Monday, March 21, 2011

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the Noblest of them all?

I’D THOUGHT of writing about the Nobel Laureate’s ouster from the Grameen Bank last week, but fever intervened.
Mine has receded, the government’s, however, has not. Theirs is prolonged, one that continues. High state and party functionaries have repeatedly spoken of ‘irregularities’ with a feverish zeal as the Bangladesh Bank relieved Dr Muhammad Yunus of his duties as managing director of the Grameen Bank.
He had violated the country’s retirement law, they said. Sixty years is the age limit but Yunus was 70. This made him ‘too old’ to be the Grameen Bank’s chief, said the finance minister. He should have left ten years ago, said the Bangladesh Bank, instead of staying on ‘illegally’ for an extra ten years.
In a writ filed at the High Court, Yunus’s defence lawyers argued that the Bangladesh Bank’s directive was illegal. No show-cause notice had been served, this made his removal ‘illegal, mala fide and arbitrary.’ A week later, on March 8, Dr Yunus lost his High Court appeal when the judge ruled, ‘Professor Yunus has been continuing in his job with no legal basis, therefore his petition has been rejected.’ Neither Yunus nor any of his senior lawyers were present at the court. In recent months, the independence of the judiciary has been a matter of grave concern.
Yunus and nine members of the board of directors have filed an appeal with the Supreme Court challenging the High Court’s order. A full bench hearing is scheduled for March 15. The High Court’s decision was ‘entirely perverse’ said Dr Yunus and the members of his board, it was passed without issuing any ruling.
The alignment of local, national and global influentials against, and in support of, Yunus is telling. The prime minister’s son Sajeeb Wajed, in an e-mail sent to international agencies, human rights organisations, US state department officials and prominent persons, wrote: Yunus’s only stature in Bangladesh is that of a ‘Nobel prize winner’, politically speaking, he’s a ‘non-entity’. Accusing the Grameen Bank of ‘massive financial improprieties’, ‘tax evasion’ and ‘embezzlement’, Sajeeb reminded us that despite being ‘criminal’ offences, the government has not taken any ‘punitive’ action against Yunus. Its only concern is to ‘prevent further abuse of microcredit borrowers’ (dated March 5, 2011).
As I read the e-mail, I mulled, is this not the same prime ministerial offspring against whom allegations of taking a $2 million bribe from Chevron surfaced recently? A deal reportedly brokered by Dr Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, the prime minister’s energy adviser, a la, also, of WikiLeaks fame? (‘People’s resistance to global capital and government collaboration is vindicated’, WikiLeaks Bangladesh I, New Age, December 27, 2010). Did not the news item (December 17, 2010) later land the editor of Amar Desh in jail? At least, that’s the connection made by some.
Sajeeb’s point about governmental concern over ‘abuse’ is difficult to sustain as news reports appear of attacks by ruling party affiliates on human chains formed to protest Dr Yunus’s removal. In Kishoreganj, activists of the Bangladesh Chhatra League and the Bangladesh Krishak League snatched banners and festoons from human chain participants and set them on fire (The Daily Star, March 12). In Barisal, BCL activists attacked Grameen Bank employees and stakeholders, snatched their banner and chased them away (The Daily Star, March 12).
I don’t know how convinced the recipient’s of Sajeeb’s e-mail were because statements of support for Dr Yunus have kept pouring in from members of the global elite. US Senator John Kerry, who heads the powerful foreign relations committee, in a statement, expressed his ‘deep concern’ at efforts to remove Yunus from the Grameen Bank. He hoped both sides could reach a ‘compromise’ so that the Grameen Bank could maintain its ‘autonomy and effectiveness’; he added, the international community would ‘watch the situation closely.’ The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, called Professor Yunus to show her ‘support’ for his ongoing efforts, to express her concern over the developments that have taken place. Yunus’s international allies have organised themselves as Friends of Grameen, ‘an elite support group’ of internationally renowned lawyers, academics, former politicians and businesspeople including Mary Robinson, former Irish president, and James Wolfensohn, former World Bank president (Chris Barth, Forbes, March 8). It was their duty to protect the integrity of Professor Yunus, and the independence of the Grameen Bank, said Wolfensohn. Development projects should be run by ‘locals’, he said, while explaining Yunus’s importance as a role model; those locals who do the ‘best work’ should be rewarded.
But the tone and tenor of the government’s position had been set in place earlier, in November last year, after the release of a Norwegian documentary which alleged that the bank had shifted the funds provided by Norway’s aid agency Norad, from one legal entity to another, for tax purposes. A Norwegian government investigation subsequently cleared Yunus of these allegations, but prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s harsh words, Yunus and the Grameen Bank were ‘sucking blood from the poor’, still reverberate. They find material expression in the events outlined above, which co-exist parallely with the government’s continued support of microcredit programmes and projects in both the governmental, and non-governmental, sector.
It is a contradiction which has led to questions being raised by critics of the government and of its imperial backers. If Dr Yunus is a blood-sucker of the poor, why does the government not initiate a detailed and exhaustive investigation of the Grameen Bank’s microlending practices, asks economist Anu Muhammad. Why have the Bangladesh Bank’s audit reports of Grameen been kept secret? If allegations against the microcredit model, against the Grameen Bank’s irregularities are not properly investigated and made public, writes Anu, the government’s decision is liable to be interpreted as stemming from a ‘personal’ conflict, aimed at nothing more than a takeover of the bank by other interested quarters. At benefiting a different set of people (‘Khudro Reen Model Hya, Yunus Na — Keno?’, March 10).
While Nurul Kabir, the editor of this paper, in a live TV talk show, posed the question thus, if the government is taking an anti-imperialist stance, should it not be extended to asserting control over the country’s natural resources? Why are their extraction and the benefits to be attained being turned over to transnational and multinational companies, and to their national accomplices?
Suspicions about it being a personal conflict were revived when the attorney general said after the High Court’s decision, ‘if anybody in Bangladesh deserves the Nobel Peace Prize’, it’s Sheikh Hasina and Santu Larma, they deserve it for ‘what they did’, they brought peace to the Chittagong Hill Tracts, unlike Yunus, who apparently got it for the position or office (‘managing director’) which he held. This has given rise to pop psychologistic theories in which both international media and overnight national experts have contributed; a Los Angeles Times report informs us that hingsha, jealousy, vindictiveness, is a hallmark of Bangladeshi national politics, citing a Bangladeshi academic who says, hingsha is a ‘very active part of the culture of our society’ (‘Nobel Laureate economist Yunus may be a victim of petty jealousy’, March 6). Fake explanations as far as I’m concerned, for, as I argued in WikiLeaks Bangladesh I, the so-called ‘battling begums’ discarded their hingsha at the drop of the US ambassador’s hat, unitedly falling in line with his suggestions regarding Asia Energy’s open-pit mining project.
Others point to Yunus’s failed attempts at forming a political party during the Fakhruddin-led military installed caretaker regime’s period of rule (2007-2008), when the minus-two formula—getting rid of the battling begums and their respective political parties—had been put in play, apparently with the backing of western governments and international agencies, admitted as much by the World Bank vice-president Praful C Patel on a visit to Dhaka in December 2007. ‘What [had] looked possible before,’ he said, ‘like the minus-two approach’ no longer seems possible (‘Re-constructing the nation. Imperial designers at work’, New Age, December 22, 2008). If that is indeed the case, I cannot help but wonder whether Sheikh Hasina is still peeved at that, whether Dr Yunus’s public humiliation springs from past events, or whether, new precipitative events have occurred since. More recently. We will not know with certainty unless someone in the know thinks it is the public’s right to know.
Microcredit empowers women. By enabling poor women to make economic decisions and to increase family income, it helps them to break out of the cycle of poverty and patriarchy, has been Grameen’s logo. A message put across rather emotively (and orientalistically, too) in a recent article appealing to all to fight against what is ‘taking place right now in Dhaka.’ Vivian Norris writes, ‘How many of us in the so-called “developed” world know what it feels like to be considered less valuable than a cow? How many of us hide our faces and stare at the ground because we have never been spoken to, nor asked our advice or point of view?’ (Huffington Post, March 9).
But, while it is true, as anthropologist Lamia Karim points out in her highly insightful doctoral study of microcredit and the Grameen Bank, that Grameen has taught women the importance of managing money, of keeping basic account of expenditures, that it has introduced some new forms of social identity among village women (weekly meetings where women can speak without men dominating), has challenged social conventions by making it obligatory for women to utter their own, and their husbands names publicly and so on, Grameen, and other NGOs which advance microcredit, manipulate cultural notions of ‘women’s honor and shame in the furtherance of their capitalist goals.’ Although Grameen insists that in spite of forwarding non-collateral loans to women (97 per cent of its borrowers are women) it has a 98 per cent recovery rate, in reality, writes Lamia, it is the (traditional) honour and shame codes that ‘act as the collateral’ of loans forwarded by modern institutions like Grameen. Poor women police other poor women, they evict poorer members from the group in fear of losing future income, these include women marching off together to scold the defaulting woman, shaming her or her husband in a public place, going through her possessions if she cannot pay the full instalment, taking away her possessions which range from her gold nose-ring (symbol of marital status, its removal signals divorce or widowhood) to the family’s rice, grains, cows, chicks. In cases of large default, the defaulting member’s house is broken and sold off, the ‘ultimate shame of dishonor in rural society.’
Alfred Nobel’s fortune, bequeathed to those who benefit humanity through science, literature and efforts to promote peace, was made from the invention of dynamite. It is a product that is not known for having led to peace, either then, or now.

Paid news culture, a cancer in Indian media

India has woken up to the menace of 'paid news' culture in the mainstream media. The practice that involves money in acquiring unethical media space by the beneficiaries remained an important issue in India for many years. But lately a number of influential media persons' organizations have shown their concern with the ill practice in the country.
It is alleged that many media houses in the country irrespective of their volume of business have started selling news space after some understandings with the politicians and corporate people without disguising those items as advertisements.
First it was a meet of South Asia Free Media Association (India chapter) in Mumbai during the first week of December, where the issue of paid news was officially discussed with concern. Then came the annual general meeting of the Editors' Guild of India during the fourth week of December, where most of the members expressed anguish at the growing tendency of a section of media groups (both print and visual) to receive money for some 'non-advertorial' items in their media space.
The guild has even sent a letter to each of its member-editor throughout the country to make a pledge that his/her 'publication/TV channel will not carry any paid news as the practice 'violates and undermines the principles of free and fair journalism'. The letter, signed by Rajdeep Sardesai and Coomi Kapoor, president and secretary general of the guild respectively, expressed hope that 'the journalist fraternity would come together on this issue' and would stand up to defend their credibility, and make public declarations on the subject in order to restore the reading and viewing public's faith in the media by undoing the damage that has already been done.
Indian media has been recognized as sensitive, patriotic and very much influential tool in the socio-political sphere since the days of freedom movement. The father of Indian nation Mahatma Gandhi initiated his movement with the moral power of active journalism. Today, India with its billion population supports nearly 70,000 registered newspapers and over 450 television channels. The Indian media, as a whole, often plays the role of constructive opposition in the Parliament as well as in various Legislative Assemblies of the State. Journalists are, by and large, honoured and accepted as the moral guide in the Indian society. While the newspapers in Europe and America are loosing their readership annually, the Indian print media is still going strong with huge circulation figure. For the democratic India, the media continues to be acclaimed as the fourth important pillar after judiciary, parliament and bureaucracy. But unfortunately a cancer in the form of paid news has been diagnosed in the Indian media in the recent past. Millions of rupees have been reportedly transacted with a section of media houses by this misconduct for some immoral coverage for the beneficiaries. Some veteran editor-journalist Prabhash Joshi who recently died, with B G Verghese raised the issue strongly with the Press Council of India, where they warned that the cancer of paid news has already turned into a full blown case in India.
The Mumbai meeting witnessed serious discussion and concern on the recent trend of commercialisation of mainstream media, and degradation of media ethics & practices in the country. All the speakers in the meeting of SAFMA (which is recognized by the SAARC), were unanimous that media in the entire region must come forward in a transparent way with maintaining public trust. Addressing the audience, eminent journalist and the rural affairs editor of The Hindu, P. Sainath disclosed that that the corporatization of the media world had simply threatened the existence of free media. "Now the newspaper owners are greatly influenced by political clout. The proprietors now grant space for vivid coverage for the benefit of their 'friendly politicians' in the newspapers. Furthermore, to entertain their growing demands, many media groups have even gone for arranging extra space in this advantageous period," Sainath claimed. An official statement of the SAFMA meet, which was attended by many distinguished editor- journalists of India including K K Katyal, Satich Jacob, Kumar Ketkar (editor of Loksatta), Om Thanvi (editor of Jansatta), Vinod Sharma (political editor of Hindustan Times), Sevanti Ninan (editor of etc, expressed serious concern at the growing trend of selling news space.
"The recent assembly elections in Maharashtra and elsewhere had revealed the spread of the pernicious practice of accepting money for giving editorial space to contestants. In fact, this evil had been perpetrated by institutionalizing it," the statement added. Meanwhile, the press council, a quasi judicial body, has decided to investigate the issue and it has already set up a committee to examine violation of the journalistic code of fair and objective reporting with that of paid news.
The press council Chairman Justice (Rtd) GN Ray publicly admitted that a section of Indian media had 'indulged in monetary deals with some politicians and candidates by publishing their views as news items and bringing out negative news items against rival candidates' during the last elections.
Even a documentary titled 'Advertorial: Selling News or Products?' was produced by an eminent media critic and academic Paranjoy Guha Thakurta for India's national broadcaster, Doordarshan. It was telecast in last November.
Guha Thakurta, a member of the press council team, said in an interview that the committee had received many complains from the journalists that a large number of newspapers and television channels (in various languages) had been receiving money to provide news space (and even editorials) for the benefit of politicians. Speaking to this writer from New Delhi, Guha Thakurta claims that the paid news culture has finally violated the guidelines of the Election Commission (of India), which makes restriction in the expenditure of a candidate (for any Legislative Assembly or Parliamentary elections). "Amazingly, we have found that some newspapers even prepared rate cards for the candidates in the last few elections. There are different rates for positive news coverage, interviews, editorials and also putting out damaging reports against the opponents," Guha Thakurta asserted.
The Indian Election Commission has taken the issue seriously. The commission recently asked the PCI 'to define what constitutes paid political news', such that it can adopt guidelines accordingly. In a meeting during last December, the commission also expected the PCI to take initiatives to 'formulate some guidelines to the media houses' in the country.
With the same notion, a Guwahati based media observer Hiten Mahanta claims that many regional newspapers in Northeast India have adopted this practice (where money power has been used for favourable reporting) for some extra income.
"You can find a number of examples in Guwahati, where the proprietors of the media houses had misused the media space for their individual benefits. It is amazing, how some newspapers change their point of views towards a politician (or a political party) suddenly after getting money (in cash or kinds)," Mahanta revealed. However, the newspapers of Assam are still maintaining some ethical values in respect of sacred editorial space, as those are not being utilised visibly for earning extra cash till now.

Arundhati Roy claims Mossad training police for targeted killings

In its long drawn war with the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist), New Delhi has allegedly engaged Israeli secret agency Mossad to train up high ranking police officers in the techniques of targeted assassinations. The main objective is to kill the prominent leaders of the Maoist to render the party headless and thus weaken the movement that has posed the gravest threat to the internal security of India. Anti-maoist Operation Green Hunt involving about one lakh paramilitary forces backed by the logistic support from the army in addition to the police force are deployed in the red corridor covering six states from Bihar in the north to Andhra Pradesh in the south.
   Maoist guerrillas are said to be undaunted. Claiming they are fighting for the poor, marginalized and landless peasants, tribal and dalit people, the Maoists have mobilized them to form committees - Peoples Committee to Resist Police Atrocities - in their respective areas. What is worrying most the Indian government is that the Maoists have been recruiting young men and women and training them deep in jungles. Reports say a new recruit is paid Rs. 3000 per month and a cut in tolls money which is estimated at millions collected from politicians, business people as well as high government officials. With high rate of unemployment in backward states there is no dearth in recruit.
   That Mossad has been engaged by the government for training in modern techniques to deal with the insurgency was revealed by Arundhati Roy, international prize winning writer and sympathizer to the cause of the Maoist movement. In her lengthy article 'Walking with the Comrades' published in the Delhi-based weekly Outlook, Roy has given a vivid picture of life and living of tribal and dalit people in the backward areas of Jharkhand, atrocities of security forces, rise of Maoist guerrilla force with about 45 percent women cadres. "Police come whenever they need women or chickens," a women guerrilla cadre told her during her visit to the area in the middle of March.
   Across the Indravati River in Jharkhand, the area controlled by the Maoists, "is the place police call Pakistan," she wrote.
   The Deccan Chronicle in a February 24 editorial conceded that the Maoist insurgency is centred in areas that are India's wealthiest mineral belt which is being eyed by the government and by foreign and Indian mining interests. Tribal people are driven out of their homes so that the government can go ahead with its industrialization programme.
   Arundhati Roy and a host of intellectuals, human rights organizations and even politicians are opposed to Operation Green Hunt. They say paramilitary troops and elite forces like COBRA are killing innocent tribal people in the name of Maoists who are not easy to reach. The sympathizers view that workers and toilers must oppose the state's counterinsurgency war against the Maoists. Operation Green Hunt is directed at upholding and intensifying the oppression of the tribal peoples. Moreover, the Indian ruling elite is using the purported threat of Maoist "terrorism" to justify the state repression of all manner of political movements.
   Varvara Rao, well known human rights activist, said security forces claim of encounters with Maoist are fake. Activists of the peoples committees in tribal areas are arrested and shot dead. Asit Mahato, leader of the people's resistance committee in West Midnapore, West Bengal, said people have fled homes in the face of arrest, rape and harassment by the joint forces in the name of search for Maoist. Sixty-five year old Gouranga was beaten to death on March 28 and the body was thrown into the canal. Police plead ignorance when enquired about the missing villagers.
   Kabir Sumon, Trinamool Congress MP from West Bengal, resigned from the party and Lok Sava on March 29, ostensibly protesting Operation Green Hunt. He said Trinamool slogan 'Ma, Mati O Manush' has proved fake. They failed to take stand by the Peoples Committee when its president Tudu was shot dead by the joint forces.
   The biggest anti-maoist operation was carried out on March 25 in West Midnapore district. Joint forces admitted they fired about 3000 gunshots and barrages of mortar shells during the 12-hour operation. As lessons given by the Mossad, joint forces targeted the Maoist leader Koteswar Rao alias Kishenjee, who is reportedly received bullet in shoulder and leg, his comrades have taken him to hideouts in adjacent jungles of Jharkhand. Kishenjee who had declared to occupy Calcutta by 2012 last month offered unconditional talks with New Delhi, which was supported by a section of intellectuals and human right organizations. But the government refused to talk until the Maoists abjure violence.
   The reaction to Midnapore operation was sharp. "We will reply each bullet that hit Kishenjee and comrade Bikram," said an e-mail to Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Orissa with threat of blowing up his home and installations of government and security forces in the state. Police investigation showed the e-mail had its server far away in Czech Republic.
   It is about two months the anti-maoist operation has been launched. The government has claimed arrest of a number of Maoist leaders, destroy some of their hideouts, reclaim few areas from Maoist control but the security forces are yet to make any significant dent in the Maoist movement.

Transit to India: Is Bangladesh inviting troubles?

In this age of globalization, when nations, economies, governments and businesses are becoming ever more interdependent and interlinked, and when numerous regional economic blocs connect almost every country in the world, there should be nothing outlandish or extraordinary in Bangladesh government's readiness to grant land-transit facilities through its territory to neighbouring India. Why then, so many people in Bangladesh seem to be troubled so much with the way the transit-cookie is being crumbled? Why then, so many of them apprehend that driven to the short end of the stick Bangladesh is digging canal to invite crocodiles? Why then so many of them are raising concerns that the proposed transit facility may cause havoc to their economy and wreck their sovereignty? Obviously, there is more to the story than what ordinary eyes can catch.
   India's help in '71
   There can be no question that India's role in Bangladesh liberation war was extremely crucial-not only India gave shelter to about ten million refugees, it also trained and armed Bangladesh freedom fighters and allowed its own territory to launch attack on the Pakistani forces. Although Bangladeshi people, by all means, were ready for freedom, India's all-out assistance expedited the day of sunshine. Still the penultimate question hovers on any inquisitive mind: Why did India-being a huge conglomerate of numerous religions, tribes and nationalities, and being itself an incredibly insurgency-ridden country-decide to rub elbows of a separatist movement in a neighbouring country?
   Obviously no single answer will satisfy all. Some, however, see it as an act of "Indian Giving"-meaning India did it for a return, that India's support was predicated upon killing several birds with one stone. First of all, India sought to land a crippling blow on its archrival Pakistan by causing it to disintegrate. Indira Gandhi's statement before Indian parliament, immediately after Bangladesh liberation war, lent credence to this view: "The war with Pakistan and the emergence of Bangla Desh had falsified the two-nation theory and vindicated our principles of secularism" (Indian and Foreign Review, February 1972). But a top commander of India, General Jacob, in his 1997 book Surrender at Dhaka: Birth of a Nation made it crystal clear by asserting that India's assistance to Mujibnagar government was conditioned by: "Guarantee for the Hindu minority, rationalization of enclaves, and transit rights by rail and inland waterways through Bangladesh with use of facilities at Chittagong port."
   For the last four decades, however, Indian dream (or condition) of transit facility through Bangladesh territory never materialized. Neither Sheikh Mujib nor Ziaur Rahman, nor H. M. Ershad or Khaleda Zia, not even Sheikh Hasina last time around, at least in public, responded positively to a transit demand. But if the pronouncements of foreign minister Dipu Moni, in the aftermath of Indian finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's Dhaka visit in August, are to be taken seriously, India will certainly get access to its landlocked Northeast States through Bangladesh territory, and soon "unfettered movement of people and goods will be taking place." Such "unfettered access," according to Dipu Moni, will bring the entire region "under connectivity" suiting the needs of the age of globalization, and it will transform Bangladesh into "a regional hub."
   Dipu Moni's globalisation
   Dipu Moni seems to be using buzzwords of globalization to grant transit rights to India. There is no doubt that the contemporary phase of globalization entails unprecedented momentum towards connectivity and interdependence around the world. Especially economic globalization has opened up floodgates of opportunities for many countries with small population and small domestic customer base. Countries like Britain and France, for example, make more than 50 percent of their GDPs from international sector, and the share exceeds 70 percent for countries like Germany and Canada. Greater openness-greater access to foreign economies and foreign customers-has thus emerged as the mainstay for many small economies.
   But what will Bangladesh export to India? In terms of net-foreign exchange earnings, manpower is the number one export item of Bangladesh. Will India hire Bangladeshi workers? Isn't India a formidable competitor to Bangladesh in international manpower market? The second biggest export item of Bangladesh is readymade garments-will India buy Bangladeshi garments? Then other export commodities of Bangladesh-will India buy Bangladeshi tea, leather or handicrafts?
   It has also been argued that with greater connectivity, Bangladeshi manufacturers will have greater access to vast Indian market. But how can small-scale infant industries of Bangladesh compete with well-established and large-scale Indian manufacturers? If they are capable of competing with their Indian counterparts, how come Bangladesh has already been turned into a huge market for Indian consumer products? Isn't it a fact that Bangladesh's annual trade deficit with India is now running into billions of dollars?
   So, where is the economic benefit of trade with India? Reportedly certain think-tank has come up with estimates of substantial economic gains for Bangladesh from the transit facility-that must be a cock and bull story. Which country in the world has ever achieved economic prosperity by collecting transit fees?
   Connectivity factor
   Then Dipu Moni is also saying that the "connectivity" is aimed at transforming Bangladesh into a "regional hub." But what region exactly the minister has in mind-is it the whole Indian subcontinent or some makeshift regions? If the ESCAP-sponsored Trans-Asian Railway materializes as planned, then, the proposed railway will link Bangladesh with India through the Indian state of Assam, and then it will move to Myanmar, instead of linking Bangladesh with Myanmar directly through Chittagong-Cox's Bazar-Myanmar route. This detour alone will add extra 900 kilometers to the distance between Bangladesh and Myanmar-would it be cost-effective for boosting trade in the region?
   Also, reportedly Bangladesh has already accepted the Asian Highway (AH) in the dotted lines as proposed by India. Under the plan, two of the highways-AH1 and AH2-will enter Bangladesh from India through Benapole (Jessore) and Banglabandha (Dinajpur) respectively, both will converge on Dhaka, and then move on to Tamabil (Sylhet). A third route (AH41), originating at Mongla port will join AH1 around Benapole and AH2 at Hatikamrul (Kushia), and then together with AH1 and AH2 will travel to Dhaka. From Dhaka it will separately move on to Chittagong, Cox's Bazar and Teknaf.
   The network thus will allow North Indian traffic access into Bangladesh, and then, at the other end, out to the Northeast States of India. No wonder some experts are saying it will turn Bangladesh into a grazing land for Indian traffic. Moreover, apparently ESCAP requires a route originating in a country to connect the capital city of the next country of entry, and this will require Nepal and Bhutan to travel through New Delhi before entering Bangladesh. This extra distance and transportation costs will take tools on Nepal and Bhutan for engaging in trading with Bangladesh. Therefore, the only country that stands to benefit from the Asian Highway is surely India-others will be onlookers.
   Political dimension
   The political dimension of the issue is even more troublesome for Bangladesh-how to give a broad-based land-transit facilities to a chauvinistic neighbour who surrounds the country from three sides, but whose security forces shoot Bangladeshi citizens like dogs along its porous borders? Reportedly 700 Bangladeshi people were killed by Indian border security forces during 2000-2007. Even if one assumes that these people are guilty-as-charged, do they deserve to be killed just because they might have thought the other side of the river greener? Thousands of people are trying to cross American borders illegally, how many of them are being killed?
   Then, India is seeking access to Chittagong Port as well. Past performance does not guarantee future performance, but India reportedly had rebuffed Bangladesh leader Sheikh Mujib when he requested access to Calcutta port in the immediate aftermath of liberation war when both major ports of Bangladesh were non-functional. Report suggests that India also rejected Zia's request for just 16 miles of land transit through India for direct trade-link with Nepal.
   India also played hardball with Pakistan when it came to land or air transit facilities through its territory. The united Pakistan obviously was an absurd creation-its two wings were separated by 1100 miles of Indian land. But at that time, given objective realities of the day, it did make sense to the people of East Bengal to join Pakistan. Calcutta Port was so crucial for Bengal at that time that even Jinnah was sceptical of the future of East Bengal without it. Just a year before the partition of India, he remarked, "What is the use of Bengal without Calcutta: They (east and west Bengal) should remain united and independent." After the Partition, when Pakistan reportedly requested access to Calcutta Port for just six months for the sake of East Pakistan, India turned it down.
   India's chauvinistic attitude was no less evident in its dealings with water sharing of common rivers, insurgency problem in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), and disputed enclaves. Who doesn't know how India used Farrakka Barrage as bargaining chip for manoeuvring political events and developments in Bangladesh? Even at the best of times, India behaved like a fair-weather friend-overtly manipulated water flow during lean seasons suiting its conceited interests. Also, although Mujib ratified the constitution following handing over of Berubari, India dragged its feet when it came to returning Tin Bihga and ratifying its constitution. More recently, India's refusal to resolve maritime boundary on the basis of the principle of equity has forced Bangladesh to seek UN mediation.
   CHT peace deal
   And, India has been squarely behind the tribal insurgency in CHT. The tribes never enjoyed autonomous status during the British or Pakistani rule. After liberation they demanded autonomy, but Sheikh Mujib rejected the demand outright, and even told tribal leader Shantu Larma to forget ethnic differences and merge with Bangalee nationalism. All successive regimes maintained the same stance, and intensified military presence in CHT, until Sheikh Hasina came to power in 1996. In 1997, she signed a landmark "Peace Accord" with Shanti Bahini, bringing insurgents back from India and paving their way to autonomy. The tribes comprise about one percent of the nation's population but they occupy about ten percent of its territory. Can a tiny land with about 160 million people give up 10 percent of its precious land to less than one percent of its population? Yes, rights of indigenous people should be protected, but did America give up all land that Native Indians occupied before settlers came?
   The naked truth is, lots of bad blood flowing between the two neighbours. How the transit, if eventually given to India, will play out is also largely unknown. Is there any guarantee that India will not use this transit facility for its national security and integrity objectives? If Indian goods and commodities are transported, without giving Bangladesh the right to inspect the shipment, how would Bangladesh ever know what is being transported through its territory? If India moves military and weapons to insurgency-ridden Northeast States using this transit, wouldn't Bangladesh be an accessory to potential manslaughters and massacres? And, how can Bangladeshi people, who suffered from colonial repression and were victims of planned mass slaughter, allow such atrocities?
   Given the history of bad blood between the neighbours, question also arises about the wisdom of bilateral agreements. Is Bangladesh capable of standing up to big-brother-India if the transit agreement is breached, flouted, manipulated or misinterpreted? If India's objective is connectivity and economic welfare, why not pursue the matter under the umbrella of SAARC or SAPTA, involving all its members? There can be no doubt that gains from common water-resource management, energy and electricity generation, trans-border rail and road links, fighting against terrorism, crime and drugs, and poverty reduction through regional cooperation can be substantial for all members. Why then the transit issue is being pushed through opaque bilateral agreements, or under the so-called sub-regional agreements?
   Geo political factor
   The fact of the matter is that the nuclear power India is pushing its defence, strategic, political and economic goals through the throats of smaller, poorer, and feeble neighbours. Pakistan, the other nuclear power of the region, is completely sidetracked, and Bangladesh is being used as the epicentre of the whole scheme. India has been chasing this Rainbow since the 1960s, ever since Pakistan snapped away India's transit privileges through East Pakistan. By now, given prolonged rivalry with Pakistan and the rise of China to global prominence, a transit through Bangladesh territory emerged as an essential and urgent need for India to safeguard its national security and integrity interests.
   For Bangladesh, on the other hand, there exists no urgent or essential need to allow transit to India-it should do so for the sake of globalization, but only if potential gains are well documented, the issue receives threadbare discussion in public forums and in the floors of parliament, and its sovereign right over the transit is well preserved under a more transparent regional or multilateral agreement.

Loan from Delhi raises billion dollar questions

The $1 billion loan agreement signed with India on August 7 begets some billion dollar questions: Whose interest will it serve and whether the fund was at all needed. Cynicism has exacerbated by the loan coming at a time when it is least needed; over $500 million of ADB, IMF and other source-loans lying idle in the government's coffer.
   Decoding the mindset of policy makers in Dhaka and Delhi has become a futile exercise since the coming to power of the AL-led regime in early 2009. While any definitive answers to such questions will remain unanswered for obvious reasons, a glance at the targeted projects where the borrowed money will be spent may provide some valuable clues to unearthing the real motive behind this unprecedented economic collaboration between the two South Asian neighbours.
   Whose interest?
   Of the 14 projects for which the predominance of the borrowed $1 billion is slated for spending, over 76 per cent of the fund is earmarked for the (1) construction of Ashugonj port and dredging of navigation route leading to Tripura border, (2) upgrading of railway tracks and purchase of railway locomotives and oil tankers to transport Indian goods across the border, (3) construction of bridges astride Indo-Bangladesh border, including over the Bhairab and the Feni river connection Tripura, (4) construction of Ramgar-Subrom land port and the connecting roads, and, (5) construction of Bheramara-Bahrampur 400 KV inter- connected lines at a cost of $150 million, to name but a few.
   The agreement stipulates that the pipeline projects must incur 85 per cent of the costs by procuring goods and services from India only, and, the consultants hired for advising must be from India too. That alone will divert back 90 per cent of the fund to India. Add to this .50 per cent penalty for non-completion of any project, 1.75 per cent annual interest and .5 percent commitment fee per annum. The entire venture has little or no value added dividend for Bangladesh, excepting an estimated $25 million or so that is expected to come annually from custom fee and the allied levies that are yet to be decided.
   Simply put: Delhi will plan, fund and complete all these strategically important projects inside Bangladesh with materials from India, to serve India's interest, while the cost incurred is a loan to Bangladesh which the country may not be able to pay off within the stipulated 20 years time frame. Besides, the loan's conditionality is so stringent that the negation of any future government to comply with the projects' completion will not absolve the nation from paying the interests and the penalties during the 20 years amortization period.
   As well, the 1.75 per cent interest is too high, compared with the loan transactions occurring at public and private levels anywhere in the world; due to the recession-battered prime landing rate being either zero, or at best one per cent in the leading economies of the world. More disturbing is the 20 years payment deadline, which covers only half of the payment time-line usually offered by major international financial institutions while the stipulated interest rate is seven times of what the IMF loan charges, .25 per cent at best.
   Why policy- shift?
   Despite that, our finance minister is on record for accusing the opposition BNP of lying, as the latter insisted on not to sign the loan accord in consideration of upholding national interest. The gala and the glittering of the signing ceremony had also dwarfed the potential of an economic and geopolitical disaster this particular loan is sure to bring upon our nation.
   The finance minister is not alone in touting the issue as an epoch - making economic bonanza. Prior to Dhaka consenting to inking the agreement, few in the nation took pain to study the economic and the arithmetical rationale for doing so, especially at a time when the decision to borrow from external sources marked a radical shift from existing policies which proved successful over the decades by reducing debt-dependency on external sources, often phenomenally.
   We also feel numb as none among the policy makers even bothered to ask, why Dhaka needed $1 billion credit from India when its debt-GDP ratio stood at all time high, over 32 per cent of the GDP, or well over $50 billion, of which public debt alone rose by over $2 billion since the coming to office of the AL-led regime in late 2008 (Source: CIA fact sheet). Bangladesh bank data also reveals, total government borrowing was Tk. 597.9 billion in FY 2007, out of which Tk. 522.0 billion (87 percent) came from domestic sources while the net flow of public borrowing from external sources remained nearly stagnant in FY06-07, and declined further subsequently.
   Deadly geopolitics
   Such compelling economic rationales aside, India's generosity remains questionable; the loan coming to Dhaka at a time when India itself is bleeding under a slew of catastrophic afflictions spurred by a lingering recession, accelerated centrifugal drives spearheaded by insurgents from Kashmir to Mizoram to Assam, and the widespread public discontent created by a combustive mix of mass unemployment and hyper inflation which Delhi seems totally unable to tackle.
   Some observers say, this is hardly a micro-managed regional bonhomie to bolster fraternity with a smaller neighbour in crisis. Faced with unprecedented domestic crisis, Delhi had to display some geopolitical acrobatics to deflect attention outward and the scheme fitted neatly with a Machiavellian design to turn Bangladesh into an economic and military hinterland that has been in the making since Delhi decided to join the US-led anti terror bandwagon in 2001.
   They say, ever since, Delhi has been on the driving seat in Dhaka while irritating silence and procrastination remained our national hallmark amidst the gradual but systematic enfeebling of the nation by (1) rendering the armed forces impotent, and, (2) bludgeoning the economy through orchestrated destruction of the main export sector, the RMG.
   This line of analysis jibes well with the desperation Delhi felt lately as it witnessed, helplessly, Nepal turning into a Maoist state, Sri Lanka drifting away toward China and the Pakistani success in checkmating Delhi in Afghanistan amidst successive Taliban victory in the battles against the India-allied NATO forces. They say as most of the earmarked projects involve land and marine connectivity between India's north east with the mainland via Bangladesh, our nation is being turned into a virtual India corridor. This constitutes serious compromises of our territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Dr Wazed Miah: An unforgettable scientist

Renowned nuclear scientist and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s husband Dr. M.A. Wazed Miah passed away after prolonged illness for more than a year. Though born in a middle class Bengali Muslim family, Dr. Wazed Miah by dint of his talent and perseverance became one of the leading scientists of the country and a national asset. In his death the country has not only lost a dedicated scientist but also a great patriot.
   M. A. Wazed Miah was a devoted scientist and played an important role in organising a newly emerged country’s nuclear programmes to accelerate scientific research. He was able to convince his father-in-law Sheikh Mujibar Rahman, the then President of Bangladesh to acquire 265 acres of land at Ganakbari at Savar, some 25 kilometres north-east of Dhaka city; which now houses major research facilities for the four main objectives of BAEC such as i) peaceful uses of atomic energy in medicine, food and agriculture and relating material science development, ii) generating electricity, iii) ancillary services viz. electronics, computer and engineering, iv) advise government on nuclear matters in compliance with NPT or the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons by IAEA, stationed in Vienna, Austria.
   The IAEA is the world’s centre of cooperation in the nuclear field. It was set up as the world’s “Atoms for Peace” organization in 1957 within the United Nations family. The Agency works with its Member States and multiple partners worldwide to promote safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technologies.
   The IAEA Secretariat is headquartered at the Vienna International Centre in Vienna, Austria. Operational liaison and regional offices are located in Geneva, Switzerland; New York, USA; Toronto, Canada; and Tokyo, Japan. The IAEA runs or supports research centres and scientific laboratories in Vienna and Seibersdorf, Austria; Monaco; and Trieste, Italy.
   The IAEA Secretariat is a team of 2200 multi-disciplinary professional and support staff from more than 90 countries.
   The IAEA´s mission is guided by the interests and needs of Member States, strategic plans and the vision embodied in the IAEA Statute. Three main pillars - or areas of work - underpin the IAEA´s mission: Safety and Security; Science and Technology; and Safeguards and Verification.
   As an independent international organization related to the United Nations system, the IAEA´s relationship with the UN is regulated by special agreement [pdf]. In terms of its Statute, the IAEA reports annually to the UN General Assembly and, when appropriate, to the Security Council regarding non-compliance by States with their safeguards obligations as well as on matters relating to international peace and security.
   Dr.M.A. Wazes Miah also wrote a book entitled “Fundamentals of Electromagnetism” towards meeting the demand of textbook in the 80s for the students of universities of the country. The work was initiated and completed during the period of his six and a half years post-doctoral work under the aegis of the Department of Atomic Energy, Bhaba, Trombey, India. The book containing 624 pages has been published by Tata McGraw Hill Publishing Co,Ltd, New Delhi.
   Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission(BAEC) is a multi-sectoral research and development agency of Bangladesh. The organisation functions as a semi-government and semi-autonomous organisation under the administrative control of Govt. BAEC gets technical assistance from the International Atomic Agency (IAEA), an organ of UNO, stationed in Vienna,Austria..
   Dr. Wazed Miah after returning home from India in 1982 whole heartedly engaged himself in accelerating the country’s nuclear programme. He attended many international meetings and negotiated with various countries for installation of a nuclear reactor for training, research, production of medical radioisotope and generation of electricity for the development of this country.
   In 1991 Dr.Wazed came forward for the rescue of this pioneer research establishment of Bangladesh. He argued that it would be hazardous to transfer the sophisticated nuclear research equipment specially the 3 MeV Van De Graaff Accelerator and a cobalt radiation source jar that became too old to handle, transfer and in case of accident on the way to transfer the whole city would be in such a disaster as that of Chernobyl of Russia. The government engaged two high-level committees to justify his claim. Ultimately he won in the battle.
   He was a scientist with a cultural bent of mind. He had the heart of a intellectual. This was revealed when I found him listening to the songs of the Pancho Kabi during his long drive from Dhaka Centre to AERE, Savar and when he discussed music and literature with his colleagues.
   I have many fond memories relating to scientist Dr. M A Wazed. He is an unforgettable person. He was a person of dignity and honour. I will miss him for ever.