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Monday, October 22, 2012

A little pogrom in Bangladesh


The Western press was quite concerned about not reporting about the destruction of Hindu temples in Pakistan and burning of Buddhist temples in Bangladesh. After all, mentioning how fanaticism actually results in attacks on religious minorities might make the Barack/Clinton appeasement broadcast seem foolish. 

In late September, the US State Department purchased $70,000 worth of ads on Pakistani television. Pakistanis who tuned in were able to see a message by US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton addressing anger about an anti-Islam YouTube clip in the US.

“Since our founding, the US has been a nation that respects all faiths and ejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.… Let me state clearly, and I hope it is obvious, the US government had nothing to do with this video, we absolutely reject its content and message.”

The message was supposed to preempt Pakistani riots.

Pakistan has a history of rioting. In November of 1979 Pakistanis rushed from their homes after hearing a radio broadcast that the United States had bombed the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca. The actual story was that a Saudi Arabian Islamist fanatic had taken over the mosque. The US was not involved. But Pakistani rioters don’t look for facts.

Instead, the rioters sought out the American Embassy in Pakistan and burned it to the ground. Two Americans were murdered. In 1989, following the publication of Salman Rushdi’s The Satanic Verses, 10,000 Pakistanis attacked the American Cultural Center in Islamabad. Six of the protestors died in the incident.

What is nice about this knee-jerk Pakistani reaction to almost anything that the mobs think is offensive, even things that are patently untrue, is that Pakistan has received over $30 billion in US aid. An April 2012 Congressional Research Report noted, “Pakistan has been among the leading recipients of US foreign assistance both historically and in recent years. The country arguably is as important to forwarding US security interests as any in the world.”

During the September debacle in which the US president and secretary of state begged the Pakistanis not to be outraged, a little-covered incident took place. After the protestors were done burning American flags, they turned their attention to destroying movie theaters, veritable dens of immorality. And when the satanic theaters had been burned, protestors in Karachi attacked a Hindu neighborhood.

Hindus form a small minority in Pakistan.

According to Al-Jazeera, which was the only major media outlet to report the story, the protestors ransacked the Sri Krishna temple, burned a holy book and bashed Hindu statues. Then they broke into people’s homes and stole jewelry and valuables. This is, of course, ironic since the protestors were ostensibly protesting the insult to their religion.

What better way to protest the insult to Islam, by a random man in California, than to beat on some Hindus and steal their jewelry? The US State Department didn’t pay for any ads in Pakistan to explain that burning Hindu statues is wrong. Because, while the State Department is clear that one must reject the message of the anti-Islam video, it doesn’t seem to see too much of a problem with some good old jingoistic bashing of minorities.

This is interesting, since one of the State Department’s goals is supposedly to “provide basic education support, such as building schools and providing funds for text books and teachers; and improve the quality of universities in Pakistan.”

Obviously the education isn’t working, at least not in making people tolerant.

BUT PAKISTAN isn’t the only place where a glaring and offensive pogrom against minorities took place recently. In Bangladesh, which until 1973 was known as East Pakistan, another event went under-reported.

On October 2, according to a report in Al-Jazeera, “Crowds of Muslims descended onto Ramu after pictures desecrating Islam and the Koran were found on the Facebook page of a young Buddhist man living in the area.”

In another report from Dubai-based Big News Network, it was noted that: “the Buddhists moved to safety after an overnight weekend attack in which thousands of Bangladeshi Muslims burned at least 10 Buddhist temples and 40 homes in anger over a Facebook photo of a burned Quran.”

The temples were over 250 years old. However, it appears that the photos said to belong to the Buddhist were in fact only tagged with his name and were download by local imams and passed around. According to Madrasa teacher Shamsul Haque, who downloaded the photos, the “Muslims in this community wanted justice and are fed up with being insulted.”

So, even though no one actually insulted them, and in fact it was their own clerics who downloaded offensive pictures and ascribed them to a random Buddhist man, the mobs were set in motion. As Al-Jazeera noted, “The last time there was any violence against the Buddhist community was in 1966 when a young Buddhist boy eloped with a Muslim girl and scores were injured in the communal clashes that followed.”

In 1989, when the supposed offense caused by Rushdie’s book led mobs to murder and pillage throughout the world, a Harvard lecturer named S. Nomanhul Haq was quick to join the chorus of people in the West condemning Rushdie, rather than the rioters and murderers.

In a submission to The New York Times titled “Salman Rushdi, blame yourself,” Haq wrote: “The Muslim nations have not gone through the turmoil’s of the Enlightenment and they have seen no scientific revolution; their sensibilities are different. Often, a peaceful demonstration is not their way and we cannot change them overnight. The best thing is to avoid hitting their most sensitive chords.”

Haq exorcised Rushdie for showing no sympathy for the rioters that died during their extreme outburst. Haq’s notions are alive and well today.

There is a belief in the West that the outraged mobs, the “spontaneous” mobs, are acting on a real grievance. They are “different” since they didn’t experience the “Enlightenment” and therefore “a peaceful demonstration is not their way.”

Not their way? Surely we once heard that about the pogroms related to the blood libel. On July 4, 1946 the Polish people of the town of Kielce in Poland set upon their Jewish neighbors – Jews who had only recently survived the Holocaust. They had heard that the Jews had kidnapped a young boy, so they killed 40 of them in a pogrom. Undoubtedly the local Polish men and women, as they beat the Jews to death and gouged out their eyes, were, in their hearts, truly offended that a Polish boy had gone missing, even if in fact no boy had actually gone missing.

Evidently “a peaceful protest was not their way.” The Polish way in Kielce was the pogrom, based on the rumor.

The Pakistanis go one better. Based on a perceived insult in far-away USA, they raid Hindu temples and steal from minorities. It isn’t that peaceful protest is not their way, it is that rioting and bashing minorities is their way. It isn’t that they didn’t receive the Enlightenment. Just because people didn’t read Voltaire, doesn’t mean they must burn down the temples of other religions.

There is nothing to hum and haw over about rioters and fanatics. The Polish villagers, in their unquenched hatred and zeal, still not satiated in 1946 even though some three million of their Jewish countrymen had been murdered, had to kill 40 more people based on some rumors.

What differentiates them from the mobs in Bangladesh? Except we certainly don’t worry too much about the Polish “motivation” or their “sensitive chord.” But evidently the Western press was quite concerned about not reporting about the destruction of Hindu temples in Pakistan and burning of Buddhist temples in Bangladesh.

After all, mentioning how fanaticism actually results in attacks on religious minorities might make the Barack/Clinton appeasement broadcast seem foolish. It might make the billions in aid to Pakistan and its “education” system, seem ridiculous.

First published in The Jerusalem Post, October 08, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

Why Bangladesh matters


The 1971 Bangladesh War of Liberation is best known to America’s baby boom generation as having resulted in the record album “The Concert for Bangladesh” featuring music by George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and others. It was a landmark event that set the precedent for Live Aid and subsequent rock music centered international charity programs.

However the nation of Bangladesh, with more than 120 million inhabitants, is today an important regional power that is trying hard to escape from a legacy of mass poverty and tyrannical rule.

After Bangladesh successfully broke away from Pakistan, for years it resembled a typical Third World state, mired in corruption and dictatorship. Yet, since the military dictator General Mohammad Ershad was overthrown in a fairly bloodless revolution in 1990, Bangladesh has been a lively, imperfect, tumultuous and violent democracy.

As a sympathetic American wrote in 1993: “For Bangladeshis not only watch politics the way Americans watch the Superbowl; they imbibe it. It is the race for power that fascinates — perhaps because it’s a contest that truly draws blood, as scores of candidates, supporters, students, and others are murdered each year in political or quasi-political battles in the cities, in the countryside, and on university campuses.” It should be remembered that throughout history, few democracies ever evolved peacefully. American political history, for example, cannot be said to have been free of riots, arson and murders.

One important and unique aspect of Bangladeshi democracy has been the idea of a “caretaker government” run by the Supreme Court that takes power in the 90 days leading up to a general election. This helps insure that the balloting will be reasonably open and fair. Even with the “caretaker” governments in place, elections in Bangladesh have never been peaceful or free of voter fraud, but the concept has helped keep problems more or less under control.

The first example of a caretaker government took place in 1990 after the fall of Mohammad Ershad’s military dictatorship. The Chief Justice, Shahabuddin took power and afterwards the elections were won by the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) under Khaleda Zia, the widow of the assassinated BNP leader Ziaur Rahman.

Since then governments led by the BNP and the Awami league have followed each other in office. The transitions between have been smoothed by the Supreme Court’s “caretaker” role.

Now, however, the Awami League government lead by Sheikh Hasina (daughter of Bangladesh’s first president Mujibur Rahman who along with most of his family was assassinated in a 1975 military coup) wants to do away with the caretaker concept. If this change to the law goes through, it will make a difficult situation worse.

The losers in Bangladeshi elections have always had a hard time accepting their loss. Everyone in the country knows that a large number of votes were cast or counted using what Mexicans used to call “electoral magic”. This endangers the legitimacy of all elected governments. At least with a caretaker government in place the loser has the consolation, minor though it may be, of knowing that the winner was not in a position to cheat on a national basis.

Another problem is that politicians have played far too great a role in the way the Bangladeshi legal system works. Accusations of corruption are often made, Sheikh Hasina herself was indicted in 2007. Yet the prosecutors are rarely able to prove their case or to convict powerful political figures.

To make matters worse Sheikh Hasina’s government has chosen to establish a special tribunal to prosecute war crimes committed against Bangladeshi civilians during the 1971 War of Liberation. If this tribunal were founded on recognized international principles and its procedures were open and its members were known for their integrity and legal accomplishments, then no one would have any reason to complain. Unfortunately, what is happening looks like another case of a politicized show trial with the result predetermined to suit the needs of the ruling Awami League Party.

Officially called the International Crimes Tribunal, Bangladesh (ICT), this special court has been set up with the limited intent of prosecuting only those who were opposed to Bangladeshi independence; those who fought on the winning side are, under the rules of the ICT, immune from investigation or prosecution. The Awami League was 100 percent for independence, but the other parties in Bangladesh include some politicians who were against the War of Liberation as well as politicians who supported it and a few who were neutral right up until the Pakistani Army’s surrender on December 16, 1971. These last are known as the December 16th Division and include large numbers of civil servants, police officers and religious leaders.

The decision to set up the ICT looks like an all-out effort by the Awami League to tear the guts out of their opponents in the BNP and the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami. For the moment, the Jamaat seems to be promoting a uniquely Bengali version of Islamist ideology. One sign of this is the way that the law has been modified to prevent individuals being tried by the ICT from appealing to the Bangladesh Supreme Court.

Another sign that the ICT is less than legitimate under any reasonable understanding of judicial fairness is the fact that some judges were men who were associated with a set of highly political mock trials that were conducted as “street theater” in the 1990s, complete with the ceremonial burning in effigy of the accused. The overlap between what were literally show trials and the ICT has turned the entire exercise into a farce.

Unfortunately, the farce may turn deadly since a member of the Awami League government announced anonymously that the accused would be hanged on the highly symbolic date of December 16, 2012. This announcement was made before any of the accused had been convicted. If the quote is accurate, it perfectly demonstrates the purely political nature of the ICT.

To Americans and to the West in general, Bangladesh matters because since 1990 it has been an example of how a poor Muslim nation can maintain an imperfect, but vibrant and functional democracy. Unfortunately, the Awami League seems to be reverting to its political origins as an aspiring left-wing totalitarian party. Back in the 1970s when it was allied with the Soviet bloc, the Awami League announced that it wanted to set up a one-party system. For years, international observers had assumed that Sheikh Hasina and her supporters had long ago given up the goal of a one-party socialist state, but based on the evidence of the ICT and the abolition of the caretaker tradition, this assumption must be questioned.

While human rights activists will properly hold the Awami government and its members to account, US policy makers and diplomats must be cautious. 

There are no easy or happy answers, especially since the American government must take its relationship with India into consideration when it makes any move concerning Bangladesh. However, at the very least Washington will not be able to ignore the way the rule of law and the democratic process are being undermined by what it happening in this populous and culturally important Muslim nation.

First published in the Saudi Gazette, October 18, 2012

Taylor Dinerman is a freelance writer based in New York. He is currently senior editor to Gatestone Institute

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin: Killer?


ON SUNDAY, the British broadsheet The Daily Mail, reported that Bangladeshi prosecution investigators connected to the International Crime Tribunals-Bangladesh had finished their investigations into the suspected war crimes of Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin and Ashrafuzzaman Khan. After the Liberation War of 1971, both men escaped the newly formed state of Bangladesh looking for shelter in the West. Mueen-Uddin went to the United Kingdom and Khan to the United States.

The pair had allegations of war crimes, torture and murder hanging over them, however they managed to build successful lives in their self-imposed exiles. They had both been sucked into the politics o­­­f Jamaat-i-Islami in their youths. They like many others had fallen under the spell of Maulana al-Mawdudi, one of the most prominent Islamist ideologues and practitioners of modern Jihad. Mawdudi believed in the supremacy of his party and their beliefs. Mawdudi believed that all forms of governance, unless his party were in leadership, were un-Islamic. Khan and Mueen-Uddin had been active in Jamaat politics in Bangladesh.

When Bengali nationalists led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman demanded political autonomy and freedom in 1971 the West Pakistani regime demanded they be quashed. Jamaat was used by the Pakistani regime to setup paramilitary death squads to punish those that supported independence. The tribunals in Dhaka believe that Khan and Mueen-Uddin were the ring leaders in these heinous acts of barbarity.

In the winter of 1979, a young Saudi travelled to Pakistan meet with the Amir, the leader, of Pakistan’s most organised religious political party, the Jamaat-i-Islami. The Saudi Embassy had sent a message to Qazi Hossain Ahmed to tell him that a bright, focussed believer was heading their way. His mission was to bring money and support for the Afghan Jihad. Pakistan and the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) had used Pakistan’s religious parties for the jihad. The Jamaat-i-Islami had rallied the Muslim world to the Jihad which was called after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. The young Saudi was called Osama bin Laden and this was the start of a three decade relationship with the Jamaat movement in South Asia which has had severe implications for the rest of the world.

After the Soviet Jihad, Bin Laden tried to help setup the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) with the help of Jamaat. It was an Islamic coalition designed to stop the rise of the Pakistani People’s Party (PPP). It has been alleged in Pakistan’s Supreme Court that the Mehran Bank was used by the ISI to help fund the coalition. Bin Laden became part of Pakistan’s political furniture.

Jamaat leaders also went to meet with bin Laden while he was in exile in Sudan during the 1990s. Jamaat has publicly rallied for Jihad funds for numerous conflicts. Jamaat have also been accused of helping to fan conflicts way beyond Pakistan. In the early 1990’s Jamaat was helping young Uighurs to come for religious training in Lahore, Pakistan. They were diverted to militant camps instead. The Chinese, Russian, Iranian and Indian governments complained about the covert, yet transparent funding of foreign mercenaries by Pakistan and Jamaat. Russia’s Supreme Court blacklisted Jamaat for supplying funds to mercenaries and jihadi fighters.

In 1979, while the Jihad was raging in Afghanistan, Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin, was now living in London, forging his career with other Jamaati figures that had sought refuge away from South Asia. They setup front organisations such as the Islamic Foundation in Leicester, United Kingdom Islamic Mission (UKIM), East London Mosque, and Dawatul Islam. Mueen-Uddin would later play a role in helping Bin Laden and Jamaat’s relationship to cause more human tragedy in South-East Asia.

While in exile, Chowdhury Mueen Uddin build his career in Jamaat’s diasporic politics. He become a trustee and treasurer of Muslim Aid, the UK’s largest Muslim charity. He would also become the Chairman of the Islamic Foundation in Leicester, which was founded by Prof. Khurshid Ahmed, a Pakistani leader and senior politician in Jamaat-i-Islami. The aim of the foundation was to stop the secularisation of Muslims that had moved to the UK from the Indian subcontinent. It was also used to push the thought of Mawdudi in Europe.

I have previously written about Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin’s involvement in the financing of an al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah front called KOMPAK in Indonesia. KOMPAK helped to setup military camps, funnel arms and explosives to militants and was visited by al-Qaeda leaders such as the late Omar Faruq, one of Bin Laden’s key lieutenants and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the new leader of al-Qaeda. ABC News Australia commissioned an expose into the links of Muslim Aid and KOMPAK. The Australian leaders said it was a mistake, however it was later uncovered that Muslim Aid and Jamaat fronts continued with their financing of the Jemaah Islamiyah charity.

The financing of KOMPAK by Muslim Aid had started in 1998. In 2000, Muhammed Hafidz, one of the directors of KOMPAK came on a European Tour to highlight atrocities committed during the sectarian conflicts in the Molucca Islands, Indonesia. He also came looking for donations. He visited Muslim Aid offices, Amnesty International and Muslime Helfen (Muslim Aid Germany). Three years later, Hafidz would be arrested for giving safe haven to two of the Bali bomb makers, Umar Besar (aka. Wayan and Abdul Ghoni) and Sarjiyo (aka. Zaenal Abidin and Sawad). They were staying in his apartment building in the Limus Estate in Bogor, West Java when counter-terrorism officers raided the premises. Hafidz was arrested as part of the crackdown on Jemaah Islamiyah operatives in April, 2003. However, he was later released due to lack of evidence. Some of his fellow directors of KOMPAK weren’t so lucky. They were charged with terrorism related offences and are still in prison for being affiliated with al-Qaeda.

It isn’t the first time Muslim Aid has been accused of supporting Islamic causes and terrorism. Andrew Gilligan of The Daily Telegraph has chronicled the charities support for Hamas. This isn’t a surprise as Jamaat politicians and leaders from Bangladesh and Pakistan have all professed their admiration for Hamas and other groups. Muslim Aid is staffed by those affiliated with Jamaat politics, so it couldn’t come as a surprise when they are accused of funneling money to jihadi causes when their brothers, leaders even, in Pakistan and elsewhere are calling for it publicly.

Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin case isn’t just confined to the politics of Bangladesh. His whole career needs to be investigated fully. His career from suspected war criminal to suspected terrorist financier needs to be investigated by British authorities as a priority of national importance and security.

First published in, October 15, 2012

Thursday, October 04, 2012

The Inhumanity of Fundamentalism

IN THE latest bout of senseless attacks and religion-based violence stemming from posts on social media outlets, a number of Buddhist monks and the monasteries in which they live were targeted by Muslim fundamentalists in Cox's Bazar, in the southeastern part of Bangladesh. Other members of Bangladesh's Buddhist community were also targeted. The reason given was a Facebook post that disparaged the Quran. The photo was supposedly posted by a Buddhist man.

Over 25,000 rioters then took to the streets to protest the photo. Unsurprisingly, the protests turned violent. Numerous accounts have surfaced of hundred-year old temples being attacked and looted, their artifacts steeped in history destroyed. The rioters burned homes, as well, leaving heartless destruction in their wake.

Bangladesh's Daily Star ran a story detailing how Buddhist community's second highest priest, 83-year-old Shreemad Satyapriya Mohathero, was forced to hide in rice paddies while escaping from the fundamentalists' attacks. What makes the situation worse is that many of the monks in these monasteries provided shelter and asylum to countless Muslims during Bangladesh's War of Independence from Pakistan in 1971. They shielded war-weary, desperate Bangladeshi Muslims from the hands of the merciless Pakistani army. If this is how the monks are being repaid for their compassion, Bangladesh should be ashamed of its conduct.

Religious conflicts are not new. They have been around as long as the world has had organized religion. Organized religion, in practice, creates the notion of the 'other,' providing a mechanism to pinpoint a scapegoat for problems and anger. This trend should tell us something. When issues over religion arise, they are, more often than not, dealt with through violence. We are seeing this pattern emerge once again, right in front of us.

In a previous article about the sweeping protests over the anti-Muslim film, Innocence of Muslims, I mentioned how disproportionate the reactions to these social media posts really are. It is now becoming increasingly apparent that questioning what is truly at the root of such violence is essential. A single offensive Facebook picture cannot realistically spark so much retaliation without external factors fueling the fire. It is here that we come to the radical beliefs of fundamentalist Muslims who do not represent the majority but are the most vocal and visible segments of the population. Why are moderates allowing them to get the upper hand?

Bangladesh is a poor, poverty-stricken nation. It has its fair share of governance problems that are only being exacerbated by religious strife. But, Bangladesh does not need to be a cruel nation. Those who perpetrate the violence must stop, must regain an ounce of humanity. The rest of us have to speak out against fundamentalist violence. We have to ensure that they are aware of how wrong their behavior is. It is our duty as moderates and as sane individuals to be vocal and refute the practice of religious zealotry. Otherwise, they win.

First posted in the HuffingtonPost blog, October 03, 2012

Ruzan Sarwar is an international development and governance professional, a
graduate of Georgetown University’s Conflict Resolution Program in Washington, DC. She has experience working for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the UN Development Program (UNDP).

Women Hurting Women in Bangladesh?


ARE FEMALE leaders better for the world’s women?

It would be nice to think that women who achieve power would want to help women at the bottom. But one continuing global drama underscores that women in power can be every bit as contemptible as men.

Sheikh Hasina, prime minister of Bangladesh, is mounting a scorched-earth offensive against Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank and champion of the economic empowerment of women around the world. Yunus, 72, won a Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work in microfinance, focused on helping women lift their families out of poverty.

Yet Sheikh Hasina’s government has already driven Yunus from his job as managing director of Grameen Bank. Worse, since last month, her government has tried to seize control of the bank from its 5.5 million small-time shareholders, almost all of them women, who collectively own more than 95 percent of the bank.

What a topsy-turvy picture: We see a woman who has benefited from evolving gender norms using her government powers to destroy the life’s work of a man who has done as much for the world’s most vulnerable women as anybody on earth.

The government has also started various investigations of Yunus and his finances and taxes, and his supporters fear that he might be arrested on some pretext or another.

“It’s an insane situation,” Yunus told me a few days ago at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, sounding subdued instead of his normally exuberant self. “I just don’t know how to deal with it.”

If the government succeeds in turning Grameen Bank into a government bank, Yunus said, “it is finished.”

Sheikh Hasina, in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, initially agreed to be interviewed by me in a suite at the Grand Hyatt. At the last minute she canceled and refused to reschedule.

Perhaps none of this should be surprising. Metrics like girls’ education and maternal mortality don’t improve more when a nation is led by a woman. There is evidence that women matter as local leaders and on corporate boards, but that doesn’t seem to have been true at the national level, at least not for the first cohort of female leaders around the world.

Bangladesh is actually a prime example of the returns from investing in women. When it separated from Pakistan in 1971, it was a wreck. But it invested in girls’ education, and today more than half of its high school students are female — an astonishing achievement for an impoverished Muslim country.

All those educated women formed the basis for Bangladesh’s garment industry. They also had fewer births: the average Bangladeshi woman now has 2.2 children, down from 6 in 1980. Bringing women into the mainstream also seems to have soothed extremism, which is much less of a concern than in Pakistan (where female literacy in the tribal areas is only 3 percent).

To her credit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has spoken up for Yunus: “I highly respect Muhammad Yunus, and I highly respect the work that he has done, and I am hoping to see it continue without being in any way undermined or affected by any government action,” she said earlier this year. Two former secretaries of state, George Shultz and Madeleine Albright, have also called on Sheikh Hasina to back off.

She shows no sign of doing so. One theory is that she is paranoid and sees Yunus as a threat, especially since he made an abortive effort to enter politics in 2007. Another theory is that she is envious of his Nobel Peace Prize and resentful of his global renown.

Sheikh Hasina is disappointing in other ways. She has turned a blind eye to murders widely attributed to the security services. My Times colleague Jim Yardley wrote just this month about a labor leader, Aminul Islam, who had been threatened by security officers and whose tortured body was found in a pauper’s grave.

Yunus fans are signing a petition on his behalf, but I’d like to see more American officials and politicians speak up for him. President Obama, how about another photo op with Yunus?

I still strongly believe that we need more women in leadership posts at home and around the world, from presidential palaces to corporate boards. The evidence suggests that diverse leadership leads to better decision making, and I think future generations of female leaders may be more attentive to women’s issues than the first.

In any case, this painful episode in Bangladesh is a reminder that the struggle to achieve gender equality isn’t simply a battle between the sexes.

It is far more subtle. Misogyny and indifference remain obstacles for women globally, but those are values that can be absorbed and transmitted by women as well as by men.

First published in the New York Times Sunday Review, September 29, 2012

Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times since 2001, writes op-ed columns that appear twice a week. He won the Pulitzer Prize two times, in 1990 and 2006

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The World Bank battles corruption in Bangladesh

For months now, the World Bank and the government of Bangladesh have been sparring over a planned Bank loan to help construct a bridge over the Padma River. The Bank backed out of the project in June, insisting that it had uncovered evidence of high-level corruption. Specifically, the Bank alleged that representatives of a major Canadian engineering firm bribed Bangladeshi officials (Canadian authorities are reportedly investigating two firm executives). The Bank's move produced outrage in Bangladesh, which insisted that it would find other financing.

More quietly, however, conversations about how to address the Bank's concerns proceeded. The Bank presented a stiff list of conditions: Bangladesh would  have to suspend all officials suspected of corruption, initiate a special investigation domestically, and give an international expert panel access to all relevant information. Last week, the international lender reported that the Bangladeshi authorities had begun fulfilling these terms:

The Government of Bangladesh has now begun to address the evidence of corruption the Bank identified. The World Bank understands that all government employees and officials alleged to have been involved in corrupt acts in connection with the project have been put on leave from Government service until an investigation is completed, and that a full and fair investigation is now underway.

But even that apparent bridging of differences has now run into trouble. Speaking in New York earlier this week, Bangladesh's prime minister insisted that the Bank had no credible evidence of corruption and suggested that the project was resuming because the Bank had accused Bangladesh prematurely. Other officials in Dhaka have said much the same. Yesterday, the Bank tried to correct the record:

The Bank remains concerned about corruption in Bangladesh in general and in the Padma bridge project in particular. It is for this reason that we have also made it clear that to engage anew in the project will require new implementation arrangements that give much greater oversight of project procurement processes to the Bank and co-financiers.

It is only after satisfactory implementation of all these measures as well as a positive report from the external panel of internationally recognized experts that the World Bank will go ahead with the financing of the project.

The people of Bangladesh deserve a clean bridge. If we are to move ahead, we are insisting that a credible investigation is undertaken and any project implementation be done in a manner that ensures transparency and enhanced oversight.

The episode has become one of the most sustained and direct clashes between the Bank and a national government over corruption. And Bangladesh is not just any World Bank client; it has consistently been one of the largest borrowers in the Bank's program for the poorest countries. The controversy is a notable reminder of how prominent anti-corruption efforts have become at the Bank, which for much of its history avoided the subject altogether. This campaign is popular with the Bank's largest shareholders, but it complicates lending to the poorest and weakest states, where corruption is often significant.

The bridge project is also an interesting test for new Bank president Jim Kim. The initial decision to cancel funding was taken at the end of Robert Zoellick's tenure. Shortly after taking office, Kim publicly backed that move, insisting that Bangladesh had been given multiple opportunities to address the problems. Both the Bank's funders and borrowers will be watching carefully as the story plays out. 

First published in Foreign Policy magazine,

David Bosco is a contributing editor at Foreign Policy and the author of Five to Rule Them All: the UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World, a history of the world's most elite club. He is an assistant professor at American University's School of International Service and was a senior editor at FP from 2004-2006