Friday, August 26, 2011

BANGLADESH: Not Yet A Country

At 5:30 a.m. last Sunday, the city of Dacca resounded with the thunder of a 31-gun salute that marked the beginning of Bangladesh's first independence day. A year and a day earlier, on March 25, 1971, Pakistan had launched its military crackdown against rebellious East Bengal, which led to the brief, bloody war between India and Pakistan, the death of as many as 3,000,000 Bengalis—and the birth of a new nation.

Today, as TIME Correspondent William Stewart reported last week from Dacca, the Bengalis have a homeland, but they do not yet have a united country. "The present government, fearful of opposition, devotes itself to patronage rather than crisis; the government of reconstruction and reconciliation has yet to appear. If it does not, then the high Administration aide in Washington who referred to Bangladesh as 'an international basket case may yet be proved right." 

Across the vast, hot stretches of flat, brown delta, which awaits the life-giving monsoons in late May, there is a state of unease. Mutual distrust is pervasive. It is no longer sufficient to be 

Bengali; one must be a Bengali with the right inflection in his voice. "Collaborator" is an easy word to use, and the effects can be devastating. In Dhanmandi, Dacca's most fashionable quarter, residents are now accustomed to having groups of armed youths enter their houses in quest of money and goods. Acts of revenge against the non-Bengali minority of Biharis have subsided in the capital but have continued 

sporadically elsewhere; at the city of Khulna two weeks ago, a Bengali attack on the Bihari community reportedly left some 2,000 dead. Bitterness against the Biharis is widespread. "Those bastards," says Altafur Rahman, a Dacca law student. "Let them go to Pakistan." 

During the nine months of struggle in Bangladesh, the real freedom fighters, the Mukti Bahini, battled as best they could with little outside aid. The Mukti resent the fact that the government has given them few jobs and little patronage, and they have retained most of their firearms. Ranging from ardent patriots to outright thugs, the Mukti are among the most resentful critics of the ineffectual Dacca government, which has been accused of consolidating the position of Sheik Mujibur Rahman's Awami League instead of concentrating on reconstruction. 

Moscow Links. Only Mujib himself, the country's Prime Minister, escapes such criticism. Despite his undiminished popularity, Mujib has yet to provide the kind of leadership that Bangladesh needs. Since his triumphant return to Dacca last January, after spending nine months in prison in Pakistan, he has visited Calcutta and even Moscow, but has scarcely ventured out into his own country at all. 

Two weeks ago, Mujib welcomed India's Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to Dacca—where she was greeted at the airport by a pipe band skirling Skye Boat Song—and signed with her a treaty of peace and friendship. Mrs. Gandhi promised that India would hand over to Bangladesh all Pakistani military prisoners who have been accused of committing war crimes against Bengalis during the fighting (the list of suspects is said to total 1,500). The most important effect of the treaty is to link Dacca closely to India in matters of foreign affairs, and thus make Bangladesh in effect a member of the Delhi-Moscow entente. 

Drop of III Will. While the U.S. has paid a heavy price in South Asia for backing the loser of the India-Pakistan war, the Soviet Union has strengthened its position on the subcontinent. The Soviet mission in Dacca already has a staff of 90, with more to come, and the Russians have undertaken salvage operations at the ports of Chittagong and Chalna. By contrast, the U.S. appears to have extracted the last possible drop of ill will out of Bangladesh. The handful of American officials in Dacca, however, make no secret that they would like to see U.S. diplomatic recognition at long last, as well as a small but hardhitting aid program. 

Such assistance is urgently needed at the present time, for Bangladesh's most pressing problem is the threat of hunger. The population of the capital has been swollen by thousands of famished, unemployed refugees from rural areas. As Toni Hagen, director of the U.N. relief operation in Dacca, puts it, the situation is "desperate." "Blankets won't do, baby food won't do, midwifery kits won't do," says Hagen. "Cash is required for 

employment and reconstruction—plain cash." Food is urgently needed, of course, especially in the next two months, before the arrival of 700,-000 tons of wheat pledged by India. But vital repairs of roads and bridges must be made in order for such supplies to be distributed. Factories, too, lie stagnant for lack of operating capital—a reminder that their former owners, the majority of whom were Pakistanis, repatriated almost all the money in the country to West Pakistan.

Anti-Corruption Protests In India : I, The People

An anti-graft crusader steamrolls a hapless government.

SQUELCHING barefoot in the sludge at Ramlila Maidan, a park in central Delhi, a middle-aged man praises the people’s love for his guru, Anna Hazare. His eyes shine with zeal and hunger. His legs have cramp from fasting, for over a week, beside his 74-year-old leader. So what? We train our bodies to go without food for 30 days, he says. To lose flesh is to gain energy.

Mr Hazare, who has himself lost 6kg, is prone on a platform nearby, framed by a huge poster of Mahatma Gandhi, whose methods he has adopted. A bank of television cameras and a devoted crowd, tens of thousands strong, watch him intently, day and night, cheering and chanting in a sea of mud. Groups of uniformed schoolboys march about, flourishing the Indian tricolour. Young men sport white Gandhi caps with “I am Anna” penned on the sides.

Trade is brisk in Hazare rosettes, headbands, T-shirts, and badges. Five rupees (10 cents) gets three swipes of paint—saffron, white, green—on your cheek. Even police X-ray gates have “corruption-free India” scrawled on them. Dozens of cities have their own marches and protests. The country’s thicket of excitable cable-news networks reports on nothing else.

Mr Hazare’s campaign has turned him from a noted social reformer into a national figure. He has demanded that, by the end of the month, parliament pass a bill his team has written setting up an anti-graft ombudsman, or Lokpal, to oversee every part of government from the serving prime minister and Supreme Court down, holding every government body accountable for corruption and potentially becoming a powerful new arm of the state.
On August 24th, after talks with Mr Hazare, the ruling Congress Party called an all-party meeting at the prime minister’s residence, which agreed to resist the activist. A day earlier the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, had been rebuffed after begging Mr Hazare to call off the fast for the sake of his health and a “shared” goal of wiping out corruption.

In the end the government may have little option but to give in to the street protesters, but as of August 25th it was playing for time. Although one ageing but spirited opposition leader, L.K. Advani, has urged the government to quit and call a fresh election, nobody else seemed keen. Even Mr Advani’s Bharatiya Janata Party quickly said it did not want early polls.

Quite how Mr Singh’s government justifies its keep, however, is growing harder to see. By turns it has been inept and indecisive over this affair, while failing to get anything else done either. Last week it briefly jailed and tried to muzzle Mr Hazare, which guaranteed him wide publicity and sympathy instead. That was followed by a daft claim by Congress that the Americans were egging on the protesters. Rahul Gandhi, who with three others is supposed to run Congress while his mother, Sonia, gets medical care abroad, has been deafeningly silent, absent from Delhi and offering no leadership.
Those dismayed by both graft and politicians’ hopelessness have felt increasingly inclined to fall in behind Mr Hazare. Protesters moved from public squares to camp outside the Delhi homes of government ministers and MPs, unsettling the occupants. One protester set fire to himself on August 23rd.
By mid-week Mr Hazare’s supporters claimed they were within sight of a great triumph. They brushed aside questions about parliamentary democracy being undermined by a minority of street protesters. A bunged-up system needed a jolt, they retorted. A newly assertive urban middle class looks ever readier to push elected leaders (and unelected ones, like Mr Singh) to act in their interest.

Cooler heads, however, are wary. To craft a campaign against corruption into a movement around a single figure is faintly troubling. The claim that “Anna is India, India is Anna” sounds close to cult-speak. As it happens, the Supreme Court, the auditor-general, a panoply of civil activists and a more assertive press have all helped to hold the corrupt to account this year. Several powerful figures have been jailed.

Other doubts exist about Mr Hazare. Some Muslim leaders are suspicious of the nationalist, and what they see as at times Hindu-dominated, tone and imagery of his campaign. Low-caste Dalits, who rallied separately in Delhi on August 24th, also question his stand. They fret that if street protesters can, in effect, make one constitutional change, an attack might follow on a treasured but controversial constitutional provision reserving jobs and more for the lowest castes.

Mostly sceptics bristle at Mr Hazare’s methods. The most revered Dalit leader, the late B.R. Ambedkar, chief draftsman of India’s constitution, has been much quoted this week for an early warning about the “grammar of anarchy”, by which he meant using Gandhi-style fasts to impose your will on a democratic government. Hunger strikes, a form of blackmail, might have been justified against the British, but not against elected leaders.

Such grumbles will not dent Mr Hazare’s progress. His camp hints at possible future campaigns on electoral changes and education reform. Rival fasters might also jump in since a hunger strike’s extended drama so clearly suits live television. Yet elected politicians can push back. They have an easy way to remind voters how they matter, by getting on and passing many long-promised bills, for example on further economic reform. Dull and undramatic: but for many voters it matters at least as much as corruption.

Anti-Corruption Protests In India : No Modern-Day Mahatma

FROM his fasting-bed in the heart of Delhi, a frail old man in homespun cotton has channelled Indian rage over a string of high-profile corruption cases, tying the entire government in knots. Anna (“Elder Brother”) Hazare says he will continue his hunger strike until a rotten government passes, word-for-word, a bill creating a Lokpal, a powerful new anti-corruption body—and he has set an August 30th deadline. The Congress-led government of Manmohan Singh has already offered a Lokpal of its own, but Mr Hazare says it is too weak. Thanks to this master of political theatre, a discredited Indian government faces one of the biggest stand-offs with the people since, well, Mahatma Gandhi.

After revelations of stupendous corruption when politicians granted telecoms licences and prepared Delhi for the 2010 Commonwealth games, Indians are right to be furious. Yet Mr Hazare and his followers could end up doing more harm than good. The man is no saint, and his movement displays a whiff of Hindu chauvinism (see article). The activists’ slogan—“Anna is India, India is Anna”—is absurd. Their campaign is tinged with nostalgia for a golden age before economic liberalisation when government was, in their view, clean and decent.

This is a dangerous misdiagnosis. Corruption was rife even before liberalisation: the Bofors scandal in the 1980s brought down the government. The economic liberalisation of the past 20 years—in particular, the dismantling of the “licence Raj”—has vastly reduced the scope for corruption, not increased it. Mr Hazare’s proposed cure is equally mistaken. India already has anti-corruption bureaucrats, who have failed to solve the problem. Creating another huge bureaucracy, which a Lokpal would be, is not the answer.

The right and wrong channels for anger
Mr Singh should stand firm against the Hazarites, supporting the ends they espouse but decrying the means they propose. He deserves some credit for what he has tried to do. His economic policies, along with a 2005 freedom-of-information act, have tended to mitigate corruption. The government’s new Unique ID number scheme, in which 29m Indians are already enrolled, could have a revolutionary effect. Social benefits could be paid directly into recipients’ bank accounts rather than as subsidised fuel and food that is too easily stolen by crooked officials.

Yet Mr Singh has so far appeared listless. He should have moved faster to sack ministers in the wake of the telecoms scandal. And much could be done to make bribe-taking harder. One idea is to put public tenders online. A fairer and more open system is needed for acquiring development land from farmers. The government should do more to protect whistle-blowers. And to curb the appetite for illicit campaign funds, electoral reform should limit contributions and require that their source be revealed.

All this requires the commitment of a strong leader. As the loyal retainer to Congress’s family dynasty, Mr Singh lacks real power. But the dynasty’s matriarch, Sonia Gandhi, is unwell, while her son, Rahul, has run away from the Hazare controversy—hardly reassuring, since he is the presumed next prime minister. Given such a vacuum, it is no wonder the public does not trust political parties to clean up the system and prefers to join Mr Hazare’s crusade. The Gandhis’ hold over India is doing the country no good. If Indians want to clean up government, they need to get rid of dynastic politics.

Uncertainty Looms Large Over Transit Deal

As the arrival of the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is coming closer, conflicting signals are becoming thick in the air as to whether or not a framework agreement on transit will be inked on this occasion.

Latest news reports and comments by people at high places are only adding credence to this confusion indicating difference of opinion among the Prime Minister’s advisers and between some cabinet ministers on some basic points before inking the deal.

There is nothing clear as the government remained tight lipped keeping the nation in the dark on the latest situation. Prime Minister’s adviser Dr Moshiur Rahman told the press recently on return from Delhi that he was not aware of whether the transit deal would be signed during the forthcoming visit of Dr Manmohan Singh.

His disclosure took political observers here aback with total surprise. However, the next day foreign secretary Mijarul Quais made similar comments to reporters saying he did not know whether a deal on transit is in card when the Indian minister is scheduled to sign several agreements in Dhaka with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Quais said he can only say about it seven to ten days from now, that is only few days before Dr Singh actually arrives. It is really confusing. To a question whether the ministry of foreign affairs is marginalized on this issue and sitting in a limbo, the foreign secretary however replied in the negative. 

Big delegation   
News reports meanwhile said, the Indian Prime Minister is coming with a big delegation comprising of several cabinet ministers, top advisers, members of the press and on top of it five chief ministers of the Indian states having common border with Bangladesh. They include Chief Minister of West Bengal Momta Benarji, Chief Minister of Tripura Manik Sarkar, Chief Minister of Assam Tarun Gogoi, Chief Minister of Meghalaya Mukul Sangma and Chief Minister of Mizoram Lalthanhawla.

It is going to be gala event to highlight a turning point in the regional politics with the two neighbours entering into strategic understanding of cooperation in almost all fronts. Monmohan is therefore taking the chief ministers of the neighbouring states to become part of the celebrations.

But the latest disclosure that the draft of the transit agreement may not be ready by that time and that the differences need to be sorted out among top policy makers and may be also with India on some issues may thus delay the signing of the agreement.

News reports said Bangladesh’s Prime Minister’s adviser Dr Rahman who is exclusively dealing with the transit issue favours a quick deal even by making short cut to the standard protocol of signing agreement. But some others want a comprehensive deal with the provisions to be settled with India be equally applicable on transit to and from Nepal and Bhutan. Some cabinet ministers moreover, remain sceptical of the opening of the road communications to transit.

They may have become concerned after the recent break down of the country’s roads and highways largely from lack of maintenance and especially from down pour of monsoon rains which is a regular phenomena in Bangladesh. Some cabinet ministers reportedly favour transit by railways and waterways in view of the deplorable road conditions and its capacity which is not enough to sustain loads of heavy Indian vehicles.  
There are also indications that basic disagreement on water sharing of Teesta River may also be working as a dissuading factor. Others say it may be a ploy to dump peoples’ interest on transit as it may be agitating their mind.  People wonder at this stage, why the government is moving blindly on transit issues ignoring protest from all quarters which also include Awami Lerague leaders and workers, besides protest from the major opposition BNP and other left and right wings political formations.

Only the Prime Minister and her inner policy makers appear firm to entertain the Indian desire and political analysts say and wonder why she stands to be so adamant. What is her compulsion?

Revolutionary Communist Party of Bangladesh echoed similar concerns when it wrote in its regular broadsheet publication The Peoples’ Democracy saying “the daily bitter experience of people reminds us how incapable and insufficient is the country’s present road communication system in carrying passengers and cargoes.”

It then raised the question about the likely scenario when hundreds of Indian vehicles would enter daily into Bangladesh to use the same poor infrastructure. Why the policy makers are not thinking and speaking out on it, it wondered. It said especially when big Indian container vehicles will take on the road local 
motor vehicles may be required to keep off the road to make room for them. How far the country is prepared to face such a situation, it wondered.

Moreover who will pay for the big roads and other communication facilities and port infrastructures for which Bangladesh will have to take loans. How the fuel supply will be ensured to the Indian vehicles which local motor vehicles use at subsidised rate provided by the state. When gas supply is running short, should Bangladesh open gas supply to Indian vehicles at the same low rates is yet another question, it said.

Transit or corridor, it questioned and made various speculations on the country’s security risks involved. The protection of environment and how to save human habitation from adverse impacts of pollution will also be a big challenge, it said pointing to 10 to 12 transit routes India is going to secure under the deal.

Another issue relates to health hazards especially from the spread of AIDS for which Indian truckers remain the worst carriers. It said the Indian states of Nagaland, Monipur and Mizoran, sitting on Bangladesh border are highly AIDs infected regions and the risk for Bangladesh will only become endemic.

The Party raised the question what Bangladesh is going to get back by making it so much vulnerable to challenges and dangers. It said when Bangladesh is opening up almost everything, India is closing it from all sides raising barbed walls; this is only compares to Israeli wall to block out Palestine.

How come it happen from a perceived friend, the party mouth piece said and urged the government to try and secure satisfactory settlement of all outstanding disputes with India like maritime boundary, a peaceful border free from killing, water sharing and resolution of Farakka and Tipaimukh dam.

SOUTH ASIA: End Of A Bad Dream

After five days of intense negotiations in New Delhi last week, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh signed an agreement resolving the last two major issues left over from the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war. The accord clears the way for normalization of diplomatic and economic relations among the three countries and for Bangladesh's membership in the United Nations, which until now has been vetoed by China at Pakistan's behest.

Under the terms of the agreement worked out by Foreign Ministers Kamal Hossein of Bangladesh, Swaran Singh of India and Aziz Ahmed of Pakistan, Bangladesh agreed "as an act of clemency" to drop its plans to try 195 Pakistani prisoners for war crimes. The prisoners will now be returned to Pakistan, along with the remaining 6,500 of the 90,000 P.O.W.s captured during the war and held since then in camps in India. That repatriation, begun last August, is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

Bangladesh's decision to abandon the war-crimes trials was a major concession. But it had been more or less expected after Prime Minister Zulfikar
Ali Bhutto announced that Pakistan would recognize its breakaway eastern wing at the Lahore summit meeting of Moslem leaders in February. More surprising was Pakistan's formal acknowledgment in the agreement that the prisoners had, in Bangladesh's words, committed "war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide." The Pakistan government "condemned and deeply regretted any crimes that may have been committed."

Best Forgotten. The New Delhi accord was less precise in dealing with the fate of the 500,000 Biharis (non-Bengali Moslems) in Bangladesh. Many of the Biharis—so called because they emigrated from the Indian state of Bihar at the time of the 1947 partition—sided with the Pakistani military during the war, and for that reason face a painful future if they stay in Bangladesh. Most of them live in fear and squalor in huge refugee camps outside Dacca and other cities.

So far, Pakistan has returned about 110,000 Bengalis who were trapped in the western half of the country at the start of the war and has accepted or given entry clearance to 140,000 Biharis. Under the agreement, it pledged to accept all those who formerly lived in West Pakistan, ex-employees of the Pakistan government and members of divided families. Pakistan also pledged to review applications previously denied. That probably means that the number of Biharis accepted by Pakistan will not substantially exceed 140,000. Pakistan is reluctant to accept more for fear that they will aggravate unemployment.

In a magnanimous gesture, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Ahmed gave chief credit for bringing an end to a "painful chapter" in South Asia's history to Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheik Mujibur Rahman. Later in the week, Mujib flew into New Delhi for a brief visit after two weeks of medical treatment in Moscow. Added Swaran Singh: "The trials, tribulations and conflicts of our subcontinent will become a thing of the past—something of a bad dream that is best forgotten."

TIME Magazine :Monday, Apr. 22, 1974 

People Has Rght To Know The Truth

In 2005, when I first wrote in Asian Tribune about Bangladesh, stating the big fishes of the then Hawa Bhawan were destined to go into extinct, as they were engaged in numerous forms of commercial and otherwise crimes, a section of the media turned annoyed. But, the government of Mrs. Khaleda Zia never turned vindictive on me, nor they ever tried to suffocate my opinion.

When the army controlled caretaker government came in power, most of the Bangladeshi writers were afraid of exposing the truth, especially the limitless financial crimes committed by a section of corrupt army officers and their family members. But, whenever I got an opportunity, I never hesitated in exposing the truth.

In 2009, in less than two month's of Mrs. Sheikh Hasina Wazed's forming the government, terrible murder of army 73 officers and humiliation of those female members of the officers took place right at the center of Dhaka city, at the headquarters of Bangladesh Riffles. Bangladeshi media this time, though tried their best to investigate the untold stories of this heinous crime, most of them missed the fact for various reasons. I am sure, the people of Bangladesh and many of the members of the armed forces, precisely know, the masterminds behind the Pilkhana massacre, as they also know the masterminds of the tragic 21st August grenade attack on Mrs. Sheikh Hasina's public meeting. It won't be difficult for anyone to understand, the grenade attack of 21st August was surely blueprinted by influential players of Bangladesh Nationalist Party's led Islamic coalition government.

National Security Intelligence (NSI) in Bangladesh intercepted telephone conversations of Tarique Zia, Ashiqul Islam (Hawa Bhawan official at PMO), HarrisChowdhury, Opu Siraj (son of Shahjahan Siraj), Giasuddin al-Mamun and a number of leaders of Jamat E Islami. Everyone was conspiring to create an uni-polar political system (similar as Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman's BKSAL) in Bangladesh, where secularist forces like Bangladesh Awami League would be totally eliminated. IfSheikh Hasina was murdered on that day, by now, Bangladesh would have slipped into the grips of Jihadist forces.

Because of limitless corruption of BNP and its extreme inclination towards Jihadist, members of Bangladesh Armed Forces were unwilling seeing this party back to power. That is why, possibly, election result in 2008 December, went fabulously in favor ofMrs. Sheikh Hasina.

But, instead of being grateful, she played different game. Main reason to pick up Bangladesh Riffles as the first scapegoat was to make Delhi delighted, as it was uncomfortable with BDR for what it did at Padua, by killing members of Border Security Forces (BSF) of India. The murder of BSF personnel at Padua, actually madeDelhi determined to take a proper retaliation from BDR. Now, definitely Delhi feels comfortable seeing 73 against 6 (73 Bangladeshi army officers killed against 6 Indian BSF jawans). They also are delighted seeing total elimination of BDR from existence. Possibly, this was the best gift from Dhaka to Delhi, as symbol of gratitude.

People never questioned why General Moeen U Ahmed never went for direct army offensives on BDR headquarters to tackle the mutiny and save lives of army officers. Let me remind, General Moeen has relatives in Florida and they have connection with "important" Bangladeshi figures living in the same state. Moeen was one of the master-planners of BDR conspiracy and he was simply giving time to the killers, for completing their "mission".

Some of the army officers, who came out of BDR headquarters alive, were later caught to have been having connection with the renegade BDR troops. Few of them, even communicated from inside the Pilkhana headquarters with a number of Awami League leaders as well as think-tanks. One such letter, sent over fax from BDRPilkhana headquarters was intercepted by army intelligence. That letter was sent to one of the pro-Awami League journalists, whose name starts with `M'. Surprisingly enough, neither that army officer, nor that journalist had ever been questioned by Criminal Investigation Department.

Anyway, I believe, this Pilkhana conspiracy will once again come into investigation and fresher trial, similarly as 21st August grenade attack, and I believe, many of the "George Miah"s will be cleared while real culprits will be booked.

Now let me focus another issue. When Mrs. Hasina formed government in 1996, the stock market witnessed serious scam, where thousands of small investors lost their capitals. This time again, same thing repeated. But, interestingly enough, none of the big fishes of this scam were ever touched by the government. Rather, Bangladeshi Finance Minister, Mr. Muhit termed the small investors, as touts and gamblers. One of the main accused of stock market scam, Lutfor Rahman Badal, who happened to be a business partner of Mr. Musaddek Ali Falu (who subsequently became business partner of Mr. Salman F Rahman) was though stopped from leaving Bangladesh, his name now is visibly cleared from the charge, when his wife, met Mr. Farid Khan (elder brother of Commerce Minister Mr. Faruk Khan) at Summit Group office and reached into a settlement. Mr. Farid Khan's wife resides in Florida and has connection with some extremely powerful Bangladeshis there.

Communication minister Mr. Syed Abul Hosain is known to be a very powerful man in the cabinet, for multiple reasons, which no one would ever dare to write. Mr.Hosain has been extremely busy in misappropriating millions of dollars for him and for his "masters" behind the screen. His daughter, Ms. Rubaiyyat Hosain, who came into controversy after making a Bangla film named Meherjaan gave US$ 25 thousand toMrs. Jaya Bachchan for her role in the movie. Now, Ms. Hosain has also put US$ 10 million investment in Bollywood through a famous company in the Mumbai film industry. Wherefrom such money came? Yes, it is true that, Mr. Syed Hosain turned into a multi-millionaire by doing business with a Chinese company during the tenure of Husain Muhammed Ershad. Definitely his daughter has valid ground to invest from her father's wealth. But, only point here is, the entire transaction never had any endorsement from Bangladesh Bank. People may also question as to why a young and talented director like Ms. Rubaiyyat picked up a topic of controversy. People need to know the political background of Mr. Syed Hosain's father during the war of independence. No?

Mr. Syed Hosain purchased a luxury villa at Bermuda in June 2011 with US$ 4 million. No doubt, he is a man of fabulous luxury and taste. No?

Social Welfare Minister Mr. Enamul Huq's eldest son Rana, who did not have a valid source of income before 2009, has purchased 2 acre land at Savar, invested large amount of money in restaurant business with his friend and now planning to buy a property in London in the name of his younger brother? People has right to know this. No?

Two multi-level marketing companies in Bangladesh were accorded new life by the present government in exchange of a compensation TK 280 million "donation". One of the companies collected at least one billion Taka from the local people in the name of "Tree Plantation Program" at Chittagong Hill Tract. Obviously, this will be another massive scam as stock market within the span of 3-4 years, as this multi-level marketing company sold 60 times more the land they own to people, simply by alluring them with big profit "carrot". It is rumored that, this multi-level marketing company will require to pay TK 280 each year as "donation" to the influential people in power, in exchange of no legal action. People has right to know this. No?

People in Bangladesh will possibly be deprived of knowing most of the facts and truth. Because, when anyone will pick up pen to write against such corruption and irregularities, the people in power and their agents will jump on the beck of those revealers of truth and try to suffocate the voice. It did happen to most, if not all.

By Sunita Paul.

Indo-Bangla Border A New Berlin Wall

In an unscheduled debate on August 18 in the National Assembly sitting without the presence of the Opposition, the Treasury Bench members themselves raised a big hue and cry about the failures of the government, particularly of four senior ministers and a state minister. The finance minister was targeted for share market scam, banking liquidity crisis, for frequent faux pas, and for interfering in road repair contracts. The communications minister was targeted for dismal conditions of highways leading to disruption of road communication with the capital from western and northern parts for weeks together, and for tragic road accidents claiming many precious lives. 

The commerce minister was targeted for his failure to rein in spiralling food and commodity prices in Ramzan and his own share of habitual faux pas embarrassing other ruling party leaders in the eyes of the suffering citizenry. The state minister for power was likewise targeted, in the absence of the Prime Minister and the powerful Adviser for Power, was targeted for frequent power failures. In addition, the shipping minister was criticised, not for his ministerial duties, but his exertion of undue influence as a transport union leader for liberal issuance of driving licenses to ill-trained helpers of drivers. He has been blatantly advocating that as long as illiterate drivers could read road signs, identify a cow or a goat and follow traffic directions, they should be issued licenses as there was a shortage of licensed drivers of motor vehicles in this country. Such liberal (illegal?) issuance of licenses to trainee drivers has been cited by the media and civil society activists as a major factor causing fatal road accidents.

In his defence in parliament, the Communications Minister spoke at length under Rule 300 of parliamentary procedure. He said that in 1996, total length of roads maintained in the country was 15,600 kilometres. In 2010, the roads and highways increased to 21040 km. For repair and maintenance, a world standard of budgetary requirement has been worked out and approved by the World Bank. By that standard, the requirement in 2008-09 budget was Taka 4205 crore. But the finance ministry allocated only Taka 651 crore. Likewise, the demand for 2009 - 10 fiscal year was Taka 4,404 crore, but the allocation was Taka 610 crore only. In 2010 - 11 fiscal year, the demand for repair and maintenance of roads and highways was  Taka 4,745 crore. The allocation was only Taka 668 crore. In the current fiscal the demand is Taka 5,100 crore. The allocation is only Taka 690 crore, and that also has been released only the previous day (August 17) with sub-divided work allocations and other conditions attached.

In other words, the Communications Minister squarely blamed the Finance Minister for the collapse of the roads and highways network under heavy rains (highest in the last 15 years) on account of gross under-financing of the road repair budget for years together. Suranjit Sengupta lent qualified support to the Communications Minister’s demand that the conditions attached to this year’s release letter of funds for road repairs be withdrawn. He said the Finance Minister has no jurisdiction over work allocations.

The debate had its repercussions in the media orchestration and in the civil society. As such, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on August 24 scolded his party leaders and parliamentarians on the floor of the House that they should not lend ammunition to “enemy” hands (the Opposition) by harping on a few failures of her government. Side by side, there are instances of immense successes too.

Some India-friendly members of the “civil society”, mostly teachers, students, newspaper columnists and cultural activists, including, strangely, the government-appointed Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission and the Secretary of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, gathered at the Shaheed Minar on the same day (August 24) as the Prime Minister was answering questions in the parliament, to single out the Communications Minister and demand his dismissal from the cabinet by August 31. Otherwise they resolved that they would undertake a sit-down strike at the Shaheed Minar on the Eid-day.

Some say the real reason for their singling out the Communications Minister, who is also known to be China-friendly, not the finance minister or any other minister, is not the traffic road accidents they talked about, but because his revelations about the “standard” costs of road maintenance, not to speak of extra costs from soft soil and active delta conditions in our country, has demolished the myth being spun by the India-friendly lobby in the government and the civil society about the huge benefits the country could gain from road connectivity with India under Indian transit plan. At least a memorandum of understanding was expected to be signed during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s return official visit in Dhaka scheduled September 6.

Now the Finance Minister, an old advocate of the Indian transit plan, has admitted in a meeting with the FBCCI on August 24 that it is not possible for Bangladesh to grant transit facility to India under the present conditions of infrastructural handicap. The government’s own inter-ministerial core committee on transit has in the meantime recommended that under no circumstance road transit can be given to India at our current stage of infrastructure.  

‘India’s new Berlin Wall’
A framework agreement on the transit issue, projected to be the main purpose of the Indian Prime Minister’s visit, appears to have been relegated essentially to a statement of intent and mutual interest in the Indian transit plan. Another issue, that of “fortress India’s fatal stranglehold around Bangladesh borders” has come into focus, not because Bangladesh government pressed for it, but as result of the international media’s attention to child-bride Felani’s killing in Indian BSF fire on the barbed wire fences at the border. The prestigious Foreign Policy journal of the USA is the latest addition of outcry over Felani’s death in the global media under a general coverage of the “World’s Most Dangerous Borders”, the journal has separately covered “an account of India’s new Berlin Wall with Bangladesh. After Felani’s that account entitled Fortress India it goes on to comment:

“In India, the 25-year-old border fence — finally expected to be completed next year at a cost of $1.2 billion — is celebrated as a panacea for a whole range of national neuroses: Islamist terrorism, illegal immigrants stealing Indian jobs, the refugee crisis that could ensue should a climate catastrophe ravage South Asia. But for Bangladeshis, the fence has come to embody the irrational fears of a neighbour that is jealously guarding its newfound wealth even as their own country remains mired in poverty. The barrier is a physical reminder of just how much has come between two once-friendly countries with a common history and culture — and how much blood one side is willing to shed to keep them apart.

“Situated on a delta and crisscrossed by 54 rivers, Bangladesh factors prominently in nearly every worst-case climate-change scenario. The 1-meter sea-level rise predicted by some widely used scientific models would submerge almost 20 per cent of the country. The slow creep of seawater into Bangladesh’s rivers caused by global-warming-induced flooding, upriver dams in India, and reduced glacial melt from the Himalayas is already turning much of the country’s fertile land into saline desert, upending its precarious agricultural economy. Studies commissioned by the U.S. Defence Department and almost a dozen other security agencies warn that if Bangladesh is hit by the kind of Hurricane Katrina-grade storm that climate change is likely to make more frequent, it would be a “threat multiplier,” sending ripples of instability across the globe: new opportunities for terrorist networks, conflicts over basic human essentials like access to food and water, and of course millions of refugees. And it’s no secret where the uprooted Bangladeshis would go first. Bangladesh shares a border with only two countries: the democratic republic of India and the military dictatorship of Burma. Which would you choose?

“India began erecting a fence, complete with well-armed guards, in 1986. After the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won national elections in 1998, the programme was ramped up to placate anti-Muslim sentiment among the party faithful. The fence grew longer and the killings more frequent. After years of complaints from Bangladeshi politicians, India made promises on several occasions to switch to non-lethal weaponry, but has rarely followed through on them.

By next year, every available crossing point between India and Bangladesh will have been blocked off by the fence. But while tightened security has made the border more dangerous, it hasn’t actually made it much more secure. More than 100 border villages operate as illicit transit points through which thousands of migrants pass daily. Each of these villages has a “lineman” — what would be called a coyote on the U.S.-Mexican border — who facilitates the smuggling, paying border guards from both notoriously corrupt countries to look the other way when people pass through.

“The rise of global Islamist militancy in recent years has worsened the xenophobic streak in India’s already dicey relations with its Muslim neighbours, and Indian politicians have been quick to capitalize on it. By 2009, Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram was declaring that Bangladeshis have “no business to come to India.” The opposition BJP isn’t rolling out the welcome mat either: Tathagata Roy, the party’s leader in the Bangladesh-bordering state of West Bengal, has called for lining the border with anti-personnel mines.

Felani’s death
“Felani’s death, however, galvanised Bangladesh. Graphic photos of her dead body made the front pages of newspapers across the country, and political parties posted her picture with the caption “Stop Border Killing!”

“The shooting seemed to have given India pause as well. In March, New Delhi once again agreed to strip its border guards of live ammunition, and for once actually did it. For the first month in almost a decade, Indian troops didn’t kill anyone on the border. But by April the Indian soldiers had reloaded, shooting a Bangladeshi cattle trader and three others in separate incidents. It was a bleak reminder that while the fence itself may be a flimsy thing, the tensions that make it into a killing zone are remarkably durable.”

Can Bangladesh hope that this time around the Hasina-Manmohan summit in Dhaka will do something at least to put on end to killing at the border by bullets or by beatings?