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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Path to secularism


FOR MILLIONS of people in impoverished Bangladesh, it seems to have ushered a political blessing. The nation which fought a bloody war of independence in 1971 against Pakistan to establish secularism and democracy was obliterated by military juntas and autocratic governments.

Bangladesh's first constitution included secularism, democracy, socialism and nationalism as key political philosophy which reflects the spirit of independence war, when the eastern province severed from Pakistan in 1971.

After the assassination of the "founding father" Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in a military putsch in 1975, the military-backed government of General Zia-ur Rahman doctored the constitution's guiding principle and scribbled "Bismillah'ir Rahman'ir Rahim (Faith in Allah)" in 1979.

In an election strategy Mujib's daughter Sheikh Hasina led Awami League swept to power in 2008. Her party's electoral promises were restoration of secularism and trial of war criminals.

The Supreme Court in its landmark verdict forbids political parties which advocates Islamic philosophy. The apex court also asked to reinstate the four key principles in the constitution which existed 38 years ago.

Law Minister Shafique Ahmed claimed that there is no hindrance to reinstate "secularism in the constitution" as advised in the Supreme Court's ruling. "The amendments that were enforced by military orders during the four years of misrule have been declared illegal and repealed by the Supreme Court."

In two separate voluminous judgements in July and August, the court pulled down the Fifth Amendment of 1979 and Seventh Amendment of 1986, including provisions that allowed religious based politics, which was legitimized by tyrannical rules of military generals during the period of August 15, 1975 to April 9, 1979 and March 24, 1982, and November 10, 1986 respectively.

Another military junta leader General Husain Muhammad Ershad dared to rewrite the constitution which determines "Islam as state religion" of once secular Bangladesh.

The court in a latest ruling said seventh amendment retroactively legitimized the very acts that successfully engineered the coup spearheaded by then Chief of Army staff Lt. Gen. H.M. Ershad after over-throwing an elected president Justice Abdus Sattar in March 1982.

The higher court judges noted, "The proclamation of martial law and its regulations and orders and all actions under this law shall remain illegal until Qayamat (the Judgment Day).

"The martial law was beyond the mandate of the constitution and will be invalid for eternity," and said "a usurper is a usurper." It is deemed that the judgement squarely blamed both the Generals have acted as a usurper to grab the state power.

Earlier in July, the apex court in its verdict on the Fifth Amendment said, "The perpetrators of such illegalities should also be suitably punished and condemned so that in future no adventurist, no usurper, would dare to defy the people, their constitution, their government, established by them with their consent."

The court recommends "suitable punishment" to "extra constitutional adventurers", the predators of democracy who ushered military regimes and sanctioned martial laws.

General Zia was assassinated in a military coup d'état in 1982 and General Ershad overthrown in 1990 after bloody pro-democracy revolution. He served prison sentence for corruption but is key ally coalition of the ruling party.

Ershad promptly accepted the verdict, but confidently said there is no law to try an usurper.

Excited Shahriar Kabir, a secularist writer and staunch advocate for the trial of the war criminals said the people's mandate in the last general election for restoration of secularism and trial of perpetrators responsible for crime against humanity in 1971.

"Religious based politics was banned after brutal birth of Bangladesh. We have seen youths belonging to Jamaat-e-Islami were engaged as henchmen of marauding Pakistan military. They raised Al-Badr, a death squad to kidnap and murder hundreds of intellectuals who could not escape for their safety and security," he explained.

The journalist and film-maker Kabir said General Zia, after the assassination of President Mujibur Rahman in a bid to gain political support for his legitimacy of usurping power to the surprise of all, withdrew the ban on religious politics and allowed Islamic parties to regain grounds.

Most of his hand-picked cabinet ministers were drawn from Muslim League, Maoist and other rogue Islamic groups including those politically and physically opposed the birth of Bangladesh. Kabir said, incidentally most were blamed for their alleged involvement in crime against humanity.

General Zia despite being a Mukti Bahini (guerrilla force) commanding officer and took military assistance from India to liberate the country from the repressive rule of Pakistan, he did not hesitate to restore two-nation theory of independent Islamic states in Indian sub-continent. He also got rid of secularism and inserted Bismillah'ir Rahman'ir Rahim (Faith in Allah) in the constitution.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bangladesh is looking for a new identity


Shuva Bijoya Dashamai to you all, may Ma Durga keep this planet out of Ashurs(Devils).

SOMETIME DREAMS come true, let’s dream for a devil free secular Bangladesh. Man dreamed thousands of years about moon but physically touched it in 1969. Who knows one day Osama Bin Laden may submit himself to Lord Buddha or Mahatma Gandhi for eternal peace living behind Jihad and terror.

Human natural instinct is for love, truth and peace as said by Lord Buddha and Swami Vivekananda, hate and despise has to be planted to human mind from outside source by preaching devils doctrine. Due to strong political will of Bangladesh government, devils were not visible in Durga Puja Mandaps this year. There were few isolated incident but overall Puja flavor was festive.

This is my first Puja celebration in Bangladesh after 2001 minority massacre and living in exile for seven years in USA; beyond doubt atmosphere was the best since independence. All though Bangladesh is not a secular country, nor it will become ever, till minority Hindus has enjoyed their best in last forty years. The minorities and rights groups dream of European standard - equal rights for ethnic minorities, but we often ignore the past history, present reality and background of our politicians. Ironically our present best known secular Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina emphasized on equal rights of Hindus at Dhakeswari Temple this week chanting "Inshallah we will achieve equal rights for all minorities during our rule”.

Our national sprite is Inshallah and Mashallah, all state sponsored development projects foundation stones are engraved with the verses ”BISMILLAHHIR RAHAMANUR RAHIM”. Like basic democracy doctrine of former military dictator General Ayub Khan, Bangladesh is currently experimenting on a new doctrine of Islamic secularism. Under the new doctrine Jamaat-e- Islami and other radical Islamic political parties will be allowed to function with their name and title. If it succeeds present government will be credited internationally for the discovery.

The best chance to become a secular nation was lost in 1972, when a war winning popular secular government established Islamic Foundation and joined Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) summit at Lahore in 1974 without any reasons whatsoever; to do so government even welcomed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to Dhaka thus the journey to radical Islam began in Bangladesh. In 1972 the fate of secularism and minorities were decided by our national leaders, even they didn't abort the Enemy Property Act of 1965 rather re-imposed it as Vested Property Act to help extradition of minorities from Bangladesh.

So what is the future of minorities in Bangladesh? They will ultimately diminish from the country but will take a little longer time than Pakistan and Afghanistan. The danger to democracy and existence will emerge more visibly with the diminishing minority population, once the land is free of non Muslims there will be wide spread race between radicals in the society like Afghanistan/Pakistan and that will ultimately spread over the sub-continent and threat global peace.

Secular multicolor society is the safety valve for democracy in the world, that’s why Europe and America with 100% Christian population in their country encourages different cultural background immigration, but we do the opposite. #

First published on October 17, 2010

Sachin Karmakar is a liberation veteran, a war course officer. He recently returned to Bangladesh living in exile in United States

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Crimes in Bangladesh: Begum Khaleda’s charge sheet against Shiekh Hasina

An Analyst

THE SYMBOLISM in Begum Khaleda Zia’s public rally in Dhaka was difficult to miss. So is the charge sheet she has unveiled against her arch rival Begum Sheik Hasina. The day was March 29. It marked the 39th anniversary of liberation of Bangladesh. The rally was Khaleda’s first public appearance after the Awami League (AL) led Grand Alliance’s came to office in January 2009. The day also marked the launch of long in the works trial of war criminals.

Khaleda was no where on the political scene at the time of liberation. Her husband was a major in the Pakistan army. Ziaur Rahman, who went on to become the army chief and head of the country, was among several voices that had announced liberation of the country over the East Pakistan Radio (EPR). Khaleda takes pride to shine in the reflex glory of the ‘rich’ liberation legacy. So, when she took the podium at the Laldighi Maidan rally, the former prime minister was at her patriotic best. She shredded Hasina government into pieces.

She prefaced her remarks with the observation, ‘It is my husband, not Mujibur Rahman, who announced the country’s liberation (on the radio). It is not my claim. All papers at home and aboard said so’.
Khaleda’s critique of Hasina government is:
*AL - led government tells lies; it targets political opponents and slaps cases against them; efficient in signing agreements but poor in implementation
*The government stinks in corruption; country’s independence is not safe in AL hand.
*Some ambitious Army officers with former Army chief Gen Moeen U. Ahmed in the lead have grabbed state power.
*Former Chief Adviser to Caretaker Government, Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed and Gen Moeen set Awami League in state power
*Parliamentary elections in December 2008 were stage managed by Gen Moeen U Ahmed and Fakhruddin to keep BNP out of power.
*Prime Minister Hasina, during her India visit, handed over Chittagong, Mongla Port and corridor to India.

Since these allegations were made by a person who was a former prime minister herself, there is need to closely examine her charge sheet. Hurtling counter-charges at her and her family as some of the ruling alliance leaders appear to have done is neither fair nor proper for a healthy political discourse. But a caveat will be in order.

One the AL coalition, by the force of circumstances, has to deal with priority national issues with controlled aggression. Two Prime Minister Hasina and her colleagues came to power on the promise of trying war criminals, terrorists and corruption-syndicates who have been enjoying patronage in the country. Court cases against some of Khaleda Zia’s associates are a corollary to the mandate. But these ‘victims’ are in turn making wild allegations which have invited defamation suits against them.
In recent months the AL- led Government signed some milestone agreements and initiated MOUs with two regional powers - India and China. Ground has been created to resolve many long outstanding issues and improve relations with neighbours, particularly India. As a small country, Bangladesh, can not afford to keep its doors and windows closed for ever. Hasina is accountable to parliament for all her actions. Khaleda Zia does not attend parliament or attend any proceedings of parliamentary committees.

If she really feels so strongly against the Hasina government, the right forum for Khaleda to articulate her concerns is the floor of Parliament. It is also the right place where all concerns and charges should be backed by credible supporting evidence. Khaleda did neither.

The question is why the leader of the main opposition in the country didn’t come forward to substantiate her critique of the prime minister? It could either because she has no evidence to substantiate. Or she doesn’t have respect to Parliament as the House of the People, where the government of the day in a democracy is made to answer for all its acts of commission and omission to the satisfaction of the people.

Prime Minister Hasina has opened up the Chittagong and Mongla ports to India, Nepal, Bhutan and China. This was not done behind the back of Parliament. It was an act to secure the economic interests of the nation as never before. With more imports and exports through these two ports, Bangladesh economy stands to get tremendous boost.

Hasina government has removed bottlenecks to include Bangladesh in the Asian Highway Network. During the Khaleda rule Dhaka refused to sign the UN brokered 140,000 km network agreement. Its reasoning was that the highway when ready would provide badly needed transit facility to India between the north-east and eastern regions.
So, the BNP and its allies have reason to be angry with AL and its allies. Unlike them, Hasina and her colleagues did not see the Asian Highway through the tinted India Prism. In their considered view, the highway connecting 38 Asian countries and linking them with Europe through Turkey will open up tremendous opportunities for trade and commerce. It will also take Bangladesh closer to Europe which is the main destination for the garment exports.

This is the reason why the agreement the BNP-led regime refused to sign by Dec 31, 2005 had a ready taker in the successor government. Consequently, Bangladesh would also get the economic benefits of having ‘Trans Asian Railways’.

Now to the criticism that Gen Moeen and some other senior army officers helped the Awami League to come to power and are reaping the benefits. There is absolutely no doubt that Gen Moeen and his colleagues backed the caretaker government and helped in the conduct of general elections. Equally true is the fact that this very group of army officers was benefited largely from Khaleda rule.

Consider the facts. Almost to the fag-end of her second term as Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia named Gen Moeen U Ahmed as the army chief superseding many senior to him. She owes the nation an explanation why she had picked Gen Moeen by passing the seniority list. Today she may not like to remember but she ensured that her close relative Gen Mashududdin Chowdhury had a key position in the caretaker government.

But it is her hard luck that these ‘favoured generals’, who were handpicked for top jobs undid her carefully laid re-election plans by ensuring the neutrality of the army. Had Khaleda had her way, the country could have plunged into a civil war with the opposition not accepting the verdict. The international community hailed the December 2008 election as the most free and fair ballot. All right-thinking Bangladeshis also agree with this assessment.
As stated at the outset Khaleda Zia’s charge of corruption against Hasina must be investigated. If the allegations are unsubstantiated, the former prime minister in all fairness must apologise publicly. People have seen how the so-called ‘Islamic nationalism’ propounded by BNP and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami was used as a garb for one of the worst form of corruption in the country. Khaleda’s two sons became extra-constitutional authorities, ran the government, created a virtual mayhem, and siphoned off hundreds of millions of dollars.

Who announced on the radio the liberation of Bangladesh? This is not a brain teaser by stretch and there is enough evidence to show who made the announcement. Khaleda claims that her husband, Zia made the proclamation over the radio. Since Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was held in a Pakistani prison, my husband made the historic announcement, she says.

Without getting into a slanging match, it is essential to point out that Mujibur Rahman and Ziaur Rahman are not in the same league. In fact, after historic Mujib speech of 7th March 1971 there was nothing left to formally announce commencement of liberation war? The then East Pakistan Radio (EPR) broadcast Bangabandhu’s declaration of independence from midnight of 25th March, 1971. Several leaders big and small read the declaration through out March 26th on behalf of the Bangabandhu.

To his credit it must be said, Gen Zia never claimed credit for announcing the start of liberation war. Instead, he had publicly stated that he did it on behalf of the Bangabandhu.
Khaleda’s rule marked an upswing in the fortunes and reach of terrorists local and international. In her Laldighi Maidan address she did not touch upon the subject - how and why terrorists of all hues made Bangladesh a safe haven during her regime, how so many Pakistani and Indian terrorist organisations found helter in Bangladesh to run operations against India with impunity. She did not mention why her government could not take steps to smoke out the terrorists who had killed senior leaders like ASMS Kibria, Ahsanullah Master, Ivy Rahman and some noted journalists.

The audience expected Khaleda to focus on her government’s failure with the same zeal she was targeting the present government. Alas, she did not. Introspection is obviously not her fort. Otherwise, she would have spoken about her failure to track down terrorists who had made an assassination attempt on Hasina on August 21, 2004. Why did she send the sensational Chittagong arms seizure case to the cold storage?

People of the country want an answer to these questions. Also to another question -why her government could not explore and exploit natural resources or set up power plants to meet the country’s growing energy crisis. It is this failure of her government that is responsible for the power, water and gas crisis staring at the country today.
Khaleda’s charge sheet against the Hasina Government is, in fact, a veiled attempt to put spokes in the trial of her long- term allies – the war criminals of 1971. She has been a supporter and well wisher of the well known war criminals and Pakistani collaborators with whom she had earlier shared power. During her tenure as Prime Minister she did everything possible to thwart any move seeking trial of either the Mujib killers or the war criminals.

The former prime minister knows today people want to see the war criminals, anti-liberation elements and Pakistani collaborators brought to justice. She, therefore, cannot afford to openly defend the anti-liberation forces and thus run the risk of antagonizing the people. The nation is not short sighted; the visions of the people are not blurred. Khaleda Zia must stop stooping low. Neither spreading canards nor spewing venom is a time tested political tool. Either use or overuse will boomerang on the practioners.

First published by Policy Research Group-geopolitical intelligence, military strategic forecasting, terrorism, September 23, 2010

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Secular path

Photo: Secularist rejoice court verdict

WHILE BANGLADESH is a predominantly Muslim state, the current dispensation in the country is making efforts not to mix religion and politics.

When the movement for an independent state for the Indian Muslims in British India was gaining momentum in the beginning of the twentieth century, Bengali Muslims were in the forefront. In fact, the biggest political party of the Indian Muslims - Muslim League - was launched in 1906 from the city of Dacca (now Dhaka), which later became part of East Pakistan and is now the capital of Bangladesh. When Pakistan was created on August 14, 1947, irrespective of a vast distance between the two wings of the country, the spirit, zeal and the objective of every Pakistani were the same - to build a nation in the newly independent state and take the country to great heights of progress. Unfortunately, what followed after the independence did not auger well for building of a nation or the progress of the country due to the early loss of genuine leadership of the Pakistan Movement

The Quaid-e-Azam's vision of Pakistan, according to most historians, was that of a modern Muslim state with politics separated from religion and where citizens would be free to practice their religion without any discrimination on the basis of religion or caste. This was clearly defined in his speech of August 11, 1947. However, after the death of Mr. Jinnah the vision underwent a drastic change and the secular nature was converted into a religious version when the Constituent Assembly sat down to pass the Objectives Resolution in March 1949. In East Bengal the secular character of the state was appreciated by the intellectuals and the Hindus who were in good number but the four provinces of the western wing had a vast majority of religious and ultra- religious populace who did not approve of secularism.

The content of the Objectives Resolution did not go down well with the influential Hindus of East Bengal and the intellectuals whose opinion was respected by the leaders of that province. It was obvious that when Bangladesh was created after breaking away from the rest of the country in December 1971 the character of its constitution was bound to differ from that of Pakistan. Its Constitution passed in November 1972 declared "Bangladesh as a secular democratic republic where sovereignty rests with the people". The constitution named the newly born country as the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh and pledged "nationalism, secularity, democracy and socialism as the fundamental principles defining the Republic."

As the years passed and political changes took place in Bangladesh due to various factors, constitutional changes were forced to favor Islam. Amendments during socialist party and military rule in the country altered the secular and liberal democratic nature of the Constitution. Secularism was dropped and Islam made the state religion through the 8th Amendment. In 1977, during the era of President and Chief Martial Law Administrator Gen Ziaur Rahman a Presidential Decree later legitimized by the second parliament of Bangladesh emphasized, "absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah" and "the State shall endeavour to consolidate, preserve and strengthen federal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic solidarity." This was however undone in August 2005 when a Bangladesh High Court declared constitutional amendments during military rule as illegal and unconstitutional. Later in January 2010, after a legal battle, the Bangladesh Supreme Court upheld the verdict of the High Court thereby allowing restoration of the original nature of the 1972 Constitution which defines Bangladesh as a secular democratic country.

It is interesting to note that the verdict of the Bangladesh Supreme Court came during the tenure of Sheikh Hasina (Awami League) who had crushed her rival Begum Khalida Zia's party - Bangladesh Nationalist Party - and her ally Jamaat-e-Islami in the 2009 elections. With the judiciary at her back and the support of the armed forces, Sheikh Hasina is likely to dominate the political scene for years to come. It has been declared that religion and politics will remain separated. Most of the Islamic literature including the books of Maulana Abul A'la Maududi was banned.

It is a fact that successive post-Mujib governments have heavily depended on the support of the Bangladesh armed forces for survival. It is also a fact the Bangladesh armed forces traditionally draw on the Islamic heritage having no interest in secularism and the earlier change in secular character of the Constitution had their full support. The not-too-friendly stance towards India of a majority of officers and men, partly due to the poor treatment received from the Indians during and after the civil war and also the Chinese interest in keeping Bangladesh as a military equipment buyer, makes them consider China as a friend to depend on in case India ever had any aggressive designs against them.

India, too, has started viewing the Bangladeshis with suspicion after the border clashes between Indian Border Security Force and Bangladesh Rifles and the impact of growing Islamic fundamentalism in the region. Also, the rebellion of Bangladesh Rifles last year was an un-nerving experience for the regimes in Dhaka and New Delhi. As of today, it is obvious that the situation is such that Sheikh Hasina's government will need to tackle it with utmost care and sensitivity for the sake of stability in Bangladesh and the region. #

First published in Southasia magazine, September, 2010

Munir Ishrat Rahmani is a retired Colonel of the Pakistan Army. He writes regularly on current affairs and the social sector

Sunday, October 03, 2010

US Islamists Take Issue with Bangladesh's Crackdown on Radicals

Photo: Bangladesh born HuJI suspects detained in India 

A CRACKDOWN on radical Islamist political activity in South Asia is drawing the ire of American Muslim political groups which claim they stand against radicalism.

Bangladesh's democratic government has taken a series of steps to stem the tide of Islamic extremism since it won elections in December 2008. Most of the actions by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her party, the Awami League, target the radical Jamaat-e-Islami, a Pakistani-tied Islamist party which seeks to impose Sharia law in Bangladesh.
Among the steps taken:
• Four senior Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leaders, including the party's leader Maulana Motiur Rahman Nizami, were arrested in July in connection with mass killings and other war crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. The four reportedly led Islamist militias targeting pro-independence supporters and religious minorities. Bangladeshi sources claim the Pakistani army, with the aid of local collaborators, killed as many as 3 million people during the nine-month war that ended with the surrender of the Pakistani army and Bangladesh's emergence as an independent nation.
• A recent ban was imposed on books by Islamist scholar Maulana Syed Abdul Ala Maududi in mosques and libraries across Bangladesh. Maududi founded the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party in 1941 in Lahore, Pakistan, then part of British India. He is a leading pioneer of Islamic revivalism in South Asia and has been reported to be inspired by the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen or the Muslim Brotherhood, a global Islamic revivalist movement founded in Egypt in 1928 that seeks to establish a worldwide caliphate based on Islamic law. In one of those books, Let us be Muslim,Maududi preached that Muslims "must strive to change the wrong basis of government, and seize all powers to rule and make laws from those who do not fear God."
• Bangladesh's Supreme Court delivered a landmark verdict in July overturning a 1979 constitutional amendment legitimizing military rule and sanctioning the participation of religious parties in politics. "Secularism will again be the cornerstone of our constitution," said law minister Shafiq Ahmed. "Islamic parties cannot use religion in politics anymore." The country's highest court also ruled the use of religious fatwas to mete punishment "illegal and without legal authority."
• Earlier this year, police arrested Mohiuddin Ahmed and Syed Golam Mawla, top leaders of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a global Islamist movement that seeks to establish a worldwide Islamist caliphate ruled by Sharia. Both Ahmed and Mawla are professors at the prestigious Dhaka University and Ahmed is the chief coordinator of HuT in Bangladesh. The arrests followed the government's ban of the HuT in October last year.

Bangladesh—a nation with 140 million Muslims—is in the midst of waging a critical battle with Islamist terrorism. Absence of the rule of law, poverty and rampant corruption have made the country a safe haven for Islamic terrorist groups, including the Jamaat ul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB), Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), and Al Qaida-affiliated groups such as Harkat ul-Jihad-i-Islami-Bangladesh (HuJI-B), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and Lashkar-e-Tayibba (LeT).

The crackdown carries significant risks, Bangladeshi writer Jamal Hasan said in an interview with the Investigative Project on Terrorism. "There is a rising possibility of the ruling government heading for a violent confrontation with Islamist forces," he said. Hasan urged the U.S. to bolster its "intelligence sharing and counterterrorism operations" with the Bangladeshi government to avoid such a reaction.

Jammat Support Base in the U.S.
The Islamist JI party has a strong support base in the U.S. The Muslim American Society (MAS), an organization with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhoodheadquartered in Alexandria, Va., issued a press release that condemned the July arrests and "expressed grave concern over the human rights conditions in Bangladesh." It blasted the moves as "oppression of religious elements" and accused the democratically-elected government of a "descent into authoritarianism."

MAS' political and public relations wing, the Freedom Foundation, along with theAmerican Muslim Task Force (AMTF), later organized a rally outside the United Nations to protest the "arrest of key leaders of the Islamic Movement in Bangladesh (Jamaat-e-Islami), student activists, journalists and members of the political opposition."

Another important supporter of the JI in the U.S. is the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA). An article in the October 1996 issue of ICNA's publication The Message [International], supports the JI and its founder Maududi: "Using the organizational development methodology of [JI founder] Maulana Maududi and the Jamaat Al-Islami of Pakistan, which lays special emphasis on spiritual development, ICNA has developed a strong foundation." ICNA also promotes Maududi's books in the U.S. ICNA members have also been reported to be linked to individuals involved in war crimes perpetrated during Bangladesh's 1971 War of Independence.

Shaikh Muhammad Yusuf Islahi, a member of Jamaat's branch in India (Jamaat-e-Islami Hind) is a Chief Patron of ICNA's dawah or proselytizing project, WhyIslam, and was a featured speaker at the 34th ICNA-MAS convention in Hartford, Connecticut, in 2009.

Bangladesh and Global Jihadism
Bangladesh is slowly becoming an attractive haven for international terrorist groups, including Al Qaida. Pakistani groups such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) that are affiliated with Al Qaida reportedly have a presence in the country. Three Lashkar operatives were arrested last year from a madrassa in Chittagong, Bangladesh's main seaport and second-largest city. Rogue elements from within Pakistan's intelligence agency reportedly provided the support structure for Lashkar and other terror groups to operate in Bangladesh. Following increased security and counter-terrorist operations in Southeast Asia, Jemaah Islamiya leader and alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, Hambali, planned on shifting his operatives to Bangladesh. In fact Hambali was on his way to Bangladesh when he was arrested in Thailand in August 2003.

Despite the crackdown, the government still faces challenges from Islamic radicals and violent extremists seeking to destabilize the country's democratic institutions and establish Sharia law. The former government of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) included Islamist parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the Islami Oikya Jote ("Islamic Unity Front"). This situation helped expand the influence of Islamic radicals in Bangladesh and created space for terrorist groups to operate in the country with relative impunity.

The Islami Oikya Jote is alleged to have ties to the extremist HuJI-B, a group on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations. HuJI-B was founded in 1992 by Bangladeshi mujahedin returning from Afghanistan reportedly with assistance from Osama bin Laden. The organization is a signatory to bin Laden's 1998 fatwathat declared holy war against America and her allies. The group is also tied to theJanuary 2002 attack on the American Center in Calcutta.

JI, the other coalition partner in the former BNP coalition government, has ties to the radical extremist group Jamaat ul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB) that seeks to establish a Taliban-style government in Bangladesh and is believed to be behindthe spate of bombings across Bangladesh in 2005 that targeted high-profile judges, journalists, and politicians.

Foreign-Linked Islamist Charities Financing Religious Extremism in Bangladesh
Foreign-linked Islamist charities play a significant role in financing religious extremism in Bangladesh. After the August 2005 terrorist bombings, Bangladeshi intelligence agencies issued a report accusing Mideast-based NGOs operating in the country of funneling cash to extremist groups. The report exposed a "deep-rooted" nexus between the charities and leaders of the JI and the Islami Oikya Jote. Five foreign officials working for the charity Revival of the Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS) were deported from the country following the August attacks. Before joining the RIHS, the five had worked for Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation (AIF) in Bangladesh, a U.S.-designated Saudi charity linked to Al Qaida. In April 2006, the Central Bank of Bangladesh fined Islami Bank, the country's largest Sharia lender, for violating anti-money laundering laws by wiring funds to extremists.

There has been an explosive growth of madrassas (religious Islamic schools) in the country, several reportedly funded by Saudi charities. Madrassas have been known to provide weapons training in some remote parts of the country. The Chittagong Hill Tracts region of Bangladesh, for instance, is notorious for its radical madrassas and HuJI-B is alleged to run several training camps in the region. It has also beenreported that a staggeringly high proportion of army recruits come from madrassas, resulting in deepening Islamist penetration within the ranks of the Bangladeshi army.

Implications for the U.S.
There is growing concern in the United States over the threat from Islamic radicals and violent terrorist groups in Bangladesh, several of whom have ties to Al Qaida. The U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Terrorism released last monthnoted the rise of radical Islamist activity in Bangladesh and said that groups such as the JMB, HuJI-B, and LeT continued to pose a threat to security in the region.
U.S. and Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies have worked together in recent years on a number of cases related to domestic and international terrorism. The U.S. has also assisted the Bangladesh to strengthen control of its borders, the State Department report said. The United States also started human rights training for Bangladesh's lead counterterrorism unit, the Rapid Action Battalion.

In addition to direct assistance to anti-terrorism programs, education reform, including better oversight of Bangladesh's madrassas that serve as breeding grounds for radical Islamic extremism, must be a key U.S. priority. Washington must urge Dhaka to enact legislation that would "require financial transparency, curriculum reform, and compulsory registration of all madrassas," Hassan told the IPT. #

First published in Investigative Project in Terrorism, September 29, 2010

ABHA SHANKAR is research writer for IPT News

The Myth of the “International Basket Case”


SOMETIMES MYTH lives on without any attempt of being rectified. One such myth lived and thrived over more than three and a half decades, concerns the infamous statement depicting an emerging country, Bangladesh, as the “International Basket Case.” For more than three decades this myth has been erroneously attributed to Henry Kissinger having given birth to it.

This effort to debunking the myth is not to defend Henry Kissinger’s shenanigans during late sixties through mid-seventies. Rather, the aim here is to present the facts. The question is if Mr. Kissinger did not then who made that statement?

This issue was brought up in a Washington Special Group Meeting held in Washington D.C. on December 6, 1971. As the minutes of that meeting indicate, ambassador U. Alexis Johnson initiated the statement when the issue of an impending famine was brought up by a participant of the meeting, Mr Maurice Williams. As conversation went on, Mr U. Alexis Johnson at one point quipped “They'll (referring to East Pakistan) be an international basket case.” Mr Kissinger responded by saying “But, not necessarily our basket case.” An excerpt of the conversion was also published in a Time magazine article on January 17, 1972.[i]
Here goes a few excerpts from the minutes of the meeting:
Dr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Williams) Will there be a massive famine in East Pakistan?
Mr. Williams: They have a huge crop just coming in.
Dr. Kissinger: How about next spring?
Mr. Williams: Yes, there will be famine by next spring unless they can pull themselves together by the end of March.
Dr. Kissinger: And we will be asked to bail out the Bangla Desh from famine next spring?
Mr. Williams: Yes.
Dr. Kissinger: Then we had better start thinking about what our policy will be.
Mr. Williams: By March the Bangla Desh will need all kinds of help.
Mr. Johnson: They'll be an international basket case.
Dr. Kissinger: But not necessarily our basket case.
Mr. Sisco: Wait until you hear the humanitarian bleats in this country.
Kissinger’s vitriol (at loosing East Pakistan) is reflected in his response to Ambassador Johnson’s insensitive statement. As being the Chair of the meeting, instead of admonishing him, Mr. Kissinger, paranoid with the fear of communist takeover, seemed to take pleasure out of that insensitive statement about a country, which, at that time, was being subjected to one of the worst mass-murders, rapes, and human sufferings in the history of the world.

Labeling a country with such an epithet reflects the psyche of a disgruntled foreign policy expert, whose administration did everything from condoning the genocide of 1971, famine of 1974, overthrowing of an elected government to the brutal murder of the father of the nation along with his family members.

A recently published article titled “Bangladesh, 'Basket Case' No More Pakistan could learn about economic growth and confronting terrorism from its former eastern province” in the Wall Street Journal on September 29, 2010, brought up the issue in the fore. While the article praises many achievements of Bangladesh, the title, nonetheless, reflects the author’s predisposition in the belief of something that never was true. The fact of the matter is that Bangladesh has never been an “international basket case.” Thus, implying so is not only erroneous, but also insulting to the people of a nation born out of the sacrifice of millions.
Despite the wishful desires of Mr. Kissinger and alike, Bangladesh continues to thrive amid many obstacles. Successes in some areas have been so profound that they outshine many aspects of the development successes of India, dubbed as the ‘Asian Tiger’ for her phenomenal economic performance.

In the socio-economic front, Bangladesh has succeeded in lifting millions out of poverty, cutting fertility rate by more than half, lowering infant mortality rate by 75% and mortality of children under the age of 5 by 46%, all achieved only in less than three decades. It has also achieved gender parity in primary and secondary education enrolments and been able to raise primary enrollment rate to impressive 92% with completion rate standing at 72%. Real GDP growth has reached at an impressive 6.5% rate in 2007 with gradual improvement in inflation rate, high investment rates, high growth in export and remarkable macroeconomic stability.

In the political front, the citizens’ and government’s commitment to democracy, freedom and justice are reflected in various polls, data and actions of the government. For instance, during 1991-09 the Polity and the Freedom House indicators rank Bangladesh third in the status of freedom and fourth in the status of democracy among the Muslim majority countries in the world. Growing voter participation rates in the four successive parliamentary elections during 1991-08 reflect the rising electorates’ confidence in the democratic process.[ii] A Gallup World poll conducted in May 2007 showed 93% of the respondents revealing their confidence on a democratically elected government.[iii] Most recently, the country’s Supreme Court has outlawed the infamous 5th amendment, thus restoring the secular spirit on which the country’s liberation war was fought. The country’s commitment towards justice can be seen in the setting up of the long-sought War-Crime Tribunal to try the perpetrators of the Genocide in 1971.

True, political instability and many forms of institutional rigidities have been holding the country hostage to the whim of many special interest groups. Despite the influence of the special interest groups and against all odds of frequent strokes of natural disasters, unfavorable international support, frequent military intervention, and resource scarcity, the country has been able to pull through.

The evidence from socio-economic success, Gallup poll, Polity and Freedom House indicators, voters turn-out in elections, the Supreme Court verdict and the commencement of the War-Crime tribunal shows the freedom loving psyche of the citizens of the country, which seems to be unknown to many international media as reflected either in their patronizing tones and/or in the negative portrayal of the country.

Instead, with the records of the achievements, Bangladesh can be dubbed as the ‘Basket of Hope.’ #
[i] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976 Volume XI, South Asia Crisis, 1971, Document 235 (Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1) 1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–115, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive; Codeword. No drafting information appears on the minutes. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room. A briefer record of the meeting, prepared by James Noyes (OASD/ISA), is in the Washington National Records Center, OSD Files, FRC 330 76 0197, Box 74, Pakistan 381 (Dec) 1971. See also the link The link was visited on September 30, 2010.
[ii] Voter participation rates were 55.46%, 74.96%, and 75.59%, respectively, in 1991, 1996, and 2001 parliamentary elections (source: Bangladesh Election Commission website). In the most recent parliamentary election held in December 28, 2008, voter participation rate was 87%, showing strong enthusiasm among the citizens in the democratic process (Daily Star, January 1, 2009).
[iii] Lyons, Linda. Bangladeshis Positive, Despite Political Uncertainty: Citizens more likely to express confidence in their government and economy than a year ago. October 12, 2007. The document can be downloaded from the link and was last viewed on February 27, 2010.

ABM Nasir, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Economics with School of Business, North Carolina Central University, USA

Friday, October 01, 2010

Bangladesh, 'Basket Case' No More

Photo: Hundreds and thousands rural women in Bangladesh have been empowered through micro-financing programme for the disadvantaged population
Pakistan could learn about economic growth and confronting terrorism from its former eastern province.


NOT LONG ago, when you thought of a South Asian country ravaged by floods, governed by bumblers and apparently teetering on the brink of chaos, it wasn't Pakistan that came to mind. That distinction belonged to Bangladesh.

Henry Kissinger famously dubbed it a "basket case" at its birth in 1971, and Bangladesh appeared to work hard to live up to the appellation. For the outside world, much of the country's history can be summed up as a blur of political protests and natural disasters punctuated by outbursts of jihadist violence and the occasional military coup.

No longer. At a reception Friday for world leaders attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, President Barack Obama congratulated Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed for receiving a prestigious U.N. award earlier in the week. Bangladesh was one of six countries in Asia and Africa feted for its progress toward achieving its Millennium Development Goals, a set of targets that seek to eradicate extreme poverty and boost health, education and the status of women world-wide by 2015.

Bangladesh has much to be proud of. Its economy has grown at nearly 6% a year over the past three years. The country exported $12.3 billion worth of garments last year, making it fourth in the world behind China, the EU and Turkey. Against the odds, Bangladesh has curbed population growth. Today the average Bangladeshi woman bears fewer than three children in her lifetime, down from more than six in the 1970s.

The country's leading NGOs—most famously the microcredit pioneer Grameen Bank—have earned a global reputation. Relations with India are on a high. In August, Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee signed off on a $1 billion soft loan for Bangladeshi infrastructure development, the largest such loan in India's history.

Perhaps most strikingly, Bangladesh—the world's third most populous Muslim-majority country after Indonesia and Pakistan—has shown a willingness to confront both terrorism and the radical Islamic ideology that underpins it. Since taking office in 2009, the Awami League-led government has arrested local members of the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, the al Qaeda affiliate Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami-Bangladesh, and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, a domestic outfit responsible for a wave of bombings in 2005.

In July, the Supreme Court struck down a 31-year-old constitutional amendment and restored Bangladesh to its founding status as a secular republic. The government has banned the writings of the radical Islamic ideologue Abul Ala Maududi (1903-79), founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, the subcontinent's most influential Islamist organization. Maududi regarded warfare for the faith as an exalted form of piety and encouraged the subjugation of women and non-Muslims. A long-awaited war crimes tribunal will try senior Jamaat-e-Islami figures implicated in mass murder during Bangladesh's bloody secession from Pakistan.

Of course, it will take more than a burst of entrepreneurial energy and political purpose before Bangladesh turns the corner for good. The long-running feud between Prime Minister Wazed and her main rival, Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader Khaleda Zia, makes that of the Hatfields and McCoys look benign by comparison. The war of ideas against the country's plethora of Islamist groups requires the kind of sustained pressure that Dhaka has been unable to apply in the past. And garment exports notwithstanding, the economy remains shallow.

Despite these caveats, Bangladesh ought to be held up as a role model, especially for the subcontinent's other Muslim-majority state. Arguably no two countries in the region share as much in common as Pakistan and Bangladesh, two wings of the same country between 1947 and 1971. With 171 million people and 164 million people, respectively, they are the world's sixth and seventh most populous countries. Both have alternated between civilian and military rule. In terms of culture, both layer Islam over an older Indic base.

Yet when it comes to government policies and national identity, the two countries diverge sharply. As a percentage of gross domestic product, Islamabad spends more on its soldiers than on its school teachers; Dhaka does the opposite. In foreign policy, Pakistan seeks to subdue Afghanistan and wrest control of Indian Kashmir. Bangladesh, especially under the current dispensation, prefers cooperation to confrontation with its neighbors.

Perhaps most importantly, Bangladesh appears comfortable in its own skin: politically secular, religiously Muslim and culturally Bengali. Bangladeshis celebrate the poetry, film and literature of Hindus and Muslims equally. With Pakistanis it's more complicated. The man on the street displays the same cultural openness as his Bangladeshi counterpart, but Pakistan also houses a vast religious and military establishment that seeks to hold the country together by using triple-distilled Islam and hatred toward India as glue.

In a way their best known national heroes sum up the two country's personalities. For Bangladesh, it's Grameen Bank's Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, synonymous with small loans to village women. For Pakistan: Abdul Qadeer Khan, the rogue nuclear scientist who peddled contraband technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

Nearly 40 years ago, only the most reckless optimist would have bet on flood-prone, war-ravaged Bangladesh over relatively stable and prosperous Pakistan. But with a higher growth rate, a lower birth rate, and a more internationally competitive economy, yesterday's basket case may have the last laugh. #

First published in the Wall Street Journal, September 29, 2010

Sadanand Dhume, a columnist for, is writing a book about the new Indian middle class