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Monday, September 30, 2019

Bangladesh worry thaws on NRC

A protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Assam in January 2019. Photo: AFP
Saleem Samad
The good news over which many heaved a sigh of relief came when Indian prime minister Narendra Modi assured his Bangladesh counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, that Assam’s National Registration of Citizens (NRC) in India would have no impact on Bangladesh and urged her not to be worried about it.
In the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at New York, Modi gave his assurance after Hasina raised the NRC issue saying that it was a matter of great concern for Bangladesh.
This conclusive statement came at the time when the Indian leadership was in deep embarrassment after a series of hiccups experienced by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government after the publication of the NRC list.
During the parliamentary (Lok Sabha) elections in May, the BJP extended political support to the upgrading of Assam’s National Register of Citizens, a Supreme Court-monitored process to identify undocumented migrants from Bangladesh living in the state.
It was a disaster as most of the illegal migrants according to the list published were Hindus, nearly three-fourths and very few Muslims allegedly from Bangladesh. Even Kargil war veterans and others were unfortunately de-listed as Indian nationals.
Shoaib Daniyal in his in-depth story published in reveals several blunders in the de-listing of Indian nationals which have caused displeasure within the ruling BJP.
Weeks before the release of the final list in August, the BJP expressed severe displeasure with the NRC. BJP-run state and central governments even tried to delay publication. The BJP realized that the bill was not a solution for Bangali Hindus left out of the NRC.
Only recently, the BJP went so far as to declare that it was rejecting the NRC entirely. The Citizenship Amendment Bill is on a head-on collision course with the NRC, which will instead hinder Bangladeshi Hindus become Indian citizens, writes Daniyal.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill shows the actual process of making claims under the Bill is so complicated and riddled with contradictions that it would have no real impact on the citizenship prospects of Bangali Hindus left out of the NRC.
Large-scale exclusion of Hindus will cause collateral damage politically to the BJP, a party that has a Hindu identity. For damage control, the BJP has renewed its push to amend India’s citizenship law in order to explicitly favor non-Muslim migrants from neighboring countries, writes
Most of the criticism of the Citizenship Amendment Bill introduced by the Modi government has centered around the question of religious discrimination.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill introduced in 2016 would violate India’s secular character since it expressly identifies Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan as being eligible for citizenship even if they entered the country illegally. Obviously, this list leaves out Muslims.
Critics from Indian civil society as well as the political opposition have opposed the Bill on the ground that it would violate India’s secular character.

First published in the Bangla Tribune online edition, 30 September 2019

Saleem Samad, is a journalist, media rights defender, also recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad; Email:

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

ARSA Episode: Jeopardizing Safety, Security Of Rohingya Refugees

ARSA leader Ataullah Abu Ammar Jununi flanked by militants (Source: Al-Jazeera)
International rights groups have dubbed Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) as a rogue Islamic militant group, and responsible for series of crime against humanity in restive Rakhine State, Myanmar.
The ragtag radicalized militant's recruits from among Rohingyas under the leadership who were born and raised in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is creating law and order situation in the refugee camps in Bangladesh.
For decades, the Rohingya have experienced ethnic and religious persecution in Myanmar. The majority have escaped to Bangladesh. Tens of thousands have fled to other countries in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
ARSA remains a poorly equipped and trained force, able to do little in the way of waging a sustained campaign against Myanmar's security forces. Presently their primary goal is to consolidate power within the camps in Bangladesh, also in Malaysia and Indonesia.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) reported on 14 December 2016 that in interviews, the leaders of ARSA claimed to have links to private individuals in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The ICG also claimed in an unconfirmed report that Rohingya villagers had been "secretly trained" by Afghan and Pakistani fighters.
In 2017, ARSA leader Ataullah Abu Ammar Jununi stated in a video posted online that "our primary objective under ARSA is to liberate our people from dehumanizing oppression perpetrated by all successive Burmese (also known as Myanmar) regimes".
The group claims to be an ethnic-nationalist insurgent group and has denied allegations that they are Islamists, claiming they are secular and "have no links to terrorist groups or foreign Islamists".
However, ARSA follows many traditional Islamic practices such as having recruits swear an oath on the Quran, referring to their leader as an emir (head of state) and asking for fatwas (Islamic religious decrees or edicts) from foreign Muslim clerics.
London based Amnesty International after conducting interviews with refugees in Bangladesh and in Rakhine State confirmed that mass killings carried out by ARSA took place in a cluster of villages in northern Maungdaw Township at the time of its attacks on police posts in late August 2017. The findings also show ARSA was responsible for low-intensity violence against civilians.
Security experts believe that the plight of the Rohingyas in Rakhine State will further deteriorate with the continued activities of ARSA in the region. This will surely endanger the good intention of the Rohingya refugees repatriation to Myanmar.
There are real dangers associated with allowing the alleged oppression against the Rohingya to continue. Several experts have already predicted that if elements of threats are left unattended the region will come face to face with a very serious security crisis.
In the void have stepped Islamist civil society organizations that are now providing education, medical assistance, and food for the refugees. Bangladeshi Islamist groups, including hardline militant groups like Hefazat-e-Islam that have engaged in violence, has established over 1000 madrasas in the camps in Cox's Bazar and Bandarban.
ARSA is striving to consolidate its authority in the world's largest refugee camps in Bangladesh. Similarly, efforts are visible in Malaysia and Indonesia. The militant outfit controls over the refugee camps not only gives them power and control over resources there but also gives them additional pressure when they "fundraise" amongst diaspora communities.
The militant outfit should be contained based on intelligence gatherings by security agencies. Their active involvement in madrasas teaching and reciting Quran is responsible for jeopardizing the safety and security of the Rohingyas in the camps. The threat perception of the refugees comes from non-combatant members of ARSA outfit.

The article was first published in The New Nation, 24 September 2019

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad; Email:

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Did anybody protest scrapping of CHT special status?

Picturesque hill forest of Chittagong Hill Tracts - Photo: Online
Moments after India scrapped the historic Special Status of Jammu & Kashmir, sporadic protests were held in some educational campuses in Bangladesh, many created storm over cups of tea, and others took to social media to criticize the decision of Narendra Modi.
Those who protested in social media in Bangladesh did not hesitate to circulate photos and videos, which were discovered to be fake. Photos and videos of atrocities in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, even from Balochistan and Waziristan in Pakistan surfaced in cyberspace and sought to be passed off as pictures of incidents occurring in Indian Administered Kashmir.
Bangladesh media reacted responsibly to the Revocation of Article 370 for J&K, keeping in mind its responsibility not to jeopardize nearly five decade long warm bilateral relations between two neighboring countries.
Like most members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and other countries in the North, Bangladesh stated that the J&K is an internal matter of India.
Political scientists found three primary reasons why tens of thousands of social media enthusiasts used this opportunity to ventilate their frustration over the Kashmir crisis.
Firstly, it was nothing but Sunni Muslim jingoism to express solidarity with Muslim brethren in Kashmir (similar support, it needs stating, was also shown for Palestine). Secondly, there was obviously an element of religious intolerance also involved and third, their overt reservation about Bangladesh-India relationship, which they argue is lopsided, stood exposed.
The issue of discussion here is whether any “Bir Bangalee” in the eastern province of Pakistan (now Bangladesh) protested the annulment of the Special Status stated in Chittagong Hill Tracts Manual 1900.
Promptly those hyper-critics of Kashmir issue will argue that the news media in those days were not vibrant and social media did not exist. There was little concern then among the citizens in this province, and the situation is not very different even today, regarding the cancellation of Special Status of CHT.
The concept of Special Status for a specially administered area was also recognized in the British colonial system under Government of India Acts of 1919 and 1935. The constitutions of Pakistan of 1956 and 1962 made no change in the Special Status announced earlier for some areas.
This regulation laid down specific rules on rights of entry and residence in the CHT and made it difficult for people from outside to acquire rights to land in the region.
From the inception of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Pakistan government dubbed indigenous leadership as pro-Indian.
Suddenly the Special Status was abolished in 1963 through a constitutional amendment, instigated by Chittagong-born politician Fazlul Quader Chaudhury (detained in 1972 for committing ‘crimes against humanity’ during brutal birth of Bangladesh) he was the Speaker of Pakistan National Assembly (1963 – 1965) during military dictator General Ayub Khan.
Furthermore, Pakistan changed the status of the CHT from “excluded area” to “tribal area”. It also repealed the Chittagong Hill Tracts Frontier Police Regulations of 1881.
The impact of the amendment was visible by mid-1960s, all Pahari (indigenous people) employees in the administration were transferred to other districts of the province, running the local administration entirely by Bangalees only, as Dr Ameena Mohsin of Dhaka University described in her book.
CHT, the home of Mongoloid indigenous communities was ruled by the Mughal from 1666 until 1760. In 1760, it was ceded to the British East India Company. The Mughal rulers did not interfere in the region’s governance system in exchange for revenues. The region preserved the culture, heritage, land rights and special lifestyle of the indigenous communities. The British also followed the Mughal policy.
Several academics and Adivasi leaders of Hill Tracts claimed that soon after the termination of Special Status or Excluded Area, the United States- the funded hydro-electric project was built in Kaptai, inundating 40 percent of the rice bowl. The dam on Karnaphuli River was built depriving the hill people of any compensation or rehabilitation after forced displacement.
Similarly, a paper mill and other small-medium commercial enterprises were established to exploit the natural resources of the hill forests.
Bangladesh’s much talked about 1972 Constitution failed to recognize the Special Status of the hill people, despite demands of recognition by the Adivasi leaders. This led to political discontent in the hills, which developed into a crisis and plunged the region into armed conflict. There arose a demand for regional autonomy until a peace accord was signed in 1997.
Another amendment in Section 34 of the CHT Regulation in 1979 during General Ziaur Rahman’s authoritarian regime, paved the way for planned settlement of Bangalees from the floodplains in the CHT. The mass influx from the plain-land significantly changed the demographic composition of the region, laments Dr Shapan Adnan.

First published in the Bangla Tribune, 17 September 2019

Saleem Samad, is a journalist, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad; Email:

Monday, September 16, 2019

Imagine Pakistan without terror!

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan - Photo: Reuters
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is quite possibly the only Muslim country which has mainstreamed Islamic militancy in its national extra-curricular activities.
In utter hypocrisy, the Sunni Muslim majoritarian country is the primary contributor to UN peacekeeping … while also aiding and abetting Jihadists.
Recently, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Ijaz Ahmed Shah exposed the truth that the national exchequer has footed millions of rupees on terror outfit Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD).
The top official of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, while speaking to journalist Nadeem Malik, stated on Pakistani private TV channel Hum News that the Imran Khan government has spent billions of rupees on the banned terror outfit JuD to attach them to the mainstream.
Earlier, during his maiden visit to the US in July, Khan had made a similar revelation that his country still has about 30,000 to 40,000 militants “who have been trained and fought in some part of Afghanistan or Kashmir,” according to a wire service report.
Pakistan’s pioneering role of deployment of non-state actors began from the insurrection in Kashmir in 1947-48, which was masterminded by Major General Akbar Khan.
In the book Raiders in Kashmir by Akbar Khan, he described the evil behind Pakistan’s invasion of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947. Later in the 1970s, during General Zia ul Haq’s regime, he overtly nurtured jihadists with weapons, logistics, and training facilities for Mujaheddin’s fight with Russia in Afghanistan.
Years after the Mujaheddin coalition government came to power, General Pervez Musharraf, through 1994-96, pushed tens of thousands of Taliban into Afghanistan.
The militants were recruits from madrasas in Pakistan, especially from those in the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). Hundreds of foreign fighters from across the Muslim world joined the Taliban militia, mostly Pashtuns in Pakistan, Uzbeks, and Turkmens. Soon after, the world’s dreaded terror network, Al-Qaeda, moved its headquarters and covert operations into Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
Afghanistan was shackled under the strictest Islamic Sharia -- where women were barred from going to school or getting jobs, and music and theaters were banned outright.
The men were forced to grow beards and pray five times, while women were covered with a black abaya or burka when they stepped outside their homes on the condition that they should be accompanied by a male. 
The Taliban moral police were cruel with violators of so-called Islamic rules, especially with women.
The Taliban regime in Afghanistan collapsed soon after the ruthless Al-Qaeda suicide operatives rammed into the World Trade Centre building in New York with hijacked commercial airlines on September 11, 2001.
Years later, Western intelligence confirmed that Pakistan was secretly harboring the dreaded Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden -- founder of Al-Qaeda and other terror outfits including Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, and Al-Badr -- who were particularly engaged with infiltration into India-administered Kashmir.
Bin Laden, a blue-eyed boy of the Pakistan military hierarchy, had been lying in front of the proverbial nose of the military establishment in Abbottabad.
It was exposed when the United States Navy Seal Team made a dramatic search-and-kill operation and eliminated Bin Laden -- the world’s most wanted terrorist -- and his bodyguards in 2011.
As Tarek Fatah, a Pakistan-born Canadian journalist writes: “Pakistan, the country that nurtured the mastermind of 9/11, Khaled Sheikh Muhammad, and hosted Al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden, escaped all scrutiny as its wily diplomats ran circles of deceit around Western governments while corrupt Jihadi generals profited immensely and still do.”
Most Pakistan-born journalists, academics, and rights activists living in exile believe that Minister Ijaz Ahmed Shah’s comments were a face-saving strategy ahead of the upcoming meeting of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in October.
Last month, the FATF’s regional affiliate Asia-Pacific Group put Pakistan in the red list, for having major deficiencies in their anti-money-laundering and counter-financing of terrorism framework and implementation.
But the question still remains: Is Naya Pakistan doomed to fail as well? 

First published in Dhaka Tribune, 16 September 2019

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, recipient of Ashoka Fellow and Hellman-Hammett Award

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Will Pakistan recognize Israel?

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri shakes hands with Israeli FM Silvan Shalom. Istanbul, Turkey. Sept. 1, 2005. It remains the only publicly acknowledged talks between the two states, Photo: AP
Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan’s political buzzword “Naya Pakistan” has given lots of surprises since he came to power in the last quarter of 2018.
Khan has failed to allure his neighboring countries, especially India, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. Instead, he went three steps forward to make the relationship from sweet to sour.
On the other side, Pakistan’s most distinguished print and TV journalist, Kamran Khan, who is also editor-in-chief for the influential Dunya Media Group, triggered a controversial debate in a tweet: “Why can’t we openly debate the pros and cons of opening direct and overt channels of communication with the State of Israel?”
It was once a taboo to overtly discuss a relationship with Israel, but the issue has entered Pakistan’s capital Islamabad and has spilled over into mainstream discourse.
Early this year, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi of “Naya Pakistan” told the Israeli newspaper Maariv that Pakistan wants “normal ties” with Israel.
Speculation is ripe about whether or not the ace cricketer, Khan, has let the balloons loose to feel the pulse of the mainstream. A renewed debate has been active in Islamabad over the recognition of Israel for the past 12 months.
In the decades of hostility among Muslim countries and the Jewish State of Israel, except for a few Arab and Muslim countries, none has recognized the country which was given birth using forceps by superpowers in the late 1940s in the hostile neighborhood of Palestine.
In the same decade, 50% of Muslims in India decided to migrate to a new country -- born through a cesarean section -- on the basis of religion.
After two months of the nation-state being founded on Muslim nationalism, Pakistan’s first foreign minister Zafarullah Khan rejected the concept of Jewish nationalism in the United Nations General Assembly session on October 1947.
He argued that, unlike Pakistan, a Jewish state in Palestine would be an “artificial” result of “immigration,” thus ignoring the partition of India that caused large scale cross-border migration, and which is described as a dark period.
Following Israel’s independence, its first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion sent a telegram to the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in a bid to establish diplomatic relations. The message was stowed into cold storage.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had a “fanatical hatred” for Israel in the 70s, but at the same time did not “conceal his dislike for Arabs.”
In August 1994, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto quietly declined to visit Gaza because the visit would have to be coordinated with Israeli authority, as part of their agreement with Palestine.
Despite Islamist pressure and Pakistan being controlled by its military, several unofficial diplomatic exchanges have taken place between Pakistani and Israeli officials over the decades, including the reported meetings of Israeli president Ezer Weizman with his counterpart Rafiq Tarar (in Ankara in 1988), and with Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (Johannesburg, 1994).
The political governments in Pakistan are hesitant to seek a breakthrough in establishing diplomatic ties with Israel when the nation and the military, both major stakeholders, condemn Israel’s killing of Palestine and Arab “Muslims.”
Fourteen years ago, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri held their first-ever publicly acknowledged meeting with Israeli FM Silvan Shalom on September 1, 2005, at Istanbul. After Ankara and Istanbul’s tête-à-tête, the interactions between Israel and Pakistan have been limited to counter-terror intelligence and arms trade.
The military dictator General Pervez Musharraf has continued to urge Pakistan to establish relations with Israel, echoing the views of Pakistan’s corridors of power.
Imran Khan, being the army’s “Chosen One,” has guaranteed protection against domestic backlash from the military, which would hope to benefit from formal defense ties with Israel.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 10 September 2019

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender also recipient of Ashoka Fellow and Hellman-Hammett Award

Monday, September 09, 2019

Who committed ethnic cleansing in Kashmir?

Kashmiris take cover as Indian security forces (unseen) fire teargas shells during clashes, after scrapping of the special constitutional status for Kashmir by the Indian government, in Srinagar, August 30, 2019. Photo: REUTERS
Pakistan's prime minister Imran Khan claims India's move to end the special status enjoyed by Kashmir by scrapping Article 370 was motivated by a 'Hindu supremacist version of Hitler's Lebensraum.'
For the sake of argument, if I agree to his argument, has he not been responsible for the violence which has significantly changed the Valley's demography? Pakistan has been aiding and abetting the jihadists responsible for terror in Kashmir.
Let's not forget that from the summer of 1989 until the winter of 1990, Kashmir witnessed a grotesque and bloody ethnic cleansing. Islamic militants operating in the Kashmir Valley sent a very dark, chilling message to non-Muslims in the region.
In effect, their warning said: "We order you to leave Kashmir immediately; otherwise your children will be harmed. We are not scaring you but this land is only for Muslims and is the land of Allah. Sikhs and Hindus cannot stay here. If you do not obey, we will start with your children. Zindabad Kashmir Liberation!"
SUCH sermons delivered from the pulpits, radical Islamists encouraged Muslims to take up arms and drive out the "Kafirs," the non-believers. The mosques in the Valley – roughly 1100 of them – blared their hate-filled, inflammatory speeches through their loudspeakers. "Islam is our objective, the Quran is our constitution, jihad is the way of our life," they called out.
The scary part was that they did not hesitate to issue warnings to the non-Muslims: "If you want to live in Kashmir, you must convert to Islam."
Spineless newspapers in Kashmir, published "press releases" funded by terror networks called on all Muslims to wage their Jihad against India.
On 14 April 1990, Al Safa, a local Urdu language daily, published a "press release" from Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, warning all non-Muslims to "leave Kashmir within 36 hours or face our bullets."
Hours after the deadline was over, the Jihadists launched a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing. Armed with Kalashnikov-AK47s, they patrolled the streets shouting slogans: "Oh Kafirs! Leave our Kashmir"; "From East to West, there will be an Islamic Ummah" They desecrated Hindu temples and vandalized several places of worship.
In the darkness of night, Hindu families were terrorized: men were dragged from their homes and shot dead. They were systematically targeted for their faith, which was not Islam.
The terror campaign claimed perhaps 60,000 lives, according to Amy Waldman of the New York Times.
Over half-a-million Hindu Pandits fled the Valley. This mass exodus caused a dramatic shift in Kashmir Valley's demography. Today, only a few thousand Hindus are left there.
Three Jihadi terror outfits - Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) – launched these attacks. They are Pakistan's proxies – "strategic assets," as the Pakistani military calls them. They were created, financed and trained by Pakistan's dreaded ISI.
After the expulsion of Kashmir's Pandits, the ISI operated 30 training camps in Pakistan for Kashmiri militants in 1990; by 2002, that number had ballooned to 128 camps training one thousand militants a year.
Unfortunately, the atrocities perpetrated by Pakistan backed Jihadist groups on Kashmiri pandits did not lead to global condemnation--- until many years later.
With Modi's revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, troll armies are drawing comparisons between Kashmir and Palestine; the world's media are busy painting a narrative presenting "blood brothers" India and Israel as "invaders," "occupiers," and "colonizers."
Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan's former Ambassador to the United States, stated that Pakistan supports terrorism.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned, "Pakistan must not provide a safe-haven for terrorists to threaten international security," as it is currently doing. Some of the world's most wanted terrorists - such as Hafiz Saeed, Maulana Masood Azhar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh – find a warm home in Pakistan and are consistently protected by the ISI.
Ironically, it is Imran Khan, who in a recent tweet, has expressed his concern over "impending genocide of Kashmiris" alleging that the there is an "attempt to change the demography of Kashmir through ethnic cleansing."

First published in the Bangla Tribune, 09 September 2019

Saleem Samad, is a journalist, media rights defender also recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad; Email: