Monthly Coupon

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Bangladesh election not likely in early January


The much-awaited national election to the 12th Parliament of Bangladesh is likely to be rescheduled, and not postponed.

The governing party Awami League’s top leader Obaidul Quader and Minister for Roads and Bridges said on Wednesday that if the election date is rescheduled, his party does not have any objection. But, said subject to holding the election within the timeframe stipulated in the constitution.

However, Quader, General Secretary of Awami League added that the Election Commission has the authority to reschedule the election date and other dates.

There is enough room for an additional two weeks to hold the election.

An Election Commissioner earlier said the national election must be held by 29 January, under the constitution, to avert a potential political volatility akin to anarchy in the country.

Election Commissioner Mohammad Alamgir recently said, “Failure to do so would create a constitutional gap leading to a state of anarchy, which the Election Commission cannot allow.”

The election circus has already begun and the media is abuzz with news and speculative stories of cross-current and undercurrent of negotiating with the principal opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to set aside their ego and participate in the election.

The political reporters cannot fathom the political development behind the curtain.

Hundreds of former bureaucrats, senior police officers, journalists, cricketers, entertainment industry artists, doctors, engineers, educationists, and lawyers have bought nominations for the Awami League.

The Election Commission is willing to reschedule the 12th parliamentary election if the BNP and other parties boycotting the polls officially change their mind and decide to participate in the election, Election Commissioner Rashida Sultana says.

Well, BNP has not responded to rescheduling the election date.

Last week, the BNP announced to boycott of the elections to the 12th parliament arguing that the election would not be free, fair and credible unless Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stepped aside and an interim government to hold the election.

Hasina and her party are in power for the fourth consecutive tenure, thus becoming the longest-serving woman prime minister in the world, which is expected to enter into the Guinness Book of World Records.

However, if the opposition and others join, of course would be described as an inclusive election. The Election Commission would welcome their [opposition] participation, said another Election Commissioner Rashida Sultana.

The government has cracked down on opposition since BNP held a rally on 28 October to showcase strength in the capital Dhaka. The rally abruptly ended after police and ‘golden boys’ attacked the crowd.

Thousands of opposition members and more than a hundred key leaders are languishing in prisons on trumped-up charges for arson, vandalism of public properties, etcetera.

Hasina remarked “BNP is a party of terrorists” for their violent anti-government campaign and said there would be political dialogue with “terrorists”.

BNP has launched countrywide anti-government protests, which have been marked with violence, arson and vandalism.

The protest has led to further arrests of the leaders, party members and sympathisers from all over the country.

On the other hand, Hasina and her party stalwarts hectic negotiations with dissident leaders from BNP and the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) to join newly opened shops.

The Trinomul BNP and Amar Bangladesh (AB) Party formed with dissident leaders who had quit or were kicked out from the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami parties.

The higher court has banned JeI from contesting the election under the party name and election symbol.

A senior journalist Salauddin Babar of pro-JeI newspaper Naya Diganta, who is familiar with JeI’s policy said, the party has not been banned and therefore can continue in politics, except that the party cannot participate in any elections.

He, quickly added that JeI members, if the election is conducive for the party can contest as an independent candidate and also can join a like-minded political coalition and seek nomination from the alliance. There is no bar in doing that, Babar said.

Political historian Mohiuddin Ahmad says the windows have been opened to showcase the Bangladesh election as inclusive, but there is no guarantee that the election will be free, fair and violence-free.

Bangladesh election is riddled with a history of violence and violation since 1973, the first election, two years after the independence of the country, remarked Ahmad.

To assess the ground situation a pre-election Commonwealth mission is presently in Bangladesh.

The US-based International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI) have applied with the Election Commission for election international election observer credentials.

IRI and NDI will send five technical experts to assess the electoral violence conditions before, during and after the election day. The team is expected to be in Bangladesh for six to eight weeks.

The technical team will assess different types of election violence that occur in Bangladesh, including inter and intra-party violence, violence targeting women and other marginalised groups and communities, online harassment and threats, as well the role of state institutions in addressing these types of violence.

The European Union plans to send election observers for limited assessment before and after the election.

The question is abuzz who will bell the cat? The political observers means, who will convince the BNP to participate in the election.

If BNP joins, the government will have to bend to agree to a long list of pre-conditions, including unconditional release of their leaders and those arrested after police crackdown on 28th October. Drop all charges against opposition members.

The crucial issue is, whether the self-styled supremo Tarique Rahman, living in exile in London for two decades has no understanding of the ground reality, will allow his Dhaka-based acolytes to bargain with the government, when he is adamant not to hold dialogue with the state.

The nation has to wait and see the next round of political development likely to unfold in days to come.

First published in the Northeast News, Guwahati, India, 22 November 2023

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Opposition in Bangladesh failing to unseat Sheikh Hasina


Many keen political observers believe that the principal opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has come to a dead end on the road. Their strategy has been violent to demand that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should step down and an interim government to hold a free, fair and inclusive national election.

BNP has announced to boycott the upcoming national election in January 2024. The party and its alliance have called for a countrywide general strike (hartal) and blockade (oborod).

The blockade was announced in protest of breaking up the BNP’s 28 October rally allegedly by police in conjunction with the ‘golden boys’ of the governing Awami League.

Political historian Mohiuddin Ahmad said the opposition always envisages winning the election. If they access that they will not win, or even win a reasonable number of seats in the parliament, then they threaten to boycott the elections.

Demanding Hasina to quit power and form an interim government to oversee the elections is not happening. The rewritten constitutional provisions have deleted the sections for holding elections under a caretaker government, said Ahmad.

Winter in Bangladesh comes as a blessing when flowers bloom across the gardens and parks in the country. The village women prepare traditional pita (traditional cake made from fresh rice harvest). Some schools are done with their final exam. While others plan vacations during the winter.

The vibrant tourist industry is now challenged with negative business. This awkward situation has been caused by opposition actions and the governing party along with its alliance joining the election fest. In fear of political actions, the customers cancelled their vacation plans.

Ahmad said it is understood what the BNP wants. But the party leaders before they were arrested and sent to prison had not spelled out what they wanted to do after they won the election.

They have not promised that they will abrogate all draconian laws which hinder democracy. They did not say they would ensure accountability and transparency and zero-tolerance for corruption and human rights abuse of law enforcement agencies. They did not say that the judiciary would become independent with no political influence and not harass and intimidate opposition, critics, and dissidents.

The opposition party has not spoken a word about freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press.

Arson, agitation and protest rallies will not change the policy of the government. After boycotting the election they have nowhere to go but sink in a black hole.

There are reasons BNP is aggressive, arrogant and refuses to dialogue with the government parties. Thus arrogance of the BNP has led the party to the end of the road.

Nonetheless, BNP for long is leaderless or rudderless and floating without any compass. The present party leaders are powerless and do not have the guts to manage the party autonomously. It’s no longer news that BNP is managed by a remote controller – sitting in London by a self-exiled leader.

The party chairperson Khaleda Zia is serving jail terms and is restricted in her house. She is barred from politics and unable to contest any elections. The ailing leader with medical complications often shuttles between her home and the hospital.

The party’s de facto leader Tarique Rahman (56), is Senior Vice-Chairman of BNP. A spoiled brat of the military dictator General Ziaur Rahman (1977-1981) and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

The 93-year-old former President Prof Badruddoza Chowdhury once blamed Tarique arbitrarily established a political “powerhouse outside the Prime Minister’s Office” when her mother Khaleda was the Prime Minister (2001-2006).

Tarique never attended any BNP’s central committee or high command’s meetings, but he dictated his decisions. Several ministers and secretaries of various ministries sought his decision and approval of government projects from the popularly known place in upscale Banani, the ‘Hawa Bhaban’, the office of the delinquent.

His schoolmates said he was a flop in the class exam. A below-average student in BAF Shaheen School and College in Dhaka was a timid person and not vocal. He was kicked out of the school for failing an annual exam. Later he was a dropout from studies. The high school certificate and college degree were obtained fraudulently.

Khaleda Zia never expressed embarrassment that her son established a parallel government. She never stopped him from messing with government administration.

Instead, she indulged his son to run an unauthorised powerhouse and also rein the party. Corruption during Khaleda Zia’s regime was not spatial but horizontal – the ‘prince’ did it all.

Discontentment among the senior party leaders and ministers began to surface, which the Prime Minister tried to pacify.

He hated the senior BNP leaders including those Ministers who were inducted into the newly born party by his assassinated father Ziaur Rahman.

He advocates that the country should be governed by new generation (XGen) politicians and not left with the ‘old haggards’.

In the October 2001 election, understanding that the BNP may not be elected to power, he cleverly forged an alliance with the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, which surprised many BNP leaders.

In fact, several senior BNP leaders and ministers were 1971 liberation war veterans and also those from the leftists and communists who joined the nationalist party during the tenure of Zia were uncomfortable with the presence of JeI.

The Islamist party opposed the independence of Bangladesh and collaborated with marauding Pakistan troops. The youths of JeI were recruited to form the death squad, Al Badr.

The death squad, a secret outfit abducted hundreds of intellectuals, tortured them in secret locations and later killed them, which was the saddest episode of the liberation war history.

The Pakistan military committed genocide of 3 million, targeting the Hindus, but Muslims who belonged to the Awami League and people sympathetic to independent Bangladesh were also slaughtered and buried in hundreds of mass graves all over the country.

The occupation forces deliberately used rape as a weapon of war to create a new generation of “saccha (genuine) Pakistanis”.

The crackdown created 10 million war refugees of Hindus and Muslims alike. The war refugees were forced to take shelter in neighbouring states of India. The war has also caused internal displacement of 25 million in search of safe refuge.

The refugees were sheltered in India until Bangladesh was liberated in December 1971. Millions of refugees trekked home to their homesteads only to find their villages were parched, houses looted and torched by local militia.

The JeI leader of the eastern province of Pakistan, Ghulam Azam, fled to Pakistan in 1971 living behind his compatriots and Islamic militia to fight alongside the Islamic army.

Later JeI party was banned. Imbued in the 1974 constitution and declared that any party with a religious objective will not be registered as a political party.

Civil society challenged the self-styled professor Ghulam Azam as the Ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh in 1991, arguing that he was a citizen of Pakistan and should be deported. He, however, held the position until 2000.

Azam hated the independence of Bangladesh and believed the territory (Bangladesh) would be under the hegemony of India. Azam was convicted of crimes against humanity in July 2013.

In a development on November 19, the apex court upheld the scrapping of Jamaat-e-Islami’s registration as a political party, barring the party from contesting any polls. The Appellate Division of Supreme Court upholds a verdict from the High Court that prevents the party from running for elected office, writes the private news portal

This means that JeI is left with no scope to contest the upcoming elections scheduled in early January.

It could not be ascertained whether JeI has any alternative plan to participate in the national election.

A senior journalist who is familiar with the JeI policy said that the party leaders of Majlis-e-Shura, the highest policy-making body of the JeI will meet soon, to discuss the future of the party and relay the decision to the members.

With Jei put out of circulation, the wings of the BNP have been clipped from forming an electoral alliance or having a strong ally in the anti-government movement.

First published in the Northeast News, 19 November 2023

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Friday, November 10, 2023

Was Bangladesh Discussed at the ‘2+2’ Dialogue in Delhi?

The fifth edition of 2+2 dialogue between India and the US has concluded on Friday.


The entire media and foreign offices of South Asian countries are eagerly watching as the development unfolds in New Delhi.

The Southeast Asian countries are also waiting for the outcome of the 2+2 ministerial dialogue from the visit of a high-profile American delegation led by United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin while External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh headed the Indian side.

The agenda for the dialogue on Friday (10 November), on the eve of a weekend, would not discuss the wars in Gaza and Ukraine but would focus on security challenges in the Indo-Pacific and concerns over China.

China has kept all its eyes and ears of the red dragon focused on Delhi to understand what resolutions have been adopted at the so-called 2+2 talks against the giant of Asia.

The 61-year-old Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra, responding to a query by journalist Yeshi Seli of the New Indian Express about whether Bangladesh was on the menu, the veteran diplomat said “As I mentioned, extensive discussions took place on different regional developments in South Asia and other parts of the world also. And so far as Bangladesh is concerned we shared our perspective very, very clearly.

“It is not our space to comment on the policy of a third country. I think when it comes to developments in Bangladesh, elections in Bangladesh, it is their domestic matter. It is for the people of Bangladesh to decide their future.

“We as a close friend and partner of Bangladesh respect the democratic processes in Bangladesh and will continue to support that country’s vision of a stable, peaceful and progressive nation that the people of that country seek for themselves.

“We were very clear in sharing our perspective on how we look at situations in different parts of the world and that includes Bangladesh with the US side during these discussions,” the veteran diplomat said softly.

Meanwhile, the United States Ambassador Peter Haas to Bangladesh has flown to New Delhi ahead of Blinken’s arrival.

Sources said, Haas is likely to update the Indian and US sides on where things stand for them in Bangladesh. It could not be ascertained what has transpired from the official briefing by the US envoy, who has been recently threatened to be beaten up black and blue by a ‘golden boy’ from the governing Awami League for Haas, allegedly hobnobbing with the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The governing party did not take action against the henchman.

The US has been reiterating that there should be free, fair and inclusive elections in Bangladesh. The upcoming national election is expected in early January 2024.

Both India and the USA are concerned about Bangladesh that it should not be allowed to slip into the fold of the Red Dragon. Understanding that the country is in debt due to loans it needs to repay to China under its so-called Belt and Road Initiative. Many define the Chinese motive behind the mega projects are debt trap for a poor country.

The United States, India, Japan and Korea do not want to see a pro-Chinese regime come to power. China is deep down in Bangladesh’s politics and so-called economic development partner.

The United States, India and Japan see China as a threat to regional security having its visible footprint in Bangladesh.

These countries have time and again expressed doubt about the strong pro-Chinese lobbies in the country, which besides the political parties and their leaders, includes the media and the business community remains an influential force.

That is why India and the United States cannot trust the principal opposition BNP, for not only being anti-Indian but also a die-hard pro-Chinese.

China first made inroads into Bangladesh during General Ziaur Rahman’s era when the military dictator made his first official visit to Beijing in 1977.

China recognised Bangladesh after the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the independence hero.

The military dictator sought China’s political and military blessings to counter Indian influence, which was suddenly disrupted on 15 August 1975 after the death of Sheikh Mujib. Its a long history in short.

India surely does not wish Bangladesh to go away and envisages that Bangladesh should continue to remain a good neighbour.

Delhi is nervous after China’s increasing influence in South Asia and meddling with politics. After Mohammed Muizzu won the elections in Maldives. India, lost its political clout in the island nation located in the Indian Ocean as the country slid into the Chinese lap.

China does not care about free and fair elections, as they do not practice democracy in an authoritarian rule and have rebuked the West without naming any country for “interfering in domestic affairs”.

First published in Northeast News, 10 November 2023

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Saturday, November 04, 2023

Will the Islamists pose a challenge to the Awami League in Bangladesh?


The wind of election fever is sweeping Bangladesh as the national election is coming closer. The Islamist parties, including the lesser-known Islamists are gearing up for the elections expected in early January 2024.

The Islamist parties are formally and informally holding parleys to form an electorate alliance. The question arises, whether the alliance will be a challenge for the incumbent Awami League or the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

After a long time, Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka witnessed a largely attended crowd at a rally organised by Islami Andolon (Movement) Bangladesh on Friday (November 3), a weekly holiday for the noon Jumma prayer.

The rally was held at Shurwardy Uddyan, where 96,000 Pakistan military signed a historic surrender and a surrender ceremony was held on December 16, 1971.

It is the same placed where Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made a historic speech on March 7, 1971, which inspired the people to rise against the Pakistan military junta, leading to an independent Bangladesh.

The vast green expanse was the country’s only race course, a legacy of the British Raj, is presently a site in remembrance of the liberation war, and the sacrifices of the martyrs.

The Islami Andolon has asked the governing Awami League to relinquish power within seven days.

What has amazed many political observers is that the Islamist party has expressed solidarity with the ongoing BNP anti-government movement for a caretaker government and asked Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to step down.

The founder of Islami Andolon, Syed Mohammad Rezaul Karim said if the government fails to comply with the demands to quit by November 10, they will discuss with members of the opposition alliance and announce the next course of the movement.

The demands include a national government with members from the parties in the anti-government campaign and urged the President of the country to take measures to avoid further escalation of the violence unleashed during the series of countrywide shutdowns and blockades of road, train and river communication.

They also asked to release all BNP leaders arrested during the wake of the movement in a week.

The Islamist leader Karim warned that the people will not accept sham elections held in 2014 and 2018.

The Islamic preacher spelt out an ultimatum and threatened to launch a tougher movement with all the political parties to hold an election under a national government if their demand is not met by the date.

He warned that they will not be allowed to hold sham elections held in 2014 and 2018 polls. “The government is referring to the constitution saying that it is not possible to go beyond it. Who made the constitution? Awami League? This constitution is also illegal like the Awami League–led government,” he remarked.

He told a cheering crowd of tens of thousands that they would fight in collaboration with all political groups and get Sheikh Hasina off the throne.

On the other hand, the governing Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) are vigorously working backstage to get Islami Andolon as an electoral ally. Obviously, it will energise the enthusiasm of the impressive vote bank ahead of the upcoming general elections in early January 2024.

Surely, Karim, popularly known as “Charmonair Pir” has become a factor in politics. And it led the two major parties to make one request to Islami Andolon to join their electoral coalition, instead of going alone.

Notwithstanding, starting their political career from Barishal in March 1987, the party emerged as the fourth most popular political party in the last general election, writes The Daily Star.

The Islamist party categorically told the BNP delegation last February that they have strong reservations about the caretaker system as has been marked by bitter experience which ushered in the infamous 1/11 military-backed caretaker government.

Instead, they proposed a national government comprising members from major political parties to hold the national elections, which did not catch the winds from BNP leadership visiting Islami Andolon headquarters in Barishal.

The governing party is actively engaged in expanding the political base of an electoral alliance with leftist and Islamist parties too.

A government party delegation held parleys with Islami Andolon and proposed to its fold to defeat the opposition BNP.

The ruling party explained to Islamist leaders that joining the alliance would broaden their hope of winning in several constituencies with a vote bank of like-minded parties in the pro-government alliance if BNP decides to participate in the election.

Several Awami League leaders, however, denied holding dialogue or have proposed the Islamist party to join the broad electoral alliance.

The Islamic Andolon contested 299 seats out of 300 constituencies in the national polls held in 2018. Well, the highest by a single party, whereas the Awami League contested in 262 seats, the BNP in 258 and the Jatiya Party in 45 seats.

The Islamic Andolon individually participated in national elections for the first time in 2008. In the last 2018 election, the Islamist party contested 299 seats and got 12.55 lakh votes, which was 1.52 per cent of the vote, according to The Daily Star.

Bangladesh Election Commission has delisted the registration of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and has no locus standi in the electioneering. However, 22 candidates of JeI have contested the 2018 election with the BNP election symbol ‘sheaf of paddy’. All the JeI candidates lost the election.

Since the BNP announced agitations on 28 October, the JeI has also announced a similar agitation programme.

The Qawmi Madrasa–based non-political Islamist organisation, Hefajat-e-Islam are in catch-22 whether to support the government party and release central leaders languishing in prison or challenge Awami League in the upcoming elections.

Several central leaders of Hefajat-e-Islam, are also leaders of smaller Islamist parties and will certainly surface during the electioneering.

On the sideline, lesser-known Islamist parties are gearing up to participate in the elections and plan to merge as a “third force”.

An alliance of Islamist parties has launched the Liberal Islamic Alliance comprising six Islamic and like-minded political parties formed on  1 September.

The six Islamic parties, newly registered with the Election Commission, are Bangladesh Supreme Party led by Syed Saifuddin Ahmed Maizbhandari, Bangladesh Islami Oikya Jote led by Misbahur Rahman Chowdhury, Krishak Sramik Party led by Farhanaz Haque, Aashiqeen-e-Awlia Oikya Parishad led by Alam Noori Sureshwari, Bangladesh Janodal and National Awami Party (NAP Bhashani).

The Supreme Party Chairman Syed Saifuddin Ahmed Maizbhandari said that preparations are afoot to contest in all 300 constituencies, indeed a challenge to other Islamist parties and alliances.

Some of the Islamist parties have reportedly said, that they will decide to participate or boycott after the election date is formally announced by the election commission.

Presently, 44 political parties, including 14 Islamist parties, are registered with the Election Commission, which is obligatory for participation in national and local government elections.

What will happen, if BNP suddenly decides to join the election at the eleventh hour? The Islamist parties will surely join the grand alliance of the government with an impressive vote bank, concludes Partha Pratim Bhattacharjee, political reporter with The Daily Star.

First published in the Northeast News, 4 November 2023

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Thursday, November 02, 2023

Decoding Bangladesh political violence in the West


As predicted, Bangladesh plunged into a political abyss after the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and governing Awami League simultaneously held rallies choking busy streets in the heart of the capital Dhaka on October 28, which has been marred in violence and street anarchy.

The opposition has demanded that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should step down and the national elections should be held under an interim government to ensure free, fair, credible and inclusive polls planned in January 2024.

Hasina, the daughter of Bangladesh’s independence hero Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, has been the longest serving women prime minister in the world. She has been in power since 2009 and has been accused of targeting political opponents, dissidents, critics and journalists, which she categorically denies.

Moreover, blaming the opposition BNP for anarchism, the pro-establishment news organisations, apologetic Awami League leadership, the government, and law enforcement failed to foresee an impending political violence, which would usher in a political crisis that was approaching like a cyclonic storm.

As hundreds of opposition senior leaders and members were detained and accused of rioting, death of policemen and damaging properties including buses, the United States ambassador to Bangladesh, Peter Haas, hoped that all sides would engage in a “dialogue” without preconditions to de-escalate tensions and find a path forward to free, fair and peaceful elections.

In response to the United States’ call for dialogue, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina responding to journalists, rejected holding any dialogue with the opposition and said, “How can we meet and have dialogue with murderers.”

Hinting the government has taken a hard line with the opposition, she said “The BNP is a ‘terrorist organisation’ and they will be taught the lesson they need to be taught.”

In response to a question at the press conference on November 31, on how to deal with the violence, she said she would “burn the hands of those who start the fire.”

Amid a crackdown on opposition politicians and deadly protests, Bangladesh’s main opposition party BNP, whose top leadership is either jailed or in exile, is betting that if Hasina does not resign and allow in a caretaker government, boycotting the January election will de-legitimise any win for her and possibly invite international sanctions, the spokesperson said. BNP boycotted the 2014 election too but participated in 2018, reports Reuters.

What is damaging for the government’s credibility is that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) suspected ruling party supporters were also involved in the violence that gripped Dhaka city on October 28 during rallies by major political parties.

“We urge the Government to observe the greatest restraint to curb political tensions at this critical time, and to take steps to ensure that human rights are fully upheld, for all Bangladeshis, before, during and after the elections,” said OHCHR.

On the other hand, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls on all parties to refrain from violence or any excessive use of force or arbitrary detention. He also stresses the need to respect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a strongly worded statement on November 1 quoted witnesses to accuse the Bangladesh police of unnecessary use of (excessive) force during political protests on October 28.

The watchdog did not hesitate to say the violence was committed on all sides, the events were part of a continuing police crackdown on the political opposition.

HRW claims at least 1,500 opposition members were arrested in the days leading up to the rally and BNP leaders said that the authorities raided party members’ homes. Nearly a dozen opposition members were shot and killed by police in the last four days.

According to the opposition, nearly 5,000 party leaders and activists have been arrested since similar protests took place in July, while tens of thousands have been accused in hundreds of additional cases.

The US rights watchdog appeals that all allegations of torture and other abuse of detainees should be thoroughly and independently investigated, and those responsible should be held to account.

Whereas, according to Mohammad A. Arafat, an academic turned politician in a post on Twitter (now X), the General Secretary of Awami League has been saying for more than a month that we are ready for dialogue without any pre-condition but BNP responded negatively. Now that Mr. [Peter] Haas proposed a dialogue without any condition, let’s see whether BNP listens to their “trusted friend”.

Is the idea of ‘No-Pre-Conditioned’ dialogue being floated because of the failed attempt on October 28? Who from BNP is going to be available for dialogue, I wonder! Or, this offer of dialogue is to get some kind of amnesty for the perpetrators, he asked.

In September, the European Union notified the Bangladesh government that it would not send a full election observer mission to the polls in January, stating that the decision “reflects the fact that at the present time, it is not sufficiently clear whether the necessary conditions will be met.”

The European Parliament also raised the alarm about growing abuses in Bangladesh, putting into question its eligibility for EU trade benefits under the “Everything But Arms” programme. Mass arrests targeting the opposition further undermine the conditions for a fair election.

The United States pre-election assessment mission has called upon political parties as well as other stakeholders in Bangladesh to initiate a substantive dialogue on key election issues, intending to ensure a credible, inclusive, and violence-free election.

The assessment team, which comprises representatives of the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), made the call through a publication from Washington on Saturday.

The United States has said it will “impose visa restrictions on Bangladeshi individuals responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh.”

The OHCHR and Human Rights Watch statements were not only damaging but have severely embarrassed the government.

On 28 October, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police headquarters denied Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JeI’s) permission to hold a rally on the same day in the downtown Motijheel, a hub of all nationalised banks, insurance and trade bodies head offices.

Surprisingly police did not disperse the Islamist party rally held at Arambagh, near the downtown.

Salauddin Babar, acting editor of Dainik Naya Diganta, an Islamist newspaper explained why police did not want to disperse or block the JeI’s rally and said the government possibly did not want to open a second front battling two political parties in the streets.

Babar having closed ties with JeI leadership denied any deal with the government and remarked it was wise of the government to avoid battling JeI, which would have provoked other Islamists to join the street protest.

Jamaat-e-Islami for a long hiatus has lent political support for the nationwide hartal (shutdown) on the following day of police crackdown and four-day blockade of roads, train and river communications for October 30-31 and November 1-2 called by BNP and its alliance.

Interestingly, JeI has not been invited by the BNP to join the alliance for their movement asking Hasina to quit and hold elections under an interim government.

On the fifth day (Wednesday), at least 11 people, including two police officers, were killed, and hundreds injured including 30 journalists were heckled and harassed by riot police and attacked by opposition and governing party hooligans during the October 28 and ongoing violence that has followed.

Nevertheless, the police, opposition and Awami League denied their involvement in attacking journalists and damaging or seizure of mobile phones, cameras and video equipment.

Meanwhile, Australia, Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States in a joint statement on the recent political violence have called for restraint.

A joint statement issued by the diplomatic missions of these countries in Bangladesh said, “We call on all stakeholders to exercise restraint, eschew violence and work together to create the conditions for free, fair, participatory, and peaceful elections.”

The Bangladesh government is ignoring international calls for restraint and its pledges to hold a peaceful, free, and fair election. National elections are planned for January 2024, stated HRW.

Human Rights Watch has called upon Bangladesh’s international partners to insist that elections cannot be considered fair when the opposition is targeted, harassed, and behind bars.

POSTSCRIPT: In the last few days, Bangladesh police clashed with thousands of garment workers demanding fair wages for the clothing they make for major Western brands. Police said tens of thousands of workers in the country’s largest industrial city, firing tear gas and rubber bullets as agitating workers smashed up factories and blocked roads. The protests left at least two people dead.

First published in the Northeast News, 2 November 2023

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Monday, October 23, 2023

Bangladesh likely to plunge into political violence


The two rival political parties, the governing Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) are on a head-on collision course on 28 October.

In a major showdown of the BNP in mobilisation of supporters, members and sympathisers, the Awami League leaders and senior ministers are threatening that they will block roads and intersections in the capital Dhaka on 28 October and mobilise thousands of supporters.

Party general secretary Obaidul Quader and Minister for Roads and Highways warned the BNP that they would face a similar outcome in 10 December, last year.

After protracted negotiations, the BNP got permission for its last year’s December 10 rally at the fringe of the capital – a ground which was not its first choice of BNP.

The permission came at the cost of a life, injuries to around 100 people, and the arrest of dozens of party stalwarts.

Meanwhile, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s commissioner, Habibur Rahman warned of tough actions if the BNP caused harm to the lives and properties of 2.24 crore (nearly 22 million) residents of the metropolitan city while holding the political programme.

However, BNP’s general secretary Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir explained that their “loyalists won’t ‘occupy streets’ during the Dhaka rally” and has no plans to stage any sit-in protests during the party’s ‘mass rally’ in Dhaka. The party has taken adequate steps to ensure that the gathering ends peacefully, he added.

The threats against BNP were also made by Information and Broadcasting Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud, a family member of the Sunni cleric Shah Ahmed Shafi founder of the Islamist organisation Hefazat-e-Islam (Protector of Islam) that the governing Awami League members, supporters and henchmen will dominate the streets of Dhaka.

Literally, Dhaka will come to a standstill by warring parties, marching in the streets with bamboo sticks and batons to confront, one to obstruct holding the rally and another push through the Awami League and ‘golden boys’ barricades at all major intersections.

The ruling party would supplement the thousands of riot police and elite anti-crime police RAB, police detectives and security agencies mobilised to enforce the “law and order” situation.

Fearing police and ‘golden boys’ harassment, BNP leadership has called on their members and disciples to reach Dhaka two days early.

The government in the past on several occasions during BNP’s rallies blocked public transport, like buses, trains and ferryboats (launch) services. Several hotels and informal accommodations were raided and hundreds were arrested accused of sabotage and conspiring against the government. In most cases, the hotel owners are asked to vacate the rooms of their customers and close for 24 to 48 hours in the name of security issues posed by the opposition’s gathering.

BNP, the country’s largest opposition group demands that the next parliamentary polls, expected in early January, be overseen by a caretaker government to ensure a free and fair election, writes the Daily Star.

The party boycotted the election in 2014 and alleged vote rigging and intimidation during the 2018 polls, which were held under an Awami League government.

Of course, Awami League repeated its refusal to step down before the election, arguing that such an ‘unelected [caretaker] government’ would be unconstitutional, and would create a crisis from a political vacuum which would hinder the country’s politics and development.

Awami League launched a violent anti-government street protest demanding a caretaker government, which led to elections under a neutral government in 1996.

Sheikh Hasina, the current leader of the Awami League founded by her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, an independence hero scraped the elections under a caretaker government when she swung to power in 2009 after the system was challenged in the higher court and declared unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group fears countrywide violence and conflicts in Bangladesh from October 2023 to March 2024. The assessment was recently published in the global conflict tracker, CrisisWatch, and qualitative assessments provided by Crisis Group’s analysts based in conflict areas.

The assessment identified several parameters of conflicts during the six months and said a potentially high-stakes violent election in January 2024 is a prime reason for hostilities. Violence could surge in the lead-up to or after voting in January, as envisaged by the European think tank.

The ruling Awami League is expected to ignore calls for it to step down and hand power to a neutral regime that would ensure holding a free, fair, inclusive and credible election, and instead continue crackdown on opposition BNP members, says the report.

Not very unfamiliar with political protests in the country, the rival supporters could clash in street battles or attack party offices or candidates, especially rebel candidates.

Amid the political tensions, the Islamist groups will also bake extra bread when the oven is still warm. The Islamists become more active in opposing the government, the report said.

The potential consequences would be a rigged or disputed election could trigger fierce anti-government protests. Facing the prospect of a rigged poll, the opposition will probably boycott the election and could become radicalised, adopting more violent tactics.

In the worst-case scenario, the military might intervene should the election’s aftermath become chaotic, says the Crisis Group report.

The International Crisis Group understands that conflicts, violence and political reprisals could also cause the government to increase its dependence on India and China, as the United States and its potential Western countries would probably respond with sanctions, such as collective visa bans on top officials by the West, especially the United States.

First published in the Northeast News, 23 October 2023

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Saturday, October 14, 2023

China-Russia-America, who is the friend of Bangladesh?


As the much-talked-about general elections expected in early January 2024 approach, the global superpowers are zooming their hawkish eyes on Bangladesh.

Most concerned people in the West, of course, the Bangladeshi expatriates and especially the Indians frankly ask why the superpowers are interested in the political development in a country of 173 million people.

In one word – the “China card”. The West, neighbouring India and even Japan are feeling jittery over the growing Chinese influence in the Sheikh Hasina-led government and her party Awami League.

Once an Indian diplomat in a private gathering sought opinion on why China’s mega-projects get approval quickly, and India’s infrastructure development projects are delayed due to bureaucratic red tape. He was told that the Japanese had a similar experience of projects falling through the faultline of bureaucracy.

China’s inroad to Bangladesh and getting contracts for mega projects had irked India, Japan and the United States.

Indian media have written on the expansion and development project of the third largest airport at Sylhet, in northeast Bangladesh and the proposed Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration Project. However, the later project was shelved showing errors in the loan proposal.

The Osmani International Airport in Sylhet is in close proximity to Assam and Arunachal state is further north, where India borders with Tibet in China. The airport is in a strategic location for eavesdropping into Indian northeast states, it is feared by Delhi. Recently China’s official map shows Arunachal as South Tibet, inviting fresh ruckus with Red Dragon.

What is China’s interest in the Teesta River, a transboundary river that flows through India and Bangladesh? The proposed project has raised eyebrows in the region. The river is a significant source of water for both India and Bangladesh.

Indeed, the river is crucial for the economic development of the region as it is a source of water for agriculture and hydroelectric power generation. The river water sharing has been a bone of contention between the two neighbours for decades.

China’s involvement in the Teesta River dispute has added a new dimension to the conflict. The Red Dragon’s interest in the Teesta River can be attributed to its strategic ambitions in the region. The river originates in the Himalayas and flows through the Indian states of Sikkim and West Bengal before entering Bangladesh, says a river morphologist.

Japan has undertaken to construct the largest deep-sea port on Maheskhali island, in the Bay of Bengal and has been able to bulldoze the Chinese proposal of a second deep-sea port in Sonadia, not far from the ongoing project of the Rising Sun.

Tokyo has been able to convince Delhi that the deep-sea port on the Bangladesh coast which serves adequately to export/import of northeast Indian states, will boost economic growth and immensely contribute to the country’s GDP.

Bangladesh, last week became the 33rd member of the nuclear club. The under-construction Russian project Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant will augment electric generation in energy-starved northern Bangladesh.

Other than the nuclear power plant, Russia does not have a second mega project in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh imports food grains from Russia and exports various garments items, jute, frozen foods, tea, leather, home textiles and ceramic products.

Bangladesh, however, has a historic relationship with Russia. The former Soviet Union took a proactive position in favour of Bangladesh’s independence war in 1971.

Delhi and Moscow signed a historic Indo–Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation which expedited the bloody independence of Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, the United States is being bombarded by cyber-warriors with anti-American rhetoric in social media after Washington announced visa restrictions on officials of the governing party, opposition, government officials, police administration, judiciary and media persons. This applies to those who undermine or cause hindrance to the democratic elections in Bangladesh, the axe will fall upon individuals and their immediate family members.

It is understood that the visa restriction by the USA triggers a chain reaction in Australia, Canada, France Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the allies in the West in denial of entry to their countries.

The US Embassy in Dhaka to counter the rhetoric has launched the #DidYouKnow campaign for Bangladesh’s audience in social media.

For example: #DidYouKnow, the United States is the biggest foreign direct investor in #Bangladesh?

Bangladesh received USD 3.44 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) during 2021-2022 for three broad sectors of FDI inflows: infrastructure, manufacturing, and services, according to Bangladesh Bank (the central bank).

The USA FDI stood at $575 million in 2022, while China seems the largest FDI source of Bangladesh climbed to $940 million for 2022, reported Dhaka Tribune.

Diverse sectors offer opportunities for U.S. companies, including natural gas exploration and production, power generation, financial services, infrastructure, agribusiness, information technology, consulting services, and civil aviation to name just a few.

The garment sector has been a key driver of economic growth for Bangladesh over the past few decades. The US-Bangladesh has a $14 billion trade relationship and it’s growing, tweets the US Embassy in Dhaka.

What irks Bangladesh is when America expresses concern on stellar human rights record, democratic election process, freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

The relations went cold in 2021 when the US imposed punitive measures, in support of US Global Magnitsky human rights sanctions, targeting six of the elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion’s (RAB’s) former officials, including current and immediate past heads of the Bangladesh police.

The sanction did make an impact. A study claimed that RAB’s extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances have dramatically reduced, which received accolades from human rights organisations.

Meanwhile, Abed Khan, Chief Editor of Dainik Kalbela warns that in a week several economic sanctions against individuals, business establishments and government entities are likely to be imposed citing corruption and money-laundering, which is now a transnational crime.

Journalist Chandan Nandy, based in New Delhi writes in the Northeast News portal (blocked by Bangladesh authorities) also claims that sanction is in the offing against money laundering and corruption.

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen trashed rumours of fresh sanctions by the US, in response to media reports told journalists. “We were in the US…they (US) only want free and fair elections. Even the words – participatory or caretaker government – were not mentioned,” he remarked.

While the United States pressure on the current government on the upcoming general election is visible, China and Russia’s position contradicts the United States, quoting unnamed sources in Washington DC.

The polarisation of the rivals United States, China and Russia has been observed, writes a commentator for BBC Bangla Service.

Humayun Kabir, a former Bangladesh ambassador to Washington, opines that Bangladesh has become the new ‘field of polarisation’ of the United States, China and Russia.

He said that the US President Joe Biden administration’s foreign policy envisages ‘establishing democracy and human rights’ in different countries of the world and Bangladesh is in the bigger canvass to neutralise China’s hegemony in South and South East Asia.

Another reason is that America’s Indo-Pacific strategy has focused on actively implementing the United States domination in the Asia region, with new and old allies.

Kabir said, the European Union too also want Bangladesh to strengthen democracy and hold free and fair elections in upcoming polls. In exchange, Bangladesh will benefit equally, especially from the trade facility, which is believed to strengthen the democratic process in the country.

China is a development partner of Bangladesh, retorted Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, when she was confronted by overjealous Indian journalists.

Professor Imtiaz Ahmed of Dhaka University says Bangladesh is caught in a triangle of Russia, China and America, because of its geo-strategic position.

Bangladesh, positioned on the coast of the Bay of Bengal which merges with the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean comes under the fold of strategic partnership with America, Japan and India.

Political historian Mohiuddin Ahmad said the reason Bangladesh is a strategic partner in Asia because the country has made dramatic economic development and has been fairing on the parameters of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which gives hope to the big powers rivals that the country is not a failed state like Pakistan or Somalia.

Therefore, the agenda of the United States, European Union, Japan and India to encourage Bangladesh to hold free, fair and credible elections and remain steadfast on the path to democracy will enable Sheikh Hasina to be the longest-serving prime minister to return to power for the fifth tenure.

First published in Northeast News, Guwahati, Assam, India, 14 October 2023

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Gazans left behind in conflict, while Hamas leaders live in luxury


There is no light at the end of the tunnel as the conflict escalates to new heights between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

There is no respite in al Qassem Brigades (Hamas military wing), shooting homemade Qassam rockets in Israel, when Israel Defence Force (IDF) in retaliation for Saturday mayhem and abduction, which sparked chaos in the region, thrusting the nationalist movement firmly into the global spotlight.

The Iran-backed militant Hezbollah in Lebanon, jihadist groups in Syria and of course, Hamas in Gaza, also militarily backed by Iran are pounding homemade rockets in Israel.

The Pentagon moved American aircraft carrier and warships closer to Israel in the Mediterranean Sea to send a harsh message to Hezbollah, the Asad regime in Syria and especially Islamic Iran not to provoke escalation in the Middle East.

The USS Gerald R Ford Carrier Strike Group includes the USS Gerald R Ford aircraft carrier, which is the largest warship in the world, in addition to the Ticonderoga – class guided missile cruiser USS Normandy and four Arleigh-Burke-class guided missile destroyers — USS Thomas Hudner, USS Ramage, USS Carney and USS Roosevelt.

Iran’s dreaded Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has long been involved in proxy wars in Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. The clergy regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran wants to give a sign warning to Saudi Arabia and Israel of their hegemony in the Middle East.

Iran is one of Hamas’s biggest benefactors. Iran’s top official Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Tehran was not involved in Hamas’ attack over the weekend. He however praised, what he described as Israel’s “irreparable” military and intelligence defeat.

Nevertheless, recent Iranian diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia have thawed relations with the Sheikhdom, but Riyadh is sceptical of Iran’s motives in waging proxy wars in the region. Iran Quds Force had trained and armed the Houthi rebels in Yemen, attacked military installations and fuel depots and refineries.

Iran has long been advocating crushing Israel found strong allies –Hezbollah and Hamas. The militant groups are funded and provided weapons and trained in military technology to build improvised rockets with precision targets and provided satellite images to Hezbollah and Hamas regarding IDF’s deployment and their military machines in the region.

Israel’s retaliatory strikes continue in Gaza by mobilising 360,000 reservists, regaining control over areas attacked by Hamas in the south and along the Gaza border.

Israel escalated its offensive entire districts in the region have been flattened, and houses razed. Hospitals and morgues were overwhelmed, reported an Indian TV journalist Palki Sharma from the Gaza border.

António Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations urged warring parties to allow access to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians trapped and helpless in the Gaza Strip.

The UN boss aptly said that he “recognises the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people. But nothing can justify acts of terror and the killing, maiming and abduction of civilians.”

Recognising Israel’s legitimate security concerns, the UN chief calls for an immediate cease to these attacks and the release of all hostages. “Civilians must be respected and protected at all times,” he stressed.

Reminds Israel, that its military operations must be conducted in strict accordance with international humanitarian law.

Responding to UN calls, Egypt and Qatar are reported to have been making moves to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas to reduce the death and miseries of people in Gaza. The ceasefire will stop the destruction of Gaza City. Will the Hamas firing rockets and incursion against Israel stop?

On the other hand, Hamas supremo Ismail Haniyeh famously pledged to live on “zeit wa zaatar”— olive oil and dried herbs — after he led the Islamic militant faction to victory on a message of armed struggle and austerity during the 2006 Palestinian elections.

The election ousted a secular Al Fatah, a dominant group in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) founded by Yasser Arafat. Hamas fighters forcibly seized Fatah’s headquarters and claimed control of the 41 km long, 6 to 12 km wide, a total area of 365 sq. km with a population of two million Palestinians.

The group has since maintained political control of the area as a de facto government, and implemented harsh Islamic laws, as defined in strict Shariah laws.

Hamas never recognised the Palestine Authority of PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank and instead challenged its legitimacy to administer Gaza. Since then Gaza has been ruled by the militant Hamas, which also nurtured Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a fiercest militant outfit.

With Hamas in control of Gaza and Fatah in control of the West Bank, occupied by Israel, there were two de facto governments in the Palestinian territories, each claiming to be the legitimate government of the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas was founded by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a radical Palestinian cleric who became an activist of the Muslim Brotherhood after dedicating his early life to Islamic scholarship in Cairo.

In 1988, Hamas published its charter, calling for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic society in historic Palestine.

Since Ismail Haniyeh left the impoverished Gaza in 2019 along with some Hamas leaders, is presently living in luxury as he splits his time between Turkey and Qatar, travelling with a Turkish passport. Haniyeh has yet to return.

The Hamas leaders live in hotels and travel in private jets and their sons are in top positions in sports, and real estate business in Gaza. One son is known as the “Father of Real Estate”.

Akram Atallah, a long-time columnist for the West Bank-based Al-Ayyam newspaper who moved from Gaza to London in 2019, said when faulted for not providing basic services, it claims to be a resistance group; when criticised for imposing taxes, it says it’s a legitimate government, he said.

While Gazans grumble privately, they dare to raise their voice against Hamas, which has a history of locking up critics to severely punish delinquents.

Hamas also represses the Gazan media, civilian activism on social media, the political opposition, and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), reports Freedom House.

First published in the Northeast News, Guwahati, Assam, India on 12 October 2023

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Hamas surprise raid duped Israel’s “overconfident” intelligence


As the conflict escalates after Hamas militant’s surprise incursion in the South Israel settlements and Israel declares “war” against Hamas, the worrisome world leaders hurriedly make an effort to de-escalate to protect lives in the war zone.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed had phone calls with the King of Jordan, Presidents of Egypt, Syria, and Israel and the Prime Ministers of Canada discussing the need to de-escalate and exercise maximum restraint to protect the lives of civilians.

Abu Dhabi has recently established diplomatic ties with Israel, has expressed sincere condolences to all the victims of the recent crisis and invoked an immediate ceasefire to avoid serious repercussions.

The Gulf nation UAE, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, urges the international community to immediately reactivate the international Quartet to revive the path process of Arab-Israeli peace and increase all efforts to achieve a just and comprehensive peace and prevent the region from experiencing further violence, tension, and instability.

The deadly assault came on Simchat Torah, a normally joyous day when Jews complete the annual cycle of reading the Torah scroll. In addition, many people returned home to spend Shabbat with their families on Saturday, 7th October.

Hamas on a weekend launched a highly-coordinated surprise multiple attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip, land, air and sea. The blitzkrieg operation began with pounding barrage of home-made rockets and Jihadist combatants penetrated Israel at multiple locations infiltrating through the barrier separating the two, using para-gliders and motorboats to reach interior areas.

During the rampage by Hamas militants, the gunmen opened fire on a crowd of thousands of young people attending a dance and Sukot music festival in the southern Israeli Kibbutz near the Gaza Strip.

Simultaneously thousands of locally produced Quasem rockets were fired followed by militants bursting automatic weapons into the crowd as hundreds tried to flee, which turned into a scene of massacre.

Videos showed Israelis racing across vast open fields and taking cover in orchards. The number of fatalities and injuries from the massacre is unclear.

Hamas operation was named, “Al-Aqsa Storm” Hamas military commander Muhammad Al-Deif claimed that the group had “targeted the enemy positions, airports and military positions with 5,000 rockets” and that the assault was a response to attacks on women, the desecration of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and the ongoing siege of Gaza.

Israel has long prided itself on its ability to infiltrate and monitor Islamist groups. As a consequence, a crucial part of the plan of Hamas was to avoid leaks.

As the Jewish nation reels, it must be admitted that the radicalised Islamist group Hamas surprise attack was indeed a ‘historic failure’ for Israeli intelligence services.

Multiple failures occurred before Hamas’s unprecedented assault, Peter Lerner, a former Lieutenant Colonel, and former Israel Defence Force (IDF) spokesperson told Euronews.

This is not the first, the Yom Kippur war – when Israel was blindsided by a lack of intelligence ahead of a 1973 attack from Egyptian and Syrian-lead forces – was a psychologically significant date to launch another major salvo in this decades-long conflict.

IDF’s “overconfidence” in the military’s defence mechanisms like the barrier around Gaza, and the Iron Dome missile defence shield which was overwhelmed by thousands of Hamas rockets and proved fallible.

In IDF’s military training course, the officers are reminded of bloody Yom Kippur as a teaching point to take warnings seriously, underscoring how intelligence is supposed to influence actions on the ground.

Israel arguably has the most sophisticated human intelligence and electronic intelligence gathering networks in the region, but the IDF’s HQ in Kirya, Tel Aviv failed to see it coming.

The ‘storm’ campaign was meticulously designed to ensure Israel was caught off guard. Hamas has planned the lighting strike for less than a year without the knowledge of top Hamas officials.

With a thousand Hamas foot soldiers deployed in the assault had no inkling of the exact purpose of the exercises. The fighters in a mock Israeli settlement in Gaza where secretly practised a military landing and trained to storm it and they even made videos of the manoeuvres.

Israel intelligence hawks have seen the video but they were convinced that Hamas wasn’t keen on getting into a major conflict.

Hundreds of migrant labourers from Gaza crossed the border for work in construction, agriculture or service jobs which had lucrative paychecks.

Since the 11-day war in 2021 with Hamas, Israel has sought to provide a basic level of economic stability in Gaza by offering incentives including thousands of permits so Gazans can work in Israel or the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Hamas sought to convince Israel it cared more about ensuring that workers in Gaza, a narrow strip of land with more than two million residents, had access to jobs across the border and had no interest in starting a new war.

The workers for months carefully took photographs with mobile phones and drew maps with hands of the settlements along the border of Gaza and Israel.

As part of its subterfuge in the past two years, Hamas refrained from military operations against Israel, even as another Gaza-based Islamist armed group known as Islamic Jihad launched a series of its own assaults or rocket attacks, reports Reuters news agency.

When the day came, the operation was divided into four parts, the Hamas source said, describing the various elements.

The first move was a barrage of 3,000 rockets fired from Gaza that coincided with incursions by fighters who flew hang gliders, or motorised paragliders, over the border, several videos have confirmed the brazen attack.

Once the fighters on hang-gliders were on the ground, they secured the terrain so an elite commando unit could storm the fortified electronic and cement wall built by Israel to prevent infiltration.

The fighters used explosives to breach the barriers and then sped across on motorbikes. Bulldozers widened the gaps and more fighters entered in four-wheel drives, scenes that witnesses described.

The Islamist commandos attacked the Israeli border troops, and their jihadist commanders jammed the communications, preventing the beleaguered soldiers from calling IDF commanders.

The final part involved moving hostages to Gaza, mostly achieved early in the attack.

An unspecified number of hostages were abducted from Israel. Amid the elderly persons, young women and children’s presence in the crowded slums of Gaza is likely to be a deterrent to large-scale military action.

First published in Northeast News, Guwahati, India

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad