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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dr. Muhammad Yunus and his political journey


EXCEPT a very few sceptics none will disagree that no other person has been adorned with so many awards and honorary degrees than Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the teacher-turned-banker. Undoubtedly, Dr. Yunus has become a blue-eyed boy of the corporate world for his excellent performance and innovations in the field of investment and marketing of finance capital and technology among the poor through micro credit. But how a Nobel Laureate looks when he/she is turned into a politician?

In a recent interview at Zia International Airport, Dhaka, Bangladesh, Mr. Yunus expressed his keen desire to enter into politics. And many of his well wishers would like to see him in the ring right now. He does have a vast network in rural Bangladesh that has been set up by Grameen Bank. Dr. Yunus undoubtedly has a rapport with foreign leaders. He has a very good reach with the Non Resident Bangladeshis who don’t have the right to cast vote to chose law makers of Bangladesh. Then how many voters in Bangladesh know him closely if they need to select him or his party in the elections?

The level of popularity of a politician tends to be very volatile, making it difficult to sustain the same level of support for any length of time and the outcome of any election more difficult to predict than before. People must have noticed in recent months the ups and downs of the popularity of major politicians in Bangladesh.

Before entering into politics, Dr. Muhammad Yunus and all of his well wishers should have to keep in mind several questions. Can he reach to the rural people as a politician? Will General Bangladeshi be happy to see him as a politician? What do the urban elites think of him? Will he able to overcome volatile political practices in Bangladesh? Does he think he can be a model as a politician too? What will be the impact if he will fail to do well as a politician?

In a relatively young democracy with a highly polarized political system, general people in Bangladesh don’t aware the electoral and democratic processes of the country.
According to the Bangladesh Economic Review 2005, Ministry of Finance, the present literacy rate of Bangladesh is 62.66%. Very few of them are aware to select the right person for the state. There are a lot of things exist which pollute the politics in Bangladesh.

Religion exerted a powerful influence on politics, and the Government was sensitive to the Islamic consciousness of its political allies and the majority of its citizens. The ups and downs in the use of religion, religious identities and religious symbolism in the politics of Bangladesh over the last twenty-five years raises so many questions on the way of true democracy.

NGOs (Non Government Organizations) at the grass roots level have emerged as a modernizing influence in the rural areas and have often come into head on collision with the ‘traditional’ spheres such as madrassas (Islamic religious schools). Ironically madrassas and village Imams have been considered likely catalysts for development in the rural areas.

One of the prime bones of contention between the NGO activity and Islamist parties in the rural areas have been the subject of increasing visibility of women in the public sphere. NGOs in Bangladesh have been particularly successful in bringing out women into income earning and educational programmes. Village power structures using Islam as a way of social control have attacked this phenomenon as being un-Islamic and undesirable for a country like Bangladesh.

The use of muscle power is also not new in elections. Muscle power is crucial in determining the outcome of voting. Muscle power can drive away the campaign workers from the field. There are stories where active workers were threatened out of their constituency and could return home only after the election. Is it possible for Dr. Yunus if he needs to use muscle power in the political combat?

Corruption is endemic in Bangladesh and greed seems to be limitless. Public service in this social environment has become a victim of deal-making. In politics the power of money has assumed an unprecedented level of importance. First and foremost, money is required to build and maintain the muscle power.

Political parties in Bangladesh now have students' wings, labour wings, ladies wings, and youth wings and so on and so forth. Even professional associations are aligned to political parties; for example, medical practitioners have separate associations aligned to major political parties. Most parties have their storm-troopers to extend party influence and enforce party discipline. Within parties powerful leaders have their own strong-arm supporters to maintain their individual position in the party. Mr. Yunus may needs these wings when he will enter into the politics.

If a nationwide objective, efficient and comprehensive survey is conducted, the actual picture would be revealed. This would mean going to a large number of rural voters to how far corruption, prices of essentials and the power crisis is a factor to them. In general corruption is a huge matter, but if that was so, how could Ershad be a success in Rangpur even after he fell in face of a mass uprising?

Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina herself was defeated from a constituency in Rangpur, which happened to contain her husband's hometown. She lost that constituency due to the popularity of last dictator president of Bangladesh General H.M Ershad

However, to do well in politics having Nobel Prize and getting Nobel Prize for being a good politician may not be same, especially in Bangladesh.

Imran Khan, an unbelievably talented all rounder who’s name has been mentioned several times in Guinness World Record as one of the best all rounder (person who can bat as well as ball) in the history of cricket, has entered of politics in Pakistan and has set up his own party Tehrik-a-Insaf (Campaign for Justice). Although Imran Khan himself is the chairman, the party is still struggling in the politics and in the two elections it participated in, it could get none seat in the first and won a single seat in the next election that seat was of Imran himself. Besides Imran Khan, the political journey of other politicians in Asia is not smooth.

Kim Dae Jung, son of a poor farmer in south-western Korea and the former president of Republic of Korea, was nearly killed in a government- engineered "accident." Entering politics in 1954, Mr. Kim was re-elected in the three subsequent elections of 1963, 1967, and 1971 in the South Korean National Assembly. Because he had risen to prominence spearheading the unsuccessful 1969 parliamentary effort to prevent a third term for President Park Chung Hee (Pak Chong-hui), he was chosen as the New Democratic Party's presidential candidate against President Park. Despite harassment and government election controls, Kim received 43.6 percent of the vote, shocking the Park government.

Facing house arrest, jail and kidnapping by the Korean government, President Kim was elected president of the Republic of Korea in December 1997 and inaugurated in February 1998 and devoted himself to the task of economic recovery and managed to pull the country back from the brink of bankruptcy. For his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular, Kim Dae Jung became Nobel laureate for peace in 2000.

We can hardly forget the iron lady of Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1991 held under house arrest in Myanmar for pro-democracy movement. The 61-year-old political prisoner still continues to denounce oppression and human rights violations and encourages peaceful protest across the country.

As every case is different, Dr. Muhammad Yunus might not be proved failure in the field of politics. But people naturally don’t react positively if some one becomes second from first. And those politicians became first from second.

In Bangladesh, Grameen banks have side-stepped the local power structure and provided a mechanism for the poor to take responsibility for their own socio-economic development. Since a Grameen Bank is part of a village life in Bangladesh, the villagers and their children do not starve anymore: their houses keep out of the monsoon: the women have more than one sari and some undergarments. But is it enough to turn them to cast vote in favour of Dr. Yunus?
Everyone in Bangladesh feels terrorism, bureaucracy and corruption are the major obstacles against clean politics. If that are so, then how does a corrupted person become an MP again and again? How radical fundamental groups become ministers? How a dictator can change the shape of democracy? There is a big gap between a thought good politician and a real politician in Bangladesh. People of Bangladesh are more likely to see Dr. Muhammad Yunus as a political institute but not as a politician. #

Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York

Monday, February 26, 2007

Level playing field for everyone in Bangladesh politics


‘There is no way I can stay away from politics after getting your immense response and I am determined to serve for country’s democracy, ideals of liberation war and to deprive poverty,’ said Nobel laureate for peace in 2006 and the founder of a microfinance empire Dr. Muhammad Yunus with full enthusiasm while declaring the name and objectives of his new political party in Bangladesh at Zia International Airport, Dhaka on Saturday, February 17, 2007.

Giving the name of his party 'Nagorik Shakti’ (Citizens' Power), the blue-eyed boy promised and hoped to practice true democratic culture with the help of people of Bangladesh. His attempt to restore low-down democracy in Bangladesh will obviously bring a mighty attack in the present political combat as there was only a violence-prone contest between two rival political parties, Sheikh Hasina, of the Awami League and Begum Khaleda Zia, of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

By giving slogan for his new venture ‘Advance Bangladesh,’ professor Yunus briefly described some of his political objectives. According to them, one of the major objectives is a clear warning for those who violate laws whether in his party or not. Every Bangladeshi would be happy to have a lawful country. Meanwhile, he urged the people to form 'primary preparation team' with 20 people each and set up the office for the political party and communications center to take part the upcoming election fray.

Before going to politics, he tried to get public interest about his political intention through a letter to the nation in which according to him got a huge positive response. After forming his brand new political party, he thanked every Bangladeshi to support him through another letter. According to the media in Bangladesh, Dr. Yunus consulted with the Chief Adviser of the present interim government of Bangladesh about his intention to throw a letter to know public opinion to form a new political party while the country is now passing under emergency.

On January 11, 2007, president professor Iajuddin Ahmed of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh proclaimed emergency in the country. The Emergency Powers Rules 2007 was framed under the Emergency Powers Ordinance 2007, promulgated by the president on January 12, 2007.

According to the rules besides other restrictions, the government has banned political and trade union activities, student-teacher politics and politics by government employees and professional bodies, speech, statement, procession and demonstration related to politics. In case of violation of the restrictions, the offenders will face a maximum of five years or a minimum of two years rigorous imprisonment along with fines.

Many of us are very much familiar with one of the judgment of Prophet Muhammad towards a little boy who liked to eat a lot of sweets whereas his father was not rich to provide him sweets every day as he was poor. Muhammad told the little boy to control his demand for sweets after one week from their first visit as prophet himself had to control his appetite towards sweets.

We mightn’t capable to follow the moral ethics all the time but we can’t expect others to follow until we follow. Due to emergency in Bangladesh, is it possible even for Dr. Yunus to go beyond law while one of his political objectives is to follow law and rules?

Dr. Muhammad Yunus is not now simply a name, it’s an institute and the next generation of Bangladesh will follow this institute. This institute shouldn’t be disputed by any way. But question has been raised at the very first step of his political journey. While other political parties in Bangladesh are not permitted to practice their political activities, professor Yunus seems beyond the emergency restrictions. And unfortunately, the people of Bangladesh need to raise the same question once again, the level playing field.

The democratic journey of Bangladesh didn’t come so easily. Bangladesh has had long periods of military rule after nine months of bloody war with Pakistan in 1971. Although the present existing parties in Bangladesh became too much corrupted, but people of Bangladesh smelled the democracy with the big interest of existing political parties in 1991 and toppled the dictator president General Hossain Muhammad Ershad. So it’s obviously not fair to ignore their contribution towards country’s democratic journey.

Last couple of months, people of Bangladesh became happy to see the end of corrupted politicians being detained and expelled. They didn’t feel bad when political parties were permitted conditionally to celebrate Last International Mother Language Day.

But when the questions are about law, democracy, equal rights, fair judgment and anti-corruption movement, everyone should be treated equally by the present interim government of Bangladesh.

In a recent visit in Bangladesh, like others, leading American Congressman Steve Chabot made it very clear that people of Bangladesh will determine the political career of Dr. Muhammad Yunus as they are the judge to consider him equally successful in politics like his arena of micro-credit. It’s not easy to enter into the heart of the people of Bangladesh as a politician. To do so, the micro-finance pioneer must not be disputed otherwise the result will be remain same like other politicians.

Although it’s a view of some other political opponents and not even a partial view of Bangladesh to consider Dr. Muhammad Yunus polemical to deliver the convocation address at Dhaka University scheduled for February 28, 2007, it’s not a good start for his political career. In addition, giving him ‘Doctor of Law’ (honoris causa) is being vehemently opposed by those opponents.

As people of Bangladesh consider Nobel laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus as an institute, a man beyond any disputation, an ideal follower of law and order and the third eye during any national crisis, he should aware to confirm level playing field for everyone. #

Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York

Behind the scene of a new trend in politics Sirajul Alam Khan

Sirajul Alam Khan, alias Dada, the mystery man of Bangladesh's politics, is back on the scene with a mission uncannily similar to unfolding events


Sirajul Alam Khan returned to the country in the beginning of January. He told his close associates that the election scheduled for January 22 would not be held. After that emergency was declared on January 11 and the election was cancelled.

Previously when Sirajul Alam Khan would come to the country, he would be seen in the lobby of Hotel Sheraton. He'd spend hours there, engrossed in adda (community hangout) with is friends, followers, associates -- all and sundry. But his hang-out has changed this time. He now hangs out in the evenings at Oxford International School on Road 27, Dhanmondi. He comes there around seven in the evening and stays until around 10 at night or even later. The school belongs to the wife of a former JSD activist.

It's a motley crowd that comes to meet Sirajul Alam Khan -- politicians, NGO leaders, labour leaders, former civil and military bureaucrats, writers, intellectuals, big names of the civil society, former comrades and more. However, he is totally avoiding the media. He refuses to give interviews or come into direct contract with the media, says a close associate and former JSD leader.

Sirajul Alam Khan is known to his followers as 'Dada'. This Mystery Man of politics, the so-called theoretician, has always acts behind the scenes. He is a silent player and has been away from open and active politics for quite some time now.

In 1996-97 Sirajul Alam Khan joined the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh as a Professor of Political Science. So for the last 10 years he's been a resident of the US. During this decade he's visited the country off and on, sometimes in secret and sometimes openly.

Dada's close associates say this time he is on a vital political mission. He's being doing the ground work on this over the past couple of years. In fact, it is said that it is Sirajul Alam Khan who was behind the first meeting of the 'honest and able candidate movement' initiated by CPD, Prothom Alo and Daily Star. He was reportedly behind the Bengal studies Conference organised by Stamford University. And he is also said to be have behind the Unity for Political reforms of ASM Abdur Rab and Mizanur Rahman Shelley. In fact, his close associates claim that he has been encouraging Prof. Yunus from the very outset of the honest candidates movement.

Dada also has a nod for the steps being taken by Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed's government against crime and corruption. He has long been cherishing a dream of a '21st century Bangladesh' through radical changes in the country's politics, government and Constitution. He has even written a book on the matter. A documentary, based on this book, has been made and is available on VCD and DVDs at the Ekushey book fair. It depicts the history of Bengal and Bengalis, of the actual indigenous people of the land, of how they were driven away, how the boundaries of Bengal were changed, how post-independent Bengalis are building a modern lifestyle, are progressing in science, technology and more. The film also contains statements of Dr. Yunus. The film was made in 2006.

There are many who imagine that Dr. Yunus' present plans are the brainchild of Sirajul Alam Khan. Dr. Yunus has announced that he will be floating a political party -- Nagorik Shakti (Citizens' Force). Dada has full support for the party.

Dada's liaison is not limited to Dr. Yunus alone. He held a meeting with senior leaders of JSD (Rab) till 1:00 on the night of February 16 and held a secret meeting with Rab himself on the next day, February 17. He reportedly plans on a revival of JSD. It would not be surprising if Hasanul Huq Inu joins in the process too.

Many personalities now seen in various forums, seminars, roundtables, TV talk shows and in the columns of newspapers, have been in close contact with Dada for the last two or three years. Labour organisations, student organisations and other professional bodies are also being mobilised at Dada's behest, reports say.

Sources from the evening adda (community hangout) at Oxford International School say that Sirajul Alam Khan is of the opinion that if things go according to plan, a political platform will emerge in the future. This will include Yunus' party and JSD, as well as honest but deprived leaders of Awami League and BNP in name of Awami League and BNP respectively. Other allies will join the platform too, but all on the basis of consensus. And Yunus will remain at the top. Why Yunus? It is because, analysts say, Dada is aware that outside of the two major political parties, no other party has the strength to create a third force. For this a well-known popular personality is needed, someone who everyone respects. And that is Nobel Laureate Prof. Yunus.
If the outside forces who are backing Yunus simply put him on the pedestal of power, then Bangladesh is likely to be compared with Afghanistan and Yunus will be seen as a Karzai. In that case, Sirajul Alam Khan will probably not be in favour of Yunus. All these matters have been mulled over at Dada's meetings.

Sirajul Alam Khan has drawn up a 14-point programme for a 'new trend of politics'. These 14 points have been publicised since last year through ASM Abdur Rab's Unity for Political Reforms. He has given support to Yunus' seven points too along with these 14 and has published an election manifesto. Actually, almost all of Yunus' seven points are in Sirajul Alam Khan's 14. This manifesto is for no one particular party; it was published in January for all political parties, professional groups, civil society, the political reforms movement, the human rights movement, the labour force and NGOs.

In the manifesto he states, 'It was in 1972 that political unrest and apathy as well as lack of confidence in leadership emerged... Two major parties have been ruling the country in turns for quite some time. The whole country was held hostage when these two parties, with their respective alliances, took up confrontational stands.' He question, 'Will these two parties or alliances change in any way after the election?'

In his manifesto, Sirajul Alam Khan writes of Dr. Yunus, 'Prof. Yunus' winning of the Nobel Price for Peace and his talk of 'new leadership' and 'new political structure' indicates a new trend quite opposition from prevalent politics. His call for 'able and honest candidates' for the election may well be the slogan for a movement.' Sirajul Alam Khan also says, 'I believe Dr. Muhammad Yunus' seven-point peace deal and my 14-point proposal will help unite those who look for a new trend in politics.'

The manifestoThe manifesto is written in light of the political model drawn up by Sirajul Alam Khan. He speaks of a two-House parliament in which, alongside the area-wise representation, there will be representation based in labour, employment and profession. There will be a federal government system. An autonomous local government will be established at an upazila level. All these are components a rule appropriate for an independent country, according to the manifesto.

The manifesto also mentions recognition for the minority ethnic groups. He speaks of a National Economic Council, a judicial council, a constitutional court, a National Security Council, a metropolitan government, a mega seaport and a sub-regional economic forum. Sirajul Alam Khan has also spoken in support of Dr. Yunus' micro-credit banking system and social business. The manifesto hold detailed organogram of the government, parliament and National Economic Council.

In the coming election, Sirajul Alam Khan hopes, all the parties and alliances will include his reforms programme in their manifestos.

Various quarters are quite eager to have Dada's programmes implemented. Some of Dada's close associates even claim to see similitude between his programmes and of the present government.

After winning the Nobel Prize, Dr. Yunus has been quite vocal about Chittagong Port. He has been quite clear in his assertion that the port can be handed over to the private sector of foreign quarters. In his 14 points, Sirajul Alam Khan speaks of constructing a mega seaport at Chittagong. Many feel that Yunus will deliver this.

There are, of course, many who are eyeing Sirajul Alam Khan's activities with suspicion. They feel that his mission is closely entwined with the interests of multinational companies as well as with the powers that be who aim at establishing their hold politically, economically and militarily in the region. They apprehend that Dada's vision of a new trend in politics will lead to the handover of the country's mineral resources, seaport, transit and other resources to outside powers, at the cost of national interests. #

This article was republished from PROBE magazine published from Dhaka, Bangladesh

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Where's your team, Professor Yunus?


Professor Yunus has been my hero for nearly 25-years. He's a rare gem who not only thinks big, but also delivers spectacularly.

So, when he threw his hat into the political arena, one expected a wave of support bordering on hysteria. Yet, the response has been distinctly tepid. Even my own reaction as the self-appointed president of his fan club has been far from euphoric. Why?

To put it bluntly, the general perception is that the esteemed Nobel laureate is going about it the wrong way.

For starters, Professor Yunus seems to be under the impression that his success as a chief executive officer (CEO) would be easily replicable to the political landscape. There is some merit in this belief. After all, his success is not limited to micro-credit only. Think telecom, textiles, and health foods. In each of these areas, he knew nothing about the respective field when he started. So, the fact that he is a political novice is not an insurmountable obstacle, but just a temporary setback.

But wait! In these other fields, the role of Yunus was primarily to ensure that right team took over at the helm. So he enlisted the help of companies such as Telenor and Danon who are experts in their respective fields. Where is his team in this political expedition?

The professor must recognise that he is a novice in politics. His role during October 2006 to mid-January 2007 -- one of the darkest periods of this country's history was bewildering. His unthinking statements and acts of the time deserve no better than a capital F.

His latest gaffe is the "Yunus Shomorthok Goshti." At a time when the nation is seeking to move away from personality cults, this move of his is a public relations Hiroshima. Clearly, he's being badly advised, or more likely, not being advised at all. Also, how else can one explain the call to the general public form 20-person committees at neighbourhood levels at their own initiative? How does one control for quality? Team building is the primary function of a leader. It cannot be taken lightly.

Undoubtedly the Yunus brand has voter appeal. But it would be a monumental mistake to think that he could win on the celebrity card alone. He needs a strong team that devises and implements a winning strategy.

What would a winning strategy look like? In business, a company rarely achieves greatness by taking its rivals head-on. Instead, it rewrites the rules of the industry through innovation or intelligent positioning. For Professor Yunus the strategy has to be similar. There are four key areas where his party should focus:

First, demographically the largest segment of the electorate is under 35. To this group, Mujib and Zia are legendary figures in the history books. This group grew up with essentially no living national heroes with whom to identify. All that changed of course when the professor won the Noble Peace Prize.

Significantly, as numerous surveys have shown, this group is also politically apathetic mainly because of their disgust and disillusionment with the present menagerie of politicians. This group represents a natural constituency for Professor Yunus. In stark contrast to the political culture that mainstream politicians have fostered, Yunus is visionary, forward-looking, managerially competent, and honest.

The key question here is does the professor know how to reach out to this young group? Does his team include bright young professionals who understand the youth and can communicate with them?

Second, apart from a brief flirtation by General Ershad, the mainstream political parties have tended to marginalise local government despite promises to the contrary. Power has become increasingly concentrated in the centre. Decisions for local development are decided upon and funded by the centre. Yet, local government represents the biggest opportunity for Professor Yunus to deliver a googly to his opponents.

The argument is simple: As power is concentrated in the centre, the member of parliament (MP) becomes supremely important in a given constituency. However, if Professor Yunus can credibly promise to promote local government, meaning shifting power to local levels, then the role of the MP becomes less important. In other words, the history of the MP as a person who has worked on behalf on the constituency for many years becomes less important, making entry easier for a new political party.

Credibly promising power to local governments requires specialised knowledge at the Upazila level. Who are the professor's team members that are experts in local government?

Third, there are about 12 million micro-credit borrowers. This group could conceivably lean towards the professor. However, it is not clear whether the micro-credit borrowers, especially non-Grameen members associate micro-credit with Professor Yunus. Even if they did so, their warm regards might waver once the professor sheds his banker's robes for those of a politician.

Clearly, a major communication exercise has to take place between the professor's party and the borrowers. The question therefore is who are the public relations experts in his team that can deliver on this front?

Fourth, there are certain constituencies, mainly located in urban areas where voting largely represents the mood of the nation. In such areas, the role of the MP tends to be minor. As the mood of the nation is anti-mainstream political party at the moment, these constituencies should be relatively easy pickings for the professor.

The key exercise is to identify the right ones. Here the professor has to rely on electoral math wizards. Will these geniuses in the professor's team please stand up!

There is a wonderful American folk-saying: "If you can get it all done by yourself, then you ain't got much ambition." Bangladesh has huge ambitions for the days ahead, and the nation needs the professor to rise up to the challenge.

So, professor, my hero of a quarter of a century, don't try to do it all by yourself. Build a great team; listen and rely on them. #

Syed S. Kaiser Kabir is a founder of Phiriye Ano Bangladesh (PAB) His views do not necessarily reflect those of PAB

Friday, February 23, 2007

What about the war criminals of Bangladesh?


Couple of days before, I watched a Bengali drama titled, “Ajob Chele” (strange boy) written by eminent teacher-writer Dr. Muhammad Jafor Iqbal. According to the drama, a strange boy completed the distance between Dhaka and Birampur, a border of Bangladesh-India by walking to feel his mother’s pain while she had to complete the same distance by walking with her pregnancy in 1971.

Like others Hindu family in Bangladesh, the strange boy’s parents need to flee India during the independence. A short while after his birth, his mother died at Birampur due to huge sufferings. The boy tried to feel how much pain and problem his mother had to face during the birth of him and Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has so many days to feel those pains and problems like the February 21, the March 26, the December 14, the December 16 and many more. General people, government, different type of organizations and media usually try to pay their heartiest homage to those brave people of Bangladesh who had to sacrifice their life due to their patriotism. Remembering their sacrifice, it is too much impossible for every Bangladeshi to forget the barbaric killing of 1971 which was only possible with the help of some demons of Bangladesh.

The interim government is trying to fight against corruption. But has Bangladesh any plan to exorcise the demons of 1971 as the present government is not bound to keep any coalition even with the war criminals?

The people of Bangladesh can hardly expect any trial against this traitors as every political party in Bangladesh has a deep collaboration with them. Now Bangladesh has an international figure, noble laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus. Will it be too much for him if the people of Bangladesh ask for trail against the traitors as he is giving a bunch of hopes and dreams to every Bangladeshi for a new Bangladesh?

Today, these demons that collaborated with the Pakistan army and murdered countless people of Bangladesh are even using the national flag of Bangladesh. Isn’t a big pain for Bangladeshis?

According to the July 30, 1971 of the New York Times issue, the Pakistani government recruited more than 22,000 Razakars of a planned force of 35,000. Politically Razakar were composed with the fundamentalist members and supporters from the whole country by the Pakistani military and they were the predecessors of today’s Talibans. Members of both the forces, Razakars and Talibans, were recruited, trained and inducted in the same process. Besides this, Al-Badars and Al-Shams were composed with the members of the student wing of the fundamentalist party Jamaat-e-Islami and the follower of ‘Moududi (a political leader Maulana Abul Ala Moududi)’ ideology.

During the liberation war in 1971, the collaborators of Pakistani army provided intelligence against the freedom fighter, the supporters and sympathizers of the war and abducted, arrested and eventually killed them with the help of the Pakistani army. They became happy to burn the houses and loot the properties of Bangladeshis. In addition, they kidnapped thousands of Bangalee women and trafficked them to various Pakistani military camps and raped and molested 450,000 Bangalee women.

The Pakistan army, on the verge of defeat, was determined to wipe out Bengali culture in one final act of barbarism with the help of the war criminals of Bangladesh. On December 14, 1971, the Pakistan army unleashed the paramilitary units Al-Badr and Al-Shams to exterminate Bengali intellectuals.

The goal was to find and kill Bengali political thinkers, educators, scientists, poets, doctors, lawyers, journalists and other intellectuals. The Al-Badr and Al-Shams fanned out with lists of names to find and execute the core of Bengali intellectuals. The intellectuals were arrested and taken to Rayerbazar, a marshy area in Dhaka city. There, they were gunned down with their eyes blindfolded and their hands tied behind their backs.

Members of Razakar. Al-Badr and Al-Shams are leading now the various political parties like Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami oikko Jot, Khelafat-e-Majlish and many more while others live freely in foreign countries. They are capable to grab the seats of the Parliament of Bangladesh. None of these criminals have yet to face any trial for the crimes they committed in 1971.

Although the leader of Jamat-e-Islam Golam Azam’s citizenship was revoked and Matiur Rahman Nizami and other top leaders were sent to jail under trial, the whole political scenario was changed after the assassination of Sheikh Mujibar Rahman. General Ziaur Rahman granted Golam-Azam Bangladeshi citizenship, released all the war criminals imprisoned on various criminal charges and by amending the constitution allowed them to be involved in politics. Many of them awarded and posted with high designation both nationally and internationally. And the journey against humanity begins once again in full suing.

As a result of the last thirty five years of their pampering journey with the help of corrupt politicians, bureaucrat and so-called national leaders, the once loathed demons of Bangladesh now became the most powerful people of Bangladesh, a country ironically they fought against.

Being in power in the last government, they deliberately destroyed (while the Bangladesh Nationalist party leaders were busy stealing the public money to get rich) the main political / social institutions of Bangladesh and rewrote the history of Bangladesh liberation war. Even they banished the history of independence from the history texts of Bangladeshi schools.

In 1992, after restoration of democracy, an unofficial but popular “Court of People” sentenced Golam Azam and his ten accomplices to death for war crimes and crimes against humanity. But later on, verdict was ignored and banished.

The religious extremism has been growing in Bangladesh for decades now. Although these forces were put in total disarray after their defeat in 1971, they have managed to regroup due to subsequent political patronage. They were further helped in their revival by the confrontationist politics of Bangladesh.

To further consolidate their grip on the country, the defeated forces of the 1971 Liberation War are now carrying out bomb attacks across Bangladesh. The forces, namely Razakar, Al-Badr and Al-Shams, who massacred the frontline intellectuals and professionals at the fag end of the liberation war in 1971, are the masterminds behind this bomb terrorism.

Meanwhile, a case was filed in the Federal Court of Australia on September 20, 2006 under the Genocide Conventions Act 1949 and War Crimes Act, alleged crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity during 1971 by the Pakistani Armed Forces and its collaborators. This is the first time in history that someone named Raymond F Solaiman is attending a court proceeding in relation to the crimes of Genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity during 1971.

Thirty-five years after the birth of the nation, many have forgotten the sacrifices of those who are no longer with us. But for those of us who survived, for our parents who kept us safe through the months of terror, there is no erasing the horrors of 1971.

Very often, it is regular to see the sufferings, humiliation and deprivation of freedom fighters of Bangladesh. Some of them are rickshaw-pullers, street slumbers or even beggars. Most of the countries in the world respect their freedom fighters and senior citizens for their great contribution towards the country. Government has special priorities for those great heroes.

Freedom fighters don’t need only a monthly token money. There is no such development program in order to rehabilitate destitute freedom fighters and victims of liberation war and their families. A country can’t ever rise without paying attention to the country’s great heroes.

Today Bangladesh that was born from the ashes of 1971 is under the same threat. It is under threat from the same anti-liberation forces that helped perpetrate the genocide of 1971. Bangladeshis is still now experiencing the same history of both racism and religious extremism due to the war criminals.

Former president of Iraq Mr. Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging after being convicted of crime against humanity for the murder of 148 Iraqi Shia in the town of Dujail in 1982. Then what about for the murder of 3 million innocent people? What about 450,000 women, raped and molested by Pakistani army? #

Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

An open response to the open letter of Professor Yunus


Dear Prof. Yunus,

This is an open response to your open letter to the citizens of your beloved country, the country which you have brought to centre-fold of pride in the international arena through your winning the much-coveted Nobel Prize for peace. Your winning the Nobel Prize for peace has put additional burdens on you to live up to the expectations of the people not only within the geographical boundaries of Bangladesh but to the people of the current global village at large. The multi-dimensional aspect of peace has propelled the Nobel committee to extend its periphery to recognize the contributions that may not be directly entangled to what Alfred Nobel’s will had envisioned in 1895. US scientist Dr. Normal Borloug, Iranian human rights activists Dr. Shirin Ebadi and Kenyan environmentalist Dr. Wangari Muta Maathai and you have been awarded the peace prize in the similar extended dimension of peace. However, this extended dimension in no way has undermined the burden of your obligation to ‘advance democracy and human rights’, the direct component of peace, as has been inscribed in the citation for you by the Nobel Committee.

Regrettably enough, your performance as a voice of conscience in your own homeland for the last several years in particular was far from reassuring. Over the last several years the battered human right situations of our dear homeland was of grave concerns for many conscious souls around the globe. Oppression of minorities and opposition workers, custodial torture and death, the brutal techniques of custodial torture of politicians and intellectuals alike and probably, the most despicable of all crimes committed by the government that has been termed by human rights organizations as ‘terrorism by the State’ where people were being killed on daily basis in the name of so-called ‘crossfire’, absolutely disregarding the rule of law. Ironically, you have been totally mum on these reprehensible acts of a government that derived its authority from a constitutional process.

While you have endorsed the civil society movement to elect honest and suitable candidates, you have been totally silent when one of our brightest bureaucrat-turned politicians had been killed by assassin’s grenade. It was puzzling to note the indifference of one our most gifted sons, even before you became a Nobel laureate, vis-à-vis such a heinous crime and tragedy.

If the ‘denial of bank credit to the poor people is a violation of human rights’ then ‘denial of the right to know and teach the true history of the nation to our school children’ is at least a violation of human rights of equal magnitude, if not more. During the dark era of the last BNP led government when our history was systematically distorted, not only as an illustrious citizen but as an active maker of that history as well, you did not express any words of criticisms for this devilish act.

In one of your addresses to uproot corruption, you proposed the idea to form ‘Sufferers Association’, you expect whose members to come to ACC with evidence. However, when poor Nuruzzaman was arrested and tortured for his ‘crime’ for bringing a simple allegation of bribery demand by the son of a the then minister, a citizen, let alone an illustrious one, I did not read any words of sympathy or protest from you to rescues Nuruzzaman from the torturous arms of the State Machinery. It was no other than Irene Khan, the chief of the Amnesty International, who had to issue statement of condemnation in favour of the poor sufferer.

Terming the present situation new one, you have said this is ‘the high time’ to start politics from a new angle. However, I am afraid; you had no part, whatsoever, in the creation of that ‘high time’. Over the last two years or so, when the opposition political parties were putting forward their demands for reforms to create a level playing field to hold a free and fair election, you had no words of sympathy for them. Quite to the contrary, only the other day when Prof. Iajuddin Ahmed was carrying out one mischievous act after another to help his benefactors materialize their blue prints, and while the whole nation was critical of his actions and inactions, you evaluated his performance through an A plus, which rather encouraged him to carry forward with his partisan activities. In full tune with the BNP led alliance, you were in favour of holding the election on January 22 in order to ‘save the constitution’. In fact, it was the determination of the AL led political alliance to derail the farcical electoral process, the support of the international community in favour of a credible election, the ceaseless effort by a section of civil society and the timely action of our armed forces in full harmony with the wishes of our people that saved the day. The widely acclaimed and prudent actions of the Fakhruddin government in carrying forward with the multi-prone reforms only proved the full-scale merits of the demands raised by the AL led alliance.

Fairness demands that you at least extend your thanks and gratitude to these stakeholders, including thousands of political activities who took to the streets, braving the police brutality of Iajuddin government and specially those who laid down their lives for creating this ’high time’ for you to float a new political party.

I could not agree with you more when you say, “it is now clear to all that it is not possible to reach the adorably goal maintaining the existing political culture; it is only possible by bringing a comprehensive change to the culture. Through my work and experience, I feel with all my heart that the people with their innate sense of endeavour and creativity can achieve the impossible if political goodwill, competent leadership and good governance can be established”. However, I am taking strong exception to your intention when you are putting yourself in the helm to lead that endeavour by forming a new political party for two reasons. Firstly, through your sheer indifference to the cause of human rights and rule of law, specifically over the last five years of darkest rule, you failed to portray yourself as a moral bacon, as was devoutly done by Prof. Muzaffor Ahmed and others, for our citizens to emulate and take strength from. While I respect your democratic right to form a political party but at same token, in the arena of human rights, I am sorry to question about the lapse that exist between what you practiced vis-à-vis our expectation.

Moreover, I am not too sure about the potential success of your endeavour as well. Even Bertrand Russell failed in his multiple bids to secure a seat in the House of Commons in the cradle of democracy.

We have two types of politicians: one with firm conviction, while the other with sheer opportunism. In the leadership level the later vastly outnumbers the former while on the grass root level, a complete reverse scenario exists. In response to your call to help with the formation of a political party, in addition to many who, in the past, failed to secure a berth in either of the existing political camps, I can visualize the later group flocking into your camp in large numbers as they may not be willing to ride anymore the sinking ship.

Another group of our citizens who always stay on the sidelines during the hours of need of the nation but are absolutely attuned to your unfortunate comments of bracketing all the politicians in the same bracket of corrupt and devoid of any political conviction will be clapping your arrival, as if with Aladdin’s lamp in your hand, to the domain where controversy is a name of the game. Personal honesty has never been a shield from criticisms for a politician. If you get to reach the corridor of power, it will be the same group who will, most likely, take no time in placing you in the same bracket where they have put the leaders of the main political parties, without any differentiation, albeit they are not a political force to reckon with. In fact, this is the second reason why I am vehemently opposed to your entry into political fray, since it would be extremely painful to see any dent, through an iota of controversy around you, on our pride which you have raised multi-folds on October 13, 2006 in the community of nations. Our nation expects to see you as its conscience whereby you will be working as its de facto ombudsman in promoting human rights and rule of law. You have no right in your good sense, Professor Yunus, to demolish the glory that you yourself have engraved on the face of the nation. #

Dr. Mozammel H. Khan is the Convenor of the Canadian Committee for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh

Thursday, February 15, 2007

When ‘Good’ is ‘Bad’ in Bangladesh


The perpetual ‘sin’ of ‘some of our intellectuals are NOT in their ability of exercising critical thinking on contemporary issues but on the direction that they intend to take the nation through their eloquently written articles. Under the guise of free thinking and freedom of expression, they propagate ideas to make everything controversial, divides the nation at a time when need of national integration is paramount. One such idea was put forward in this forum against the Army Chief’s speech that supposedly had a ‘long’ and ‘short’ part as observed by the writer.

The article argues that the speech was ‘long on vision’ and ‘short on substance’. It appeared that the ‘substance’ what the writer was looking for was ‘an explanation as to how the President changed his mind’. Thinking rationally, I failed comprehend how such a short view could qualify as being the ‘substance’ of his vision.

In my view, the correct ‘substance’ that one might be curious to know is the ways and means of achieving the vision as outlined by the Army Chief. Again one need to understand that for an army chief, it might be difficult to elaborate on that line as the tools for achieving that vision is NOT under his disposal. It is rather the government mechanism and society at large that needs to work out the modalities of materializing the vision. Thus the Army chief has gone up to that far in his statement which was ‘politically correct’ and I’m sure any normal person with commonsense would agree that there was no scope for him to elaborate on the issues that the writer labelled as 'substance'.

So, why is someone residing so far away so much concern to know the compelling reasons of President’s change of mind? The answer probably lies in their inherent ability to see ‘good’ as ‘bad’ and the love of making everything controversial. I remember one quote of Monir Choudhury, in his famous novel Roktato Prantor, “Manush more gele poche jai, beche thakle bodlai, karone okarone bodlai, shokale bikale bodlai.” (Human being rots after death but changes if s/he is alive; they change in the morning and in the afternoon; they change for reasons and without reasons.) Change is the only constant thing in life and we should applaud if the change ushered something good for the nation. If the Army played a role to bring that positive change, than it’s more logical to support that and not to raise a controversy about it.

There is some truth in the characterization of the current administration as a ‘military backed interim government’. But that is only the half truth; because, first, except military there were no other institution at that time to bring about the changes that the people wanted; second, the backing of military was perceived by many as a benevolent step to save the nation from utter anarchy. In other words, military, as the ‘last institution standing’ was a facilitator to realize people’s desire. Taking such context into consideration, the term ‘military-backed interim government’ dispels much of the negative connotations that are otherwise attached to it in a classic sense.

The deliberate attempt to connect Dr Yunus’s decision to join politics and the recent changes has become an obsession of the writer. I have elaborated one it in my last response. I guess the cure of such ‘obsessive idea’ cannot be found by anyone unless the writer is receptive to sound logics and commonsense. It appears that that the obsession is so deep rooted and devoid of logic that one may find it futile to offer any cure. Indeed the incubation of rotten eggs gives birth of mentally challenged creatures that need especial care by the parents and the society at large for their development. Thus we need to be vigilant and also caring to such mentally challenged creatures and handle them with care. At the same time we must remain alert to protect us from any harm from such handicapped writings.

The bottom line for us would be to ask our own conscious simply these questions: Did the military do a service to the nation by coming in aid to bring this change? Was this the right role of the military under the given context? Do we need Dr Yunus in our politics? Has he got the integrity and capability to contribute any amount to purify our political culture? If the answer is yes, then we shouldn’t be bothered for anyone incubating another story from the corridor where ‘conspiracy’ and ‘whispers’ thrives. We should rather support their missions and wish them good luck. #

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Politicians singled out for blame-game


Ever since the state of emergency has been declared in the country and the political parties have been barred from carrying out political activities, a section of our elite class, comprising some retired members from civil and military bureaucracy, bankers, business leaders, journalists, columnists and editors of newspapers seem to have embarked upon a special a mission to tell the public that it is the politics and the politicians of our country who are solely and fully responsible for the political turmoil and in consequence the emergency.

It is still not very clear what they are up to. Speculation is that they want emergence of a third force to take over the helm of affairs of the country through a newly orchestrated political process.
According to them, if I can understand their language, the politicians are all corrupt, selfish, and unpatriotic. They are in politics only to make money.

So, these politicians should no longer be trusted with power to rule the country. The people would better be served by a government of the type similar to one, if not the same, in power now.

The way some of these persons of our so-called civil society talk about our constitution, democracy, politics, and about the politicians, one might easily mistake them for legal experts, constitutional specialists, or political pundits of international repute. When we see a business leader talking about not only our constitution but also that of India and try to suggest that what we have in the name of constitution is nothing but a bogus document worth throwing into the bin, who will believe that he had never been a student of law or political science?

When this business leader says that the politicians as well as the politics in the country are all rotten and filthy, needing complete reform, who will believe that he is one of those fortunate few who have been the principal beneficiaries of what in his language is rotten and filthy. When he points his finger, accusing the politicians of our country of being immoral, he probably does not notice that three of his other fingers are pointing back at him.

When a retired general turned columnist finds all wrong in our politicians and holds them fully responsible for all the miseries that have befallen on the people of this country, he forgets to mention that this country was ruled by the army generals for almost half the period of our independence and it was one of those generals who said he would, and in fact did, make politics difficult for the politicians.

When an editor of a newspaper tells us that despite all the odds, we had some remarkable success in the different sectors of our national life over the last 15 years of our democratic practice, but credit for all these achievements goes to people and the civil society, not the politicians, he is certainly not fair in his judgment about our politicians.

How can we deny the historic role of our politicians in giving us a free and independent country, a flag, a national anthem of our own, an identity for our future generation? How can we deny the immense sacrifice of our politicians in upholding the democratic and other basic rights of our people whenever these rights have been threatened by the usurpers of power?

Today we all say that for a true and meaningful democracy to take root, a free, fair and credible election is a must, and for that so many things need to be done by the caretaker government -- a truly independent and competent election commission, a flawless voter list, if possible voter ID card, transparent ballot box, and reform of electoral laws so that black money and muscle can not influence the electoral process -- before announcing the election schedule.

What did the majority of our political parties, the AL-led grand alliance to be specific, ask for? They also asked for almost the same things and took to the streets with tougher programs like blockade and hartal only when all other mild and peaceful programs failed. And we called them rogues, out there to subvert the electoral process and destabilize the country.

When one party was adamant to go ahead with a farce election as per their blueprint and recapture state power to protect the huge wealth illegally amassed in the past 5 years of their rule, more appropriately misrule, and another party was determined to resist it at any cost, how can we put all of them in the same bracket and brand them as power mongers, out to destroy our democracy?

There is no denying that most of the people we see in politics are corrupt, immoral, and devoid of any political ideology. They are there in politics only to earn money and wield power. But it is unfair to pass a sweeping comment or to say that there are no honest, dedicated, and patriotic people in politics.

The problem is that most of the people we see now in politics are not politicians. They are either businessmen or retired bureaucrats or mastans who have turned politicians overnight by virtue of their muscle, money, or position in the society. It is probably high time that the political leadership took a close look at the matter and redeemed their strategy or else, as per Gresham's law, they might soon see the bad ones driving out the few good ones and take the driving seat. To be frank, the process is already on.

It is heartening to see that the present caretaker government or interim government, by whatever name one may wish to call it, is making an effort to reverse the process. Wishing them all the success, we only hope that whatever they do they do it within the frame work of law -- remaining absolutely neutral and impartial and without being distracted from their actual goal of handing over power to a truly representative elected government in the shortest possible time.

Having said that, the question is, how fair will it be for the civil society or government in power to singularly target the politicians and launch propaganda against them for all that is bad in the country, taking undue advantage of the emergency? The politicians are dishonest but are the other groups in our society all angels? The politicians are power hungry, but who isn't?

Professor Iajuddin Ahmed and Justice MA Aziz were not politicians. As non-political persons, people expected them to play an absolutely neutral and impartial role in ensuring a free, fair and credible election and handing over power to a truly representative elected government. Instead, they played the role of a poodle and made a complete mess of the whole democratic process. Can anybody honestly say that they were less responsible for the situation?

We all want reform of the political parties. The business community seems to be more vocal than anybody else in this respect. But why don't they ask for reform of their own world -- trade, business, loan default, labour relations, tax policy, anti-adulteration law and so on -- so that nobody can easily get away without repaying the bank loan, nobody can adulterate food, produce fake medicine, import animal feed for human consumption, evade tax or siphon money out of the country by under or over-invoicing, or exploit his employees. They won't. Why would they if they can make the politicians the scapegoat?

We see some retired bureaucrats and police personnel also joining hands with others in condemning the politicians indiscriminately and wanting the caretaker government to go for rigorous political reform. Why don't they ask for reform of the administration also? Nobody will say that they are all clean. Not least those who had the misfortune of going to them empty-handed.

We will probably serve the nation better, if we look at our own face in the mirror first before we point fingers at others. #

Husain Imam is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star

Don't be dazed and confused over Yunus's recent statements


Please do not be dazed and confused over Dr. Yunus's soliloquy. He is merely acting out his role in the drama.

Do you care to know that Dr. Yunus met Fakhruddin in Jamuna House, the CA’s residence, on February 10 (Saturday) for hour and half (7 to almost 9:00 pm)? The information secretary of the CA, Syed Fahim Munim, was unaware of this unscheduled meeting between the two. But Ajker Kagoj, one of the leading vernacular newspapers in Bangladesh, reported that they received information about the meeting from Jamuna House source. No body knows what they talked about. I am characterizing this meeting as an unscheduled one or else the CA's information secretary would have known about it.

Think for a moment, if Hasina or Khaleda would have met Dr. Fakhruddin in Jamuna House, it would be talk of the town. But Dr. Yunus is immune from public scrutiny. He has certainly earned this distinction through his work for ostensibly removing poverty from Bangladesh.

Dr. Yunus is a very influential person in Bangladesh and there is no doubt whatsoever about it. After returning from his ten-day trip, he announced it before the press right at the airport that he is now mentally ready to join the politics. I am very surprised that the authority allowed him to talk about it in public because no one is allowed to talk about politics in public as per some guidelines published in newspaper by the government in the aftermath of the declaration of emergency. If any other person in Bangladesh would have mentioned that he or she wanted to float a party at this time, he or she could have landed in jail. But it is a different matter with Prof. Yunus who could get away with committing a murder in Bangladesh, to speak metaphorically, of course.

On January 31, 2007, Dr. Yunus have said that he does not feel comfortable being in politics but he thought if masses want him to join politics, then he will do so. After returning from his recent trip to India and Bahrain, in the airport he openly said that he thought he is mentally prepared to immerse him in politics. However, the caveat is that he does not want to be the ceremonial figure head - the president. Clearly, he is indicating that he wants to be an elected Prime Minister.

Yes, merely by observing what was going on in Bangladesh in the wake of emergency, and especially how our Nobel laureate was behaving publicly, saying inane things, it was becoming increasingly clear that the power behind this interim government is supporting a third force to contest in the up-coming election and legitimately come to the power. This is the blueprint of Lt. General Moeen U. Ahmed and the military establishment.

To figure out what is going to happen tomorrow in the political front in Bangladesh, all one has to do is watch Dr. Yunus with who he talks and what he says to the press. There is however serious inconsistency in what Dr. Yunus had said thus far. In December 2006 when the masses all over Bangladesh protested against the staging of one-sided election on January 22, 2007, Dr. Yunus sided with the BNP leaders while demanding that the election be held on January 22 rain or shine. He thought that this demand for holding election within 90 days after caretaker government is sworn is glued to the constitution of Bangladesh. But now he is saying that the second caretaker government does not have to hold the election anytime soon. There is a serious doubt about the legitimacy of a caretaker government under emergency. The concept of caretaker government as I understand is applicable to normal time. However, the concept of a caretaker government under emergency rule is not within the purview of Bangladesh constitution. I have never seen Dr. Yunus criticizing this infringement of the constitution. Don’t get me wrong, I merely thought he is an ardent defender of constitution; however, now he is openly condoning the gross violation of the constitution and this hardly ruffles feather in him.

Oh, one more thing about Dr. Yunus, which needs elaboration. This is very odd that Dr. Yunus had excoriated the politicians with his blanket statement that all politicians in Bangladesh are it for money. If there is an ounce of truth in it, then one would assume that Dr. Yunus would distance himself from politics. But then, Dr. Yunus says one thing but his action does not jibe with his statement. Whatever prestige he had earned in Bangladesh through his work on poverty alleviation by implementing micro-credit loan to poor women, he is now about to fish in trouble water. It is an adage very popular in Bengal that to fish water one has to wade through water. In all possibilities, our Nobel laureate is going to get wet. Politics in Third World nation by nature is not a clean spectator’s sports and he should think twice before joining the same.

Taking all these recent development concerning Dr. Yunus into account, I am very certain that a conspiracy is being hatched in the corridors of power afforded by the military, Chief Advisor, council of advisors, leaders of the so-called Civil Society to block political parties from assuming power in Dhaka. Whether Dr. Yunus has joined the conspiracy unwittingly or not, is a subject of debate. The drama is not finished yet; therefore, look for other actors to join the play. You never know what might open. The politics of Bangladesh is as capricious as Dr. Yunus. Therefore, stay tuned for more to come. #

Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Global Human Rights Defence Report

“With intent to destroy?”
Rape as Genocide under International Criminal Law - the Case of Bangladesh


This research analyses the concept of genocidal rape as a crime under substantial international criminal law. There is yet no consensus in the debate and jurisprudence of contemporary substantial international criminal law as to the definition and scope of rape as a genocidal act but as this paper will illustrate, there is a discrepancy particularly between traditional defenders of fundamental legal principles like nullum crimen sine lege and the heterogeneous feminist critique. Another objective is to discuss whether or not the rapes that have been taking place in Bangladesh post the 2001 elections, when the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) came to power, may be classified as acts of genocide under substantial international criminal law. The relevance of such a is evident; Bangladesh signed the Rome Statute in 1999 and accordingly, the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over the crime of genocide in respect to Bangladesh. In order for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to exercise jurisdiction over this crime in the future, it is essential that such definition is established. This paper constitutes a contribution to the debate with intent to emphasise the importance of the ICC continuing its future expansion of the investigation of the crime of genocide in a gender sensitive manner.

“The Bangladesh National Party (BNP) came into power through the National Parliamentary elections in October 2001(*1). Together with the Jamaat-e-Islami, Jatiya Party (Naziur) and Islami Oikya Jote they captured a two-thirds majority of seats in Parliament and they could establish a four party coalition. BNPs former Chairman Khaleda Zia took the oath of office as the 11th Prime Minister of Bangladesh on October 10th, 2001. Due to accusations of election misconduct the opposition party, Awami League (AL), initially boycotted the new government and the elections were followed by political instability and country wide violence(*2). After the elections the violence against minorities has greatly increased according to journalist reports, human rights organizations and other observers in the country. An estimated 500,000 persons belonging to the minorities have fled to India after the 2001 elections(*3). In particular, Jamat e Islami has proclaimed that their objective is to set up a Sharia State. Militants aspire to converse the religious minorities to Islam, or otherwise force them to leave the country(*4). In addition to the killings, looting, forced conversions, kidnappings and arson, hundreds of women irrespective of age were allegedly raped immediately after the elections(*5). Gang rape is possibly one of the most cynical and heinous of crimes, but yet an efficient tool in the form of personal punishment, frightening and destroying entire communities.”

Concluding Remarks
“[…]there are certainly clear indications that may lead to the conclusion that those rapes could constitute genocide under the ICC statute, article 6 (b). It has been my ambition to illustrate that the rapes in Bangladesh are taking place in a context of general structural discrimination and that the state appears unwilling or unable to acknowledge and/or take action. […] I can conclude that violence against women [rapes] in Bangladesh will not end until firstly, the general structure of discrimination against minorities and women is acknowledged and secondly, the notions and practices of male dominance are challenged, deconstructed and ultimately transformed. As a signatory to the CEDAW and to the ICC Statute, the ultimate responsibility for such endeavors as expected lies within the individual State. Unless the state of Bangladesh takes immediate action to acknowledge these atrocities and expresses its full commitment to bring them to an end, there might be indications that support the claim that the rapes in Bangladesh are committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part the Hindu group as such. #

*1 The elections were held on the 1st of October, 2001. Awami League (AL), winners of the June 1996 parliamentary elections, peacefully handed over the control to a nonpartisan caretaker administration on July 15, 2001. Source: National democratic Institute

*2 For information on the 2001 elections See Azad 2003:9, and National Democratic Institute violence after the elections see, inter alia GHRD 2005. The minority human rights situation in Bangladesh, Amnesty International 2001 5 Dec. ”Bangladesh: Hindu minority must be protected”.

*3 See, inter alia, GHRD 2005. The minority human rights situation in Bangladesh s.5 Amnesty International 2001 5 Dec. ”Bangladesh: Hindu minority must be protected”. MER NOTER

*4 GHRDInvestigative Report Bangladesh. Rape of Adolescent Girl (15): Impunity for most Perpetrators Case no: 20051103-BD-02. Date of Investigation: 3rd and 4th of November, 2005. Rabindra Gosh. Report available at

*5 See, inter alia, GHRD 2005. The minority human rights situation in Bangladesh, and writings by Dr Ajoj Roy,, Human Rights Watch 2003. World Report.

Jenny Lundström is Human Rights Officer of The Netherlands based Global Human Rights Defence

Contact: Global Human Rights Defence, Javastraat 58, 2585 AR The Hague, The Netherlands Phone: +31 70 345 69 75, +31 70 345 34 11, Fax: +31 70 392 65 75, Cell: +31 6 164 94 311, url:, e-mail : Link:

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bangladesh - journalists harassed after exposing democratic accountability of politicians

Annual Report 2007
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Paris

Journalists in Bangladesh suffer constant assaults and death threats because they tirelessly expose nepotism and corruption among local politicians.

A perpetual political crisis prevented the press from working normally in 2006. Politicians pursued numbers of abusive defamation cases, putting journalists at risk of arrest. But for the first time in several years, no journalists were killed while doing their job.

Although no journalists lost their lives in 2006, there were almost daily violent attacks on the press by political militants, criminal gangs or the security services. Militants in the ruling political parties, especially the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) were behind the majority of press freedom violations. Threats, beatings, torchings and abusive legal action were all put to use by deputies and ministers in Khaleda Zia’s government in a bid to silence the press. Threats forced more than 30 journalists to flee cities run by the BNP during 2006.

Nearly 25 news correspondents were targeted for intimidation for writing articles seen by armed groups as “un-Islamic”. After a long period of playing down the existence of jihadist groups within the country, the government, through its Interior Minister, Lutfuzzaman Babar, was forced to admit the extent of the danger they represent. However, it was this same minister and his predecessor who had cracked down on journalists and human rights activists who were investigating this new threat.

Police and the justice system also lacked determination and efficiency in pursuing investigations or trials connected to the murders of journalists Manik Shaha, Humayun Kabir Balu and Dipankar Chakrabarty, in 2005, mostly in the Khulna region. On the other hand, in March, police arrested the chief suspect in the murder of Gautam Das, of Dainik Shamokal who was killed in 2005. At the same time, the courts handed down sentences against 12 defendants in the 2004 murder of Kamal Hossein, of the daily Ajker Kagoj. Five of them were members of the BNP.

Daily violence
Despite an apparent commitment to press freedom, Prime minister Khaleda Zia has proved incapable of curbing the daily incidents of violence against the press. This has made it extremely difficult for them to freely cover crucial subjects, such as collusion between political leaders and organised crime, corruption or human rights violations. In March, members of the BNP youth movement beat up 11 journalists at an opposition press conference in Sharishabari, in the north-west. In May, 25 journalists were injured in Kushtia, (western Bangladesh) by henchmen of deputy in the ruling party Shahidul Islam, as journalists demonstrated against an assault on three colleagues a few days earlier. BNP MP Manjurul Ahsan Munshi had beaten up journalist Mizanur Rahman Kawser in Comilla, in the south-east in September. Kawser was also arrested and freed later on bail. A few weeks before, members of the politician’s family forcibly prevented the holding of a conference on press freedom in the constituency.

Reporters and photographers struggled to do their job during the many street demonstrations which marked the country’s political life in 2006. Fifteen journalists were injured at the end of October, either by police or demonstrators in Dhaka, Rajshahi and Mohonganj. Eight others were hurt in the capital, including Shafique Kajol, an experienced reporter from the Daily Shamokal, who was viciously beaten by members of the opposition Awami League.

Some journalists were threatened both by extremist groups and by the authorities. Editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury of the Weekly Blitz, who spent several months in prison in 2003 for “sedition”, was targeted in July when two bombs exploded outside the weekly’s offices. Then in October he was attacked in his office by unknown assailants. Police have always refused to protect the Weekly Blitz, despite threats from the radical Khatmey Nabuat (KNM) movement. Shoaib Choudhury is still facing the charge of sedition for having written articles on the role of the media in dialogue between Muslims and Jews, and for trying to travel to Israel.

Despite violence and harassment, the media, and in particular the national dailies, continued to investigate the corruption and nepotism which undermine the entire country. As well as the BBC World Service, there are two independent radio stations broadcasting on FM. The country has eight privately-owned TV channels but their licences are always conditional on a degree of submissiveness towards the government.

Abusive complaints brought against the press
The privately-owned press was confronted with a significant rise in defamation cases in 2006 - more than 40 - launched by BNP deputies or ministers. Former minister, Mirza Abbas took legal action against six publications. A total of 18 publishers and journalists faced legal action over articles deemed to be “defamatory”. One of whom called, Shahadat Chowdhury, had died two years earlier.

Control of news was stepped up at the highest political level. An advisor to Khaleda Zia is still head of the country’s sole terrestrial TV station, NTV, and of a new daily Admar Desh (My Country). These two media, which have huge financial resources, only showed any views critical of the government in the run-up to general elections in January 2007. #

Who should run the country, civil society, politicians or military?


Right before Mrs. Zia and her trusted lieutenants were getting ready to handover power to President Iajuddin Ahmed and the caretaker government that was about to be formed, I wrote an article where I mentioned that the military was about to take power. Well, it was a bit early on my part to make that prediction.

The new caretaker government lasted for about 75 days or so. Within these 10 gruelling weeks Iajuddin single-handedly had wrecked the semblance of a government. Nothing was working and the country was about to embrace anarchy. Under this dire backdrop the military-backed government of Fakhruddin Ahmed was installed.

Mrs. Zia and her lieutenants knew what has already happened. Their man, Iajuddin, was hijacked by the leaders of the arm forces by the end of the first week of January 2007. Since January 12 an invisible and invincible wall was created between Iajuddin and the BNP leaders. Right after the installation of Fakhruddin government I read it in a newspaper article that Mrs. Zia lamented by saying she never thought that this group (read military establishment) could do such a thing against her party.

Mrs. Zia's archenemy, Hasina Wajed, quite did not follow the plot of the drama that was unfolding right before her eyes. Gleefully, she and party’s top leaders went to Governor's palace to attend the oath-taking ceremony of Fakhruddin Ahmed. Later, Fakhruddin Ahmed formed a council of advisors from the civil society. Among them were few of his relatives, Barrister Mainul Hosein and few other members of the civil society. Incidentally, Mainul Hosein whose paper New Nation was the mouthpiece of BNP has suddenly became a vocal critic of all the politicians.

It took about a week before the news of the nexus between military and the caretaker government was revealed in a newspaper article published in London. Almost 3 weeks have passed by since the new caretaker government assumed the power. Some observers still think that it was a silent coup by the military. This government of Fakhruddin is certainly acting like a government run by a junta. First, they have gone after petty criminals before realizing that to become a very popular government they have to arrest the godfathers of criminals - who are none other than the politicians. It is every bit possible that soon we will hear the news of the arrests of politicians from both BNP and Awami League. The game is in the first innings to use the cricket metaphor.

As the days will pass by, we will hear less and less of the upcoming election, which Awami League wants so desperately to take place. The leaderships of Awami League think that they will easily breeze through the election. But the reverse is true for BNP. Remember how desperate Mrs. Zia and her lieutenants were asking the EC to hold the election on January 22, 2007 rain or shine? Now they do not talk about an early election. They are scared stiff thinking when the axe is about to fall on their head.

The military-backed interim government will do everything to delay the election. They will create an opinion with the help of the leaders of the civil society to delay the election. In the meantime, the Fakhruddin Ahmed Administration goaded by the military leaders will arrest top political leaders on the ground of corruption charge and which will stick this time around. As per the hidden agenda, both the BNP and AL will be weakened severely. When an election time nears and god almighty only knows when it will come, a strong third party led by civil society members will be floated. And where do I see the telltale sign of it? Please read the news of what the Grameen Chief says these days.

Today (January 31, 2007), I read in several newspapers published from Dhaka that Dr. Yunus now says that if circumstances arise he will join politics. However, he is not interested in becoming the president because to him it is a ceremonial position sans real power. This tells me that Dr. Yunus would love to become the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Now, how could he become the chief of the executive branch? Well, the answer is through a general election. My hunch is that the civil society will ask him to run for the position of MP on behalf of the civil society party (they will surely come up with a catchy name for it). That newly formed party will have the full blessings of military and if and when the party becomes victorious they will run the government. The party's main agenda will be to wipe out crime from the society through enforcing stricter laws. Unquestionably, the majority of Bangladesh's people will support the candidates from this party.

The present caretaker government will delay the election using such valid reasons as preparing a correct voters' list, printing photo ids for the voters, creating an atmosphere for a just and fair election. These are undoubtedly noble goals and who would oppose the government who are hell-bent on just doing these.

I also read newspaper reports on High Court's order for not holding the election for 3 months. As you could see, the signs are very clear for not holding the election anytime soon.

Come to think of it, Bangladesh may follow the Turkish model where the military is the big defender of secularism. I remember very clearly a year or two ago when a Turkish parliamentary member wanted to wear her modesty head gear while attending the legislative session. The military opposed her move thinking that her desire to wear Islamic dress was affront to the spirit of secularism and modernism. I am not saying that Bangladesh military will go that far near term. But from now on, no political group or party will be able to go to power with the support of the military.

Please read the news with wide open eyes and you will see that certain members of the civil society are already jockeying for position. The CPD and its leadership are openly doing this. Please do not get the impression that I am advocating the direct interference of the military in Bangladesh's politics. I am however just making an educated guess about what is in store for my motherland, say a year or so from now. #

A.H. Jaffor Ullah is a social researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA

Monday, February 05, 2007

Road Map to Good Governance in Bangladesh


Democracy cannot flourish in the absence of good governance. The pre-condition for good governance is effective democratic institutions for democratizing the society. Improvement of the living standard of people cannot happen where people cannot participate in governance, human rights are not respected, information does not flow, and civil society and the judiciary are weak. Nine criteria of good governance may be used to determine whether any country qualifies to have good governance are:


I would propose these Nine components to be referred as the Nine I's of good governance or Nine 'I' model of good governance. In the absence of these Nine I's good governance in Bangladesh like any other country will be a far cry. These components constitute the foundations of modern democracy and create the underpinning to establish free economy and spur domestic and foreign investment, specially the potential investment of the Non Resident Bangladeshis ( NRB's) particularly in the case of Bangladesh.

It is not true that only elections lead to a democracy. Democracy should be home work (Manifesto) of the political parties where they ought to outline their ideas and concept of democracy they want to offer to the citizens in lieu of their votes. The political parties should make it vividly transparent as to how and when they will apply their policies for establishing a democratic society ensuring parity, rule of law, equitable distribution of wealth, social justice, freedom of speech and thought if voted to power. The political philosophy and the commitment of the political parties should be expressed in the form of party manifesto much ahead of elections for empowering the voters so that they can make informed decisions before casting their votes during the elections. In Bangladesh, unfortunately the practice of presenting the manifesto of the political parties are not transparent and as such it may be stated that political commitment of the parties to the people is also not transparent which gives the parties a space to shift form their commitments and promise after the election.

Sound policies and their execution are essential pre-condition of development. Good Governance necessarily means govern justly, invest in the people, and encourages private economic enterprise.

Bangladesh is yet to promote principles of good governance, and initiative of our civil society reinforces the need for good governance. Through cooperative ventures of our parliament, judiciary, executive organ of the state along with the civil society it is possible to enact policies and design the governance so that human dignity and freedom are allowed to flourish. Some of the principles of good governance date back to the time of ancient Greece . Others are principles developed in more recent years, or lessons learned from our own history and that of other democracy practicing societies. Broadly speaking, good governance promotes fundamental and universal human rights. As per constitution of Bangladesh , the political power lies with the people (Article 7). Principles of good governance allow people to pursue their lives in a just, equitable and democratic society. Countries like Bangladesh need the tools to educate their citizens to take part in the opportunities offered by the global economy. We need to do hard work to eradicate corruption.

Perhaps the most basic and important principle of good governance is that a nation's political institutions be democratic. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, democracy is a form of government "of the people, by the people, and for the people." This means that the rights and principles of democratic government can and should be universally applied. They are not a uniquely American invention. The right of every person to speak freely about his government is a basic human right to overcome bad governance even by a elected government by the party, for the politician and nothing for the people. The right of any citizens to express his opinion about his government is one that is supported by the doctrine "Rule by the Ruled" as has been recognized by nations all over the world. Now let us examine the Nine I's of Good governance

Independent and Non Partisan Election Commission is a precondition for free & fair participative elections to elect public representative to the parliament. Elections, however, are not the only cornerstone to democracy. Accountable leadership and fulfillment of the will of the people are essential to ensuring that elections are a means to a democratic society, not an end in themselves. It is critical that a nation's elections be free and fair in level plane ground. This means that every citizen have a equal access and opportunity to compete to become public representative. Voters have a choice among candidates and that they have a right to information concerning those candidates' background.

Free and fair elections are open and transparent to all people without discrimination based on sex, religion, or race. Such elections are not restricted by government interference and coercion by money and muscle. The right to free and fair elections should be guaranteed by independent nonpartisan election commission having appropriate capabilities and skill to deliver honest acceptable elections. And such elected government can only be held accountable to their citizens. Voters should be able to participate freely in the political process, whether through political parties or independent candidates.

Another criterion of good governance is independent judiciary, important for preserving the rule of law. It is very essential to have a strong judiciary and courts to ensure that a nation's laws are enforced constantly and fairly. All organs of government must be law abiding. The rule of law also is the basis for the formation of business enterprises and the establishment of a free market, which underpin economic development. Citizens or their elected representatives should be involved in all levels of lawmaking including the local government.

Another characteristic of good governance is the presence of constitutional limits on the political power. Such limits include transparent, creditable, periodic elections, guarantees of Fundamental Rights, guarantees of Human Rights by a independent judiciary, which allows citizens to seek protection of their rights and redress against government actions. These limit help make government departments accountable to each other and to the people. Accountability is another characteristic that is considered globally for the eligibility when determining whether a country practices good governance.

Not only should the law be enforced, but it should also be enforced fairly and without any sort of discrimination. Good governance means equal protection for all without any discrimination of sex, cast, creeds, and race. An open and easy access to judicial and administrative systems. A nation's courts should not be open to only a select few. Government agencies should allow appeals of regulations as well as citizen participation in their decision-making process, and citizens should be granted access to these bodies in a timely and easy manner. Governments also have a duty to protect their citizens from criminal violence, especially the practice of trafficking of persons. Women, girls and children are most vulnerable to this illegal trade, which can only be stopped by diligent law enforcement. Respect for the Citizens & rights' relating to personal privacy is a far cry in a weak democracy like Bangladesh .

To function properly, a democratic society must ensure free exchange of information and ideas. This is best realized in the creation of a free and open media and the freedoms of speech and expression. A free and independent media provides voters with the information they need to make informed decisions. It facilitates the exchange of political discourse, creating an "open place for ideas" where no view is neglected and the best are chosen. Free Media can also serve as a check on government power ensuring that bureaucracy, public officials and government departments remain accountable to the voters. The media's ability to report on trade and industry and the economy is also important for preserving public trust in the free economy and for attracting domestic and foreign investment including the potential investment of the NRB's. The right of the free media to publish, to editorialize, to criticize, and to inform is a fundamental principle of democracy.

Good governance also means combating corruptions, and countries can not be considered having good governance, if they are corrupt. To preserve the integrity of democracy, governments must strive to rid themselves of corruptions and bribery. Corruption destroys economic foundations, impedes the ability of developing countries to attract foreign investment. Corruption hinders the growth of democratic institutions, and concentrates power in the hands of a few having money and muscle. The best way to combat corruption is for governments to be open and transparent. Official Secrecy Act must not be abused. While in certain cases governments have a responsibility to retain secrecy and confidentiality regarding national security and alike issues. Strong laws against corruption, application of such laws and the actions of law enforcement agencies that work against corruption demonstrate a government's commitment to this principle.

Good governance requires that governments invest in their people and work to preserve the welfare of their citizens, without regard to gender, race or religion. Governments should invest in health care, nutrition, housing, education, and poverty elevation. They should ensure an economic environment where people can find jobs and establish business enterprises. Along with other measures, a government's ability to provide job and a high standard of living for its people is considered by the democratic world in determining governmental effectiveness. The importance of the other Four – I's i.e., Independent and Effective Parliament, Independent Human Rights Commission, Independent Ombudsman System, Investment Friendly Government could not be discussed here due to limitations of space which I have intention to discuss later in some other articles of mine.

Only practicing these components (Nine- I's) of good governance results in a democratic society where people can pursue their hopes and aspirations. This will facilitate the creation of free markets, which are trusted by investors and financial institutions. Good governance is a pre-condition for any economic development. Development cannot flourish where people cannot participate in governance, human rights are not respected, information does not flow, and civil society and the judiciary are weak. UNDP and the World Bank, among others, have come to realize that development assistance that focuses only on economic governance at the expense of democratic governance fails. The proof is that, 42 of the 49 high human development countries on the UN Development Index are democracies (UNDP source). With few exceptions, all of the world's richest countries have the world's most democratic governance.

The fundamental rights and the standard of living of Bangladeshi citizens will be enhanced through good governance. But one has to remember the rule that no good governance – no democracy. Governments that govern rationally with the commitment of good governance become democratic and get support for their reform efforts from their people as well as from the democratic world. #

Prof. Syed Shamsul Alam is an Associate Professor of marketing at the University of Chittagong, & Chairman - Center for Good Governance. He lectured widely at University of Science & Technology, Open University, ABAC Thailand and also in Singapore.
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