Monthly Coupon

Saturday, January 28, 2006

US urges Bangladesh to ensure level playing field for legitimacy of elections

photo: Christina Rocca, US Assistant Secretary of State visiting Bangladesh

The United States urged Bangladesh to ensure that the forthcoming parliamentary election likely early next year is held in a free and fair manner in order to give the winners "legitimacy."

"Elections next year are so critical that only a level playing field and elections that are free and fair will give the winners legitimacy," US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca told a crowded media conference at capital Dhaka, wrapping up her 3-day visit.

Her statement followed a nationwide general strike early this week called by Bangladesh's main opposition alliance to press for removal of a new chief election commissioner and two of his colleagues. The critics described their appointment as “conspiratorial.”

The 14-party opposition alliance led by the main opposition Awami League said the appointments had turned the independent body “controversial."

The alliance has expressed fears that the credibility of the elections, slated to be held in January 2007, would be jeopardized by the commission's make-up.

The opposition has threatened to boycott elections organised by the election commission. The government, which has a hefty majority in parliament, rejects the opposition charge as unfounded.

On Wednesday, a European Union delegation led by Nikolaus Scherk, Director for Asia Pacific at the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, urged Bangladesh to ensure that all parties take part in the next general elections.

Orchestrated bombing over the past five months, which have killed at least 30 people and wounded 150, has rocked Bangladesh. The government has blamed the attacks on Islamist militants seeking to introduce Sharia law.

"The U.S. is prepared to give assistance to Bangladesh in countering terrorism, the most immediate challenge it faces now," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca told a news conference.

But denied the report of US assistance of $ 100 million for Bangladesh to enhance its capability in dealing with counter-terrorism.

She believes that the "Bangladeshi terrorists were home grown", but she did not know whether they were linked with international terrorist groups.

Rocca said: "We would also like to see the opposition contribute to public debate in a meaningful way through public institutions such as parliament rather than through disruptive actions such as hartals (strike)."

"President Bush has recognized the Bangladesh government's steps against the terrorists as positive," Bangladesh Ambassador to the United States in Washington, Shamsher M. Chowdhury briefing reporters said.

Security Alert for American visiting BangladeshA US State Department communiqué has described the security situation in Bangladesh as volatile and said that a terrorist bombing campaign and threats to U.S. and Western interests have led to increased security measures around U.S. government facilities in and around Dhaka.

It said outlawed Islamist terrorist group Jama'tul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) has identified the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom as alleged enemies of Islam.

The communiqué said the U.S. Embassy continues to see anti-American rhetoric and sporadic anti-American pro-tests following Friday prayers at the national mosque, largely due to U.S. involvement in Iraq.

Americans are urged to avoid travel to the downtown Dhaka area on Fridays whenever possible. #

Source: Daily Star, United News of Bangladesh (UNB), AFP, Reuters and BBC

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Bangladeshi jihadist detained in India

Bangladeshi terrorists nabbed before Indian Republic Day

New Delhi: Two Bangladeshi nationals belonging to the Harkat-ul Jehad Islami (HUJI) militant outfit, allegedly sent by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to disrupt Republic Day celebrations were arrested Tuesday by the Delhi Police.

The duo, Saidul and Sohed-Ul, in their thirties were cousins and were arrested from Shastri Park in northeast Delhi late Tuesday night. Police seized 1.4 kg RDX, two hand grenades and four detonators from them, Karnail Singh, joint commissioner Special Cell said.

The two disclosed that they had gone to deliver an arms consignment to another terrorist Saeed Bhai. The police team that lay in wait, nabbed them when they were returning as no one turned up to collect the consignment.

Investigations revealed that they had received training in Balochistan, Pakistan from the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

"The two had entered India from Bangladesh six months ago and disguised themselves as scrap dealers," Singh said. He added that they had been staying in Delhi for the past two months.

Three more people were trained with them, but police are not clear about their whereabouts. The arrested militants had also admitted killing a Bangladeshi officer of the armed forces and the Bangladeshi officials had been informed about the arrests.

Singh said that in the past few months, terrorists and their mentors have started using Bangladesh to enter India because it has become difficult for them to enter from Jammu and Kashmir.

"They have formed bases in Bangladesh where they are trained and sent to India," he said. Singh added that both Bangladeshi nationals and Indians had received training in these camps and the terrorists were trying to take advantage of the porous border in that area to infiltrate.

The HUJI to which the duo belonged is an offshoot of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).

Singh said that a month back, Delhi Police had also interrogated three Bangladeshi terrorists from West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.

Last year, security forces had busted 52 terror modules across India while Delhi Police had nabbed 41 terrorists. #

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Bangladesh democracy & press freedom downward

World Freedom Report 2005

Freedom in the World: Bangladesh
Bangladesh received a downward trend arrow due to a further deterioration in the rule of law and an increase in political violence during the year. The 2005 Report describes democracy and press in Bangladesh is partly free.

Freedom in the World Comparative Rankings: 1973-2005

Bangladesh continued to be plagued by lawlessness, rampant corruption, and violent political polarization, all of which impede the efficacy of its democratic institutions. Although the opposition Awami League (AL) ended its parliamentary boycott in June, it remained reliant on national strikes to impede the effective functioning of the coalition government led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). For its part, the BNP continues to deploy army personnel to maintain law and order as part of an anticrime drive in which a number of human rights violations have taken place. Official harassment of journalists, human rights advocates, and leaders and perceived supporters of the political opposition persisted throughout the year. In addition, analysts are concerned that the increased strength and influence of Islamist groups pose a long-term threat to Bangladesh's traditionally moderate interpretation of Islam.

With the partition of British India in 1947, what is now Bangladesh became the eastern part of the newly formed state of Pakistan. Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan in December 1971 after a nine-month war during which Indian troops helped defeat West Pakistani forces stationed in Bangladesh. The 1975 assassination of Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman by soldiers precipitated 15 years of military rule and continues to polarize Bangladeshi politics. The country's democratic transition began with the resignation in 1990 of the last military ruler, General H. M. Ershad, after weeks of pro-democracy demonstrations. Elections in 1991 brought the BNP to power under Khaleda Zia.

The political deadlock began in 1994, when Sheikh Hasina Wajed's center-left AL began boycotting parliament to protest alleged corruption in Zia's BNP government. The AL and the BNP differ relatively little on domestic policy. Many disputes reflect the personal animosity between Hasina, the daughter of independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and Zia, the widow of a former military ruler allegedly complicit in Mujibur's assassination. The AL boycotted the February 1996 elections, which the BNP won, but then forced Zia's resignation in March and triumphed in elections held in June. The BNP marked its time in opposition by boycotting parliament and organizing periodic nationwide strikes

In October 2001, the AL was voted out of office in elections marred by political violence and intimidation. A new four-party coalition, dominated by the BNP and including two hard-line Muslim parties, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Islami Oikyo Jote, was sworn into power with a convincing majority of 214 of the 300 seats in parliament. The AL initially refused to accept the election results and since then has intermittently boycotted parliament. Reneging on a pledge she made during the election campaign, Hasina has also organized countrywide hartals (general strikes) in order to pressure the government to step down.

Faced with a continuing deterioration in law and order, the government deployed nearly 40,000 army personnel in an anticrime drive in October 2002. Although the policy was initially popular among Bangladeshis weary of rising crime rates and a general climate of impunity for criminals, both domestic and international groups criticized police and army excesses committed during operations in which thousands were arrested.

Despite these measures, lawlessness coupled with the growing threat of Islamist extremism continues to plague most of the country; a bomb planted at a shrine in Sylhet injured the British High Commissioner in May 2004, while further explosions targeted cinemas in the same town in August. Analysts have voiced concern that the reluctance of the government to crack down on radical Islamist groups poses a long-term threat to Bangladesh's stability as well as its tradition of tolerance.

A series of crippling AL-sponsored demonstrations and hartals held in February and March failed to dislodge the government from power, as have the party's ultimatums that the government step down. The AL returned to parliament in June, ending a 20-month periodic boycott. Meanwhile, frustration with the unwillingness of the two major parties to address lawlessness and corruption rose. In March, a national convention of politicians, journalists, lawyers, and civic leaders endorsed a 17-point charter calling for an end to "criminalized politics," violence, and corruption, and in May former president Badruddoza Chowdhury announced the formation of a new political party aimed at tackling corruption.

In August, a series of grenades exploded at an AL rally in Dhaka, leaving at least 18 people dead and several hundred injured, including several top party leaders. In the atmosphere of heightened political antagonism following the blasts, the government announced that an independent commission would investigate the attacks, as well as increasing security measures, conducting mass arrests, and enlisting the armed forces to help fight terrorism. The AL's predictable response was to call for a fresh series of strikes and street agitation, but the party has also attempted to forge alliances with smaller left-leaning parties in order to strengthen its position versus the BNP.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Bangladeshis can change their government through elections. A referendum held in 1991 transformed the powerful presidency into a largely ceremonial head-of-state position in a parliamentary system. Elections to the 300-member unicameral parliament are held in single-member districts under a simple-plurality rule. The 1996 vote was the first under a constitutional amendment requiring a caretaker government to conduct elections. The most recent national elections, held in October 2001, were described as generally free and fair despite concerns over polling irregularities, intimidation, and violence. More than 140 people were killed throughout the campaign period in what was Bangladesh's most violent election to date. In July, European Union (EU) representatives as well as local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) raised concerns about the validity of a by-election held in the Dhaka-10 constituency that was marred by fraud and intimidation.

Both major parties have undermined the legislative process through lengthy parliamentary boycotts while in opposition. In recent years, political violence during demonstrations and general strikes has killed hundreds of people in major cities and injured thousands, and police often use excessive force against opposition protesters. Party leaders are also targeted, and several died during the year after being attacked. Odhikar, a local NGO, claimed that during the first half of 2004, there were 287 people killed in political violence. Student wings of political parties continue to be embroiled in violent campus conflicts.

Analysts blame endemic corruption, a weak rule of law, limited bureaucratic transparency, and political polarization for undermining government accountability. In October, Transparency International again listed Bangladesh at the bottom of a 146-country list on its 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index and noted that corruption was perceived to be "acute." An Anti-Corruption Commission, which is authorized to conduct investigations and try corruption cases in special courts, was launched in November. However, critics remain concerned that the new body will not be truly independent either politically or financially.

Media continued to face a number of pressures in 2004, the most striking of which was the high level of violence directed against members of the press and the impunity enjoyed by those who attack them. Journalists are regularly harassed and violently attacked by organized-crime groups, political parties and their supporters, government authorities, the police, and extremist groups. In August, Prothom Alo, Bangladesh's largest Bengali-language daily, was targeted after it published a series of investigative reports on militant Islamist activities in the southeastern region of Chittagong. Five journalists were killed during the year, and numerous others received death threats. As a result, many journalists practice self-censorship when reporting on topics such as corruption, criminal activity, electoral violence, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, or human rights abuses. Although the print media are diverse, the state owns most broadcast media, whose coverage favors the ruling party. Political considerations influence the distribution of government advertising revenue and subsidized newsprint, upon which most publications are dependent. Access to the Internet is generally unrestricted.

Islam is the official religion. Hindus, Christians, and other minorities have the right to worship freely but face societal discrimination and remain underrepresented in government employment. Violence against the Hindu minority flared up after the 2001 elections, when BNP supporters attacked Hindus because of their perceived support for the rival AL party. Atrocities, including murder, rape, destruction of property, and kidnapping, forced hundreds of Hindus from their homes, some across the border into India. Hindus continue to face harassment and violence at the hands of orthodox Islamist political parties and their supporters. During the year, the 100,000-strong Ahmadiya Muslim sect also faced increased attacks from Islamist groups; in addition, in January 2004, the government announced a ban on the publication and distribution of the sect's publications.

While authorities largely respect academic freedom, research on sensitive political and religious topics is forbidden, according to the U.S. State Department's 2003 human rights report. Political polarization at many public universities, which occasionally erupts into protests and clashes between students and security forces, inhibits the ability of some students to receive an education. In March, leading author and lecturer Humayun Azad was stabbed by suspected Islamist extremists on the Dhaka University campus.

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but the government frequently limits this right in practice. Demonstrators are occasionally killed or injured during clashes with police. Numerous NGOs operate in Bangladesh and fulfill a variety of basic needs in fields such as education, health care, and microcredit programs. However, those that are perceived to have links to the opposition or that criticize the government, particularly on human rights issues, are subject to intense official scrutiny. Proshika, a poverty-reduction NGO, was subjected to politically motivated harassment during the year; in May, the national anticorruption agency accused the group of financial irregularities, and in June, the government brought sedition charges against the president and six other members of the organization.

Union formation is hampered by a 30 percent employee approval requirement and restrictions on organizing by unregistered unions. Employers can legally fire or transfer workers suspected of union activities. The law prohibits many civil servants from joining unions; these workers can form associations but are prohibited from bargaining collectively. Child labor is widespread.
The Supreme Court displays a "significant degree of independence" and often rules against the executive, according to the U.S. State Department.

However, lower-level courts remain subject to executive influence and are rife with corruption. The government continues to delay implementing the separation of the judiciary from the executive as ordered by a 1999 Supreme Court directive. The judicial system is severely backlogged, and pretrial detention is lengthy. Many defendants lack counsel, and poor people have limited recourse through the courts. Prison conditions are extremely poor, and severe overcrowding is common. According to the New Delhi - based Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), hundreds of juveniles are illegally detained in prisons in contravention of the 1974 Children's Act. Prisoners are routinely subjected to physical abuse and demands for bribes from corrupt law enforcement officials. In a 2003 report, Amnesty International expressed concern that police frequently detain people without an arrest warrant and that detainees are routinely subjected to torture and other forms of abuse. The majority of police abuses go unpunished, which contributes to a climate of impunity.

As part of Operation Clean Heart, a government-initiated anticrime drive of questionable constitutional legality that began in October 2002, the army detained nearly 11,000 people, over 40 of whom died while in police custody. Legislation passed in February 2003 granted members of the security forces immunity from prosecution in civilian courts for the abuses committed during the operation. Further efforts were made to tackle criminal activity with the formation and deployment of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), composed of approximately 4,500 members of the armed forces and police, in March 2004. However, an ACHR briefing issued in November alleged that 43 people had been extrajudicially executed by the RAB from June to October.

Many of these forms of abuse are facilitated by the existence of legislation such as the 1974 Special Powers Act, which permits arbitrary detention without charge, and Section 54 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which allows individuals to be detained without a warrant. Authorities regularly detain thousands of political opponents and ordinary citizens, and use serial detentions to prevent the release of political activists. Amnesty International in 2002 highlighted a continuing pattern of politically motivated detentions, noting that senior opposition politicians, academics, journalists, and human rights activists critical of government policies were particularly at risk of prolonged detention and ill treatment in custody. According to a 2002 UN Development Program report, almost 90 percent of "preventative detention" cases that reach the courts are judged to be unlawful. In April 2004, the high court directed the government to amend certain sections of the code within six months, but this directive had not been acted upon by November 30.

Tribal minorities have little control over land issues affecting them, and Bengali-language settlers continue to illegally encroach on tribal lands in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) with the reported connivance of government officials and the army. A 1997 accord ended a 24-year insurgency in the CHT that had sought autonomy for indigenous tribes and had resulted in the deaths of 8,500 soldiers, rebels, and civilians. However, in December 2003, demonstrators blocked roads and held general strikes in order to protest the continued presence of army camps and the government's perceived failure to implement the terms of the 1997 accord. Tribal inhabitants of the area remain subject to attacks from Bengali settlers, including killings, rapes, and the destruction of houses and other property, according to a March report issued by Amnesty International, as well as to human rights violations at the hands of security forces; and impunity for past abuses continues.

Roughly 260,000 Rohingyas fleeing forced labor, discrimination, and other abuses in Burma entered Bangladesh in the early 1990s; some 22,000 Rohingya refugees and 100,000 other Rohingyas not formally documented as refugees remain in the country. Bangladesh also hosts some 300,000 Urdu-speaking Biharis who were rendered stateless at independence in 1971, many of whom seek repatriation to Pakistan. In May 2003, a landmark high court ruling gave citizenship and voting rights to 10 Bihari refugees.

Rape, dowry-related assaults, acid throwing, and other violence against women occur frequently. A law requiring rape victims to file police reports and obtain medical certificates within 24 hours of the crime in order to press charges prevents most rape cases from reaching the courts. Police also accept bribes not to register rape cases and rarely enforce existing laws protecting women. The Acid Survivors Foundation, a local NGO, recorded 410 acid attacks in 2003, with the majority being carried out against women. While prosecution for acid-related crimes remains inadequate, under the stringent Acid Crime Prevention Act passed in 2002, one attacker was sentenced to death early in 2003. In rural areas religious leaders occasionally issue fatwas (religious edicts) that impose floggings and other punishments on women accused of violating strict moral codes. Women also face some discrimination in health care, education, and employment, and are underrepresented in politics and government. However, in May, parliament amended the constitution to provide for 45 reserved seats in parliament for women. #

Published by: Freedom House, 1319 18th Street, NW, Washington, DC,20036, USA

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Bangladesh:Human Rights Watch Report 2006

Human Rights Watch Report
January 18, 2006

World Report 2006: Bangladesh

Political and security conditions deteriorated in Bangladesh in 2005. The country saw nearly daily bombings throughout the year. On August 17, more than 400 bombs went off simultaneously in sixty-three of the country’s sixty-four districts, all of them targeted at government institutions. The country’s human rights record, already of pressing concern, worsened, as Bangladesh’s security forces continue to commit numerous abuses, including extra-judicial killings, excessive use of force, and custodial torture. Human rights defenders and journalists who report on the abuses continue to be harassed and intimidated. A culture of impunity, reinforced by 2003 legislation largely shielding the security forces from legal challenge, and by government praise for the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a specialized “anti-crime” unit responsible for many of the unlawful killings, means that abuses go largely uninvestigated and unpunished.

Authorities also continue to do little to protect the rights of religious minority communities, including Hindus and members of the Ahmadiyya community (a heterodox religious group that considers itself part of the larger Muslim world), even as Muslim extremist groups continue to target such groups. Tensions between the two main political parties, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and the Awami League (AL), continued, with frequent clashes between the two sides, as well as with police.

Corruption remained a serious obstacle for reform. For the fifth year in a row, Bangladesh headed Transparency International’s list as the most corrupt country in the world.

Extra judicial Killings and Custodial Torture
The BNP came into power in 2001 with an anti-crime mandate. In 2003, the government established the RAB, an elite “anti-crime” unit comprised of armed personnel from various security branches. Since the establishment of RAB, there have been consistent allegations of a surge in extra judicial killings and custodial torture. Between January and October 2005, an estimated 300 persons were killed at the hands of the security forces, largely in so-called “encounter” killings. Of these killings, 223 were committed by the police and other law enforcement agencies, and seventy-eight by RAB. RAB often operates together with other armed units, such as the Bangladeshi Rifles, or paramilitary units such as Cheeta and Cobra.

Human rights groups and journalists have documented many of these killings and have demanded an inquiry into each death, but the government has refused. The government defends the actions of RAB by stating that, since its establishment, serious crime in Bangladesh has dropped by half. When the European Parliament issued a strong resolution in April 2005 condemning RAB, the government responded dismissively, arguing that “encounter killings” happen in all parts of the world.

RAB and other security agencies have also been accused of engaging in torture during custody and interrogation. For example, on July 15, 2005, members of RAB at Jasimuddin road, Uttara sector-7, Dhaka, and of the RAB–1 Office at Uttara in Dhaka severely tortured a young man. This man had been arrested for protesting the assault on an elderly man by plain-clothes RAB agents on the street. On July 27, 2005, the Boalia police in Rajshahi District tortured Azizur Rahman Shohel and his younger brother Atiqur Rahman Jewel. The brothers were beaten with batons and given electric shocks. Both were hospitalized. The police also reportedly asked for money from the boys’ family.

The government’s history of tolerating abuses is not new. Operation Clean Heart, a nationwide anti-crime operation that ran from October 2002 to January 2003, was marked by a severe disregard for the right to life and due process of law. Some sixty people were killed in eighty-eight days, three thousand were maimed or injured, and upwards of forty-five thousand were arrested. On the day the government announced the end of Operation Clean Heart, it passed an ordinance precluding lawsuits or prosecutions for human rights violations committed during this period, shielding the armed forces and police from any liability for their actions under the operation.

Persecution of Minority Communities
Bangladesh is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which ensures the rights to freedom of religion and expression, but has tolerated violent assaults by extremists on religious minority communities.
In January 2004, the government placed a ban on all Ahmadiyya publications, in response to an ultimatum to the government by the Islami Okiya Jote (IOJ) and the Khatme Nabuwat Movement (KNM) to declare that Ahmadiyyas are not Muslims. The IOJ is a small coalition partners with the BNP, while the KNM, is an extreme Islamist vigilante and pressure group. The BNP government chose to save its coalition rather than defend the rights of the Ahmadiyya. A court later suspended the ban, but Islamist parties and organizations are threatening further legal challenge.

Attacks on Ahmadiyya homes and places of worship continued in 2005. Although human rights groups and journalists documented these attacks, the government to date has not prosecuted any of the responsible individuals and has not disciplined police who failed to protect victims.

Members of other religious minorities have also come under attack. Throughout 2005, there were persistent reports of abductions and forced conversions of minorities, and destruction and desecration of religious sites. There were also many reports of forced evictions of Hindus from their properties. In some cases of reported rape of Hindu girls, the police refused to pursue investigations.

Over the last few years, as religious intolerance across Bangladesh has increased, several hundred thousand Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians have fled the country.

Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, and Opposition Voices
The climate of intimidation has extended to other groups who document or speak against the government’s actions. Opposition voices are increasingly at risk.

On January 27, 2005, senior AL member and former Finance Minister Shah Abu Mohamed Shamsul Kibria was assassinated. Attacks on opposition AL members are not new: Sheikh Hasina, the leader of the AL, survived a 2004 grenade and bomb blast during which twenty of AL’s party members were killed. Other senior and junior AL members have been harassed and threatened.

On August 8, 2005, two human rights activists were attacked in public by persons who identified themselves as BNP members. The victims, Rabindra Ghosh and Ashok Taru Saha, were returning from conducting an investigation into a case of torture against a member of the Ahmadiyya community.

Journalists face tremendous risks in Bangladesh. For the third year running, Reporters Sans Frontières reported that Bangladesh was the country with the largest number of journalists physically attacked or threatened with death. The government showed little interest in protecting journalists, while Islamist groups stepped up their intimidation of the independent news media.

This is a critical moment in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Bangladesh. The number of reported cases is growing, India and neighboring countries in Southeast Asia face major outbreaks, and there is a good deal of migration across national borders. Rather than insisting on rights-based measures shown effective in combating the further spread of HIV/AIDS, the government both commits and condones rights violations likely to do just the opposite.

Sex workers and men who have sex with men—politically vulnerable groups at heightened risk of HIV infection—are regularly abducted, raped, gang-raped, beaten, and subjected to extortion by the police and by powerful criminals. Such abuses facilitate spread of the disease. The police have dealt a further blow to Bangladesh’s anti-AIDS efforts by beating and arresting members of such groups who work on HIV/AIDS outreach and education among their peers. Official complaints filed by victims are largely ignored and sometimes ridiculed.

Key International Actors
Key members of the international community, such as the United States and the European Union, have expressed growing concern over the violence in the country. In particular, the international community has been pointing to the government’s failure to take action against militant groups. Only after the August bombings did the government appear to take the threat seriously. It initiated a massive crackdown, which resulted in an estimated eight hundred arrests. The most significant arrestee, Mufti Abdul Hannan, reportedly has admitted to ties with violent fundamentalist international Islamic groups.
The E.U. parliament issued a strong resolution in April 2005, pointedly stating that the RAB was responsible for extra-judicial killings while engaged in anti-crime operations. The United States has recently taken the lead on expressing concern at the situation in Bangladesh. In October 2005, sixteen U.S. lawmakers raised the issue of increasing political violence and recommended sending a U.N. team to investigate the allegations. India expressed its concerns as well and, in February 2005, refused to attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit, which was to be hosted in Dhaka, citing, inter alia, concerns over the security situation there.

Source: Human Rights Watch, New York

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

War & the evil in Bangladesh

photo: Clad in sari a village women guerilla guarding community from maurading Islamic militia recruited by Pakistan army during 1971 independence war

Bernard-Henri Levy's recent book War, Evil and the End of History
By Chris Blackburn

I recently read a review of by A.C Grayling on Bernhard-Herni Levy’s War, Evil and the End of History* in the Financial Times (UK). The piece comments on how a young Levy, the renowned French intellectual and social activist, had once nurtured a desire to fight for the liberation and independence of the Bengali people during the war of ’71. He had heard the calls for an ‘international brigade’ for East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, while he was a student in Paris. The idealistic and multi-national brigade would be modelled on the foreign fighters that flooded into Spain to help Republicans fight the fascist dictatorship of General Franco. Like the heroic force of the 1930’s which has been immortalised in books such as Earnest Hemingway’s For Thom the Bell Tolls, this volunteer guerrilla force would be made up of western students and idealist fighters who would come to the aid of the Mukti Bahini (liberation fighters) and help them fight the Pakistani Army and the Islamist forces of the Jamaat-i-Islami. Levy, at 22, went to work as a war reporter in the region covering the conflict and the subsequent intervention of the Indian military which helped bring a quick victory. Bangladesh had a bloody birth. This revelation automatically struck a chord deep within me. I realised that I to have been bitten by the bug, I realised that I have also answered this ‘call to arms’ to help the Bangladeshi struggle. The current situation in Bangladesh and the rise of radical Islamism is almost a mirror image of the fight which took place 34 years ago. The wounds of the nation have not been allowed to heal. Those that were defeated are intent on reclaiming this prize and destroying the progress that has been made.

There is something about the Bengali culture, spirit and history which has unleashed a passion from within me. I don’t believe it is because of any socialist undertones, the impression of a pending Trotsky style revolution or through the idolisation of Che Guevara and is his guerrilla war against imperialism which once drove young socialists in the 70’s. This love affair and passion is unlikely to diminish and I believe this attraction to Bangladesh will only grow and consolidate with time.

As I daily read articles, magazine and books on all things to do with Bangladesh, my appetite for knowledge of everything Bengali is perhaps becoming unsurpassed, but it brings me great sadness. I feel that I share the same type of experience as many of my Bangladeshi contemporaries who are now once again fighting for their countries identity and stability. Maybe this bond is because I have also shared the same feelings of being isolated and being left out in the wilderness; with nobody wanting to listen to my warnings. For years I had cried about the evils of radical Islamism in the UK; but nobody would dare to tackle it head on. Nobody would listen. I often stressed that with the right amount of exposure and debate it would help to stop the build up of tension and possibly avert disaster. I now put this inaction simply down to lack of will to learn; history has shown that it is often only until the worst case scenario happens that society is forced to react. I also believe that it is because no one wants to be seen to be throwing the first blow. It is often difficult to mobilise a nation to a threat that hasn’t fully materialised.

Unfortunately it took the suicide-bomb attacks in London on 7th July 2005 to change this malaise. The media have become more educated to the threat and have been more selective and assertive as a result. I have often said the UK has been the weakest link in the ‘War on Terror’, this has been backed up by anti-terrorism specialists from around the globe who have said the nation’s capital should be called ‘Londonistan’ for all the radical Islamists the government willingly hosted. I knew before the bombings that it would only take the senseless slaughter of innocent blood on British soil for there to be any change in our approach to fighting the much needed ideological war. Bombs and bullets only help to combat radical jihadi fighters on a battlefield, but they can’t destroy the ideology. We needed to start grappling with Islamism and its policies through debate and argument if we are to defeat it. Before the bombings I would watch and listen as journalists, politicians and commentators would often skirt around the issues of radical Islamism and miss their points in the process. It was only after the bombings that people began to realise the horror of our inaction; of the previous inability to talk openly about the threats we faced from radical Islamism and the gentle softly-softly treatment of its apologists in the newspapers and on television.

I know it sounds arrogant and self-righteous, but in the past whenever I had made a prediction which ran contrary to the majority of everyone else’s beliefs and got it right- I would get an immense feeling of self-satisfaction and pride. I would almost explode with adulation when proved correct; there would be no greater pleasure than saying “I told you so.” Arrogant as I once was and probably still am; now when I have success in predicting horror and despair I feel deeply let down- that I personally haven’t done enough to stop it. I don’t get any satisfaction from being right, I only feel regret.

I do believe that the current crisis which is threatening Bangladesh could have been averted; but alas time can’t be turned back, this unfortunate reality will become a part of Bangladesh’s history. However in the long run no matter how bad and dark the situation becomes, the Bengali people will once again prevail and not just over the war on radical Islamism but in general- economic and socially. The ‘spirit of liberation’ still burns in the hearts of journalists, artists, musicians, politicians. This spirit gives people the will to face amazing adversary. It now also burns within me. I have an unflinching belief that things will be alright in the end, no matter what hurdles are placed in the countries way. I also know that if things become so bad the Bengali people need not worry for long, because I know that as long as the Bangladeshi people are united in their culture and spirit that with the proper education of friends a new legion of Bernhard-Henri Levy’s will once again come to your aid. #

Chris Blackburn based in London, specialises on Islamic terrorism & Jihad and is director of the Foundation for Democracy and Global Pluralism

* To buy the book War, Evil, and the End of History by Bernhard-Herni Levy, click

Friday, January 13, 2006

US propose Counter Terrorism Unit in Bangladesh

UPI Terrorism Watch
International Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Bangladeshi security officials speaking on condition of anonymity said that the Bush administration wants to establish a counter-terrorism unit in Bangladesh, providing an initial $100 million grant for the outfit.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicolas Burns will discuss Washington's proposals for the unit during a visit to Dhaka later this month.

The counter-terrorism unit would be developed under the direct U.S. supervision News Today reported. The U.S. would also provide training and equipment to Bangladesh's 707th Special Mission Battalion counter-terrorism unit.

According to the source, the new unit could "cherry pick" specialists from all sections of the country's security agencies as well as the army.

In principle, President Iajuddin Ahmed's government has agreed to establish the counter-terrorism unit but the final decision will be taken following Burns' visit.

Burns is also to discuss the country's latest measures in combating Islamic militants. Burns is scheduled to meet with both government officials and opposition party members.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

US rejects extra-constitutional means to govern Bangladesh

Dhaka January 10, 2006 12:35:14 AM IST

The US administration disapproved of any military intervention in Bangladesh as a ''horrible idea'' despite debilitating political disputes on election issues, but urged both the ruling BNP and opposition Awami League to act responsibly, putting the interest of the nation on top.

''Military intervention would be a horrible idea, and I believe your military knows that,'' Office of Bangladesh and Pakistan Affairs Director Stephen Engelken said during an internet chat with some Bangladesh journalists.

''Democracy takes constant effort by all, if it is to be maintained. We call on both major parties to act responsibly nd put the interests of the nation ahead of everything,'' he said, adding ''Bangladesh's international friends, including the United States, support broad participation in the next general election which should be free and fair.'' He observed that the people of Bangladesh struggled hard for democracy and made such sacrifices for it that few Americans can today imagine. However, democracies require constant effort by the people if they are to be maintained.

''Bangladesh's international friends, including the United States, support your efforts to maintain democratic governance. It is, therefore, extremely important that the next elections enjoy broad participation and be free and fair,'' Mr Engelken said.

On the question of formal cooperation between the US and Bangladesh in dealing with rising militancy and terrorism like that of India and Pakistan, he said the Bush administration would consider it seriously if the Bangladesh government so wanted.

''We maintain a regular dialogue with the Bangladesh on terrorism issues. If the Bangladeshi government wanted to make these discussions more formal, we would consider that request seriously,'' he said.

About the government’s anti-JMB operation, the US State Department official said, ''Many known terrorist leaders still remain at large. We would hope the government will not rest until it has pursued all leads in this investigation and has arrested the ringleaders behind the recent bombings.'' However, he noted, Bangladeshi government has made significant progress in its investigation of the recent terrorist attacks. It is notable that some weeks have passed since the last bombing. It is too early, however, to say that Bangladesh has turned the corner.

Engelken praised Bangladesh for the economic progress in the country but expressed concerns about recent bombing incidents. He said Bangladesh made many sacrifices for democracy and should try to preserve democratic institutions and hold a free and fair election. Engelken said that Bangladesh is a friend of the US and expects excellent future relations with that nation as long as the government of Bangladesh can deal with the threats and problem of bomb attacks and the people maintain their loyalty and support for democracy.#
source: United News of India (UNI) & VOA

For interview of Stephen Engelken, Director, Office of Pakistani and Bangladeshi Affairs at the State Department in Voice of America, click the link:

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Bangladesh radical insurgency beyond American borders

about events beyond our borders
Bangladesh for Beginners
Why Americans should care about the increasingly radical insurgency
By Eliza Griswold

Posted Thursday, Dec. 29, 2005, at 7:18 AM ET

Photo of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia by Farjana K. Godhuly/ Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

When Bangladesh's first two suicide bombers blew themselves up recently, the attacks marked a significant escalation in the growing militant insurgency that threatens an already wobbly state. Now, at long last, the world is beginning to pay attention to the spate of bombings, killings, and threats against judges, lawyers, journalists, teachers, professors, politicians, and religious minorities by the banned jihadist group Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, among others, for the past five years.

Faced with increased pressure at home and abroad, the Bangladeshi National Party, the leader in the four-party coalition government, is finally rounding up the terrorists—more than 600 so far—and scrutinizing its alliance with two Islamist parties within the ruling coalition that are suspected of having links to the militants. But the government will have to end the long-standing tradition of using young men to foment violence for political ends if it wants to ensure that the nation of 152 million—the world's third-most-populous Muslim country—does not become another Afghanistan or, more aptly, another Darfur, where the rebels whose presence the government has long tolerated have seized virtual control.

One of the problems in routing Bangladesh's militants is that sectarian violence is so deeply entrenched in the nation's brief history, and religious division has been used to justify violence since the country gained its independence in 1971. Bangladesh's brand of Islam has always been overwhelmingly moderate, and the constitution enshrines religious tolerance, but as Tasleema Nasreen writes in her 1993 novel Shame (she had to flee the country after its publication), rural governments outside Dhaka have relied on the fury of young jobless men they call cadres to bully locals into supporting them and to drive religious and political minorities off valuable land. This bullying has often taken the form of the targeted use of rape, and since independence, many cadres have used violence between Hindus and Muslims to mask and legitimize their bid for political power. During the last nationwide election in 2001, in one northern village, at least five Hindu women were gang-raped in an explicit bid to control the town's votes, according to one of the victims. (The victim who told me this story had her eyes cut out by her attackers so that she could not identify them after the rape.)

Although Bangladesh's GDP is currently on an uptick, much of the country still lives on less than a dollar a day. This is one reason thousands of Bangladeshis left the country in the 1980s. Some traveled to the Middle East and returned as born-again Muslims. In the most remote villages, a stringent new strain of devotion became increasingly evident. Other young men traveled for schooling, primarily to Pakistan. Because religious scholarships were the easiest to come by, they ended up in many of the religious schools that encouraged their students to take jobs as jihadists in Afghanistan. There, a select handful created a militant group, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, known as Huji, reportedly at the behest of Osama Bin Laden himself.

Since their return in the early 1990s, those veterans of the Afghan war have been calling for the implementation of Islamic law in Bangladesh. Because the vast majority of Bangladeshis are devout Muslims who support their civil government and society, no one paid much attention to these fanatics for a decade or so. Nor to the fact that in 1998, when Bin Laden first issued his fatwa declaring war on the West, one of its five signatories was Fazlul Rehman, a still-shadowy figure linked to Huji and, according to Bin Laden's fatwa, the head of global jihad in Bangladesh.

Neither the current government nor the opposition parties paid adequate attention to the rise of religious militancy or to the social problems underlying it. This year, for the fifth time in a row, Bangladesh was named the most corrupt country on earth by Transparency International, a Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog group. Almost once a week, hartals, or strikes, most often led by the two endlessly feuding main political parties, shut down the country. During a hartal, leaving one's house is forbidden, and anyone traveling on the roads runs the risk of being killed. It is impossible to go to work, to school, or even to the hospital.

As a result, the young thugs of the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh and other militant groups virtually control several remote districts. In Rajshahi, where the insurgency is at its worst, a political thug who claimed to have fought in Afghanistan attempted to install a Taliban regime. He went into hiding last year after U.S. pressure finally forced the government to issue a warrant for his arrest.

In the run-up to the 2006 national elections, political violence masked by religious extremism and widespread corruption will flourish unless the international community pays greater attention. Bangladesh doesn't need a democratic revolution; they've already had one. The vast majority of Bangladeshis do not support the militants nor do they want Islamic law.

"It used to be when the mullahs came asking for money, we'd shoo them away. Now, I'd pay," one devout and moderate Muslim professional told me. "It won't be long before I get a letter telling me that my wife and daughter need to wear burkas," he said. "What will I do? I'll have no choice; they'll have to wear them."
What Bangladeshis want, he said, is continued international pressure on the BNP to distance itself from the militancy. What they want are monitors for next year's elections who don't just sit in the polling places but go to the villages to make sure that the patterns of political intimidation—including the widespread use of rape—are broken. What they want is a newfound international interest that takes nongovernmental organizations into the rural areas where 90 percent of the country lives. All these steps are possible and much more cost-effective for the United States than simply quadrupling the size of the CIA station in Dhaka.

To most of us, Bangladesh seems like a remote mess—poor and devoid of natural resources. The country has been plagued by sectarian violence since its independence, but the nature of that violence is changing, and we ignore the rise of militant Islam there at our own peril. The jihadists will continue to do their best to make our civil intervention look dangerous and impractical. Our disinterest is their most effective weapon. #

Eliza Griswold reported from Bangladesh earlier this year.

For further reading on Islamic vigalante self-styled Bangla Bhai: ""