Monthly Coupon

Friday, September 30, 2011

Bangladesh opposition comes heavily on delinquent anti-crime forces


IN AN unprecedented public statement, the main Bangladeshi opposition demanded on Tuesday that the country's police and elite anti-crime force officers be barred from United Nations peacekeeping missions.

Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson Khaleda Zia blamed the two law enforcement agencies for breach of human rights, including extrajudicial executions, illegal detention, custodial torture and kidnapping and disappearance of suspects.

Until August, Bangladesh was the largest contributor of peacekeepers in UN missions, with 2,076 police and 8,579 army personnel.

She also urged international organizations and foreign countries to decline providing training and arms supplies to Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and police forces, which she said would be used against the opposition.

New York-based Human Rights Watch last May urged Bangladesh to ban the controversial RAB for alleged extrajudicial executions and requested the United States and European Union members refrain for increasing the capacity of RAB, the government’s crime-fighting outfit.

Amnesty International in August called for a freeze on arms supplies to Bangladesh in a bid to stop the RAB and other security forces from using them for extra-legal execution of crime suspects.

The London-based rights group said the RAB has been implicated in the killing of at least 700 suspects since its inception in 2004 during the regime of now opposition leader Khaleda Zia.

At least 200 alleged RAB killings have occurred since January 2009 when the current Awami League government came to power, despite Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s pledge to end extrajudicial executions and claims by the authorities that no extrajudicial executions were carried out in the country in this period, said Amnesty International.

The former prime minister, Zia, warned the law enforcers not to act as “party goons” or they will have to face justice if her party is reelected in the general election planned in 2014.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

U.S. seeks Bangladesh help to secure Afghanistan

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns 

In a very rare gesture, United States on Monday sought Bangladesh assistance to secure and help in rebuilding civil strife riddled Afghanistan.

The U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns urged that relationship with Bangladesh is one of the highest priorities for the United States as it is closely working with Bangladesh in the areas of counter-terrorism, energy, food security, climate change adaptation.

Bangladesh senior officials at the meeting with U.S. government officials during a bilateral meeting with Bangladesh foreign minister Dipu Moni in New York in the sidelines of United Nations 66th General Assembly on Monday said the national sentiments is against sending troops to Afghanistan, according to sources.

In October 2010, Bangladesh unofficially declined Richard Holbrooke, U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan an extra-ordinary request last September to deploy large contingent of military troops to help secure Afghanistan against Taliban advances.

Quickly the dreaded Taliban fighters responded and threatened Bangladesh. The Taliban in a statement said that Bangladesh leaders having enough Islamic knowledge and political wit and believes that it will not commit a historic mistake to fight against Islam and against the Afghan people by sending soldiers to Afghanistan.

Scared by the militant’s threat, Bangladesh has made it clear it will not send its troops to Afghanistan while refuting reports that the US had requested the country to contribute soldiers to the war-torn nation.

Earlier, Bangladesh prime minister Shiekh Hasina said Bangladeshis has reservation regarding the U.S. and British led military intervention in Afghanistan.

Recently Bangladesh and United States relation deteriorated after Washington’s request for a respectable exit of micro-finance guru Professor Muhammad Yunus, from the position of Managing Director of Grameen Bank, he founded. His poverty reduction strategy is presently replicated in United States and equally a popular development initiative in most developing countries for empowerment of women.

Bangladesh overwhelming majority is Sunni Muslims and Talibans stated that the religious Muslim people of Bangladesh will not allow to assist the eternal enemy of Islam (meaning United States) against an Islamic neighboring country.

Afghanistan has been integrated into South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in 2007 and the region has strong ties with war-torn nation fighting the Islamic militants.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at

Monday, September 26, 2011

Muhammad Yunus’s New Idea: How Big Business Can Have a Big Social Impact


IN 2006, Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, had what he described as a “casual lunch” with Franck Riboud, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Groupe Danone dairy giant, in Paris.

From that lunch has grown an idea perhaps even more radical than microlending, which Yunus developed to transform lending for millions of poor, most of them women, across much of the developing world.

The Groupe Danone experiment most closely describes how Yunus’s vision works. Yunus worked with Danone to form Grameen Danone Foods to produce inexpensive yogurt for malnourished children. Hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi children in rural areas suffer from severe malnutrition, which weakens their immune systems and affects their growth and school attendance. The Grameen Danone product is designed to provide key nutrients like protein, vitamins, iron, calcium, zinc, etc.

“It took just a few minutes to convince [Riboud] that an investment in a social business is a worthwhile thing for Danone shareholders, even though it will not give any personal dividend to them,” Yunus says. “He agreed to the proposition immediately. It took somewhat more time to fix up the modalities, the product, the financing, tax and regulatory issues, new yardsticks for evaluating business and many other such details.”

Production started in February 2007 at the first factory at Bogra, 50 kilometers north of Dhaka. In line with Yunus’s vision, it was constructed in an environmentally friendly manner, harvesting rainwater to reduce the pressure on groundwater. Solar energy runs various machines.

It was Grameen’s first such partnership, set up with initial capital of $1 million. Danone was a lure for other companies to come forward to work with the Grameen family. So far, those that have followed include the French company Veolia Water to form Grameen Veolia Water, BASF of Germany to form BASF Grameen, Intel to form Grameen Intel and Adidas Group to form Grameen Adidas.

Yunus’s vision requires companies like Danone and the others to set up what amount to parallel companies that are aimed at achieving one or more social goals. The companies must cover all costs and make a profit while at the same time achieving social objectives such as improving health care, housing and financial services for the poor, nutrition for malnourished children, the provision of safe drinking water and the development of renewable energy.

While the parallel companies, like Grameen Danone, are allowed to make a profit, the investors can only recoup their original investment. The profit stays with the parallel company for expansion and improvement to work for financial and economic sustainability in an environmentally friendly ambiance. The work force gets market wages with better working conditions.

Yunus was removed from Grameen Bank in May, ostensibly because at the age of 71 he had exceeded the country’s statutory age limit to head the bank, which he formed in 1983 to provide micro-loans to the poor. However, it is widely believed that Sheikh Hasina, the country’s prime minister, drove him out of the bank for her own political reasons despite his revered worldwide status as banker to the poor.

It hasn’t slowed him down. He remains the policy maker for many Grameen sister concerns devoted to various initiatives like drinking water, yogurt for malnourished children, cellphones, solar power for rural homes and many others.

There may be two types of social business companies, Yunus says. The first focuses on businesses dealing with social objectives only with a no-loss, no-dividend structure. The second may be profitable so long as it is owned by the poor and the disadvantaged, who can gain through receiving direct dividends or by some indirect benefits.

“It brings a new dimension to the business world, and a new feeling of social awareness among the business community,” Yunus says. “I am not opposed to making profit. Even social businesses are allowed to make profit with the condition that the profit stays with the company; the owners will not take profit beyond the amount equivalent to investment.”

He is not asking business leaders to give up any of their other businesses, nor is he insisting that they create social businesses alongside their conventional ones although, as with Danone, the partnership with the Grameen enterprises certainly fulfills that role.

“All I am saying, if you are worrying about a social problem, I have a message for you, you can make a significant contribution in resolving the problem,” he says. “You can do both: conventional business and social business. It is up to you to decide whether you want to do such thing or not. Nobody will raise an accusing finger at you if you do no such thing. But you may feel happy if you do it.

“Why isn’t it practical to run businesses with some profit and some social benefit, ‘doing well by doing good,’ as it is popularly described? Of course, it can be done. I am never against it. But I am trying to go to the ultimate point where you don’t make any profit for yourself at all. This is easy to identify, easy to handle in day to day decision making.”

Yunus describes it as analogous to a person in a no-smoking building who is arguing: “Why can’t I be allowed to take just one small puff?”

“The answer is simple — it destroys the attitude. Similarly, Muslims do not eat or drink until the sunset in the month of Ramadan. It simply destroys the strength of the mental commitment. Social business is about making a complete sacrifice of financial reward from business. It is about totally de-linking from the old framework. It is not about accommodating new objectives within the existing framework. Unless this total de-linking from personal financial gain can be established you’ll never discover the power of real social business.”

By defining entrepreneurship more broadly, he says, it is possible to change the character of capitalism radically and solve many social and economic problems within the scope of the free market.

Fortunately, he says, there is a desire among many to lend a hand through charity, for addressing poverty and other social problems. These days concern is usually expressed in the shape of nonprofits and NGOs. There are multilateral and bilateral aid organizations sponsored by rich governments. But, he says, he has reservations about charity and typical corporate social responsibility initiatives.

While there is nothing wrong with donations, charity and traditional corporate social responsibility, Yunus claims their effect is too often a single-shot affair. The poor have to wait until the donors come around again. It generates dependency on the donor community and it doesn’t build economies in underdeveloped countries, which face multiple problems. Neither governments nor charities from other nations can solve these problems, he says. A combination of capitalism, with business leaders helping the poor to establish their own businesses, would work better. This is social business.

First published in The Jakarta Globe, September 26, 2011
Nava Thakuria is a journalist based in Assam, India

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rights group urge scrutiny of Bangladesh spy agency


Bangladesh security agencies need to be under scrutiny of the parliament as they are blamed for infringement of privacy through tapping of phones and hacking emails.

Former senior bureaucrat Margub Murshed stated this that when he was the head of the telecom regulatory body, he turned down the offer by security agencies from wire tapping of private individuals without proper authorization.

Internet service provider's body leader Akhteruzzaman Manju disclosed that they are forced to provide details of email traffic to telecom authority commission every three months in violation of the privacy rights, sector insiders told a discussion organized by VOICE in the capital on Sunday.

Meanwhile, according to diplomatic cables released by the whistle blowing website Wikileaks in local language daily Prothom Alo, the dreaded spy agency Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) meddled in media.

The cables disclosed how the spy agency tried to control coverage of news and broadcast by private television channels during the military-backed caretaker government during 2007-2008.

They played a key role to limit and censor media outlets that was critical, or provoked opposition against its policies, leaked US diplomatic cables revealed.

The cables, published by whistleblower website Wikileaks on last August 30, say the military intelligence along with other officials discreetly phoned and suggested how to cover the day's news, leading the media outlets to practice self censorship.

On the other hand, the rights activist Ahmed Swapan Mahmud demanded stringent data protection legislation to secure personal information and uphold privacy rights in the light of the constitution.

He reiterated that any interception or surveillance of email, messaging, telephony involving recording the conversations of clients is illegal for any operator, said Mahmud.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Police overwhelm Bangladesh opposition from street violence

Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Biraj - Police arrest a member of Jamaat-e-Islami during a clash in Dhaka September 19, 2011. Street marches by members of Bangladesh's biggest Islamic party seeking the release of its leaders from jail turned violent across the country on Monday, with at least 70 people wounded in clashes, witnesses said


THOUSANDS OF baton-wielding Bangladeshi riot police overwhelmed opposition protestors Thursday, forestalling street violence during a countrywide dawn-to-dusk shutdown.

A massive presence of riot police and mobile magistrate courts frustrated the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) from holding street agitation. Political partners sympathetic to the BNP, including Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, were visibly absent in the street, witnesses said.

The opposition and its partners had called for the lockdown in protest of police action against its alliance Islamist partner last Tuesday during a demonstration demanding release of five key leaders detained as war crimes suspects during Bangladesh's bloody war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Water cannon vehicles and armored personnel carriers (APC) parked at strategic crossroads of the capital Dhaka gave the message of zero-tolerance to street violence.

Opposition leaders lamented that they were literally besieged by police, who barred them from holding protest marches. BNP party headquarters were physically blocked by barbed wire fences by police wearing bullet-proof vests and wielding tear-gas throwing guns.

Although political activities were largely limited on Thursday, opposition leader Mirza Fakrul Islam Alamgir claimed at a press conference later in the day that more than 400 people were hurt by police and another 500 opposition activists, including five senior leaders, were detained during a peaceful procession.

A police spokesperson scoffed at the protestors' claims about the number of detained activists as well as the number of those injured. The spokesperson, however, could not give the number of activists and leaders detained.

Alamgir came down on the government setting up mobile courts during the strike, dubbing the temporary facilities “undemocratic” and an “infringement of fundamental rights to protest.”

The opposition leader announced a countrywide demonstration next Saturday in protest against the death of a local pro-opposition youth leader in Barisal in south Bangladesh allegedly by ruling party hooligans during striking hours on Thursday.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Police overwhelms Bangladesh opposition from street violence


Thousands of batons-wielding riot police overwhelmed the opposition from engaging in street violence during the dawn to dusk countrywide shutdown on Thursday.

Massive presence of riot police and mobile magistrate courts frustrated the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) from holding street agitation. Also the like-minded political partners including Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami were visibly absent in the street, witnesses said.

The opposition and its partners called a countrywide lockdown in protest of police action against its alliance Islamist partner last Tuesday during a demonstration demanding release of their key five leaders detained as war crimes suspects during the bloody war of independence of Bangladesh from Islamic Pakistan in 1971.

Water cannon vehicles and armored personnel carriers (APC) parked at strategic crossroads of the capital Dhaka gave the message of zero-tolerance to street violence.

Opposition leaders lamented that they were literally besieged by police and barred them from holding “peaceful” protest marches. The party headquarter was physically blocked by barbed wire fences by police wearing bullet-proof vests and tear-gas throwing guns.

Despite the political activities were largely limited on Thursday, the opposition leader Mirza Fakrul Islam Alamgir at a press conference later in the day claims that more than 400 people were hurt during the general strike by baton wielding police and another 500 opposition activists including five senior leaders were detained during peaceful procession.

However, the police spokesperson scoffed off the inflated figure of detained activists and also the number of wounded persons. The police spokespersons, however could not give the number of activists and leaders detained.

Alamgir came down on the government to set up mobile courts during the strike, which he dubbed as “undemocratic” and “infringement of fundamental rights to protest”.

Meanwhile, the opposition leader announced a countrywide demonstration next Saturday in protest against alleged death of a local pro-opposition youth leader in Barisal in south Bangladesh by ruling party hooligans during striking hours on Thursday.

It is expected that the opposition chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia on Sept. 27 from a public rally will announce anti-government program to oust the ruling party from power.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at

Bangladesh opposition to enforce shutdown after clashes with Islamist activists


BANGLADESH'S OPPOSITION alliance has called for a countrywide shutdown on Thursday after hundreds of leaders and activists, mostly from an Islamist party, were arrested after violent protests.

On Tuesday a demonstration by Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami turned violent when the activists clashed with riot police in the capital. The Islamists marched in the city center to demand the release of five key leaders detained for alleged war crimes committed during the bloody war of independence of Bangladesh from Islamic Pakistan in 1971.

Nearly 500 Islamist activists were detained in the countrywide swoop. Many of their central leaders were also picked up by plainclothes detectives at midnight. Police produced the detained activists before magistrate court and took 183 on remand for questioning about incidents of arson and vandalism in which nearly a score of vehicles were torched.

Police sued more than 3,000 activists of the Islamist party for attacking riot police and causing physical injuries.

Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalists Party (BNP), declared the shutdown and other alliance partners extended their political support, including the Islamist party.

Senior BNP leaders on Wednesday bitterly criticized the government for a number of offenses, including hiking the prices of fuel and furnace oil and. repression of opposition activists. They asked the current government to quit power and hold fresh elections under a neutral caretaker government.

Alamgir warned that the government would be held responsible if it creates any hindrance during the dawn-to dusk-shutdown on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Home Minister Shahara Khatun on Wednesday said 12 mobile courts will be deployed in seven major cities including the capital during Thursday's general strike to ensure summary justice to any offenders.

An estimated 11,000 additional riot police will be deployed to ensure safety of property and the security of citizens during the strike, a senior police officer told journalists.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Life is not easy and peace is far away, says Taslima Nasreen

"Peace is far away," feels controversial Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen and claims that she is a victim of religious, political and social 'fatwas'.

"Unfortunately, settlement is not for me. Banning, censorship continues. Not only religious fatwas, I became an unfortunate victim of political and social fatwas. Life is not easy and peace is far away," 49-year-old Nasreen, who is living in Delhi since June this year, said.

Since fleeing Bangladesh in 1994, she has lived at many places including Europe (1994 to 2004), Kolkata (2004 to 2007), Delhi, Sweden (2008) and then again Delhi as she did not get permission to go back to West Bengal.

She has almost given up all hope of going back to Bangladesh and wants to settle down in Kolkata which shares a common cultural heritage and language.

"I dont know whether I will be able to go back to Kolkata. If (West Bengal Chief Minister) Mamata Banerjee allows me, I would love to go back to Kolkata. Kolkata was my home for years.ҠI miss my happiness I had in Kolkata," said Nasreen, who became controversial for her views on Islam and of religion in general.

"I have been in many countries after leaving Bangladesh but Kolkata is the only place where my heart is. I share their language and culture while the West is totally different," the medical doctor-turned author, who 1993 novel 'Lajja' triggered strong reaction of religious groups, said.

Currently she is busy writing a book of poems and seventh edition of her memoirs. Her earlier works include 'Amar Meyebela'(1999), 'Utal Hawa' (2002), 'Dwikhondito' (2003), 'Sei Sob Andhokar' (2004), 'Ami Bhalo Nei, Tumi Bhalo Theke Priyo Desh' (2006) and 'Nei Kichu Nei' (2010). While many of her writings have been acclaimed for their candidness, a number of them have been banned in India and Bangladesh.

First published in, India, September 20, 2011

Islamist rampage in worst political riot Bangladesh

Photo: Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami run riot in capital Dhaka demanding release of their leaders detained for war crimes committed in 1971 bloody war of independence of Bangladesh


Islamists on Monday afternoon runs amok in Bangladesh capital demanding release of Jamaat-e-Islami leaders detained to stand trial for war crimes.

Police detectives soon arrested several leaders including ATM Azaharul Islam, acting general secretary, publicity secretary Tasneem Alam, central working committee member Mohammad Ijjatullah and six other members.

Senior police officer Krishnapada Roy told journalists that fresh arrests of senior leaders were made from the Jamaat-e-Islami party headquarters on charges of assault on police, arson and vandalism.

Over a 100 people, including Jamaat activists, police, journalists and pedestrians were reported wounded as the protestors hurled brickbats, while police charged baton and lobbed teargas shells to contain the worst political riot unleashed by Islamists in ten years.

At least 20 vehicles including police cars, commuter buses and motorbikes were torched in the capital Dhaka as police fought pitched battle with Jamaat-e-Islami activists and its student wing Islami Chattra Shibir, witnesses said.

The city center turned into a veritable battlefield, in the wake of a government-opposition political standoff as rioters went berserk during a protest during a countrywide street demonstrations.

Huge contingents of riot police were joined by elite anti-crime unit and para-military forces backed with water cannons and Armored Personnel Carriers to quell the bloody political strife.

Home Affairs minister Sahara Khatoon claimed the police have demonstrated utmost restrain and did not fire from shot-guns to avoid any human casualty, told TV reporters.

The planned agitation by Islamist were demanding release of party chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, assistant secretaries general Mohammad Kamaruzzaman and Abdul Quader Molla and evangelist Delwar Hossain Sayedee were charged for crimes against humanity during the Bangladesh bloody war of independence in 1971.

Hours before his arrest, Azaharul Islam claimed that nearly 500 activists were injured and 300 activists were arrested by police during the demonstration in the capital. The number of arrest across the country is about 700. In fact, police launched a drive to round up the Jamaat activists across the country, he added.

By nightfall the strife has spread into different cities of the country. News of Islamists clashes with police and arrests is being broadcast in TV news channels from various district towns.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at

Monday, September 19, 2011

U.S. to help Bangladesh combat bird flu


Bangladesh accepted United States offer to combat bird flu virus epidemic and develop 'seed virus,' a key ingredient to make a vaccine in emergency.

Bangladesh will share a new strain of bird flu virus with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) to develop ‘seed virus’ for scientific use, confirmed health secretary Muhammad Humayun Kabir on Sunday.

Bird flu, also known as Avian influenza virus H5N1often causes pandemic threat in the Asian region, including Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

United Nations body FAO in August said the contagious Avian flu, still remains firmly entrenched in Bangladesh because of unhygienic trade practices. The UN body warned possible major resurgence of bird flu as it observed a mutant strain of the H5N1 virus is spreading in Asia.

The US CDC approached health authorities in the first week of September for government authorization to use the virus.

The strain was found in humans in last March and detected by the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), but mild in nature from its countrywide surveillance. This was recently confirmed by US CDC recently.

Bangladesh experienced 524 recorded Avian flu outbreaks and the Livestock Department culled over 2.4 million chickens across the country after the first outbreak in Mar. 22, 2007.

According to World Health Organization, the factors responsible for the entrenchment of the virus are complex production and market chains. Eliminating the highly pathogenic Avian influenza virus from poultry in the Asian countries will take 10 or more years, it cautioned.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Why Bangladesh should matter to us


Most Indians have lost very little sleep over the fact that the prime minister`s visit to Bangladesh was a failure. Given the importance of Bangladesh to India`s well-being, we should have tossed and turned in our beds at what transpired in Dhaka. As it turns out, we slept quite well and continue to do so.

It would be easy enough to blame the prime minister and his team for the failure in Dhaka. Or to blame the chief minister of West Bengal who, bizarrely, at the last moment objected to the river-water agreement that was to be the centrepiece of the summit. However, the deeper cause of the failure in Dhaka is ignorance and public apathy.

We in India have failed to appreciate just how important Bangladesh is to our well-being. There are at least four reasons related to peace and development that make Bangladesh vital for us.

The first reason is that the security of the northeastern states, of eastern India, and of India more widely is affected by what Bangladesh does or does not do. If Dhaka does not cooperate with New Delhi, it is hard to see how India can rein in various insurgent groups that might find refuge in Bangladesh. If, in addition, India cannot get access to the northeast through Bangladesh - even if this only means economic access - it is hard to see how we can integrate those states with the heartland. And if Bangladesh does not remain a stable, open and tolerant country, we in India will have great difficulty in stopping Islamic extremists from flourishing there and from targeting our cities and towns.

The second reason we need to pay relations with Bangladesh much greater attention is that we share rivers with it. India and Bangladesh share over 40 rivers, and these rivers are vital for the livelihood of hundreds of millions of people in both countries. Bangladesh being the lower riparian state is in a weaker position on the use of these rivers. We in India should remember, though, that we are the lower riparian in relation to Bhutan, Nepal and China: if we fail to be sensible and fair over river-water sharing with Bangladesh, we could well find ourselves in an equally hopeless downriver position someday, especially with China.

If Bangladesh does not get enough water (or if it gets too much when the rivers are full), it will face catastrophe. Catastrophe in Bangladesh means instability in India`s northeast, West Bengal, and states further away. Inevitably, severe dislocations in Bangladesh mean refugee and migrant flows into India. Bangladeshis are coming to India anyway for various reasons, and this has already led to tremendous unease in the neighbouring states. Hydrologically-induced catastrophes would enlarge the problem massively.

There is another long-term catastrophe looming for both countries, and this is the third big reason to stay tuned to Bangladesh. India and Bangladesh are amongst the 12 countries that will be most severely affected by climate change. Bangladesh could lose up to 20% of its land as sea levels rise due to climate change. The ensuing turmoil in Bangladesh will inevitably be felt in neighbouring and distant parts of India. The two countries must therefore think about how to cooperate on conservation, alternative energy, and many other related aspects of environmental defence.

Finally, Bangladesh is crucial for India because it represents opportunities and lessons worth learning. In a globalising world where trade counts for so much, Bangladesh is one of our biggest trading partners. Given that it has been growing at over 5% per annum for the past decade and looks set to continue to grow, it is an economic asset. Bangladesh could sell us natural gas, and we could sell it hydropower. Bangladesh is also an exemplar. Its rapidly rising literacy rates (especially amongst women), its steady reduction in birth rates (from a much higher starting point than India), the tremendous advances it has made in basic health (including safe birthing and maternal care); all these put India to shame. If we were not so arrogant, we might learn something from our great neighbour to the east.

In short, Bangladesh matters. If only we could see.

First published in the Times of India, New Delhi, India, September 17, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Politics Journal: Where Did India-Bangladesh Talks Go Wrong?


AS PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh climbed into Air India One at the end of his visit to Dhaka last week, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her entire Cabinet lined up on the tarmac. There they waited not only until the plane began taxiing for take off, but until it had completely disappeared from view.

Only hours before, the Bangladesh National Party, Ms. Hasina’s major political opposition, had blamed her for not adequately preparing for the Indian prime minister’s two-day visit and described it as a “diplomatic failure.”

The accusation hurt, not only because it was partially true–a breakthrough agreement on sharing of river waters between India and Bangladesh had collapsed at the last minute–but also because Ms. Hasina’s special friendship with India goes back to 1971 when her father, Sheikh Mujib-ur Rahman, accepted Indira Gandhi’s help in midwifing the new nation of Bangladesh.

Ms. Hasina’s prolonged presence at the airport was “a huge relief,” a senior Indian diplomat said on condition of anonymity, adding that it “gave teeth to her statements that despite everything, both countries would always remain firm friends.”

Ironically, the Indian diplomat admitted, the breakdown in the river water talks did not happen because of differences between Delhi and Dhaka, but between the federal government in Delhi and the West Bengal government in Kolkata.

Dhaka was notified by Delhi only in the late night before Manmohan Singh arrived on the morning of Sept. 6, a Bangladeshi official told India Real Time. The government was so incensed, the official added, that it decided to cancel its offer of allowing Indian goods to transit through the much shorter and cheaper Bangladesh route to India’s northeastern states, the Business Standard newspaper reported.

Even after Bangladesh became independent following the India-Pakistan war in 1971, it did not restore the trade and transit privileges for India that had been shut down by Pakistan after its 1965 war with India.

Meanwhile, a historic land boundary agreement between the two sides–allowing for the demarcation of the remaining 6.1 kilometers of the 4,095-km-long border for the first time since partition in 1947, as well as the adjustment of 166 enclaves and several adverse possessions, where people had continued to live on each other’s lands even though the territory belonged to the other country–had seemed in serious danger until the last minute, Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Mijarul Quayes confirmed.

It wasn’t supposed to be like that. According to officials in both capitals, India would give in to Dhaka’s long-standing demand to dismantle a prohibitory trading regime in textiles, in return for the transit privileges it had long hankered after; old trading routes that were shut down after the 1965 India-Pakistan war, when Bangladesh was still a part of Pakistan, would be opened, restoring ancient relationships.

Meanwhile, the water treaty would allow both countries to share water on a 50:50 basis, the officials said.

“With Pakistan fast becoming a failed state, Afghanistan in the throes of Al Qaeda, Nepal still unstable, Sri Lanka in the process of reaching out to the Tamils after the end of its civil war, and even tiny Maldives battered by a combination of Islamist and authoritarian forces, the new India-Bangladesh relationship was supposed to become a model for India’s vexed relationships with other countries in its neighborhood,” a second Indian diplomat said in Delhi.

“Unfortunately, Delhi missed the big picture,” said Mahfuz Anam, editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Dhaka. A new template between Delhi and Dhaka would have stimulated both economies and boosted Ms. Hasina’s political standing.

Instead, Mr. Anam said, Delhi’s failure in getting Kolkata on board the water issue not only compromised Manmohan Singh’s authority with a foreign country, in this case Bangladesh, it also gave Ms. Hasina’s chief rival and former prime minister, Khaleda Zia of the BNP, a political shot in the arm.

“If Khaleda comes to power in the 2013 elections, India will have played no small role in the matter,” said a BNP leader in Dhaka, on condition of anonymity.

South Asian foreign policy experts in Delhi, like former high commissioner to Bangladesh Deb Mukharji, agreed that “inadequate communication” between Delhi and Kolkata, not between Delhi and Dhaka, lay at the root of the problem.

According to Mr Mukharji, “Delhi should have ensured that there was no scope for misunderstanding on the part of West Bengal.”

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s consent was not only imperative but necessary before Delhi finalized the water deal with Dhaka, because under the Indian constitution, water resources are a state subject, the second Indian diplomat added.

Instead, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, a party in alliance with the Congress party both in West Bengal and at the center, was shown the prospective water deal with Bangladesh only two hours before it was intended to be discussed in the Cabinet on Sept. 2, a Trinamool leader told India Real Time.

The Trinamool leader said he requested Manmohan Singh to amend the draft in keeping with the party demand that the water share for Bangladesh be capped at 25%. But all he got in return was a lecture and a scolding on the state’s duties and the center’s responsibilities by finance minister and Congress stalwart Pranab Mukherjee.

According to the Trinamool leader, Mr. Mukherjee said it wasn’t possible at this late stage to amend the water treaty and that foreign policy was the preserve of the Centre, not the state.

“I had to tell him, you have no right to rebuke me, I am duty-bound to represent my state’s interests,” the Trinamool leader said, adding: “The federal government may have the right to run the country’s foreign policy, but the state has the right to protect its assets.”

“If Delhi could show us the draft treaty on the land boundary ahead of time, which we had no problem with, why didn’t they do the same with the water treaty? I think Delhi was trying to hoodwink us,” the Trinamool leader said.

Deb Mukharji pointed out that as the polity became much more federal and “provincial parties became much more assertive, it was clear that Delhi would have to go the extra mile to keep them on board in achieving larger foreign policy objectives.”

As India picks up the pieces from the Bangladesh debacle, officials say they have begun to prepare for its negative impact in the rest of South Asia. “India’s image has suffered a great deal,” a senior Indian official with responsibility for negotiating with the neighborhood said. He said he feared trade concessions during Pakistan Commerce Minister Mohammed Amin Fahim’s visit to Delhi in late September would be in jeopardy.

But Mr. Mukharji believed otherwise: “Most other countries in the neighborhood would be sad to look at India, the largest country in the region, to have been damaged in this way. These countries realize that India is a well-wisher as well as the only nation which can provide real opportunities for their own economic growth.”

First published in Wall Street Journal blog, September 14, 2011

Jyoti Malhotra is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi. She writes for India’s Business Standard daily and for Pakistan’s Express Tribune

India trying to help Hasina remain in power

Bangladesh prime minister Shiekh Hasina with Indian counterpart Dr Manmohan Singh in Delhi

THE GOVERNMENT of India has decided to extend as much help as possible to Bangladesh to strengthen the hands of the Sheikh Hasina led Awami League Government in the interest of having a friendly neighbour as the present Government in the neighbouring country already extended help to India in dealing with insurgency.

Highly placed official sources in New Delhi told ‘The Assam Tribune’ that though the fundamentalist groups are still active in Bangladesh, they are not allowed a free run as was the case in the past. The effort on the part of India is to extend help to Bangladesh so that the present regime stays in power, sources added.

Sources pointed out that though India's relations with Myanmar improved considerably in recent times, China has virtually taken control of the economy of that country and there is urgent need for India to have at least one friendly neighbour and in this regard, India has been maintaining cordial relation with Bangladesh.

Sources further pointed out that during the tenure of the previous regime in Bangladesh, the militant groups of North East were having a free run and even operated camps in that country, while, the anti-India fundamentalist forces also had strong bases. But the situation has changed completely after the Awami League Government came to power as leaders of different militant outfits were apprehended and handed over to India. Some of the members of the militant groups of North East are still staying in Bangladesh, but they are not allowed a free run.

But the fact remains that fundamentalist forces are still active in Bangladesh and militant groups like the HUJI still have strong bases and there is need for India to take necessary precautions to prevent elements of such groups from sneaking into India to indulge in acts of violence.

However, sources admitted that there are some major drawbacks in the efforts to maintaining good relations with Bangladesh. As every firing along the international border causes hue and cry in Bangladesh and puts the Government in an embarrassing position, the Government has directed the personnel of the Border Security Force (BSF) to use lethal weapons only when it is absolutely necessary. The personnel of the border guarding force are being provided with non-lethal weapons in phased manner to deal with infiltrators and smugglers.

Sources admitted that the instruction of not using lethal weapons may create confusion in the minds of the personnel of the border guarding force as they will find it difficult to decide when to use lethal weapons and when to use non lethal weapons. Moreover, normally small groups of BSF men go out for patrolling and it will be difficult for them to carry both lethal and non lethal weapons, sources pointed out. The BSF is already facing shortage of manpower and it will also not be possible for the force to send out large groups carrying both lethal and non lethal weapons for patrolling along the international border.

First published in the Assam Tribune, Guwahati, September 11, 2011

Monday, September 12, 2011

Manmohan visit to Bangladesh and story of a nightmare

The real story behind why Indo- Bangla Extradition Treaty was not signed (and so ULFA General Secretary Anup Chetia not deported to India), why the Indian Prime Minister’s visit will no longer be called “historical”


IT WAS the night of 5th September. It was only about ten hours left for the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to reach Bangladesh for an official visit. That visit was a high- hope and long expected visit. Every concerned people of India and Bangladesh were thinking that it will be a historical visit and two countries will start a new era of their relation.
At the last moment it was proven that, everything in the world cannot be happened routinely and something happened which was painful. It was at noon of 5th September when Bangladesh came to know that the chief Minister of Indian sate Paschim Banga (West Bengal) Ms Mamata Banerjee was not coming to Bangladesh as a delegate member of Manmohan Singh’s visit. Even the water resource minister of India was not coming.

Having got this news, Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina called an emergency meeting with her senior cabinet colleagues and advisors. Two of her advisers, Mr. Mashiur Rahaman and Mr. Gahor Rizvee were involved in that negotiation process with India. Besides, foreign Ministry was also involved. All of them were worried to hear this news that, chief minister of west Bengal and water resource minister of central government are not coming with the delegations. Absence from this visit of those two Ministers made it clear that Teesta (a common river of India and Bangladesh) river water sharing treaty was
uncertain. It is true that, if Bangladesh and India wants to start a new relationship, they have to reach a solution in Teesta river water sharing and so the absence of these two ministers in the delegation puts the fate of this long awaited treaty uncertain. Chief Minister of West Bengal is highly connected to this treaty, because according to Indian constitution the central government cannot sign to any treaty with other country without the concerned state. Since Teesta river water is a concerned matter of West Bengal as well, the absence of Mamata made it clear that water of Teesta river sharing treaty will not be signed.

From the meeting of Sheikh Hasina, foreign Minister of Bangladesh contacted her counter part of India and she confirmed that India will sign Teesta river water sharing treaty at the time of Manmohan visit. Getting this confirmation, Prime Minister of Bangladesh ended her meeting and went to take rest. It was then 10 PM of 5th September.

After the meeting was over, most of the ministers left the residence of Prime Minister of Bangladesh and Prime Minister went to her prayer. However, two concerned advisers did not leave the residence of the Prime Minister and some senior ministers were also at that residence. In the meantime, those two advisers came to know that, ultimately Teesta river water sharing treaty will not be signed in this visit time of Manmohan. So they fell in confusion as to what they would do.

Considering both sides and since it was an important matter, the two advisors of the Bangladesh Prime Minister felt it necessary to inform the Prime Minister immediately. On the other hand they were thinking that as night was growing old and it is more than 11.30 pm, this news would hamper the sleep of the Prime Minister; so it is better to inform it in the morning. At that time the senior most minister of the cabinet Mr. Abul Mal Abdul Muhith, finance minister of Bangladesh came there. Then two advisers rushed to him and informed him the latest situation.

Hearing this news, finance minister said ‘you have to inform it immediately to the Prime minister.’ According to the advice of the finance minister, adviser of the Prime Minister Mashiur Rahaman rang to the Prime Minister but she did not receive his call; then another adviser called her but she did not receive it again. Then the two advisers requested to the finance minister that as he is the senior most, so his call will be received by Prime Minister. Finance minister did try but Prime Minister did not receive his call as well and all of them.

Just as they were felling totally hopeless, Prime Minister herself came to this area for a walk and seeing them she was astonished. She asked why they were waiting and also told them that she was in the prayer while they were calling. After finishing prayer, she has seen the missed call but she thought that, they were calling from their home and would ring back tomorrow, because it was already midnight. Then two advisers asked to the finance minister, ‘you tell her why we are waiting here.’ Finance minister told her the matter in detail. Hearing this, Prime Minister became tensed as well and called up her foreign minister to rush to her immediately. It was midnight, road was traffic free. Foreign minister came within a few minutes. Prime Minister told her, “India will not sign Teesta River sharing treaty so we will not sign the transit agreement. You stop the process of that agreement”.

The night was over and Prime Minister of India visited Bangladesh but that visit will not be called in future a historical visit. It was expected to be a historical visit but ultimately it became a common visit. It left the remark that, what was done by Bangladesh was not returned by India. As an example, Indian Government has now been able to make a treaty with the United Liberation front of Asom (ULFA) and initiate the much awaited peace process in the North Eastern Region. But is it not true that, it has been possible only for Bangladesh and the leadership of Sheikh Hasina? After all, Bangladesh handed over the entire insurgents (who are the leader of ULFA) to India and only so India is able to do it.

First published in the Times of Assam, September 11, 2011

Swadesh Roy is the Executive editor of Daily Janakantha, Dhaka, Bangladesh. He can be reached at

Sunday, September 11, 2011

India embarrassed over stalled water sharing deal with Bangladesh

Photo: India-Bangladesh official talks between prime minister Manmohan Singh and Shiekh Hasina in capital Dhaka on Sept. 6

INDIAN PRIME Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on Sept. 6 expressed surprise but denied embarrassing neighbor Bangladesh when India at the last minute ditched an expected deal on international river water sharing.

India scrapped a much-hyped deal to share with Bangladesh water from the Teesta River after the chief minister of the Indian state of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, opposed the pact at the last minute. West Bengal borders Bangladesh.

Speaking with Indian correspondents on board the airplane returning to New Delhi, Singh said all technicalities of the Teesta water-sharing accord were settled and Banerjee had been consulted. He mentioned that Banerjee disagreed with the quantity of water sharing in peak and lean period.

The Indian prime minister was in Bangladesh for a two-day official visit and signed eight memos of understanding and one protocol to bring bilateral relations to new heights.

The 196-mile-long Teesta River crisscrosses through India and flows through the Bangladesh floodplain, which is crucial for irrigation of major cash crops.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh holds India responsible for failure to ink an agreement on equitable sharing of Teesta waters but is still hopeful of a pact within three months.

In strong words, the Bangladesh foreign secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes told journalists on Thursday that India would have to share responsibility for the failure.

A prestigious English newspaper Daily Star writes in its Thursday edition, Bangladesh-India relations are far too important and goodwill between us far too precious for us to judge our ties on the basis of just one trip.

On the other hand, the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party on Thursday said the visit of Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh has failed and did not yield anything worth for Bangladesh.

A senior leader Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, acting secretary-general of the party squarely blames the government for what it says inept diplomacy for the failure.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Eddies In The Teesta: Mamata’s objections to the Teesta treaty smudged the success of the PM’s Dhaka visit

Photo: Indian prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh patiently listens to Paschimbanga chief minister Mamata Banerjee at an election campaign in Kolkata recently


Why Mamata Ditched
• She was willing to give Bangladesh 25,000 cusecs from the Teesta, but the agreement provided 33000 cusecs
• New Delhi said 8,000 cusecs over her limit was to come from Sikkim, Teesta’s place of origin
• Fear that Sikkim could deprive Bengal of 8,000 cusecs, in the absence of a formal agreement
• Feared the opposition could exploit the water issue

IN THE end, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s carefully choreographed and much-anticipated visit to Dhaka didn’t deliver the expected all-round success. No doubt, India put on the table a lavish set of agreements to bolster Bangladesh’s economy and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s domestic position, but what soured the mood during Manmohan’s visit last week was New Delhi’s failure to offer a conclusive deal over the sharing of the Teesta waters. Apprehensive of the Opposition exploiting the contentious water issue, Hasina thought it prudent to withhold the decision granting India access to the Chittagong and Mongla ports, which would have helped easy movement of goods to the Northeastern states from mainland India.

Former Bangladesh foreign secretary Mohiuddin Ahmed says, “All the goodwill suffered a serious setback following India’s inability and unwillingness to sign the Teesta water-sharing agreement. It will take time for trust and confidence to return.” Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah of Dhaka University was even harsher: “India gave too little, too late.”

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has been blamed for scuppering the Teesta agreement by pulling out from the prime minister’s delegation to Dhaka at the last minute. Mamata is said to have told the Centre that she was opposed to the quantum of Teesta water being assigned to Bangladesh, as it would be at West Bengal’s expense. New Delhi, however, claims the agreement adhered strictly to the redline Mamata had drawn. This was at least the line most people in Dhaka bought, obvious from what Kalimullah told Outlook, “Bangladesh was denied an agreement on the Teesta because of Mamata’s arrogance.”

Given the multiplicity of versions about talks between the Centre and Mamata, it’s impossible to tell who’s at fault. But they point to the confusion prevailing before Manmohan’s departure. BJP leader Yashwant Sinha cautions, “We should sort out our internal differences beforehand. When we negotiate with another country, India should speak as one.”

So was Mamata being cussed? No, argues West Bengal public health engineering minister Subrata Mukherjee, who told Outlook, “We are all for good relations with Bangladesh and don’t mind sharing Teesta waters with it. But you cannot expect us to do it by turning the northern part of our state (through which the Teesta flows) into a desert.”

South Block, however, maintains that the proposed agreement took into account West Bengal’s position that it couldn’t give Bangladesh more than 25,000 cusecs of water from Teesta. The Mamata camp points to a crucial complication, saying she turned recalcitrant as soon as National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon told her that Bangladesh was to get 33,000 cusecs, that the additional 8,000 cusecs from her imposed limit of 25,000 cusecs were to come from Sikkim, from where the Teesta originates. Mamata wasn’t willing to accept the Centre’s assurance, saying she couldn’t agree to the proposed formula of sharing the Teesta waters in the absence of an agreement between Bengal and Sikkim.

Mamata’s cautious approach was influenced by West Bengal’s experience in the years following the signing of the 1996 Ganga Water Treaty between India and Bangladesh. Though then CM Jyoti Basu had given his assent, he soon realised that the sharing of water had adversely affected the flow of the Ganga at Farraka. This was because West Bengal as a lower riparian state couldn’t, in the absence of a formal agreement, prevent Uttar Pradesh and Bihar from ‘overdrawing’ water from the Ganga. In other words, Bangladesh’s guaranteed share was ultimately at West Bengal’s expense.

Mamata was also wary of the Left, the BJP and even the Congress exploiting the sensitive water issue to push her on the backfoot. Though CPI leader Pallab Sengupta wants India to be generous to Bangladesh
because of its “geostrategic importance”, neither he nor other Left leaders were willing to commit themselves to a ratio for water-sharing acceptable to them. The reason is simple—no party would want to be seen supporting a deal militating against Bengal’s interest. There was also talk in the state of Congress leaders initiating a movement against Mamata once she gave her consent to the proposed Teesta agreement. Perhaps this was mere speculation, but a keen sense of survival meant Mamata wasn’t willing to provide room, even hypothetical, to her opponents.

Perhaps Mamata’s prickly relationship with the Congress also prompted her to adopt a recalcitrant attitude. For instance, when pleading for a special financial package for West Bengal from Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Mamata was asked to draw up a budget that could enable her to raise revenues internally too, leaving the Centre to keep its aid to ‘reasonable’ limits. The subsequent package also fell below her expectations. The Mamata camp also thought the Congress was being less than honourable in its negotiations. This was because of the attempts of the Congress, which she felt was at Pranab’s behest, to include Congress leader and Bengal irrigation minister Manas Bhuiyan in Union water resource minister Pawan Bansal’s delegation, which was supposed to sign the Teesta treaty a day before Manmohan was to arrive in Dhaka. Fearing that the treaty was being offered to her as a fait accompli, Mamata firmly told Manas not to join the delegation.

So is the Teesta treaty (and that for the sharing for the Feni river waters) dead? “It is better to eat a meal that is fully cooked than rushing to have one that is half done,” Mamata reportedly told her associates. This provides hope of Delhi and Bengal renewing negotiations over the contours of the Teesta agreement. Once the new deal is stitched, Mamata could travel to Bangladesh and assure its people of her desire to forge closer ties between the two “Bengals”. But Bangladesh’s Kalimullah isn’t hopeful of a prompt solution: “The Indira-Mujib agreement was signed in 1974 but took 30 years to implement. It may take another 30 years before the Teesta river water agreement is implemented.”

But for the Teesta agreement, India and Bangladesh made great headway in settling the legacy from the past. They demarcated their land boundary, pending since 1972, identified all the “territory in adverse possession”, agreed to exchange the 162 enclaves, and removed over 60 tariff barriers to give Bangladeshi goods greater, freer access to the Indian market and laying down the groundwork for movement of goods and people between the countries and in the Eastern region.

Yet these multiple gains didn’t register emphatically in the popular consciousness, unaccompanied as it was by the Teesta’s murmur.

First published in OUTLOOK magazine, September 19, 2011

Pranay Sharma in New Delhi and Saleem Samad in Dhaka

Thursday, September 08, 2011

U.S. foiled Islamic terrorist mainstreaming in Bangladesh politics: Wikileaks


THE UNITED States in the autumn of 2008 frustrated the Bangladesh security agency's attempted mainstreaming of an Islamic terrorist outfit into politics, according to diplomatic cables released by the whistleblowing website Wikileaks.

Bangladesh spy agency Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) had actively and covertly become a patron for the development of Islamic Democratic Party (IDP), a terrorist-labeled Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) with leaders from high command, according to the documents. HuJI-B is banned in Bangladesh and also listed as a terrorist organization with the U.S. government.

The diplomatic cables between the U.S. and Bangladesh say the U.S. embassy in Dhaka strongly opposed the creation of the IDP. The newly emerged political outfit may respond with violence possibly against the U.S. mission or its interests.

DGFI, the spy agency, supported the formation of the IDP as a way to bring HuJI-B into the mainstream in a bid to tightly monitor the group’s activities, which the U.S. diplomats felt threatening.

HuJI has never renounced the use of violence to implement its vision of transforming Bangladesh into a Muslim theocracy and implement Islamic Sharia.

Brigadier General ATM Amin, director of DGFI, assured U.S. Ambassador James F. Moriarty in the documents that IDP would never react violently and would not attempt to conduct an attack against the U.S. official presence in Dhaka. This intelligence note was contradicted by the security agency National Security Intelligence (NSI) and passed on to the U.S. embassy here, says Wikileaks.

It is difficult to determine the number of members and recruits and their ability to strike terror in Bangladesh. The terrorist outfit openly articulated its anti-Western and anti-India policy.

Since the government of pro-secular Sheikh Hasina took power two and a half years ago, the anti-terror units have broken the backbone of HuJI-B. The kingpins of terrorist organizations have been imprisoned and their hideouts busted.

Other cables said an anti-terror unit assessed that the HuJI-B would not respond with violence due to the severe degradation of the group’s capability and leadership structure from arrests and active surveillance.

It could not be ascertained whether the U.S. government is confident in Bangladesh authorities' assurance of the significant reduction of threats of terrorism.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Religious freedom index placed Bangladesh on the Watch List

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Report 2011

USCIRF placed Bangladesh on the Watch List from 2005 to 2008. The placement of Bangladesh on the Watch List was due to past election-related violence targeting religious minorities and the thengovernment‘s failure to investigate or prosecute perpetrators of such violence; attacks by Islamist extremists on the country‘s secular judicial system, civil society, and democratic political institutions; religiously-motivated threats to freedom of expression to discuss sensitive social issues; the seizure of Hindu-owned property and continued failure to restore such properties or to reimburse the rightful owners; and the greater vulnerability of members of religious minority communities, particularly women, to exploitation or violence.

In December 2008, free and fair elections restored democratic governance to Bangladesh, after two years of a military-backed caretaker regime. The 2008 elections brought to power the Awami League, considered the most secular and favorably disposed toward minority rights among Bangladesh‘s major political parties, and were free of the anti-minority violence that had followed previous elections. Soon thereafter, new Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made a public commitment that her government would repeal all laws that discriminate against members of minority communities, ensure freedom of expression for members of all religious communities, and uphold equality of opportunity and equal rights for all citizens. Due to these positive developments, USCIRF removed Bangladesh from its Watch List in 2009.

Following independence from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh was established as a secular state in which national identity was based on Bengali language and culture. The 1972 constitution established a secular state and guaranteed freedom of religion and conscience and equality before the law. Other provisions banned ―all kinds of communalism,‖ the misuse of religion for political purposes, and the forming of groups that ―in the name of or on the basis of any religion has for its object or pursues a political purpose. Subsequent military regimes removed these provisions, made Islam the state religion, and made ―absolute trust and faith in Allah‖ one of the fundamental principles of state policy and ―the basis for all [government] actions.

In October 2010, Bangladesh‘s High Court declared that the 1972 Constitution would be restored, though as of this writing it is unclear whether this has taken effect. The 1972 Constitution espouses secularism, democracy, socialism, and nationalism as the political philosophy of the country and has no reference to Islam as the state religion. This ruling could provide a legal basis for banning existing Islamist political parties, even those that espouse achieving Islamist goals through democratic means. However, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has stated publically that while secularism will be restored to the Constitution, Bangladesh will remain an Islamic state. Further, she has publically stated that the ban on religious parties will not strictly be enforced. It is unclear if she meant that, as a Muslim majority country, Bangladesh will always be an Islamic state even if the Constitution does not recognize it as such, or that Islam would play some other role in Bangladesh‘s economic, political, and social make-up through a different legal mechanism.

Since 2008, the Awami League government has initiated a number of steps affecting freedom of religion or belief. The Awami League government included three non-Muslims among 38 ministerial positions. Members of minority communities also were appointed to other senior government and diplomatic positions. Currently, non-Muslims hold significant positions in both the judiciary and ministerial offices.
There is a non-Muslim judge serving in the appellate division of the Supreme Court. Also, the ministerial offices of Cultural Affairs, Chittagong Hill Tract Affairs, Telecommunications, Fisheries and Live Stock, and the Environment are all directed by non-Muslims. However, religious minorities are underrepresented in elected political offices, including the national parliament.

Since the Pakistan era, The Vested Property Act (VPA) has allowed the majority population to seize Hindu-owned land. The VPA‘s implicit presumption that Hindus do not belong in Bangladesh contributes to the perception that Hindu-owned property can be seized with impunity. In January 2010, Bangladesh‘s National Assembly began consideration of government-backed legislation on this issue and minoritygroup representatives were permitted to express their concerns in testimony before parliament. USCIRF welcomed this development in a public statement urging the government to consult legal scholars and representatives of the affected communities in order to devise remedies for past abuses and prevent further property seizures based on the owners‘ religious affiliation. By late November 2010, the Bangladeshi cabinet had approved the Vested Property Return (Amendment) Act. However, as of December 2010, the Land Minister had tabled an amendment in parliament, and the proposed legislation was on hold.

The proposed legislation calls for a list of all ―restorable‖ vested property to be produced and reported in all districts. Once the list is reported to the public, all claimants have 90 days to file property rights claims to their district committees, and in return the committees have 45 days to review claims and make recommendations to deputy commissioners, who then must make a decision within 30 days of receipt of the recommendation. If denied, a claimant has 30 days to appeal the decision. Many Hindu communities and NGOs, however, believe the definition of ―restorable‖ vested properties is unclear and will include only a small portion of the properties seized since 1965. Also, according to representatives of the Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian Unity Council, USA, the draft law allows for the confiscation of property from Hindus if they have not lived continuously in Bangladesh since 1965, but does not place the same restriction on Muslims.

In December 2009, the government established a three-member official judicial commission to investigate the violence, primarily against Hindus, that followed the October 2001 elections. The commission members (former district judge Muhammad Shahabuddin, Deputy Secretary of the Home Ministry Manwar Hossain Akand, and Additional Deputy Inspector-General of Police Meer Shahidul Islam) reportedly received approximately 5,500 allegations of violence. They conducted field interviews, collected data from six states, requested information from political figures and human rights and other civil society groups, and held several public meetings. After several extensions of the original fourmonth timeframe for the completion of its work, the commission submitted its final report to the Home Ministry in late January 2011, according to media reports. A public release was expected in February 2011, but had not happened as of this reporting.

The government has continued the process, begun under the previous caretaker government, of establishing a National Human Rights Commission. The Ministry of Religious Affairs also continues to support funds for religious and cultural activities, including for Hindu and Buddhist minorities. The Christian community has rejected government involvement in their religious affairs. The government also helped support the Council for Interfaith Harmony-Bangladesh, which is an organization that promotes interfaith dialogue and understanding among various communities in Bangladesh.

Members of ethnic minority communities, mostly tribal peoples in the north and in the east, are often nonMuslim. The most serious and sustained conflict along ethnic and religious lines has been in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), an area with a high concentration of non-Bengali, non-Muslim indigenous peoples. Resentment among members of indigenous groups remains strong over settler encroachment on traditional tribal lands, human rights abuses by the Bangladeshi military, and the slow, inconsistent implementation of the 1997 CHT Peace Accords. Muslim Bengalis, once a tiny minority in the CHT, now reportedly equal or outnumber indigenous groups. The CHT conflict began in the 1970s when the minority community protested that the government of Bangladesh recognized only Bengali culture and 347language and considered only ethnic Bengalis citizens of Bangladesh, thereby denying indigenous ethnic groups citizenship. Although the current Prime Minister declared after taking power that her government would keep past commitments to the predominantly non-Muslim indigenous peoples of the CHT region, the government has not enforced the CHT Accords and has not ensured that all members of all tribal communities are afforded the full rights of Bangladeshi citizenship.

Bangladesh‘s small Ahmadi community of about 100,000 has been the target of a campaign to designate them as ―non-Muslim‖ heretics. In January 2004, the then-government, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in coalition with Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh and a smaller Islamist party, banned the publication and distribution of Ahmadi religious literature. Since then, the ban has not been enforced, although it has never been officially rescinded. Also, violence against Ahmadis has diminished in recent years due to improved and more vigorous police protection, although in August 2010, 40 Ahmadis were attacked and seriously injured by a group of Islamists in the Tangail district. In February 2011, Bangladeshi Ahmadis were prevented from holding their annual convention in the Gazipur district. The group had received advance official permission to hold the three-day event, but police shut it down on the first day based on a provision in the Code of Criminal Procedure that allows local people to object to an event based on public order concerns.

The government‘s appointments, public statements, and actions have given increased confidence to members of religious minority communities. For the last two years, Bangladesh has generally been free of the extremist violence that had escalated earlier in the decade. Also, for the second year in a row the State Department‘s 2010 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom on Bangladesh states that societal abuses and discrimination have declined significantly. Nevertheless, incidents of harassment and violence against religious and ethnic minorities and women continue to occur, and the judiciary and police officials are often ineffective in upholding law and order. They also are sometimes slow to assist victims, especially at the local level, because they can be vulnerable to corruption, intimidation, and political interference.

While Bangladesh‘s High Court has ruled that the issuing of fatwas ordering punishments for activities deemed un-Islamic is illegal, the case of Hena Akhter indicates that women are still vulnerable to the religious edicts. In January 2011, a local imam and six local religious leaders in the Shariatpur district issued a fatwa against Ms. Akhter for having an illicit affair with a married man, who was also her cousin, and ordered 101 lashes. The fatwa was issued despite the fact that her family had filed a claim with the local police that Ms. Akhter was raped and did not have an affair with the man. Nonetheless, the fatwa was carried out, and Ms. Akhter was lashed with a wet cloth twisted into a rope. Reportedly, Ms. Akhter collapsed unconscious after approximately 50 lashes. She died of her injuries 11 days later.

Following Ms. Akhter‘s death two autopsies were done, with the second autopsy concluding that she died from internal bleeding and septicemia caused by wounds ―of a homicidal nature.‖ The imam and the six local religious leaders that issued the fatwa and assaulted Ms. Akhter have been arrested and charged with her murder. The man accused of raping Ms. Akhter has also been arrested and charged.

The Constitution of Bangladesh provides the right to profess, practice, or propagate all religions, but that right is made subject to law, public order, and morality. In what appears to be an isolated case, in February 2011, Biplob Marandi was arrested and sentenced to one year in prison for ―creating chaos at a religious gathering‖ by selling and distributing Christian religious literature. However, in late March, a district court judge exonerated Marandi of the charge and ordered his release.
Recently, Bangladesh has taken a positive step in reforming its school curriculum. In May 2010, Bangladesh introduced the National Education Policy. The new policy aims to streamline the primary and secondary general, madrassas, and vocational education system. The reforms also aim to create a secular environment that allows all religious groups to learn their own religions, and to teach social and moral values of tolerance and mutual respect to promote a pluralistic society.

Despite improvements, the government of Bangladesh nevertheless continues to show weaknesses in protecting human rights, including religious freedom, and religious extremism remains a threat to the rule of law and democratic institutions. Based on these concerns, USCIRF continues to recommend that the U.S. government encourage the government of Bangladesh to take action on the following issues and ensure consistent implementation: investigate and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law perpetrators of violent acts against members of religious minority communities, women, and non-governmental organizations promoting international human rights standards; repeal the Vested Property Act and commit to restoring or providing compensation for properties seized, including to the heirs of original owners; rescind the 2004 order banning Ahmadi publications, and ensure adequate police response to attacks against Ahmadis; enforce all provisions of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accords and ensure that members of all tribal communities are afforded the full rights of Bangladeshi citizenship; ensure that the National Human Rights Commission is truly independent, adequately funded, inclusive of women and minorities, and given a broad mandate that includes freedom of religion or belief; include in all public and madrassas school curricula, textbooks, and teacher trainings information on tolerance and respect for freedom of religion or belief; and ensure that members of minority communities have equal access to government services and public employment, including in the judiciary and high-level government positions.

USCIRF will continue to monitor how the Bangladeshi government strengthens protections for all Bangladeshis to enjoy the right to freedom of religion or belief, and how it undertakes further efforts to improve conditions for minority religious communities. These efforts would include: the government of Bangladesh working with representatives from civil society and affected religious minority communities to restore property seized under the Vested Property Act and fully implement the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accords; investigating and, to the fullest extent of the law, prosecuting perpetrators of violent acts against members of minority religious communities, women, and non-governmental organizations; and reforming the judiciary and the police to ensure that law enforcement and security services are equally protective of the rights of all, including Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Ahmadis, tribal peoples, and other minorities.

Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, May 2011 (Covering April 1, 2010 – March 31, 2011)