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Monday, August 15, 2011

Economist Owe An Apology To Bangladesh

The honesty and integrity of the British media has come under serious scrutiny in the recent past. Australian Media Tycoon Rupert Murdoch has been compelled to close down his “News of the World” when charged for its unholy methods of tarnishing the image of leading personalities and smear nations. Rupert Murdoch had to appear before a parliamentary probe committee and regret for the scam. Almost at the same time Another British media “The Economist” has published has carried a highly controversial report questioning India- Bangladesh relation, the emergence of Bangladesh, the genocide by Pakistan occupation army in 1971and the trial process of the identified War Criminals of 1971.

The report without any credible evidence has brought out an allegation that Indian Government sponsored the Awami League with money and advice to win the 2008 elections. Congress is in Indian state power, and there is a historic link between the Congrees and Awami League based on good wish or even blessings as both champion democracy. But how can a leading international media mention that Indian Government provided monetary support to Awami League? Do they have any credible evidence? Neutral observers and world media unanimously acclaimed the free, fair and transparent election of 2008 . Even no major objection was raised by any of the opponents. But how after two and half years later “The Ecomonist” could bring up such a serious allegation? This report has definitely undermined and in fact embarrassed both India and Bangladesh. The countries have every right to question validity and authenticity of the report. This is more pertinent at this moment since two friendly SAARC neighbors after years of mistrust and disbelief have started positive actions to resolved several outstanding issues – water sharing , enclave exchange, joint actions against terrorists, boundary disputes resolution, regional connectivity , trade rationalization . Some issues were fundamentally agreed during Bangladesh PMs Visit to India and most of the others are at advanced stage for meeting of minds of the highest level at the upcoming summit of two PMs in Dhaka in September 2011.

 The report also questioned the crackdown of militant groups and terrorists by Bangladesh Government. The section of the report may be quoted here:

Ever since 2008, when the Awami League, helped by bags of Indian cash and advice, triumphed in general elections in Bangladesh, relations with India have blossomed. To Indian delight, Bangladesh has cracked down on extremists with ties to Pakistan or India’s home-grown terrorist group, the Indian Mujahideen, as well as on vociferous Islamist (and anti-Indian) politicians in the country. India feels that bit safer.
We will be extremely pleased if Economist can provide the credible evidence of the bag of cash that it is alleging to have been provided by Indian Government . If not Economist owe an apology to both India and Bangladesh.

From 2002 – 2006 Bangladesh became safe haven of terrorists. Finance Minister SAMS Kibria, popular MP Ahsanullah Master was killed by grenade attacks. Attacks were carried out against British High Commissioner in Bangladesh, Mayor of Sylhet, and MP Suranjit Sen Gupta. Finally terrorist under state sponsorship killed several Awami Leaguers including wife of Bangladesh President in a carnage and mayhem in front of Awami League Central office at the heart of the capital city. The terrorists became so organized that they could carry out simultaneous grenade explosion in 64 places of the country at the same time. People were killed at court buildings, cinema hall. It was alleged that some country’s intelligence agency unfriendly to both Bangladeshi progressive force and India setting up safe training shelter within Bangladesh trained terrorists and provided deadly weapons to carry out subversive activities within Bangladesh and India. A huge arm haul was confiscated at CUFL Jetty of Chittagong which was allegedly transited through Bangladesh for a separatist group of India. Present government very courageously took appropriate actions against the group. Government has also initiated actions to authentically probe all acts of terrorism of the past. Instead of admiring governments efforts Economist report has unfortunately criticized the admirable Bangladesh action.

The saddest part of the report is that it questioned the Bangladeshi initiative of conducting trials of identified war criminals. There can be any or many difference of opinion about the process of conducting the trials. But it is a long term legitimate demand of the Bangladeshis to try and punish the collaborators of Pakistan Army in carrying out genocide, rape, looting and arsening in 1971. Economist has unfortunately advocated for the alleged criminals under custody. The intent and purpose of the report is well understood.

The report also questioned about various outstanding bilateral issues resolution process. It has questioned regional connectivity. We cannot deny our geographical reality. We are surrounded by India from 2.75 sides. Any regional connectivity will benefit all nations. If India can connect its major regions with neglected Nagaland, Mizoram and Tripura through it how it harms Bangladesh? Why we are apprehensive that India will transport Army or Military gazettes through the corridor? This connectivity is for trade and commerce only. However, we are not fully aware about the details of the regional connectivity. It will not be wise to talk about it at this stage.

In conclusion we like to request the editor of “The Economist “ to clarify the issues raised in the report and address the Bangladesh response .If such kind of reports are regulary published who knows some day it may have to embrace the same fate as Rupert Murdoch’s “ The News of the World”.

By:  Kh.A.Saleque.

The Economist Blamed To Be Funded By Jihadists

A senior minister in Bangladeshi cabinet, Ms. Motia Chowdhury said London-based the Economist article on Bangladesh was funded by jihadists as well as drug and arms dealers. She said, "Today or tomorrow" the same newspaper will publish an apology note stating their comment on Bangladesh was wrong. She added saying "what was reported with the financial supports of militant outfits must be resisted by the government".

Bangladeshi minister said, in 2008 the Economist published a report stating "daughter of Bangabandhu, Sheikh Hasina has achieved huge victory through a free and fair election."

Matia Chowdhury said, "the same newspaper now claims that we were elected with finance from India. For publishing two types of comments in the same newspaper, now they are liable to publish apology of either of the two."

She said, "A peaceful situation is prevalent in Bangladesh and the political situation has not turned poisonous."
Ms. Chowdhury said "history of Bangladesh, excepting Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is only the history of looting, repression and deprivation."

Foreign minister Dr. Dipu Moni [she is a physician], "defeated forces of the war of independence are now conspiring against Bangladesh at home and abroad. The anti-government demonstration cannot be termed as political instability. Those [oppositions] are continuing movement for mere personal interests."

Criticizing the Economist report, Bangladeshi foreign minister said, "There is no political crisis in Bangladesh."
She said, it is responsibility of any newspaper to verify fact before publication.

On its August 13, 2011 issue, the Economist published a report on Bangladesh titled "The poisonous politics of Bangladesh", which got huge coverage by the local and regional news media. In this report, Economist said "Bangladesh's economy is becoming ever healthier; its politics are heading in the opposite direction."

Commenting on the recent amendment to Bangladeshi constitution by the ruling party, the Economist said "The most scandalous is its railroading through in June of a constitutional amendment. Like Sri Lanka's president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, did last year, Sheikh Hasina has used the forms of parliamentary democracy to undermine the substance. Among other changes, the amendment does away with the caretaker administrations that oversaw elections in the hope of ensuring a modicum of fairness. It is hard to imagine the BNP taking part in elections under the new arrangements—the lack of trust between the parties that inspired the caretaker system persists. Bizarrely, but in keeping with a growing intolerance in Bangladesh, it is seditious even to criticise the new charter."

Earlier on July 30, 2011 the Economist in it's another report said "Ever since 2008, when the Awami League, helped by bags of Indian cash and advice, triumphed in general elections in Bangladesh, relations with India have blossomed. To Indian delight, Bangladesh has cracked down on extremists with ties to Pakistan or India's home-grown terrorist group, the Indian Mujahideen, as well as on vociferous Islamist [and anti-Indian] politicians in the country. India feels that bit safer."

It further said, "For India, however, the risk is that it is betting too heavily on Sheikh Hasina, who is becoming increasingly autocratic. Opposition boycotts of parliament and general strikes are run-of-the-mill. Corruption flourishes at levels astonishing even by South Asian standards. A June decision to rewrite the constitution looks to be a blunt power grab, letting the government run the next general election by scrapping a "caretaker" arrangement. Sheikh Hasina is building a personality cult around her murdered father, "the greatest Bengali of the millennium", says the propaganda."

In response to the July 30, 2011 article, Bangladeshi foreign ministry said, "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."

Endorsing the fact of the foreign policy of the current Awami League government of attaching "highest importance to its relations with India", Bangladeshi foreign ministry referred to a "gold medal" awarded to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on May 25, 2011 "in recognition to her outstanding contribution to institutionalising and strengthening democracy, and also for her achievement in empowering the women of Bangladesh."

It may be mentioned here that, on the website of the university, it is stated "The president of the University of Paris Dauphine, Laurent Batsch, presented Thursday, May 26 Gold Medal of the University to His Excellency Sheikh Hasina, Honorable Prime Minister of Bangladesh for his contribution to the democratization of his country and the emancipation of women."

Moreover, there is no reference of the same university giving such 'Gold Medal' to any other figures in the world. Established in 1968 at the former NATO headquarters in Western Paris, University of Paris Dauphine was granted the status of grand ├ętablissement by the French Ministry for Higher Education. Dauphine is ranked among the best business schools in France.

Commenting on the latest statement of Motia Chowdhury stating "history of Bangladesh, excepting Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is only the history of looting, repression and deprivation", neutral political analysts in Dhaka said "an esteemed politician like Motia should have felt ashamed before making such blind remarks. She might have forgotten that during Sheikh Mujibur Rahman era during 1972-1975, the government was totally engaged in limitless corruption, including stealing relief materials as well as Sheikh Mujib introduced the most repressive Special Powers Act in Bangladesh, which denies minimum rights of the citizen. He [Mujib] also suffocated the freedom of press and freedom of expression during his tenure. It is no doubt that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a great leader but he was a bad administrator. Motia Chowdhury should not have unnecessarily tried to pull Sheikh Mujib into this issue and should not have tried to unwarrantedly glorify the inglorious.

Aug 15 And Bangladesh: Nature And Consequences

A FEW weeks ago some so-called fundamentalist Islamist parties called a daylong hartal in the capital Dhaka and staged violent demonstrations around the country to protest against the government’s newly announced women development policy. I used the term ‘so-called fundamentalist Islamist parties’ to underscore the fact that it is highly doubtful whether these parties either understand Islam or truly comprehend the numerous sayings of the prophet on women and their role in society. However, my intent here is not to get into an argument with the so-called fundamentalist Islamist forces. The point I was going to make is that since its inception through a bloody war of independence in 1971, Bangladesh has witnessed a resurgence of such obscurantist Islamist forces.

It must be emphasised that the war of liberation was for creating a secular, progressive and democratic country. The 1972 constitution listed four fundamental principles defining the very foundation as well as ideals of Bangladesh—democracy, secularism, socialism and nationalism. Although enshrined in the constitution even in the early years following independence, these principles were not fully practised. Nevertheless, they guided the basic functioning of the state. How and why did we lose these fundamental principles? How the politics of Bangladesh turned ‘right’ and created a fertile ground for the emergence of obscurantist Islamist forces? Over time these obscurantist forces not only firmly established themselves but also gained enough strength even to pollute the philosophical premise of the party that led the war of independence. To better understand these changes, we must go back to the dark days of August 1975 and fully recognise and comprehend the enormity of the consequences of those events. It is also necessary to try to understand the historical context and the why and how of the sad tragic events of August 1975.

First, let us concentrate on what we have lost on August 15, 1975. The brutal assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman violently shattered the fundamental principles that underscored the liberation war. Perhaps the biggest casualty was the principle of secularism as a fundamental building block of the state. Secularism, respect to all religions and equal protection to practitioners of all religions, was fundamental to the emergence of a democratic pluralistic Bangladesh. Sheikh Mujib, in a unique way, personified the ideals of secularism. A Muslim at heart, he never hesitated to use some of the common Islamic phrases in his public speech, Sheikh Mujib forever showed respect to other religions and embraced people from all religions. This practice made it easier for him to connect to the Muslims of Bangladesh—an overwhelming majority—without alienating the people of other faiths. This practice also set him apart from other so-called secularists who were reluctant to use Islamic phrases like inshaAllah or assalamu alaikum because of a mistaken notion of what secularism really meant. None of these so-called secularists, it should be noted, could make any mark on the political landscape of Bangladesh.

The loss of secularism made it possible for the obscurantist Islamist forces to re-appear and slowly pollute the body politic of Bangladesh. As time went by these forces became so powerful that even the party that Sheikh Mujib belonged to became infected with the ‘religious’ bug and deviated from the basic principles of secularism. The fact that Bangladesh is now reluctant to recognise and constitutionally enshrine the rights of the indigenous peoples is a testimony to such deviation of the Awami League. Our inability or unwillingness to resolve the problems faced by the indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (and in other parts of Bangladesh) and fully implement the peace treaty signed with them also reflect the demise of the basic principle of secularism. Clearly we have yet to fully comprehend the enormity of the loss of secularism and the cost of our failure to adhere to secularism as a state policy. Democracy and pluralism are its casualties. Democracy is fundamentally dependent on treating all individuals and groups equally. It hinges on equal rights for everyone. Democracy demands that all citizens are treated equally having equal rights under the law. The concept of citizenship enjoyed by people of all faiths, colours, creed and ethnicity is fundamental to democracy. Without secularism there could be no citizenship—equal rights under law—for all. It seems that our politicians, public representatives and policymakers could never fully comprehend the continuing impact of the loss of secularism on our body politic.

Sheikh Mujib was a charismatic leader, a symbol of our liberation war and of the new nation that emerged through an armed resistance to a grotesque genocide conducted in the name of, alas, Islam. Until 1966 Sheikh Mujib was one of the many political leaders in the then East Pakistan. However, the six-point demand for complete autonomy of East Pakistan and the subsequent movement that saw Mujib being continually harassed and jailed by the then military rulers of Pakistan set Mujib apart from all other politicians. He personified the struggle for the rights of the people of East Pakistan that increasingly turned repressive. If the six-point movement was the turning point in making Sheikh Mujib an unparallel political leader in East Bengal, it was the Agartala Conspiracy Case that propelled him to the position of the one and only champion of our economic, social and political rights. By the time that the military dictator Ayub Khan was forced to release Sheikh Mujib from prison to take part in the roundtable discussions in Islamabad Mujib was no longer a political leader. By that time he emerged as the supreme leader of already nascent Bangladesh, a charismatic leader with messianic power to attract and retain followers.

His overwhelming charisma made all other political leaders in then East Pakistan ‘disappear’ from the political scene; they collectively became irrelevant as the towering personality of Mujib redefined the political landscape of East Bengal. With his powerful and uncompromising stand on the rights of the people of East Bengal, Sheikh Mujib emerged as the supreme leader—the only one voice representing his people. Thereafter, it was natural for Sheikh Mujib to be endowed with the title of Bangabandhu by his people when the movement for autonomy turned into a struggle for independence and freedom. The brutal assault and genocide that befell on the people of Bangladesh on March 25, 1971 catapulted Mujib to the position of a messiah—a supreme leader with the responsibility of bringing us freedom and independence. Needless to say, it was in the name of Mujib, the quintessential charismatic leader, that we waged the liberation war and brought the genocidal Pakistani regime to its knees. His charisma transformed into an inspiration for the freedom fighters and the people at large. Only for a charismatic leader like him was it possible to ‘surrender’ to the occupying army, embrace captivity and face death. And again it was the charisma of Sheikh Mujib that inspired millions of his people to fast for his freedom and safe return to the newly emerged nation of Bangladesh. Surely it was his charisma and his appeal to his people at large that forced the brutal regime of Pakistan not to carry out its death penalty and to ultimately release Sheikh Mujib.

Charismatic leaders are essential for nation building as they can act as a source of unity and inspiration for the people at large. Although Bangladesh, a war-torn country on the blacklist of one of superpowers of that time, was faced with enormous problems during the early years of its emergence, Sheikh Mujib’s charisma was still the best hope for overcoming its problems and its development as a democratic secular nation. His brutal assassination deprived Bangladesh of its sole charismatic leader—the symbol of its unity and freedom. Clearly, we have yet to assess and fully understand the consequences of losing the charismatic leadership on the body politic of Bangladesh and its future evolution.

Through the tragic events of August 15, 1975 we also lost our innocence. August 15, 1975 is unparallel in its brutality and inhumanity. We are the only nation that saw the brutal assassination of the Father of the Nation. Our murderers were the only ones that killed not only the charismatic leader but also his entire family including an eight-year old son and daughters-in-laws. History has no parallel for such brutality—planned calculated cold-blooded murder. We remain unique in this regard. We also remain unique in the fact that no official inquiry was ever held to uncover how such murder was possible. No inquiry was ever held to explain how all the intelligence services failed to unearth this heinous conspiracy beforehand. Our is the only example where none of the armed services—the army, the air force and the navy—even tried to confront the heinous murderers on the move. No one was ever held responsible for such colossus failure. Lo and behold, we remain the only nation in history that not only condoned the murderers but also ‘rewarded’ them with diplomatic posts and other lucrative jobs immediately after the crime was committed. Yes, some of them faced justice after long 21 years and were hanged after another decade. A few are still at large. It is a shame that we had to wait for the political party of Sheikh Mujib to come back to power before any of these heinous murderers were brought to justice. No other political party cared to call a murder a murder or a crime a crime. Again, Bangladesh is unique in this respect. Even in the case of a murder the political parties, the major ones, I mean, cannot agree. What a shame!

On the other hand, it was a massive conspiracy involving some high-ranking leaders (and their followers) within the political party of Sheikh Mujib that led to his brutal assassination and the overthrow of every principle that he stood for. How was this conspiracy within the party possible? What factors led to such infighting within the party and its degeneration to the brutal murder of Sheikh Mujib? Unfortunately, the party itself never took any attempt to better understand these dark forces and factors.

What are the consequences of such ‘acceptance’ and ‘rewarding’ of crime? As a nation, we have slowly become insensitive to crime. The military dictator that ‘rewarded’ the criminals was also murdered and no one cared to launch a full-scale formal inquiry into his killing. During his dictatorial rule, countless officers from the armed forces were killed too in different pretexts. How many officers were killed? Who are these officers? Under what circumstances and pretexts were they hanged? Well, that also remains a mystery.
The tradition seems to continue. Murder continues to take place in the name of ‘mob killings’, ‘encounters’ and the like. Human rights organisations periodically remind us of ‘extrajudicial’ killings. However, we as a nation remain largely unmoved by such murders. The disease that started with the brutal assassination of Sheikh Mujib seems to have spread and we are unable to confront and cure it.

As we mourn on August 15, we should reflect on these historical facts and failures. A nation that fails to learn from history, we should understand, is likely to repeat history. On this day, let us reflect on the brutal events of August 15, 1975 and try to understand the nature and consequences of the assassination of Sheikh Mujib on the body politic of Bangladesh and on the nation’s evolution since then. At the same time, it is imperative that we look at the bigger picture—the world events—that conspired to make the brutality of August 15, 1975 possible. The corruption and administrative mismanagement that engulfed the ruling party at that time, the famine of 1974 and the role of the current lone superpower in fuelling the famine and the unrest must also be thoroughly analysed and understood. We have seldom reviewed or understood the international conspiracy that was ready to throttle the emergence of a sovereign democratic and secular Bangladesh. We should not forget that the world’s most reactionary regime did not even recognise Bangladesh before the brutal assassination of Sheikh Mujib. Clearly, the international conspirators were also active. More on this later.

The Economist Story : A Simple Insult Or A Warning?

The Economist of London ran a story in which it said that the Awami League won the last election with the help of Indian advice and bags of cash. Unless there is smoking gun evidence against the allegation, this story will be considered one of the bottom points of journalism anywhere.
It is so stupid a comment that one is forced to think that this couldn’t have been allowed unless some royal conspiracy is being hatched to destabilise Bangladesh or the British press has finally caught up with the mindset of the Dhaka street media. Or are things more awkward than we think?
* * *
The Economist of London really seems to be running nasty on this story. Bangladesh’s official rejoinder was printed in its Asian blog and not its printed edition. Of course, an Economist editor has said that this is because the story was received so late that week. One will have to see if it gets the printed treatment in its next edition. If not, there seems to be some reasons for concern because how can any Western media outlet be so blatantly offensive and non-professional in its work?
Unless of course, it is part of a larger smear campaign as the FM Dipu Moni has suggested. If that is so, one must identify the reasons why this very public insult and a risky one at that has been delivered.
Any speculation that the rejoinder was not published on the printed pages because it was so badly drafted and terribly written is not true.
* * *
It is no secret that Bangladesh under Hasina is close to India. There is no shame in that; in fact it is welcomed. Countries like ours cannot survive on their own and need friends. Our war effort in 1971 was full of friends so why should we cringe now after 40 years? What has been in the air for a while is that, while Bangladesh can claim to be anti-terrorist in action, its spirit is not of the kind the West feels close to.
Two positions have greatly strengthened its perception of Bangladesh; its actions on Grameen Bank and trashing of micro-credit as fraudulence when a powerful section of the West has embraced it as a pro-poor initiative and Bangladesh’s position on the CHT and the rights of the indigenous people which the West supports.
* * *
The world is convinced that Hasina went after Yunus on the basis of personal miff. It may not be so but a reading of media reports and politicians’ statements on how bad Yunus was and how great Hasina was and how she deserved a prize made the anti-Grameen tirade a bad case of official denial. The attempt to trash micro-credit which is considered an effective tool of poverty alleviation through entrepreneurship and supported by economists everywhere including in Bangladesh made the government seem more bent on revenge than having common sense.
The government came out in a poor light with the message to the West that it was not looking at economics and poverty alleviation with scientific eyes. This action alienated that powerful section of the Westerners including those at the policy level. While many in Bangladesh felt insulted by the kind of statements made by the West supporting Yunus, it is possible that such noises were a reflection of the kind of miff the West felt in reality about the entire matter.
* * *
At the moment, the West is very unhappy with the present government’s position on the CHT and indigenous people issue and the kind of treatment it has meted out policy wise. While many have dismissed the matter in Bangladesh, it is a serious one in the West where it is thought to be a critical part of the human rights framework.
By taking an uncompromising stand on the identification of the CHT people as Adivasis/indigenous people and sticking to descriptions prescribed by Sheikh Mujib in 1972, it came out looking as anti-minority, particularly of the indigenous people variety. Its nose thumbing of the UN on the matter was disastrous policy stance at its best and the idea that such actions have no repercussions was diplomatic blindness at its worst.
In just a year, Bangladesh has picked up a bad reputation internationally as anti-poor, anti-minority and not willing to have a conversation with the West on matters it considers serious. Thinking it will not have repercussions is not a smart thought.
* * *
But does Bangladesh have a positive record when it comes to running smear campaigns on its own? Here is what a news analysis in the Daily Star which sharply criticises the Economist magazine also has to say; “But at the same time may we remind the government that it should also refrain from any smear campaign like the one done against an unnamed editor by the defence adviser to the prime minister. Or say, like the one against founder of Grameen Bank, Muhammad Yunus.”
Bangladesh government must come out of the kind of shell it thought existed in the ‘70s and participate in a more realistic world where it is neither the only source of wisdom nor the opposition the only fountain of criticism.
* * *
There is speculation already in Dhaka’s air that the position may put some stress on peacekeeper hiring which it seems is a product of pure nervousness but it also shows how deeply connected we are to the West in our search for stability. A huge army that has no work at home except ‘taking over government’ should always be kept busy abroad. It is all the more needed since many of them have lost huge money in the stock markets and aren’t feeling very relaxed nowadays. This implies that our political system is based on conditions over which we have little control. The last things we need are experiments.
* * *
Bangladesh can’t claim to be pro-Western when its actions are so obviously against Western sentiments. The present government must be far more careful about whom it pleases and whom it doesn’t and how it does so. Just as the AL and BNP leaders are ruthless when it comes to dealing with opponents, so is the West and it would be childishness to be na├»ve about that.
Mere friendship with India may not be enough to preserve peace. If a magazine like the Economist can trash Bangladesh so obviously and in disregard of its journalistic principles, imagine what the Western governments are capable of doing.
* * *
The Economist article should become a test of our resolve. Should we just let it go or pursue it to the end? It is such a great opportunity to prove the Western media as stupid as some of our own. On to the defamation courts, please.

By :  Afsan Chowdhury.