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Friday, December 16, 2022

How Long Can Pakistan Troops Hold In East Pakistan?


In a crucial meeting held in Washington DC, on the morning of December 6, 1971, was attended by senior officials of departments of State, Defence, Joint Chief of Staffs, CIA, USAID, and others.

The heavyweight US Secretary for State at the onset of the meeting asked Gen. Westmoreland: What is your military assessment? How long can Pakistan hold out in the east [Bangladesh]?

Gen. Westmoreland candidly said, up to three weeks. Once Pakistan Army runs out of supplies, all the troops in East Pakistan [Bangladesh] will become a hostage.

No doubt sly Kissinger was worried about the safety and security of marauding Pakistan’s troops battling in occupied Bangladesh.

The United States seriously wanted to stick with withdrawal and ceasefire not a humiliating surrender of Pakistan troops and Kissinger assured the Pakistan regime that they doing all the best they can do diplomatically.

The perturbed Kissinger believed that there would be a massacre of the disarmed troops in the hands of the Mukti Bahini (Bangladesh Liberation Forces) after enemy soldiers are disarmed.

Three days after a full-scale war between India-Pakistan on the eastern front and Bangladesh-India jointly against Pakistan in the eastern war theatre, Henry Kissinger asked how long Pakistan troops can hold in Bangladesh.

The officials discussed whether there were any possibilities of Pakistan troop evacuation. Gen. Westmoreland responded in negative.

A senior official of the State Department asked Gen. Westmoreland that assuming the Indians take over Bangladesh, how do you think it will happen.

Gen. Westmoreland: I think their primary thrust will be to cut off the seaport of Chittagong. This will virtually cut off any possibility of resupply. Then they will move to destroy Pakistan’s regular forces, in cooperation with the Mukti Bahini. They will then be faced with the major job of restoring some order to the country. I think there will be a revenge massacre — possibly the greatest in the twentieth century.

Kissinger asked shall the Indians withdraw their army once the Pakistan forces were disarmed.

Gen. Westmoreland replied that he thinks they [Indians] will leave three or four divisions to work with the Mukti Bahini and pull the remainder back to the West [Pakistan].

The officials expect that the Indians will pull out as quickly as they can. Once the Pakistan forces are disarmed, the Indians will have a friendly population. They can afford to move back to the border areas quickly.

Another official in the nerve-breaking meeting predicted that after the Indian Army has been in Bangladesh for two or three weeks, they will be accepted as a “Hindu army of occupation”.

Kissinger asked: What will India do with Bangladesh? Will they see it as an independent state or have them negotiate with Islamabad?

An official responded that India has already recognised Bangladesh as an independent country. Kissinger said then there is no hope for Pakistan to negotiate with Bangladesh.

The objective of the prudent Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s government was to force a surrender of the Pakistani troops in Bangladesh within 10 days.

In a telegram from New Delhi on December 6, US Ambassador Kenneth Barnard Keating reported that Indian Foreign Secretary Triloki Nath Kaul had expressed “disappointment, shock and surprise” that the United States had tabled the resolution it did in the UNSC.

On December 5 the Soviet representative on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) vetoed an eight-power draft resolution that called for a ceasefire and mutual withdrawal of forces, as well as intensified efforts to create the conditions necessary for the return of refugees to their homes.

However, the UN Security Council accepted on December 6 that an impasse had been reached in its deliberations on the conflict in South Asia, and referred the issue to the General Assembly adopted by a vote of 11 to 0 with 4 abstentions.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s General Yahya Khan’s administration conveyed their intentions to retreat from their eastern wing to the United Nations on 10 December 1971, and a formal surrender was submitted and accepted when the Commander of Eastern Command and Governor of East Pakistan, General Niazi, signed an instrument of surrender with his counterpart, Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, Commander of Eastern Command.

An estimated 93,000 Pakistan troops and civilians including family members made an unconditional public surrender in Dhaka on December 16, 1971, which is observed each year as Victory Day both in Bangladesh and by Indian armed forces.

The surrender was indeed the largest surrender that the world had witnessed since the end of the Second World War.

Conclusion: Despite the growing anger among the Mukti Bahini commanders to avenge the extreme barbarity unleashed by Pakistan troops, fortunately, none of the disarmed enemy troops was killed or died for being held captive in military garrisons inside Bangladesh.

Soon after the Prisoners of War (POWs) were transferred to India, as newly born Bangladesh did not have the ability to the containment of such a huge number of POWs.

Under Tripartite Agreement in April 1974 between Bangladesh, India and Pakistan signed in New Delhi enabled the repatriation of all the 79,676 uniformed POWs and 13,324 civilians to Pakistan, including the 195 officers held for suspected war crimes.

First published in The News Times, December 16, 2022

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, December 04, 2022

Peace on silver jubilee remains elusive for hill people


People of the hill forest, an abode of the Mongoloid ethnic Adivasis refuse to celebrate the historic signing of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord on December 2, which brought to an end a protracted autonomy-seeking insurgency for more than two decades.
However, the government is officially celebrating the silver jubilee of the Peace Accord. The government-sponsored supplements in mainstream newspapers failed to mention the implementation of the accord and instead runs a list of physical developments including how many solar-panel sets were distributed, roads and bridges were built and blah, blah.
On the other hand, the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) in a paid supplement in Dainik Samakal stated that in 25 years the peace accord has not been fully implemented, which remains a bone of contention among the ethnic communities in the hills.
Out of 72 provisions of the accord, only 25 provisions and 18 clauses have been partially implemented, said PCJSS supremo Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma a.k.a. Shantu Larma on the occasion of the 25th anniversary at Liberation War Museum auditorium which was not a surprise for many.
On the eve of the accord’s silver jubilee, a full-fledged Hill District Council in Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban has not been formed through direct elections. The interim Hill District Councils were formed with hand-picked ruling party members, mostly Bangalee and a few Adivasis. This undemocratic and partisan path gives a wrong message to the hill people of a lack of political commitment.
The government remains silent when the implementation of the fundamental provisions of the accord was raised, which caused further complications.
Despite all odds, Shantu Larma seems hopeful that the accord will surely see the light of day before the ‘golden jubilee’ celebration. Then only the hill people will be able to celebrate the accord, he quipped.
Unless the peace accord, signed on 2 December 1997 during the first tenure of Sheikh Hasina’s government (1996-2001), peace will remain elusive for the Adivasis of the picturesque hills.
In the last quarter century, the CHT Peace Accord Implementation Committee has held its 6th meeting recently. This also gives an impression of the seriousness of the government’s will.
On the other side, the CHT Land Commission formed under the provision of the CHT Accord has not progressed at all.
Nevertheless, Shantu Larma seems to have faith in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who he said has the sincere political will to get the peace deal signed and a bill passed in the parliament.
He argued that the responsibility to implement the peace accord lies with the state and nobody else, not PCJSS.
A road map to implement the accord to achieve peace was also agreed upon with the government. It was not understood what hindered the delay in the implementation of the accord.
The peace process for a solution with the government’s liaison committee had been initiated during the military junta of General H M Ershad. Later when Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) came to power, the dialogue with the government continued and the end result was zero.
Both regimes experienced hiccups as the liaison committees could not envisage a political solution to the crisis.
When Sheikh Hasina came to power in 1996, a year later a rapid series of dialogues resulted in the CHT Peace Accord after the government recognised the crisis as a political problem.
The CHT Peace Accord was written with the supreme sacrifice of the blood of the Adivasis and the political vision of the Awami League government.
“We are continuing the dialogue to achieve peace,” PCJSS supremo said.
In frustration, Shantu Larma remarked that: “It does not take 25 years to implement a peace accord.”
Most people in Bangladesh, especially those visiting the hill forests as a tourist are not aware that martial law has long gone away with the fall of a dictator in 1990, a de facto military rule continues, and ‘Operation Uttaran’ has not been withdrawn, even though it was agreed in the accord to stop targeting the hill people.
The military dictator General Ziaur Rahman deliberately wanted to Islamise CHT and pushed tens of thousands of landless Bangalee Muslim settlers from the floodplains.
Presently, the authorities are systematically making efforts to “Bangalise” the region – further marginalising the Adivasis.
For the last 25 years, the Adivasi youths and student leaders launched a violent movement to pressure the government to realise the accord’s implementation but were frustrated.
The Adivasis will continue to suffer in pain and agony for non-compliance with the much talked about peace accord with the autonomy-seeking armed ethnic minorities of the CHT.

First published in The News Times, December 3, 2022
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, December 02, 2022

White Paper uprising dents ego of the China’s leadership


It’s unusual for a Chinese to protest against the despotic regime of the Chinese Communist Party. Such incidents are immediately suppressed under draconian laws and repressive tools to neutralise the dissenting voice.
The pro-democracy student movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989 was cruelly crushed and threw thousands of protesters were in nauseating prisons after they were brutally tortured to sign cooked-up confessional statements.
Well, it is not normal for the Chinese to join street protests. The people are trained to remain silent against the tyrannical rule – in absence of freedom of expression and democracy.
Last week, an unprecedented protest against the Chinese hyped “dynamic zero-Covid” policy for weeks and months contributed to anger and frustration. The lockdown was so stringent that the apartment buildings were sealed and entrances were barricaded.
The flurry of videos of the fire incident in a high-rise apartment, lead to a public outcry which quickly spread across the country – in 17 major cities including Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Jinan, Lanzhou, Nanjing, Shanghai, Urumqi, Wuhan and Xi’an.
In a bid to discourage participation in the uprising, the authorities of elite universities hung notices for closing the campus and shuttled the students to train stations and airports.
In most cities, the protests in China turned violent. The protesters showed a blank white paper to give a message of the lack of a free press, free speech, freedom of expression and freedom of faith – most importantly absence of democracy.
The protest sparked after a fire in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang province, the home of Uyghur Muslims. The fire killed 10 residents as the emergency response team were unable to reach the inferno victims. The province was under a strict Coronavirus lockdown for more than 100 days.
The Uyghurs for several years are facing persecution and relocation in mainland China, while a huge number of the community remains captive in so-called internment camps for months.
Sinologist David Moser in a tweet writes: I’ve lived in China for 30 years, and I’ve never seen such a brazenly open and sustained expression of rage against the [People’s Republic of China] PRC govt. WeChat [a Chinese popular social media app] is exploding with protest videos and furious vitriol, and civil disobedience is becoming rampant. This is a serious test of CCP governance.
Filmmaker Rob Schneider writes: When tyranny pushes citizens to where they have nothing to lose because their government has crushed all their hopes and liberties to the point of starvation…people fight back!
The fresh demonstrations occurred weeks after securing a third term as the Communist Party’s general secretary, Chinese President Xi Jinping is presently facing widespread popular discontent seen in China since 1989. He spearheaded the extreme lockdown measures across the country.
Nevertheless, the street demonstration has yielded results. The Chinese authorities have hastily relaxed lockdown restrictions and lifted lockdowns in some cities which have been confined for weeks to more than a month.
A top health official acknowledges the changing nature of the virus as the country faces a ‘new situation’. The authority went a step further – allowing close contacts to isolate at home instead of spending five days in a quarantine facility.
As usual, heavily censored Chinese state media did not mention a word about the street protests, except for the relaxation of restrictions.
The award-winning Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini aptly said about state media that “censorship is advertising paid by the [Chinese] government.”
The Communist Party of China teaches millions of new-generation students in schools and through youth organisations not to challenge authorities, which is deemed as a sin. People are not trained not to talk or type or write anything – just obey and obey as slaves.
Selina Wang, CNN International Correspondent stationed in China says, protests in China are not rare. “This is an extraordinary, historic moment in China.”
In Wuhan, the anti-lockdown protesters are tearing down barricades shouting “It started in Wuhan and it ends in Wuhan!”
From Tokyo to New York to London to Paris, the Chinese people are protesting the COVID suppression by President Xi and showing solidarity and a call for freedom.
The repressive healthcare authority had fed the captive Chinese audience of the success of zero-Covid management. Almost three years later, the series of lockdowns is a reversal from an initial victory against Covid-19 which demonstrates the worse situation when there is a lack of transparency and accountability. Most importantly, the authorities lack a long-term strategy to attain zero-Covid.
To regain public confidence, the autocratic regime needs a timeline for ending zero-Covid when the country’s Covid-19 containment strategy relies on public cooperation, but after almost three years of the pandemic, frustrations are mounting, writes Andrei Lungu, South China Morning Post published from Hong Kong.
China’s “dynamic zero-Covid” policy narrative has centred on the efficiency of its political system, which is supposedly better suited than democratic governments to both identify the interests of the people and marshal the resources needed to advance them.
The “dynamic zero-Covid” policy was believed by millions to be a strategy based on scientific fact, but now it seems it was driven by political interests. Instead of an enlightened government that protects its people, Beijing is now pictured as an ideological zealot, concludes Lungu.

First published in The News Times, December 2, 2022
Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad

Monday, November 28, 2022

Why Pakistan Army blames the 1971 debacle on the politicians?


The outgoing Pakistan Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Qamar Javed Bajwa in one of the several farewells meetups categorically said “1971 was not a military, but a political failure. Our army fought courageously in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).”
He lamented that those fallen martyrs of the Pakistan Army were never honoured and people have forgotten them and politicians never mention their sacrifice.
He made a desperate attempt to “correct” the narrative of 1971 and stated facts regarding the debacle, and said the number of [Pakistan] soldiers fighting [in eastern war theatre] was not 92,000 but 34,000 while the others were in different government departments.
Quoting his speech he said, “Against these heavy odds, our army fought bravely and gave exemplary sacrifices which were acknowledged by Indian Army chief Field Marshal Manekshaw.”
By ‘against these heavy odds’, General Bajwa meant that 34,000 Pakistani soldiers were confronted by an Indian Army of 250,000 soldiers and 200,000 members of the Mukti Bahini.
Such mind-blogging narratives of Bajwa have also shaken the political and military historians in Pakistan.
Shouldn’t you feel that Gen Bajwa needs to update his knowledge of the political history leading to the liberation war in 1971 and the humiliating defeat of the marauding Pakistan armed forces in the eastern war theatre?
The brutal birth of Bangladesh experienced the genocide of three million, rape as a weapon of war of tens of thousands of women, and brutal murder of thousands of intellectuals committed by the occupation Pakistan military and their henchmen recruited to kill, torture, rape and of course loot to frustrate the war of independence.
When the dreadful ‘Operation Searchlight’ was launched at midnight on 25th March 1971 in Dhaka and later spread to the rest of the country, the Pakistan military perpetrated the genocidal campaign under the military dictator General Yahya Khan.
Apologetic General Shaheb was a school student in 1971. But while in the military academy and later when he was climbing the ladders of his career in Rawalpindi GHQ. he must have read the Justice Hamidoor Rahman Commission Report regarding the debacle in 1971.
He need not read any documents or books published in Bangladesh on the 1971 war. It is believed that he must have come across scores of books penned by senior military officers of Pakistan, as well as by Indians who were on the battleground.
Does any of the documents and books claim that it was a failure of the politicians? In the helms of affairs were senior military hawks in Rawalpindi GHQ along with the civil bureaucrats in Islamabad.
Pakistan was sans political government since 1958 and continued till 1972. A political government took charge after an election in 1977 under a fresh constitution.
Pakistan lived under military rule since 1958 when General Ayub Khan led a bloodless coup and became the self-styled President of the country. He abrogated the 1956 historic constitution and accused many senior and junior ministers of the United Front mostly from East Bengal (now Bangladesh) of corruption and were tried in kangaroo military courts.
The 1970 elections, incidentally were held under a Martial Law regime, which arbitrarily denied the handover of political power to an elected majoritarian party Awami League.
Therefore the outgoing Pakistan COAS blaming the debacle on the shoulders of politicians was from his fairytale dream.
The military hawks in Rawalpindi were the mastermind of the crackdown and was cleared from the headquarters of the Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA), according to Major General Khadim Hussain Raja’s book ‘A Stranger In My Own Country’.
The book describes that during January and early February 1971, military dictator General Yahya had visualised the possibility of a military crackdown accompanied by the suspension of all political activity.
The top commanders in Dhaka had the opinion that it would be sheer ‘lunacy’ to attempt the operation at that time.
On 27 February 1971, Gen Raja gave formal orders to brigade commanders to be prepared for Operation Blitz into action.
Soon both Lieutenant General Yaqub Khan and Admiral S.M. Ahsan were denied access to President Yahya when he arrived in Dhaka for a series of parleys, primarily with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The two top brasses Admiral S.M. Ahsan, Governor of East Pakistan and Lieutenant General Yaqub Khan, Commander of the Eastern Command in Dhaka were unceremoniously removed by Rawalpindi GHQ for dilly-dally in executing the crackdown.
The duo instead appealed to President Yahya to forget about the “military solution” to the political impasse and hold dialogue with Sheikh Mujib, chief of Awami League to discuss the Six-Point, which was found scribed in the ‘Strategy, Diplomacy, Humanity: Life and Work of Sahabzada Yaqub’ as a threat to security and sovereignty of Pakistan.
He states that “I am convinced there is no military solution, which can make sense in the present situation. I am consequently unable to accept the responsibility for implementing a mission namely, a military solution, that would mean civil war and large-scale killings of unarmed civilians and would achieve no sane aim. It would have disastrous consequences,” Sahabzada Yaqub concluded.
The military hawks, according to Brigadier A. R. Siddiqi’s book ‘East Pakistan the Endgame’ understands that in March, the Rawalpindi was growing impatient for the delay of the crackdown.
The military dictator angry with General Yakub replaced him and appointed Lieutenant General Tikka Khan, who was known as the “Butcher of Balochistan”. The message of the replacement was loud and clear.
In midst of the dialogue, the infamous Operation Searchlight was launched. Several historians explain that military hawks kept in mind the dreadful operation and the parley was a ploy.
The plan for Operation Searchlight was quickly adopted by Yahya Khan and implemented when he was still in Dhaka. How can Bajwa attribute the humiliating defeat to a “political failure”?

First published in The News Times, November 28, 2022
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, November 20, 2022

Why Pakistan Is Upset With The Taliban?


Maryam Marof Arwin, founder of Afghanistan Women and Children Strengthen Welfare Organisation in a Twitter post lament: Afghanistan has been made a cage for Afghan women and girls.

This tweet tells a million words, which depicts the state of Afghanistan after a 16-month rule by the barbarian Taliban, who has pushed the nation into the 7th-century medieval era.

Last week, Pakistan’s envoy in his deliberation made a damning assessment of Taliban’s rule at the so-called “Moscow Format of Consultations” by key regional countries mostly neighbours held on 16 November hosted by Russia.

In an unusual move, the envoy from Islamabad tells despite assurances from Kabul, the rights of women and girls have regressed.

The assessment shared by Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq, Pakistan’s special envoy on Afghanistan, said the interim government has done little to form an inclusive government, protect the rights of women and eradicate dreaded terrorist networks.

The fourth meeting of the Moscow Format since 2017 was held with participation from Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Iran, Pakistan, China, Turkmenistan, India, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan at the level of Special Representatives or Envoys on Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the portal Khaama Press News Agency of Afghanistan blasted the Moscow Format and argued that the meeting was ‘incomplete’ without Taliban representatives.

It is understood that Kremlin is frustrated and decided not to invite Taliban representative to Moscow for the consultation.

Russia’s displeasure was caused by negative progress made toward an inclusive Afghan government reflecting the interests of all the ethnic and political forces of the country, as promised by the Taliban’s end.

The joint statement released at the end of the consultation of the Moscow Format on Afghanistan called the Taliban a “new reality,” and stressed the formation of an “inclusive government”, respecting the interests of all major “ethnopolitical” forces.

Ambassador Sadiq in his address took an unusually harsh attitude against the Taliban regime.

In the last meeting in Moscow last year laid down broad principles to govern practical engagement with the Interim Afghan government based on i) promoting inclusivity; ii) respecting fundamental human rights including rights of women; iii) countering terrorism; and iv) sustained support to the Afghan people, including the provision of humanitarian and economic support.

The Moscow Format hoped that as friends and neighbours of Afghanistan, stood up for the Afghans. The consultation advances desired goals by bringing together the regional countries in a process of meaningful dialogue and engagement on Afghanistan.

Sadiq said the progress barometer signalled some of the worst fears, including a rapidly deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, the mass exodus of refugees and a prolonged period of instability and violence did not materialise, the interim Afghan government had also not made the kind of progress that the international community consistently urged the interim Afghan government to promote greater political inclusivity.

Incidentally, Rawalpindi funded, trained and abetted the Taliban fighters. Earlier, to oust the Soviet invader of Afghanistan in the 70s channelled American weapons, funds and sanctuaries to the Mujahideen including Al Qaeda brainchild Osama Bin Laden.

The proliferation of military-grade weapons and violent terrorism have spilled over to Pakistan. Rawalpindi is feeling the pinch in their shoes of the threats of violence and civil war in the regions along the borders with Afghanistan.

The Taliban fighters returned to power in August 2021 and deliberately ignored all the commitments made separately in Doha as well as in Moscow.

Despite assurance from the interim Kabul government, the rights of women and girls also appeared to have regressed, not progressed, according to the Pakistani envoy. He added that the footprint of terrorist organisations in Afghanistan had yet to be fully eradicated.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) claims that opium cultivation in Afghanistan has increased by 32% over the previous year.

Opium cultivation has caused a larger drug problem in Afghanistan. It has invited a nexus of the international network of the opium trade and money laundering.

Not to anybody’s surprise, the terror network protects the drug lords to collect funding to augment the outfit’s clandestine operations from the opium trade.

Well, the Taliban regime for their survival in the face of global economic sanctions benefitted from the opium trade.

With the lack of progress, Pakistan observed that the critical support needed by Afghanistan to deal with the humanitarian and economic crises and other challenges has faltered.

Apparently, Afghanistan remains cut off from the international banking system and faces serious liquidity challenges. Billions of Afghan assets are frozen, thus deprived of being gainfully used for the benefit of the people of Afghanistan.

The opium trade has threatened the neighbouring countries Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan vulnerable to combating and controlling the overland drug trafficking worth $1.8 – $2.7 billion in 2021.

On the other hand, the Moscow Format of consultation appealed for help to millions of Afghans, who were in desperate need of urgent humanitarian support, including food, medicine and essential life supplies.

To conclude the stakeholder of peacebuilding in volatile Afghanistan was a collective failure of the international community to stand by the people of Afghanistan – the international commitments to provide humanitarian support to Afghanistan remain largely unfulfilled.

First published in The News Times, November 20, 2022

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, November 18, 2022

China ‘Belting’ Pakistan on The Road to A Debt Trap


The political debacle of the ambitious Gwadar International Port built by the Chinese is yet to be fully operational. It was discovered that the challenges were unbearable and the threat perception has increased manifold in the restive Balochistan province in Pakistan.
The security threat challenged by Baloch separatists and armed nationalists demanding an independent Balochistan has caused a ripple of fear for the future of the Gwadar Port and China’s ambitious connectivity with Central Asia into the Arabian Sea.
The ‘all-weather friends’ China and Pakistan signed a precursor deal to develop the Karachi coastline at the cost of $3.5 billion – another would be a debt trap.
China’s strategic shift from Gwadar to Karachi has prompted Pakistan’s ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan to dub the “jackpot” project “a revolution” in his Tweet to develop Karachi’s coast.
Chinese policy puts strategy over investment and ignores profits. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) leadership has shifted from high-risk lending to hedging its bets.
The ancient silk-road was envisioned as a megaproject – Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by China’s powerful President Xi Jinping.
However, the project seems to have hit a speed bump after reaching Gwadar and is losing its steam.
Meanwhile, China is extremely concerned about the safety and security of its personnel engaged in the construction of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, including the Karakoram Highway linking with Gwadar.
China defending its lending practices, said they were “sincere and unselfish”, and insisted it only lent to countries that could repay.
Patterns of Chinese investments in South Asia – Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka – all of which are part of BRI, depict Chinese propensity to control the domestic markets and the natural resources of the South Asian nations.
Many countries where China has offered ambitious BRI proposals could not contemplate where and when they were going to fall into a debt trap.
Some countries admitted 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 2010.
In 2016, a 70 per cent stake of the port was leased to China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited (CM Port) for 99 years for $1.12bn. The lease was questioned during the street revolution which toppled the Rajapaksa brothers. The cash-starved Sri Lanka now wants the port back.
Pakistan is one of them. They know where the trap is. The Sunni Muslim majority nation knows they are sliding into China’s debt trap. Despite the debt trap, a strong pro-Chinese lobby with Pakistan elites and military in Rawalpindi promotes Chinese megaprojects, while the politicians have to swallow the Chinese red pills.
Pakistan is China’s gateway to Central Asia and the Middle East. CPEC’s transportation corridor will create a low-cost network of roads, railways and other infrastructure and substantially increase trade capacity between southwest China with Europe, the Middle East and North African countries.
The $62bn Gwadar project links 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 militant-infested Balochistan.
Well, the BRI flagship project in Pakistan fails to address the participation of the fiercely independent Baloch people, which has scaled up armed insurrections in Balochistan.
Historically, Balochistan was a princely state and once an independent nation under British Raj. Before the British colonialists quit India, signed its independence months before Pakistan’s independence in August 1947. Muslim League overzealous leaders invaded Balochistan in March 1948 with full knowledge of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan.
Gwadar has been leased to China for 43 years and the prospect of the Chinese navy converting the port into a strategic naval base will invite greater security issues.
China which they do not hide its grand plan to expand its maritime presence in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman – a major strategic global oil trade route.
The United States and its allies in the Gulf reckon China’s hegemony in the Gulf has been deemed a security issue of the oil route.
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.
Earlier, Communist China for decades propagated on its state radio that the United States, Japan, Britain, and European countries are economic imperialists, warmongers and backed autocratic regimes in third-world countries.
Several think tanks argue that China has become an economic giant and a new superpower – the neo-economic imperialist or another “East India Company”.
A British popular tabloid newspaper The Sun claims that China is “colonizing” smaller countries by lending them massive amounts of money, which they can never repay.
Developing countries from Pakistan to Djibouti, Maldives to Fiji, all owe huge amounts to China. Countries around the world owe huge sums to China and have fallen into a debt trap.
Some political scientists are calling it “debt-trap diplomacy” or “debt colonialism” offering enticing loans to countries unable to repay, and then demanding concessions when they default.
Alarm bells are ringing for Pakistan’s public debt is piling up, while a new narrative taking shape in the West that the BRI is creating a debt trap for developing economies, many are quick to link Pakistan’s ballooning debt to loans incurred under the CPEC.
Pakistan will have to pay back $100 billion to China by 2024 of the total investment of $18.5 billion, which China has invested on account of bank loans in 19 early harvest projects, under CPEC.
Nevertheless, Pakistan elites and media hype boast CPEC has the potential for a dramatic impact on Pakistan’s economy, but this transformation would come at a heavy price of making Pakistan a colony of China. Piling up loans from China is a big gamble for Pakistan’s economy, writes Abdul Khaliq, a debt analyst.
As China makes inroads into Pakistan, the government has given sweeping tax exemptions to Chinese companies, a situation which is creating a damaging and discriminatory playing field against Pakistani business entrepreneurs virtually abolishing the remaining locally owned manufacturing sector in the country.
In fact, Pakistan heavily relies on CPEC and has put all its eggs in one basket. Piling up loans from China and building too many hopes in the CPEC may be a big gamble for Pakistan’s economy.

First published in The New York Editorial, 18 November 2022
Saleem Samad, is a South Asia Special Correspondent for the New York Editorial. He is an independent journalist based in Bangladesh. He is a recipient of the Ashoka Fellowship and the Hellman-Hammett Award and is a correspondent of the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Why Has Pakistan Banned Joyland Movie?


The controversial film Joyland received global accolades on film festival circuits for its portrayal of a transgender love affair. The movie has been banned for ‘highly objectionable material’ wasn’t a surprise for Pakistan.

The film is set in Lahore and shot in the Punjabi language revolves around the story of a young married man from a middle-class conservative family who joins an erotic dance theatre and falls in love with a starlet transgender performer. His love story elucidates the desires and secrets which is in contradiction with his patriarchal family.

The critically acclaimed film is Pakistan’s official entry for the category of Best International Feature Film for Oscars 2023.

It got its first premiere at Cannes 2022, where it received a standing ovation from the audience and jury.

Joyland has gained massive appreciation worldwide. The film received top global awards, including the Queer Palm, which is the Cannes Film Festival’s LGBTQ prize.

The movie also came away with rave reviews after it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and the American Film Institute Festival.

Unfortunately, before the film was released in the theatres, objections were raised by Islamists, who have not seen the film citing controversial content which was deemed un-Islamic, thus unfit for screening in a Sunni Muslim majoritarian Pakistan.

Days before the release of the film, the Pakistan authority ‘uncertified’ the film and blocked it from screening in the country.

Joyland (126 minutes) was slated to be screened in movie theatres across Pakistan this week. But the religious leader forced the federal censor board to reverse its decision and declare the movie “ineligible” for Pakistan.

The Islamic Republic has a notorious history of banning movies in various categories, citing religious reasons and so-called nationalistic reasons.

A Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan posted a tweet that he was relieved to hear about the ban. “Nothing un-Islamic can happen here [Pakistan],” Ahmad added.

Filmmaker Saim Sadiq’s Joyland received a letter from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting days ahead of its release which blocks the film to see the light of day.

The devastated filmmaker instead of showing his frustration thanked the “written complaints” from people claiming it features “indecent and immoral” content and reminded that legally, “Joyland is still certified to release in Punjab and Sindh on November 18.”

He argued that the 18th amendment in the Pakistani constitution gives all provinces the autonomy to make their own decision. Yet the ministry suddenly caved under pressure from a few Islamist – and made a “mockery of our federal censor board by rendering their decision irrelevant,” he lamented.

Director of the film Sadiq told Al Jazeera TV network that he was dismayed at the government’s decision. He remarked that this sudden U-turn by the government is unconstitutional and illegal.

Pakistan’s parliament broke ground in 2018 by passing a law to provide legal recognition to transgender persons, some conservative hardliners have lately been campaigning to take those rights away from people.

The recent ban on Oscar contender Joyland after religious backlash is yet another example of Mullah’s intolerance and disrespect for freedom of expression and creative media.

As the visiting scholar and former ambassador, Prof Husain Haqqani says, the mullahs, military, militancy and mosque nexus have unlimited evil power in Pakistan.

Immediately after a copy of the ban notification crept into social media, celebrities have been up in arms, calling for an end to the ban and for the film to be released.

The outcry of support for the film flooded the social media space from mango people, including artists and civil society. Hashtags #ReleaseJoyland and #BanJoyland are trending in social media both in favour and against the film.

If Joyland fails to be screened in Pakistan, the nomination for Oscar Academy Award would be stopped at a roadblock.

In the starring roles in Joyland are Rasti Farooq (Mumtaz), Alina Khan (Biba), Sarwat Gilani (Nucchi), Salmaan Peerzada (Rana Amanullah), Sohail Sameer (Saleem), Sania Saeed (Fayyaz) and Ali Junejo (Haider). The screenplay was written jointly by Maggie Briggs and Saim Sadiq.

First published in The News Times, November 15, 2022

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

Monday, October 31, 2022

US Congress To Recognise Bangladesh Genocide In 1971

Recently United States Congressman Steve Chabot along with co-sponsor Congressman Ro Khanna and Congresswoman Katie Porter introduced a bipartisan resolution 1430 “Recognising the Bangladesh Genocide of 1971” in Capitol Hill, Washington DC.
The resolution demands that the United States government should recognise the genocide committed by the Pakistan armed forces during the brutal birth of the country in 1971, which disproportionately targeted members of the Hindu community, secularists, and nationalist groups in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
Congressman Steve Chabot is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, and Co-Chair of the Bangladesh Caucus, introducing the resolution said, “There was a genocide. Millions of people were killed [in 1971] in what is now Bangladesh, and what was then East Pakistan.
About 80 per cent of those millions that were killed were Hindus. And it was, in my opinion, a genocide just like other genocides – like the Holocaust – happened. “
The historic resolution observes that the Pakistani ruling elite and officials harboured well-documented anti-Bangalee sentiment, considering Bangalees to be a lesser people group that had been corrupted by un-Islamic practices.
The infamous brutal crackdown “Operation Searchlight” involved widespread massacres of civilians. The operation targeted the Bangalee nationalists and especially the Hindus, who are dubbed with the demeaning word “Malaun” (cursed).
“The genocide against Bengalees and Hindus is one of the forgotten genocides of the 20th century and its lack of recognition remains an open wound for millions of people who were directly affected by the atrocities, remarked Senator Tabo”
Pakistan’s President, General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, is recorded as saying to his top military brass “[k]ill 3 million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands”.
Unfortunately, the genocide against ethnic Bangalees and Hindus is one of the forgotten genocides of the 20th century and its lack of recognition remains an open wound for millions of people who were directly affected by the atrocities.
Earlier, the United States based non-governmental organisations Genocide Watch and the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention sought international recognition of the atrocities committed by the Armed Forces of Pakistan as ‘genocide’.
An estimated number killed in the atrocities was 3 million (an official figure of the Bangladesh government). Nearly several hundred thousand were victims of rape as a weapon of war.
The bloody war caused nearly 10 million war refugees and took shelter in camps along the borders of India for their safety and up to 50 per cent of the population was internally displaced.
On March 28, 1971, United States Consul General in Dhaka, Archer Blood, sent a telegram to Washington titled “Selective Genocide” in which he wrote “Moreover, with support of Pak[istan] military, non-Bengali Muslims are systematically attacking poor people’s quarters and murdering Bengalis and Hindus. Streets of Dacca are aflood with Hindus and others seeking to get out of Dacca…”
Senator Edward Kennedy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in a report to the Committee on November 1, 1971, states “Nothing is more clear, or more easily documented, than the systematic campaign of terror—and its genocidal consequences—launched by the Pakistan army on the night of March 25th. Field reports to the U.S. Government, countless eye-witness journalistic accounts, reports of international agencies such as the World Bank, and additional information available to the Subcommittee document the continuing reign of terror which grips East Bengal. 
Hardest hit have been members of the Hindu community who have been robbed of their lands and shops, systematically slaughtered, and, in some places, painted with yellow patches marked ‘H’. All of this has been officially sanctioned, ordered and implemented under martial law from Islamabad.”
In a study published in 1972 titled “The Events in East Pakistan”, the Secretariat of the International Commission of Jurists states “There is overwhelming evidence that Hindus were slaughtered, and their houses and villages destroyed simply because they were Hindus.”
During the nine months of the war, the Pakistani military forces persecuted, tortured, and murdered representatives of Bangla culture and identity, including poets, musicians, professors, journalists, physicians, scientists, writers, and filmmakers.
Often debates are alive on the definition of genocide, persecution, atrocities and massacre rage among scholars and historians. The attempt to eliminate Hindus and the rape of women constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.
There is no confusion after the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, signed on December 9, 1948, declares that genocide “means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” and “The following acts shall be punishable: (a) Genocide; (b) Conspiracy to commit genocide; (c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide; (d) Attempt to commit genocide; (e) Complicity in genocide.”
The resolution calls on the Pakistan authority, in the face of overwhelming evidence, to offer acknowledgement of its role in such genocide, offer formal apologies to the Government and people of Bangladesh, and prosecute, in accordance with international law, any perpetrators who are still living, the resolution said.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Congress for Bangladesh Minorities (HRCBM) held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington DC which was attended by journalists, human rights defenders, academics, social entrepreneurs, members of the Bangladeshi diaspora and also exiled rights defenders of Sindh and Balochistan.
Priya Saha, Executive Director of HRCBM said, “The Pakistani military and its militia forces, namely the death squad Al-Badr carried out the targeted assassination of more than 1,100 Bangla-speaking intellectuals and other professionals, to create an intellectual vacuum in the country. In Bangladesh, 1,942 mass graves were discovered.”
Speakers at the press conference discussed and answered questions about the impact of this historic resolution on the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific and radical groups originating from Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Among the speakers were Dr Sachi Dastidar, distinguished professor emeritus at SUNY, recalled his family’s personal experience as victims of genocide.
Prof Dwijen Bhattacharjya of Columbia University and General Secretary of the Bangladeshi Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council in the United States believes that resolution 1430 will be departing from the 1971 United States policy on the genocide in Bangladesh.
Saleem Samad, General Sectary of the Forum for Freedom of Expression, Bangladesh said the Pakistan military committed genocide with an “intent to eliminate” a race, language, culture, heritage, traditional practices and of course religion
The ‘rape as a weapon of war’ was executed for several reasons. Firstly, to give birth to “war babies” to establish a so-called ‘superior’ race. Secondly, to change the identity of race and ethnicity. Thirdly to break the morale of a defiant nation.
Munawar “Sufi” Laghari, the Executive Director of Sindhi Foundation said the resolution to recognise the Bangladesh genocide would enable Pakistan’s ‘military establishment’ to halt ongoing ethnic persecution of Sindhi and Baloch, enforced disappearances and forced conversion of Hindus girls in the restive province of Sindh and Balochistan.
The press conference moderated by Adelle Nazrarian, Media Fellow at the Gold Institute for International Strategy (GIIS) and Communication and Legislative Director at HinduPACT urged the Bangladeshi diaspora in the United States, in particular, to work with their local representatives and requested that they support the resolution.
First published in The News Times, October 30, 2022
Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad

Monday, October 17, 2022

Can EC Become A Game Changer In Elective Democracy?


In every election, the same screenplay of vote fraud and election irregularities has been produced by the ruling party.

Whenever BNP, Jatiya Party or Awami League are in power till today, the election observers witnessed a similar style of forcibly taking control of polling centres by henchmen of ruling party political leaders.

The Bangladesh Election Commission’s (EC) order to pack up the ongoing by-election in Gaibandha drew widespread accolades from civil society, rights organisations and national media.

Promptly the ruling Awami League bigwigs did not hesitate to critique the EC. They churned conspiracy theories that EC’s decision will make the electronic voting system questionable.

The recent electoral episode in northern Bangladesh invited fresh controversy regarding the operation of the electronic voting machine (EVM).

Whether the EVM is an electoral tool to ensure free and fair elections in a country where political parties flex their muscles in polling centres and flout the election code of conduct?

Indeed Gaibandha polls raised some doubts, whether the EC is competent to deliver the nation, a free, fair, credible and inclusive election.

Always the ruling political parties have a nexus with district civil administrators and district police. It seems the government officials do not have accountability under the oath of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

Why does the ruling party abuse the nexus? The reason, the governing party possesses the ‘magic wand’ to influence the civil bureaucrats and police administration.

Their obligation to serve at the whims of their political master is obvious. The lucrative posting and promotion await for the subservient officers – the government officers cannot ignore the sugar-coated blessings of favouritism and nepotism to build their careers and accumulate wealth to live a peaceful life after retirement.

Prof Dr Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah of Dhaka University and chairperson of JANIPOP, a voluntary election observer’s organisation explained that EC’s experience in Gaibandha proved that Bangladesh does not need a caretaker government to hold the general elections.

The EC is a constitutional body and has once again proved that it’s an accomplished organisation to hold free and fair elections.

Dr Masum Billah, a political analyst who teaches law at Jagganath University says a controversial clause in the constitution requires holding the general election keeping the existing parliament. As such, the lawmakers remaining in power flex their muscles in the election.

On the other hand, Awami League’s arch-rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) demands that the prime minister should dissolve the parliament before the election, which is not in compliance with the constitution. “It’s a collective political failure,” Dr Billah remarks.

Among other limitations of the EC, the body does not have its cadre service of civil officers to independently conduct a national election. Unfortunately, the EC is dependent upon the civil bureaucracy and police administration to conduct the elections.

There are several instances in the last half a century when the state apparatus showed thumps down on EC’s orders.

Despite being empowered by the constitution, sometimes EC becomes a toothless tiger and is unable to take departmental actions against delinquent officers of civil administration and police department.

What is next, after the newly launched newspaper Dainik Kalbela published breaking news that the upcoming general elections will be held on 4 January 2024?

Obviously, the nation will expect high hopes from the Election Commission. The EC in many countries has demonstrated as a role model in conducting credible elections.

The Chief Election Commissioner of India TN Seshan (Dec 1990 to Dec 1996) redefined the status and visibility of the Election Commission of India.

He became best known for his electoral reforms. He curbed several malpractices like bribing or intimidating voters, use of government funds and machinery for campaigning, appealing to voters’ caste or communal feelings, use of loudspeakers and high-volume music.

In another continent, Professor Attahiru Muhammadu Jega, was Chairman of the Nigerian Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), he organised a peaceful elections in 2015 for the first time in Nigerian history.

Well, the Bangladesh Election Commission should uphold the constitution and is expected to be game changer in elective democracy to deliver credible and inclusive elections in Bangladesh, which would be widely acceptable by the citizenry at home and abroad – the international bodies and the West too.

First published in the News Times, October 17, 2022

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 16, 2022

Bangladesh Ranked 84th In Global Hunger Index: Food Supply Chain Disrupted By Ukraine War


Bangladesh ranked 84th, out of 121 assessed countries on the 2022 Global Hunger Index (GHI). With an overall score of 19.6 (2022), the level of hunger in Bangladesh has been categorised as “moderate”.

On the eve of World Food Day (October 16), the launch of the 2022 GHI amid global crises and the war in Ukraine is putting global food security in peril, and the worst impacts are being felt by the very poorest.

Among South Asia, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are among the worst-performing countries in the region.

The GHI that tracks and measures hunger across the world says that malnutrition among children under five years in Bangladesh has slightly improved.

The country has gradually improved its ranking from 33.9 (2000), 31.3 (2007), 26.3 (2014) and 19.6 in 2022.

The report that has used the fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) and FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) Food Security Indicators as its sources for Bangladesh has highlighted that child wasting (low-weight-for-height) rate in Bangladesh, at 9.8 per cent, is satisfactory but still lots of effort needed to touch the target of “Zero Hunger” of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030.

Despite Bangladesh being a moderate hungry country, but has fared well in undernourishment, child wasting and child stunting.

There are several reasons for the disruption, Bangladesh and other countries have failed its reach food autarky.

Some 50 nations that rely on Russia and Ukraine for the bulk of their wheat imports — including Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, and Turkey — have been scrambling to find alternative suppliers, according to the GHI 2022 Report.

Spiralling food prices and global supply chain disruptions precipitated by the Ukraine war, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and regional conflicts have worsened hunger for millions of people, requiring humanitarian and resilience-building responses to be urgently scaled up.

Incidentally, Bangladesh imports wheat from both Ukraine and Russia. Bangladesh’s food import is the lowest among countries having food shortages. Eritrea tops the list of dependencies on the external food supply in Ukraine and Russia.

The report mentions that there is another prime reason for the increase in food grain requirement in Bangladesh because of hosting more than one million Rohingya refugees since 2017.

Bangladesh took efforts in amplifying longstanding structural deficiencies in the global food system, which is inadequate for sustainably ending poverty and hunger as envisaged by the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda.

Within a global food system that has fallen short of sustainably ending poverty and hunger, citizens are finding innovative ways to improve food systems governance at the local level, holding decision-makers accountable for addressing food and nutrition insecurity and hunger.

The good news is the recent trend toward decentralising government functions has given local governments greater autonomy and authority, including over key elements of food systems.

The situation is likely to worsen in the face of the current barrage of overlapping global crises — conflict, climate change, and the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic — all of which are powerful drivers of hunger.

These crises come on top of underlying factors such as poverty, inequality, inadequate governance, poor infrastructure, and low agricultural productivity that contribute to chronic hunger and vulnerability.

Globally and in many countries and regions, current food systems are inadequate for the task of addressing these challenges and ending hunger.

Hunger cannot be eradicated unless global leaders join hands to tackle the structural drivers that cause it: war, climate change, and recession.

First published in The News Times, 15 October 2022

Friday, October 14, 2022

Who Is To Blame For Failed Gaibandha By-Poll?

In an unprecedented move, the Bangladesh Election Commission (EC) suspended the by-elections in Gaibandha-5 (Fulchari-Shagata) in the middle of voting on 12 October.
Such a move in recent history has surprised many and is likely to strengthen the confidence of the opposition and the ‘aam-janata’ (general public), but it would be short-lived.
Nevertheless, the EC is empowered by the state constitution to hold a credible election.
The ruling Awami League did not expect EC would take dramatic action in halting the election in the middle of the electioneering.
The leadership is not all happy with the action of the EC. The nation is eagerly expecting a formal statement from party stalwarts.
Two things made the EC go ahead with a drastic decision to stop the election squarely blaming vote fraud. First, the surveillance cameras in the polling booths were monitored from the control room of the EC, where journalists were allowed to observe.
The suspension of the by-election in Gaibandha indeed will be a warning to political parties, local leaders and their henchmen.
The question has been raised, whether it was prudent of EC to cancel the voting, which is definitely not a solution to vote fraud.
One thing is clear the government did not cooperate with the EC. The government did not lend their shoulder to EC to hold a peaceful election.
Experienced observers of elective democracy, Dr Badiul Alam Majumder of SHUJAN and Dr Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah of JANIPOP have expressed their reservations over the action by Election Commission on logical grounds.
They explained that the recent parley between the EC, civil administration (Deputy Commissioners) and police administration (Superintendents Of Police) gave a signal of appalling partisanship in the bureaucracy.
They recommended that the gap between the EC and the local civil administration have to be significantly reduced, living no room for confusion and controversy.
Both Dr Majumder and Dr Kalimullah feel that the election is the responsibility of the Election Commission, but successful implementation lies entirely with the district administration and law enforcement.
In short, the involvement of civil society, grassroots leadership and other stakeholders should work alongside the local civil administration and law enforcement. If there are irregularities and the election is cancelled for vote fraud then the responsibility for the failure to hold the polls will be bestowed upon the government.
Well, in most countries, the EC has election cadre service officials to conduct all kinds of elections. But for Bangladesh, it will be an additional burden on the national exchequer.
It is equally true that political parties, especially the ruling party will not agree to strengthen the independence of the EC, which may jeopardise their political career, and weaken the possibility to remain in power by hook or by crook.
Since independence, it would be difficult to say which election was credible and inclusive. Elections in different regimes were tainted.
When the voters in Bangladesh have lost confidence in the ballot; when the ‘aam janata’ fear their life going to the polling centres – then democracy fails. Democracy and electioneering are twins and go parallel.
When the government officers responsible for holding a credible inclusive election fail, who is to be blamed? Blame whom, the Election Commission (EC) or the civil administration?
If the civil service and police administration are recruited on a partisan background, what else the nation should expect from them?
It is also true that the district administration and police are under constant pressure from the local political leadership and vested groups, which restrains them from functioning.
In most cases, it becomes difficult for the local civil administration and police to continue with administrative duties because of political high-handedness and fear of losing their government job.
Like, Magura vote fraud and stark inaction by the Election Commission is still remembered, Gaibandha will also be remembered, when the general elections are around the corner, at end of 2023.
Do the ruling party understand that the whole world is observing the development towards holding parliamentary elections next year? The international community expects Bangladesh will not hold free and fair elections and also credible and inclusive elections too.
First published in The News Times, 14 October 2022
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 13, 2022

Who Can Be Members Of UNHRC?


Bangladesh has been elected as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the term of three years (2023-2025).

Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr Abul Kalam Abdul Momen has sent messages on WhatsApp stating (quote unquote): “Bangladesh won the Human Rights Council Election today (Tuesday) at the UN with highest votes (160 votes) which vindicated again that the global leaderships have confidence on Sheikh Hasina’s government and the Human Rights track record of Bangladesh. Bangladesh government is always at the forefront of democracy, Human Rights and justice.”

A question obviously arises, who can be members of UNHCR? The Council is comprised of 47 member states, which are elected by the majority of members of the General Assembly of the United Nations through direct and secret ballots.

The General Assembly takes into account the candidate States’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard.

The election to the Council’s Membership is based on equitable geographical distribution. Seats are distributed as follows: African States (13 seats), Asia-Pacific States (13 seats), Latin American and Caribbean States (8 seats), Western European and other States (7 seats) and Eastern European States (6 seats).

Countries elected are Algeria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, Georgia, Germany, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Morocco, Romania, South Africa, Sudan and Viet Nam.

Bangladesh is fortunate to have been elected in the quota of Asia-Pacific States with the highest vote of 160. It definitely gives the impression that Bangladesh’s diplomacy is in a win-win situation and made commendable strides in image-building globally.

The good news is Bangladesh, Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, Georgia, Germany, Morocco, Romania and South Africa, 23 of the 47 Council members during 2023 will be “Friends of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)” and have been appointed as Focal Point for Group of Friends in New York and Geneva.

By the end of this year, 123 UN member states will have served as Human Rights Council Members, reflecting the UN’s diversity and giving the Council legitimacy when speaking out on human rights violations in all countries.

If we review the list of members of the past and present, it could be found that at least two-thirds of the members are governed by autocratic regimes and built-in draconian laws to suppress freedom of expression, freedom of political assembly and freedom of faith.

Hundreds of dissidents, critics, journalists and opposition are languishing in prisons in Algeria, Bangladesh, Georgia, Morocco, Sudan and Viet Nam and other countries who were and are new members of the Council.

Sudan is no doubt a failed state but has been included in the Council, surely for a purpose which is not understood well.

Many totalitarian governments and new members of the Council deliberately flout the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is a milestone document in the history of human rights proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. The Declaration is believed to be a fundamental human right to be universally protected.

Like Bangladesh, Vietnam state media boasted that being elected to the UNHRC is an “international recognition of Vietnam’s commitment to respect and protect human rights.”

However, there is still hope. Many newly elected governments in third-world countries have come to power through credible elections with people’s mandates. Those third-world countries have launched political reforms – trashed draconian laws which suppress freedom of expression and religious freedom.

To conclude, Bangladesh with membership in the Council comes with a responsibility to uphold high human rights standards. The nation under the steadfast leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will surely reform the draconian laws, and ensure freedom of expression and freedom of assembly of opposition, critics and dissidents.

First published in The News Times, 12 October 2022

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