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Friday, October 25, 2013

Monday formula: Who drafted Khaleda Zia press statement?


When all the talkshows in TV channels were busy arguing the most talked about proposal by opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia, whether it was a Bible for the solution of ominous political crisis, some discreetly asking who have drafted the statement read out at the Monday press conference, dubbed “Monday formula”.

The sense of political crisis felt by 'mango people' cannot be denied. What is going to happen(?) is a repeated question asked by people at tea-stalls, public transports and seeking opinion of sob janta office colleagues and friends.

A question remains unknown – who has actually drafted the Monday formula for the chief of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)? Why some people are asking this question, because Khaleda and her senior party leader’s statements in the past couple of weeks has not been reflected in the written statement at press conference.

A day earlier, Khaleda roared not to participate in election under Hasina and would continue her struggle for caretaker government, also declared to be lone-crusader even if she is alone to achieve the goal.

If you browse newspapers headlines what the party leaders have said, it could be found that their words and plans has not been echoed in the statement for the media.

Then who has drafted the half-hearted statement, remains a mystery even to many party leaders. BNP insiders do not claim to bemused to hear the Monday formula to the nation. The formula was not mooted at the party meeting, nor has the statement been endorsed at the helms of affairs of the party leadership. Not to mention of the sharing the Monday formula with the 18-party alliance led by BNP.

None of the leaders interviewed formally and informally by curious news reporter of both print and broadcast media, the party leaders could give a clue what is going to be said at the press conference. Despite hiccups the central leaders have less room to digest nor argue the erroneous issues crept into the Monday formula.

BNP leaders have doubts that it was drafted by former principal secretary also present adviser to party Chairperson. Why do they doubt that a bureaucrat has its hand in preparing the draft? Because the Monday formula has gross lapses and the independent Daily Star attributes the lack of political foresightness to poor home work regarding proposed formation of a polls-time administration by selecting 10 advisers from the 1996 and 2001 caretaker governments.

The popular English newspaper Daily Star concludes that given the country’s ongoing political impasse, many political analysts believe it will be almost impossible for the two political archrivals to reach an agreement over the polls-time government.

Some doubts that the beleaguered son of Khaleda Zia exiled in England has penned the outline of the draft from his ‘bilatee hawa bhaban’.

Why the finger has been pointed towards him? A simple logic is that the recent speeches and statements by Tarique Rahman have been embedded in the Monday formula. His rationalisation to ease relationship with neighbours, denouncing terrorism, good governance and apologetic approach to sensitive issues shadowed into the statement. His political foresight has been overtly reflected in the election pledges in the Monday formula.

On the other hand, the political scientists interprets that the meeting between the United States officials and Tarique was an “ice-breaking” event. This meeting took place in the wake of the U.S. diplomatic cable leaked by the Wikileaks in September 2011 that America considered Tarique as a “symbol of violence”.

Tarique’s “flagrant disregard” for the rule of law had provided potent ground for terrorists to gain a foothold in Bangladesh while also exacerbating poverty and weakening democratic institutions, mentioned the cable.

Despite the image of Tarique, her mother Khaleda Zia has left no stone to use good offices of European Union, United States, Britain, India, Japan and Canada to exert diplomatic pressure on Sheikh Hasina’s government not to harass Tarique on his return to the country. Yet no green signal has been switched from glowing red light.

Most political observers and civil society argues that based on past performances of Khaleda Zia, who was thrice prime minister and twice leader of the opposition, they do not trust her. Notwithstanding the political impasse there is a need for post-mortem of her political pledges stated in the Monday formula.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow (USA) is an independent journalist and writes for international press. Email

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Khaleda Zia appeased every stakeholders, minus war crimes trial


Opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia’s political formula was to enable to conduct the forthcoming parliament election for a democratic transition to a new elected government. The election expected in January next would decide who will govern the nation for the next five years (2014-2019). However, in a peculiar see-saw game of politics, the two rival political parties Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Awami League, which practices dynasty politic shared power since 1991.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s televised nation address last Friday outlines a political plan to hold general election with the participation of main opposition BNP. In response to Hasina, Khaleda’s press conference on Monday reveals a non-partisan interim administration to oversee the next elections. The proposal is accompanied by political pledge for the upcoming election came amidst looming political crisis; as predicted by scores of political analysts that the nation was heading towards uncertainty.

The alternative political resolution spelled out by Khaleda has opened broad spectrum for political debate. Her statement beamed live into million homes by private satellite television channels and breaking news in deshi online news portal gave opportunity for all to review, and ponder her political dictum. For some took a step backward to be confused.

Since evening the private TV channels galore with live talkshows debated on Khaleda Zia’s election formula, the formation of so-called caretaker government application.

In brief the constitutional experts and legal professionals argue that Khaleda’s proposal will not help resolve the ongoing political stalemate.

Her suggestion to usher advisors of the 1996 and 2001 caretaker governments was not welcomed either. Both Awami League and BNP had earlier rejected the election results, blaming vote fraud, which made the caretaker government controversial.

The constitution does have room for unelected person to head a government. Only 10 percent of unelected persons can be accepted as technocrat members.

Was there nothing new in her political statement of Khaleda Zia? Of course there were two things which came as surprises to civil society, political analysts and for those intellectuals who debated in late night live TV talk shows.

Khaleda, thrice elected prime minister since 1991 has deliberately appeased the Indians, United States, European Union, the United Nations and the Muslim countries.

She did not hesitate to offer olive branches to religious minorities, specially the Hindus and was apologetic to the Bangladeshi military. Well Khaleda never said sorry to the nation since she took charge of beleaguered BNP in 1979. For the first time she sought apology for any wrongdoings during her tenure.

What causes fears about her election pledge, she also stated during the Monday press conference was a missing agenda. A vital issue is deliberately missing from her political pledge. The future of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT)! She did not mention a word of the future of the ongoing trials of war crimes suspects. The fate of several war criminals waiting to walk into gallows.

Traditionally, as matter of political philosophy of the party BNP is anti-Indian and of course pro-Islamic, founded by her husband a liberation war hero General Ziaur Rahman, Bir Uttam. The General quickly scraped the trial of the ongoing war crimes trial and let go hundreds of suspected war criminals and also the convicted war criminals, who categorically belonged to Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Chattra Shibir, Muslim League and several other pro-Islamist political outfits. Zia handpicked several political leaders who literally opposed the independence of Bangladesh and elevated them to BNP leadership and even conferred them with ministerial positions. This gave opportunity of Islamist and radical Muslims to raise their heads from obscurity and show their fangs of hatred against India, the Hindus, Awami League and of course the liberation war veterans (muktijuddha).

Coming out of politics of hate, Khaleda in her press statement envisage reaching neighbours, despite trouble remains, which she believes will establish peace, stability, security and regional cooperation. BNP during their tenure in the government and also in opposition had been hostile with neighbouring India. Indian militant leaders lived comfortable life in posh residential areas of Dhaka. They ran businesses, established high schools, trucking and bus services and used Bangladesh passports to travel. Incidentally all the most-wanted militant leaders, except one were handed over to Indian authorities.

During her last unofficial visit to Delhi in 2012, Khaleda promised to help stop cross-border terrorism, refrain from opposing transit facilities with India, etc., etc. Why did good sense prevail upon Khaleda? She fervently urged Indian power-players to exert their good offices to influence Hasina to help bring back home her beloved son Tareque Rahman, the heir of BNP leadership.

The proposals by two arch political rivals Hasina and Khaleda in less than a week, the nation heaved a sigh of relief. Now the nation is unlikely to slide into political void, but uncertainty still remains. What will happen next?

Saleem Samad is an Ashoka Fellow for journalism, is an award winning investigative journalist. He is media practitioner and micro-blogger. He studied media and communication in Bangladesh and United States. He has co-authored several books.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The never-ending trial of Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus


Muhammad Yunus is the first person since Dr Martin Luther King Jr to achieve the trifecta of the Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal, and the US Congressional Medal. However, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh put him on trial for a second time. The prime minister alleged that Yunus had received his earnings without the necessary permission from the government, including his Nobel Peace Prize earnings and the royalties from his books. This trial has puzzled billions of people around the world, from 8.3 million underprivileged women of Grameen Bankto President Barack Obama. Who is right: the leader of his own country or the leader of the free world? To answer this, we need to look at the first trial. 

Prime Minister Hasina launched the first trial against Yunus in December 2010, one month after the release of Caught in Micro Debt, a documentary by Tom Heinemann. Screened on Norwegian television on November 30, 2010, the film broadcast the allegation that Yunus stashed approximately $100 million in 1996 into Grameen Kalyan, a sister company of Grameen Bank. After completing a full investigation, the Norwegian government found Yunus innocent. However, Prime Minister Hasina used the situation as an excuse to increase a sustained attack on Yunus. She fired him from Grameen Bank, citing that he was older than the mandatory retirement age of 60, even though nine of the bank's directors-who were elected by 8.3 million Grameen Bank borrowers-allowed him to stay on the job after he had crossed that threshold. Many people thought the prime minister would not take further damaging action against Bangladesh's only Nobel Laureate, yet she continued her assault on Yunus and Grameen Bank. She brought more pressure against Grameen Bank by reducing the power of the bank's directors and breaking the bank into nineteen pieces. However, in September 2013, her mission to destroy Yunus took an even more drastic turn: She decided to put him on trial again. Yunus has challenged the allegations against him and has claimed that they are baseless, politically motivated charges. The Obama administration urged the Prime Minster to treat Yunus in a fair and transparent manner. 

Prime Minister Hasina's political vendetta against Yunus could be understood as a modern-day replay of the famous conflict between Archimedes and General Marcellus. Roman soldiers killed Archimedes because, instead of meeting with General Marcellus, he said, "Don't disturb my circle." In a similar reactionary spirit, Hasina, who labeled Yunus as a "blood sucker of poor people," unleashed her entire regime to destroy Yunus just because he asked her not to disturb his Grameen Bank. 

Yunus not only founded Grameen Bank but also nurtured it with his world-acclaimed, highly influential concepts of microcredit and social business. Yunus formulated microcredit in 1974 as an innovative idea to spur entrepreneurship among underprivileged people. In 1981, he formulated social business as a visionary new dimension for capitalism. In my new book Grameen Social Business Model, I show how these two concepts started as theories yet have evolved to become practices adopted by leading universities (e.g., Glasgow University), entrepreneurs (e.g., Franck Riboud), and corporations (e.g., Groupe Danone) across the globe. 

Yunus believes that people who are poor can achieve success if they have access to microcredit. That does not mean that microcredit is the perfect remedy to end all poverty; however, it seems to be the best option available. In a sense, microcredit is like education; one can succeed only if he or she puts in the extra effort. Simply building more schools in remote villages will not educate everyone. By the same token, Grameen Bank does not turn everyone into a successful person. Yet a microcredit loan may indeed increase an individual's chances of rising out of poverty. For example, Taslima Begum, who lives in Shibganj Upazila, took out a loan worth Tk 1,500 from Grameen Bank in 1991 to help her husband run a mechanic's shop. The couple are now self-reliant. Begum received the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of Grameen Bank from the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee, Ole Danbolt Mjoes, at Oslo City Hall on December 10, 2006. Begum was merely 1 of 8.3 million borrowers; thus, we get a sense of how Grameen Bank successfully empowers women. Yunus and Grameen Bank's 8.3 million borrowers became a family. For the last three decades, they worked together, prayed together, struggled together, attacked poverty together, and even won the Nobel Peace Prize together. Hence, Yunus refused to allow Prime Minister Hasina to break Grameen into nineteen pieces, much the same way Archimedes refused to leave his beloved circle. 

Roman soldiers killed the father of mathematics because they were ignorant; they thought meeting with General Marcellus was more important than contemplating a geometric circle. Do Prime Minister Hasina's actions mirror this ignorance? Regardless, three factors contributed to her brash decision: the Nobel Peace Prize, hingsha, and politics. 

First, Prime Minister Hasina did not agree with Yunus winning the Nobel Peace Prize; she thought that the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee would award it to her for signing a peace treaty, the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), in 1997. Second, Hasina experienced hingsha, which is a Bangladeshi word meaning jealousy or hatred. As Yunus won more awards and became more famous, Hasina feared his reputation would soar above that of her father, Shikh Mujib. Third, in an interview with the AFP news agency in 2007, Yunus remarked that politicians in Bangladesh work only for money, saying, "There is no ideology here." In 2013, he decided to join in cleaning up corruption by launching a new political party, Citizen Power. However, he never went through with his plans. 

Yunus is not a divine being or free from mistakes. Rather, he is a man, and no man in the world has never made mistakes. One does not have to be a Newton or Einstein to understand that the works of great people are tied to trials and tribulations. Every idea, invention, theory, and concept has its own humiliating shortcomings, from Newton's theory of gravity to Yunus's theory of microcredit. Indeed, Yunus should have known better. Perhaps he should have done more for the poor people of the world or published more books. Instead, he became Prime Minister Hasina's target for name-calling, accusations, and expulsion from Grameen Bank. 

I really do not know how the prime minister will end this trial. But I can only hope that she will never unleash her soldiers on Yunus the way General Marcellus unleashed his on Archimedes some 2300 years ago. President Obama remarked, "Professor Yunus was just trying to help a village, but he somehow managed to change the whole world." I hope he does not have to continue reminding Prime Minister Hasina that this is not 212 BC but 2013 AD.

 in TheTimes of India,

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Bangladesh: Another Verdict for War Crimes


On October 1, 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal-1 (ICT-1) sentenced to death the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s (BNP) standing committee member and six-time Member of Parliament (MP) [sitting MP from Rangunia constituency of Chittagong District since 2008], Salauddin Quader Chowdhury (64), for war crimes during the Liberation War of 1971. The tribunal found him guilty on nine of 23 charges that were leveled against him. He was held guilty for the Maddhaya Gohira Genocide; the murder of Nutun Chandra Singha; genocide at Jogotmollopara; the murder of Nepal Chandra and three others; genocide at Unsuttarpara; the killing of Satish Chandra Palit; the killing of Mozaffar and his son; abduction and torture of Nizamuddin Ahmed; and abduction and torture of Saleh Uddin.

Chowdhury had been arrested in Dhaka on December 16, 2010, and was indicted on April 4, 2012.

Though this is the seventh verdict by the two ICTs, thus far, the judgement is extraordinary as the first conviction of a BNP leader. All the earlier six verdicts, were against Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) leaders. While four of them had received death sentences, the remaining two were awarded life imprisonment. While JeI ameer (chief) Ghulam Azam (91), and, assistant secretary general of JeI Abdul Quader Mollah were originally sentenced to life imprisonment, the Supreme Court, on September 17, 2013, converted Mollah sentence to the death penalty. Indeed, there had been widespread protests across the country demanding death for Mollah after the ICT-2’s February 5, 2013, judgement.

A total of 13 high profile leaders, including 11 of the JeI and two of BNP, the latter including Chowdhury, have so far been indicted for the War Crimes. The other BNP leader facing trial is former minister, Abdul Alim. Alim, arrested on March 27, 2011 from his residence in Joypurhat District, was indicted on June 11, 2012.

As expected, soon after the October 1 verdict, as had happened after each of the six earlier verdicts, violent protestors hit the streets across the country. As many as 13 people have been injured in two incidents of violent protests since October 1 (all data till October 6, 2013). According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of 171 persons, including 74 JeI-ICS cadres, 88 civilians and nine Security Force (SF) personnel have been killed in street violence since January 21, 2013, when the first verdict in the War Crimes Trials had been delivered. As many as 2,795 JeI-ICS cadres have been arrested for their involvement in 202 incidents of violence over this period.

Indeed, on May 28, 2013, the BNP had threatened to overthrow the Government through a street movement, when BNP standing committee member Barrister Moudud Ahmed declared, “If the Government favours violence skipping the path of dialogue, we’ll ensure its fall through violence, but we don’t want violence in the country… we want peace and discipline.”

Moreover, signaling the future course of the politics of vendetta, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia's adviser, Khandaker Mahbub Hossain, warned that, if voted to power, the BNP would try those involved in the War Crimes trials. Speaking in a similar vein, Mirza Abbas, another member of the BNP standing committee, observed, “The nation has not accepted the judgment… If the verdict against Salauddin Quader is executed, the people involved with this [trial] will be charged with murder.” Likewise, Syed Moazzem Hossain Alal, chief of the Jatiyatabadi Jubo Dal (Nationalist Youth Party), the youth front of BNP, stated, “On completion of the tenure of this Government and Parliament, Bangladesh will be ruled by Khaleda Zia and Tarique Rahman. Servile ministers and judges will not be allowed to move around freely. They will be made to run around in their birthday suits and brought to trial at the people’s court.”

Not to be cowed down, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asserted, on October 3, 2013, “I believe that we will be able to complete trials of war criminals who committed crimes against humanity during the Liberation War in 1971 so as to free the nation from stigma. The BNP cannot save them.” She accused the BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia of siding with war criminals and alleged that BNP-JeI activists have been killing people, setting them on fire, in order to save war criminals.

Further, disproving the BNP and its supporters’ claim that people were against the War Crimes verdicts, people across the social spectrum have expressed strong approval for the latest judgement, as they did of the past verdicts. Several hundred people of all ages burst into cheers shouting Joy Bangla (Victory of Bangladesh), Jonotar Joy Holo (People Triumphed) when the Tribunal announced its decision. Imran H. Sarker, spokesperson of the Gonojagoron Mancha, declared, “S.Q. Chowdhury not only committed genocide, he has challenged our independence many times in the last 42 years. The verdict proved that the war criminals have no place in independent Bangladesh.” Gonojagoron Mancha (People's Resurgence Platform) is demanding the death penalty for all war criminals. 

Likewise, Bangladesh Samyabadi Dal (Communist Party of Bangladesh), Bangladesh Jubo Union (the youth front of Communist Party of Bangladesh), United National Awami Party, and others, issued separate statements hailing the verdict and demanding its quick execution. Witnesses to S.Q. Chowdhury’s war-time atrocities also expressed satisfaction over the verdict. Mohammad Salimullah, who owned the Muslim Press in Chittagong District during the Liberation War and was the second prosecution witness in the case, wept as he said, “When I was being tortured in Goods Hill in 1971, I cried in pain and was thinking of my little daughter I left home … Today, these are tears of joy.” He urged the BNP not to oppose the verdict and to expel Chowdhury from the party’s standing committee.

Regrettably, however, an unnecessary controversy has been created by the leaking of parts of ICT-1’s verdict on Chowdhury prior to the delivering of the judgement. The Detective Branch has launched an investigation into matter, but the leak has undermined the credibility of the tribunal, providing an opportunity to those who are opposing the trials to hit back. Indeed, in its official reaction to the ICT-1 verdict on October 2, 2013, BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir announced an agitation programme, claiming, “We are expressing our condemnation of the Government for its evil attempt to eliminate opposition party politics in the country. We are astonished that SQC (S.Q. Chowdhury) was deprived of justice… The text of the ICT verdict was displayed on different websites even before its pronouncement. It was leaked from the office of an acting secretary in the law ministry.” The State Minister for Law, Quamrul Islam, while admitting that part of the verdict had been leaked, stated, “This is certain that the verdict has not been leaked from the ministry and such an allegation is baseless… People involved in the leak will be spotted soon.” Meanwhile, on October 3, 2013, the Detective Branch of the Police seized the computer on which the verdict delivered by the ICT-1 was drafted, in order to track down those involved in the ‘verdict leak plot’.

Hasina’s assertiveness in the aftermath of the Salauddin Quader Chowdhury verdict is appreciable, and it appears clear that her determination to bring the war criminals of 1971 is not faltering. Nevertheless, a long process remains before the trials and appeals can be brought to their eventual conclusion, and the elections of 2014 are quickly drawing closer. The Opposition parties have made their intention to reverse – indeed, ‘avenge’ – the war crimes trials, abundantly clear. Justice for the victims of the atrocities of 1971, and emotional and political closure for Bangladesh, are still distant prospects.

First published in SouthAsia Intelligence Review, Weekly Assessments & Briefings, Volume 12, No. 14, October 7, 2013

S. Binodkumar Singh is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

Sunday, October 06, 2013

How Not to Love Nature: Shove a Coal Plant Next to Earth’s Biggest Mangrove Forest

Smoke-belching behemoth near Bangladesh's Sundarbans National Park will threaten the home of Bengal tigers, river dolphins and other species


Man-eating tigers have long provided the best defense for Bangladesh’s Sundarbans National Park, the planet’s largest mangrove forest and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Each year between 20 to 50 people are recorded killed within the reserve’s shrinking boundaries (though guides say the unofficial toll could be much higher), striking fear into would-be poachers and anyone looking to carve out more turf in this small, overpopulated country. These days, however, environmentalists are alarmed by a more insidious threat to the park’s future: a massive 1,320-MW coal-fired power plant that’s due to be constructed just 14 km away, in the city of Rampal.

The government insists that the project, a joint venture with India’s state-owned National Thermal Power Corp., is needed to bring affordable electricity to one of the poorest corners of Bangladesh amid rising demand and energy costs. But opponents counter that operating a coal plant so close to an ecologically critical area will devastate waterways and vegetation that support a range of extraordinary wildlife, from river dolphins to the iconic royal Bengal tiger. In a low-lying and already flood-prone country, there are additional fears that without the natural buffer the mangrove offers, people will be even more vulnerable to severe weather.

“No sane person in the world would agree to this project,” says Kallol Mustafa, an engineer and member of a newly formed protection committee.

To bolster their case, critics are quick to point to a coal-fired plant of similar size that was constructed in 1979 in Fayette, Texas, with pledges from authorities that damage would be negligible on the area’s agriculture. The authorities were wrong: in 2010, scientists reported that the roughly 30,000 tons of sulfur dioxide emitted by the plant each year was killing vegetation across the state, provoking a public outcry that has since pressured the Texas power authority into taking steps to shut the plant down. The proposed plant at Rampal, by comparison, is projected to discharge some 52,000 tons of sulfur dioxide annually.

Some broader concerns over projected emissions were acknowledged in a government-sponsored impact assessment published in January. But the report classified the region as “residential and rural” rather than ecologically critical, lowering the bar for emission levels deemed permissible by the state’s Ministry of Environment and Forest. Critics say this decision has been compounded by lack of transparency on fundamental questions surrounding the project, such as who will ultimately benefit from the power that is generated, and how waste and processed water would be treated to reduce pollution.

At the same time, there is anger over neighboring India’s willingness to help bankroll an environmentally dubious power project in Bangladesh after falling short at home. In recent years, India, which is home to about a third of the Sundarbans forest, has seen two major coal power plants halted in the states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh because of more strictly enforced legal barriers and large protests. “It is hypocrisy. They were stopped in their own country so they are violating the law in other countries,” says Moshahida Sultana Ritu, an economist at the University of Dhaka.

Azizur Rahman, the Rampal project’s first director and now a government consultant, dismisses the notion that national laws have been flouted for political reasons. He says oil- and gas-powered electricity is simply too costly, leaving no alternative to coal for future energy security, and insists “there is no [outside] pressure — the Indian government follows its own guidelines, and we follow ours.” A team of experts approved the project after thorough tests, and details of their findings and the terms of the agreement are available to anyone who formally requests them, he says. “We must control all the pollution, in keeping with the standards of Bangladesh.”

Yet given Bangladesh’s lackluster environmental record, there are plenty of skeptics. Designated water sanctuaries are threatened by rampant shipping, and — according to a recent study by the Dhaka-based Soil Resource Development Institute — logging, shrimp farming and other forms of human encroachment have shrunk the forest by nearly 50,000 hectares over the past decade. Meanwhile, the government has approved a shipbreaking yard on the river that forms the Sundarbans’ eastern border, effectively book-ending the forest with industrial projects. For a troubling preview of what may be coming, environmentalists cite the coastal yards near Chittagong, where toxic runoff from beached supertankers continues to poison local communities.

This week, protesters are making a 400-km march from Dhaka to Rampal in a bid to draw greater attention to what’s at stake. Abdullah Abu Diyan, a conservationist and veteran guide whose uncle founded the first Sundarbans tour company back in the 1970s, says despite the enthusiasm many people have for the reserve — born out by a steady rise in domestic tourism — there’s still a general lack of awareness over the reserve’s role as a protective barrier and environmental asset in a haphazardly developing country.

“It’s the only patch of forest left in Bangladesh that you can truly call a forest,” he says. “If it goes, we will have generation after generation that will not care after the environment because you only care about things that you can touch, feel and love.”

First published in the TIME magazine, September 26, 2013