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Sunday, August 27, 2023

Who Will Bell The Cat Of City Corporation?

Green and blue bins are mosquito breeding farms


In 1978, the Bangladesh capital gained status as Dhaka Municipality Corporation, and in 1990, it became Dhaka City Corporation.

The first elected chairman was Ananda Chandra Roy. Before that, a Committee for the Improvement of Dacca (now Dhaka) was formed in 1823.

Since the 19th century, the crowded city has never stopped “improvement”, infrastructure development and beautification projects.

When we were attending schools in the 50 and 60s, Dhaka was indeed a loveable city. The city was neat and clean, like the present Rajshahi metropolitan city in northern Bangladesh. Literally a green city!

Like Rajshahi, Dhaka city was also tidy. There was discipline in traffic movement and streets, and lanes had enough street lights, where young people used to hang out sipping tea and smoking.

There were only four traffic lights. One at Sadarghat, Jinnah Avenue (now Banganadhu Avenue), Shahbagh roundabout and at New Market at Nilket.

The buses plied on time. The bus fares were fixed and quarrelling with passengers and ticket collectors (or conductors) was very rare. All passengers received a bus ticket upon payment of the bus fare.

The huge American-made Chevrolet yellow and black coloured taxi and three-wheeler auto-rickshaw (often called baby taxi) had fare meters and usually never charged extra nor cheated the passengers.

Presently the city corporation is divided in north and south. Thus, Dhaka is fortunate to have two high-profile mayors and there seems no coordination among the twin city corporation administrations. They implement dozens of ad hoc development projects under separate contractors, which is not in our discussion here.

When the Mayor moves in the city, scores of bikers accompany the SUV vehicle, as if escorting a VIP through a “troubled city”, like in Port of Prince, the capital of Haiti, where armed gangs dominate. The civil administration and law enforcement remain dormant there.

Documenting the history of the growth of the municipality to City Corporation should not take more than a few pages. To write on North and South City Corporations, it will take tons of pages to write about the suffering, pain, agony and frustration of the city dwellers.

Frankly, speaking despite Dhaka being the capital and the largest city in Bangladesh, the megapolis does not have the pomp, grandeur and charm of a capital. Sadly, it has yet to grow from a small city into a cosmopolitan capital.

Well, living in a third-world country, we can at best dream of a metropolis like neighbouring capitals and big cities in South Asia. The residents should not dare to compare Dhaka with cities in the West, Southeast Asia or even the Gulf countries.

The thematic issue of this article, promises not to bring the entire gamut of the city father’s roles and responsibilities. The articles will only focus on a particular issue – the trash bins in Dhaka. I want to further narrow it down.

The thousands of morning walkers and revellers at Dhanmondi Lake have recently seen pairs of trash bins have been placed in green and blue.

The blue and green bins placed every 100 yards for the use of walkers and revellers in the park surrounding the lake, indeed it got a new facelift.

Ten years ago, the park had dozens of green bins with lids fixed in concrete bases.

Those bins were damaged not by walkers, but by park cleaners. They dump tree leaves in the bin and set it on fire, which severely damaged the bins for use.

I may sound cynical like an argumentative resident, but my debate is elsewhere.

The bins placed on the several kilometres of the walkway in the park lack a few pertinent issues which are necessary to discuss.

First, the blue and green bins do have a sign “USE ME”. Of course, pedestrians and walkers should use the bins for throwing rubbish, waste or refuse.

The question is what rubbish they will throw in which bin. There is no advice or any instruction on how to use the blue and green bins.

Of course, smart residents know that blue means to dump recycled refuse, like plastic bottles, glass, tin and paper. While green is for other wastes, food items, kitchen waste, and tissue paper which is not recyclable and will directly go to landfill.

In brief, the green dustbin is used for wet waste and the blue dustbin is used for dry waste.

Did I not mention that there is no instruction on how to use the bins? The most alarming is the bins do have a cover. I mean, the bins are open.

In the monsoon season, with intermittent rain, the bins have become collecting points of rainwater.

There is no hole in the bottom for letting the water release from the bins.

The bins are literally a factory of mosquito larvae.

The morning and evening walkers fear of Aedes mosquito, which is causing havoc all over the country including Dhaka, which is marked by health officials as a Red Zone.

The young and old, men and women, junior and senior citizens are affected by Dengue fever, causing deaths and hospitalisation of tens of thousands.

Obviously, the question could be raised, who will slap a fine against the Dhaka South City Corporation, when the blue and green bins have been placed for farming deadly mosquitoes at a crucial moment when people are scared of the mosquito menace.

It’s City Corporation versus City Corporation! Can we expect the city corporation magistrate to slap fines against the city corporation administration?

First published in The New Times, 27 August 2023

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

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Sheikh Hasina bids farewell to her colleagues in Dhaka before emplaning for Johannesburg



Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is prepared to participate at the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa from August 22 to 24.

The BRICS 2023 summit is the fifteenth upcoming annual BRICS summit, an international relations conference attended by the heads of state or heads of government of the five member states: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa also invited the leaders of 67 countries to the summit, including 53 other African Countries, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Indonesia and Iran.

Bangladesh likely to get BRICS membership, says Foreign Minister Dr. Momen after meeting of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with South African President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa in Geneva. Report say the issue was raised during the meeting between two leaders.

Sheikh Hasina is likely to hold parleys on the sideline of the summit with her counterpart Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and other leaders.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will skip the summit in person due to an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. He will take part in the summit virtually and will be represented in Johannesburg by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, reports Reuters.

The Chinese leader Xi will be taking the second overseas visit of 2023. It comes as China attempts to expand its geopolitical influence in the region, and also in South Pacific. The treacherous move has raised eyebrows among the many countries in South Asia, South East Asia, Far East Asia and Australasia.

The “BRIC” was coined in 2001 by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neil to recognise the potential of emerging economies. Later the bloc expanded to include South Africa, adding to BRICS.

BRICS is an influential coalition of emerging economies that focuses on economic cooperation, peace, social and human development for developing countries.

As the BRICS is spreading wings, Bangladesh aims to create a new multi-polar world order and usher in a more diverse economy to override the influence of the United States and its dollar currency in the region.

Can BRICS currency shake the Dollar’s dominance? Joseph W. Sullivan, a senior advisor at the Lindsey Group and a former special advisor and staff economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisers during the Trump administration is not a sceptic and he believes de-dollarisation is in the air.

Brazil’s president, Luiz Inàcio Lula da Silva, chimed. “Every night,” he said, he asks himself “why all countries have to base their trade on the dollar.”

BRICS is steadfast in its mission to establish itself as a formidable alternative platform to Western-dominated institutions like the IMF and the World Bank.

As expected, the United States and the United Kingdom have expressed concerns about the emerging BRICS alliance, while the European Union is inclined to support it, writes Maryam Ibrahim in the Diplomatic Insight.

At a time when Bangladesh is poised to join BRICS, there would be a prospective impact on the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India to continue its development voyage.

Hasina is looking forward to political and moral support from her counterpart Modi to become a member of the most desired BRICS bloc. Dhaka is confident that Delhi would extend its hand to bring Bangladesh on board, according to insiders of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka.

Obviously, Dhaka is expecting New Delhi would help Bangladesh to reap benefit from the BRICS when the country’s forex has dwindled after the Ukraine-Russia war and have forced to curtail all government extravaganza expenditure and postponing non-essential projects, including funding official to travel abroad.

With Bangladesh joining the ranks, it could lead to increased economic ties and collaboration between the two neighbouring countries. This could result in improved trade relations, investment opportunities, and infrastructure development, thus benefiting Bangladesh and India.

Besides the blocs alternative platform, BRICS would be further fortified, signalling a resounding call for reforms in global governance and facilitating cooperation within a framework.

India, as an existing BRICS [founding] member and would need to navigate the changing dynamics within the group and adjust its approach towards Bangladesh accordingly.

Combined, the BRICS bloc had a GDP (gross domestic product) of over $26.03 trillion in 2022, which is slightly more than the US. The five members of the bloc collectively represent about 27% of the world’s geographic areas and 42% of the world’s population. About 26% of steel and iron, 40% of corn and 46% of wheat are produced by BRICS countries. It has a $4.5 trillion combined forex reserve, reported the Arab News.

Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, a distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), sharing his insights on the economic potential and political ambitions of BRICS said Bangladesh is already a part of some alliances, like SAARC, BIMSTEC, and D-8. They also aim to enhance trade relations among member countries.

Well, the country has not seen significant benefits from these alliances. Bangladesh imports a significant amount of raw materials from the two key members of BRICS – China and India, he told the largest circulated daily newspaper, Prothom Alo.

Bangladesh’s interest in joining BRICS may stem from the broader effort to gear up the role of developing nations through a southern alliance, he said.

We have noticed different types of reprimands and punitive measures from some major world powers over elections as well as human rights conditions in Bangladesh. We have also seen diverse responses from the government, Dr Bhattacharya explained.

Researcher Sadia Aktar of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Dhaka explains that Bangladesh needs a relationship with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries for its growing energy needs and BRICS can be the gateway for that.

As Saudi Arabia and UAE have already shown interest to engage in more flattering bilateral relations with Bangladesh, the admission of these three countries into BRICS will be a very important investment for Bangladesh in advancing its Muslim allies in the current world, she wrote in The GeoPolitics.

However, Dr Salem Nasser, professor of international law at Brazil’s FGV Direito SP University, does not believe that through joining BRICS the newcomers include Saudi Arabia, Iran, Argentina, the UAE, Bangladesh, Algeria, Egypt, Bahrain, Indonesia, Syria, from East Africa, West Africa and others will be aligning themselves with China or closing the door on collaboration with the West and says “BRICS represents a new pole of economic and political power which” can “compete with North American hegemony.”

First published in India Narrative, New Delhi, India, 22 August 2023

(Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. Views expressed are personal. Twitter: @saleemsamad)

Thursday, August 17, 2023

When Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh cheated assassination attempt in 2004

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina hours before the assassination attempt in 2004 (Photo: Anisur Rahman, The Daily Star)


As dusk fell 19 years ago on 21 August 2004, I received a desperate phone call from a foreign diplomat (his identity cannot be disclosed). His frenzied voice was very urgent and said his Ambassador urgently wants to know the status of Sheikh Hasina.

Sheikh Hasina was president of the largest political party Awami League. The party was founded by her assassinated father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, an independence hero.

Hasina was an opposition leader of the Awami League and was intermittently boycotting the parliament sessions to protest the stubbornness of the ruling rightist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ally the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami in refusing the opposition to adequate participation in the parliamentary debate. She was at loggerheads with the ruling BNP and the Islamists protesting country-wide mass arrests and attacks on her party members and supporters – selectively the Hindus were targeted.

Why, what is the news of Sheikh Hasina, I asked the diplomat. He said that several hand bombs were lobbed at the rally. Several senior Awami League leaders were wounded or dead, and hundreds more were grievously injured at the rally in front of the party headquarters at Bangabandhu Avenue, in the city centre.

Requesting to call back at the soonest, the diplomat asked again to confirm her status, whether she is safe and where she is now. I could not digest the heartbreaking news.

The diplomat thought as I was working with an influential English daily The Bangladesh Observer, I would be able to respond to his frantic queries.

The call came 20 minutes after the brutal attack on the opposition, which had an objective to eliminate Sheikh Hasina and cripple the party’s leadership by killing the senior leaders. Obviously, the opposition will be paralysed and immobilised. Indeed, a picture-perfect plan!

It was an evil dream of the so-called Hawa Bhaban, the de facto political power outside the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). It was an independent office in the posh Banani area by Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s eldest son, an obtrusive politician Tarique Rahman (presently a fugitive in exile in London, United Kingdom).

I called several press photographers, including Pavel Rahman of the Associated Press (AP), Rafiqur Rahman of Reuters Photo, Shambunath Nandi of the Bangladesh Observer, and others. Unfortunately, none of them responded to my anxious phone calls.

Out of the blue one of my colleagues with the Bangladesh Observer called me. He was safely positioned at the Dhaka Stadium which was across the street from the scene of occurrence. He witnessed the carnage and panicked supporters and members of the party fleeing the spot.

I quickly asked him about the status of Hasina. He could not give any information on the fate of Hasina.

Still not getting information about Hasina, I called a long-time source, a Field Officer of National Security Intelligence (NSI). He covers Awami League. After several calls on his mobile phone, finally he responded in a relaxed mood, as if nothing has happened.

I asked whether he has any information about Hasina’s status. Promptly he responded that the rally has ended more than an hour ago and Hasina must have left the place.

My second curious question was where was he (security intelligence agent)? He replied that he was at a music store at Topkhana Road (not far from the venue of the bomb attack) and was listening to Bengalees’ favourite ‘Rabindra Sangeet’ songs with a headphone. The third question was, did you not listen to other Field Officers about what happened at Bangabandhu Avenue over his walkie-talkie? He said softly, his walkie-talkie was switched off.

I retold what I heard from the diplomat. He laughed upon hearing my query.

I repeatedly requested him to switch on his walkie-talkie. Once he switched on the two-way radio, I could hear garbled voices from his radio. Before I could request him to call me back on any news of Hasina, he hung up and did not respond to my calls throughout the night.

Three hours after the incident, still no news of the fate of Hasina. My colleague called me back and confirmed that Hasina has reached her private residence ‘Suda Sadan’ in Dhanmondi.

On the following day, I was walking to the place of occurrence from the National Press Club not far from Bangabandhu Avenue. I met the NSI officer (his name has been suppressed for security reasons) walking towards the Secretariat Building, where most of the Government Ministries are housed.

While walking and talking, I asked him why he had abandoned his position in the rally and instead decided to listen to music with a headphone? He replied that his superior officer had asked all the Field Officers to leave the venue once Hasina arrives at Bangabandhu Avenue. So, he moved away as nothing else was expected, he switched off the radio.

By the way, who was his superior? He did not hesitate to indicate that it was none other than the Director-General of NSI, Major General Rezaqul Haider Chowdhury (a rogue officer presently languishing in prison pending appeal verdict of the infamous ‘10-truck arms’ hauled in Chattagram, which was destined for India’s northeast separatist the United Liberation Front for Assam – ULFA).

To my surprise, he voluntarily gave me additional information that the NSI chief was at Holy Family Hospital at Eskaton instead of Combined Military Hospital (CMH) on a dreadful evening. “Now you understand who is responsible for the incident,” the NSI officer quipped and walked away, requesting not to be quoted.

Describing the incident, lawmaker Saber Hossain Chowdhury said the driver of the vehicle and her bodyguards (former military officers) intelligently outwitted the assassins and bombers and saved Hasina from the wrath.

The customized bullet-proof vehicle Mercedes Benz was shot several times. The snipers continued to target the shocked Hasina seated in the front passenger seat to accomplish their killing mission. The windshield, window, and door on her side bore marks of hails of bullets.

The assassins had deployed sharpshooters in strategic locations on rooftops in the area. On an ominous day, the duties of armed police were deliberately not positioned on the rooftops.

As soon as the vehicle managed to manoeuvre out of the August carnage site, the nervous Special Branch officer onboard the vehicle sought clearance over his walkie-talkie for a secured route. An unknown officer in the control room barked at him to wait for the police escort vehicle but Hasina’s bodyguards refused to listen to the advice of the police control room.

The vehicle zigzagged through the Dhaka University campus and reached home safely in 15 minutes. In fact, Sheikh Hasina cheated a near-death of the full-proof assassination plot.

War decorated Mukti Bahini officer retired Major General Syed Muhammad Ibrahim visited the spot the following day confirmed finding military-grade bullets and unexploded Arges Type HG 84 hand grenade. He also said that weapons used for shooting and lobbed hand grenades can only be used by trained personnel.

The top-secret plot to assassinate Hasina and reduce the party into a skeleton was backed by the state. The conspiracy was prepared with full knowledge of the state security agency NSI. The assassination was masterminded by the prime minister’s delinquent son Tareque Rahman.

The higher court upheld the death penalty for Tareque, former NSI chief General Chowdhury and the dreaded Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) leader Mufti Abdul Hannan for the botched assassination of Hasina and deaths of 24 persons and grievously wounded 300 others.

First published in India Narrative, 17 August 2023, New Delhi, India

(Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. Views expressed are personal. Twitter: @saleemsamad)

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Cyber Security Act will not stop criminalising freedom of expression

Joint Article by media and digital rights defenders

The Bangladesh government has announced that it will replace the controversial Digital Security Act (DSA) 2018 with Cyber Security Act (CSA), 2023, which is expected to be passed in the parliament in the coming September session. It is rather dubious why the government wants to have another draconian cyber security law right before the next national elections.

The DSA was also passed just a few months before the 2018 parliament elections. Human rights groups, journalist unions, media rights defenders and cyber security researchers have expressed their concerns regarding the draft Cyber Security Act and dubbed it as an "old wine in a new bottle."

There has been a global outcry against the DSA. The Media Freedom Coalition (MFC), a network of diplomats from Canada, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States, has been outspoken about draconian law.

Besides MFC, the United Nations, European Union, Japan, international human rights organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), and also the international freedom of press watchdogs like Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Article 19 and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have called upon the government to repeal DSA which curtails freedom of expression, muzzles freedom of the press and encourages self-censorship.

On the domestic front, human rights organisations and journalist leaders have repeatedly warned about DSA being used to stifle dissent and criticism of the government. Thousands of politicians, journalists, activists, and even minors and students have been prosecuted. Many are still languishing in prison.

Ignoring the international and domestic calls to abrogate the law, the government asserts that they have replaced it with a new one that will ensure freedom of expression – but human rights groups are sceptical.

Despite the claim that punishments in CSA have been "significantly" reduced, rights groups explain that such measures will not stop the criminalisation of freedom of expression. Rather, it will continue to demonise and silence critical voices of political oppositions, independent media, investigative journalists, critics and dissidents, and the culture of fear will continue to be instilled among the people of the country, despite the fact that free speech and freedom of the press are enshrined in the constitution.

Law Minister Anisul Huq has assured us that the amendment of certain sections of CSA should stop the "misuse" and "abuse" of DSA and that no one accused of defamation would be arrested immediately after the filing of the case under the proposed Cyber Security Act, as the jail term would be scrapped in this new law. However, the minister also confirmed that the new law would retain almost all of the provisions stipulated in the 2018 act with minor changes. Different rights groups found at least six sections of the new CSA law – Sections 17, 19, 21, 27, 30, and 33 – remain non-bailable.

Media and digital rights defenders have reviewed the draft Cyber Security Act, 2023 posted online and found that the law contradicts several clauses of the Constitution of Bangladesh. Certain sections of the CSA are also in conflict with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Convention on the Rights of the Child and Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). 

We join defenders of freedom of expression in urging the government to not pass the Cyber Security Law in the parliament without thoroughly discussing the draft with stakeholders, especially with media editors, human rights organisations, lawyers, media and digital rights groups and the public. The lawmakers must listen to the critical voices of stakeholders to ensure that the CSA is people-friendly and respects the right to freedom of expression.

Former president of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ) Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul stated that the journalist's union submitted and discussed a written analysis of the draft Digital Security Act, 2018 at a meeting with the parliamentary sub-committee, but the law was passed nonetheless, ignoring the union's concerns. We sincerely hope that this is not the case this time. 

Finally, we appeal to the government to release all those imprisoned under the notorious DSA and quash all cases under the ICT Act 2006. These laws have even been used to imprison and harass several minors and students. The nation expects such a gesture to be made when the CSA is passed in the parliament.

The contributors are Ahamed Ullah, Bangladesh Manabadhiker Sangbadik Forum (BMSF); Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, Voice; Khairuzzaman Kamal, South Asian Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN); Mainul Islam Khan, Media Rights Activist; Rezaur Rahman Lenin, Independent Activist Academic; Rezwan Islam, Global Voices; Md. Saimum Reza Talukder, Rights Advocate; Saleem Samad, FExB; Sayeed Ahmed, Human Rights Defender; Sharmin Khan, Human Rights Advocate; Dr Syeda Aireen Jaman, PEN International Bangladesh.

Published in The Daily Star, 13 August 2023

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Bangladesh and India work together to counter armed Kuki infiltration into Mizoram

Kuki-Chin National Army (KNA) new recruits in unknown location in the hills forests of CHT


Bangladesh and India are worried about the disturbing news of armed insurgents infiltrating into restive Mizoram state of northeast India as refugees.

Both Delhi and Dhaka are sharing intelligence reports, browsing local newspapers, and getting updates from local sources in a bid to counter new security challenges in the region. The development has raised the eyebrows of the top brass of both countries.

Recently the spate of insurgency, the Kuki-Chin National Army (KNA) was engaged in several bouts of skirmishes with the Bangladesh Army and the elite anti-crime force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB).

During the raid, several soldiers including an officer of the Bangladesh Army where dead others were grievously injured. The troops inflicted heavy causalities on KNA combatants.

Several sources in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) confirmed that armed Kuki guerrillas have scattered and shifted to remote hill-forest terrain, where it is difficult for anti-insurgency operations.

Last year, the KNA ‘s headquarters (HQ) and secret training location were smashed in a joint operation of the security forces.

Security forces officials declined to be identified, but privy to the operation to flush out, capture and destroy KNF hideouts said, the militants have taken refuge in no-man’s-land, bordering CHT and Mizoram, along the international border of Bangladesh and India.

Hundreds of Kukis and other communities living in hill tracts have fled their hamlets after the military pounded hundreds of mortar shells to drive the KNF militants from their hideouts.

Amid conflicts, the neighbouring state of Mizoram is hosting hundreds of Kuki and other ethnic communities as displaced refugees due to anti-terror operations carried out by security forces in the southeast CHT.

Meanwhile, both the Assam Rifles and the Border Security Force (BSF) – which guards India’s border with Myanmar and Bangladesh have issued red alerts after two alarming incidents.

The Times of India newspaper on July 29 writes that KNA militants in disguise as ‘refugees’ have entered Mizoram and were apprehended.

The refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh currently staying in Mizoram were issued temporary identification cards, which include details like name, place of origin and current address.

The Mizoram-based NGO, the Central Young Lai Association (CYLA) has issued a statement highlighting the incident that took place on June 26. It also expressed fear that militants possibly entered Mizoram in the guise of refugees and were indulging in gunrunning and arms training in Indian territory.

The second incident was an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in a forest in Lawngtlai district last month.

A few months ago, two KNA functionaries were apprehended by the Assam Rifles and handed over to the Mizoram Police.

Islamic outfit’s name surfaced after RAB held a press conference on 6 October 2022 raiding secret hideouts of the Islamic militants and netting fresh recruits from their safe house.

The apprehension has been caused after getting confirmation that KNA has joined hands with a little-known Islamist terror outfit, the Jamaa’tul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya, to help establish an operational base in CHT.

The Assam Rifles has also confirmed the link between the KNA and the Islamist terror group. It is believed that the KNA had tested the IED for use against the Bangladeshi security forces.

Indian security agencies are worried because Mizoram could be used as a base to launch attacks on the Bangladesh security forces.

Earlier on 24 March 2022, six members of KNA were detained by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) at the Mizoram border. All of them have disclosed that they were residents of the Bandarban district of Ruma Upazila.

They were detained while entering India through the Longtalai district of Mizoram on the Indo-Bangladesh-Myanmar tri-border.

The names of the arrested persons have been mentioned in the news of the Mizoram-based daily ‘Rauthla’ published on 28 March 2022.

Former military officers of the Bangladesh Army who were deployed in restive CHT and have experience in military operations in the hill-forests, said the terrain becomes extremely difficult for patrolling and raiding hide-outs in monsoon season.

Once the monsoon is over, the military is preparing for another military campaign if the KNF does not surrender in three months, sources said.

Brigadier General Bayezid Sarwar and Major Nasim Hossain who have recently written thought-provoking articles in leading national newspapers on the Kuki-Chin insurgency have shared their opinion with this journalist.

They opined that the security issue in CHT has been described as a fresh ‘headache’ for the security forces in containing the militancy.

Unfortunately, the politicians and the government, while the civil bureaucrats in the secretariat are unperturbed, said retired Major Khandakar Badrul Ahsan, who was once at the helms of affairs during the peak of anti-insurgency “Headmasters Operation” against the autonomy-seeking guerrillas during 1980s.

KNF is headed by a young sculptor Nathan Loncheu Bawn, from the ethnic Bawn community. He was formerly in a leading role with the pro-peace deal CHT Students Council (Pahari Chattra Parishad).

He quit politics and founded Kuki-Chin National Development Organisation (KNDO), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in 2008 and is reportedly backed by Brigade Headquarters at Ruma Cantonment of Bangladesh Army.

The leaders of the organisation claim that the organisation considers Bawm, Lusai, Pangkho, Khyang, Khumi and Mro ethnic groups of the CHT as Zo people and has emerged as a formal political organisation to assert the rights of the Zo people.

The KNDO in 2015 demanded the government take steps for the development of the living standards of the Zo people in the CHT and allocate a separate budget for the Zo people.

The organisation also demanded that the government recognise Zo people inhabitants of 9 upazilas (sub-districts) of the three hill districts as Kuki-Chin states.

The Bawm in Bandarban is one of the 11 ethnic communities in Bangladesh with a population of nearly 12,000 people. The majority of the Bawn have converted to Christianity from animist, and speak in their local dialect.

During Nathan Bawn’s stint with the NGO, the KNDO has been transformed into a political organisation called the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) in 2019. He began recruiting youths to join the KNA, also popularly known as Bawm Party.

KNF aims to establish a separate autonomous state for the Bawm people with nine upazilas (sub-districts) of Rangamati and Bandarban districts.

Nathan Bawn, chairman of KNA has no experience in guerrilla warfare. Many are curious to know how he organised an insurgent force with recruits from the smaller ethnic communities.

According to Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies, KNF received weapons from the Kachin State of Myanmar and also has ties with Karen rebels.

His greed for cash was after he met his old Dhaka University friend Shamim Mahfuz, founder of the Islamic militant outfit Jamaa’tul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya. Mahfuz studied at Rangpur Cadet College and while studying at Dhaka University he was radicalised.

Mahfuz was twice arrested on charges of Islamic militancy in 2011 and 2014. After he was released on bail in 2017, he decided to launch a new militant outfit with its headquarters in remote Bandarban hills.

In a secret collaborative dialogue at Cox’s Bazar sea resort town in 2019, where Mahfuz assured Bawn that their outfit would provide money for training their militants, supply weapons and provide a safe area for establishing his HQ. An agreement was signed in 2021 between the radical Islamic outfit and KNA.

Anti-terror unit of police and security experts know very little about the jihadist outfit Jamaa’tul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya’s hierarchy, leadership structure, and fundraising sources.

Additional Commissioner Mohammad Asaduzzaman, the Chief of Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) does not know much about both outfits.

However, a former member of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) high command believes that Jamaa’tul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya by its nomenclature does not exist. The name was given by security forces, he argues.

The member of the PCJSS high command which signed a peace accord with the Bangladesh government in 1997 said his source claimed that KNF has relocated to Mizoram after a massive combing operation by the military and para-military forces after an IED blast by the KNF killing and wounding several government soldiers.

With the best of the best security cooperation, Delhi does not want to see Islamic militants prowling in the northeast. Simultaneously India will not allow KNA to use Mizoram for launching attacks on Bangladesh security forces.

First published in the India Narrative, 1 August 2023

(Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. Views expressed are personal. Twitter: @saleemsamad)