Saturday, October 1, 2011

Teesta-Transit Tug Of War

THE government’s decision to tag transit facilities for India with an interim Teesta water-sharing agreement is inappropriate, say politicians and experts.

Both transit and Teesta river issues should be dealt separately on their own merits, they say.

Rashed Khan Menon, president of the Workers Party of Bangladesh, an ally of the Awami League-led ruling alliance, opposed the idea that Bangladesh may get proper sharing of water of the Teesta river in exchange of giving transit to India.

‘Getting water from Teesta is our right and we want a proper share of its water according to international law and the issue of transit could not be tagged with it,’ he told New Age.

The agriculture minister, Matia Chowdhury, said on September 10 that India would not be given transit facility to transport its goods through Bangladesh until the Teesta water-sharing deal is reached, reported.

The prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, also made it clear to the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, during his visit, Matia, a member of Sheikh Hasina’s kitchen cabinet, said at a pubic rally in her constituency at Nalitabari in Sherpur.

‘We need water, but we want it honourably. If we don’t get Teesta water, there will be no transit. The Indian prime minister was told about it in plain language,’ she said.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party vice-chairman, Shamsher Mubin Chowdhury, was very critical of the government’s position on tagging one with the other. ‘Apples and oranges cannot be compared. The two issues are totally different,’ he said.

‘We have the moral and legal right to water of river. It is our right. On the part of India, it is mere privilege for them to have transit,’ he said.

The government was set to give its formal consent on September 6 to provide India with transit for trade with third countries through the Chittagong and Mongla seaports and passage of goods to India’s north-eastern states, according to the foreign minister, Dipu Moni.

 ‘There will be an exchange of letters giving consent to provide India transit through the Chittagong and Mongla seaports,’ Dipu Moni said at a press conference on September 4 at the foreign ministry.

The letters will contain the consent to do whatever is required, including the signing of agreements, protocols and memorandums of understanding, for enacting rules and setting standard operating procedures and fees in this regard, she said.

The trade agreements signed between India and Bangladesh in 1972 and 1980, and renewed subsequently, will be the basis of transit and the development of regional connectivity and the signing of many protocols under these agreements will be necessary in the future, she said.

However, the government stepped back from exchanging the letter at the last minute as India gave a broad hint on September 5 afternoon that the agreement on Teesta would not be signed during Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka on September 6 and 7.

Dhaka was hopeful about signing the deals on the Teesta and Feni rivers till evening on September 5 although Indian foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai gave a broad hint in the afternoon that the Indian government might not sign the agreement during this visit.

On September 5 afternoon, Mathai said at a press conference at his office in New Delhi that anything agreed between India and Bangladesh would have to be acceptable to the state of West Bengal headed by chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

He said Bangladesh and India might sign a deal for sharing of water of the Feni during the Dhaka visit.
Mathai hoped that ‘the manner in which Bangladesh-India relation is going through a paradigm shift will be appreciated by “all sections” of society in Bangladesh.’

Mamata Banerjee is reportedly unhappy with the proportions of the Teesta water to be shared by the two next-door neighbours. She was asking to give Bangladesh only 25 per cent of water available at the Gazaldoba barrage point keeping 75 per cent for West Bengal. Bangladesh wants sharing of the water on the basis of equity. 

Dipu Moni told reporters at the prime minister’s official residence Ganabhaban on September 5 night that she was hopeful of signing the Teesta deal. 

However, the two sides could not sign even an agreement on the Feni as Bangladesh decided at the last minute to sign the deals on both Teesta and Feni rivers together.

The government asked the foreign secretary, Mohamed Mijarul Quayes, to seek an explanation from the Indian side. Quayes sought an informal explanation from the Indian high commissioner in Dhaka, Rajiv Mitter.
Instructed by the government, Quayes summoned the high commissioner to the foreign ministry at 9:00am on September 6 as the government thought that his initial explanation was ‘not acceptable’.

‘There will not be any deal on the Teesta during this visit as their [India] central government could not finish consultation with the Paschim Banga government,’ Mitter told the secretary, according to diplomatic sources.

Quayes told Mitter, ‘It is not acceptable to us at all if you do not sign the deal at the last minute after finalising everything.’

The general secretary of Bangladesher Samajtanrik Dal, Khalequzzman also criticised the government’s attempt to portray the issues of transit and Teesta complementary to each other. ‘These are different issues and cannot be compared,’ he said.

The general secretary of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, Mujahidul Islam Selim, said he was not aware of any formal claim from India that it would sign the Teesta deal if Bangladesh gives transit. ‘But what the ministers are saying is contradictory. We have the right to Teesta water but transit is not a right for them. They can realise it by negotiation,’ he said.

Dhaka University law professor Asif Nazrul came down heavily on the government’s claim that it did not sign transit deal as India was not ready to sign the Teesta agreement. ‘These cannot be compared,’ he said.

‘Bangladesh has the moral and legal rights to the water of Teesta but for India it will be a privilege if Bangladesh allows it transit facility,’ said Nazrul.

‘Yes, transit facilities can be allowed to India through proper negotiation but it has to ensure benefit of the people of both the countries,’ he said.

The ruling Awami League lawmaker, Mostafa Faruque Mohammed, also a former foreign secretary, said the transit issue had no link with the Teesta deal.

Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said both the transit and Teesta issues have their own merits which offer mutual benefits for both the countries.

M Humayun Kabir, vice-president of the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, said both the transit and Teesta river issues should be dealt separately on their own merits.

India’s unwillingness to sign the deal on Teesta was clear even 48-hours before September 5 afternoon. The Indian water resources minister, Pawan Kumar Bansal, who was scheduled to arrive in Dhaka on September for the 38th meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission, cancelled the trip at the last minute.

Bansal said on July 22 that his country was set to reach an interim agreement with Bangladesh on the Teesta and Feni rivers during Singh’s Dhaka visit, according to the Indian Express. He said this at a press conference also joined by the Bangladesh prime minister’s economic affairs adviser Mashiur Rahman after a meeting between the two.

Bansal said he was expected to visit Bangladesh to finalise the details of the agreement ahead of Singh’s Dhaka tour.

His comments came two weeks after the Indian external affairs minister, SM Krishna, told newsmen in Dhaka that two countries had nearly finalised a 15-year treaty for sharing the waters of the Teesta and Feni.

After Mamata Banerjee’s antics on the Teesta deal, the Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, is asking for reviewing the 1996 Ganges water sharing treaty.

However, experts in Dhaka believe that there were ‘political elements’ in the demands placed by the two chief ministers. ‘Lots of political elements are involved’ in it,’ Humayun Kabir said. 

A senior official at the Prime Minister’s Office said it was not Dhaka that first tagged the signing of the Teesta deal with the signing of the agreement on transit.

‘In fact, it was India that first bracketed Teesta with transit as it was not happy with our decision for exchange of letters on transit,’ the PMO official said.

‘They were pursuing for a full-fledged agreement on transit or at least a protocol to the 1972 and 1980 agreements on trade for the use of Chittagong and Mongla seaports for third-country trade,’ the official said. ‘We, one way or another, stepped in their plan.’

‘They are applying pressure tactic to exploit the division within the Bangladesh government to get the maximum benefit from both transit and Teesta deals,’ the PMO official said. 

The Awami League-led government’s ministers and advisers were making contradictory statements on the question of Bangladesh providing transit to India.

On the necessity of agreement for allowing India transit, the prime minister’s international affairs adviser, Gowher Rizvi, said on August 28 that there was no need for ‘any new agreement’ on transit as two bilateral trade agreements were signed in 1972 and 1980 envisaging road, rail and waterway transit facilities.
Dipu Moni’s September 4 statement was contradictory to Rizvi’s statement. 

Senior government officials supported the foreign minister’s stance saying that the two countries would need to sign a formal agreement for providing any such transit facilities.

On charging transit fee, the prime minister’s economic affairs adviser, Mashiur Rahman, strongly argued in September last year that Bangladesh could not ask for tariff or fee for providing transit.

In November last year, the finance minister, AMA Muhith, said the existing transit rules of the National Board of Revenue would be amended and the transit fees re-fixed.

In March, Mashiur said that demanding tariff for the use of transit was against World Trade Organisation rules.

‘We could demand transit fess only if we were uncivilised and uneducated,’ he said.

Mashiur also wrote to the National Board of Revenue and the ministries of commerce and shipping not to charge India fees for the movement of its goods through Bangladesh.

In June 2010, the revenue board issued an order regarding transit fees. It imposed transhipment/transit fees of Tk 10,000 for each TEU container and for bulk products without containers, Tk 1,000 per tonne, effective from July 1, 2010.

An Indian cargo ship also paid necessary fees in August 2010, while moving from Kolkata to Tripura using the Bangladesh waterways.

But, following the adviser’s letter, the Indian authorities requested Bangladesh to waive such fees when two ships entered Bangladesh territory in September. Later, the revenue board agreed to allow two cargo ships to move by taking a bank guaranty in lieu of transit fees.

On June 27, Rizvi said, ‘It’s not true that India would not pay any fees for availing transit through Bangladesh We’ll get the legal and legitimate fee from India for using transit.’

Even if Bangladesh allows India transit or transhipment as a favour to the country, according to WTO principles, the former has every right to charge fee settled exclusively on bilateral basis. 

Article V of GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) is considered as guiding and governing principle of transit as it is titled ‘Freedom of Transit’.

Paragraphs 3-5 clearly mention what could and could not be imposed in giving transit. According to paragraph 3, the transit facility ‘shall be exempt from customs duties and from all transit duties or other charges imposed in respect of transit, except charges for transportation or those commensurate with administrative expenses entailed by transit or with the cost of services rendered’.

And the paragraph 4 reads: ‘All charges and regulations imposed by contracting parties on traffic in transit to or from the territories of other contracting parties shall be reasonable, having regard to the conditions of the traffic.’

The paragraph 5 reads: ‘With respect to all charges, regulations and formalities in connection with transit, each contracting party shall accord to traffic in transit to or from the territory of any other contracting party treatment no less favourable than the treatment accorded to traffic in transit to or from any third country.’
The GATT principle allows the transit providing country to recover costs in the form of fee or charge. The general principle, therefore, is that transit traffic shall not be a source of fiscal revenue.

Again, both Bangladesh and India are bound to provide a transit facility for a third country under the WTO rules. The most-favoured nation treatment is obligatory for all WTO members. So, when Bangladesh or Nepal seeks transit to India for entering Nepal or Bangladesh respectively, India has to allow such a facility in compliance with WTO principles.

The Centre for Policy Dialogue showed in a study done in November last year that Bangladesh could earn $2.3 billion in 30 years by providing transit facilities to India, Nepal and Bhutan.

Bangladesh could earn 10 per cent of the potential revenue in first five years as transit fees would be low in the initial years when the infrastructure would have to be built, it said.

An Asian Development Bank study estimated that Bangladesh could earn annual revenue of $1 billion on completion of the needed infrastructure in five years.

The ADB said, initially, Bangladesh could earn annual revenue of $50 million. Projected returns on transit are based on imposition and collection of transit fees and charges.

Sheikh Hasina agreed during her January 2010 visit to India that ‘Bangladesh will allow use of Mongla and Chittagong seaports for movement of goods to and from India through road and rail’, according to the joint communiqué issued on the visit on January 12, 2010.

Originating from So Lomo lake in Sikkim, the river Teesta has entered Bangladesh through Jalpaiguri and met the river Brahmaputra after flowing about 124 kilometres in Bangladesh.

An agreement on Teesta was expected as protracted negotiations on the river since 1952 eluded a solution while the two neighbours only exchanged papers to resolve the issue in the past decades.

The water of the Teesta is crucial for Bangladesh, especially in the leanest period from December to March. Sometimes in December and January, the water flow comes down to less than 1,000 cusecs from 5,000 cusecs.

Drastic fall in the water flow of Teesta during the lean season, especially in February and March, seriously hampers irrigation in Bangladesh while JRC sources said the flow of the river weakened significantly in the last 24 years for Gajoldoba barrage and some dams built in the upstream Indian region.

Deltaic Bangladesh is crisscrossed by 230 major rivers, 54 of them mostly originating from India. Bangladesh and India had inked a landmark treaty on sharing of the Ganges water during Hasina’s 1996-2001 tenure removing a major irritant in the bilateral ties.

BY : Shahidul Islam Chowdhury .  

The Haqqani network : Snake country

The Pakistani army’s complex relationship with jihadists.

CLUTCHING a glass of distinctly un-Islamic whisky, a retired senior Pakistani official explains at a drinks party in Islamabad, the capital, that his country has no choice but to support the jihadist opposition in Afghanistan. The Indians are throwing money at their own favourites in Afghanistan, he says, and the Russians and Iranians are doing the same. So Pakistan must play the game too. “Except we have no money. All we have are the crazies. So the crazies it is.”

Chief among the crazies is the Haqqani network, an Islamist militia with a 30-year history of fighting foreign occupations of Afghanistan. In mid-September the network struck in the heart of Kabul, launching a 20-hour assault on the American embassy and other targets. A week later, the leader of President Hamid Karzai’s efforts to make peace with the insurgents, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was assassinated in Kabul. The suicide bomber is suspected by some to have been linked to the Haqqanis.

Just after this Mike Mullen, chairman of America’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared that the Haqqani network was a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency, part of the country’s all-powerful army. A raft of other American officials, incensed by recent attacks on Western targets in Afghanistan, joined the verbal assault on Pakistan.

Perhaps because he is retiring this week, Admiral Mullen seems to have overstated things. It is not clear that the Americans have, as he claimed, a smoking gun linking the ISI to the ordering of strikes in Afghanistan. More to the point, America’s abilities to influence Pakistan’s army are limited. Admiral Mullen’s comments are likely only to worsen relations with Pakistan, and to fuel anti-American sentiment among ordinary Pakistanis.

The Haqqani network is based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region, part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which border on Afghanistan. The border is porous. American officials say that the district capital, Miranshah, houses compounds used by the Haqqanis under the noses of Pakistani intelligence. Pakistan angrily denies that it supports the Haqqanis, whom it po-facedly insists are based in Afghanistan, not Pakistan at all.

In an Afghan or Pakistani tribal context, Jalaluddin Haqqani (pictured), founder of the group, is a supremely successful guerrilla commander, once lauded by America for his services as a CIA-backed mujahid repelling the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Mr Haqqani, now said to be bedridden, was a minister for border and tribal affairs when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. To their supporters in Afghanistan today, the Haqqanis are fighting an occupying force, just as they did the Soviets before, says Saifullah Mahsud, of the FATA Research Centre, an independent think-tank in Islamabad.

The chief help that Pakistan gives the Haqqanis takes the form of sanctuary, and perhaps guidance. Little suggests any direct Pakistani role in Haqqani operations. Pakistan’s generals believe that, with an unfriendly government in place in Afghanistan, they need proxies to represent their interests there. Pakistan prefers to make common cause with ethnic Pushtuns, who straddle the border, to guard against Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, whom the generals regard as close to India, their arch-enemy. The Pakistani army’s paranoia is fed by scenario planning in which a hostile Afghan government, with a growing army now trained and equipped by the Americans, joins India to mount a two-front war against Pakistan, sandwiched between the two countries.
To the ISI, which has had a relationship with him since the 1970s, Jalaluddin Haqqani is a more reliable proxy than the Taliban ever were. Since Pakistan formally abandoned its support for the Taliban under great American pressure following the September 11th attacks, distrust has reigned on both sides. The Haqqani network has demonstrated its willingness to hit targets in Afghanistan that please Pakistan’s military men most—especially Indian ones, including its embassy, in 2008, and Indian construction companies.

The Haqqani and the Taliban are operationally separate, with the first handling eastern Afghanistan and the second focusing on the south. But the Haqqani network appears to recognise the Taliban leadership, based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, as the authority guiding the insurgency. If the Taliban reconciled with the government in Kabul, says Mr Haqqani’s son, Sirajuddin, not entirely convincingly, his group would too.

Amazingly, America has until now not designated the Haqqani network as a terrorist organisation. Meanwhile, it will probably hope to increase missile strikes in North Waziristan by its drone aircraft. The drone campaign has been less successful against the Haqqani than against other groups, especially al-Qaeda. Perhaps Pakistan does not share much intelligence on the Haqqanis. However, America will be pulling its front-line troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Pakistan will have to live with the jihadists it promotes. 

Progress report on Myanmar : Seeing the glass half-full

THERE is mounting excitement about developments in Myanmar, after a summer of carefully choreographed meetings between the country’s normally shy, quasi-military rulers and...well, just about everyone else. Western diplomats and special envoys, American politicians (Republicans at that), UN folk: all have been allowed in and out to have face-to-face talks with Myanmar’s new ministers in order to assess whether the much vaunted political transformation there is real this time, or just another chimera. Just as significantly, government ministers and the new president, Thein Sein, have held unprecedented meetings with Aung San Suu Kyi, that icon of democracy and leader of the unofficial opposition—the generals even let her publish an article in a Burmese newspaper, the first time that’s happened for 23 years. For her part, she has said that the president wants to “achieve real positive change”.

If not quite a summer of love, all this certainly amounts to a step forward in Myanmar’s international rehabilitation. And last week there was another big boost for the optimists, with the publication of a report entitled “Myanmar: Major Reform Under Way” by the International Crisis Group (ICG), an influential Brussels-based think-tank. There’s nothing cynical or cautious about the tone of this report; the authors argue that “the political will appears to exist to bring fundamental change” to the country, and that “after 50 years of autocratic rule, [the country’s rulers] show strong signs of heralding a new kind of political leadership in Myanmar—setting a completely different tone for governance in the country and allowing discussions and initiatives that were unthinkable only a few months ago.”

Heady stuff—if true. However, having spoken to a couple of those who met with the generals this summer, I have the impression that the ICG is getting ahead of itself here. It’s true that the government seems eager to meet and listen to a range of people (including Ms Suu Kyi) who were off-limits only recently. But so far the government has taken almost none of the concrete stops that the West (and Ms Suu Kyi) are looking for as examples (or “benchmarks” in the diplomatic jargon) of real progress towards the sunny uplands of the new democratic, pluralistic society that the generals claim they want. In other words, so far it’s almost all words—unusually positive, and even uncensored words, but mere words nonetheless. So far, nothing has been said or done that couldn’t easily be reversed. So although most of their Western interlocutors have been encouraged by what they have seen and heard on their visits to Myanmar, there are still plenty of reasons to remain cautious and tread wearily.

Take the issue of political prisoners. The release of up to 2,000 such prisoners (mainly democracy activists and members of Ms Suu Kyi’s banned political party) is a central demand of the government’s critics. Diplomats who spoke with Myanmar’s official representatives in New York last week say that the Burmese actually discussed a list of 500 or so people that might at some point be released, but cautioned that it’s still a case of wait-and-see. Or take the issue of the ethnic conflicts on the eastern periphery of Myanmar, in Kachin, Shan and Kayin states. These have, if anything, worsened over the past year, with a rise in human-rights abuses by the Burmese army—hardly signs of a government hell-bent on fundamentally changing its ways.

Nonetheless, both sides, Myanmar’s generals and the West, are now at least engaged in a delicate diplomatic minuet—which might yield results in the future. The ICG argues that the West should take the lead with Myanmar, offering, for example, economic and financial engagement now, so at so encourage the reformers within the government. Most Western governments, however, are still waiting for more substantial signs of reform before they offer anything with cash value in exchange. 

What is undoubtedly true is that if the Myanmar government does decide to make a dramatic move (release the 2,000 political prisoners, for example) then such a head of steam has built up in the West towards rethinking the old sanctions regimes that Western diplomats will have to relent. And so they should—the West has little to show for its decades-long shunning of Myanmar, other than having handed over much of the country to China. A deal is clearly there to be done. As always though, it’s how you get there that matters just as much as the outlines of the deal itself. Just ask the long-suffering advocates of a two-state solution in Palestine.

Bangladeshi Terrorist's Investment In Indian Stock Market

According to Bangladeshi intelligence sources more than 74 notorious terrorist kingpins from Bangladesh are now hiding in various places in India, where they already have invested a few million dollars in various businesses and stock markets.

Bangladesh Police sources confirms that notorious criminals and godfather of terror outfits named Ferdous aka Kala Jahangir, Jabbar Munna aka Manik, Prokash Kumar Bishwas, Mollah Masud, Shamim Ahmed aka Aga Shamim, Trimoti Subroto Bain aka Fateh Ali, Omar Faruk aka Kochi, Khandaker Tanvirul Islam Joy, Rafiqul Islam Kajol, Haris Ahmed Haris, Khorshed Alam and Kamrul Hassan aka Hannan are allegedly operating their illegal activities from India. Interpol had already issued RED Warrant against most of these absconding terror kingpins.

Bangladeshi intelligence sources said more than 74 notorious criminals and terror kingpins are now hiding in various parts of India, especially West Bengal. It said, according to various sources within India, absconding terrorist Mollah Masud has purchased a house at Bonogram area with Indian Rupees 37 million. Additionally, he has invested Indian Rupees 5 million in a private money-lending company at Kolkata's Boro Bazar area.

Absconding Bangladeshi terrorist Prokash Kumar Bishwas, who also is hiding in India for more than two decades have reportedly invested Indian Rupees 64 million in shares of companies registered with Calcutta Stock Exchange. It may be mentioned here that, Prokash Kumar Bishwas is the younger brother of Bikash Kumar Bishwas, another notorious terror kingpin, who is serving in Bangladeshi prison since 1996. The shares were purchased through several CSE members including Bhagawan Das Newar & Co, Dalmia Securities Ltd, Bimal & Co and Gopiram & Sons. Prior to purchasing shares, Prakash Kumar Bishwas reportedly sold a few acres of land at Dhaka's Mirpur [Paikpara] area. Another Bangladeshi absconding terrorist named Kamrul Hassan aka Hannan has reportedly bought an apartment at Kolkata's Salt lake area in 2008 with Indian Rupees 14 million. He also holds shares of a number of Public Limited Companies listed with Calcutta Stock Exchange.

Absconding terrorist Rafiqul Islam Kajol reportedly owns shares of a number of companies listed with Bombay Stock Exchange. He, along with a number of fellow terrorist kingpins have invested Indian Rupees has bought the shares using names of Indian nationals. It is learnt that, Rafiqul Islam Kajol and his associates purchased shares of Apollo Tyres, Asian Paints, Bharti Airtel, Colgate Palmolive, Dabur India, Hindustan Unilever, ITC, Maruti-Suzuki, Oriental Bank, Reliance Power and Siemens etc. The total amount of investment made by this terror syndicate in purchasing shares of companies listed with Bombay Stock Exchange is believed to be a few million Indian Rupees. Most of the amounts of investment were transferred to India using the name of an expatriate Indian named Mishra, who lives in Hong Kong for years.

Terror kingpin Mollah Masud has invested money in buying large volume of agricultural and horticultural lands in West Bengal. He reportedly bought such properties in the name of his wife [who is an Indian national] as well as his in-laws.

Another absconding Bangladeshi terrorist named Haris Ahmed Haris has reportedly made investment in a number of businesses in Nepal through Rubel Chowdhury, who is a family friend of Haris. It is learnt that, some other absconding Bangladeshi terrorists also have put fund with Haris in investing the in profitable VOIP business run by Rubel, who is an influential businessman in Nepal and is the son-in-law of Sujata Koirala, who is the former Deputy Prime Minister of Nepal. Rubel, who went to Nepal with tourist visa, stayed there for years and built a sizeable business empire using the influence of being the son-in-law of Ms. Koirala. He also is helping absconding Bangladeshi terrorists in obtaining Nepalese visa, which already was under eyes of country's Home Ministry.

A source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, "Chowdhury could be involved in obtaining illegal Nepali passports for Bangladeshi nationals, some of whom have landed in police net."

Rubel Chowdhury has violated the provisions of Nepalese tourist visa by engaging in commercial activities, an official at the Immigration Department said. It said, "Rubel has also clearly misused the United Nations logo in his Bangladesh-based NGO's website."

He also claims to be the member of British Royal Old Pangbournian Society.

Chowdhury has identified himself as "Dr Rubel Chowdhury, Senior Vice-Chairman of the Bangladesh-based World Peace and Economic Development Organisation [WPEDO] and his mother-in-law as - Dr. Sujata Koirala, Executive Vice-President of WPEDO. Bangladeshi NGO affairs bureau and Ministry of Social Affairs confirmed the non-existence of any such organization in the country, headed by a foreign national like Sujata Koirala.

Nepalese Police sources claim Chowdhury was the one who made one Nepali Sambhu Bharati a front man to supply logistics and Armed Personnel Carriers to Nepal Police deployed for Sudan-based UNAMID, and misappropriated millions belonging to the Nepal Police Welfare Fund when late Girija Prasad Koirala was the Prime Minister. Government Spokesperson Shankar Pokharel declined to comment on Chowdhury's case.


The Range Of Resistance

Bangladesh public sphere is intellectually vibrant. Issues of public importance are reported, analysed and deliberated upon intensely in the countless print, web, and audio-visual media. And this begets the question of why rulers and governance mechanism haven’t performed according to the high expectations generated in such widespread intellectual exercises. Is there some fault lines in the modes of the public debates?

In most cases, the public debates tend to derive its strength from disconnected empirical evidences and are, therefore, issue-specific, lacking the general or the universal point of reference. In other words, public debaters are apt at analysing the marks of numerous wounds of the social body rather than finding the broader causes and implications of such wounds and decay. This trend is inevitably leading to the lowering of standard of thinking process with moral contents being constantly eroded.
Let’s take just three examples.

Eminent filmmaker Tareque Masud and cinematographer Mishuk Munier died in a car crash this August. This and other issues in the communication sector, including debilitating conditions of the highways, led to a strong demand for resignation of the minister in charge. But one becomes wary of the weight and threat of hunger strikes and all other agitations for the head of a single minister rather than against the institutional framework in place (Anna Hazare directing his struggle precisely against institutional anomalies rather than individuals). Every governing mechanism has a share in all the problems we see in the public life, both in the past and in the present. (Which ministry is responsible when hundreds of poor farmers sell their kidneys and livers: health, agriculture or finance?).

A more fundamental question is why does a minister do what he does? A minister may rationally think he or she has the contractual right to stay at the space brought with a price (for an electoral ticket). Yet, while a transaction can be immoral, the responsibility that such transactions entail could be executed in a moral and ethical way. This is not happening. Yet, most debates focus neither on the institutional failure nor on the immoral faculty of the individual — aiming mere to see a new face. Why don’t we debate this primordial anarchy at the heart of governance?

In the more mundane life than governance and politics, an example of this rushing-out, materialist process can be gleaned from the incident involving the death of a professor of Dhaka University, Dr Mridul Kanti Chakrobarty. He was taken to a well known hospital in the capital in a critical condition but wasn’t admitted or properly treated because of failure to pay in full for the hospital services, which allegedly led to his death. But before we could solve the question of ethical responsibility of the hospital authority at whose mishandling the professor died, a compensation of five million taka aborted the possibility of a fruitful resistance.

No one is on a moral plane. Not certainly those who demanded and secured the money and then stopped demanding the probe of negligence. The silence left the transaction-first-life-second system in the hospital uncorrected, putting other similar potential patient’s life in danger. The hospital authority, on the other hand, washed their hands off by a dose of monetary transaction and not apologising, meaning that their autonomy of unethical practices remain in place, again putting a future patient in danger. (This is exactly what happened with another patient, Elias Tomas, who died there later in September). Instead, the hospital authority said they won’t apologise, but would pay the compensation from their ‘social responsibility’ fund. As the ransom for the arrested conscience was transacted upon, the so-called ‘social responsibility’ devoured grains of moral responsibility. The outcry against the negligence ended as soon as the money was transacted over the dead body. Why must public debates and resistance get itself killed by the audacity of a bank cheque?

Another example, from garments industry, would make the case clearer. From both the left and the liberals, we hear demands for the clearance of arrears and bonus for the workers before the Eid. Why does a transaction need for an Eid to be executed? The moral question is at stake on two counts here. First, the Eid-centric demands of the intellectuals and pressure groups suggest that they have failed to put any effective pressure on the owners of the factories on a legitimate and permanent basis. The seasonal uproar by some is just a timid exercise in self-existence.

On the other hand, most RMG owners bluff the government and the public knowing full well they were out of ethical ground. Of about $10 billion dollars that the RMG sector earns annually, perhaps at least 40 per cent of them are pure profit (meaning $4 billion dollars; a more accurate estimate is welcome from the readers). In addition, owners get concessions and patronage of various kinds from the government. Yet, there is hardly any RMG contribution to the mere 8% of the tax that the government earns annually as a share of the GDP. So the annual figure of $10 billion remains an illusive flagship of the national economy, contributing neither to the government nor directly to its employees. On what moral ground RMG owners keep withholding a humane and rational pay scale to their workers?

So, at both governance and the private domain of everyday life, it’s the ethical and the moral issues which are at stake. Why do we need the death of one Tareque Masud to rise up and an Eid festivity to think of garments workers? Yet one Tareque Masud and an Eid day become the signifier, not every other life lost nor every other day gone filled with public suffering and injustice. Was Bangladesh liberated 40 years ago on these ideals?

Why things are like this are questions we need to debate. Taking a thread from what we began with, one feels that there is a visible process of assimilation of journalistic and intellectual inputs in the public discourse. It is true that boundary between journalism and academic and non-academic intellectual practices are fluid. Yet, in general, a journalist reports and analyses, while an intellectual examines the pulses of these reports and put those in wider social, political, economic, cultural and moral contexts. But in our time, both these public agencies in Bangladesh are increasingly becoming indistinguishable.

In other words, the thinking process, speeches and texts of the intellectual are being invaded by that of the journalist. There is nothing wrong in the marriage between fact-finding journalism and rationalist intellectualism. But such marriage has failed to address the enormous anomalies in Bangladeshi public sphere. Is this because such marriage itself hangs on a transaction?

BY : Iftekha Iqbral

Tala-Paikgacha Road And Ganges Water Treaty

Bangladesh had to sign its first water-sharing deal at the ministerial level, ignoring the lessons we had learnt from the Indus Water Treaty.

I HAPPENED to travel through the Tala-Paikgacha road last week and found it not accessible to any vehicular traffic and causing miseries to the people and their livelihood. It appears that the only way to reach Paikgacha from Tala was to travel by ‘bhot-bhoti’, which is a very dangerous option and time consuming as well, since the road connection has been completely cut off due to the submersion of this road.

It appears that the root of all these evils is the death of the river Kapataksha, which, in fact, originated from the Ganges. Thus, anything that happens to the Ganges will affect the wellbeing of the river Kapatakhsha. This river takes the name Shibsha at Shibbari near Paikgacha and the name Arpangasia near Bedkashi. The Kapatakhsha used to carry glacier water and made both its banks fertile to help build orchards and land tracts that used to produce three crops a year for hundreds of years before the Farakka barrage was in place. Effects of the reduced flow of the Kapatakhsha were first felt in the south-west during the late 1970s and most of the rivers that received its flow started to silt up. The freshwater used to make this land one of the most fertile plains on earth and we were one of the self-sufficient areas of this country. However, siltation and subsequent water logging due to the death of these rivers and more so of the Kapatakhsha has caused immense suffering, loss of food security and livelihood of the people, destruction of orchards, deaths of animals, including baboons that were dependent on its water flow.

I was brought up on the bank of the river Shibsha, which is now virtually a dead canal. It is an impossible task—and a dream that will never come true—that Bangladesh will have the means and resources to dredge the 266-kilometre long river named Shibsha, Kholpetua and Arpangasia before it fell into the Bay of Bengal. If it is dredged that will rather further destroy the flora and fauna of the region due to the free entry of saline water from the sea. Sick, and almost dead, the Kapataksha was not spared by the land grabbers, just like many other rivers of Bangladesh. The dead body was booty for them and they spared no time to gobble up the land that emerged and built houses, shops, clubs, factories and fish farms and made the water logging situation worse. As an ordinary citizen, I tried to discover the pathogenesis as to why the Kapatakhsa (Kobadak) and later, Shibsha, are dying and has come to the following conclusions that may give food for thought to readers.

Historically, Kobadak maintained its principal discharge from the Ganges, along with its branches and sub-branches which drain about 3,315 square kilometres of the districts of Kushtia, Jessore and Khulna. With the direct assistance from the World Bank, India erected the Farakka barrage in 1964 to increase the navigability of the Calcutta (now Kolkata) and Haldia ports. Pakistan protested against this to the international community; however, it was completed in 1972. By the end of 1975, it was agreed upon to run it with specified discharges for a period of 41 days from April 21 to May 31, 1975. Today we are having drainage and ever-increasing water-logging problems and witnessing the death of our rivers in the southwest.

Similar situation about sharing river water exists in the subcontinent between India and Pakistan. The Indus Water Treaty happens to be a water-sharing treaty between the Republic of India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The agreement took place under the auspices of the World Bank and was signed in the Pakistani city of Karachi on September 19, 1960. It was the result of eight years of negotiation under the close watch of representatives from the World Bank. The treaty is intact today despite three full wars between the two countries. The signatories in the agreement were Mohammad Ayub Khan, the president of Pakistan and Jawaharlal Nehru, the prime minister of India. Jawaharlal Nehru, it is said, returned to Delhi on the same day he signed the treaty and he was in a hurry to settle the longstanding dispute between India and Pakistan in sharing the water resources of the major rivers in the shared geographical region of Punjab. Although Field Marshal Ayub Khan was a dictator, Nehru nonetheless took his-arch rival Pakistan under his fold as a friend by signing this treaty.(The New Age BD)

As opposed to this, Bangladesh had to sign its first water-sharing deal at the ministerial level, ignoring the lessons we had learnt from the Indus Water Treaty. At the outset, our government machineries were not mature as compared to those of Indian counterpart, who had no emotionally charged preoccupations to be less protective to save their national interest. We live in a fast paced, got-to-have-it-now world. Unfortunately this environment is good for the powerful and bad for the underdog. In a high pressure environment, the time and patience required in any negotiation is often considered too burdensome to do it properly. So the underdog settles for making the powerful happy. After having no movement on the Ganges Water Treaty from India, a 30-year agreement was signed in 1996. This time, we have again failed to have any guarantee clause for the minimum amount of water Bangladesh will receive and future hydrological parameters were not taken into account.

As a result, Kapatakhsha had little water left. Therefore, in order to prevent the death of the river, provisions of the 30-year long Ganges Waters Treaty may need to be re-negotiated and it is in the best interest of Bangladesh. If there no room to manoeuvre, scrapping the 30-year deal is necessary. If we fail to overcome the hearts and minds of our big neighbour, India, we must demand at the International Criminal Court located in The Hague that India should pay compensations for the damages it has caused in the last 40 years due to the unilateral withdrawal of the Ganges water. The World Bank must be taken on board in any future the Ganga water treaty negotiation since Farakka Barrage was financed by them.

BY : Dr Mohammed Habibur Rahman.