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Bangladesh dropped from US watch list over Violation Of Minorities’ Rights

 Rezaul Karim

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a US Congressional panel, dropped Bangladesh from its Watch List of countries deemed to violate minorities’ right to religious freedom. The absence of measures to promote minority voting rights and the failure of the government to investigate the severe anti-minority violence of 2001 were among the reasons for which Bangladesh was placed in the Watch List from 2005 to 2008. However, in light of the positive developments witnessed during the December 29, 2008 general elections, the commission removed Bangladesh from its Watch List of 2009. 

 The report said at that time the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led government failed to investigate or prosecute acts of severe violence, including killings, rape, land seizures, arson, and extortion committed against religious minorities, particularly Hindus, who were perceived to be allied to the then-opposition Awami League. Despite these improvements, USCIRF report said Bangladesh continues to have outstanding religious freedom issues and face threats from religious extremism. dhaka_bangladesh_4112

According to the report, the BNP led by Khaleda Zia shared power with Islamist parties during 2001-06, when the country witnessed an unprecedented rise in religious intolerance. After refusing to for long, the BNP-led alliance government, in the face of protests at home and an international outcry, banned four Islamist outfits

 Aided by the expansion of Islamic schools (madrasas) and charities, many of which receive foreign funding with varying degrees of government oversight, Islamist activists have gained significantly in political, economic, and social influence in recent years, the commission’s report reads. Members of Jamaat-e-Islami allegedly used their influence in the previous BNP-led government to deny funding disadvantaged groups viewed as opposing Jamaat’s Islamist political and social agenda, it said.

 It said the caretaker government was widely criticised by international and local human rights agencies for serious human rights abuses, including suspected extrajudicial killings by security forces, arbitrary detentions, torture, curbs on press freedom, and violations of the right to due process.

 During the 2007-2008 emergency period, the commission said Islamist groups rose in political prominence and public visibility. In September 2007, emergency restrictions on assembly were apparently waived to allow Jamaat and other Islamist supporters burn effigies and stage public protests against the publication of a newspaper cartoon they believed mocked an element of Bangladeshi Islamic culture. Cartoonist Arifur Rahman was jailed without charge for six months. In March 2008, restrictions on assembly were again ostensibly lifted to allow protests by Islamic groups against a policy proposed by a consortium of women’s organisations to strengthen constitutional provision for the equal rights of women. In October 2008, federal agencies removed five sculptures of traditional Bengali musicians opposite Zia International Airport in Dhaka at the behest of Islamic leaders, who allegedly deemed the sculptures un-Islamic.

Turning to minorities situation, it said although the constitution provides protections for women and minorities, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Ahmadiyyas, and other minorities must regularly grapple with societal discrimination, as well as face prejudice that hinders their ability to access public services, the legal system, and government, military, and police employment.

 The commission recommended that the US government encourage the new government of Bangladesh to take early actions on the following issues and ensure consistent implementation.

1. Investigate and prosecute perpetrators of the anti-minority violence that occurred in the wake of the 2001 national elections.

 2. Repeal the Vested Property Act and commit to restoring or compensating owners for properties seized, including the heirs of original owners.

 3. Rescind the 2004 order banning Ahmadiyya publications, and ensure adequate police response to attacks against Ahmadiyyas.

4. Enforce all provisions of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord and declare that members of Bangladesh’s tribal communities are deserving of the full rights of Bangladeshi citizenship.

5. Create and support the promised National Human Rights Commission, which should be independent, adequately funded, inclusive of women and minorities, and defined by a broad mandate that includes freedom of religion or belief.

6. Include in all public and madrasa school curricula, textbooks, and teacher trainings information on tolerance and respect for freedom of religion or belief.

7. Ensure that members of minority communities have equal access to government services and public employment, including the judiciary and high-level government positions.

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Does Awami League Victory Offer Hope for Real Change?

 

 

Dr. Richard L. Benkin

 

Dr. Richard L. Benkin

 

Bangladeshi elections had been put off for so long that it was difficult to predict what they might produce. On December 29, 2008, however, the people of Bangladesh answered that question clearly by giving Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League (AL) a landslide victory. That’s both good news and bad news for the left-center party good news in that it need not make any dubious deals to being other parties into its ruling coalition; bad news in that the world will hold Hasina and her party responsible for what happens next. The AL is inheriting an economy in shambles, a still-corrupt officialdom, a nation infested with Islamist terrorists, and a seemingly ineradicable tradition of minority oppression, even ethnic cleansing. Curing those ails is an enormous task, and one key to success will be actions the AL takes to secure foreign support for its effort.

In January 2007, I met with former Bangladeshi Home Minister Lutfuzzaman Babar at his home in Dhaka, three days before a military coup suspended elections scheduled to be held later that month. The reason for the military’s intervention was that Babar’s party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), had rigged the upcoming vote so transparently as to render any potential outcome illegitimate. At the time of my meeting with Babar, there it still appeared that the election would take place as scheduled; and Babar along with the rest of the BNP was planning their next move as the nation’s leaders.

Babar asked me how I thought the United States could help Bangladesh and what we could do to secure that aid. I responded that “Bangladesh and your party in particular” are going to have a tough time convincing anyone in Washington or anywhere else to support you until “you take real action to stop three things: massive corruption, tolerating and even sponsoring radical Islamists, and the oppression of minorities, women, and journalists.” During the BNP’s long tenure in office, matters grew worse on all three dimensions. Babar himself remains in prison having been arrested by the interim government for his own role in Bangladesh’s seemingly endemic corruption. Often, the Awami League has touted itself the antidote to these ills, particularly the last two; and while there is no question that it is preferable to the BNP and its Islamist coalition partners, the swooning we see in some quarters are pre-mature. The AL has a long and hard road ahead of it, and it ultimately will be judged on its actions and their effectiveness for the people of Bangladesh; not on its fine words or the a priori support of others. And thus far, its actions fail to live up to its words.

Let us remember the unique situation that transpired just prior to its assumption of power. First, the BNP transparently rigged and somehow expected that the opposition, the entire diplomatic community, and most importantly the people of Bangladesh would not notice. By doing so, it revealed a level of corruption so deep that cheating was considered acceptable enough to be done in the open. But the AL only made matters worse. Its rants against BNP mendacity found the entire world on its side, but instead of proving itself to be in a class above the BNP, it showed itself to be no better. When I arrived in Dhaka AL leader Hasina was on television and in the press calling for violence in the street to “shut down” the nation. Instead of capitalizing on her support and going to various embassies in a statesman-like way, she acted like a demagogue that would bring the country to greater misery that it already was. The general impression in world capitals was that both the BNP and AL would bring the country to ruin if it meant scoring points against the other; that their leaders cared less about the national interest than they did about their own petty feuds. The AL’s actions confirmed that impression and so no one saw either party as a palatable alternative. In an historically unprecedented action, every western democracy called on the Bangladeshis not to hold elections.

Not long before that, the AL abandoned its stated principles of religious freedom and a secular government by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the radical Islamist Bangladesh Khelefat Majlis (BKM). In exchange for BKM’s support, the AL stipulated that Islamic clerics’ fatwa would be binding on the entire nation if the AL won the election. The MOU parties also promised to ban any law deemed contrary to Quranic values, put madrass degrees on the par with public schools and universities, and outlaw any criticisms of the Prophet Muhammad. Undoubtedly, AL defenders would remind us that the party rescinded the MOU, but that was only after the elections were cancelled—and almost a month after it at that.

While the Awami League frequently identifies itself as the defender of minority rights, its record is less than convincing. Professor Abul Barkat of Dhaka University has conducted the most authoritative study on Bangladesh’s Vested Property Act (VPA). The VPA was modeled after Pakistan’s Enemies Property Act, and like its predecessor is a racist and retaliatory law aimed at Hindus and other minorities. It empowers the Bangladeshi government to seize the property of non-Muslims and distribute it to Muslims of their choice. As Barkat has shown, the percentages of the spoils collected by the BNP and AL are almost identical with their positions flip flopping depending on who is in power. At the end of its tenure in 2001, the AL passed the Vested Property Return Act, but that was recognized as an empty gesture that would never be implemented.

This is not to say that the world should despair that there will be no change under the new AL administration; but it should caution everyone not to assume things will change based on words alone. There is hope, however. This AL’s landslide victory presents the party with an opportunity it has not had in the past; namely, to operate free of the pressures and interests of coalition needed partners. Sheikh Hasina has stated that the economy and the people’s welfare will be her top priority, and success will require her government to tackle the issues mentioned in this article in order to win international credibility for Bangladesh. Her government can take some basic actions to secure that.

As one of the AL’s first actions, repeal the Vested Property Act and set up a commission to return seized properties to their rightful owner. By this point, even members of the government have called the VPA “a black law” in that it has no justification by any standard of human rights and jurisprudence. All parties interviewed about the VPA said they are looking for the AL to right this historical wrong. It would be easy to do and do quickly as a message to the world that this Bangladeshi government is committed to act and not just talk in upholding the principles basic to the people and culture of Bangladesh.

Secure cooperation of the United States and NATO and announce that Bangladesh will work jointly with them in a grand alliance against Islamist terror. There was a time that Bangladesh was identified as a moderate Muslim nation and one that would stand against terror. That time is long past thanks to a BNP government that abetted the expansion of radical Islamists in its country. It has been rumored that even Osama Bin Laden has at times found safe haven in Bangladesh. To re-establish its anti-radical credentials and win international goodwill, Bangladesh must show that it is ready to back up its words with action.

Control the open border with India that allows contraband and terrorists to flow freely between the two countries. I have been to that border and saw how easily people and goods move illicitly between the two countries. That is not good for Bangladesh or India. It has devastated the border areas and costs both countries enormous amounts in resources dealing with the consequences. The AL has maintained cordial relations with its giant neighbor, and controlling the border could be the first step in building a new relationship that will benefit both countries greatly.

Conduct behind-the-scenes negotiations and then announce that as a moderate Muslim county, Bangladesh will act as an honest broker in the Middle East conflict. In 2003, I published “Dear Bangladesh” in which I recognized that Bangladesh was uniquely positioned to take on this role. Since then, however, hard-line statements by BNP officials (many far more strident that those heard anywhere in the Muslim world except in rogue states like Iran) have made such a role less likely. There have always been efforts to establish some level of contact between Bangladesh and Israel, and one that would not compromise Bangladesh’s support for the Palestinians or jeopardize its expatriate workers in Saudi Arabia. It would be another way for Bangladesh to re-establish its moderate Muslim credentials, and it would change Bangladesh’s role from that of a poor victim to a major international player that needs to be courted.

Immediately allocate police and military resources to enforce laws against minority oppression and attacks on minorities. Make this RAB’s primary role. The AL has said all the right things about supporting an end to this rampant minority oppression and ethnic cleansing of Bangladeshi Hindus; but it has yet to say how it will enforce laws that have proven invulnerable to enforcement. Not only do anti-minority incidents in Dhaka and other large cities proceed with impunity (and this is the case whether the victims are Hindu, Christian, Ahmadiyya, or any other minority), but the countryside has been open season on non-Muslims for decades where even local law enforcement participates in or allows the atrocities. It would be another way the AL can show it is ready to back its words with action. And it might turn its human rights albatross (RAB) into an instrument that enforces human rights.

Continue the mandate of the Anti-Corruption Commission. Strengthen the Commission and staff it with individuals from all major parties and the military so its justice will be handed down equitably. Add provisions to prevent this variety from paralyzing its efforts.

Launch an initiative for international investment and tourism in Bangladesh. A prominent AL supporter told me, “We don’t want handouts, we want joint ventures.” The future of Bangladesh lies in its ability to attract foreign capital. There are resources that have not been tapped, unmet needs of this giant population, and natural beauty and wonder that would make anyone’s vacation a memorable one. By showing the world that she truly is leading a new Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina can build the international confidence needed to sustain her people well into the 21st century.

Kawmi madrasas to get govt recognition Assures law minister

 
Committed to PEOPLE’S RIGHT TO KNOW
 
  Tuesday, April 21, 2009 10:01 PM GMT+06:00  
 
 
Print Friendly Version Published On: 2009-04-19 Front Page Kawmi madrasas to get govt recognition Assures law minister Staff Correspondent
Law Minister Shafique Ahmed yesterday said the government is sincere to recognise the Kawmi madrasa education by bringing it in the mainstream of the country’s general education system.”If the Kawmi madrasa education is brought under the general curriculum of education, the madrasas will be registered. The madrasa students will then get general education and certificates and as a result they will get jobs like the students who study general curriculum,” he said.

He made the comments while talking to reporters after holding a meeting with a 15-member delegation of Kawmi madrasa teachers at his Indira Road residence in the evening.

The leaders of the Kawmi madrasa teachers said that around 30 lakh students are studying in about 15,000 Kawmi madrasas across the country.

The law minister said a large number of students who are studying in the Kawmi madrasas will get the modern, scientific and technical education along with the religious lessons at Kawmi madrasas when the education system would be brought under the general education system.

Shafique Ahmed said some media distortedly published one of his comments regarding the emergence of militancy from Kawmi madrasas.

He said he never made a comment that Kawmi madrasas are the centre of militancy.

Replying to a question, the law minister said the decision of appointing investigation agency and prosecutors for holding trial of the war criminals will be finalised at a meeting today.

Maulana Mufti Abdullah and Mufti Imad Uddin representing the Kawmi madrasa teachers said they urged the prime minister through the law minister to recognise the Kawmi madrasa education as an official education and to take steps so that the law enforcers don’t raid the Kawmi madrasas and harass the madrasa teachers and students.

They said that there is no terrorism or militancy in Islam.

They also said the law minister has assured them of meeting their demands.

 
Committed to PEOPLE’S RIGHT TO KNOW
 
  Tuesday, April 21, 2009 10:03 PM GMT+06:00  
 
 
Print Friendly Version Published On: 2009-04-19 Front Page Meeting With PM Kawmi madrasa leaders to help govt fight militancy Unb, Dhaka
Kawmi madrasa leaders yesterday promised to help the government in identifying the patrons of militancy and bringing them to book.The madrasa leaders under the banner of Bangladesh Kawmi Madrasa Education Board were speaking at a view-exchange meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at her official residence Jamuna in the evening

They decided to withdraw their rally scheduled for April 20 in protest against the recent anti-militancy drives in Kawmi Madrasas.

Allama Shah Ahmad Shafi, president of Bangladesh Kawmi Madrasa Education Board, scholars Shaikhul Hadith Allama Azizul Haque, Shaikhul Hadith Allama Fariduddin Masud, Hazrat Moulana Jamiruddin, Moulana Habibur Rahman, Moulana Abdul Halim, Moulana Ashraf Ali, Moulana Anwar Shah and Moulana Abul Fatah Mohammad Yahia, among others, were present.

Shafi said real Kawmi madrasas in the country are not involved in militancy or any other terrorist activity. The orphans and the children of helpless and poor people get shelter and education there.

Abul Fatah Mohammad Yahia said some misguided people are carrying out terrorist activities using the name of Islam and “this evil force is pinning the blame on the country’s Kawmi madrasas very cleverly.”

“From now on, we shall remain vigilant and try our best to find out the militants. If we find any of them, we shall hand him over to the administration,” said Mohammad Yahia.

Moulana Ruhul Amin suggested that the government involve the imams in a campaign for creating mass awareness against the menace of militancy. He also gave a proposal for forming information cells in Kawmi madrasas to inform the local administration about any suspicious activity.

They suggested that the government form antiterrorism committees in upazilas and districts and include them in the committees to ensure coordination among those.

The prime minister assured them that no innocent person would be harassed during the anti-militancy drives.

The madrasa leaders blamed Jamaat-e-Islami for ‘patronising’ militancy in the country and said Jamaat is using the country’s government madrasas ‘to create its cadres.’

They demanded that the prime minister form a national commission to formulate a supplementary syllabus based on science and technology keeping the original Kawmi Madrasa syllabus intact.

“The original syllabus of holy Quran, Hadith can never be changed. But, I think, the madrasa students need training and education on science and technology for getting more employment opportunities,” the premier said.

Hasina said evil acts of a few people are tarnishing the image of Islam. Now it has become necessary to identify them.

“The government needs your suggestions and cooperation to eliminate the evil force that is using the name of Islam to carry out terrorist activities,” she told the madrasa leaders.

Prime minister’s advisers HT Imam and Maj Gen. (retd) Tarique Ahmed Siddique and Press Secretary Abul Kalam Azad, among others, were present.

 

The banality of violence in Bangladesh

The banality of violence in Bangladesh

Photo: Rebel border guards position in headquarters in capital Dhaka

BINA D’COSTA

IN THE early morning on the 25 February, a mutiny by the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) broke out in Dhaka. Following some horrific ordeals experienced by many army officers, including senior BDR staff and their families, the mutiny ended 33 hours later.

The dispute, thought to be about the pay and command structure of the BDR, Bangladesh’s paramilitary force, now looks increasingly like a sinister plot to destabilise a democratic but institutionally weak nation-state. While it is not clear how the BDR rebels got access to scores of arms and ammunitions, there are now confirmed reports that some non-BDR individuals and institutions were connected to this mutiny.

The history of the BDR goes back to 1795, when the Frontier Protection Forces were formed by the East India Company of the British Raj. After several name changes under different political systems, the East Pakistan Rifles (1947-1971) became the Bangladesh Rifles in 1972. Currently, junior BDR personnel receive a meagre US $70 per month and usually the senior BDR officers are seconded from the army, creating power inequality within BDR regiments. In addition, there have been recent demands from the BDR for government approval to participate in lucrative peacekeeping missions overseas.

The bodies of 81 officers – disposed of in sewers and shallow graves – were discovered in the days after the bloodshed ended, with an estimated 1,000 guards fleeing in civilian clothes. Some army officers are still missing. There are horrifying tales of rape, looting and arson that emerged from the accounts of survivors. The Director General (DG) of the BDR Major General Shakil Ahmed and his wife Naznin Ahmed’s bodies were also found in one of the mass graves.

Perpetrators
Earlier sympathy towards the BDR from ordinary citizens quickly evaporated following the broadcast of partially decomposed and charred bodies, mass graves, signs of disrespect shown by the mutineers to the deceased, and the trauma of families who had lost their loved ones. The mutiny and the horror that emerged during this event have been compared to the violence of 1971. The aggressive methods of this mutiny, indeed, bear an uncanny resemblance to the 1971 genocide by the Pakistani army and their collaborators.

The Awami League government came back to power in December 2008. Amongst its ‘new’ promises was the commitment to hold a war crimes trial that would bring the perpetrators of 1971 to justice. Jamaat-I-Islami, the political party which sided with Pakistan during the war has a lot to lose if the government decides to go ahead with the trial. Commerce Minister and the Chair of the Investigation Commission, Faruq Khan hastily suggested in a press conference on 3 March that the BDR massacre was executed to foil the government’s efforts to hold the war crimes trial. He also mentioned ‘the horrid Peelkhana killings and plundering clearly show that the conspirators active in destabilising the Bengali nation and its language are menacingly strong.’

Some were quick to point to the role of other Islamic groups, such as the JMB (Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh) and HuJI-B (Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh) that have an interest in destabilising the state. While this investigation is still continuing, the Commerce Minister has been repeatedly pointing to the JMB.

Although it is entirely possible that these groups were involved, without conclusive evidence, it is not prudent for a senior political leader to comment in this way, and it may jeopardise the inquiry.

The other opinions and conspiracy theories circulating include India’s interest in having a weak Bangladeshi border patrol and Pakistan’s ISI wanting to divert attention from the war crimes trials.

These are entirely unsubstantiated assumptions, but the mutiny has stalled the war crimes movement, created human insecurity and anxiety, and posed a significant challenge to the recently elected government. In addition, weakened border patrols mean that cross-border smuggling operations have the upper hand for the time being.

Redress
The government issued an order asking all BDR officials to come back to work within 24 hours on 28 February. Nearly 5000 BDR personnel have since rejoined duties. However, anxious families waiting outside the BDR headquarters have reported that they had not heard back from the troops since. There are also unconfirmed reports that retaliatory measures have been taken against the BDR personnel. A treason case was filed, naming BDR deputy assistant director Touhidul Alam and five others and accusing more than a thousand officers in connection with the mutiny. Investigators have so far confirmed the involvement of 450 BDR personnel in the mutiny and suggested that at least 12 of them led several groups of mutineers.

The government is considering holding the trial under the Army Act of 1952. If this happens, the likely application of the death penalty for the most serious offences will provide swift justice, but that justice may not be fair. It would be more constructive to create a special tribunal, upholding the rule of law that would attend not only to punitive mechanisms, but also consider the context of such violent outbursts and the grievances of the BDR personnel.

Media
Security anxieties have led to the government controlling the flow of information from Bangladesh to the outside world. Some of the earlier discussions between senior army officers and the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, have been posted on YouTube. As a result, the government banned YouTube and 5 other blogs that covered the mutiny stories and debates. While it is true that the event generated many rumours, in this globalised world there are many ways to bypass such naïve controls. A democratic government must respect the value of information flow, and it is not astute to try to impose sanctions on information in the name of security.

The three-day national mourning period announced by the government was only for the army officers who were killed. There was no account of the distress of ordinary BDR staff, and the civilians who were killed during the mutiny. The Bangladeshi media has depicted the BDR as an ‘evil’ force which carried out ‘demonic’ activities, either deliberately or through its subtexts. This narrow portrayal prompted many acts of prejudice against innocent BDR staff and their families. The media’s representations of the assassinated officers as ‘fallen heroes’ also illustrate the powerful symbolic- both material and real location of the army as the sole protector of the nation. No other institution’s carnage could evoke such strong reactions.

The media in Bangladesh has also been careful not to report any stories of rape, gender-based violence and intimidation. However, these horrific stories are now trickling down from Peelkhana violence survivors to the global audience through various channels. While it is extremely important to protect the privacy of the survivors with utmost gender sensitivity, these acts demonstrate that the mutiny was not only about pay, hierarchy and a desire to in participate in UN peacekeeping missions. What was this violence about? Without considering the crimes committed against the families that were held hostages, the investigation will not be complete. Even one rape is too many. It is the government’s and civil society’s responsibility (including the media) to ensure that violence committed against women and children is not pushed under the rug in the name of honour and purity of the nation.

Future
What does this recent uprising mean in terms of Bangladesh’s internal politics and the region? Firstly, it reveals the deeply embedded insecurity and instability of Bangladesh that have existed since the beginnings of independence. Political assassinations, coups, martial law, have shaped its political system where intense divisions and distrust remain between the civilian governing bodies and the armed forces. Similar to other political killings of the recent past, if this violence is not resolved, and if there is no justice, Bangladesh will face a serious crisis. In the worst event this could result in either overthrowing a democratically elected government or a return to a military regime or both.

Secondly, the military and civilian intelligence agencies such as the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), Military Intelligence (MI) and the National Security Intelligence (NSI) must be reviewed for their failure to predict this crisis. Is there any evidence that at least some of the factions of the agencies were involved in the mutiny? If there is, Bangladesh has to restructure these intelligence bodies, so it does not replicate the experiences of the Pakistani intelligence community, especially the ISI.

Thirdly, a violent and chaotic revolt and massacre carried out under the banner of the BDR, the unit that serves as Bangladesh’s primary border policing institution, questions the moral authority of BDR to protect the sovereignty of the nation-state. #

First published in East Asia Forum, March 20, 2009

Dr Bina d’Costa is a Research Fellow at the Centre for International Governance and Justice, RegNet, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University (ANU). East Asia Forum provides a platform for the best in East Asian analysis, research and policy comment on the Asia-Pacific region and world affairs

Anatomy of Sajib Wajed Joy´s article titled “Stemming the Rise of Islamic Extremism in Bangladesh”

http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/97012

Sunita Paul

Prestigious Harvard International Review, published an article titled Stemming the Rise of Islamic Extremism in Bangladesh by Sajeeb Wazed and Carl Ciovacco, few weeks before the general election in Bangladesh.

In the article, Joy is introduced as “Sajeeb A. Wazed is an adviser to Sheikh Hasina, the former Prime Minister of Bangladesh and President of the Awami League, the largest and oldest political party in Bangladesh. He has been a key negotiator for the Awami League on several occasions, most recently in the negotiations for the restoration of democracy in Bangladesh with the present military government. He has a Master’s in Public Administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.”

While Carl Ciovacco is introduced as “Carl J. Ciovacco graduated from the Kennedy School of Government with a Masters of Public Policy in International Security and Political Economy. His recent thesis on Al Qaeda’s media strategy and was written for the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. He received his Bachelor of Science in International Relations from West Point and served as an Army officer in Iraq and Saudi Arabia.”

In the introduction, three points are to be taken into consideration:

1. Joy is the advisor to Sheikh Hasina Wajed,

2. He has been a key negotiators for Awami League on ´the restoration of democracy in Bangladesh´ with the interim government (Harvard termed it as military government),

3. Carl Ciovacco an army officer in United States army.

Joy´s being the advisor of the present Prime Minister is unquestioned by the government in Dhaka. So it is now an established fact. Secondly, he negotiated with the former interim government in ´restoring democracy´. Should anyone feel that, the ´restoration´ negotiation by Joy was conditional with bringing Awami League in power?

And, Carl Ciovacco being an army officer certainly upholds the idea of combating Islamist militancy. If Joy also has joined this line, then certainly it will give him better credentials in the international arena.

In this article, Joy wrote, “As elections are scheduled for December 18th (ultimately the election was held on December 29) and the two major political parties jostle over the country´s future, each party´s vision for the proper mix of Islam and government will be at the forefront. Rahman´s Awami League has long been the standard bearer of secularism and if elected, it could roll back the growing tide of Islamism in Bangladesh. The Awami League must, however, implement certain changes to proactively check this Islamism if it hopes to secure long-lasting secularism and democracy.”

Joy said winning Awami League will do everything possible in securing ´long-lasting secularism´. So, in other words, the present rulers in Dhaka will make all possible arrangements in keeping power as long as possible, since they proclaim to be the lone vanguards of secularism.

And, here is the most dangerous point raised by Mr. Sajib Wajed Joy! He wrote, “Islamic extremism is also on the rise in Bangladesh because of the growing numbers of Islamists in the military. The Islamists cleverly began growing their numbers within the Army by training for the Army Entrance Exams at Madrassas. This Madrassa training was necessary because of the relative difficulty associated with passing these exams. The military is attractive because of both its respected status and its high employment opportunities in a country where unemployment ranges from 20 percent to 30 percent for younger males. High demand for military posts has resulted in an entrance exam designed to limit the number of recruits. Before this Madrassa Entrance Exam campaign, only 5 percent of military recruits came from Madrassas in 2001. By 2006, at the end of the BNP´s reign, Madrassas supplied nearly 35 percent of the Army recruits. In a country that has seen four military coup d´ tats in its short 37 year history, the astronomical growth of Islamists in the military is troubling to say the least.”

This is a very clear signal to the international community that Islamists have penetrated inside Bangladesh Armed Forces. In recent weeks, after the bloody massacre inside Bangladesh Riffles (BDR) headquarters, that took place on February 25-26, 2009, Commerce Minister Lt. Col. Faruk Khan said, Islamist militants have penetrated inside Bangladesh Army. Both the statements are extremely dangerous for the image of the Bangladeshi Armed Forces as well their excellent performance in United Nations Peace Keeping Force (UNPKF). Policymakers in UNPKF or United Nations could now take both the comments into consideration in setting Bangladeshi troops off from UNPKF in future.

Mr. Joy also suggested “attempt to rehabilitate known extremist clerics”. By this he possibly opined of either buying or cowing-down the Islamist leaders or clergies thus ensuring a ´secularist atmosphere´ in the country. He also suggested increased recruitment of secularist cadets in Bangladesh Army. In other words, he said, more Awami League activists should be accommodated in the armed forces.

Commenting on Koranic Madrassas, Sajib Wajed Joy wrote, “Relying on Saudi and Kuwaiti funding that dictates rote Koranic memorization is counterproductive for a nation that desires growth, productivity, and a brighter future, because it limits the population´s skill-set.”

Here the advisor to the ruling party in Bangladesh virtually opposed to Koranic Madrassas thus alleging Saudi and Kuwaiti governments to be funding such institutions.

But, here are the contradictions! Although Sajib Wajed Joy projected Awami League as the only potential force in Bangladesh to fight Islamists and Jihadists, after a landslide victory in the General Election of 2008, Sheikh Hasina Wajed´s government has not changed its state policy towards terror groups like Talibans, Hamas, Hezbollah etc. Bangladeshi media and the government offices continue considering these elements as ´noble forces´ instead of militants. During the Ghaza incidents in December, Sheikh Hasina issued extremely negative statement against Israel thus virtually applauding or at least siding with Hamas.

Awami League, although proclaiming to be a secularist party, signed a treaty with Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish (an extremist religious fanatic group) in 2006 for establishment of Sharia Law in Bangladesh.

So, the secularist claims by Awami League is just a strategic formula to please the West as well misguiding the anti-Islamist forces in the world.

Awami League government, which is in power now in Bangladesh, continues to treat Israel as an enemy country. Absolute ban on Israel is continuing. There are travel ban, ban on telecommunication, ban on shipping, ban on postal services and even ban on uttering a single word in favor of Israel. There is unwritten ban on publishing or writing anything positive about Judaism. Zionism is treated as a serious crime in the country.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of Sheikh Hasina Wajed, who was a close friend of Yassir Arafat, imposed travel and other forms of ban on Israel!

Quiet Revolution in Bangladesh: Security Concerns for India

Quiet Revolution in Bangladesh: Security Concerns for India

MALOY KRISHNA DHAR

BANGLADESH ELECTION held under supervision of the interim government and the army has initiated the process of a fresh freedom struggle. Democracy with secular principles was wiped out with the blood of Mujibur Rahman, his family and colleagues. Intermittent democratic experimentation with bouts of army rule had not only severely mutilated the spirit of the freedom struggle and Bengali cultural nationalism. This very foundation of the nation was massacred by the Mujib killers and subsequent pro-Pak Generals and Jamaat-e-Islami. There is no doubt that the junior officers who staged the brutal coup in 1975 were simply not inspired by ‘misrule of the Awami League and the BAKSAL’; they were inspirited by Pakistan and certain clandestine operators of the CIA.

Later, General Zia-ur-Rahman, after his visit to Pakistan in September 1977, and hostile ambience created by Army-insiders and the regimented Jamaat-e-Islami opted for Islamisation, allowed the Jamaat-e-Islami chief to return to Bangladesh. The Jamaat had collaborated with Pakistan army and had committed innumerable atrocities on Hindu and Muslim supporters of the six point autonomy movement that turned to freedom struggle. The same year he initiated the process of creating the DGFI, in the model of the ISI. Between Zia and Ershad the BNP emerged as the party of the ‘real creator of Bangladesh-Zia-ur-Rahman.’ Short of conferring upon the General the honorific of Father of the Nation, the Begum did everything to augment the process of Islamisation and offering space to the resurgent religious congregations and the jihadis, which were seeded by General Zia, nurtured by General Ershad and given political recognition by the BNP.

General Zia’s cooperation with Pakistan and the USA in recruiting mujahids from Bangladesh (15000 odd) and sending to Pakistan for training and taking part in Afghan jihad had suddenly pushed Bangladesh to the path of radical Islamisation. The democratic process was suppressed; huge Ummah and Pakistani funds were allowed to pour in for encouraging the Bengali Muslims to spread the message of jihad in every nook and corner of Bangladesh. The Jamaat-e-Islami, Islamic Chhatra Shibir, Ahle-e-Hadith Movement Bangladesh, Allahar Dal, Hizbut Tehrir and HUJI etc organizations (about 30) rooted in public mind with government support. Innumerable mosques and madrasas were constructed and the message of Jihad was spread with impunity. The same trend continued during General Ershad’s tenure.

That was the period when Indian ethnic insurgent groups were manipulated by Bangladesh and Pakistani forces (the ISI and the DGFI) and secured sanctuaries were created for them with training and arming facilities. The political tussles between Awami League, BNP of Zia-ur-Rahman, Jatiya Party of Ershad and Jamaat-e-Islami created continued ambience of uncertainty, growth of Islamic militancy and internal chaos. Corruption in public life plagued Bangladesh heavily. The 1996 election in which Hasina Wazed’s Awami League and JeI combination returned to power witnessed near-total polarization between the political forces. Policy of political negativism adopted by all the political parties, increase of jihadi activities and greater involvement of Bangladesh and Pakistan in the ethnic insurgencies in India generated serious security implications for India. This was the period when Naga, Tripura, Assam and Bodo militants were given free access, training and supplied with arms both by the DGFI and the ISI. This period coincided with increased bonds between Pakistan based jihadi tanzeems and Bangladeshi jihadi tanzeems like HUJI, JMB, Bangla Bhai, Hijbut Tehrir, Islamic Chhatra Shibir and units of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hijbul Mujahideen and al Qaeda were found greater acceptability amongst the radicalized Muslims. It seemed that political negativism, manipulation by the DGFI and army, Pakistani influence and free flow of Ummah funds had put Bangladesh on the same footing as Pakistan developed after the Afghan jihad. Return of about 10 thousand Bangladeshi Afghan veterans, increased al Qaeda support and blatant interference by the ISI created internal turmoil with higher degree of violence and use of Bangladesh as a launching pad of operations against India in Assam and elsewhere. Several training camps were started for training malcontent Indian Muslims and the northeastern insurgent groups. Bangladesh became a highway for the jihadis and insurgents.

BNP’s bonhomie with the Jamaat, other jihadi tanzeems like HUJI, Bangla Bhai, JMB etc received tremendous boost after 2001 general elections to the Jatiya Sangsad, The table of results of 2001 Sansad election indicate the level of increase of influence of the BNP, Jamaat and allied parties and erosion of pro-India forces:

BNP – 193: 41.40%
Awami League + 62: 40.02%
Jatiya Party (E) 14: 7.22 %
JeI BD 17: 4.28.
Other parties not mentioned.

The BNP and Jamaat coalition with intermittent support from Ershad’s Jatiya Party did not succeed in giving a stable government. The Jamaat-e-Islami took advantage of its presence in the government and systematically infiltrated the armed forces, intelligence, police and other vital government department giving fillip to pro-Pakistani and pro-jihadi forces. Politics of negativism, corruption by two sons of the PM, all pervasive siphoning of public wealth by politicians and bureaucrats was compounded by visible increase in jihadi violence inside Bangladesh. Between 2001 and 2006 more than 500 incidents of terrorist violence took place including 49 serial bomb blasts in a single day, attempt on the life of the British High Commissioner and Sheikh Hasina, by forces of HUJI, JMB and Bangla Bhai. The JMB, Ahl-e-Hadith and the Bangla Bhai were used by ruling factions to punish the Awami League, other dissenters and the minorities.

There was furor, violence and political impasse over appointment of the Caretaker Government which finally led to the distinctly visible indirect interference by the army and installation of a non-political Interim Government. The army chief wielded nearly supreme power with a view to restore some semblances of order, restoration of peace, and assurance in public mind that the new government meant business. Anti-corruption drive witnessed prolonged incineration of Begum Zia, her sons and Sheikh Hasina.

That the army chief was not insensitive to the ideals of foredoom struggle, and believed in restoration of democracy and some sanity in public life was proved by acts of banning of certain jihadi organizations, meting out death sentence on Bangla Bhai and JMB leaders and restriction of Hizbut Tehrir, Allahar Dal etc subversive organizations. Combination of various internal and international factors compelled the army chief to opt for elections in December 2008. General Moeen has not shown any personal hunger for power. The results were stunning:

Awami League + 230: 49.0%
BNP + 30: 33.2%
Jatiya Party (E) 16: 07.0 %
JeI 2: 04.6 %

The BNP and the Jamaat fared well in Chattagram (Chittagong) area, with significant performance in Noakhali, Khulna, Comilla. Pabna and Bogra. The Awami League swept almost in all the districts with Jatiya Party dominating areas of North Bangladesh, the usual stronghold of Ershad.

A study of the parties contesting the elections throws out interesting aspects both for Bangladesh and India:
Party : Number of candidates
Islamic Front Bangladesh (Pakistan funded) : 2
Islamic Movement Bangladesh (HUJI) : 266
Islami Oikya Jote (Al Qaeda Affiliate) : 4
United Citizens Movement : 11
Krishak Shramik Janata League : 46
Democratic Party : 5
People’s Front (Pro-JMB) : 14
Gano Forum : 45
Jamaat-e-Ulama Islam Bangladesh : 7
Zaker Party (Pro-Taliban) : 37
National Democratic Party (Ahl-e Hadith faction) : 2
Jatiya Party : 46
Jatiya Party-JP : 7
Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal-Jasad : 6
Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal-JSD: 44
National People’s Party (Allahar Dal) : 29
Progressive Democratic Party : 21
Freedom Party (Pro Taliban) : 2
Bangladesh Awami League : 259
Bangladesh Islamic Front (Pro-al Qaeda) : 18
Bangladesh Kalayan Party : 39
Bangladesh Khilafat Andolan (Pro Pak) : 32
Bangladesh Khilafat Majlis (pro-Pak) : 8
Bangladesh Jatiya Party : 10
Bangladesh Jatiya Party-BJP : 2
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (Pro Pak) : 256
Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (Pro-Pak) : 39
Bangladesh Tarikat Federation (Pr-Hizbut Tehrir) : 31
Bangladesh National Awami Party : 14
Bangladesh National Awami Party-Bangladesh NAP : 5
Bangladesh Muslim League (Pro-Pak) : 5
Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal : 57
Workers Party of Bangladesh : 5
Communist Party of Bangladesh : 38
Revolutionary Workers Party of Bangladesh : 5
Bangladesher Samayabadi Dal (ML) : 1
Bikalapdhara Bangladesh (Pro-Moscow) : 62
Liberal Democratic Party : 18
Independent (45 belonging to JMB) : 141
Total:1538

This would show that the HUJI after failing to register itself as a political party contested in the name of Islamic Movement Bangladesh. Almost all the jihadi parties fielded good number of candidates but failed to secure more than 02.01 % of votes. However the HUJI affiliated party managed to get nearly 3 % votes. One of the candidates was elected to Jatiya Sangsad as independent.

Various analysts have offered scores of reasons for the stunning success of Awami League combination. Most cogent reasons have been offered are:

1. Awami League and BNP are nearly at par with their number of supporters. Awami league’s regular supporters did vote for Awami League as usual and they had no reason to love BNP – so Awami League grabbed the regular devoted votes. The BNP voters were disunited and wilted under army pressure.
2. The Swing Voters wanted to teach BNP a lesson for their corruption and had no other alternative than accepting the Mohajot (grand alliance) as voting for BNP would have justified stinking corruption by two sons of Begum Zia and her colleagues.
3. The BNP supporters or activists were divided as to pro-change and anti-change groups; the dissenters like Badrudozza Chowdhury and Mohammad Oli gave reasons to the anti-BNP lobbies reasons to ponder upon BNP’s lack of coordination and disciplined approach.
4. BNP stalwarts or the pivotal leaders were kept behind the bars until the last few days while Awami League had almost all their pivotal figures out of jail all the time.
5. Awami League had always supported the caretaker Government and had promised to legalise their unconstitutional works if voted to power. It has been insinuated that General Moeen is a pro-Mujib person and he was influenced by India and the US to favour a more democratic group.
6. Hasina had a few anti-Jamaat Islamic groups in her pocket which got the votes of anti-Jamaat pro-Islamic people on their side and Hasina promised not to enact any anti-Islamic laws.
7. Ershad commands a few BNP votes and has comfortable support in northern districts.
8. New generation of voters did not have the experience of seeing Awami League’s rule as adults; rather they saw the corrupt rule of Zia which made them anti-BNP. They were not aware that Awami League always failed to control crime and had displayed ‘winner takes all’ attitude since 1971.
9. Awami League is better in price control. BNP is not good at that and owing to present price hike people could not afford to take chances with any more price hike as that would have meant playing with starvation. BNP has the bad reputation of collaboration with corrupt market manipulators.
10. Women voters were successfully convinced that BNP meant oppression on women and it encourage the Islamists. BNP regime had allowed near total control of the civil society by al Qaeda, Taliban and Pakistani elements. People had become weary of jihadi violence and growing rhetoric on Islamisation of the society.
11. Bangladesh is surrounded by Maoists and Communists and Islam was projected as an oppressive force by JMB and HUJI etc as a threat to generally democratic Bengali society. Communism and Socialism dominated the media who supported Awami League.
12. Awami League banked on the issue of bringing the Jamaat leaders to war-tribunals when BNP owing to failure of its leaders could not successfully defend the issue with a counter challenge. Moreover, the BNP was perceived as a force protecting the killers of Mujib and other Awami League leaders.
13. Hasina lobbied abroad to win international support for Awami League when BNP concentrated on domestic support only. Zia was busy begging for release of her sons and was encumbered with revelations that her sons had stacked away billions in foreign banks by robbing the common people.
14. Finally, it must be added that by purging of the DGFI and some segments of the army brass closer to the Jamaat and BNP General Moeen had good ambience to ensure a smooth election, though there are allegations that Gen Moeen had favoured the Awami League combination. Certain quarters in Dhaka believe that the army chief was afraid of a coup against him by the pro-Jamaat and pro-BNP Generals.

No analysis can explain the stunning victory of Obama and Hasina. The people of Bangladesh have opted for a change and it is time for Hasina to deliver.

The goodness of the cake can only be proved by eating it. Her crown is full of thorns. She has excluded several veterans from ministerial berths. They wield influence in their own pocket-Burroughs. They are watchful of the internal groupings and may not hesitate to gang up with destabilizing forces. Begum Zia is most likely to again take the parliamentary politics to the streets and adopt the old policy of ‘either I or none.” Though her vote percentage has reduced she has maintained the steady grassroots elements on her side and her core vote percentage has not diminished. Tactically she is distancing her party from the Jamaat for a while but once the opposition to the war-criminal trials involving the Jamaat leaders starts Zia’s forces is likely to rally behind them along with the jihadi organizations. Hasina has a poor record of controlling law and order and often buckles down under pressure of the Islamic forces.

All the senior army officers are not with General Moeen. Several pro-BNP and pro-Jamaat military top brass are watching the developments. Once Hasina and party tries to prosecute some of the former army officers for war crimes they are likely to rebel and topple her. They have a better friend in Begum Zia. Hasina would require purging the DGFI and the administration of pro-Jamaat elements with helps from friendly army Generals. General Moeen may agree to help her for some costs; indirect army presence in the administration. Hopefully Hasina and allies would accommodate them for better stability and longer survival.

As far as India is concerned the situation appears to be favourable. “With terrorism in the region a pressing concern, especially after the Mumbai attacks, Hasina’s victory will bring some comfort to New Delhi as she took tough steps against the anti-India militant groups when she was in power in the mid-1990s. In contrast, there was a sharp spike in militancy and Islamic fundamentalism during Zia’s tenure.” (Times of India December 30, 2008).

What are the ground realities?
Bangladesh reeks with Islamist and jihadi organizations numbering nearly 40. The main groups are: Jamaat-e-Islami, Islamic Chhatra Shibir, Islami Oikya Jote, HUJI, JMB, Jagrata Muslim Janata, Sahadat-e-Alam-al-Hiqma, Ahl-e-Hadith, Hizbut Tawhid, Hizbut Tehrir, Allahar Dal, Islamic Jubo Sangha, Al-Falah A’am Unnayan Sangstha, Islami Biplobi Parishad, Biswa Islami Front, Al Jamaitul Islamiya, Al Khidmat Bahini, Al Mujahid, Al Harqat-al-Islamia, Al Mahfuz-al-Islami, Joish-e-Mustafa (affiliated to Jais-e-Mohammad of Pakistan), Muslim Guerrilla Bahini etc.

These organisations are spread all over Bangladesh. Most of the rural areas are influenced by them and they receive liberal funding from Arabian countries and other NGOs.

The Interim Government had banned Ahl-e-Hadith, HUJI and Hizbut Tehrir. The JMB came under heavy hammers and three of its top leaders were sentenced to death. But, like Pakistan, the jihadi organizations keep on changing names and function with impunity at the grassroots level. This, however, should not give an impression that Bangladesh is a Taliban country like Pakistan. The conflict situation between pro-Pakistani forces, believers in democracy and secularism and Bengali cultural nationalists is palpably perceptible. After General Zia’s collaboration with the USA and Pakistan during Afghan jihad and return of over 7000 Bengali Afghan veterans, infiltration by al Qaeda and Taliban had changed the social and political ambience in Bangladesh. By allowing rerouting of the Jamaat and by converting the country to Islamic principles Zia had helped creation of a force that thrived on Arab money, jihadi ideology and religious resurgence and fundamentalism.

By encouraging anti-India and anti-Hindu sentiments Zia, Ershad and Begum Zia had given direct and indirect support to the Islamicised jihadi forces. Between 1991 and 2000 Bangladesh created safe niche for the jihadis and forces antagonistic to India.

Pakistan’s policy of encouraging, sheltering and arming the Indian rebel groups was pursued by Zia-created DGFI, BDR and the jihadi elements that came to root in the country. Faded secular elements and cultural Bengali nationalists were pushed aside and hate-India sentiments were generated by Bangladeshi and Pakistani elements operating in political parties, bureaucracy, armed forces and segments of people Islamicised drastically. The former Muslim League elements who had taken shelter under other parties activated their anti-minority and anti-India campaign. Pakistan and China encouraged these developments.

Besides the Jamaat, Ahl-e-Hadith and Tablighi Jammat which have garlanding presence in India and Pakistan as well the new elements of HUJI (created in Pakistan in 1980 and reshaped in POK in 1992), branches of Taliban and al Qaeda affiliated organizations, and the ISI created organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jais-e-Mohammad, Al Badr etc rooted down in the country. These bodies collaborated with Pakistani organizations and agencies for spreading jihad in mainland India, facilitating Pakistani jihadis to infiltrate and carry out acts of terrorism and converting segments of Indian Muslims to the ideology of jihad and reaffirmation of the old demand of creating a bigger Bangistan (original demand of Jinnah) comprising present Bangladesh, Assam, and parts of West Bengal. Pakistan’s smoke-screen of Kashmir dispute was sculpted out as a concerted programme of creation of Bangistan in the east, Osmanistan in the south and Mughlistan in central and western India. With this objective in mind elements in Pakistan and Bangladesh created an atmosphere of near-total hostility against India.

In short, though India had liberally helped Bangladesh during the liberation war, pre-partition anti-Hindu and anti-India hate campaign created by the Muslim League pervaded even after creation of Pakistan. This was encouraged by Zia, Ershad and BNP. Pro-Pakistan and Islamist elements nearly overshadowed the secular forces. The Left forces were cruelly suppressed. Bangla involvement in Afghan jihad and Pakistan aggravated the situation. Hate Hindu and hate India sentiments still remain at the top layer of most of the people. The Awami League leaders have not been able to restore trust in India. Several irritants between the countries are exploited by pro-Pakistan and pro-Chinese forces in the army, bureaucracy and religious parties. India has to tread cautiously.

The other issues that keep haunting India’s security concerns are use of Bangladesh by northeastern insurgents groups like the NSCN (I), ULFA, NDFB, KLO, Manipuri Meitei groups and Tripura in connivance with the DGFI, ISI operatives and their jihadi spawns. This problem runs through Indo-Pak relations in East Pakistan, later Bangladesh, for over 60 years, starting from Phizo’s escape to Pakistan in 1948. There has been no waning in the situation except for a brief period between 1971 and 1975.

If we are to believe the security agencies, Indian insurgent groups are sheltered in at least 32 camps in Bangladesh, with some of the top leaders hosted by the ISI. The game of denial had improved somewhat during General Moeen’s hold on the interim government. Besides clamping down on jihadi activities inside the country he had minimized anti-India involvement of the government agencies and intelligence agencies.

India has to pay proper attention to this aspect of national security by keeping bilateral and international pressure on Bangladesh. Besides the police, paramilitary and armed forces, the political governments in Assam, West Bengal, Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura have to strengthen their vigilance, sharpen intelligence gathering and sanitizing the border areas as much as possible. According to Jane’s Intelligence Review China has replaced Cambodia and Thailand as the main supplier of weapons to insurgent groups in India’s northeast and Myanmar. In an analysis of the Asian weapons black market, the defence think-tank said that the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and rebel groups in Myanmar act as the “middleman” between Chinese arms manufacturers and insurgent groups in the Northeast, with most weapons routed through China’s Yunnan province.

Pointing out that the arms market in India is extremely lucrative; JIR said that a Chinese automatic rifle that is available for $500 in eastern Myanmar can command a price of $2,500 by the time it reaches the Northeast. Referring to an arms seizure by Myanmar authorities in 2001 that first brought out the trend, JIR said that “a consignment of several hundred Chinese assault rifles” were recovered while being transported to the Indian border at Tamu and were meant for “Manipuri UNLF and possibly other factions”. Officials in the Indian security establishment say that Chinese origin weapons are increasingly being seized from northeast insurgent groups and have even reached the illegal arms market in West Bengal, Assam and Uttar Pradesh.

Besides Chinese and Myanmar smugglers the Rohingya and Bangladesh smugglers still use the Thailand route to pump in weapons for use by the Indian insurgent groups. It is a different aspect of intelligence input as to how Pakistan and Bangladesh facilitate this arms traffic.
However, continued inflow of weapons is a serious security concern. Another concern is inability of the Government of India to conclude the NSCN problem either through negotiation or military action. Same is the situation in Assam and Manipur.

The historical irritant of illegal Bangladeshi migration to Assam and rest of India is another issue that adds to demographic and security concerns.

Having had the opportunity of serving in the northeast for considerable period I have a feeling that political and administrative handling of the situation during last 60 years has been unsatisfactory and half hearted. Vast military presence in the northeast for prolonged period has cost the nation immensely; much more than what is being spent in Kashmir. Mere military solution is a chimera but the armed forces, besides having geostrategic concerns from China, have to keep eyes on the jihadi groups and silent incursion by inimical countries with surreptitious arms supplies.

The other concern areas are: Dispute with Bangladesh over offshore oil exploitation, supply of gas to India, direct train transit route from Tripura to the rest of the country, trade balance and Indo-Myanmar agreement to open Kaladan-route to sea via Sittwe port are viewed as a potential hostile act by Pakistan, China and Bangladesh. While this route would open up trade from the northeast India, it is likely to acquire strategic-presence in the area. Not far from Cox’s Bazar and Dakhinpara in Bangladesh, Sittwe is likely to provide an additional platform for keeping an eye on coastal Bangladesh and the vital Straits of Malacca. In any future battle zone in the Bay of Bengal Indian presence in the area is also viewed adversely by the USA and the UK from their bases in the Indian Ocean.

Bangladesh as a friendly democratic and secular country can provide a mutual security shield in this part of the country. The future cannot be gazed in the crystal ball. It would require astute diplomatic, political and economic manipulations to revive the faded hopes of 1971. It is almost a new freedom struggle for Bangladesh.

The tendency of Bangladesh political parties to peddle the practice of ‘the winners take all’, severe corruption, Islamic fundamentalism and pro-Pakistan sentiments may not make the things easy for the new government. It would require bilateral and international efforts to put the restored democracy on correct rails.

India, as a political state and its agencies have to strengthen their guards against any subversion of the electoral award given by the people to their representatives for turning new pages in the history of the beleaguered country. A new stage of diplomatic and strategic relations is required towards Bangladesh to secure the eastern flank of India and stop the use of Bangladesh as a platform for spreading jihad in India and South East Asia. #

First published in MaloyKrishnaDhardotCom, February 15, 2009

From military-controlled caretaker government to military-backed elected government

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Friday, December 12, 2008

From military-controlled caretaker government to military-backed elected government

SALEEM SAMAD

THE DEVELOPMENT in politics might not be “proactive”, out right contradicted by a media practitioner friend who conducted a political assessment of Bangladesh in November and returned to Ottawa, Canada. He does not hesitate to predict that politicking could be “provocative”.

A spontaneous reaction came from my long-term outspoken friend while in transit at Bahrain airport. He reacted after he saw my comments in the Facebook. If I understood his assessment that the transition from army backed caretaker government, would in fact switch to “army backed” elected government of proportionate representations from four major parties and some “selected” individuals.

A former Mukti Bahini officer a popular political commentator living in exile in New York agrees with him, but fears that incidences of civil unrest will occur soon after lifting state of emergency on December 17. He wraps up his theory that it will be an ideal situation for continuation of military subjugation in Bangladesh.

Nonetheless I am thrilled that Bangladesh is in transition to democracy – after two years of military-controlled interim government. Well Bangladesh is familiar of being governed by military juntas twice since 1975.

Therefore, it is not a new era for most citizenry, albeit not for those born after 1990 or was too young to understand, when military rule apparently ended with a sigh of relief. Thus the end of military rule paved way for the country’s first free, fair and credible election under a caretaker government.

At last the 9th parliamentary election will be held in the end of this December in midst of widespread fear, suspicion and conspiracy theories among the general public, specially those living in abroad.

Suddenly the constitutional democratic process were aborted by military chief Lt. General Moeen U Ahmed after he installed an interim government and terminated the scheduled elections in January 2007.

He promised the nation that he would halt criminalisation of politics, punish corrupt citizens – specially those who plundered public wealth, bring about electoral, judiciary and civil administrative reforms, and stamp organised crime, gangsters and put behind bars all evil-doers.

My argument does include whether the current interim government is legitimate or illegal, so long as they are bonded in broader promises that they will hand over power to a democratically elected government.

Well in his two years tenure as de facto leader of the impoverished nation of 150 million, he had to admit his failure and realised that the country needs to be governed by politicians and parliament, not by military generals who have failed to understand the sentiment of the people.

Will the political parties get equal opportunity for level playing field, a fair play? Apparently it seems NO. The Election Commission backed out from the (reformed) rules. Whereas the EC compromised certain rules to accommodate scores of “unwanted” applications for nominations. On the other hand, rejected hundreds of applications on the ground of not been able to follow the EC rules.

In the unfair play of game of politics, the four mainstream political parties have agreed to “proportionate parliament” and share with scores of other independent members in the new parliament to ensure checks and balance, which the military would like to see.

The four mainstream political parties Bangladesh Awami League, Bangladesh Nationalists Party (BNP), Jatiya Party and Jamaat-e-Islami (sorry they have registered as Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami) and divided in two major political alliances. It is apparent that they have agreed on principle that they would share parliament by default thus keeping the militaries in good humour.

Of course General Moeen has in his mind that all the misdeeds and illegal activities of his interim government have committed need 9th parliament’s endorsement. On the other hand, he will not be happy if the parliament takes any attempt to pass any bills which will infringe his safe exit from the political, economic and administrative mess he has created.

He will also like to translate his dreams into reality through the incumbent parliament to pass the controversial National Security Council. Which most students of democratic accountability and democracy watchdogs have cautioned that the Turkish model of National Security Council would not at all be beneficial for transition to democracy and instead infringe the parliament’s power to scrutinise military activities. It will further institutionalise the military’s role in Bangladesh democratic process.

The pertinent question is will the parliament be sustainable? What most political observers is trying to fathom whether the parliament would need another election to restore democratic accountability and independence from the invisible military dictates. Possibly in another 12 months from now, Bangladesh would need another election to get out of this mess. It would be long way for Bangladesh to ensure democratic accountability, when the generals have an upper hand in state polity.

To conclude which political alliance will form the government? It all depends on who is not blaming General Moeen for their miseries of legal harassment and ordeal in prison. Any sorts of dissent will be punished by denial of their rightful share of the people’s mandate in the parliament, thus a faint chance of forming a national government.

Loser would those who question the legitimacy, criticise or accuse the interim government for conspiracy. In addition whoever is less outspoken or silent about conspiracy theories hatched by the kaki generals. #

Toronto, December 12, 2008

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is a Bangladesh born journalist presently living in exile in Canada and specialises in conflict, terrorism, security and intelligence in South Asia. He served as Bangladesh correspondent for TIME Asia magazine, press watchdog Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), Daily Times (Lahore), investigative news portal Telekha.com (New Delhi), and the Bangladesh Observer (Dhaka). He edits DurDesh.net streaming from Toronto, a news portal for South Asian Diaspora in North America. He could be reached at <!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]–> <!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:””; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Arial; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-ansi-language:EN-CA; mso-bidi-font-weight:bold;} a:link, span.MsoHyperlink {color:blue; text-decoration:underline; text-underline:single;} a:visited, span.MsoHyperlinkFollowed {color:purple; text-decoration:underline; text-underline:single;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –> <!–[if gte mso 10]> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:”Table Normal”; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:””; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} <![endif]–>saleemsamad@hotmail.com