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Friday, May 28, 2021

Chinese ‘Wolf-Warrior’ diplomacy strikes Bangladesh!

“Wolf-Warrior Diplomacy,”, popular among the hawks in Beijing has reinforced the transition of Chinese diplomacy from conservative, passive, and low-key to assertive, proactive, aggressive, and high-profile


This time Chinese a diplomat in the capital Dhaka threatened Bangladesh to not dare join the Quad Alliance, which is deemed by Beijing to harass China in the Indo-Pacific region.

“We do not want any form of participation of Bangladesh in this alliance” and remarked that the Quad—the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is “a narrow purposed geopolitical clique”.

He quickly added that China views the Quad as a “military alliance aimed against China’s resurgence and its relationship with neighbouring countries”.

Incidentally, China has a major investment in infrastructure development including a couple of mega projects. These include, among others,  the prestigious 6.24 km long Padma Bridge, which Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wishes to commission next year.

On May 10, the Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming said Bangladesh should not join the “Quad”, a US-led initiative, and that Bangladesh’s relations with China will “substantially be damaged” if it joins it, reports a private news agency United News of Bangladesh (UNB).

The ‘Wolf-Warrior’ Jiming, has forgotten that China opposed Bangladesh independence struggle in 1971.

The Chinese Communist Party tilted its shoulder towards all-weather friend Pakistan’s marauding military occupation of Bangladesh in 1971 and provided enough weapons and bullets which has been blamed for escalating genocide and war crimes in Eastern War Theatre.

Like the Pakistan media, the institutionally heavily censored Chinese media did not mention the genocide committed by marauding soldiers. China literally shut their ears not to hear the agonies of 10 million war refugees who took shelter in India.

After the independence of Bangladesh, China continued to politically and diplomatically harass the newly emerged independent nation. Chinese leadership Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai continued to harass Bangladesh at the international forum, as well as instigated the radicalised pro-Chinese armed groups who rejected the independence of Bangladesh.

Despite Sheikh Mujib “forged friendships with Chairman Mao Zedong, Premier Zhou Enlai” when he visited China twice in 1952 and 1957, the leadership in early 70s declined to recognition to Bangladesh.

China refused to recognise Bangladesh as an independent state and spontaneously vetoed Bangladesh membership in the United Nations. The country desperately needed international food aid and economic support for the rehabilitation of the returnees from Indian refugee camps.

China deliberately vetoed the United Nations resolutions twice regarding the repatriation of Pakistani prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians held in India had not yet been implemented. Chinese move was obviously to keep Pakistan in good humor.

Well, Beijing recognised the illegitimate military junta in Bangladesh, after the assassination of independence hero Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in August 1975 in a military putsch.

Fast forward to the present. The Chinese ambassador in Dhaka has stated that China had sent a proposal to Bangladesh on 3rd February to provide Chinese vaccines ‘Sinopharm’ to contain coronavirus pandemic.

The diplomat regretted that Bangladesh took three months to approve this proposal from China. Bangladesh proposed to get Chinese vaccines on 30th April.

The following day, the Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr AKM Momen in a strongly worded criticism slammed the Chinese Ambassador’s remark on coronavirus vaccines as “regrettable”.

Dr Momen on the remark that bilateral ties between the two countries will be “substantially damaged” if the country [Bangladesh] engages with the four-nation grouping of biggest naval powers in the region – the United States, India, Australia, and Japan – said, “We’re an independent and sovereign state. We decide our [own] foreign policy. But yes, any country can uphold its position.”

He did not hesitate to respond to a journalist’s query that he did not expect such behaviour from China.

The Chinese Ambassador bluntly said that Bangladesh would not gain benefit from joining the controversial Quad, and advised it to refrain from any sort of participation in the group.

The Quad, dubbed as “Asian NATO” is an informal strategic alliance comprising India, the United States, Australia, and Japan. Officially, the group was conceived as a forum to cooperate for safeguarding joint security and other interests in the Indo-Pacific region.

On the other hand, several coastal nations have complained of China’s rising hegemony in the South China Sea, while Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, and several other nations have reported incidents of intrusions by Chinese vessels in their territory and harassing fishing vessels. Also complaining of Chinese hegemony in the South China Sea are Malaysia, Vietnam, South Korea and Thailand too.

The recent joint naval manoeuvre by the Indian Navy and Naval vessels of the US 7th Fleet in the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean has given a strong message to China that the oil shipment and trade route through the Indian Ocean could be troublesome if Chinese People’s Liberation Army skirmishes along Indo-China border continues.

India and China have been at loggerheads in the world’s highest peak’s harshest standoff the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Galwan Valley where 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives.

Recently the Chinese foreign ministry in Beijing has taken an increasingly strident tone against the United States, Australia, India and other countries.

The aggressive approach is known as “Wolf-Warrior Diplomacy,” and popular among the hawks in Beijing and has reinforced the transition of Chinese diplomacy from conservative, passive, and low-key to assertive, proactive, and high-profile to a new height.

In the coming days, the third-world countries and the West too will further see the bare fangs of Chinese “Wolf-Warrior Diplomacy”, which Chanakya, a great thinker and diplomat in ancient India will be ashamed of.

First published in International Affairs Review, 28 May 2021

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

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Arabs have failed the Palestinians

Smoke and flames rise from a tower building as it is destroyed by Israeli air strikes amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Gaza City May 12, 2021 Reuters


The 11-day fierce fire-fight between the militants of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad with Israel caused at least 243 people, including more than 100 women and children, to be killed in Gaza.

The Israeli military says more than 4,300 homemade Qassam rockets --   a simple, steel artillery rocket developed and deployed by the military arm of Hamas -- were fired towards its territory by Palestinian militants.

Since the rockets were pressed into conflict with Israel in 2001, the improvised rocketry technology is not capable of being fired to target military sites, and is "indiscriminate when used against targets in population centres."

Nevertheless, the improvised rockets rained down deep into central Israel and crashed into former capital Tel Aviv. Israel’s state-of-the-art air defense system “Iron Dome” however managed to intercept 90% of the rockets from Gaza.

On the 12th day, Egypt brokered a ceasefire which was also backed by US President Joe Biden. The fragile ceasefire apparently seems to have halted the skirmish for a while. No surprise that both sides have claimed victory.

In a virtual conference held several days after the airstrikes caused havoc in Gaza, the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) was outraged, when hundreds of women and children were victims of collateral damage over the conflict in Gaza.

Only Saudi Arabia condemned Israel for “flagrant violations” in Gaza, calling on the global community to act urgently to put an end to Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

Surprisingly, most Arab countries except Kuwait, Iran, and Turkey did not rebuke Israel harshly for the recent conflict that started in East Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which spread to Gaza as a result of Israeli assaults on worshippers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and coupled with the eviction of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

The Muslim countries are divided in a thick and thin line of a partisan realignment of a global superpower. Despite being the “guardians of Islam” and “protector of Muslims,” Arab monarchies have demonstrated that they care only to counter Iran.

Joe Biden, however, reiterated that the Israel and Palestine crisis lies in a two-state solution, nothing more and nothing less to create a sovereign Palestine State.

The radicalized Islamist party Hamas had landslide wins in 2005 and 2006 elections in Gaza, which resulted in a crucial split of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), established as a consequence of the 1993–1995 Oslo Accords.

The Palestine Authority, dominated by the Fatah party, was founded by Yasser Arafat and is governed from Ramallah in the West Bank. The PNA is recognized internationally as the sole representative of the State of Palestine but does not recognize the Hamas authority which rules Gaza.

The trouble began when Fatah lost the elections to Hamas in Gaza. Subsequent Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel and Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, and the joint Egyptian-Israeli blockade of Gaza, have exacerbated the conflict.

As part of its 2005 disengagement plan, Egypt retained control of the border, and border crossings were supervised by European monitors, while Israel retained exclusive control over Gaza's airspace and territorial waters, and continued to patrol and monitor the external land perimeter of Gaza.

According to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, Israel remains an occupying power under international law. The United Nations has stated that under resolutions of both the General Assembly and the Security Council, it regards Gaza to be part of the "Occupied Palestinian Territories."

The international community is outraged at indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian structures that do not differentiate between civilians and military targets -- and that is tantamount to a crime against humanity under international law.

First published in Dhaka Tribune, 27 May 2021

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

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Why the idea of a unified struggle with Pakistan’s exiled political leaders failed in 1971


In December 1971, when the Mukti Bahini guerrillas and the Indian army captured large chunks of occupied Bangladesh, the government-in-exile in Kolkata and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi were having sleepless nights.

At the fag-end of the Liberation War, a senior leader -- Abdus Samad Azad -- took charge of the ministry of foreign affairs from Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad.

In London on December 16, 1971, the Bangladesh foreign minister organized a top-secret meeting of exiled political leaders from Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North-West Frontier Province -- NWFP) in Pakistan. Azad was not sure what the outcome of the secret meeting would be. The Pakistani leaders were living in exile to escape the wrath of the military junta in the Rawalpindi military headquarters.

The victims were mostly politicians of ethnic sub-nationalities from the minority provinces in Pakistan, and progressive left intellectuals who dared to raise their voices in favour of handing over power to the Awami League, the unconditional release of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the safe return of refugees from India, and the withdrawal of troops from the eastern front.

Tajuddin Ahmed, prime minister of the provisional government, in conjunction with South Block in New Delhi envisaged opening a crucial dialogue with Pakistan’s exiled political leaders in London. Among the attendees was Khan Abdul Wali Khan (leader of the socialist National Awami Party of the NWFP, an iconic Pashtun leader, and an able son of “Frontier Gandhi” Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan).

All of the progressive leaders of Pakistan were fortunately close allies of Sheikh Mujib and had lent him their political support, which raised alarm bells among military hawks in Rawalpindi.

The agenda of the meeting was sensitive. The leaders expressed their solidarity with the creation of independent Bangladesh and were worried about the safety of Sheikh Mujib. Azad did not hesitate to spell out the exiled government’s plan. He carefully laid down whether there was any possibility to forge a joint front for armed rebellion among the ethnic sub-national people in Pakistan to break away from Pakistan and become sovereign independent nation-states, as Bangladesh had showcased.

The Bangladesh leader in his submission said the Indian army had reached the gates of Lahore and it was an opportune moment to strike. He said confidently that Bangladesh would provide logistics from friendly countries to wage armed struggles and extend political, diplomatic, and military support for a unified movement.

The ethnic leaders at the Charing Cross meeting could not believe that Bangladesh leadership would offer such a radical proposal. They doubted whether Bangladesh could provide political and military support to the ethnic armed struggles already happening in Balochistan and NWFP.

The curious leaders asked Azad about India’s mindset to back the movements of the Sindhi, Baloch, and Pashtuns. Azad quickly assured them that India’s political support could be mustered, citing India’s help for Bangladesh’s Liberation Movement. He said the Awami League leadership was willing to talk to New Delhi to secure India’s support, on the condition that the leaders would have to commit to democracy, secularism, and pluralism, and reject Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s two-nation theory.

However, the exiled leaders Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, Khan Abdul Wali Khan, and Khair Baksh Marri said the proposal was too little, too late. While the meeting was in progress, news broke in the British media that 93,000 Pakistan troops and civilian officers had unconditionally surrendered in Dhaka.

Several historians conclude that it was obvious the dialogue failed because the secret plan was made in haste with a poor vision and no timeline.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune 18 May 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, May 11, 2021

Securing Bangabandhu’s return

Bangabandhu Sheikh  Mujibur Rahman with Indian diplomat Sashanka S Banerjee onboard special flight from London to Dhaka via New Delhi


A few days after the Pakistan forces’ humiliating defeat in the Eastern War Theatre and the surrender of occupation troops at Dhaka on December 16, 1971, Bangladesh’s government-in-exile, as well as the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, were left worried about Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman languishing in Mianwali Jail in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s would-be president, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was in New York attending heated UN Security Council meetings, had to air dash to Rawalpindi after he was informed by General Yahya Khan that he had resigned from his office as president of Pakistan and military commander.

Bhutto had been appointed the chief martial law administrator of Pakistan.

Indira Gandhi received a top-secret message that the Rawalpindi flight carrying Bhutto was scheduled for a stopover at Heathrow Airport in London. The Indian PM hurriedly called a meeting of the war cabinet in New Delhi at her South Block office to discuss Bhutto’s journey home. She wanted a reliable point-person who would be present for Bhutto’s arrival at Heathrow, so she could get an intelligence feed.

India desperately wanted to learn what Bhutto was thinking -- whether he would release Rahman and let him return home, or carry out the Pakistan military court’s verdict of death.

The meeting was attended by Durga Prasad Dhar, head of policy planning in the Ministry of External Affairs; Ram Nath Kao, chief of RAW; PN Haksar, the prime minister’s principal secretary; and TN Kaul, the foreign secretary. 

A plan was drawn, with no guarantee of acquiring the vital intelligence of the fate of Sheikh Mujib. Incidentally, a highest ranked Pakistan bureaucrat, Muzaffar Hussain, former chief secretary of the government of East Pakistan and posted in Dhaka, had become a prisoner of war (POW) along with 93,000 military, other combatants, civil officers, and families.

Hussain was staying as a VIP guest at the official residence of DP Dhar. On the other hand, his wife, Laila Hussain, was visiting London when the war broke out in December and remained stranded. Both husband (in Delhi) and wife (in London) were communicating with each other through diplomatic channels. 

Fortunately, Sashanka S Banerjee, an Indian diplomat in the Indian mission in London, had befriended Laila Hussain. Indira knew that Laila and Bhutto had been good friends. Thus, the South Block decided to play a one-off diplomatic “summit” at the VIP lounge, the Alcock and Brown Suite, at Heathrow airport. Banerjee persuaded Laila to meet Bhutto at the airport lounge and ask him if he could help in getting her husband released from Delhi.

The two friends, Laila and Bhutto, met at Heathrow airport. The meet and greet turned out to be a historic diplomatic thriller. Bhutto responded to Laila’s emotional appeal for help in getting her husband released from Indian custody. He pulled her aside and whispered to Laila a very sensitive, top-secret message for the Indian prime minister, writes Banerjee in his memoir.

“Laila, I know what you want. I can imagine you are [carrying a request] from Mrs Indira Gandhi. Do please pass a message to her, that after I take charge of office back home, I will shortly thereafter release Mujibur Rahman, allowing him to return home. What I want in return, I will let Mrs Indira Gandhi know through another channel. You may now go.”

The Indian High Commission in London urgently shot out a priority message to the South Block, based on Laila’s encounter with Bhutto. Indira Gandhi was excited that Bhutto had sent out a positive message. 

Meanwhile, within hours, a diplomatic message came from Islamabad confirming the authenticity of Laila’s report.

Bangladesh leaders received a secret message from the South Block regarding the release of Sheikh Mujib -- the architect of Bangladesh’s independence would first land in London and then fly from there to Dhaka via Delhi. 

Bhutto dared to over-rule the death sentence handed out by a military court in Rawalpindi and released Mujib on January 8, 1972. On January 10, 1972, Mujib returned as a hero to a war-ravaged homeland -- but an independent Bangladesh.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 11 May 2021

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

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

How Indira Gandhi’s principal secretary PN Haksar had aided the liberation effort in 1971


The genocidal campaign “Operation Searchlight” raged in occupied Bangladesh. The marauding Pakistan Army began to feel the pinch in their boots when they battled the Mukti Bahini resistance in several regions bordering India.

On the other hand, the beleaguered Awami League leaders who took sanctuary in India spent restless nights planning the pros and cons of diplomatic protocols to announce the “government-in-exile” in Kolkata and its strategies to augment the military role of the Mukti Bahini in the Liberation War.

A career bureaucrat and diplomat, Parmeshwar Narayan Haksar -- principal secretary to Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi -- had already gotten the ball rolling on Bangladesh on March 2, 1971.

Prof Amartya Sen (who won Nobel Prize 27 years later) phoned PN Haksar and introduced his two friends Prof Rehman Sobhan and Dr Anisur Rahman, who were sheltered in his house. Veteran economist and academician Prof Rehman Sobhan and Dr Anisur Rahman were the first people who had escaped from Dhaka to meet Haksar in Delhi.

On the evening of April 2, Sobhan and Rahman were taken to Haksar’s residence. 

Haksar was fully briefed by the duo regarding the dream of independent Bangladesh. The logical approach to the Bangladesh struggle helped Haksar debrief Indira Gandhi.

In fact, from that evening, India’s secret role in the Bangladesh Liberation War began its journey. Haksar played a pivotal role throughout 1971, orchestrating and managing India’s response to the crisis in Bangladesh.

Sobhan himself has written that Haksar’s reactions suggested that the encounter he had with them “was [Haksar’s] first such exposure to these events of the genocidal crackdown on the Awami League, the nationalists, and the Hindus by the Pakistani army and the launch of Operation Searchlight.”

Haksar was also introduced to Tajuddin Ahmad, general secretary of Awami League, and Barrister Amirul Islam when they called on Indira Gandhi. 

On principle, the Indian prime minister agreed with the Bangladesh government-in-exile, to provide shelter for the millions of refugees who had poured into India, and also to provide military help to the Mukti Bahini.

A fortnight later, on April 17, Sobhan wrote that Tajuddin Ahmad was sworn in as the prime minister of an independent Bangladesh “at a mango grove near Kushtia…which is now known as Mujibnagar.” Tajuddin, this time as the prime minister of the exiled government, again had parleys with Indira on the night of May 6.

Haksar had urged Indira to be firm and say that India’s response to what was happening in Bangladesh should not become a subject of public debate as “such a debate would defeat the purpose of giving such comfort as we can to democratic forces in Pakistan as a whole.”

Delhi planned that the main characteristics of the war would be guerrilla tactics, with the objective of continuously keeping the Pakistan army off their balance and gradually bleeding them.

Finally, the Pakistan military surrendered in Dhaka on December 16, 1971 after a humiliating defeat in the eastern war theatre.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune on 4 May 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