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Wednesday, December 08, 2021

We won the war, but was Bangladesh liberated?

SALEEM SAMAD, Times of India

“Bottomless basket,” US national security adviser Henry Kissinger called Bangladesh soon after it was formed. Five decades on, Bangladesh has turned that around. But with hate speech growing and tolerance shrinking, are there bigger challenges ahead?

No liberation war in the world was as decisive as that of Bangladesh. The barefoot, half-naked soldiers of the Mukti Bahini had faced off with the Islamic militia of Pakistan and emerged victorious. A triumphant Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the leader of the East Pakistan Awami League who led the resistance for an independent East Bengal, was released from prison in January 1972. When he took over the reins of the country, he had a huge task ahead of him. Corruption was raging, a famine was sweeping the nation and the ravages of over a decade of struggle had rent the people apart.

He got to work but his compatriots betrayed him. He was assassinated in a military putsch on 15 August 1975 – when India was celebrating its Independence Day. Fifty years on, the secular ethos he died defending is under threat.

What we fought for

India and Pakistan were partitioned once, in 1947. But Bangladesh was partitioned thrice — 1905, 1947 and 1971. The contentious theory of the origins of Bangladesh is that it goes back to 1905, when the British Viceroy of India Lord Curzon partitioned Bengal. Indian nationalists and the intellectuals of Bengal vehemently opposed it. The seeds of Bengali nationalism had been sown.

When the two-nation theory was floated, the name for the new homeland for Muslims, Pakistan, was suggested by a young Britain-educated lawyer Choudhary Rahmat Ali in 1933. P for Punjab, A for Afghan province (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), K for Kashmir, I for Indus, S for Singh, and ‘stan’ for Balochistan. East Bengal found no mention. It angered the revolutionaries of Bengal.

In 1940, fiery Bengal politician AK Fazlul Huq proposed the Lahore Resolution on behalf of the All India Muslim League — it called for independent states of Muslims in India — and nationalists began imagining an independent East Bengal.

By the 1960s, it had turned into a movement. Bangabandhu (friend of Bangladesh) Mujib, incarcerated on and off, was sent off to jail again in 1968 in the infamous ‘Agartala Conspiracy’ case. Anger spilled onto the streets and spread to the rest of Pakistan, with violent student protests against Pakistan’s military junta in 1969. The anti-government agitation ousted the decade-long military dictatorship of General Ayub Khan. 

Mujib won a landslide victory in the first ever general elections in December 1970. He was poised to be the head of the government of Pakistan. Three months later, opposition leaders from the provinces of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and the North West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) pledged allegiance to Mujib’s Six-Point Political Agenda, which sought regional autonomy for the provinces in Pakistan.

Between Mujib winning and this agenda being accepted by political leaders, General Khadim Hussain Raja, commander of the Eastern Command, planned Operation Blitz. It would mean suspension of all political activities and a return to military rule. The armed forces of Pakistan would be allowed to move against “defiant political leaders” and take them into “protective custody”. But Lieutenant General Yaqub Khan, who was chief of general staff of the Eastern Command, and Admiral Syed Mohammad Ahsan, who was governor of East Pakistan, scuttled the plan. Not for long, though.

The frustrated General Yahya Khan, president of Pakistan, ousted both Khan and Ahsan. Later, General Raja was also shown the door. 

Why the Mukti Bahini was formed 

Weeks before the genocidal campaign of March 25, 1971, codenamed Operation Searchlight, most officers and soldiers of the East Bengal Regiment and border guards East Pakistan Rifles revolted. The rebel officers and soldiers along with hundreds of border guard troops and policemen crossed into India, with fire cover from the Indian Border Security Force shielding them The rebel officers held a crucial meeting on April 12 at Teliapara in Sylhet — the Mukti Bahini (Bangladesh Liberation Force) was formed under the command of Colonel (later General) MAG Osmany. The Mukti Bahini decided it would go the guerrilla way, on the lines of what Vietnam rebels did, instead of conventional war. Thousands of students, youths and farmers, including women, joined the Mukti Bahini.

Where is Bangladesh now?

At the helm now is his daughter, Sheikh Hasina, who took over in 2009 after the country had seen three decades of autocratic regimes. The economy took off. She opened up the country to foreign investment from India, Japan, South Korea, the US, Turkey and European countries. Soon, Bangladesh became the second largest exporter of readymade garments. Pharmaceutical products are its other big export, to more than 70 countries, and frozen fish and food to Europe, North America, the Middle East and Australasia.

Bangladesh made big strides in meeting Sustainable Development Goals. Hasina has been elected Prime Minister thrice, holding office for 12 years. Her decision to take in more than a million Rohingya refugees who had fled Myanmar was appreciated globally.

But the human rights record at home has been controversial. Sectarian violence against Hindus in mid-October cast a shadow on the secular credentials of the country. Rights groups claim no perpetrator of sectarian violence against religious minorities, desecration of temples, arson and plunder faced criminal proceedings.

Before the 2018 general elections, the authorities ignored human rights groups, civil society and journalists’ bodies to enact the Digital Security Act, which was believed to throttle freedom of expression.

In three years since then, 1,516 cases have been filed under the law against 142 journalists, 35 teachers, 194 politicians and 67 students. None against Islamic evangelists who peddle hate speech online against women’s empowerment and elective democracy, and want a theocratic state. Nor against those uploading videos on YouTube demanding that the country’s flag be changed to a crescent and the national anthem be scrapped because a Hindu poet (Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore) wrote it. “It is a retreat from the commitments of 1971,” said acclaimed social scientist Prof Rehman Sobhan.

The authorities are yet to complete a non-controversial registration of liberation war veterans. Successive regimes failed to prepare a genuine list of veterans. Let’s not discuss the total number of genocide victims — researchers claim the number could be higher than 3 million. Tens of thousands of infants and elderly people died of cholera and diarrhoeal disease in refugee camps. Bangladesh has had seven governments since Mujib’s. Not one took up the issues of 1971 seriously.

Political historian Mohiuddin Ahmad quoted a Liberation War poster: “Banglar Hindu, Banglar Christian, Banglar Buddhist, Banglar Musalman, Amra shobai Bangalee (Bengali Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims — we are all Bengalis).” He added, “If I knew Islamism would triumph over secularism, pluralism and tolerance, I would not have joined Mukti Bahini to liberate the country.”

First published in TIMESOFINDIA.COM, 8 December 2021

The writer is an independent journalist and columnist based in Bangladesh

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Chasing an uproar in Bangladesh

Rioters incinerates ISKON temple at Chowmuhani, Noakhali


“To resume regular puja (prayer) for the devotees will take time, as mobsters have desecrated the temples. Only a few priests have the knowledge and wisdom to purify the holy sites.”
An outraged devotee Arun Kanti Saha with the venerated Ram Takur Ashram in Chowmuhani, Noakhali told a post-violence joint civil administration, police and ruling Awami League meeting.
When the Noakhali police chief urged upon the leaders of temple management committees and Hindi leaders, Saha declined to open up the temples for regular prayers for devotees.
The priest and committee members denied removing the debris and restoring the vandalised temples. The temple’s committee was not eager to purify the sacred places which were made unholy by armed hooligans who entered wearing sandals, shoes and deliberately spitting inside the prayer halls for their hate and anger against the Hindus.
Tons of debris of broken glass, smashed furniture, cooking utensils and of course, the vandalised deities have been kept as it is for the visiting civil society teams to witness the rage and fury of the violence.
The district civil and police administrations were desperate to return to normalcy in the towns and devotees are back to regular Puja.
It began after a Facebook post of a photo of a Quran (Holy Scripture of Islam) found on the lap (or feet) of the Hanuman deity at temporary Nanua Digirpar Durga Puja mandap (pavilion for public rituals) on Ashtami (eighth day), 13 October.
Hours later, thousands of Islamic vigilantes and bigots took to the streets in Cumilla, east of the capital Dhaka. The mobsters armed with metal bars, machetes, batons, bamboo sticks and construction hammers were hurled abuses against the Hindu religion and community – addressing them as ‘malayun’ (traitors).
Well, the Sunni Muslim’s faint interpretation of the Quran describes the Hindus [Quran names only Christians, Jews and Pagans] as Kafir’s (who has rejected the tenets of Islam).
Likewise, the Jews and Christens are also bracketed as enemies of Islam.
Middle-aged Achintya Das Tito, is secretary of the Cumilla Mahanagar (metropolitan) Puja Committee was woken up from slumber in the early morning by an officer of a police station.
He rushed to the Nanua Digirpar Puja site and was debriefed on the recovery of a copy of the Quran from the mandap. For safekeeping, the police officer kept the divine book under his armpit.
Moments later the copy of the Quran found at Hanuman deity’s lap or feet and photos of the holy book under the armpit of the officer became viral on Facebook, describing that the Hindus have committed blasphemy and insulted the sentiment of the Muslims. Muslims were urged to protest and punish the Hindus.
After five days the perpetrator was arrested for posting on Facebook. Within a few hours, hundreds of frenzy mobsters ransacked the mandap, smashed the Durga and Hanuman deities. The vigilantes paraded the streets and attacked several temples and business centres owned by Hindus for several hours while the police and administrator remained mute bystanders. Often scores of Islamic evangelists in ‘Waz-Mehfil’ spewed hatred against the Hindus, not to speak of disparagement the Christians, Buddhists and Ahmadiyya Muslims [like in Pakistan, the Mullahs term the sect as a heretic].
Also in the line of fire were the millions of liberal Muslims who remain defenders of secularism, pluralism, freedom of expression, religious freedom and gender equality are bracketed as ‘Murtad’ (apostate). The hate-mongers have millions of followers on their YouTube channels and term the Hindus as enemies of Islam.
Maulana Abdul Awal Khan Chowdhury, National Amir of Ahmadiyya Jamaat, Bangladesh argues that blasphemy was not practised during Prophet Muhammad’s tenure. The Quran prohibits hatred against other religions, faith or ethnicity, Chowdhury said. But Sunni Muslims cite the controversial Sharia law that has sanctioned action against the infidel. Videos by Islamic evangelists vomiting unlimited hate speech were never prosecuted and the channels in YouTube were not blocked by telecom watchdog.
Hardly were they charged under the repressive Digital Security Act, 2018, when thousands of netizens (social media citizens), journalists, opposition and critics were slammed with the draconian cybercrime law and many are languishing in prison.
On 30 October 2016, after a Facebook post attributed to an illiterate Hindu fisherman, hundreds of religious zealots launched a coordinated attack on six villages inhabited by Hindus in Nasirnagar, Brahmanbaria. Several  Hindus were often arrested for fake Facebook posts and hurting the feelings of Muslims. Fake posts on social media are often engineered by Islamic bigots backed by masterminds who have a political colour of the ruling party launch sectarian violence.
The phenomenon of the majoritarian Sunni Muslim is to dominate the society, religious minorities and Adivasis (ethnic communities). Besides the Muslims, 12.73 million of the population are Hindus (8.5%), the rest are Buddhists, Christians and ethnic communities.
The Hindus are visible minorities in cities and towns in Bangladesh. In the villages, they are mainly artisans, fisherfolk and traders. The zealot’s soft targets are the temples, Hindu neighbourhoods and their businesses in commercial districts and markets. The onus of the security and welfare of the minorities obviously rests upon the majoritarian. The Muslims take a large slice of the state and politics. Thus, the state governed by the ruling party will have to shield the minorities and provide protection, security and safety.
Several human rights and citizen’s groups, after visiting the recent spate of racial violence in Cumilla, Noakhali, Chandpur, Bhola and Dinajpur, concluded that it was a failure of civil administration, police, political parties (including opposition) and civil society to protect the Hindus.
But Prof Robaet Ferdous of Dhaka University, an outspoken defender of religious freedom after touring the strife-torn areas, differs. “It’s not only the local administration, police and ruling party’s failure to protect the Hindus, but I see the collapse of the society during a national crisis, which contradicts the legacy of the glorious liberation war in 1971 which promised to establish secularism, pluralism and freedom of expression in Bangladesh.” On its 50th independence anniversary Bangladesh transgressed from the pledge, he lamented.
Sangita Ghosh, a filmmaker and defender of secularism said the scars from the wounds of racial hatred will not heal unless the perpetrators are brought to justice. Unfortunately, in 20 years none of the perpetrators was prosecuted for hate crime. The victims never received adequate compensation for breaking their hearts and trusts, she bemoaned.
The sectarian violence has caused a global uproar, including in the international media and has dented the image of Bangladesh. This, rather sadly, comes at a time when the country has made significant strides in economic development, women’s empowerment and gained an international appreciation for achievements in SDG Goals.

First published in the International Affairs Review, 20 November 2021

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist and columnist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

China ‘belting’ Pakistan on the road to debt trap

Gwadar Port in Pakistan occupied Balochistan

The political debacle of the ambitious Gwadar International Port built by the Chinese is yet to be fully operational in Pakistan. It was found that the challenge was unbearable and that the threat perception has increased in the Balochistan province.

The security threat posed by Baloch separatists and armed nationalists demanding the independence of Balochistan has caused a ripple of fear for the future of the Gwadar Port and its connectivity with Central Asia.

Recently, “all-weather friends” China and Pakistan signed a precursor deal to develop the Karachi coastline at the cost of $3.5 billion -- what is being called another debt trap. China’s shift from Gwadar to Karachi has prompted Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan to dub the “jackpot” project “a revolution” in his Tweet to develop Karachi’s coast.

China puts strategy over investment and ignores profits. The Chinese Communist Party’s leadership has shifted from high-risk lending to hedging its bets. China’s President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project seems to have hit a speed bump after reaching Gwadar. In fact, BRI is losing steam. Malaysia has cancelled projects worth $11.58bn. Similarly, Kazakhstan shook their head to say no to a $1.5bn investment, followed by Bolivia, which has turned down projects worth $1bn.

Some countries admit that they have fallen into a debt trap and the mega infrastructure is being colonized, like the $306.7m Hambantota International Port in Sri Lanka built by China in November 2010.

In 2016, a 70% stake of the port was leased to China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited (CM Port) for 99 years for $1.12bn. The lease has recently been questioned by Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who now wants the port back.

Nearly 35% of the projects are struggling with corruption and protests, while several other countries are contemplating quitting BRI debt trap projects. Many countries where China has offered ambitious BRI proposals could not contemplate where and when they were going to fall into a debt trap. Pakistan is one of them. They know where the trap is. The Sunni Muslim majority nation knows they are falling into China’s debt trap. Despite the debt trap, a strong pro-Chinese lobby promotes Chinese megaprojects, while the politicians have to swallow the Chinese red pills.

The $62bn Gwadar project envisages linking with the persecuted Uyghur Muslims in East Turkistan (now Xinjiang Province) of China, and is being built through disputed territory in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and Balochistan. Balochistan was once an independent country, before Pakistan’s independence in 1947 and its forcible occupation in March 1948.

Recently, China is extremely concerned about the safety and security of its personnel engaged in construction in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, including the Karakoram Highway linking with Gwadar.

Gwadar has been leased to China for 43 years and the prospect of the Chinese navy converting the port as a strategic base will invite greater security issues, as China has a grand plan to expand its maritime presence in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman --  a major global oil trade route.

The United States and its allies in the Gulf reckon China’s hegemony in the Gulf will be a security concern. America thinks the presence of the Chinese navy will provide military backup to Iran’s naval patrol in the Persian Gulf, from yet another Chinese-built Chabahar port in Iran, not far from Gwadar.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 9 November 2021

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and recipient of the Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Too little, too late to protect Hindus in sectarian violence

Slain Dilip Das left behind his wife Rupa Das, daughter Priya Das and son Partha Das - Photo: Saleem Samad


Law enforcement’s lack of response during the Cumilla riots lead to greater escalation

Dilip Das, 62, was a commercial washerman for the Sadar Hospital and other clinics in Cumilla. For nearly 30 years, he laundered hospital bed sheets and linens.

When pedestrians rushed Dilip to the emergency department of the hospital, he was not attended to. His family shifted him to the 250-bed government hospital, where again he was left unattended. For six hours, he did not get medical care in Cumilla hospitals. His condition deteriorated as his forehead wound was bleeding.

Dilip’s wife Rupa Das did not expect to hear the tragic news in her life. The sky had fallen on her head. She was not aware that rioters had gone berserk in the city.

At Dhaka Medical College Hospital, the surgeons and physicians struggled for eight days to treat the patient who had gone into a coma from a fatal brain haemorrhage. His daughter Priya Rani Das, 25, said the brain surgeons had twice operated upon him in Dhaka.

She also said that he was struck with full force with a metal bar by Islamic vigilantes, which badly fractured his forehead skull, and he sank into a coma. She dashed from her house at Thana Road, accompanied by Ruma Das, sister of Dilip.

The armed vigilantes had taken positions in the streets and the intersection became dangerous for Hindus to venture out. She and Ruma were desperate to reach the hospital.

The vigilantes, mostly teenagers with machetes, bamboo sticks, and metal bars, threatened them to cut them into pieces. They yelled at her -- how dare they desecrate the Holy Quran?

Ruma told the youths, “You can kill us, but we need to go to the hospital for the emergency treatment of my elder brother.” Rupa had no clue about what had happened at Nanua Dighirpar Puja mandap in the morning when all hell had been let loose in Cumilla.

On that ominous day, Dilip went to Rajeshwari temple in Manoharpur to clean the premises as a volunteer. He told his wife not to cook for him as he would have prasad (religious offering of food) at the temple. At noon, he was walking towards Darogabari Mazar, a tomb of a Sufi saint, to clean the premises. He was caught in the violence near the temple. The vigilantes caught him and, with a metal bar, fractured his skull.

The residents of the city had not experienced such rage in 50 years, since the genocidal campaign by marauding the Pakistan military in March 1971.

While Dilip was fighting for his life in the hospital at Dhaka, the neighbours offered milad and dua mehfil (prayers) in at least two mosques and several Muslim homes for his early recovery. The neighbours mourned his death.

He was adored by thousands for his volunteerism at temples, mosques, and the shrines of Sufi saints. He had respect for all religions, but had given his life to the brutalities of Islamic vigilantes with political clout.

When the mobs and mobsters roamed the towns in Cumilla and Chowmuhani, Noakhali for several hours, the police were squarely blamed for the slow response.

Scores of survivors, Durga Puja committee members, and priests of temples claimed to have called the civil administration, police stations, 999 emergency police helpline, and even ruling Awami League leaders, but unfortunately, nobody responded.

Members of the Human Rights Alliance Bangladesh, Research and Empowerment Organization (REO), and Nipironer Birudhey Shahbag, a sister organization of Gonojagaron Mancho, visited the place and met Achintya Das Tito, secretary of the Cumilla Mahanagar (city) Puja Committee. He was an eyewitness to the desecration of the Nanua Dighirpar Puja. He had frantically called the police chief, the police station, civil administration, and Awami League leaders for help to stop the mayhem.

Their conspicuous silence was questioned by the media, civil society, rights groups, and Hindu leaders.

Interestingly, at one end of the large pond, a stone’s throw away was the home of Cumilla City Mayor Monirul Haque Sakku and, on the other corner, lived ruling party MP AQM Bahauddin Bahar. None came forward for decisive action.

“The desired help never came. It came only then when everything was lost to sectarian violence,” he lamented.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 2 November 2021

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad

Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Blackest Day in Kashmir: the invasion of 1947

Raiders of Kashmir

On October 22, 1947, militants backed by the Pakistan Army invaded Jammu and Kashmir


The people of Jammu and Kashmir, both in Indian Administered Kashmir and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir observe Black Days on different dates.

The first Black Day was observed on October 22, 1947, when Brigadier Akbar Khan of Pakistan Army was entrusted in a top-secret invasion of the princely state Kashmir, just two months after independence of the two neighbouring countries.

Akbar Khan, a senior commander with Pakistan Army was the mastermind of the aggression of Kashmir and commanded the first-ever India-Pakistan war over Kashmir. The commander bypassed the Rawalpindi Military General Head Quarters (GHQ) when General Sir Douglas David Gracey was the C-in-C of the Pakistan Army.

The brute commander was a Second World War veteran. A war decorated by the British Army for commanding the ‘Burma Campaign’ against the Japanese invasion of South-East Asia.

Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), a landlocked disputed territory in South Asia was the reason for several wars and border skirmishes between India and Pakistan since the birth of two newly independent nations in 1947.

The war was fought between India and Pakistan over the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir from 1947 to 1948. It was the first of the four Indo-Pakistan wars fought between the two neighbours.

In 1846, after the Sikh defeat in the First Anglo-Sikh War, and upon the purchase of the region from the British under the Treaty of Amritsar, the Raja of Jammu, Gulab Singh, became the new ruler of Kashmir. As the partition unfolded, the Maharaja of Kashmir Hari Singh had signed a ‘Standstill Agreement’ with Mohammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan on August 12, 1947, two days before the formal independence of State for Muslims in India.

In reality, Jinnah signed the Standstill Agreements with all the princely states in Pakistan territory, including Khanate of Kalat (Balochistan), Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, Bahawalpur, Chitral, Swat, Hunza, Las Bela, Kharan, Makran, and others. Unfortunately, all the agreements were deliberately flouted by Jinnah.

According to British Raj’s agreed compliance, the princely state(s) may join any country – India or Pakistan or hold the status quo as an independent nation. The choice to merge was left entirely to the rulers of the princely states.

For most of the princely states signed a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan, the military forcibly occupied the territory and coerced into signing the treaty of accession. Balochistan is one of the many examples in the post-partition history of Pakistan.

Jawaharlal Nehru expressed doubt that the agreements signed by Jinnah would be disobeyed, but for Governor-General of Pakistan [Jinnah] confidently negated his [Nehru] suspicion.

Akbar Khan in his autobiography ‘Raiders in Kashmir’ admits that he designed a strategy under the title of “Armed Revolt inside Kashmir”.

On October 27, 1947, Jinnah ordered General David Gracey to mobilise troops into Kashmir Valley. Gracey declined with a note that all British officers had a ‘stand-down order’ from Supreme Commander Claude Auchinleck of British forces in India and Pakistan in the eventualities of war and conflict between the two countries.

Impatient Prime Minister of Pakistan Liaquat Ali Khan summoned the ambitious Brig Khan at a closed-door conference in Lahore on the tense development in Kashmir, the accession, and possible Indian military intervention. The meeting was attended by Colonel Iskander Mirza (then defence secretary, later became Governor-General) and Chaudhri Mohammad All (then Secretary-General of Muslim League, later became Prime Minister).

With full knowledge of Jinnah, the Pakistan military mobilised thousands of barbarians from the fiercest Pashtun tribes from North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) to invade Jammu and Kashmir under the command of Brig Akbar Khan.

An estimated 5,000 savage raiders armed with axes, swords, and modern rifles supplied by the Pakistan army and also military lorries were provided to capture Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir.

The raiders known as “Lashkars” (military or militia) went on a rampage. They plundered, looted, killed, and raped in the brutal invasion, which caused thousands of Kashmiri Pundits to flee the valley.

At midnight on December 30, at the behest of India, a ceasefire came into effect from January 1, 1948. Pakistan accepted the fate of Jammu and Kashmir as the issue was taken over by the United Nations. Thus Pakistan occupied Kashmir is known as “Azad Kashmir”, installing a subservient government to rule the valley. The Azad Kashmir’s puppet government has always been loyal to Rawalpindi GHQ because the powerhouse lies there, not in Islamabad.

Since the stalemate in 1948, Pakistan systematically distorted the history of Jammu and Kashmir. The false narratives are injected in school textbooks, also found documented in national museums and archives. Pakistan got away with it.

After the war, Akbar Khan fell from the grace of the Muslim League government. Liaquat Ali Khan appointed General Ayub Khan as Chief of Army Staff after General Gracey retired on January 16, 1951. Rest is history!

First published in the International Affairs Review, 24 October 2021

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist based in Bangladesh. He is a media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The cries of Hindus of Bangladesh

Racial riot incinerates ISKON temple in Chowmuhani, Noakhali - Photo Collected
Scores of amateur videos recorded on smartphones were uploaded on Facebook, where cries of panic-stricken Hindu women, girls and children were heard


Cricket star and former captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza of the Bangladesh team posted a touching reaction on his Facebook account, rueing the mayhem and carnage carried out against the Hindu community in Bangladesh over the last few days.

The ruling Awami League lawmaker Mortaza posted a picture of the burning village in Rangpur, where hooligans torched homes of the Hindu community.

The Facebook post says: “Saw two defeats last night. One was the Bangladesh cricket team’s and that one hurt. The other one was a defeat for the whole of Bangladesh, which tore my heart to pieces.”

Bangladesh has once again plunged into racial riots during the annual Durga Puja festival since 13 October. The hooligans armed with metal bars, bamboo and batons vandalised, ransacked, desecrated temples and makeshift Durga Puja sites. They torched thousands of homes of the Hindu community and looted business establishments in half of the cities and district towns in the country.

“This isn’t the first time that minorities in Bangladesh have come under attack,” Amnesty International’s South Asia campaigner, Saad Hammadi. “Targeting religious sensitivities to stoke communal tension is one of the worst forms of human rights violation.”

Hindus of Bengal had witnessed the infamous 1946 Noakhali Riot and Kolkata Killings as prelude to the bloody partition. In 1964 a sectarian violence erupted in Bangladesh on the alleged theft of hair of Muslim’s most revered prophet Muhammad in Kashmir, India.

Of course, the genocidal campaign in 1971 by Pakistan military forces, the second such genocide after the Second World War after that of the Nazis in Germany, also hadtargeted the Hindus to exterminate them from East Bengal.

Bangladesh Hindu Unity Council @UnityCouncilBD tweeted: “We want the right to practice our religion. We want protection in our temples. We want [the] protection of Hindu women. We want the right to live in peace in our homeland Bangladesh.”

Rana Dasgupta, a lawyer and general secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) said “It is unfortunate that a majority of the grassroots leaders of the ruling Awami League were also seen with the rioters.”

The Unity Council lamented at a press meet in Chattagram port city said they have lost faith in the political leadership for their failure to protect the vandalism and discretion of Hindu temples and makeshift Durga Puja altar.

Well, the rioting occurred when the civil and police administration apparently did not swing into action, Dasgupta lamented. Scores of amateur videos recorded on smartphones were uploaded on Facebook, where cries of panic-stricken Hindu women, girls and children were heard.

Most eyewitnesses in social media claimed that the attire of the hooligans was in shirt and trousers, not wearing caps, sporting beard in kurta and pyjama, traditionally worn by Islamists or Madrassah students.

Months after the brutal birth of Bangladesh, the first Durga Puja festival in 1972 was attacked in capital Dhaka, Chittagong and elsewhere and police pointed fingers towards the defeated henchmen of Pakistan military forces.

Everybody believed the story. When intermittent incidents occurred almost every year, civil society, human rights groups and media paused briefly to review what went wrong with the vision of secularism and pluralism.

An estimated 3 million people were victims of racial cleansing and another 10 million people were forced to become ‘war refugees’ and took shelter in neighbouring states of India.

It was a nightmare for the Delhi government to manage the crisis. Plus hundreds of officers and soldiers revolted and joined the Mukti Bahini along with tens of thousands of barefoot guerrillas were recruited from among the students and farmers to resist the marauding Pakistan military.

The bloody war was fought and won to establish an independent Bangladesh based on secularism, pluralism and democracy.

In the fifth year of independence, the architect of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated in a military putsch and thus the nation plunged into perpetual darkness.

Revival of Islamism surfaced and local henchmen indicted for crime against humanity and waging war against Bangladesh were released after the “Collaborators [of Pakistan] Act, 1972” was scraped by a military dictator General Ziaur Rahman, a liberation war hero.

Parties propagating religion was banned in the 1972 constitution. The military junta amended the law and allowed Islamist parties to function. Promptly the Jamaat-e-Islami, an active collaborator of the Pakistan military surfaced after long hibernation with new vigour and resurgence of political Islam.

In 2001 the Islamist party joined the electoral alliance with the rightist party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by Khaleda Zia.

Hours after the result of the unofficial elections were announced, the hooligans unleashed a countrywide reign of terror against Hindus, as well as opposition Awami League supporters. Thousands were maimed and police refused to register cases against the perpetrators.

In 1992, violence was unleashed against the Hindus by Islamists in protest against the demolition of the controversial Babri Masjid. The sectarian violence continued from December 1992 till March 1993. The 12th-century heritage Dhakeshwari temple was attacked during the racial riots.

For 20 years, the persecuted Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and Adivasis did not receive justice, not to speak of compensation.

Also, the Ahmadiyya sect of Muslims were not spared by Islamists. The ruling party remain silent and believes the Islamist version that the Ahmadiyya’s are heretic. On every Friday Jumma prayer, the Islamist march in front of the Ahmadiyya mosque chanting slogan to ban the heretics and shut down their mosque.

Nevertheless, the ripple effect has begun. And protests are being held in all educational campuses, cities major intersections and in front of the press clubs all over the country.

The 1971 liberation war veteran Sachin Karmakar, a retired Mukti Bahini commented that the successive governments in a bid to win the heart of the Islamists on their side have dug canals and invited crocodiles for the protection of their thrones. Now the hungry crocodiles are chasing us as their prey?

First published in the International Affairs Review, 19 October 2021

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist and columnist based in Bangladesh, a media rights defender. Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at;Twitter: @saleemsamad

Majoritarian Muslims failed to protect Hindu minorities

Angry Mother (Maa) Durga


Revered Fakir Lalon Shah’s 131 death anniversary was on October 16. His most popular song: “O how long are we to wait/For the birth of a society/Where castes and class and labels/Like Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian/Will be forgotten?/And none will be there to swindle the innocent/Pretending to be their saviour/Nor will there be bigots.”

“More than 80 special shrines set up for the Durga Puja festival were attacked, with about 150 Hindus injured and two killed,” writes the Guardian newspaper.

Many researchers dub this the worst racial riot, desecration of temples, and attacks on homes of Hindus and compare it to the post-poll violence that occurred when Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, in alliance with Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, swept into power on October 1, 2001. 

Thousands of Hindus took refuge in the neighbouring state of West Bengal, India.

If a nation is divided on the basis of religion, faith, and political ideology, it means that the country is following in the footsteps of Pakistan.

It’s a rule of the majority to dominate the society, politics and economy. Here the majority are Muslims and only about 12.73 million of the population are Hindus (8.5%) -- the rest are Buddhists, Christians, and ethnic communities.

The onus of the security and welfare of the minorities obviously rests upon the majority. The majority have a bigger slice of the state and politics. Thus, the state governed by the ruling party will have to shield the minorities and provide protection, security, and safety.

According to writer and researcher Mohiuddin Ahmad, nowhere in the world have racial strifes or sectarian violence occurred without state and politicians’ tacit indulgence, whether it be Bosnia, Gujarat, Arakan , Nasirnagar, or Delhi.

Interestingly, only hours later, the nomination of ruling party leaders allegedly responsible for instigating the strife in November 2016 has been stripped, and they cannot participate in the local government elections in Brahmanbaria.

At the first reaction, why were the two perpetrators given nominations in the first place? 

Shouldn’t those leaders responsible for selecting nominees for the local government elections seek a public apology? They must also admit their follies in compromising politics and crime.

In the last 20 years, the state has failed to bring the perpetrators and hooligans to face justice. They have enjoyed impunity, and this has caused a ripple of insecurity among the Hindus and other minorities.

Today, the civil society and citizens’ group misses the journalist and secularist Syed Abul Moksud, who was vocal on the issue of secularism, pluralism, tolerance, and hate crime. Moksud died last February, and his footprints will be found in almost all the cities, districts, towns, and villages, wherever there was strife. 

He urged the authorities to identify the criminals and prepare a list of people involved in hate crime, especially those who preached hate speech against Hindus and other minorities.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 19 October 2021

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Why did the Accords fail to end Israeli occupation in Palestine?

Historic Oslo Accords was signed by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat on Sept 13, 1993, in a White House ceremony presided over by United States President Bill Clinton


Several factions of Palestinian organizations called for the cancellation of the Oslo Accords and the adoption of a national agenda for holding credible elections, forming a new national government, and rebuilding the state.

Recently, the Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas negated any reconciliation with the defiant Hamas militants occupying the Gaza strip unless it recognizes international resolutions. Abbas stressed that “there would be no dialogue with them (Hamas)” unless Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh responded in black and white and “[signed] with his name.”

Responding to Abbas’ conditions, Hamas spokesperson said that it would be “surrendering” to the Zionists (Israelis). He stated that “it [was] opposed with the Palestinian national consensus,” and described the PA stand as a “big obstacle” ahead of reaching national unity based on the Cairo understandings, which are being accepted by all Palestinian factions.

Hamas was born out of that Intifada uprising in the 1990s, which helped transform the entire Palestinian political landscape.

Presently, Gaza became a globally recognized symbol of resistance to aggression and the brutality of Israel’s occupation. Months after the bloody uprising, Israel was secretly negotiating with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in Oslo, Norway -- which came to be known as the Oslo Accords.

The historic accord was signed by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat on September 13, 1993, in a White House ceremony presided over by jubilant United States President Bill Clinton.

The following year, Arafat and Rabin signed the Cairo Agreement, named after the Egyptian capital. The ultimate goal of both the Oslo Accords and Cairo Agreement was a resolution to grant autonomy to the people of Palestine, whereby Israel would end its occupation in both Gaza and Jericho.

In reality, the Palestinian Authority was born and Gaza-Jericho first was hailed as the first step towards a Palestinian state and the two nations were supposed to live peacefully. But after three decades, little has changed for the Palestinians. In fact, Israel tilted to the right and the state became more aggressive in its denial of Palestinian rights.

The successive governments in Tel Aviv (later shifted to Jerusalem) have done everything possible to undermine both agreements, rendering them into pieces of paper, and causing further disadvantage to the Palestinians.

According to the Accords and subsequent agreements, Palestinians should be living in a “state” within demarcated borders and making their own decisions through a democratic process. The Accords invited the curse for the PLO and its main faction, Al Fatah (founded by Yasser Arafat), which was known as the Palestinian National Liberation Movement.

Palestinians today remain internally divided and brutally oppressed and are losing more of the land that was promised for their future state. After decades of bloodshed and violence and the grassroots rejection of the occupation by Palestinians, Israeli policymakers came to believe that Israel could not continue its failing and costly occupation.

Israel cleverly allowed the PLO to become the civilian authority of PA in a divide and rule policy, like any other colonialist. Thus, it marked a turning point in the Palestinian struggle for independence and freedom, and the ageing liberation movement turned ineffective.

Obviously, the Israeli regime is most benefitted from the division of Palestinians along factional lines despite their united goal to create a Palestinian state. Several times, Hamas hoped to join the PLO as a way of becoming recognized by Palestinians as a legitimate national government of the Palestine Authority.

In the years to come, factionalism, suspiciousness, and distrust have widened the political divide, leaving no hope for Hamas to be represented in the PLO.

Last week, Dr Mustafa Fetouri, a Libyan academic and recipient of the EU’s Freedom of the Press prize, wrote in the Middle East Monitor that many Palestinians believe Hamas did the right thing by not insisting on joining the PLO after the latter became no more than a failed and corrupt political organization.

Today, the Palestine state, dominated by the PLO, has lost its pride and historical legitimacy to become yet another failed bureaucracy. The PA is riddled with massive corruption and is on the brink of a failed state.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 12 October 2021

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Why Bangladesh should have nothing to do with Gwadar Port

Balochistan, once an independent nation has remained occupied by Pakistan


A columnist has urged that Bangladesh should use the controversial Gwadar port located in Pakistan occupied Balochistan to benefit from trade, commerce and shipping. The multi-billion-dollar port built by China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and other projects worth $62 billion as of 2020 has invited miseries and agonies for the fiercely independent Baloch ethnic community.

The occupied province of Balochistan is the only resource-rich region in a militarised nation – Pakistan. It possesses minerals including coal, sulphur, chromite, iron ore, barites, marble, quartzite, and limestone. It has the largest reserves of copper and gold in the world besides being blessed with huge oil and gas reserves. Gwadar port, it is said, has brought a new dream for the region.

The columnist possibly has undermined the political wisdom of Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina. He has failed to read the mind of Hasina.

She is presently not willing to improve diplomatic ties with Pakistan unless the country makes a public apology for war crimes committed causing deaths to three million, mostly Hindus by the Pakistan military during the bloody birth of Bangladesh independence in 1971.

The article published in Pakistan media is written based on half-hearted research and poor understanding of the region. He suggested that Bangladesh should use the Gwadar port to boost trade and can reach Western China, Central Asia, Pakistan easily.

The ambitious Silk Route project, a brainchild of China constructed a 1,300 km long expressway, the Karakoram Highway (or China-Pakistan Friendship Highway) connects two persecuted nations – the Baloch in Balochistan and Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang province in China.

On the ploy of the friendship highway to reach China, Pakistan has forcibly taken administrative control of the picturesque Gilgit-Baltistan. The princely state has borders with Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh in India and China. After reaching the border, the highway connects Xinjiang in Western China. There is no connectivity to Central Asian countries (Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Kyrgystan and Kazakhstan) as Chinese hegemony has ushered in dispute with the countries of the former Soviet Union (USSR). The CPEC, a debt trap project for Pakistan, the KKH expressway is built to reach the Gwadar Port through the heartland of restive Balochistan.

Balochistan, once an independent nation has remained occupied by Pakistan with full knowledge of its founder Mohammad  Ali Jinnah. When the Baloch nation gained its independence [on 11 August 1947] from British Raj, before the independence of Pakistan, Jinnah persuaded the Khan of Kalat (Balochistan) to merge with Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the Parliament of Balochistan twice rejected the proposal of the annexation of Balochistan with Pakistan by an overwhelming majority.

Jinnah was incidentally a lawyer of Khan of Kalat and others and appeared on behalf of them in Karachi High Court. He knew the weaknesses and secrets of Kalat’s business and state properties.

Later, Jinnah succeeded in deceiving some key leaders and tribal chiefs of Balochistan in signing the agreement of their political will to merge with Pakistan.

The majority members of the Balochistan parliament condemned the action and petitioned the Pakistan government of its illegal accession agreement signed by some leaders who were dubbed as ‘betrayal’ against the Baloch.

Soon after, the Pakistan Army brutally occupied the territory on 27 March 1948, which is observed as ‘Black Day’ and the rebellion launched by mainstream tribal groups to bifurcate Balochistan from Pakistan occupation.

Pakistan security forces continue to commit atrocities in Balochistan. Tens of thousands are victims of enforced disappearances and are a regular phenomenon in restive Balochistan.

Balochistan grievances with Pakistan began from the denial of a fair share in the natural resources and the unabated persecution of Baloch ethno-nationalists.

The dirty war in Balochistan erupted after Pakistan’s military dictator Pervez Musharraf send commandos and helicopter gunship to raid the cave of ethno-separatist rebel leader Nawab Akbar Bugti was camped his military headquarters. The raid brutally killed him in 2006 and his death sparked a bloody wave of Baloch insurgency.

Islamabad often claimed that they have evidence of Indian hand and Afghanistan intelligence in the supply of weapons to the Baloch insurgents, which Delhi always denied.

In June 2020, the Pakistan National Assembly in Islamabad heard the Balochistan National Party’s Chairperson Akhtar Mengal scathing speech and asked that the province that he represents be declared “occupied Balochistan” if the state wants to continue its human rights abuses in what is currently a “no-go area” spearheaded by “death squads.” Without naming the military, Mengal castigated the crackdown in Balochistan, and the growing number of missing persons, which has reduced the locals to mere “bloody civilians.” Drawing parallels with Bosnia, Palestine, and Kashmir, the lawmaker accused the state of colonising Balochistan, rendering the blood of the Baloch “less worthy than tomatoes.”

To conclude, China has usurped Hambantota port in Sri Lanka after the latter failed to pay the debt. In near future, Gwadar port will fall through the cracks of the debt trap.  According to Pakistan’s mainstream newspapers, there are serious doubts that the ports will become a regional trade hub in the region.

First published in the International Affairs Review, 7 October 2021

The author is an independent journalist, media rights defender in Bangladesh. Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Rohingya: What next after Mohibullah’s killing?


The reality of the presence of ARSA in Bangladesh is full of contradictions

The assassination of Rohingya refugee leader Mohammed Mohibullah in broad daylight on September 29 has shocked the world. The United Nations, the European Union, and leading human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned the incident and demanded a judicious probe into the murder of the popular leader.

A prompt joint statement of 29 Rohingya organizations spread in Europe, North America, and Australasia, claiming that Mohibullah was shot dead by assassins belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an Islamic militant outfit.

They blamed the militant Rohingya outfit for creating a reign of terror in the Rohingya camps and engaging in extortion, looting, and pilferage of relief materials, abduction for ransom, and torture of “helpless refugees.”

Mohibullah’s mission was to protect the more than a million refugees living in squalid camps in the tip of southeast Bangladesh bordering Myanmar. The refugees fled from Rakhine State after they were declared “stateless” and victims of “textbook-style genocide” by the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar armed forces.

The Rohingya militants have strong links with Jamaat-e-Islam (JeI) in Bangladesh and the militant leadership is headed by a 40-plus-year old Ataullahabu Ammar Junjuni, and has been aided and abetted by Jamaat-e-Islam. A top security agency official who is privy to the intel monitoring unit said that Bangladesh has been able to gather enough intelligence to engage in counter-terrorism operations and rout ARSA militancy.

Bangladeshi security forces intermittently raid hideouts and exchange firefights, which have significantly reduced the activities of ARSA. The military operation has forced ARSA to reduce militancy and instead mingle with the refugees.

Earlier, Bangladesh was utterly disappointed and aggrieved at Myanmar's allegation of the existence of Arakan Army and ARSA bases in Bangladesh. In a prompt media statement, the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs protested such “baseless and provocative accusations.” 

The spokesperson for the Myanmar President's Office on January 7, 2020, had alleged that there was an existence of two Arakan Army bases and three ARSA bases in Bangladesh.

The reality of the presence of ARSA is full of contradictions. When administering the camps, their presence is reportedly visible. There is a semblance of an authority structure, but publicly acknowledging ARSA’s presence and activities within the camps could jeopardize the confidence of international aid and praises of global leaders.

A communication officer of Unicef-Bangladesh, while sharing her experience after her visit to the Rohingya camps, said that the militant outfit often barges into Brac’s community facilities, learning centres, and even child-friendly spaces and hands down fresh notes of Taka 100 and Taka 50 to each person in the centres, which causes chaos.

According to the law of the country, a refugee cannot be recruited for any paid job. Therefore, they are recruited as volunteers. Officials of the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the International Organization of Migrations (IOM), the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), and international NGOs complain that the volunteers’ lives were threatened by ARSA.

The killing of Mohibullah will continue to haunt the camp dwellers and cause worries among international bodies and rights organizations who are watching Bangladesh’s progress in the criminal investigation of the death of the Rohingya refugee leader.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 5 October 5th, 2021

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad

Friday, October 01, 2021

Taliban abuses cause widespread fear


World leaders and international organizations are hesitant to recognize the Taliban’s government but are keeping abreast in the implementation of the Doha Agreement.

The landmark peace agreement was signed by Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and the United States on 29 February 2020. Baradar is currently the acting first deputy prime minister of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The four-page Doha Agreement is also known as the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan and to end the protracted war.

According to the compliance for peace, a comprehensive and sustainable peace agreement will include four parts, including guarantees to prevent the use of Afghan soil by any international terrorist group or individuals against the security of the United States and its allies; a timeline for the withdrawal of all American and coalition forces from Afghanistan; a political settlement resulting from intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations between the Taliban and an inclusive negotiating team of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan; and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.

Unfortunately, the compliance for peacebuilding was flouted. One of the reasons was that the two major factions within the Taliban hierarchy did not agree to the peace deal with their arch enemy – the United States.

Despite the peculiar situation prevalent in cities, towns, and villages, the Taliban are ignoring the decrees of Kabul.

Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said in an interview in Kabul in the first week of September that accompaniment of a ‘mahram’ (male family member) would only be required for travels longer than three days, not for daily chores such as attending work, school, shopping, medical appointments, and other needs. Nothing is found in reality.

Taliban officials in Herat have not been consistent in carrying out the ground rules. The majority of the women lamented that Taliban fighters had stopped them on the streets, at universities, and other public places, and barred them from going about their business if they were not accompanied by a male.

The Taliban in the western city of Herat is committing widespread and serious human rights violations against women and girls, Human Rights Watch and the San Jose State University (SJSU) Human Rights Institute said.

Since taking over the city on 12 August 2021, the Taliban has instilled fear among women and girls by searching out high-profile women; denying women freedom of movement outside their homes; imposing compulsory so-called Islamic dress codes; severely curtailing access to employment and education, and restricting the right to peaceful assembly.

Several victims told the two rights organizations that their lives had been completely upended the day the Taliban took control of the city.

Immediately after the Taliban’s arrival, the women found themselves trapped indoors, afraid to leave their house without a male family accompaniment or because of dress restrictions (burqa, niqab or hijab), with their access to education and employment fundamentally changed or ended entirely.

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is likely to swing into a fresh probe into Taliban and Islamic State-Khorasan (known as IS-K or Daesh-K) ‘war crimes’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ since 2003.

The move shows the ICC’s determination to investigate contemporary as well as past crimes against humanity.

The Hague-based ICC’s new prosecutor Karim Khan, a British QC is determined to use international law to investigate and has notified the Taliban via Afghanistan’s embassy in the Netherlands that it intends to resume an investigation.

Well, there is no reaction from the interim regime in Kabul regarding the prosecutor’s probe into crimes against humanity. This gives a message that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan will not cooperate and refuse to allow the probe delegation to visit the country.

Earlier, in April 2o2o, the ICC inquiry was deferred following a request by former Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani to enable time to collect and collate evidence in cooperation with ICC lawyers.

The probe will investigate ongoing effective domestic crimes within Afghanistan. The implications of de facto Talibanism for law enforcement and judicial activity in Afghanistan will be taken on board.

The prosecutor is likely to face the music for plans to deprioritize any alleged war crimes committed by the US and the Afghan army since they are not ongoing.

Khan argued that with the Taliban in charge of the country, there was “no longer the prospect of genuine and effective domestic investigations” and asked for permission to resume his offices’ inquiry.

One of the crimes likely to be investigated is the suicide bombing on 26 August at Kabul airport, which was claimed by IS-K.

Khan said his office would prioritize investigating alleged crimes committed by the Taliban and the IS-K, including attacks on civilians, extrajudicial executions, and the persecution of women and girls.

Well, in 2015 the ICC was unable to investigate Islamic States’ crimes against humanity in Syria since a referral would have had to come via the UN Security Council. Some Security Council’s members would have demanded ICC to investigate the crime against humanity against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, something the Russians would have blocked using their veto on the Security Council.

First published in Pressenza IPA, 1 October 2021

SALEEM Samad is a freelance journalist and columnist, a correspondent of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and recipient of Ashoka Fellow & Hellman-Hammett Award

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Much ado about financial transparency in the media


Whose financial records should the BFIU really be investigating?

It’s very well understood why journalists’ professional bodies were outraged at the government’s financial transparency agency for seeking the bank details of media leaders.

On the evening of September 12, TV channels and news portals reported that media leaders gave their pro-active reactions to online newspapers and welcomed the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) of Bangladesh Bank seeking the bank account details of 11 elected journalist leaders.

The BFIU, an agency responsible for investigating suspicious transactions, sent a letter to all banks, asking them to provide account details of only the media leaders.

The following day, the National Press Club, the two factions of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ), Dhaka Union of Journalists (DUJ), and Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU), in separate media statements, expressed concern over seeking financial information only of elected leaders and found the action “ill-motivated.”

Unfortunately, the journalist’s unions are divided by a thick partisan line. So is the status of the National Press Club. The contesting candidates’ panels are explicitly split between supporters of the ruling Awami League and those of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, with their all-weather ally Jamaat-e-Islam.

Possibly, the financial intelligence agency did not foresee that two factions of BFUJ, DUJ, and bipartisan leaderships in the National Press Club and DRU did not merge, but are standing shoulder to shoulder after (temporarily) burying their partisanship divide.

This is indeed a major joint movement of the factions of different unions. The leaders of BFUJ, DUJ, and DRU had jointly held protest meetings for weeks after the sensational double murder of the journalist couple Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi in 2012. The murder remains a mystery. The DRU continued to protest, while other journalist bodies silently took a back seat in demanding justice for the twin murder.

Some wonder whether it is possible to ask professional journalists for self-declarations of their assets and other sources of income for financial integrity in other professions. But who will dare to bell the cat?

There is no guideline for journalists to submit financial statements before contesting an election for any media professional body. As Dr Shadin Malik, constitutional law expert wrote in a column in Prothom Alo -- the BFIU does not have the mandate to examine the media leaders’ bank accounts. First, the BFIU was mandated to probe money laundering and terror financing. Second, the listed names are not under investigation for suspicious transactions.

Possibly, journalism is the only profession in the country where a recruit in the profession does not need to face an ethics board, appear for a written and oral exam, take an oath, or sign a code of conduct. It is expected that news organizations and scribes should remain steadfast in the principles of transparency, abide by the ethics of journalism, and sign a code of conduct.

This could only have been developed by the Press Council if professional media bodies would have taken initiative.

Often, videos surfaced on social media, showing certain journalists exploiting their positions by rubbing shoulders with state and non-state actors, compromising professional ethics.

The extravaganzas in the election campaigns by different reporters’ groups have been noticed. It’s a conspiracy of silence that the influential candidates spend generously on drink and dinner parties for the merriment of the voters.

Similarly, the spending of candidates vying for top posts in the National Press Club, BFUJ, DUJ, and DRU also becomes visible during the elections. The cash is acquired from rogue politicians, land sharks, smugglers, and even underworld criminals -- who are all hand-in-glove with those tainted journalists.

Shouldn’t the assets and bank details of such journalists, media owners, and especially TV channels be sought out by the authorities?

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 28 September 2021

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Remands will soon be found in the museum


The outspoken human rights lawyer Zahirul Islam Khan Panna assertively said that “the practice of remand will soon be found in a bolted iron cage in the museum.”

Remand, as Dr Masum Billah, a teacher of law at the Jagannath University, has said, is not found in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the Bible for judiciary and police crime management. The practice of obtaining remands for suspects or the accused from judicial magistrate courts is unconstitutional.

The police exercise section 167 of the CrPC, which ushers the victim into legal harassment and also intimidates victims with ill motives, flexing their political power. 

Advocate Panna did not hesitate to add that remands are mostly used for extortion from families after they hear about the police brutality the alleged accused face in police stations. From January to August of 2021, legal rights organization Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) reported 44 deaths in judicial custody. The report points fingers at the perpetrators from the police force, elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB).

Unsurprisingly, the RAB has been blamed for 17 custodial deaths caused by torture. Next is the police for the deaths of 11 suspects, followed by the BGB (9 deaths). Most of these victims died in custody during interrogation, which has been practised since the British colonial era. 

Most senior officers of law enforcement agencies have participated in training courses in different countries on crime management, techniques of interrogation, investigation, and knowledge of forensic science vis-à-vis the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.

During the ongoing War on Terror campaign, also known as the Global War on Terrorism spearheaded by the United States in the aftermath of 9/11, hundreds of officers from the Bangladesh Police, security intelligence from the armed forces, and national intelligence attended courses on how to handle a suspect red-flagged as a terrorist. 

In addition, hundreds of police officers were deployed in peacekeeping under UN missions abroad training them in human rights. 

While in remand in November 2002, my torturer was in a UN peacekeeping mission in Kosovo and the interrogator from the DGFI attended a counterterrorism course in America under the WoT program.

Many human rights researchers claim that the century-old torture in custody has significantly decreased, while rights groups say that the curve of death in custody has not straightened. 

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has continued to urge the members of the Bangladesh Police to build themselves as a “pro-people force” -- a call that could not be more appropriate for ensuring human rights and strengthening democracy. Human rights abuses are endemic and most citizens who come in contact with the police complain of corruption and torture. 

In its assessment report, the International Crisis Group stated that a successful police reform can only be sustained if it is linked to a judiciary that enforces the rule of law and effectively protects individual rights and assures citizen security. 

It warned that if the police continue to be used for political ends, it will affect democracy, law and order, crime and corruption, national security, and the economic growth in Bangladesh.

The much ado about the Police Reform Program (PRP), which was funded by the United Nations, European Union, and British DFID, is back to square one. Ironically, the pro-Islamist alliance Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami-led government scuttled the PRP. The military-backed caretaker regime resuscitated the program in 2008.

With police reforms, Bangladesh could have been a more secure and stable country, where the human rights of citizens, particularly the vulnerable and marginalized, were promoted and protected to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), economic growth, and social justice.

The police bundled up their learning experience from the police reforms initiative and instead resorted to torture in judicial custody in name of extracting “vital” information needed for their investigations. 

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 21 September 2021

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, a media rights defender, and a recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at; Twitter @saleemsamad