Monday, May 7, 2012

Clinton’s visit, US double standards and shameless ruling elite

THE visit of the US secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to Bangladesh was typical of any such visit anywhere in the world by any minister of any American government. During her stay in Dhaka, the former first lady also provided a classic introduction to hegemonic diplomacy — praise for the host government’s ‘commitment’ to democracy, human rights, rule of law, etc; acknowledgement of the opposition camp’s concerns; assurance of the US government’s continued support and cooperation; and, of course, a reasonably long list of what the US has done and plans to do for global peace and prosperity. In the end, however, there was hardly any tangible benefit for Bangladesh; there was no commitment whatsoever either to grant duty-free access of Bangladesh’s readymade garments to the US market or to resume diversity visa lottery for Bangladesh.

It had all been on the cards, though; yet, the ruling elite — the government and the opposition alike — virtually grovelled before Clinton, to curry favour with the supposedly most powerful state in the world. It is such perverse preoccupation with the West — especially the United States — that has prompted the ruling elite to increasingly align Bangladesh with the US-led so-called global war on terror. When Clinton praises Bangladesh’s role in the international fight against terrorism, it only suggests that such alignment may have been complete, which is worrying. The terrorism that the US-led Western countries are fighting is mainly a resistance against the state-sponsored terror that they have unleashed on many countries across the world, to further their imperialist agenda. Bangladesh, which is the offspring of decades of anti-colonial and anti-imperial political struggle, is expected to side with the resistance against the US-led imperialist hegemony. If it means that we would be on ‘the wrong side of history’ in the eyes of the US and its murderous allies, so be it.

Even before Clinton landed in Dhaka, it had been clear that her whirlwind tour of Asia was part of a revitalised US interest in the Asia-Pacific region. She has recently said that ‘One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment — diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise — in the Asia-Pacific region’ and that ‘a more broadly distributed military presence across the region will provide vital advantages’ — apparently as part of its China containment policy. On board the US plan is none other than India, which has consistently displayed a disdainful disregard for Bangladesh’s concerns and interests. Not surprisingly then, Clinton chose to praise the Bangladesh government’s ‘efforts’ to offer transit to neighbouring countries, read India, but maintained silence over killing of Bangladeshis by the Border Security Force of India or New Delhi’s plan to erect the Tipaimukh Dam on a trans-boundary river, persistent refusal to share equitably the water of common rivers, unwillingness to remove tariff and para-tariff barrier to exports from Bangladesh, etc.

Such duplicity of the US is neither unprecedented nor isolated. In fact, double-standards have come to be the cornerstones of the US diplomacy these days. Hence, when Clinton talked about democracy, human rights and rule of law, there is hardly any reason to feel encouraged and assured. After all, the US currently is the most potent enemy of democracy, human rights and rule of law in many countries and regions such as Afghanistan, Iraq, West Asia and even Pakistan. Indeed, all sides should ‘construct a political dialogue’; there should be ‘thorough and independent investigations’ of enforced disappearances and murders; and all parties need ‘to do everything necessary to support democracy, to plan for another free, fair and credible election’ but not because the US government wants but because that is how it should be.

Of course, society in general and its conscious sections in particular need to sustain the pressure on the ruling elite, especially the government, to resolve these issues and thus dispel the growing political uncertainty. Equally importantly, however, they need to remain alert so that the ruling quarters, in their insatiable greed for partisan and material gains, become the US’s poodles and, in the process, make Bangladesh its doormat. It is not just a question of national pride but also independence and sovereignty of the state. Some people have seen through the US duplicity and staged protests against Clinton’s visit; it is time that more people joined in.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

BNP, Awami League owe people credible clarification

THE admission by a former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence on Wednesday that the intelligence agency had funded the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, currently the main opposition party in Jatiya Sangsad, during the general elections in 1991 is indeed disquieting. According to reports by several Pakistani and Indian media outlets, as quoted in a report front-paged in New Age on Saturday, the admission ‘came during a Pakistan Supreme Court hearing on the spy agency’s mandate’ in a case lodged by retired air marshal Asghar Khan with the apex court in 1996. Khan, currently the chief of the Tehreek-i-Istiqlal party, accused the former ISI chief and the then army chief of distributing public money for political purposes, both within and outside Pakistan, through the Mehran Bank. Earlier this month, the United Arab Emirates-based Khaleej Times also reported that the ISI had paid the BNP chairperson, Khaleda Zia, Rs 50 crore before the 1991 general elections to ‘help her in the polls against [current Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh] Hasina’s Awami League generally perceived by Pakistan’s security establishment as pro-India.’

In the aftermath of the Khaleej Times report, the prime minister and her government wasted no time to accuse the leader of the opposition of selling the country while the BNP leadership dismissed the report as ‘absolutely false’. Now that the former ISI chief has himself made an admission, the partisan bickering over the issue in Bangladesh is highly likely to get much more boisterous and acrimonious. In the consequent political sound bites and partisan rhetoric, the greater issue of public trust in the political establishments could get lost. Notably, the BNP is not the only party alleged to have received election funding from the establishments — political, military or otherwise — of a neighbouring country. 

According to a report published by the London-based Economist, an internationally acclaimed news magazine, in its July 30-August 5, 2011 issue, ‘bags of Indian and cash’ allegedly helped the Awami League, which currently leads an alliance government in Bangladesh, win the last general elections held on December 28, 2008. Then, too, there was a huge uproar in public, with the opposition accusing the ruling party of selling out the country and the ruling party dismissing the report as baseless.

Overall, both the major political parties stand accused of betraying first and foremost the trust that the people of Bangladesh have reposed in them almost in equal measure. Suffice it to say, despite their abysmal records in governance, and representing public interest, the people have unfailingly rallied behind the two parties through thick and thin, which proves why they have alternately ruled the country since 1991 except for a two-year interregnum of an illegal and unconstitutional rule by a military-controlled interim government. It is thus imperative for the BNP, and also the Awami League, to come up with credible and genuine clarifications against the accusations levelled against them.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Transit and connectivity

Now someone in the government is talking sense about transit. One could not agree more with the finance minister that with the present condition of our infrastructure Bangladesh is not yet in a position to allow transit of goods overland. 

It is unfortunate that in Bangladesh the matter has turned out to be controversial. There are very little grounds to oppose the plan that rests on the core idea of connecting the region. And for Bangladesh, being where it is, the gift of geography has endowed it with a huge potential to derive strategic benefits as well be the connecting hub of not only between the countries of South Asia but also between the region and South East Asia. It is a pity that the matter has been politicised to such an extent that the ground realities and the economics of the issue are often lost sight of.

For Bangladesh it would be unwise not to exploit the potential benefits. And while talking about transit, the facility, as we understand, should be offered to all the regional countries, particularly the land-locked ones for their access to ports in Bangladesh.

We are dismayed by the way the issue has been dealt with by the successive governments. While we were disappointed to see the matter dismissed out of hand by the BNP led 4-Party alliance during its tenure, we have been quite unable to see the rationale in the undue rush to provide the facility to India, and that too at cost to our existing infrastructure, by the present government. We are also disconcerted at the inability of the government to work out the economics of the issue and fix the charges, because there is no way that Bangladesh can allow the use of its territory, nor can the services it will provide in allowing transit be, free of charge. In fact, anything else would be contrary to international practice. 

Thus we feel that in the true regional spirit the infrastructure should be got ready quickly and first, and if the Indian line of credit regarding this is restrictive, persuade Delhi to relax it or arrange for alternative financing.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Plotters and their motives need to be identified

Since 2009, February 25 marks a sad day in the calendar of all Bangladeshis as on that day the nation witnessed a gruesome carnage at the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) headquarters in Peelkhana as a result of a nationwide mutiny of the erstwhile BDR jawans who took up arms against their officers on deputation from the army. In the violence and holdup that lasted 36 hours, 75 people, including 57 officers of the Bangladesh Army, were killed. Following the tragedy, 3,036 soldiers have been sentenced to varying terms on charges of taking part in the mutiny, while the BDR has been reconstituted under the Border Guard Bangladesh Act 2010 and renamed accordingly. Meanwhile, 847 people are presently under trial under criminal charges, including murder. In virtually a few hours on this day three years ago, two of the most important security forces of the country against external aggression, the army and border guards, were thoroughly weakened, and in the case of the latter, virtually reduced to rubble. Understandably, it will take many years for the army to recover from both the physical and mental scars of the tragedy, while the border guards, in the mess left by the mutiny, the subsequent trial and guilt, had to be eventually disbanded in its original form, which had been around for more than a 100 years and was the oldest uniformed force of the country. Very few wars can inflict the level of damage on the uniformed forces of a country, which BDR Mutiny did.

What is more troublesome is that while 3,000-odd soldiers have been punished, for taking part in the mutiny, motivated by prolonged ‘grievances’ – according to the findings of both the investigation committees set up by the government and the Bangladesh Army – the alleged plotters are yet to be identified and the conspiracy behind it is yet to be cracked. The report of the investigation committees, which were not made public but found its way into various sections of the media, recommended the government conduct a further inquiry to identify the people behind the scenes who had capitalized on the grievances of the soldiers to stoke the violence, as well as to identify their motives. For reasons best known to themselves, the government is yet to initiate any such inquiry. Furthermore, the government did not pay heed to any of the long-standing ‘grievances’ of the border guard soldiers, sans increasing their ration, in the last three years. On the other hand, while investigations and trials were going on, as many as 69 BDR soldiers died while in custody, giving rise to serious allegations of extrajudicial killing and torture, which, despite the government setting up a committee, are yet to be investigated. All these are ominous signs for the nation at large and does not at any length allay the fear and scope for future trouble.

It is important for all countrymen to know who were responsible for inflicting such harm on the entire country and to what ends. After all, a country needs to know who its enemies and friends are. It is also important that both genuine grievances and perceived grievances amongst the uniformed forces of a country are addressed, so that they no longer remain susceptible to conspiracies in the future. Therefore, it is important the government immediately begin an inquiry to identify and bring to justice the real plotters, to avoid any such incidents in the future. Besides, it also needs to complete the criminal trials as well as the inquiries into the deaths of the soldiers under custody, as soon as possible, so that the families, on both sides, can get a certain sense of closure.  

Collected :

Friday, February 24, 2012

Mamata Banerjee's sensitivity expected

She should see the broader picture.


During her recent talks with prime minister Manmohan Singh of India in Delhi, chief minister of the country's Pashchimbangla State, Mamata Banerjee, is learnt to have expressed her concern about what she termed excess water flowing to Bangladesh due to leakages in the Farakka Barrage.

Though it is an internal problem of India, we cannot help discern her diversionary emphasis away from the Teesta water sharing issue, which is a matter of prime concern for us. For lack of agreement on Teesta water sharing, Bangladesh continues to suffer from the sharp decline in water flow due to diversion of water by India. 

She couldn't have been oblivious of the Indian press reports that due to her last minute stance on the Teesta water sharing formula, which Indian prime minister had given shape to, that it fell through. The incident caused avoidable embarrassment to both the governments of India and Bangladesh. 

We wonder by deflecting from an issue of fundamental importance to Bangladesh's ecology and economy, what gain she is supposed to be deriving from impeding resolution of an important water sharing issue? 

By throwing a spanner in the works of the efforts to clinch the Teesta water deal, she is actually denying Paschimbangla, the Indian state closest to Bangladesh, the benefits she could draw from a higher level of Indo-Bangladesh relationship. We urge her to look at the broader picture of a greater and enduring cooperation between the two countries. 

The sooner Pashchimbangla chief minister Mamata Banerjee is able to see reason, the better for Indo-Bangla relations and also for the ties between Pashchimbangla and Bangladesh.

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