Saturday, August 6, 2011

The government of Bangladesh responds

The Economist received the following letter from the government of Bangladesh in response to a recent article:

"Our attention has been drawn to an article on India and Bangladesh, “Embraceable you”, published in The Economist in its issue dated July 30th. We are disappointed, as the report is less than well researched and contains elements of misinformation and a misrepresentation of facts.  What is more unfortunate is that the writer uses some words and sometimes draws analogies which lack decency and professional ethics. We are furnishing relevant information to put the issues in the right perspective.

The writer is of the view that the ruling Awami League (and its allies) came to power through “bags of Indian cash and advice”. This is a blatant lie and aptly speaks about the writer’s utter disrespect for responsible journalism. The international community, including independent observers, hailed the historic elections in December 2008 as the freest ever in the history of the country, which was reflective of the aspirations of the people. His comment is also a slur on the democracy-loving people of Bangladesh – one of the largest democracies in the world. His observation that the transit facilities between the two countries are to meet Indian security needs at the expense of the interests of Bangladesh is also misplaced as both countries are expected to benefit immensely from it.

Bangladesh attaches the highest importance to its relations with India.  These relations are time tested and based on shared history, culture, language, religion, traditions and values.  The traditional relations were infused with a new dynamism following the landmark visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India in January 2010 as the leadership of the two countries agreed to embark on a new era of co-operation for mutual benefit with the objective of fighting the common enemy of poverty and under-development.  This signifies closer engagement in areas as diverse as joint water resources management, land boundary demarcation, trade, power, connectivity, infrastructure, culture, education, etc.

The writer may be interested to know that as a part of the initiative of the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to return to the values and spirit that inspired the nation during the war of liberation, it has undertaken an exercise to honour those foreign friends who stood by the people of Bangladesh and contributed to the attainment of statehood in 1971.  In this context it is widely felt that the seminal role played by the then Prime Minister of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi, deserves a special recognition. Thus she was conferred with the Bangladesh Freedom Honour (posthumously), the highest state honour for foreigners which was handed over to Mrs Sonia Gandhi when she visited Bangladesh to attend a special conference on autism.  The writer has undermined both Bangladesh’s struggle to attain statehood through its glorious war of liberation as well as the hand of friendship and support extended by India to Bangladesh when he refers to the Freedom Honour as ‘a gong’ in a negative manner.

It may be noted that the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has undertaken a proactive policy for building up relations with not only India but with all of her neighbours in South Asia.  Towards this end, there have been exchanges of high level visits from Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.  One of the most significant developments in this regard has been the decision of the government to grant both Nepal and Bhutan use of Chittagong and Mongla ports for transit trade to third countries. In addition to this, Bangladesh is working to provide smooth and seamless connectivity between Bhutan, Nepal and India and to extend it through Myanmar to the countries of South-East Asia and beyond.  Perhaps unknown to the writer is that this connectivity is not only through rail and road; Bangladesh has offered use of two airports situated in the north of the country to Bhutan for its own use.  Bangladesh is also working on intensifying shipping linkages with Sri Lanka which will benefit not only bilateral trade but will also help to enhance trade relations with the Maldives, which has so far been stymied by a lack of air and shipping linkages between the two countries. Taking connectivity and regional co-operation one step further, Bangladesh is also working towards a joint water resources management in a sub-regional context involving Bhutan, Nepal, India and Bangladesh.  This envisages water resources management for flood control and mitigation as well as augmentation of dry season flows of common rivers.  An added benefit will be hydro-power generation to meet the incremental energy requirements of one of the most economically dynamic areas of the world today.

While mentioning about opposition’s boycott of Parliament, the writer says that the Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is “becoming increasingly autocratic”. This speaks about his poor knowledge about the numerous initiatives taken by the government to institutionalise democracy in the country. The writer is perhaps aware that the Dauphine University, a prominent Parisian university, awarded a gold medal to Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on 25th May 2011 in recognition to her outstanding contribution to institutionalising and strengthening democracy, and also for her achievement in empowering the women of Bangladesh.  In line with the spirit of accommodation, the present government, for the first time in history, has allocated the chairmanship of the two important standing committees of the Parliament to the opposition parties who hold only 40 seats out of 345.  Even the post of deputy speaker was offered to the opposition. Despite the welcome gesture from the government, the opposition parties, quite ironically, have been boycotting parliamentary sessions for narrow political gains which undermines the country’s democratic process.

The initiative of the present government to try the people involved in genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other crimes under international law, stems from the fundamental norms of a civilized society.  It is reflective of the primacy of the rule of law and the rejection of impunity. The initiative draws from the overwhelming popular support for putting the perpetrators of war crimes on trial and is not prompted by any feeling of vendetta against any individual or any political party.

Without giving any research-based statistics, the writer mentions that “corruption flourishes at levels astonishing even by South Asian standards”.  Fighting corruption and establishing good governance has been one of the priorities of the Government and neither any member of the present Prime Minister’s family nor any Cabinet member bears the stigma of being corrupt though corruption remains a major challenge for the country.  Keeping with the election mandate, the present government introduced an electronic public procurement system to ensure transparency which was possible due to the government’s determination to digitalise the country. The allegation of building a personality cult around Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Father of the Nation of the Prime Minister, is just another example of poor judgment about the role of the great leader in the epic struggle of the country. The government, as per its election mandate, is trying to uphold the true history of the independence of the country which was subjected to distortion by successive military and pseudo-military governments. As regards to the  “vindictive” treatment shown to Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel laureate, the writer should have known that it was Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself who had a distinct role in patronizing and thus in making micro-credit, Grameen Bank and Professor Yunus familiar globally. The government’s recent actions about Grameen Bank were taken to uphold the rule of law and not to harass anyone.  The verdict of the courts, which are fiercely independent, was just reflective of the facts on the ground.

A closer look at the article indicates that the writer is carrying out the agenda of a quarter who are out to wage a smear campaign about Bangladesh and its present government led by the Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who has, through her extraordinary courage, personal sacrifice and inspiring visionary leadership, brought the country back on track of democratic governance, made the country a model for women’s empowerment, food security, disaster management, poverty alleviation, and pursuing a people-centric peace building policy nationally as well as regionally and internationally. People in the region have already started enjoying the benefits of her government’s strong stand against terrorism and extremism."

Md. Shameem Ahsan
Director General (External Publicity)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Pakistan's Double Cross

A Virginia man accused of running a Pakistani-financed program to influence American policy toward the disputed Kashmir region can be released on bond once his wife surrenders her passport and other conditions are met, a federal judge ruled late Tuesday afternoon.
Syed Gulam Nabi Fai will be subject to electronic monitoring while awaiting his trial.

The allegation that Pakistan routed more than $4 million to Fai to give to politicians and organize programs related to Kashmir is the latest in a series of revelations that have taken U.S.-Pakistani relations to the brink.
The May 2 Navy SEAL strike killing Osama bin Laden in a walled-compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan accelerated the deterioration of already strained relations. Incredulous American officials openly doubted Pakistani claims that bin Laden's presence was unknown to, and unsupported by, people in the government.
In just the past month, American officials have issued the Fai complaint, accused Pakistan of complicity in the brutal murder of a journalist, and frozen $800 million in military aid.

Those actions come on the heels of testimony in a Chicago prosecution which indicated members of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency played significant roles in the 2009 terrorist attacks in Mumbai which killed more than 160 people.

India suspects another ISI-connected terrorist group, the Indian Mujahideen (IM) was behind last week's coordinated bombings in Mumbai which killed more than 20 people and injured more than 100 others. The suspension of military aid came after Pakistan's expulsion of American military trainers. The $800 million at issue is about a third of annual U.S. aid to Pakistan. The Pakistanis "have taken some steps that have given us reason to pause on some of the aid we're giving to the military," said White House Chief William Daley.
Days earlier, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen implicated Pakistani authorities in the brutal murder of a prominent journalist who had investigated ties between Islamist militants and the country's military. During a Pentagon news briefing, Mullen had alleged that the torture and subsequent killing of journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad had been "sanctioned" by the Pakistani government.

Shahzad, who worked as a correspondent for Adnkronos International and was the Pakistan bureau chief for the Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online, was abducted in Islamabad on May 29, two days after publishing an article alleging al-Qaida infiltration in the ranks of the Pakistani military. The ISI denied any role in Shahzad's killing.

Recent reports, however, continue to detail the ISI's strong support for terror in the region. Classified military documents released in July 2010 by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks exposed the ISI's links to Afghan insurgent forces fighting U.S. and NATO troops in the region. The more than 90,000 secret military and diplomatic reports detail meetings between senior Pakistani intelligence officials and Taliban and al-Qaida leaders to plan attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces. The documents specifically mention discussions between former ISI chief Hamid Gul and Afghan mujahideen leaders Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani, who have been known to plot some of the most lethal attacks against U.S. troops.

A study released last year by the London School of Economics described ties between the ISI and Afghan insurgents. The report, based on interviews with captured insurgents and counterterrorism officials, claims the ISI provides "substantial financial, military, and logistical support" to the Afghan insurgency.

A United Nations report corroborates the Pakistani military and ISI's support for jihadist groups in the region.
The ISI has also historically supported Kashmiri jihadist groups, several of which are on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations, as part of the Pakistani government's efforts to wage a low-intensity proxy war against rival India.

Recently released disclosures regarding Pakistani detainees at Guantanamo Bay tie India-focused terrorist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), Harkat ul-Jihad-Islami (HuJI), and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) to the ISI.

The LeT was responsible for the November 2008 terrorist strike on Mumbai when 10 gunmen from the terrorist group launched a frontal assault on several high-profile targets in the city killing 166 people, including six Americans, in a siege that lasted three days.

During testimony at a recent trial in Chicago, a confessed plotter of the 2008 Mumbai attacks recounted his recruitment, training and handling by former Pakistani military officers and ISI members. David Headley, an American Lashkar operative from Pakistan who pleaded guilty in March 2010, was the prosecution's star witness in the trial of Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana whose immigration company provided cover to Headley to undertake surveillance missions on a variety of targets in Mumbai and other Indian cities.

Rana was found guilty of plotting an attack on a Danish newspaper and providing support to Lashkar but cleared of the more serious charge tying him to the Mumbai attacks.

India's Investigation
Headley's testimony was consistent with statements he made earlier to Indian investigators from the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). A 119-page report on Headley's interrogation was first reported on by the Guardian and posted later on the Internet.
"Every big action of LeT is done in close coordination with ISI," Headley told his Indian interrogators. Headley also alleged that ISI officials "have a profound influence and great control over the top brass of the LeT."

The Mumbai attacks were planned in part to halt the growing integration between Kashmiri jihadi groups and "Taliban-based outfits," he said. Several of the Kashmiri jihadist groups were shifting their focus from Kashmir and India to Taliban-sponsored jihadist activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The ISI orchestrated the Mumbai carnage to redirect the focus of these groups to India and thus move "the theater of violence from the domestic soil of Pakistan to India."

The ISI is also a key sponsor of the Karachi Project, Headley claimed. That program trains Indian militants to wage terrorist attacks on major urban centers in India. The Project based in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi also includes Pakistan-based terrorist groups, such as the LeT and HuJI, and has ties to the criminal underworld. The Indian Mujahideen that was implicated in the Mumbai serial bombings this month is part of the Karachi Project.

IM operatives have been affiliated with the LeT, HuJI, and the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). SIMI, banned by the Indian government in 2001, has its roots in the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), a radical Islamist movement in South Asia. SIMI has declared that "Islam is our Nation, not India," and hailed slain al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden as the "true Mujahid."

Headley mentioned two Karachi-based groups directing terrorist activity in India. One is led by Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed (also known as "Pasha"), a retired Pakistani army major and co-defendant in the Rana trial, and the other, by Lashkar member, Sajid Mir.

"The Karachi set up of Pasha has the complete backing of the ISI," Headley said. He also added that Pasha's ISI handler, Colonel Shah, "was actively involved in the Karachi Project."
"Pasha," a retired Pakistani army major and co-defendant in the Rana trial, introduced Headley to al-Qaida leader Ilyas Kashmiri to seek his assistance in plotting an attack on the offices of the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten after Lashkar backed out of the operation.

Kashmiri was reported killed in a U.S. drone strike in the tribal areas in Pakistan early last month.
Fugitive Indian gangsters Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon accused of masterminding the 1993 Mumbai bombings have also been linked to the Karachi Project.

The attack in February last year on a Germany bakery frequented by foreigners in the Indian city of Pune was also set off by the Indian Mujahideen as part of the larger Karachi Project. Headley reportedly visited Pune and conducted surveillance of potential sites for attacks and even stayed in the neighborhood where the bombing occurred. He also visited the Osho International Meditation Resort, close to the bakery.

The Road Ahead
U.S.-Pakistan relations are at a crossroads. While Pakistan has assisted U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the region and helped hunt down high-profile al-Qaida operatives, elements within its powerful military and intelligence services continue to fund and support terrorist networks that help bolster Pakistan's strategic advantage over rival India in Kabul, Kashmir and the broader South Asian region.

The ISI's historic alliance with Kashmiri jihadi groups such as Lashkar, HuJI and other groups, as part of its efforts to engage in proxy war with India, is a key impediment to peace in the subcontinent. Additionally, the Pakistani military's support for the al-Qaida-linked "Haqqani network" that has been responsible for the deaths of several U.S.-led coalition forces in the region continues to frustrate antiterrorist operations in the region.

American security assistance can be used as an effective leverage in deterring the Pakistani government's selective pick-and-choose approach to counterterrorism. Washington must ensure its defense aid is contingent upon Pakistan taking tangible steps to eliminate al-Qaida, Taliban, and other militant groups that operate unfettered on its soil.

Leading South Asia expert Lisa Curtis argues that cutting off all aid to Pakistan is not prudent policy since it could elicit a negative reaction from Pakistan that could obstruct U.S. counterterrorism interests in the region. She writes:
"The U.S. must avoid abrupt action like stopping like stopping all aid, which would come at a steep price to U.S. interests in the region. Pakistan could react by cutting off all NATO supply lines that run through Pakistan to coalition troops in Afghanistan. It could also expel U.S. intelligence officials from the country, thus denying the U.S. access to valuable information that helps the CIA track terrorists."
U.S. civilian aid must continue to flow into Pakistan, Curtis argues, to strengthen the country's civil society and social institutions but with better oversight mechanisms to ensure that aid money is not misdirected but used for the purposes intended.