Disha Bangladesh

Making sense of Bangladesh. Disha will scan the cream of truth from the sea of muddy-misinformation.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Extremism in South Asia

And when will we see an expose from the ace Martin Bright? Or the fact that the RSS and BJP or linked to the Hindu Forum in the UK? Or perhaps the ever-rising Policy Exchange telling us of the threat of Hindu extremism? Don't wait up too long...

Monday, January 01, 2007

Awami League in cynical pact with Islamic 'militants' with links to terrorism

In the last two weeks, the Awami League has entered into an electoral alliance with people they have previously described as 'extremists' and parties with open sympaties with the Taliban.

For years we have been made aware of the existence of Al-Qaeda-type terrorism in Bangladesh. Bombs have gone off throughout the country and leading figures have been assassinated. The culprits, the small and insignificant JMB, have been caught. Yet, the Awami League has happily pushed the mantra that we are witnessing the 'talibanisation of Bangladesh'.

We have been subject to an emerging international discourse telling us that the problem is endemic. Mediocre analysts and gullible international activists have happily consumed Awami League propaganda dictating that: Bangladesh is an avowedly secular state, parties that draw from the country's rich religious (and syncretic) history are unpatriotic. Religiously inspired parties have explicit links to terrorism and are responsible for the country becoming another Afghanistan.

The Awami League has formulated this template as an appropriate weapon to defeat its opponent. Thus the ruling Bangladesh National Party has been accused of entertaining extremists in the form of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a moderate constitutional party believing in multi-party democracy. The AL has then proceeded to pin every act of violence and every cliché of Islamism that exists in our post 9/11 world on the Jamaat-e-Islami. As this blog has outlined earlier, lazy and unscrupulous journalists and academics have willingly taken up this narrative with gusto.

The trouble is, that narrative is unravelling before our very eyes. The Awami League is in meltdown as the leadership cynically enters into an electoral pact with people and parties they previously described as militant Islamist. On 27 December, the AL-supporting Daily Star reported that the Awami League has nominated 'militant leaders' to be part of their electoral alliance. Two are noteworthy of mention, Habibur Rahman of Syhlet (locally known as Bulbuli Huzur) and Mufti Shahidul Islam, a veteran of the Afghan war. Habibur Rahman is linked to Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami (Huji), an organization banned by the government in 2005 for being a self-proclaimed terrorist organisation. In 1989 he was a guest of the Harkat-ul Jihad Pakistan (a USA banned organisation) where he surveyed the frontline in Afghanistan. Shahidul Islam was once accused by the Awami League leader herself, in the Bangladesh Parliament, for harbouring militant connections.

As if things couldn't get ironic and surreal enough, the League has now entered into an electoral pact with the Khelafat Majlis and has agreed to a five-point memorandum of understanding, which includes a pledge not to enact laws in contravention to Qur’anic values, sunnah and shariah. The guardians of these values will be a small-band of narrow-minded ‘hakkani-alems’: no reference is made to the plurality of jurisprudence and thought in Islam. To some, the League's choice of partners make the Jamaat-e-islami (whom they oppose) cuddly centrists.

'Secularists' are in free-fall. Many cannot fathom the party's about turn. Mahfuz Anam, editor of the AL-supporting Daily Star has penned his state of puzzlement in a strong editorial. Lord Avebury, rent-a-gob for the Awami League is now questioning his godfathers. All demand to know: what happened to that secular Bangladesh we were sold? The answer is, it never existed. But nor did there exist a Pakistan-type society that others are cautioning against. This, of course, requires deliberation – one that examines Bangladesh’s past, and not the Stalinist re-writing of history in the past 40 years.

As we reported earlier, Martin Bright, political editor of the New Statesman, claimed at a Policy Exchange event that people of his profession are pig-ignorant about Bangladeshi politics. We have demonstrated his persistence in keeping the status quo as he sups with the Awami League. In a subsequent blog, Bright pleaded:

“In this sense, every Bangladeshi election is a fight for the country's soul. On the one side stand those who believe in an essentially secular Bengali identity; on the other are those who want the country defined as a Muslim state, much as Pakistan is.”

Mr Bright is completely uninformed about Bangladesh’s secular and religious identity. As his party of choice (the Awami League) proceeds to debunk his maxim, he is right about one thing, the forthcoming election will be a fight for Bangladesh’s soul. But the contest will be between the people of Bangladesh on the one hand, and a corrupt political-criminal mafia like elite who will use any means (subterfuge, lies and violence) to get into power.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Dynamiting Democracy in Bangladesh

The Awami League reigns free to pursue a reign of terror to intimidate the Bangladeshi electorate. It has successfully diverted international attention away from itself as it lights the fuse to dynamite democracy in Bangladesh

The opposition fourteen-party alliance led by Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League is engaged daily in a deadly game of destabilising the infant democratic process of the country. The last onslaught of their escalating spiral of violence went far beyond the depth to which even the Awami League is expected to stoop; this time it did not hesitate to violate the sanctity of the country’s highest court of justice – the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice’s chamber was totally ransacked and set on fire by the Awami hoodlums. This happens within weeks of these terrorist lynch mobs systematically clubbing to death, on 28 October 06, a number of innocent and unarmed supporters of other political groups in Dhaka in broad day light and in the full view of television cameras watched by millions around the world. In the words of Amnesty International, we are witnessing a ‘wave of violence that has engulfed Bangladesh over last five days’ (reported on 01.11.06), ‘over thirty people were killed and hundreds others have been injured’. The ferocity of the murderous terrorism is further underlined by the vicious arms the murderers used and the way they danced on the dead after committing the murders. In some cases they even used pistols and other firearms. The deafening silence from Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina or any one from the Awami League High Command was palpable. The lack of condemnation smacks of complicity.

See the AL orchestrated violence below

But where is the debate? Where is the outrage? Our previous post reported the success the Awami League has had in lobbying the international community and deflecting any scrutiny towards their murderous tactics. It seems to have paid off. International discourse, and pronouncements from international groups seem to have bought Awami League misinformation hook, line and sinker. When it come to Bangladesh then, analysis is not subject to the rigors of customary tests and analysis. Even the foremost humanitarian organisation Amnesty International could not bring itself to take the perpetrators to task and five days after the gruesome lynching merely issued a press statement ‘strongly’ condemning ‘the wave of violence’ and asking ‘the political parties’ to condemn and refrain, bracketing both the murderers and the victims in the same category. But shying away from naming names is not Amnesty’s normal practice. On the same day that Amnesty International issued its statement, this correspondent notes how Amnesty is happy to be more forthright on non-Bangladeshi matters: ‘to Act Now for Bitondo Nyumba who has been beaten and raped by government soldiers from her own country.’

Meanwhile, New York-based Human Rights Watch betrayed its claims to be impartial by, on the one hand, remaining silent on Awami League excesses, but on the other hand, (rightly) cautioning the government and former ruling party over the possible use of security forces to further its own objectives. Lacking fair language, and shedding any rigorous intellectual inquiry, HRW forgot to mention that the military has studiously strayed away from politics since 1991, and that, given the cycle of violence unleashed by the Awami League, security forces were deployed to maintain law and order. If Human Rights Watch were to look at this objectively, it would also report on the private armies maintained by all political parties, most notably by the Awami League through its ‘Chatra’ and ‘Jubo’ League.

Bangladeshis know Awami League is responsible
Bangladeshis however do not in the slightest doubt the identity of the real culprit. In a survey carried out by the interactive current affairs bulletin ‘Bangladesh Pratidin’ (Bangladesh daily) of the London based Bangla TV 61.82% said they consider the Awami League is responsible, 34.43% thought it was the BNP, while just 3.59% blamed the Jamaat for this violence. It should be noted that Bangla TV is no friend of the BNP or the Jamaat.

A sinister onslaught against the Centre-Right and Islamists in Bangladesh is now gathering pace in earnest. Cognisant that it is unlikely to challenge the success of the BNP through democratic norms, the party is deploying unmitigated violence to intimidate the Bangladeshi electorate. Internationally, the Awami League is playing a clever game to deflect attention away from it, but at the same time clipping the wings of law enforcement agencies who can check that violence. The Awami League has powerful friends abroad, and is succeeding to stifle international scrutiny.

Sheikh Hasina and her international mentors are increasingly frustrated to see the success of the four party centre-right alliance composed of mainly nationalist Bangladesh National Party (BNP) of the outgoing prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) led by Motiur Rahman Nizami, smaller Islamic group the Islamic Oyko Jote and, lately, the Jatiyo Party of former President Ershad. The Jamaat had two cabinet posts occupied by the leader of the party Mawlana Nizami and its secretary-general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid. Both received national and international accolade for being competent and incorrupt. Over the last five years, the BNP has managed to lead a plural government, and has presided over steady economic growth. And, as its term ended, the Government resigned and fully subscribed to the possibility of democratic transition.

Political violence, especially during election campaign has become an essential part of the electoral process. This, coupled with wide spread fraud and ballot rigging makes a mockery of the democratic process. Consequently on the Jamaat’s proposal a new system of Care Taker Government (in 1995) is now been enshrined in the constitution of the country requiring the sitting government to retire at the end of their term when a neutral Care Taker Government headed by the most immediate retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court takes over. The head of the government during this period takes the title of Chief Advisor and not the Prime Minister. The Chief Advisor appoints non-political technocrats to take charge of different government departments and hold election within three months of taking office.

In order to have a free hand in election manipulation Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party are determined to see their party nominees in different important positions and leave no stone unturned to achieve this objective. Since Begum Khaleda Zia handed over power at the end of her five year term to the President on 27th October, the Awami League refused to accept the newly appointed Chief Advisor, The Chief Election Commissioner and even insisting for the resignation of the elected President and all senior Civil Servants. Unlikely to achieve its unconstitutional and undemocratic demands, the League began its ferocious hooliganism on the 28th October 06.

Sadly, it seems the Awami League enjoys the full support of foreign governments. Western ambassadors and visiting government leaders apply pressure on the President to give-in to unreasonable Awami diktats. It is also reported that they met some of the senior appointees and tried to persuade them to give up their positions to satisfy Awami demands. And every leverage has been used to intimidate these elected officials of a sovereign government. From the withholding of investments to the mobilisation of foreign pressure groups.

Many Bangladeshis cannot help think they have been here before. A proud Muslim country is seeking to determine its destiny by fusing modernity with a polity inspired by its rich linguistic and Islamic heritage. Foreign powers cannot stomach this, and deploy every means to stop this. Plassey anyone? Bangladesh is not Afghanistan, and the Jamaat is not the Taliban. But that is how it is being painted, and, it seems, this is why the Awami League is being allowed to subvert democracy.

For instance a report compiled for the U.S Congress entitled ‘Bangladesh: Background and U.S Relations’ was published on 7th September 2006. The report bears the name of Bruce Vaugan, Analyst in South East and South Asian Affairs, but its content is littered with evidence that it could have been penned by Awami spin doctors. The report’s anti-Bangladeshi, pro-Awami and pro-India bias is glaringly obvious. Criticising Richard Boucher the Assistant Under Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs for his soft line to the Bangladesh government the report detects, ‘in the view of some(?), a growing discontent between independent American analysts and Indian analysts and the State department’. At the very outset it begins with six factors which it says ‘may indicate Bangladesh’s future direction’, and first of these six is ‘the political position of the Islamist parties as Bangladesh enters the upcoming January elections’ while the last is ‘any decision on exporting gas to India’. Its advocacy for the Awami position is also remarkable, as quoting BBC news dated August 8, 2006 (Bangladesh: Political Parties, Donor Agencies Discusses Election) it states, ‘the Awami League reportedly believes that the electoral commission, the civil administration, judiciary and the police force are thoroughly politicised and under the circumstances fair election are not possible’. Perhaps to ensure that election do not take place as desired by its client party it does not hesitate to contradict itself. While it quotes Reuters news (October 2, 2005) about the out come of last election which reads: ‘foreign observers say Bangladeshi vote was fair’, at the end it cites Economist Intelligence Unit (July 3, 2006) contradicting the earlier assertion that, It has been reported (where?) that the EU believes that the 2001 voter list included 13 million ‘ghost’ voters while the Department of State believes 8% of that voter list was fake’. There is of course no suggestion as to who benefited from such ‘ghost’ and ‘fake’ voters; it very conveniently omits the fact that as the party in power of the outgoing government it was the Awami League who compiled that voter list.

Indian think tanks are also busy producing a rich crop of reports on Bangladesh, in his report (6.11.06) Dr Anand Kumar of South Asia Analysis Group writes, ‘the crucial role played by the Islamist forces in the ruling coalition also created doubts in the minds of several people(?) as they do not believe in modern democracy’. And ‘Awami League led opposition group has been ‘agitating’ for a neutral caretaker government and changes in the administration’. It goes further, ‘the AL adopted a reconciliatory approach’, this they write about six days after the Awami League systematically lynched a number of people in the country. Finally it concludes with a stern warning, ‘the situation might worsen if the care taker government failed to satisfy the opposition AL’. Indeed, worsen it did, so much for the AL’s reconciliatory approach!

Yet, despite the prevalence of an international discourse in the Awami League’s favour, the Party’s best efforts may yet come to nothing. There has been widespread revulsion at the actions of the Awami League’s private armies. The blood of innocent people has left an indelible scar on the political landscape. This will do doubt favour the four-party alliance. But if the Awami League is successful in its design, we can all still witness the dynamiting of democracy in Bangladesh.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

When the Policy Exchange treats with Awami League Militants

LONDON - The Policy Exchange, the Conservative Party think tank favoured by leader David Cameron, played host to a political rally for the militant and avowedly violent Bangladesh Awami League in London last Tuesday, 14 November 2006.

In bed with Extremists
The rally took place under the euphemism of an international conference on political Islam in Bangladesh. The Policy Exchange proceeded to organise the rally despite widespread accusations of violence and intimidation carried out by Awami League supporters, especially in the capital city, Dhaka. This culminated last month when AL supporters were filmed beating to death supporters of opposition parties.

The Party is orchestrating the latest spate of violence in order to force the interim Bangladeshi Government to appoint a compliant electoral commission that will eventually submit to the voter manipulations required by the Awami League. In most countries this would be called intimidation and an abuse of the democratic system, in Bangladesh this is termed as the pursuit of democracy.

By organizing this political rally, the Policy Exchange is now complicit in this endevour to subvert democracy in Bangladesh. The 'conference' included a who's who of the Awami League gangster class. Saber Hussain Chowdhury, Political Secretary to leader Sheikh Hasina led the charge but refused to adequately answer questions of violence from his supporters. The conference also heard from Awami League lawyer Samsuddin Chowdhury Manik. A retinue of Awami League sympathizers took part as supporting cast. So spoke the editor of the Awami League propaganda newssheet, the Daily Star and leaders of AL affiliated NGOs including Shariar Kabir, a party propagandist and Dr Ahmed Ziauddin a lobbyist keen to hunt down non-Awami League criminals of 1971 (but strangely silent of excesses committed by his own party).

Collectively, this delegation attempted to pursue an Awami League policy of pulling the wool over the eyes of the international community. As if violence and intimidation at home is not enough, the neo-Stalinist Awami League is now unleashing an international propaganda campaign to ensure that its violence and oppression goes unchecked. As the Bangladeshi nation witnessed the horror of the violence unleashed by Awami League supporters last month, many agree that this is very much in keeping with AL party policy.

During its last tenure in government (1996-2001), the party presided over unmitigated corruption and its supporters were noted for defying law and order to enrich their own coffers, often with the aid of arms and private armies. The most notorious case was of Jainul Abedin Hazari, an Awami League MP from the Bangladeshi district of Feni. So confident was he that he had rights of overlord in the area (thanks to Awami League patronage) he killed a resident in broad daylight by drilling into his head. To this day the AL is silent over the grisly murder and the killer is still at large (examples of brutality [in English, here.

Back at the Policy Exchange-sponsored rally, unsuspecting members of the audience who thought they were actually going to an academic conference found themselves amidst uncoothed Awami League supporters ready to shout down anyone they disagreed with. As if learning from the best traditions of the neo-conservative Fox News, the Policy Exchange made a feeble attempt to place a gloss of neutrality over the event by offering two, often inarticulate Bangladesh National Party responders. When the articulate Moudud Ahmed took to the stage, AL hoodlums and militants wasted no time to interrupt and shout down the speaker – to the bafflement of the presiding chairman (and AL lobby-fodder), the aristocratic Lord Avebury. In fact, anyone who dissented from the Party line espoused by the Policy Exchange or the Awami League would be promptly shouted down by the mob. This, no doubt is a taster to what Bangladeshis must undergo on a daily basis in Bangladesh.

In Bed with Hateful Ideologues
So, why does the Policy Exchange treat with Awami League militants? One suspects that this is due to the unholy alliance that has been brokered by the far-left party and the neo-conservatives, particularly from the United States. Licking its wounds from the right royal drubbing it had received at the hands of the American electorate, neoconservatives are now looking elsewhere to wreak havoc and mayhem. It is not content with the disasters it has presided over in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, enter stage right the Hudson Institute, whose hall of infamy includes the disgraced Conrad Black and whose policies include a harsh critique of environmentalism. Not exactly in the interest of a Bangladesh that is at the mercy of climate change is it? And who leads the Bangladeshi charge for this ultra-right outfit? One Mazneena Hossain whose father Anwar Hossain Monju served in the government of dictator H. M. Ershad and who switched to the Awami League to enrich his career. Unlike most Bangladeshis, daughter Manzeena Hossain is part of that privileged class of the Bangladeshi elite whose American education was funded by money extracted through corruption. Ms Hossain has been part of the Hudson Institute’s charge to lead neoconservatives against the Iraqi people. She has managed operations of the Iraq Democracy Information Center and is therefore complicit in the US policy disaster of post-Saddam Iraq.

Enter stage right also one Chris Blackburn, a curious figure unheard of amongst experts but a familiar face amongst far right and US evangelists. A contributor to xenophobic hate site ‘’ he also claims to have participated in the ‘International Intelligence Summit' a shady body of reactionaries, neoconservatives and disgruntled military officers unhappy that the ‘War on Terror’ is not as harsh as it should be. The Awami League's international spin-doctor (mentioned above) Saber Hossain Chowdhury is also a participant to this sinister body.

In some respects, this Policy Exchange event appears to emulate in Britain the divisiveness and the climate of fear that has been successfully created in the United States. Now on the decline, these preachers of hate are looking for fertile breeding grounds in the United Kingdom. So, enter stage right Daniel Pipes, a figure at the forefront of reactionary American neoconservativism who loses no time to demonise Muslims. This is a man that Christopher Hitchens describes as one ‘who confuses scholarship with propaganda and who pursues petty vendettas with scant regard for objectivity.’ The Vanity Fair columnist tells us that Pipes ‘employs the fears and insecurities created by Islamic extremism to slander or misrepresent those who disagree with him’.

The Pipesian tradition has now found willing champions here in Britain through the Policy Exchange. Of course, this agenda of hate existed well before the Policy Exchange decided to take on the mantle. In Britain, we were all too familiar with the views of BNP leader Nick Griffin, doommonger Melanie Phillips and former chairman of the Policy Exchange, Michael Gove. Now they have a voice through the work of the Policy Exchange who takes credit, unashamedly, for readjusting Government attitudes towards Muslims: an approach that is even more harsh and discriminatory towards Muslims. As David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, tries to throw off the adage of the ‘nasty party’, his task is even more challenging as his favourite think-tank pursues the worst traditions of the Thatcherite, hard-right wing of the Tory Party.

In Bed with Corrupt, Parochial Reactionaries
Yet, the Policy Exchange’s goal continues unabated. Their task is made easier as they seek support from across the political divide. Enter, stage left Martin Bright, political editor of the New Statesman who has made it his mission to expose ‘Islamists’ everywhere. At the Awami League-Policy Exchange rally he claimed that he, along with other Western journalists are ‘pig-ignorant’ about Bangladeshi affairs. As Mr Bright sets himself up to be the spokesman of a violent political party in Bangladesh, his pig-ignorance is only matched by his docile willingness to be lobby-fodder to a movement intent on subverting democracy and shutting out a diversity of voices.

Mr Bright took part in a panel that was decrying the loss of power of corrupt Awami League-inspired Bangladeshis who dominated London Tower Hamlets politics and society. Tower Hamlets today is more diverse than the Tower Hamlets eulogized by panelists at the Policy Exchange event. Panelists were bemoaning how some Bangladeshis lost power and influence. No mention was made of the fact that they made no attempt to forge British identities, but were obsessed with the parochial politics of back home. As young British-Bangladeshis roamed free, pushing drugs and fighting gang wars, AL-backed civil society leaders, now termed as ‘secularists’ were intent on dothing their cap to the corrupt politics of Bangladesh and emulating that to the streets of London. At the top of this pyramid were Labour councilors who have since been stigmatized for their rampant corruption.

Speakers at the Policy Exchange now hark back to those days. In her presentation, Policy Exchange researcher Munira Mirza belittled local faith groups that drew from their philosophy to contribute to a progressive British society. Her example: the contrast between ‘moderate’ Brick Lane Mosque and the ‘extremist’ East London Mosque. So moderate is the Brick Lane Mosque that it allows no women into that parochial place of worship. So extremist is the East London Mosque that not only are women welcomed, but women participate in droves, operating dozens of services that empower women and have gym facilities for women – unheard of in any mosque in the United Kingdom. The hypocrisy is evidenced by throwing labels, ‘moderate’, ‘extremists’ without a shred of evidence. (For the parochialism and backwardness of Brick Lane Mosque officials, click here and see Brick Lane Mosque Vice-President protest about Monica Ali's Brick Lane)

And so it seems the Policy Exchange has embarked on a Pipesian charade of hate and untruth, supping with a Leftist group intent on violence and subversion. In the 1980s the Conservative Party refused to deal with anyone that dealt in violence. This was applied as much to the Loyalist UDA as much to the IRA. And yet, the Awami League has armed cadres that even now indulges in violence. But as the Policy Exchange pursues a neoconservative agenda of divisiveness and hate, it seems today the maxim is: by any means possible.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Old bahinis and new '‘Mujahideen'’: The Legacy of murder and mayhem

Bangladesh is no Iraq, Palestine or Sri Lanka. Yet, in the five months between August to December 2005, there were no less than five incidents of bomb attacks. As the perpetrators are sentenced for their crimes, political parties still blame each other for controlling the bombers. Yet, one, simple question needs to be answered from this whole torrid affair: who benefits?

Historical Precedence
Why on earth should such a beautiful country like Bangladesh be infected by senseless violence as it has been over the past few months? It is a sweet water-kissed land, decorated with one of the world'’s richest fauna and most colourful flora and inhabited by a mild and amiable people. But it seems the seeds of political violence sown in the frenetic years of 1971 and after were so hardy that they keep coming up like a pernicious weed. Greying old people now fondly recall how during the East Pakistan days, they hardly heard of any serious violence. The worst that happened was when some land or other village dispute degenerated into a lathi fight, settled lathially in Bengali language. Lathi is a hardened bamboo stick about seven feet (2.5 meters) long which may be used to carry a medium load over the shoulders, to ward off a hostile animal, kill a snake, or even for fighting, if it came to that.

As a journalist at the time, I would, along with colleagues, phone around the district authorities every night looking for some such news, almost always without success. To help boost circulation, the editors demanded '‘action'’ reports. 'News'’ eventually came our way from the far western parts of the country where Bangladeshis did sometimes use guns to settle affairs. But the affray was mostly of a personal nature, rarely political. It started to become political as party politics began to forsake debate and was turned into a quarrel to be settled only by the use of force.

An Oxford academic, Professor Rushbrook Williams (1890-1978) who taught modern Indian history at Allahabad University and served later as an Asia specialist editor at the Times newspaper visited West and East Pakistan in the spring and the monsoon season of 1971. He returned really concerned about the trend towards political violence on the part of the Awami League and its nominally student supporters. '‘As in West Pakistan,'’ he wrote, in East Pakistan too, '‘there were numerous political groups; but the Awami League seemed determined that none but themselves should hold public meetings or take out processions:

'‘Only a few weeks after our visit, they violently broke up a meeting in Dacca [now spelled, Dhaka] of the Jamaat-i-Islami party - this was on January 18, 1970 - killing one person and injuring more than 599. On January 21, they broke up a meeting of the Pakistan Democratic Party at Narayanganj by organised hooliganism. Next day the office of the Jamaat-i-Islami] in Dacca was raided, furniture was smashed and documents burned.

'‘The Pakistan Democratic Party was again the victim of attack on February 1, when a public meeting in Dacca was forcibly broken up and several people, including Maulvi Farid Ahmad (1923-72), leader of the Nizam-i-Islam party, received physical injuries. Nor did the press escape unscathed if it failed to support the Awami League whole heartedly; on February 28 the offices of two Chittagong papers which opposed certain aspects of the Awami League were raided and broken up. Although various aggrieved persons and parties registered formal protests at such tactics, nothing much was done to bring them to an end. (...) what the Awami League was doing to innocent political opponents was exactly like what Hitler'’s supporters had done to the aristocratic elements in Germany prior to the rise of Nazism.'’ (L F Rushbrook Williams: The East Pakistan Tragedy, London, Tom Stacey, 1972), pp 32-33.)

Rushbrook Williams'’ words comparing the Awami League with Hitler'’s storm-troopers sounded strong indeed but not that surprising given his declared support for the unity of Pakistan. What seemed surprisingly true, however, was the warning he had sounded some thirty-three years ago. '‘And there was the danger,'’ he thought, '‘that in a country like East Pakistan, mob violence is easier to start than to stop'’.

In its thirty-five years of existence as an independent country, Bangladesh has seen more than its fair share of political and internecine violence. The dawn of independence itself was marred by a frantic spree of revenge killing of unprecedented cruelty. From then on it became a free-for-all. The murder of the revolutionary left-wing leader Shiraj Sikder and many others took place under the aegis of the Awami League government headed by Shaikh Mujibur-Rahman himself. He was also the Father of the new nation and its first Prime Minister.

In less than four years, on 15 August 1975, Shaikh Mujibur-Rahman who had since promulgated a single party rule and become president of the republic succumbed to the very cycle of violence that had come to infect the new nation'’s body politic. In a young officer'’s putsch against the corruption and despotism of his one-man rule, he was gunned down along with almost his entire family, save two daughters Hasina and Rehana who were not at the house. A few months later four of his senior Awami League ministers were also cut down in a hail of bullets inside the Dhaka Central Jail.

The legacy of murder and mayhem, however, refuses to go away. Yet, even by today'’s Bangladeshi standards, the current spate of violence seemed out of the ordinary. It all begun in earnest during last summer. In five months between August to December 2005, there were no less than five incidents of bomb attacks. Two of them looked like suicide bombings, though there remains a question whether the dead man was simply a hired carrier who did not know what was in the baggage he had been paid to carry or he was really a '‘martyr'’ to his cause. Bangladesh was no Iraq, Palestine or Sri Lanka, so what was the cause? Yet whatever the cause, the scale of violence was no doubt sinister.

Old hoodlums, New Causes
On 17 August 2005, a series of bomb explosions in several locations of the country inaugurated the season of mayhem. On 3 October, bombs were thrown from a distance into three law courts in different cities; it was followed by another incident on 14 October when bombs were thrown at a car, killing two judges.

The first '‘suicide bombing'’ took place on 29 November when persons said to be strapped with explosives walked into Ghazipur Bar Council building as well into the compound of Chittagong law courts. Some clue as to identity of the '‘suicide bomber'’ and perhaps also to whosoever may have organised it, was provided by another '‘suicide bombing'’ in Netrakona, a small town north of Dhaka on 8 December. In his op-ed published in the daily Naya Diganta on 14 December, a leading columnist and the chairman of the county'’s Press and Information Bureau (2005), Sadeq Khan, pointed out that the '‘suicide-bomber'’ who died in the Netrakona incident was a Hindu, a local motor cycle mechanic, named Jadav Biswas. One doubts, if Jadav Biswas even believed in the idea of martyrdom, let alone he wanted to be one.

Exchanging Blame
The real question, therefore, seems to be: not as who may have done it, but who may be behind it? Currently there are two parallel theories put forward by rival political camps. The pro-Indian camp and their political vehicle, the Awami League, along with its 14-party alliance, accuses the ruling four-party alliance, more specifically its main Islamic component Jamaat-i-Islami, as being responsible for these heinous incidents. But why should a political party which is a partner in the coalition government try to undermine its own position? The answer to the question comes from across the border.

Political circles in New Delhi took the view that violence may be taking place in Bangladesh, its ultimate target was India. They claim that the Jamaat-i-Islami Bangladesh was acting as a proxy for the Pakistan'’s ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence). Every now and then Indian politicians and political journalists speculate as to how the ISI is active in Bangladesh and trying to destabilise India in its eastern frontier. To destabilise Bangladesh in order to destabilise India in its eastern frontier! Here is an example.

In December, the speaker of West Bengal state assembly, Hashim Abdul Halim visited Bangladesh. While exchanging views with journalists in Chittagong, he confidently told them that he believed the Pakistan secret agency ISI was master-minding terrorism in the region. The actual operations were then left to their local allies such as the Jamaat-i-Islami Bangladesh. He said violence will cease if the Jamaat was thrown out of the government. Abdul Halim is a member of CPI-M(the Communist Party of India, Marxist), which held power in West Bengal. Abdul Halim'’s recipe to end the violence in Bangladesh are duly shared by India'’s allies within Bangladesh.

Those who pointed their fingers at the Jamaat said some of the people arrested had links with the party in the past. But the Jamaat leaders dismiss this as nonsense. They say the party could not be held responsible for anyone who was perhaps trying to infiltrate into the party a long time ago and had gone away only to be appear now in a new garb. In any case, neither the broad public opinion within the country nor the diplomatic and intelligence communities were prepared to buy such outlandish theory that the Jamaat was trying to shoot at its own foot in order to hurt India.

The Awami League was on the other hand, the Jamaat sources point out, has historically operated in concert with elements believed to have been behind many acts of political thuggery and violence in the country.

However perhaps, in accord with the spirit of our postmodern times, the hired goons of yester-years, seem to have been given a new job title, '‘Mujahid'’. The outfit claimed to be largely behind the current spate of bomb attacks in Bangladesh was said to be a shadowy thing trading under the name of Jamiatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). These Mujahideen were an odd collection drawn from the so-called '‘Salafist'’ '‘Wahabist'’ extremist elements from the Ahl-e-Hadith fringe. More importantly these Mujahideen also happened to be aided by the underground Purba Banglar Communist Party (Communist Party of East Bengal) and other assorted individuals of no particular political affiliation. Some of the top JMB players were even close relatives of certain Awami League leaders (see report in Bangladesh Observer.

Yet whoever these '‘Mujahideen'’ are, the ferocity of their sudden emergence, with a good financial resource base and access to large cache of arms and ammunition has taken everyone by surprise. But it is apparent that those who were sent out on field missions and were killed or apprehended were recruited from the pool of the young, unemployed and poor. They were, as Mao said, '‘the have-nots [who have] have nothing to loose'’ (except their own lives). Hopes and dreams are not for such people.

Political parties were nevertheless vying with each other to protest and to apportion blame. A series of mass public rallies were held in capital'’s Paltan Maidan: the first was organised by the Awami League along with its 14-party alliance on 22 November 2005; it was followed another rally on 21 December by the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party and then by the Jamaat on 28 December, each out-performing the previous one in the size of the crowd.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia also wrote to all major political parties and alliances inviting them to meet her '‘any where, any time'’ in order to discuss and work out an agreed strategy to combat this menace that threatened the very foundation of the country. While some parties accepted her invitation, the main opposition party, Awami League, refused even to receive the Prime Minister'’s personal emissary (her principal political secretary) who was carrying the letter. The Prime Minister herself cancelled her three day state visit to the United Arab Emirates scheduled to begin on 3 December 2005.

However, away from the political divide, perhaps the country'’s mood was best reflected by a round table of some leading opinion makers brought together by the Bangladesh Centre for Human Rights at a Dhaka hotel on 27 December.

It'’s the politics stupid, according to the former army chief, Lieut. General (Retd.) Mahbubur Rahman. '‘Politics in the country is hostage to corruption and self-aggrandisement'’, he said.

The editor of the English language daily Bangladesh Observer Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury added, '‘terrorism was introduced [in Bangladesh politics in order] to win elections and defeat political opponents'’.

Prominent Hindu academic, Professor Kalipad Sen agreed. In his view, '‘the birth of terrorism was a direct consequence of gangsterism in politics'’.

Alamgir Mohiuddin is editor of daily newspaper, Naya Diganta. He took the view that the present outbreak of violence was '‘a prelude to pre-election political campaign of violence and an attempt to stifle our budding democracy'’. Elections are due to be held in six months time.

Major General (Retd.) Moinul Hussain Chowdhury, had been an advisor to the president in a former caretaker government. He saw '‘socio-economic disparity as being the main cause of this development'’, viz. this insensible violence against individuals and public institutions.

The chairman of the Press and Information Bureau, Sadeq Khan, dismissed the view that moderate Islamic leaders and '‘ulama should also share the blame. We all see, he pointed out, that '‘the peace-loving Islamic groups were far more vocal [than most others] speaking politically as well as morally against terrorist atrocities'’.

Independently in his Friday khutba, the country'’s most respectable and senior scholar and imam of the National Mosque, Baitul Mukarram, Maulana Ubaidul Hoq denounced these acts of violence as utterly anti-Islamic. But he strongly castigated those who were trying to implicate and pass on the blame on to legitimate Islamic parties or groups, '‘while the JMB itself admitted that it was responsible'’.

Back at the Round Table, a former vice chancellor of the Dhaka University, Professor Emajuddin, was suggesting that while '‘the problem had an international dimension as well but it has not been addressed the way it should have been'’. He, therefore, demanded extreme vigilance and keeping '‘our eyes open in all directions'’, for while the JMB is said to be the perpetrators of the crime, most of them were illiterate, poor and ignorant. In other words, they could not be taken as independent operators.

Foreign Beneficiaries
It is obvious most people seemed to be aware as to where these '‘Bangladeshi mujahideen'’ were coming from. None dare point their fingers at New Delhi or Washington yet neither the Indians nor Americans hide their exasperation at Dhaka'’s desire to be able to take its own decisions. The emergence of Bangladesh was meant to be a clean break from the Muslim nationalism of the South Asian sub-continent and the adoption of a secular polity, yet it did not. If anything today Islam is more vibrant than in the residual (West) Pakistan. Whatever maybe said about its Islamic background, Jamaat-i-Islami has nevertheless subjected itself to the democratic process and is a respectable member of the coalition government. Yet note the hysteria that has followed the party'’s ascension: Bangladesh was heading towards '‘fundamentalism'’; the country is run by '‘extremists'’; '‘Al-Qaeda'’ has re-emerged; Bangladesh is a failed state and is yet to give way to '‘Taliban-type'’ government. When it comes South Asian politics, this noise is being amplified and has no comparison. The last time a South Asian religiously-based political party rose to prominence in the form of the Hindu BJP, we were not treated to the delights of its storm troopers, the RSS. Nor were we quaking at the prospect of a secular India being usurped by Hinduvta. But when Islam comes to our political space, double standards flowers majestically.

If the Bangladeshi Muslims are Islamic it is not because of Jamaat-i-Islami or any other Islamic party or institution. It'’s the other way round. If Jamaat-i-Islami and other Islamic parties appear to be thriving in Bangladesh, it is because of the historical ethos of the society itself was Islamic.

However, the so-called JMB violence seemed to be a play of internal as well as external factors. The bitter power struggle in the national arena has opened an invaluable space for interested foreign players to pursue their economic, political and cultural goals. The foot-soldiers for these foreign powers are hired from a large pool of economically poor and socially deprived people in the country. The answer to the problem can, however, be found only nationally: by uniting the country around a clean and clear, just and ethical vision and translate that vision into the daily lives of the ordinary people.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

India and Bangladesh: Wind of change in political thinking

It seems that some Bangladeshis won’t play politics when it comes to the interests of Bangladesh abroad.

One can easily detect a ‘climate change’ in the intellectual geography of Bangladesh today. It has yet to make an impact on the political scene; the change is real and unmistakeable nonetheless. Nothing evidences such a shift quite as neatly as a rich crop of post-editorials penned by a group of eminently distinguished columnists. More significantly, such columns can hardly be dismissed as the offerings of some newspapers of lesser pedigree, since they are carried by the countries hugely celebrated dailies; such as the Prothom Alo – the highest circulated daily, the Juganor – the second most widely circulated, as well as the New Nation and the Ittefaq – traditionally regarded to have pro- Awami League and secular sympathies and the left-leaning Weekly Holiday. None of these papers could be tainted for having even the slightest tinge of fundamentalist fervour. But the message they are disseminating is warming the hearts of all patriotic Bangladeshies.

Countries leading columnists and editors such as Farhad Mazhar, Sadeq Khan, Dr. Asif Nazrul and Barrister Moinul Hussain are putting forward powerful arguments on the need of managing threats posed by an image of Bangladesh painted by negative externality and aided and abetted by a group of internal self-serving quislings from both among the media and political arena. These authors command more attention and respect of the nation than rest of the leader writers in the print media put together. They present, perhaps for the first time, a plausible overview of Bangladesh’s helplessness in the face of unending interference and meddling in its internal affairs by some foreign powers. There are riveting accounts of ‘bended-knee’ policy and even partial surrender of national sovereignty by the opposition politician and media and even in some cases the government.

Rice’s Indian curry
Condolezza Rice’s recent observation in Delhi that Bangladesh is ‘ a place that is becoming quite troubling’, triggered a media mayhem, first fomented in Indian press and then slavishly parroted by its most-obedient counterparts in Bangladesh. Opposition politicians could hardly believe their luck and promptly jumped in to exploit this god-send adding their voice to the already deafening chorus. Yet, unlike in the past, when utterance of this magnitude when rolled out of the lips of the first diplomat of world’s only super power, would have send shock waves in Dhaka; Dr. Rice’s diagnosis merely succeeded to create amusement and a little anxiety in the gossip tables and genuine political analyst circles in Dhaka.

Writing in the countries largest circulated daily Prothom Alo on 30th March, Asif Nazrul a commentator and professor of Law in the Dhaka university was contemptuous of the political leaders who shamelessly try to cash-in on such remarks and said, ‘the behaviour of some political leaders suggests that it is not only the people but the foreign missions and aid-giving nations are also a source of power in Bangladesh’. It is not just Dr. Rice, in his view, but also aid-giving countries and the foreign diplomatic missions are increasingly trying to ‘tighten their grip on Bangladesh’s socio-economic and political affairs in the name of good-governance, human-rights and introduction of free-trade’. Asif Nazrul has little doubt that some of these diplomats may be at the lower down the civil service ladder in their own country, yet in Dhaka they are behaving more or less like colonial viceroys. “They are ordering round our government on issues such as, ‘how the government will run’, ‘what kind of electoral process to be adopted’, ‘ what industry or what subsidy to be abolished’, ‘ what is to be taught to the Bangladeshi children’ etc.”. This gradual encroachment of countries’ sovereign rights should have alarmed all politicians and patriotic people in the country. It is unfortunate that they are unable to set their sights much above narrow, short term political gains. Describing this rather unwholesome state of affairs, he says, ‘our larger political parties are busy in mutual strife in their pathetic quest for power, they neither have the will nor the intention to grasp the real magnitude of these issues in order to establish a truly respectable and sovereign nation’. But it is not only the politicians, ‘a group of intellectuals and local NGO leaders are also behaving like colonial puppets and actively contributing to create an atmosphere conducive to foreign interference’.

In his popular post-editorial column in the second largest circulated daily Jugantor ( 23 March 2005), political analyst and poet Farhad Mazhar, who earned his name as the most effective advocate of secular-left thinking, was far more critical. Writing under the heading, ‘What did Condolezza Rice say?’, he said, ‘ if you show even slightest sympathy to Islam or write on any Islamic issue, you will be automatically tainted as terrorist…… we were told that there is some thing called ‘freedom of expression’, well if there is, such luxuries are accorded only to the Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen’s of the world, and instantly denied to all those who wish to speak against injustice and torture, from an Islamic point of view.’ He reminded his readers that it was ‘Dr. Rice who presented her thesis to the US State Department’ that the, ‘madrasas (religious seminaries) are responsible for training terrorists’. And as soon as she uttered those words, ‘some of our own newspapers started, with indecent haste, to publish stories complete with photographs, of how madrasa’s are conducting such training.’ The ‘fascist’ intolerance to Islam such quarters demonstrate is really amazing and all in the name of ‘democracy and secularism’.

Farhad Mazhar was certain that toeing the line in such slavish fashion will not be sufficient to save Bangladesh from the wrath of the imperialist super power, in his words ‘there is no barrier that might protect us from this all engulfing fire’. Although he argues that everything is not black and white and even in the State Department there are people who would argue that Bangladesh is a moderate Muslim country. It may be in the interest of their wider strategic equation, yet this view exists. However, some Bangladeshi leaders and intellectuals actively promote a dark picture of Bangladesh. Even during Sheikh Hasina’a tenure when American president Bill Clinton came to visit the country, almost at the same time Bangladesh missions abroad were busily distributing a pamphlet, depicting an assassin’s hand with blood stained dagger on its green cover, which claimed that Bangladesh is fast turning into a hot bed of Taleban, Al-Qaida type Islamic terrorism. ‘Although no one could be in doubt about the intention, the source of this publication still remains a mystery, some suspect it to be a joint operation by the Indian and Israeli intelligence’.

The question remains why Sheikh Hasina’s own government was doing this itself? ‘Sheikh Hasina dug her own grave,… and surpassed not only American’s but also the BJP’s India in anti-Bangladeshi propaganda’.

Sadeq Khan, a senior commentator leaves us in no doubt (US-Bangla relations: Making a mountain out of molehill, Holiday 26 March) that the whole thing was ‘orchestrated’ by India and ‘India-friendly’ Bangladeshi circle. In his view, considering the long list of pressing issues ‘Bangladesh hardly figured except as a passing reference’. No doubt India pressed her hard on the issue, quoting a top us official, presumably the US ambassador in Delhi, Indian papers reported that, ‘ there was an expression of interest that we work together in Bangladesh relating to security as the deteriorating security situation there could affect regional security’. Strong stuff! But the, ‘US response was not newsworthy enough to merit a mention in any official transcript of US-India dialogue’. However, Dr. Rice was little more obliging when pressed by India Today journalist Raj Chengappa during an exclusive interview. Answering a leading question she said, ‘ there is more that we probably need to do on Bangladesh which is I think a place that is becoming quite troubling. So, in the region, there is a great deal we can do. But I think we will also see that India will start to play more of a role’.

Bangladesh understandably was less than amused, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia chided, in the Parliament, ‘foreign diplomats who had openly debated issues concerning the internal politics of Bangladesh’. Which perhaps forced the US Embassy in Dhaka to issue an express and prompt denial, that, ‘there was no actual initiative jointly undertaken by India and the USA to change the situation in Bangladesh’.

Maybe. But there remains something odd about India’s intention. Across Bangladesh, the level of trust in India’s true motives are in terminal decline. When all her actions and noises are taken together, Bangladeshis can not help feeling that a storm cloud is gathering over their country.

Planted terrorists
In an article under the heading, Unholy designs to harm Bangladesh using Islamic militancy as pretext’, in the English daily New Nation (14 March) Mohammad Zainul Abedin was in no doubt that, ‘India is the architect of terrorism in Bangladesh’ and most of the so called militant outfits are the, ‘brainchildren of Indian intelligence agency RAW’. In his view the aim is ‘to justify Indian allegation that Bangladesh is a haven of the Islamic terrorists’. Quoting countries intelligence agencies, a whole range of Dhaka dailies reported on 25 February that both the recently banned JMJB (Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh) and Jamiatul Majahideens (JMB) were, ‘ floated, financed and guided by RAW’ to carryout disruptive activities in the country. In Mr. Abedin’s words, the real aim is the ‘unification of dreamy Akhand Bharat’.As a first step they would like to ‘make the government unpopular … and pave the way to install a puppet government in Dhaka’, and ‘ultimately make Bangladesh a vassal state of India’.

Wishful thinking? Who knows!?

In the beginning it was an inseparable relationship – India and Bangladesh were deeply devoted to each other. In those days politicians used to proudly were their India affiliation on their sleeves. Not any more – ‘pro-Indian’ has become a dirty word in Bangladeshi Politics today. Hobnobbing with Delhi could seriously damage the prospects of any aspiring political hopeful. Even the Awami League is often forced to deny such link. A report (16 March) by Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) , the official news agency, that Sheikh Hasina’s son Sajeeb Wazed Joy (32) met India’s Defence Minister Pranob Mukharjee the day before (15 March 2005) was carried by a number of Bangladeshi news papers on March 17 2005 creating quite a stir in the country. Awami reacted sharply with violent anger. Party general secretary Abdul Jalil, who incidentally himself had a meeting with Pranob Mukharjee on March 15, it later transpired, vigorously dismissed the report as ‘totally baseless’ and ‘fabricated’. Joy himself was forced to issue him own internet statement expressing his shock and describing story as a government attempt to ‘malign my image’.

One wonders – in what way? Perhaps a sign of changing time in the political climate of today’s Bangladesh.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

What is Disha?

Relax – this is not another lazy-lyric of nostalgic nonsense about the land or the landscape. DISHA is a philosophy, a state of mind and a holistic approach to give our troubled nation a sense of direction. For a real love for the country can be best demonstrated by articulating the views that could help bring about change and progress in Bangladesh.

At a confused time like this a sense of direction is what our country desperately needs. DISHA will cause you to question the conventional wisdom and ideas fed by the politicians and pundits about the policies and direction that brought the country to its knees. The inconsistency, arrogance, corruption, wanton misuse and destruction of this otherwise resource-rich nation by a few, is not only tragic but even unforgivable.

Extracting the truth from behind the elaborate smoke-screen is tough enough, yet if we wish to change the destiny of our beloved country it is important to have access to information that is clear, accurate and sufficiently detailed. Disha will strive hard to scan the cream of truth from the sea of muddy-misinformation. Indeed DISHA will induce and energise you to challenge them in an informed and energetic way.