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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

A hyperbolic women’s cricket team


A Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”

The modest journey began in 1982, with women cricketers undergoing rigorous training at Dhanmondi women’s sports complex in Dhaka. In the following year, the nondescript women cricketers from Bangladesh walked into the historic cricket ground at Eden Gardens, Kolkata.

The Indian cricket enthusiasts, as well the local media, could not believe that women from Bangladesh would play cricket wearing protective gear in white trousers and shirts. The friendly match with the local all-women Indian cricket team was a soft launch. The crowd cheered in excitement as Bangladeshi women played at the 1864 cricket ground. While the tense organizers and team manager clenched their teeth, the players were active in the field.

Earning accolades, appreciation, and wide media attention, the team returned home accruing high buoyancy. They continued to practice at what is now known as the Sultana Kamal Sports Complex.

The debut of women’s cricket indeed made a small leap in Kolkata and Dhaka. Gradually, the women's cricket team began travelling from one cricket stadium to another. Despite the women’s efforts, it seems the appreciation and prestige earned for the country have not softened the minds of male-dominated cricket organizers and policymakers.

At the recent “Meyera O Pare” book launch event, cricket veterans of the 1970s and 80s spoke very highly of women cricketers, but also lamented that the government budget was meagre and insufficient for the development of the cricket team, or even to encourage other young talents to join the sport.

Author Monowar Anis Khan Minu, the opening batswoman of Eden Gardens, meticulously penned the history of the women cricket team in her book, written in Bangla. The book is adorned with rare pictures in both black and white and colour photos, giving due credit to all who contributed to the development of the cricket team, training and negotiating international matches. The book brings to life the struggle of women in cricket, the selection of cricketers, and the training and the formation of a national team.

Cricket has drawn a large number of young women, mostly from remote villages and the hills of Bangladesh. When the women’s squad smashed their Thai rivals and seized the championship in the Asian Games (2007), the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) began paying serious attention to the women’s cricket team in Bangladesh.

The emerging Women’s National Cricket Team has been the only team (besides India) to have won an Asia Cup Title. In 2019, they won gold in the South Asian Games. The Tigresses’ participation in one-day international (ODI) and twenty-20 cricket matches made Bangladesh’s footprint visible on the international cricket map.

On the sidelines of the event at Dhaka Club, the former women cricketers lamented the dark future of the Afghanistan women’s cricket team due to the misogynist Taliban’s invasion of the country in mid-August.

The team was first formed in 2010 but disbanded in 2014. Days before preparing to take part in the first 2011 ACC Women’s Twenty20 in Kuwait, the team was forced to pull out. Women’s participation in cricket faced bitter opposition from male chauvinist Afghans.

Nevertheless, at the end of 2020, the Afghanistan Cricket Board showed courage by taking steps to offer contracts to 25 women players to be in the national women’s cricket team of Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Cricket Board is now pessimistic, since the advance of Taliban authorities would block plans to keep a national women’s team.

Fortunately, the women’s national football team was safely rescued and flown to Australia. The women cricket players were grounded in Kabul. After the Taliban takeover, the militants said that they did not have a problem with the men’s cricket team. Obviously, women’s cricket in Afghanistan will be buried and forgotten.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 31 August 2021

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

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Reducing gap between rich and poor in Bangladesh


The gap between the rich and the poor is perpetuating and has enlarged alarmingly, despite a decline in the rate of poverty in recent times before the pandemic hit.

The poverty level dropped to 24.3% in 2016 from 31.5% in 2010, but other indicators which measure income inequality within the population, coupled with slow investment for vulnerable communities, are likely to challenge the achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, according to social scientist AKM Mustaque Ali, an executive director of INCIDIN Bangladesh.

Whenever financial resources are invested to strengthen the capability of the bottom 20%, the local ruling party elites with their nexus of power lobbies eat up the development initiatives, leaving bread-crumbs for the vulnerable.

The vulnerable community must also have access to natural resources, basic education, health care, learning skills, community participation in development planning, and the justice system. The digital divide that exists among the rural poor has also blocked the best practices of good governance, transparency, and zero-tolerance to corruption. 

A lack of access to the justice system has also aggravated social tensions, which challenges the traditions of social harmony and religious freedom in rural areas.

The power lobby, which includes politicians, rent-seekers, and contractors who are responsible for milching the development budget for the poor, end up making the rich richer. Several other factors, including climate change, have expedited rural-urban migration.

Historically, Bangladesh has had inequitable access to land, in a land-scarce country where the per capita cultivated land is limited. Minority elites with an unholy alliance with power lobbies dominate both land and river resources.

“Migration fundamentally challenges our understanding of development,” says Mustaque Ali in an outstanding research report published in “Migration in South Asia: Poverty and Vulnerability” published by Kathmandu based think-tank South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE).

Internal migration is generally linked to population pressure, adverse person to land ratio, landlessness, poverty, natural calamities, law and order, lack of social and cultural spaces, job opportunities, and higher wages. As for the poor, the search for survival is often forced, controlled, and restricted.

Dhaka is the only migration destination for both the rich and the poor in Bangladesh. It’s understood that migration to the Dhaka region is caused by the concentration of economic, administrative, and political institutions in the capital -- thus it continues to attract migrants from other regions.

The present state of the economy of Bangladesh elucidates that economic growth is not a guarantee in cutting down the rate of unemployment. Bangladesh is in a state of jobless growth. Violence and conflict is another risk factor which causes migration.

There is no respite in attacks on minority communities, especially on Hindus and on the indigenous communities, by non-state actors, backed by local leaders. The silent, low-intensity violence against minorities is occurring with impunity, while civil administration and police in most cases do not take cognizance of the attacks.

Only those occurrences which make headlines in the media get the attention of the civil administration and police officers. Seldom have the victims been compensated. Justice remains elusive as perpetrators are released on bail, while judicial proceedings reveal that eye-witnesses have remained away from the court in fear of further reprisal.

Eminent economist Dr Abul Barakat has, in his research, said though, that most of this low-intensity violence is not to be blamed on religious motives -- the only intention was to grab the land, property, and business establishments of minority populations.

Bangladesh needs to enlarge its investment in ensuring the bottom 20% population living in both urban and rural areas are brought under a wider safety net, which most development economists believe will significantly reduce the gap.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 24 August 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

Tikka Khan Wanted To Hang Mujib In Dhaka

Sheikh Mujib was flown to Pakistan after the brutal crackdown on 25 March 1971

Hours after the genocidal campaign ‘Operation Searchlight’ was launched at zero-hours on March 26, 1971, Bangladesh independence architect Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was detained and whisked away by Major ZA Khan of the commando battalion, who was stationed in Cumilla.

The first crackdown was ordered by General Yayha Khan to discipline the “autonomy seeking” people of Bangladesh.

Thus between January and early February 1971 codenamed ‘Operation Blitz’ was designed by Maj. Gen. Khadim Hussain Raja, commander of Eastern Command. The detail of the plan has been written in his book “A Stranger in My Country: East Pakistan, 1969-1971.

Regarding the book, he agreed with the publisher Oxford University Press that it would be published a year after his death in the year 2012.

The ‘Operation Blitz’ envisaged suspension of all political activities in the country [East Pakistan] and return to military rule. This meant that the armed forces of Pakistan would be permitted to move against “defiant political leaders” and to take them into “protective custody”.

On February 26, Lt Gen Sahabzada Yaqub Khan convened a Martial Law conference and informed that President [Yayha Khan] was going to announce the postponement of the National Assembly on March 1, 1971.

The ‘Operation Blitz’ was expected on March 1. The troops were deployed on February 27 to Khulna, Faridpur, Barishal, Bogura, Pabna, Mymensingh, and Tangail.

Battalions of the Pakistan military were already located in Darsana, Benapole, Ghoraghat, and Brahmanharia, besides army garrisons in Jashore, Chittagong, Cumilla, Rangpur, Sylhet and elsewhere.

Lt Gen Sahabzada Yaqub Khan, Chief of General Staff, Eastern Command and Admiral Syed Mohammad Ahsan, the Governor of East Pakistan scuttled Operation Blitz.

Yayha was visibly upset with Gen Yaqub and Admiral Ahsan’s for their failure to execute ‘Operation Blitz’. Both were later shunted out on the eve of the brutal crackdown ‘Operation Searchlight’ – both had to make an unceremonious exit from their career.

General Raja was also punished, after he fell from the grace of Lt. Gen Tikka Khan, Lt. Gen Niazi and Gen Rao Farman Ali for the delay in executing the crackdown. He returned to Rawalpindi GHQ in April 1971 and was not given any official position.

Meanwhile, the Awami League – the winning majority party in both wings of Pakistan has tightened its grip on the administration in East Pakistan. All over the country, the Bangladesh independence flag fluttered, while the de facto administration of the East Pakistan government reported to Sheikh Mujib’s headquarters.

Gen Raja lamented, that even the Inspector General of Police stopped attending briefings at Martial Law headquarters. Instead, he was reporting to Sheikh Mujib’s residence at Dhanmondi. Shafi-ul-Azam, the Chief Secretary to the Governor had expressed his inability to carry any instructions of the military junta.

Both Admiral Ahsan and Gen Yaqub confided to General Raja that they rarely got the President’s ear. Upon his arrival in Dhaka and stay at President’s House at Bailey Road (opposite Ramna Park), Yayha hardly spoke to them.

Both the senior-most officers were denied access to the President. Yayha ordered his staff officers in Rawalpindi to ignore messages and telephone calls of both Yaqub and Ahsan.

Yaqub in protest resigned on March 5, after Yayha refused to visit Dhaka on March 15 to hold dialogue with Mujib on his Six-Point political agenda.

Yahya in a speech on March 6 had given further provocation and squarely blamed Sheikh Mujib for the crisis. On March 7 in his fiery historic speech called upon the people for a non-violent, non-cooperation movement against the hegemony of the Pakistan military junta.

The fly-in of troops had begun from March 1, ignoring instructions of the Eastern Command in Dhaka that no further troops were needed to be deployed from Pakistan.

Yaqub and Ahsan understood that the gesture for a reconciliation of the President was absent. Gradually senior military generals were replacing the ‘doves’ with the ‘hawks’ in East Pakistan.

Lt. Gen. Tikka Khan (the ‘Butcher of Balochistan’) arrived quietly in Dhaka on 7 March 1971, as Governor of East Pakistan replacing Admiral Ahsan.

The next day, Tikka Khan found out that Chief Justice B.A. Siddiqui had declined to administer the Governor’s oath of office to him.

Hours before the infamous crackdown, Sheikh Mujib was kept in safe custody at a girls’ school (presently Shahid Anwar Girls School and College) in Dhaka Cantonment. Later he was shifted to the Guest Room of the Command House. After a few days, he was secretly moved to West Pakistan, Raja wrote in his book.

Raja’s advice was that Sheikh Mujib should be quickly flown out to Karachi in secrecy the same evening, but was ignored by Tikka Khan. He disagreed and said that he would publicly hang Mujib in Dhaka.

“Needless to say, my worst fears came true in the months to come. The rebels formed the core of the Mukti Bahini under Colonel M.A.G. Osmani,” he concluded.

First published in The News Times, 24 August 2021

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

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Is ARSA a threat to Bangladesh?

Ataullah Abu Ammar Jununi supremo
video conference at an unknown location


Does the militant group’s presence spell trouble for Bangladesh?

Early this month, on information that members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) were holding a secret meeting in a mosque in a Rohingya camp, the Armed Police Battalion raided the site. When the raid occurred at Chakmarkul Rohingya Block-3 camp, Amtala mosque, the members escaped the dragnet. The police seized 72 pairs of sandals as evidence of the botched meeting.

The ARSA members are mostly recruits from among the Rohingya refugees. They mostly raise funds from the Rohingya living in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

ARSA is the fledgling Rohingya militant group whose attacks on police posts across northern Rakhine State on August 25, 2017, provided an excuse for the Tatmadaw’s (Myanmar military) brutal ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya that prompted the region’s most severe refugee crisis. The exodus of more than one million Rohingya from the restive Rakhine State has also brought ARSA supporters into Bangladesh, and have taken shelter in squalid refugee camps.

Explaining in a rare interview to the international media, Ataullah Abu Ammar Jununi, commonly known simply as Ataullah, the supremo of ARSA said that their objective would be “open war” and “continued [armed] resistance” until “citizenship rights were reinstated” of the Rohingya in Myanmar. Ataullah denied any links to the Islamic State or ISIS in his August 2017 video and claimed he turned his back on support from Pakistani-based militants.

A security expert in Bangladesh explains that ARSA has ideological differences with other terror outfits and has reason to distance itself from the transnational jihadist network, which would compel Bangladeshi security forces to move against them.

For obvious reasons, the global terror network’s footprint is absent in the region. The territory is too hot to handle, as some experts explained, especially when India remains a threat to their physical presence. With dried ordinance, the militants were unable to launch any large-scale skirmishes with Myanmar troops after August 2017.

On the other hand, their hit-and-run tactics were significantly neutralized after the Myanmar troops’ crackdown on Rohingya Muslims. The Myanmar government labelled ARSA as “extremist Bangali terrorists,” warning that its goal is to establish an Islamic state in the region.

Myanmar also blames Pakistan’s spy agency ISI, claiming it has provided funds and logistics to ARSA. The security agencies have trained their eyes and ears on their activities. The officials said ARSA is also known as “Al Yakin” in the refugee camps, and the militants prey on people. 

They are responsible for a series of kidnaps, extortions, tortures, and executions of suspects. The recruiters from sleeping-cells disseminate a message that joining ARSA or “Al Yakin” is a Farj (a religious obligation).

However, ARSA remains focused on recruitment and indoctrination, followed by establishing small units and engaging in rudimentary military training. One such session of recruits was in progress in the Amtala mosque earlier this month.

The International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution nonprofit organization, claims that the network of members and supporters in Bangladesh are fairly large. The cash-starved Al Yakin, the volunteer group of ARSA, is mostly responsible for gang war to establish dominance over other non-militant groups in the camps. 

Often, there is breaking news from Rohingya refugee camps -- of robbers, dacoits, and armed gangs killed in encounters with anti-crime forces. The slain victims are radicalized Rohingya militants.

Despite that, ARSA’s name still commands a mix of cautious respect and fear among some in the Rohingya camps. The members maintain a low profile to avoid confrontation with Bangladesh security forces. 

For survival, the foot soldiers are engaged in providing armed escorts to cross-border smugglers and drug traders. ARSA’s militancy capabilities remain poor due to strict surveillance by security agencies -- reducing ARSA into a toothless tiger.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 17 August 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, August 03, 2021

Nations divided by history


There are many nations and communities that became divided after years of animosity but were later reunified. 

The reunification of Germany is the best example of such reunification. Vietnam, Romania, and Moldova are also living peacefully as one ethnic community or based on nationalism.

North and South Yemen’s unification in May 1990 formed the present Republic of Yemen. Yemen has topped the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with women and children, and especially infants, bearing the brunt of the civil war.

Many historians argue that China should also be listed as a unified country following the rise of the Communist Party. But the controversial invasions of Tibet and East Turkestan (Xinjiang province) have provoked a political crisis after ethnic Tibetan and Uyghur Muslims refused to accept the Chinese Communist Party’s hegemony.

Thousands have fled the region, including the most revered Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, after the invasion of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Today, the ethnic Tibetan and Uyghur are dehumanized and marginalized, and the majoritarian Hans from central China govern the nation.

Cyprus remains divided since the slice of cake is shared by the Turkish and Greek military. Despite their United Nations-brokered peace, the rival countries refuse to withdraw troops occupying the picturesque island.

Korea is another bitter example of a split-up since the Korean War (1950-53). North Korea remains under the hegemony of China. The giant neighbour provides military aid and spoon-fed economic benefits to the despotic rule of the Kim Il-sung dynasty. The reunification of Korea remains a far cry, and the tears of thousands of separated families in Korea have dried.

In South Asia, however, several ethnic, linguistic, religious, and cultural communities have been divided by a thick line since the partition of 1947. The British colonialists deliberately wanted to divide Punjab and Bengal. Their prime annoyance was that native revolutionaries against the British Raj were fortunately born in Bengal and Punjab.

Pakistan, months after independence in August 1947, sent troops to forcibly occupy an independent Balochistan. It was also able to grab a chunk of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in 1948, and still retain the territories. The annexed “heaven on earth” is “Azad Kashmir,” governed by a puppet administration handpicked by the generals in Rawalpindi GHQ.

Both the United Nations and the OIC have shown cold feet on the issue of Kashmir. The UN Security Council Resolution 47, adopted on April 21, 1948, concerns the resolution of the Kashmir conflict.

Before 1947, J&K was a princely state under the British Raj and was ruled by a Hindu Maharaja. With the declining British Empire, it was decided that the rulers of 584 princely states would be given the option of “accession” with any new of the countries of India and Pakistan, or remain an independent nation-state.

The raiders of Kashmir were recruited from the fiercest Pashtun warriors, and the Maharaja fled to Delhi and signed an accession treaty in October 1947. The clandestine invasion happened with the full knowledge of Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and a green signal from Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan.

Promptly, India took the matter to the UN Security Council and claimed Pakistan’s armed barbarians had attacked J&K, which was Indian territory. The UN Resolution 47 urged that armed Pakistan nationals and tribesmen be withdrawn. Similarly, India must withdraw its military and hold a plebiscite (referendum) to determine the future of the people of Kashmir.

Neither India nor Pakistan have any intention to withdraw troops, and the neighbours have fought four wars over Kashmir. Meanwhile, the Pakistan spy agency ISI regularly infiltrates militants and jihadists to give a strong message that they have not forgotten Kashmiri Muslims.

Kashmir is one of the world’s few countries where truce along the Line of Control (LoC) remains elusive, because of “high walls” that leaders have built between the nations.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 3 August 2021

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