to your office and hammer out something for your next press briefing.”


The Mughal emperor Babar wept after the loss of Samarkand. My eyes were painfully dry and gritty, hurting like sand grains as I blinked.


Thus fifty-four percent of the country was gone.


Chained to the traditional military image of invincibility and his own as an unyielding ghazi (warrior), Lieutenant-Gen Amir Abdullah Khan (‘Tiger’) Niazi, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Command was still saying in press reports that the Indians dared not enter Dhaka. “They would have had to drive a tank over his body” before daring to enter Dhaka.


Niazi’s empty boast was worse than defeat itself. It might have been like the shattering of the military image beyond repair, never to be the same again as an integrated whole, reflecting a force astride East and West Pakistan. Worse still was the grave damage his hollow braggadocio did to the word of a professional general to lay down his life before letting the enemy into his turf.


Far away at the GHQ, the nerve centre of the military, emerged yet another sorry spectacle: The disgraceful image of the supreme commander, General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan, showed even on one of his rare visits to GHQ for a map briefing of the war. As he got off his four-star staff car he looked bloated in the face. He was in uniform, a warm Angola shirt and serge trousers. His sideburns protruded from the sides of his service cap. Such was the atmosphere at the GHQ on the morrow of the war. It was one of emptiness rather than one of intense activity as would be expected at the armed forces headquarters of a country at war.


Thereafter, there was little to report except to say: “Our defensive positions are being improved and that some minor indentations had been made across the various sectors in Punjab....’ (East Pakistan: The Endgame, P-204).


On December 16, Tiger Niazi surrendered at 1600 Hrs, according to the BBC. Back in West Pakistan, nothing was known about the modalities of the surrender. There was some useless effort to delay (or kill) the news. The poisoned chalice had to be drunk to the dregs somehow. Some of the finest civil-military heads were put together to produce a 26-word announcement as follows:


“Following an arrangement between the commanders of India and Pakistan, fighting has ceased in the Eastern theatre and the Indian troops have entered Dhaka (EOM).”


Thus the sad tale that began and ran through the length of our turbulent history, beginning soon after the emergence of Pakistan, ended on December 16, 1971.


And the strong belief in the ‘invincibility’ of the Pakistani soldier and ‘unfailing divine help’ shattered, never to be put together again, in a united bizonal Pakistan. The fall of Dhaka also debunked the doctrine — a brainchild of General Ayub — of situating the defence of the East (Pakistan) in the west. The doctrine, theoretically sound, would turn into a pipedream, as it did indeed, without the will and the resource available.


Niazi’s operational plan had been based on the archaic concept of defending every inch of the sacred soil. He broke up his forces into 300 outposts, all along the border, to create a vacuum inside the cities/villages and to lose the chance of a determined last-ditch stand by all integrated and highly motivated forces from a pre-selected vantage point.


The Dhaka bowl, an ideal ground for that, hardly figured in Niazi’s main operational plan. I met him last on September 30, 1971, at his headquarters in Dhaka. He boasted that there was nothing to stop him from ‘making Calcutta’. “Shera (Tiger),” he said, thumping his thighs, “War is not for intellectuals the likes of you and Jacob (Lieutenant-General Sahibzada Yakub) to wage. It’s for the like of us. Just wait and see....”


Niazi, did live up to his word and ‘made Calcutta’, but only as a POW lodged in Fort William. After a week or so of regular fighting, he broke his formations — divisions and brigades — to retire into many fortresses. He planned to lure the enemy into his trap, expecting him to come and engage his ‘impregnable’ fortresses and give him hell.


The enemy never obliged. The Indian General Jagjit Aurora gave his advancing formations two simple lines: “Leave the highways. Follow the byways.” They leapfrogged by, passing Niazi’s strong fortresses, entering Dhaka without any resistance. A triumph of strategy: ‘Victory without bloodying your swords.’


Back at the centre in West Pakistan, there was an explosion of sound and fury against the military, not so much at the public level as through the officially controlled print and electronic media. The new President and Chief Martial Law Administrator Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto needed an army but one with clipped wings.


He raised the Federal Security Force under a police officer, Masud Mahmood, one of Bhutto’s blue eyed boys, almost as a parallel force against the army. How incredibly naïve, as history would tell.


Getting a fledgling sparrow to engage a falcon, that had constantly been one of Bhutto’s grand illusions, an almost suicidal streak in his character, and it got him to walk to the gallows.


As for the military image of the army, navy and air force, with some 95 senior officers in Indian captivity as POWs, what kind of an image building would have been either desirable or possible?


The image on its fateful and fatal clash with brute reality broke into smithereens, never to be put together again, as the attribute of a force astride east and west.


First published in the Daily Times, Pakistan, March 26, 2012


A. R. SIDDIQI is a retired brigadier and can be reached at brigsiddiqi@yahoo.co.uk

Friday, March 23, 2012

International maritime court ruling on Myanmar may help India’s case vs Bangladesh



The recent verdict by the International Tribunal for Law (ITLOS) of the Sea bringing to an end the maritime dispute between Bangladesh and Myanmar, may help India’s case in its maritime border dispute with Bangladesh.

Germany based ITLOS in its judgment has struck down a number of arguments on both sides, but is largely seen to have gone in Bangladesh’s favour.

The Sheikh Hasina-led government has touted it as a major ‘victory’ for Bangladesh, and used it to score political points. After the verdict, she said, if elected back to power in the 2014 elections, she would get a similar verdict in the maritime dispute against India.Riding high on the verdict, reports from Bangladesh have quoted government officials as snubbing any suggestions of seeking resolution of the matter ‘bilaterally’ with India.

Bangladesh had dragged both Myanmar and India to different international tribunals in 2009, seeking delimitation of its maritime boundaries through and beyond the continental shelf extending 200 nautical miles into the gas and mineral rich Bay of Bengal.

India will present its counter-memorial to Bangladesh’s appeal before the UN permanent court of arbitration, The Hague, in July. The case is likely to be decided in the later part of 2014.


Government sources said the developments could actually ‘help’ India’s case. In its verdict, ITLOS has used the ‘equidistance’ approach up to start the delimitation boundary to the point beyond which the territorial seas of Bangladesh and Myanmar no longer overlap. Beyond that the tribunal used the ‘proportionality’ approach. In maritime law, this system is referred to as the ‘equidistance/special circumstances’ rule.

The equidistance line is an imaginary line “every point of which is equidistant from the nearest points of the coastal baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea of each of the two states is measured.”According to the proportionality concept, maritime delimitation should be effected by taking into account “the ratio between the water and continental shelf areas attributed to each party, and the length of their respective coastlines.”

“The fact that the court started drawing the delimitation line using the equidistance approach would benefit India’s case as we have been arguing in favour of an equidistance approach. However, if it is considered necessary we would not object to the equidistance/special circumstances rule as well. Following the special rule will also give us a greater area as we have a much longer coastline as compared to Bangladesh,” said an official source.

Bangladesh had rejected the equidistance approach and had claimed they have a concave coast and that due consideration should be given to their coastal geography. The court has taken a middle path in arriving at the final delimitation line.

The tribunal has also struck down Bangladesh’s argument that since its rivers deposit greater sediments in the Bay of Bengal so it should be given a greater share of the maritime area. This is the same argument that Bangladesh has used in its case against India at the permanent court of arbitration as well.

In its judgment, the ITLOS said, “The Tribunal does not consider that the Bengal depositional system is relevant to the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf within 200 nm. The location and direction of the single maritime boundary applicable both to the seabed and subsoil and to the superjacent waters within the 200 nm limit are to be determined on the basis of geography of the coasts of the parties in relation to each other and not on the geology or geomorphology of the seabed of the delimitation area.”

First published by Daily News & Analysis (DNA), New Delhi, India, March 21, 2012

Bangladesh to add offshore gas blocks after dispute with Burma ends


SALEEM SAMAD
 
Bangladesh wants to add two new offshore oil and gas exploration blocks to the country's map in the eastern Bay of Bengal.

The dispute resolution under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on March 14 may also clear Myanmar's claims over six existing blocks.

A top official on Thursday said Bangladesh eyes fresh mapping of offshore gas blocks as dispute ends with Burma, also known as Myanmar soon after the copy of judgment.

The tribunal based in Hamburg, Germany, upheld Bangladesh's claim to an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles in the Bay of Bengal, and to a substantial share of the outer continental shelf beyond, thus ending its maritime boundary dispute with Myanmar.


Bangladesh will come out with fresh demarcation of its offshore gas blocks in the Bay of Bengal, state-owned Petrobangla's Chairman Hussain Monsur said Thursday. 

The government asked Petrobangla to prepare a new map with the gas blocks properly demarcated in keeping with the international ruling, Monsur said.


Days after the victory at a U.N. court in Bangladesh's maritime boundary claims the Bangladesh Navy has made its first patrol across the settled boundary in the Bay of Bengal.

In 2008, Bangladesh floated its offshore block bidding for oil and gas exploration and  a U.S. company ConocoPhillips signed a Production Sharing Contract (PSC) for two blocks -- DS 10 and 11. Of these, a part of block 10 is claimed by India and a part of block 11 by Myanmar.

Bangladesh was unable to ink a PSC with U.K's Tullow for shallow water gas block SS-08-05 because of the dispute with India. Tullow secured the block in a competitive bidding round for offshore blocks in February 2008.


Bangladesh's winning its maritime boundary claim over Burma implies that the country will now have a larger deep sea oil and gas exploration area in the eastern Bay of Bengal.


Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow in journalism, is a Bangladesh based award winning investigative reporter. He specializes on Islamic militancy, forced migration, good governance, press freedom and elective democracy. He was detained, tortured in 2002 and later expelled from Bangladesh in 2004, for whistle-blowing of the arrival of Jihadists with links to international terror network fled during Anglo-US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Ending his life in exile in Canada he has recently returned home after six years. His email: saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Workers in Bangladesh die at factories used by fashion moghul Tommy Hilfiger

Photo: Brian Ross confronts fashion moghul Tommy Hilfiger on Bangladesh workers die in fire
BRIAN ROSS (@brianross) , MATTHEW MOSK (@mattmosk) , and CINDY GALLI

More than a year after 29 people were trapped in a fire at a garment factory in Bangladesh used by well-known American clothing brands, an ABC News investigation found the retailers right back in business at the factory. And labor groups say dangerous conditions such as locked gates and shoddy wiring persist in a country where nearly 500 workers have died in garment factory fires over the past five years.

In advance of the ABC News report, the company that produces the Tommy Hilfiger line announced it would be the first company whose clothes were being made during the deadly blaze to demand changes -- committing to spend more than $1 million to enforce a set of safety reforms demanded by labor rights groups. Among them, an independent fire inspector and reports about safety conditions that are made public.

"I think raising the bar is necessary," Hilfiger told ABC News. "And that is what we're doing -- raising the bar."

ABC News first approached Hilfiger with questions about safety conditions in February after his company, PVH, had been identified by labor groups as one of the companies least receptive to their efforts to improve working conditions in Bangladesh.

"Just in recent weeks, three workers were killed at two separate factories producing clothing for Tommy Hilfiger," said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, one of several labor groups that has been pushing for higher safety standards in Bangladesh. "They say they're trying to improve conditions. They say they care about the rights of workers. They say they're committed to preventing fires and other tragedies in places like Bangladesh. But when it comes to putting their money where their mouth is, they don't do it."

Known more popularly as Phillips-Van Heusen, Hilfiger's parent company was one of the companies whose clothing was being made in the building where Bangladesh suffered one of its most devastating fires in recent history.

Twenty-nine workers who were making clothes for PVH, as well as Gap, Kohl's and other popular American companies, perished in the blaze. The fire seemed to encapsulate in one tragic incident the range of dangers that have for years faced the low wage workers who stitch together American garments. Electrical wiring overloaded by sewing equipment is believed to have sparked the flames in the high-rise building. Dozens of workers, breaking for lunch at a make-shift canteen on the roof, were unable to descend smoke-filled stairwells and were trapped far out of reach of ladder trucks. The building, like most factories in Bangladesh, lacked fire escapes, sprinklers, and other modern safety equipment. As the flames intensified -- fueled by piles of clothes and fabric -- workers trying to flee said they found at least one of the factory's gates padlocked. Several were forced to fashion ropes from rolls of fabric to attempt to scale down the side of the building.

Mohammed Ariful Islam, a survivor, told ABC News he tried to escape down a stairwell from the 11th floor, but the smoke was too thick.

"I managed to break one of the windows -- the glass in the window," Islam told ABC News through a translator. "I broke open the iron grid and there was a roll of cloth fabric lying on the floor. So I threw it down [the side of the building] and used that as a rope."

As he climbed down, other workers were leaping from the windows above him. He believes he had made it down to the 7th floor when one of the plummeting bodies struck him, and he lost his grip and began to fall himself, sustaining severe injuries to his back.

"He doesn't remember anything," the translator said. "He only regained his consciousness in the evening when he woke up in the hospital."

Mohammed Ariful Islam, a survivor, told ABC News he tried to escape down a stairwell from the 11th floor, but the smoke was too thick.

"I managed to break one of the windows -- the glass in the window," Islam told ABC News through a translator. "I broke open the iron grid and there was a roll of cloth fabric lying on the floor. So I threw it down [the side of the building] and used that as a rope."

As he climbed down, other workers were leaping from the windows above him. He believes he had made it down to the 7th floor when one of the plummeting bodies struck him, and he lost his grip and began to fall himself, sustaining severe injuries to his back.

"He doesn't remember anything," the translator said. "He only regained his consciousness in the evening when he woke up in the hospital."

ABC News approached Hilfiger in New York to discuss the safety conditions, as he met with reporters backstage ahead of a promotional show during New York's Fashion Week. Asked about the 2010 fire and the two subsequent incidents, he said his company maintained a "gold standard" for worker safety.

"I can tell you that we no longer make clothes in those factories," Hilfiger said. "We pulled out of all of those factories."

Shipping records showed, however, that Hilfiger clothes continued to ship from two of the three factories where deadly incidents had occurred. PVH officials called ABC News the next day and asked if Hilfiger could return for a follow-up interview to correct his misstatements, along with Chirico, the company's chief executive.

Hilfiger told ABC News he had "made a mistake" when he said the company had pulled out of Bangladesh. The company left Eurotex, but remained in the other two factories to serve as "a positive force" in urging the owners to improve working conditions, Chirico said. "You need to have a voice at the table to get changes made as you go forward."

"That's one of the reasons I'm here today," Chirico said. "I think this expose is -- I'm trying to use this terrible situation as a catalyst for more change."

Following the interview, Chirico told ABC News the company had reached an agreement with labor rights groups to do more in Bangladesh. The agreement makes PVH the first brand to agree to impose fire safety standards on the factories where its clothes are made, and help pay for an independent inspector to "design and implement a fire safety inspection program based on internationally recognized workplace safety standards." The company agreed to commit between $1 million and $2 million to finance the program.

"PVH is the first company to commit to this landmark program," the company said in a statement to ABC News.

Nova agreed, saying the reform deal agreed to by PVH is "not another voluntary, non-binding, set of unenforceable corporate promises -- it is a binding, enforceable agreement under which the participating brands must open up their factories in Bangladesh to public scrutiny and must make these factories safe."

He said the goal of advocacy groups now is to "compel more brands and retailers to accept the obligations of this program so that it can be fully implemented and, we hope, transform the apparel industry in Bangladesh from the most dangerous in the world for workers to an industry that is fundamentally safe."

Gap, Kohl's Respond to ABC News
Gap is reported to be involved in negotiations. The company sent ABC News a statement saying it, too, had taken steps to try and improve conditions at the factory where the fire occurred, as well as at other factories in Bangladesh. Gap called the issue "complex," and says a solution will involve the Bangladesh government, factory owners and labor groups. The statement said the company is conducting ongoing inspections of the factories it hires to make its clothes and has continued to monitor progress.

"The devastating fire … in Bangladesh remains a poignant reminder of the need for sustainable solutions to improve factory workplace safety across the country's apparel industry," the statement says. "More than a year later, the memories of this tragedy remain top of mind at Gap Inc., and our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives."

Kohl's offered its response to ABC News questions on Tuesday, after several months of inquiries. "Kohl's has made a private donation to the humanitarian fund to help support the victims and their families affected by the tragic fire that occurred last year in Bangladesh. Our donation was equivalent to that of other U.S.-based retailers. We are committed to improving fire safety and continuing our discussions with the Global Works Foundations regarding participation in a Bangladesh fire safety project that they are planning."

Hameem, the company that owns the factory where the deadly fire occurred, did not respond to repeated calls and emails from ABC News.

First appeared in ABC World News, United States, March 21, 2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bangladesh court ask to remove anti-Islamic contents from Facebook


SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH HIGH Court has ordered the authorities on Wednesday to take out the anti-Islamic contents from the popular social media network Facebook.

In a judgment Justice Mirza Hossain Haider and Muhammad Khurshid Alam Sarkar issued the interim order to take off five pages from Facebook and a website for blasphemy, hurting religious sentiments.

The court held the unidentified persons as responsible for blasphemy and also ordered to investigate and identify the person behind the wrong-doings.


The judges said that the Facebook contain sensitive cartoons and pictures criticizing Islam and directed the authorities to immediately block the pages, locators and links of social networking website Facebook.

Bangladesh has an estimated 2.5 million Facebook users and ranks 55th, according to international media monitoring site SocialBaker.com.

The judgment was made after two teachers filed a writ petition on Wednesday and says it has violated the constitution in a majoritarian Sunni Muslim nation of 150 million population.

Batool Sarwar of Dhaka University and M. Nurul Islam, principal of Dhaka Centre for Law and Economics, said in their petition that certain Facebook pages, links and locators are showing cartoons and pictures that hurts the religious sentiment of the Muslims, which is against the constitution of republic of Bangladesh.

Responding to the petition, the high court also asked the government to explain in four weeks why it should not be directed to conduct an enquiry and punish the people who are responsible for publishing such “sensitive” cartoons and pictures.

The relevant ministries of home secretary, information secretary, inspector-general of police and the telecom regulatory body Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) have been asked to implement the order.

Earlier in May 2010, Facebook become controversial after Bangladesh followed Pakistan in blocking access to Facebook after satirical images of the prophet Muhammad and the country's leaders were uploaded. One teenage offender Mahbub Alam Rodin was arrested after his online ID was traced by the elite anti-crime unit.

Incidentally Bangladesh does not have laws to punish social media offenders, nor does it have adequate laws to curb cyber crime.


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

Environmentalists concerned over alarming e-waste produce in Bangladesh

SALEEM SAMAD

Environmentalists, academics, researchers and social justice activists on Monday expressed grave concern over the illegal dumping of electronic wastes (e-wastes) in Bangladesh.

The concerned citizens have demanded of the government for a formulation of an integrated national policy, implementation and effective monitoring with the participation of the stakeholders.

E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in Bangladesh and has emerged as top lucrative business in the country, said Dr Hossain Shahriar of Environmental and Social Development Organizations (ESDO), an activist group.

Bangladesh is one of the highest e-waste generating countries in the world. It produces 2.7 million metric tons of e-waste, and notorious ship breaking industry alone produce 90 percent of the total wastes, according to the study by ESDO presented at the capital Dhaka on Monday.

An estimated 700 ships reaches its final destination in Bangladesh to die. The wastes from the electronic goods produced from the ship breaking yards in the Bangladesh southern coast, which comes as a curse, laments Dr Hossain.

The ship scrap carries huge volumes of toxic products, as well as electric and electronic wastes, which includes neon lamps and light bulbs, light switches, hundred miles of electric wires and tons of cables, besides kitchen and laundry appliances, television monitors and computers.

The tradeoff and trans-boundary movement does not address the critical environmental, social and economic impacts on an impoverished nation of 150 million, a size of Texas State.

Most importantly the country does not have the expertise, or the skills for e-waste management. Rather impromptu e-waste recyclers are the major culprits of environmental hazards. The recycling trade grew into largest suppliers of metal scraps for the booming construction industry and other spent fuels which has caused hazards on environment, health and life in the region, said Siddika Sultana Shika, executive director of ESDO.

Despite repeated higher court directives, Bangladesh authorities have failed to curb the environmental menace created by the ship breaking yards.

A weak legislation is to be blamed for the recycle industry’s notoriety. They enjoy wide political patronage of the government despite committing unabated environmental and social crimes.

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

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Balochistan: Pakistan’s second Bangladesh?


Flag of independent Balochistan
RADHAKRISHNA RAO

THAT RELIGION alone cannot constitute the sheet anchor of national identity was convincingly demonstrated by the breakup of Pakistan leading to the emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign, independent country in 1972.

Indeed, as pointed out by Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, a respected political figure of Balochistan, which had stridently opposed its inclusion in Pakistan in 1947,”We are Muslims but it is not necessary that by virtue of being Muslims we should lose our freedom and merge with others. If the mere fact that we are Muslims requires us to join Pakistan then Afghanistan and Iran, both the Muslim countries, should amalgamate with Pakistan.”

A distinct ethnic identity and a fierily independent nature along with a rich past makes an essentially tribal Baloch population yearn for a separate nation. Being secular and liberal minded, Balochs are not swayed by the kind of religious fundamentalism sweeping through parts of Pakistan.

All along, Balochs have been despising the ruling dispensation in Islamabad as an exploitative colonial lordship dominated by Punjabi elites and Urdu speaking Mohajirs. It is against this backdrop, that Baloch separatist rebels have abducted and killed many Chinese technicians involved in the infrastructure development projects in this largest Pakistani province rich in natural resources.

Baloch nationalists have vehemently opposed the move to bring in Chinese expertise and investment to develop copper and gold mines in the province whose developmental index are much below the national average.

Balochs look at mega developmental projects as a camouflage to colonise their land with migrants from other parts of the country.

Indeed, Balochs are not enamoured of the plan to transform Gwadar on the Arabian Sea coast into another Karachi. China, not willing to be sucked up into the savage Baloch separatist movement, declined Pakistani invitation to build a naval base at Gwadar.

Setting up of a string of cantonments and military bases in Balochistan over the last one decade has further fuelled Baloch anger against Islamabad. Balochistan, which constitutes 44% of the total area of Pakistan with just 5% of its total population, is a major supplier of gas to the country.

With Balochistan separatist movement gaining momentum, Kashmir is no more a national obsession in Pakistan. In public perception, USA has replaced India as enemy No.1 of this most disturbed South Asian country.

The reason for this is a recent resolution moved by a group of US Congressmen supporting the right of the self determination of Baloch people.

According to Republican Congressman Dan Rohrabacher, a key figure behind the resolution, relentless exploitation and subjugation of Balochistan by Islamabad has turned the Baloch homeland into Pakistan’s poorest province. Pakistan condemned the resolution saying it violated the sovereignty of the country.

Indeed, a section of US defence experts is of view that Washington should support the creation of a separate Balochistan so that US and NATO troops will not only have unfettered access to Afghanistan but also be in a position to keep an eye on Iran.

For both Afghanistan and Iran, which have pockets of Baloch population, borders on Balochistan. In fact, a report appearing in the Pakistani daily The Express Tribune had revealed that US has been pushing Pakistan for a permission to establish bases in Balochistan for intelligence operations ostensibly aimed at Iran.

For long, Islamabad has been alleging that intelligence agencies from USA, Israel and India are active in formenting Baloch separatist movement.

Meanwhile, exiled Baloch nationalist leader Brahumdagh Bugti has sought Indian support for Baloch separatist movement in the context of the flagrant human rights violation in this troubled and violence prone Pakistani province. Another influential Baloch leader Sardar Akhtar Mengal, who was also a former chief minister of the province asks, “If Pakistan justifies seeking Kashmir’s right of self determination, then why does it abhor the same idea for us?”

However the recent offer of amnesty to Baloch leaders in exile made by Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik is not taken seriously by Balochs. For the “double game” and “back stabbing” indulged in by Pakistani rulers on earlier occasions is still fresh in their memory.

Baloch nationalist leaders allege that abductions, torture and brutal killing of Baloch political workers, lawyers, intellectuals and youth by Pakistani defence forces are on the ascendance.

They say the plight of Baloch families whose members have gone missing is too deep for words. According to Zohra Yusuf, chairperson of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission the “missing are increasingly turning up dead”.

Whether Pakistan will apply a soothing balm to the festering wound called Balochistan or as was the case with Bangladesh, unleash its military might against those spearheading movement for independence, which from being a sporadic tribal rebellion, is drawing increasing support from urban, educated youths with global reach.

In this task, Pakistani generals in Rawalpindi and ruling elite in Islamabad should display a spirit of generosity, give and take as well as forget and forgive. Otherwise chances of Balochistan going the way of Bangladesh are for certain.

Radhakrishna Rao specialises in defence and aerospace issues

First published in Daily News and Analysis (DNA), March 15, 2012


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bangladesh government snubs opposition demand for non-party system


SALEEM SAMAD

Bangladesh’s ruling party on Wednesday rejected the opposition’s demand for a non-partisan interim government before the planned election in less than two years.

The pro-Islamist opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s (BNPs) leader Khaleda Zia two days ago gave a 90 days ultimatum to accept a non-party system for holding a free, fair and credible election or face anti-government agitation.

Prime minister Shiekh Hasina lambasted her arch rival BNP chairperson Zia and said when she (Zia) was in power, she turned down the non-party system and described that only children and insane are neutral to head the interim government to oversee the parliament election.

The prime minister sat behind a bullet-proof glass shield while senior alliance leaders reiterated that the upcoming general election in 2013 would be free, fair and credible under the present government.


However, the opposition fears the government would rig the election, despite majority of the bye-polls and mayoral elections in different cities the opposition candidates won the seats.


During the 35-minute speech at a rally in the city center, Hasina alleged that the opposition’s agitation is a ploy to destabilize the pro-secular democratic governance.


Meanwhile, the business leaders warned on Tuesday that the opposition threats for political agitation and nation-wide shut down on Mar 29 would raise tensions in social life. The leaders of the influential business and export chambers urged the opposition to demonstrate restrain and instead debate in the parliament.

The opposition has been boycotting the parliament for more than a year, for unknown reasons.

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

Bangladesh wins maritime boundary case with Myanmar


SALEEM SAMAD


BANGLADESH HAS won territorial and economic rights to the vast Bay of Bengal resources in the maritime boundary case with Burma in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in a judgment in Hamburg on Wednesday.

Foreign minister Dipu Moni said a United Nations (UN) maritime tribunal had ruled in Bangladesh’s favor in a complex maritime border dispute with Burma, also known as Myanmar.

Moni said Bangladesh got more than it claimed in its long-running dispute with Burma. "This is a great day for Bangladesh. All our strategic objectives were achieved."



The President of the Tribunal, Jose Luis Jesus of Cape Verde, read the judgment in the Hamburg courtroom.

The verdict opened the way for huge potentiality of offshore oil and gas exploration in the Bay of Bengal, Moni said.

Bangladesh claimed 66,486 square miles while the court provided 68,972 sq. mi area in the Bay of Bengal.



Earlier Burma claimed rights to part of an area Bangladesh has been trying to explore. At the peak of the dispute, both countries sent naval ships to the disputed area, which is about 174 miles off the Bangladeshi port of Chittagong.

The naval forces of Burma and Bangladesh came face to face in the Bay of Bengal in November 2008 after an oil and gas exploration by South Korean Company Daewoo attempt by Burma in a disputed area. The tension however, was diffused by the intervention of international organizations.


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