Saturday, July 30, 2011

Royal Bengal Tigers: The numbers game

A book being launched to mark the World Tiger Day on July 29 has created somewhat of a controversy by claiming that government statistics on tiger population living in the Sundarbans are grossly overstated. The author is of the opinion that the government’s method of calculating tiger population living in Bangladesh’s portion of the Sundarbans relies on outdated methods, i.e. using pugmarks as a measurement of number of tigers present in the vicinity of the mangrove forest often produces misleading figures. These claims however are hotly contested by government conservation experts who state that the census carried out by the state follows internationally recognised methods that are scientifically proven. Whatever may be the case, there is no denying that the tiger population is in grave danger in Bangladesh. The reasons for their steady demise are many. These majestic creatures are being hunted down to feed the demands for an illicit wildlife trade. Tiger parts are in high demand by traditional medicine practitioners all across Asia, particularly in China.  According to international statistics, the illegal trade in tiger parts that include bones is estimated to be worth around $6 billion per annum.

Apart from poaching, the other main reason for the decline in tiger numbers is the loss of habitat and tiger prey. Tigers traditionally feed on deer and wild pigs, both of which are being killed at an alarming rate. With their traditional prey numbers dwindling and as human encroachment into traditional tiger territory increases, the close proximity between man and tiger inevitably leads the tiger to change its eating habits and start attacking livestock. This brings the tiger into direct conflict with human settlements, and in most cases it is the tiger that pays the final price.

Against this backdrop, the government in a concerted effort with other nations has stepped up efforts to save the tigers. As often is the case, forest guards are ill equipped to counter poachers. A coordinated effort with India, that includes a joint strike force that will essentially operate on both sides of the international border, with greater integration by means of sharing intelligence and unit members being sufficiently and adequately armed and equipped with requisite training and logistics including, boats, vehicles and tranquiliser guns, should help turn the tide against the indiscriminate killing of tigers. Simultaneously, the programme hopes to include the general populace of eighty villages living in primarily what may be considered tiger country in an effort to minimize human-tiger confrontations that result, more often than not, in tiger fatalities.

Massacre in Norway

The Guardian of London in its editorial of 24th July correctly advised the readers to remain humble and  objective and not to jump to conclusion lest they risk  missing the reality that the massacre in Norway was perhaps “above all a catastrophic psychopathic event”. The advice was timely as immediately after the terror attack the finger of blame was put at Islamic radicals and al-Qaeda. Those who had chosen the Islamists as guilty had no end of justifications --¬NATO activities in Libya, cartoon relating to Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), racist discrimination in Europe etc.

But soon it was revealed that the perpetrator of the ghastly act was Anders Behring Breivik, the self-confessed terrorist and a right wing extremist who hates Muslims, multiculturalism and the left. He believed in the promotion of Catholicism, freemasonry and Knight Templar and supported the “Vienna School of Thought” who are against multiculturalism and the spread of Islam.

His 1500 page manifesto posted on the web and titled “2083: European Declaration of Independence” exhorted  Europeans to take political and military control of West European countries and implement a conservative political agenda.

“What most people do not understand’ he wrote “is that the ongoing Islamisation of Europe cannot be stopped before one gets to grips with the political doctrine which makes it possible”.

Surprisingly The Norwegian  counter insurgency appears to have been so engrossed with Islamic extremism that they had little time to focus on growing domestic fascism and people like Andreas Breivik who wrote in February last year that almost a quarter of young British Muslims were supporters of al-Qaeda.

But then both Europeans and Americans, to a lesser degree, have been open in their criticism and fear of Islamic extremism and in France, Germany and some European countries political leaders have publicly denounced multiculturalism as unworkable in their societies and thus put millions of Muslims, who have little practice of the Islamic faith, at jeopardy and subjected to discrimination in their day to day life.
The riots that had erupted in France when Nicholas Sarkozy was interior Minister (before he became President) resulted from exclusion of the young Muslims from the benefits of a French citizen and their loyalty was questioned though they had never seen the land of their ancestors to which they were asked to go.

Millions of the Muslim diaspora in the West were left to find a perilous existence as second class citizens in the land of their birth. That such a policy is unjust is irrefutable. Yet one has to take into account the security concern of the developed economies that, many in those economies feel, is rooted in the religion of Islam.
Whether it is so and Islam does not preach violence are questions better left to theologians well versed in the texts and interpretations of the holy books of different faiths. What is important is the public perception of Christians about Muslims, a brutal expression of which the world witnessed in the carnage in Norway.

Despite President Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron and other Western leaders’ pronouncements that the “war on terror” is not being waged against Islam several  research results have shown  Westerners to be reluctant to accept Muslims as their neighbors and similar survey in the Islamic world, particularly in Pakistan, has shown that the US, the greatest financier of Pakistan’s war with Taliban and its fragile economy, is regarded as the primary enemy  of the people. 

Pakistanis feel deeply humiliated by the American killing of Osama bin Laden in Abottabad without their knowledge, seen as a breach of Pak sovereignty, forgetting that in this world today sovereignty and territorial integrity inscribed in the UN Charter, described by John Foster Dulles as a pre-atomic document, is largely invalid  where membership of the international community is contingent upon the nations of the world in following  civilized norms of behavior with regard to their citizens as well as to those beyond their national borders.
Derogation from Westphallian concept of sovereignty    has been evolving for quiet sometime, more so during the Cold War when then two super powers had no qualms in invading countries within their area of influence (Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Granada, Haiti, Panama Etc,) for “ erroneous” policy followed by these states.

Whether some of these military interventions were for justifiable reasons though illegal under international law is a matter of another debate. The moot point remains that from the enunciation of the Monroe Doctrine military intervention or threat thereof were dictated by the perception of the powerful countries as to what threatened their strategic interests.  The gung-ho invasion of Iraq by George W Bush on the false premise of Saddam Hussein’ intention to attack the West with weapons of mass destruction and his unproved links with al-Qaeda produced collateral damage in the form of  powerful Christianity trying to decimate weak Islamic countries.

Anders Behring Breivik is an example of extreme xenophobia gone wrong where the victims were all Christians though in his warped mind he was fighting the Muslims and voicing his opposition to immigration “polluting” the purity of the white race and liberalism, so close to Hitler’s concepts of racial purity and his aversion to communism.

Finnish commentator Aris Rusila (After Norwegian massacre¬way forward to prevent similar actions) wrote, “Extremism, xenophobia and racism can only be slightly limited by state or top level actions, besides this approach would lead towards controlled security based police state with limited civil liberties”.

He suggests development of local democracy and citizens’ participation channels from pseudo-democracy to decisive power -- then people would not have feeling that their needs and thoughts are ignored. Inter related with this debate is Jurgen Habermas’s claim of the  emergence of the post-secular world explored at length by Cesare Merlini, Chairman of Italian Institute of International Affairs( Survival-April-May 2011). 

Merlini thinks that though popular support for the Catholic church might have declined due to the sexual deviations of some priests and the Vatican’s efforts to suppress the scandal, the decline was more than offset by the rise of neo-Protestants, ¬Evangelists, Pentacostalists and others¬ that contributed to the resurgence of religion in the West and the spread of this resurgence in Africa, Latin America and East Asia .

One of the reasons the Americans support Israel against their better judgment is because many believe that the return of Jesus is conditional to the return of the Israelites to the Holy Land. Thus an undercurrent of conflict between Islam and Christianity   arose between the West and the Muslim world.

Breivik’s anger against the ruling Labour party in Norway, as described in his manifesto, was due to the “failure” of the Labour government to defend the country from Islamic influence, and his insane fear that European identity will be lost   in what he called “Marxist multiculturalism”.

European countries must bear the responsibility of ignoring the rise of extreme right despite open display of anti-immigration and anti-Islamic chauvinism and putting their full attention to the possible threat posed by Islamic extremists.  Yet one must applaud Norwegian Prime Minister’s declaration that “we will never abandon our values. Our reply is; more democracy, more openness, and more humanity”. The world beset as it is with myriad of problems threatening the existence of this planet can hardly afford the fissures that would separate further the different parts of the globe.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Female Reporters Humiliated By Israel PM’s Guards

Foreign journalists on Friday [July 22] spoke of their distress after being asked to remove their bras for a security check before being allowed into the offices of Israel's prime minister. The three women were told by security personnel to undress and take off their bras for x-ray in two separate incidents at the Jerusalem offices of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

All three complied with the request, despite the distress it caused, in an incident denounced by the Foreign Press Association (FPA) as "unnecessary, humiliating and counter-productive."

Each of the women was taken behind a curtain in the lobby of the entrance hall and patted down before being told to undress, then their bras were passed out in full view of male and female colleagues and security personnel, to be put through an x-ray machine. Their personal effects were also emptied out in public view and put through the machine.

"The Foreign Press Association strongly condemns the continued harassment of journalists attending media events at the prime minister’s office," a statement from the Tel-Aviv based group said.
"This type of treatment is unnecessary, humiliating and counter-productive."

Sara Hussein, who works for Agence France-Presse (AFP), described the incident as utterly humiliating.

"I can only describe the experience as among the most humiliating in my life," she wrote in a complaint to the FPA. "I have covered meetings of presidents at the White House and not been subjected to anything similar."
Neither of the other two women reporters, both of whom were deeply distressed by the incident, wished to be identified.

All three have filed detailed complaints with the FPA, which is pursuing the matter with the Israeli authorities.
In January this year, Netanyahu's security staff came under fire for ordering a pregnant Arab correspondent for Al-Jazeera to remove her bra in order to attend a cocktail event for the press at a five-star hotel in Jerusalem.

The FPA said it was considering whether or not to continue sending its members to events where they risked such treatment at the hands of the premier's security team.
"After repeated appeals and promises by security officials, it appears that the prime minister's office does not have the desire to stop this happening," it said.

Monday, July 25, 2011

But, will the people forgive the president..?

THE president has granted clemency to AHM Biplob, son of Lakshmipur ruling party leader Abu Taher, a death row inmate, convicted of kidnapping and murdering advocate Nurul Islam on September 18, 2000, who was then the organising secretary of the Lakshmipur BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party).

But will the people forgive the president? This is the question that grips politicians, lawyers, intellectuals and activists as they discuss and debate, that arouses common people’s passions as they argue and pass judgement, even those who are opposed to the death penalty in principle, as I am. The ruling party’s electoral pledge to establish the rule of law now rings hollow. Absolutely. Finally.

Since July 14, when presidential clemency was granted to Biplob.

Ruling party leaders insist that the president, Zillur Rahman, has acted in accordance with his constitutional powers. Part IV, Article 49 says, ‘The President shall have [the] power to grant pardons, reprieves and respites and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority.’

But surely presidential pardons must necessarily be exercised with discretion? With caution? Only in cases where there is reasonable ground to assume that a miscarriage of justice has occurred? To prevent it from happening?

That, however, is not the case.

The truth can no longer be hidden. It has been exposed as it was bound to, revealing the corrupt arrogance of ruling party talking heads who prove yet again to be blind to the absolute misery of common people devastated ever more by killings. By senseless road accidents. By sexual assaults, rapes, mob attacks leading to deaths. By extra-judicial killings.

By cover-ups in the making which criminalise innocent people. Limon, a 16-year-old Jhalakati college student whose leg had to be amputated after Rapid Action Battalion forces shot him, was dubbed a ‘terrorist’ by the prime minister’s defence adviser. His father, too, was labelled a ‘terrorist’ by the adviser who added, I’m a ‘hundred percent sure.’ And, no, chimed in the home minister, these statements won’t influence the police investigation. Nor the judicial process.

The truth has been exposed by the presidential clemency which has de-criminalised a convicted criminal.
He should be kept above politics, says senior Awami League leader Suranjit Sengupta. Criticism must be targeted at the home ministry and the government, not at the president. Offered as a skin-saver—obviously the prime minister’s since constitutionally the president is bound to act in accordance with her advice—it expresses wishful thinking, for the clemency proves that the president is deep into party politics as he has intervened to save the life of a convicted criminal belonging to the ruling party, an act that offers us deep insights into how the ruling party actually rules. A knife that cuts away at the lies and hypocrisies.

Of the prime minister. Of her cabinet ministers, and senior ruling party members. The Awami League is committed to establishing the rule of law, a lie repeated ad infinitum. Even after the clemency. No reprieve. Not from lies, no.

The judgement passed by M Hasan Imam, judge, Speedy Tribunal, Chittagong on December 9, 2003 contained a description of the gruesome murder. The accused Biplob, Lavu, Jiku, Rinku and Shipon had thrown Nurul Islam down on Biplob’s bathroom floor.

They had used machetes and scythes, they had hacked him to death. Nurul Islam had pleaded for his life, he had even promised to leave Lakshmipur (Kaler Kantho, July 22, 2011). His body parts had been dumped in the Meghna river. Of the 31 accused, 15 were acquitted. Five including Biplob were condemned to death; 9 were given life sentences, while 2 were given 5-year imprisonments.

Biplob was gone for 10 years. Absconding, nowhere to be found. Until this April 6 when he turned up and surrendered before the tribunal. His father Abu Taher, Lakshmipur’s ‘godfather’, appealed to the president for his son’s life. The presidential pardon was granted a little over 3 months later. Was Biplob’s return a strange coincidence? Or, had the pardon been worked out in advance? Had it been guaranteed? By who?

Biplob’s pardon is preceded by another last year, of 20 death-row inmates, most of them Awami League supporters, termed a ‘wholesale’ pardon (The Daily Star, September 8, 2010). They had been convicted of killing Juba Dal leader Sabbir Ahmed Gama, nephew of former BNP deputy minister Ruhul Quddus Talukdar Dulu in 2004. How can death penalties be awarded to 21 persons for the murder of only one person? 

There are those who contend that Dulu must have influenced the trial process, but he refutes the allegation.

But has a president ever granted such a wholesale pardon in the history of Bangladesh? Jurist Shahdeen Malik described both the verdict and the clemency as ‘unusual’. Human rights activist Sultana Kamal felt that the grounds on which the clemency had been granted needed to be explained by the government.

The law minister Shafique Ahmed thought otherwise, the law ministry had given its recommendation, it was up to the president to grant it if he desired. The home secretary Abdus Sobhan Sikder stressed that it is was the president’s ‘absolute power to grant mercy to any convict.’ And what about the attorney general Mahbubey Alam? It was the president’s ‘right’, he maintained, expressing absolute disregard for history.His own.
When Mohiuddin Ahmed Jhintu, convicted of committing a double murder, was awarded presidential clemency during the BNP-Jamaat rule on January 13, 2005, the Supreme Court Bar Association, then headed by the current attorney general, had demanded that the pardon be scrapped. At a rally held on August 8, 2005, SCBA leaders had demanded that all documents should be made public, they had castigated barrister Moudud Ahmed, then law minister, for ‘flip-flopping’ on the issue. But the SCBA, not content with these demands alone, had demanded the resignation of the ruling coalition because of its ‘misrule’; it had demanded the establishment of the ‘rule of law’.

Advocate Sahara Khatun, current home minister, had also addressed the rally, which was followed by a procession (see photo) where lawyers had raised the slogan, Jhintu-Moudud dui bhai, ek dorite fashi chai (Jhintu-Moudud are brothers, they should be hanged on the same rope).

Jhintu’s tale is in many respects similar to Biplob’s. According to press reports, 3 others along with Jhintu had been awarded the death penalty. Only Kamal had been arrested, he was hanged immediately after the judgement. Jhintu, Shaheed and Manik absconded; in an interview given to Probashir Kontho, a Sweden-based Bangla newspaper (February 2004), the former Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal leader Jhintu had said, I was approached by the Ershad government, ‘we would be pardoned if we surrendered,’ but I did not compromise on BNP ideology.

When I hid in Bangkok during the 1980s, former BNP secretary general Abdus Salam Talukdar advised me to flee to Europe. Other details emerge from the interview, Khaleda Zia, then prime minister, had given him the task of re-organising the BNP’s Sweden chapter, she had reportedly promised him that she would try to get him ‘justice’.

Pictures of Jhintu with Khaleda Zia (2003), and with the former finance minister Saifur Rahman (2004) graced the pages of the newspaper. His photo with barrister Moudud, presiding at a reception hosted in the latter’s honour when he had visited Sweden, gave lie to Moudud’s claim that he did not know Jhintu. That such statements were false, they were aimed at defaming him (The Daily Star, July 29, 2005).

Jhintu returned to Bangladesh 23 years later and surrendered before the court. A mere ten days later, he received a presidential pardon.

Moudud Ahmed now—now, that Biplob has been freed—insists that Jhintu’s case is different to Biplob’s. The former had been tried in a ‘kangaroo court’ (1982), referring presumably to former president HM Ershad’s martial law regime, in which he himself had served as a cabinet, and later, as the prime minister.
Who will ensure our safety, asks Shahin Rashida Islam, Nurul Islam’s widowed wife. How can killers be so powerful? She raises yet another, more powerful, question: will the president be able to forgive his wife Ivy Rahman’s killers? A reference to the August 21 grenade attacks on a rally presided by Sheikh Hasina, then opposition leader, in which 23 Awami League members and supporters, including Ivy Rahman, was killed.
Offering it was suicidal, a retraction would be wise. One can only hope that the president, and the prime minister, realise it.
  
By - Rahnuma Ahmed.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Is Awami League creating a 'terror raj'?


President of Bangladesh, Zillur Rahman, has pardoned a man who was sentenced to death for committing one murder and life-term for two other killings. He has granted mercy to AHM Biplob, a son of ruling party leader Abu Taher of Laxmipur and a death row inmate in much-talked-about Nurul Islam murder case.
 
The widow of murdered lawyer Nurul Islam--the best known of the murder victims--has now put a question to the President: "Has he not now lost the moral right to demand punishment of those who killed his wife Ivy Rahman?" Mrs. Islam has further said, "President Zillur Rahman should now stop all proceedings of the Ivy Rahman murder case and announce that he has pardoned her killers."
 
The man who has received the presidential pardon and is now expecting to step out of prison as a free man is H. M. Biplab, son of ruling Awami League (AL) leader and Chairman of Luxmipur Municipality, Abu Taher. Biplab was convicted of kidnapping and then murdering Advocate Nurul Islam in that town on September 18th of 2000. He was tried in absentia by a speedy trial court.
 
The daily Samakal said this death sentence was confirmed by the High Court Division and Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. Biplab remained a fugitive from law. He surrendered to court and went to prison a few months ago while his father submitted mercy petition to the President.
 
A brother of Biplab has told the Kaler Kantha newspaper that he has also been pardoned on the charge of murdering a Chhatra League leader, Kamal, and the process of reprieve in a third murder case, that of killing an Islami Chhatra Shibir leader Mohsin. The papers of this prayer of pardon are now at the Prime Minister's office. The President, it seems, is taking the recommendation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in these cases.
  
Rashida's questions
Rashida Islam, wife of murdered lawyer and popular BNP leader at Luxmipur, has also addressed a remark at Sheikh Hasina. She told the Prime Minister, "I urge you to ensure the severest punishment to the murderer . Just as you have given the topmost priority to the trial of your father's killers, my children also want to see that their father's killers are punished. If that is not done then Allah's judgment will visit those who protect their father's killers."
 
Rashida Islam left Luxmipur shortly after her husband was murdered and has been living in Dhaka since then. She told newsmen that she is frightened once again. Rashida Islam recalls her murdered husband's body was never found as it was cut into pieces and dropped into the river Meghna by the criminals.
 
It may be mentioned here that Ivy Rahman, Awami League leader and President Zillur Rahman's wife, was killed in the terrible grenade attack at an Awami League rally at the capital's centre on August 21, 2004, while Sheikh Hasina was addressing it. After a prolonged investigation police has recently charged BNP leader, Khaleda Zia's elder son Tarique Rahman, two former ministers, and several Islamist extremists for plotting the attack and sheltering the attackers.
 
Pro-BNP lawyers say that the investigation is flawed. BNP is staging protest against the charge. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, founding president of Bangladesh, his wife, three sons and two daughters-in-law were killed on August 15, 1975, in a coup led by a number of army officers. Sheikh Hasina was successful in arresting several of the military coup-makers when she became elected prime minister in 1996 and in holding their trial.
  
Appeal for justice
Five of them were executed by hanging in 2010. Her government is trying hard to get at least half a dozen more fugitives extradited from other countries to face execution. This is among her government's top most priorities. Mrs. Rashida Islam has referred to these cases while appealing for justice in the case of the murders of her husband.
 
Senior lawyers Barrister Rafiqul Huq and Khandker Mahbub Hossain have warned, while the constitution gives the President the power to pardon or commute any sentence it is now being misused.
 
It should be mentioned here that President Ziaur Rahman, President Ershad and President Iajuddin Ahmed each had also pardoned at least one murder-convict each.
  
20 death row convicts freed
Thus the number of persons getting presidential pardon, bending the rules in case of the son of one top Awami League leader, by the hands of President Zillur Rahman has been far greater.
 
On September 7, 2010 President granted clemency to 20 death row inmates under a presidential pardon, as they awaited execution for murdering a local leader of Bangladesh Nationalist Party in 2004. He is acting upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister and the Law Minister, say Supreme Court lawyers.
 
At the same time a committee headed by the Minister of State for Law has withdrawn several thousands criminal cares against Awami League leaders on the ground that these cases were filed on political consideration. Beneficiaries of this special action by the Sheikh Hasina government include a number of persons charged for murder.
 
Opposition BNP says the Awami League government is setting free such dangerous people in order to create a 'terror raj' with the aim of influencing voters in the next parliament election. No person belonging to BNP has been freed of any criminal charge by this review committee.

Concern grows as political landscape is changing fast

Politics is entering into a volatile phase. BNP chairperson and leader of the opposition Begum Khaleda Zia urged the people, especially the younger generation to 'rise up against the fascist' Awami League (AL) government in Arab-type revolution to bring change in the country's political landscape.

She said the government by changing the constitution has made it a virtual manifesto of the ruling Awami League and if her party goes to power next time they will 'throw it away'. Begum Zia further said no election would be held without a caretaker government, because elections under the ruling Awami League will cause high risk of extensive rigging.

Meanwhile, Awami League leader Suranjit Sen Gupta threatened Begum Zia of suing her on charge of treason for comments on the constitution saying it carries the highest capital punishment and she must be careful.

Apprehensions
This is just one example of how the country's political landscape is fast changing to bring the two major parties closer to repulsive confrontation. There is fear everywhere that things are going out of control on the political front. Something unpredictable is in the making that may destabilize the country's democratic foundation.
In this background the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh recently sounded apprehension on the stability of Awami League government. He said political landscape, meaning regime change may happen here any time virtually bringing embarrassment to the party in power.

Col (retd) Oli Ahmed made similar prediction last week saying this government will fall very soon. Veteran journalist A B M Musa also voiced alarm on the rapidly changing political perspective recently and urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to be aware of the sandy ground she is walking on. He said he fears the repeat of the circumstances leading to the making of the August tragedy of 1975 can't be ruled out, there is bad smell in the air in which more Khondker Mostaques are roaming around her.

Such warning from all directions is intensifying the fear of a regime change in the country however, may be real or part of an orchestrated campaign to malign the government.
 
Musa said like Manmohan Singh, Indira Ghandi and Fidel Castro had also warned Bangabandhu but he ignored. ABM Musa, a close well-wisher of the Prime Minister warned, like others that political landscape is rapidly changing and the Prime Minister should take more cautious steps to defuse the situation.
 
It is not only BNP or the Islamist parties which are now calling for the ouster of the government, even several leftist groups are openly coming against the government this time joining hand with the National Committee for Protection of Oil, Gas, Electricity, Mineral Resources and Ports.

Govt. is aggressive
The government is rapidly becoming aggressive but also lonely. Even there is visible rift within the grand coalition. Ershad is ignored and his brother the minister for civil aviation and tourism, G M Kader is only a back bancher in the cabinet.

There is a growing whisper in the power corridor that nine ministers with leftist background are now dominating the government while most Awami League ministers and MPs are busy making illegal fortunes and siphoning off funds out of the country. Bangladesh Bank reportedly decided recently to inform the Prime Minister's office of the spate of over invoicing that many businessmen cum MPs are using to transfer funds.

Left wing ministers
The case of the distancing left from the core epicentre of Awami League politics reportedly flared up last week during the cabinet meeting. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina suddenly wanted to know from senior minister Motiya Chowdhury why she and such other left ministers in the cabinet did not turn up in the grand council of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), the student wing of the ruling Awami League. They had no answers for a few moments but the Prime Minister had already said what she had in her mind.
 
Critics say Motiya Chowdhury had once refused to speak to Bangabandhu as a fiery leader of Bangladesh Chatra Union. Now she is the standard bearer of Bangabandhu but question remains how much she got integrated to the party politics. Otherwise, why she did not attend the BCL council, they questioned.
 
Yet another critic says Banglabandhu had formed BKSAL on the advice of NAP leader Prof Muzaffar Ahmed and people like Suranjit Sen Gupta, among others. This is the cruel side of politics.

'Reign of terror'
In this background, BNP chairperson and leader of opposition in Parliament, Begum Khaleda Zia has given the call of an all-out movement to oust the Awami League-led grand coalition government for failures on many counts -- skyrocketing of foods and other essentials, alrming rise of criminal activities, absence of rule of law, human rights violation, and repression on opposition political leaders.
 
She alleged that the Prime Minister has unleashed a reign of terror on the opposition including the Islamist groups and far lefts in one hand and destroying public and political institutions on the other.
Changes in the constitution removing the caretaker government and the faith and confidence in the Almighty are some issues which have touched public opinion in the grassroots.
 
Moreover, the war crime trial has created more divisiveness in the country not because why it is being held but for the alleged denial of the basic rights and norms of an international trial court to those on trial.
The government's subservient policy on India has also become a controversial issue now in the border region as the ruling party is preparing to hand over a large chunk of the country's land to India which local people claim to have inherited from their forefathers as the ancestral property.

 People are in the dark
 It is signing transit deals and such other agreements keeping the people in the dark and reportedly surrendering vital national interest. The biggest failure came to the fore in running the economy.
Taka is losing to dollar, capital flight has assumed alarming height, trade deficit is soaring and inflation is on the rise. Moreover, the recent stock market scam in the hand of businessmen close to the government has come as the single most factor to identify the incumbents as anti-people.

Mass hunger strike
BNP and the Islamists called hartals twice in the past weeks making the government vulnerable to further erosion. In the wake of it, BNP and like-minded parties observed a mass hunger strike on Wednesday last in the city to further press home the demand for bringing down the government.
 
They are preparing as they claim to bring about a Middle East type uprising in the country and Begum Zia has announced strong street agitation after the fasting month of Ramadan. She called upon the people, especially the young generation to rise and secure the safety of their land from danger at home and coming from abroad.
Analysts hope the government will make concessions to the opposition to make future election fair and peaceful to ensure a democratic transition without any unpredictable change. People would expect that the ruling party will play the proactive role to reassure the nation that it is on the right track and peace and development will find priority than chaos and confrontation in the street.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A poignant pointer to growing lawlessness in society

THE execution—there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that it was—of six young man at Amin Bazar in Savar on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka early Monday provides a poignant pointer on the increasing lawlessness and growing sense of insecurity in society. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Tuesday, the ill-fated six, all students of different educational institutions in Dhaka, went to Keblar Char after offering prayers on the night of Shab-e-Barat where people from nearby villages, armed with sticks and sharp weapons, attacked them on the suspicion that they were planning a robbery. Al-Amin, who was with the six but survived the mob beating, was quoted in the report as saying that they had gone there on an outing and taken drugs for fun. The Dhaka district superintendent of police told journalists that the ‘tragic incident proves how terrible the consequences could be if people take law in their own hand.’ Indeed, when people take law in their own hand it only adds to the lawlessness. However, the police official and, for that matter, the government should know that people take law in their hand only when they lose faith in the justice system and the law enforcement mechanism. Suffice it to say that people of not only Amin Bazar but also elsewhere in the country have reasons to feel let down by the justice and law enforcement systems.

There has been a sustained surge in crime—from mugging to murder, rent-seeking to rape, extortion to abduction—since the Awami League-Jatiya Party government assumed office in January 2009. In many cases, criminals have used on their links with the ruling party and its front organisations to perpetrate crimes with impunity. The law enforcement agencies have been found inadequate, if not indifferent, when it comes to arresting the law and order downslide and bringing the culprits to justice. Worse still, the home minister and the top brass of the law enforcement agencies have time and again come up with the claim that law and order has never been better, thereby not only dismissing the people’s increasing sense of insecurity but also giving them the impression that they are on their own when it comes to ensuring their safety and security. Meanwhile, extrajudicial killing of crime suspects by members of the Rapid Action Battalion and other law enforcement agencies has continued unabated, which could very well have given rise to thought, at least in a section of society, that it is alright to take the law in their own hand once in a while.

According to the human rights organisation Odhikar, quoted in another report also front-paged in New Age on Tuesday, 75 people became victim of mob justice between January and June this year. Between January and September 2010, 126 people were beaten to death across the country. The sustained surge in the incidence of mob beating suspected criminals to death, as indicated before, is a reflection of increasing restiveness in society brought about by a widespread anger and frustration with the justice and law enforcement system and the consequent sense of insecurity. The incumbents need to realise that the responsibility lies with them and them alone. They have thus far failed to send out a strong message to society at large that they will not tolerate any extrajudicial actions, including killing, be it perpetrated by the law enforcers or an angry crowd. They need to realise as well that such a message needs to be through deeds, not words alone.

The Tipaimukh Dam

Neepco has received the go-ahead from the Indian central government to build the dam at Tipaimukh on the Barak River. But this is an international river and the source of the 350-kilometer-long Surma and 110-km-long Kushiara rivers and the lifeline of Bangladesh's north-eastern region. A diversion barrage, including an irrigation project, is to be built downstream of the dam at Fulertol in Lakhipur in Assam. The 1,500-megawatt Tipaimukh hydroelectric project located 500 metres downstream of the confluence of the Tuivai and Barak Rivers in Manipur, near the Manipur-Mizoram border, will be one of the largest in India.

When our environment and agriculture experts are saying this is a catastrophe waiting to happen we should pay attention because the dam will heavily reduce and dry up Surma and Kushiara in winter and trigger river erosion and flood in the rainy season, displacing thousands of people of greater Sylhet. The dam will also affect the Meghna River and turn Bangladesh's mid-east and north-eastern regions into desert. Water and agriculture experts said Tipaimukh will create a severe water crisis in Bangladesh's north-eastern region turning vast arable farm land into arid land, greatly affecting agriculture and threatening food security.

Initially proposed in 1954 to reduce annual flooding, the Indian Central Water Commission presented a report in 1984 that was turned down because it didn’t have a proper environmental impact assessment (EIA). The EIA was completed twenty years later but the report was never shared with Bangladesh. Now that the go-ahead has been given to Neepco, it is a serious political issue and unless someone knowledgeable is prepared to face this head-on and try to work out an integrated solution, things will soon start to become worse. Problems like this are already dragging Bangladesh into severe environmental and economic crises and if this one is not resolved immediately, the nation could be crippled.

For more than four decades the people of Bangladesh have experienced numerous environmental disasters due to the construction of dams/barrages on the Ganges, Teesta and some other common rivers. Before their construction and commissioning the magnitude of the problem did not reveal itself, but now, with knowledge gained from hindsight, we know well what can happen. The Farakka Barrage is the direst example that comes to mind because, though India managed to write an EIA that identified the effects on the Ganges River, the evaluation went only as far as the site of the Farakka Barrage.  After that – nothing.  As far as our neighbouring country was concerned, Bangladesh did not exist!

Bangladesh opposition threatens election boycott, hints of overthrow

BANGLADESH'S MAIN opposition party has threatened to boycott the election if the government refuses to hold polls under non-partisan neutral government.

She urged her supporters to overthrow the government through a popular uprising such as those that have occurred in some Middle East countries since the beginning of the year, a definite shift of strategy of her anti-government campaign launched two weeks ago.


Criticizing the government that has been in power for two and half years, Zia said should her party win the election, she would scrap the recently overhauled constitution that dropped the impartial non-party caretaker administration to ensure holding of a credible general election.
The opposition fears that the election would be rigged and manipulated, which would further marginalize their share in the 300-member parliament. The next election is scheduled in 2013.

“Election without caretaker government cannot be held in the country and any election without participation of BNP will not be acceptable,” she warned.

 
The ruling Awami League has amended the constitution, which not only prohibited the interim government from holding a general election, but also included a Koranic verse in the constitution. In a radical shift from secularism, the government has adopted an Islamic constitution.

Ruling party vehemently opposed the argument and said the election commission, literally a paper tiger would hold the election independently after it is significantly strengthened, the government promised.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Murdoch's Media Empire Collapsing

Rupert Murdoch's media empire worth $46 billion is now collapsing over the allegation of phone hacking scandal by the London-based tabloid daily News of the World. The paper has already been shut down and Rupert Murdoch's bid to acquire British TV channel Sky Broadcasting has been stalled.

Rupert Murdoch bought the News of the World in 1969 which specialised in sex scandals and populist campaigns. All three political parties in Britain through a consensus in the House of Commons have summoned Rupert Murdoch to explain his conduct.

Two of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers are reported to have bribed the police and employed other illegal methods to obtain information about Queen Elizabeth and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Phone hacking and other unlawful and unethical methods to obtain news are common in many British newspapers.

BBC and the Guardian newspaper disclosed citing internal e-mails from the News of World that it had bribed people knowledgeable about Buckingham Palace for detailed classified information about the Queen, Prince Charles and other members of the royal family. Police said the cell phones of Prince Charles and his wife Camilla have also been hacked. Prime Minister David Cameron expressed his outrage at police involvement in phone hacking scandal. 'We need to get to the bottom of that, if it's true', the New York Times quoted the prime minister as saying. Scotland Yard refused to be drawn into controversy.

The hunter has now become hunted. Rupert Murdoch owns such prestigious newspapers like The Times, The Sun and the Sunday Time. These papers routinely helped elect prime ministers with timely endorsements. One of the more troubling aspects of the affair has been the sense of collusion between police and the media and a political class that has seemed too cowed to speak out against News of the World's powerful proprietor Rupert Murdoch, Financial Times in an editorial said. Rupert Murdoch has media investments in Australia, India and America and was planning to go to China. Tailpiece Arrogance has a habit of hitting back sometimes in the most inane of situations.

People Resist Move To Build Power Plant Near Sundarbans

Despite a High Court (HC) ban on building power project closer to the Sundarbans which is an ecologically vulnerable zone, the government is using police force against local villagers to take away their land to give it to an Indian power generation company.

The left front government in West Bengal lost power because of its attempt to take away farmers' land to give it to a big industry. Arial Beel in Munshiganj proved that nothing can be done if people rise in revolt against any land acquisition scheme.

And yet the government is opening a new front this time to take away farmers' land to give it to Indian big business at the cost of farmers' livelihood and right to live in their own homes.

Police and villagers are facing a growing confrontation over the project this time at Rampal upazila on Mongla-Kkulna highway where the government has planned to acquire a large swath of arable land to hand over to an Indian power generation company.

The company wants to set up a coal-based 1320 MW power plant there.   

The confrontation is only on the increase as hundreds of villagers armed with bamboo-sticks,
gathered on the highway Saturday last protesting the move to acquire 2,000 acres of land on which they grow crops twice a year to make a living.
    
Confrontation with villagers 
People were locked in an hour-long clash with police and at least 50 people were injured. The land belongs to people from five local villages and hundreds of people from those villages formed a human chain under the banner of Krishi Jomi Rakkha Sangram Committee (committee to save cultivable land) on the spot that day located under Bagerhat district.

The clash triggered violence all around when a contingent of riot police tried to snatch the banners charging batons on the protesting villagers standing on the road side. The agitated villagers equipped with bamboo-sticks, brickbats etc attacked the police resulting in clash and counter clash. The area turned into a battle ground snapping road communication for at least three hours. The villagers left the place when additional police force reached there. Deputy Commissioner of Bagerhat claimed the situation was however under control.
    
Human chain 
Meanwhile, different environmentalist groups, human rights activists and local groups have joined hand to protect the land acquisition move and save the area from the impact of dust that may spread from a coal-run power plant.

Centre for Human Rights Movement (CHRM), Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan (BAPA), Sundarban Parjatan Club and Save the Sundarbans joined the human chain Saturday and demanded that the government should remove the venue to save the arable land.

Environmental scientist Professor D. M. Sadrul Amin, Chief Coordinator of Save the Sundarbans, Sheikh Faridul Islam, President of the organization and Freedom Fighter Abdul Malek Gazi, Joint Secretary BAPA, Shajahan Mridha Benu, Coordinator Krishi, Bon Sampad Rakkha Jatiya Committee, Engineer M Inamul Hoq, Secretary CHRM M Muzahidul Islam, Divisional Coordinator Advocate Azizul Hoq, Prinicipal Shaikh Siddique Ahmed, Secretary Krishi Jomi Rakkha Sangram Committee Moynul Hoq and Journalist Yaseen Babu have given the call to scrap the entire project from the region to save the Sundarbans from disaster.

They said the Sundarbans is within 12 km proximity of the project site. This is an ecologically sensitive zone and in the interest of saving the rain forest the local community vowed to continue to resist the project and go for any movement at national level.

The important thing is that the ministry of forest and environmental has a ban on taking any such activity in the region which may endanger the Sundarbans. But the project authority appeared not to have bothered to seek permission from the directorate of environment.

 Moreover, such project is not also congenial to smooth operation of Mongla Port which is only a few kilometres from the project site, because the coal dust that it may cause would be harmful to safe living. Sources say, Chittagong Port Authority has earlier opposed such a power plant at Anwara on the same ground.

But the question is the government itself is the violator of the ground rules.

But land acquisition has increasingly become a critical issue. The government only recently tested the bitter resistance at Arial Beel when the local people rose in an open revolt to save their land which the authorities had tried to acquire to build an airport.

The left front government in West Bengal had to leave power largely because of similar bloody revolt of farmers in Singur and Nandigram when it sought to take over land to build a Tata car factory in the first place and an industrial park on the later.

Moreover local people remained sceptical as to why the government is going to hand over thecountry's power sector to an Indian giant thereby making it dependent on it at a time when the balance of trade is tremendously negative and is only widening.

Bangladesh signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Aug 30 last year at New Delhi to set up the power plant by an Indian company. Meanwhile the government decided to acquire the land in question from the villagers of Sapmari, Daidarbesh Kati, Basurhulla and Katakhali of Rampal upazila. The villagers claimed it is their arable lands which give them food.

Moreover, they will be forced to migrate if the power project continues. Besides, impacting the world heritage of Sundarbans, coal dust will spread diseases and create other environmental hazards. The leaders of CHRM also pointed out that a High Court bench, comprising Justice AHM Shamsuddin and Justice Shaikh M Zakir Hussain, has already ordered a stay on the move to build the power project.

Rights activists wondered why the government is using police force against innocent
villagers despite the fact that the High Court has already put a ban on such project at such a sensitive location.

U.S Alarmed At China's Growing Satellite Power

Phenomenal growth of China's satellite power is expected to alter "power dynamics in Asia" submerging the US dominance in the region. Chinese reconnaissance satellites are now capable of tracking down their targets for over six hours a day jumping from only three hours barely 18 months ago.

Starting from a scratch ten years ago, People's Liberation Army (PLA) has equalled the US's ability to observe targets from the space. China's growing military muscle has unnerved some of the trusted allies in the region. China has made giant strides in developing military hard wares. Among China's prized possessions are anti-ship ballistic missiles, stealth fighter which it jointly manufactured with Pakistan and will shortly launch its first aircraft carrier. The United States has turned a deaf ear to China's urging of staying away from the region which is rich in mineral resources including oil.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the retiring Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there is no question of US leaving the region. 'Our enduring presence in this region has been important to our allies for decades and continues to be so', Admiral Mullen was quoted as saying by the Financial Times.

  
The military leaders of the two countries in the meanwhile pledged last Monday to cast aside decades of hostilities and pursue shared vision of cooperation. Admiral Mullen was in China and held talks with his counterpart Gen.Chen Binge, chief of PLA. Two military leaders are under order to improve military to military ties. Exhortations came during President Hu Jintao's summit talks President Obama in January this year.

Both the generals spoke in effusive terms about each other and agreed to hold counter piracy manoeuvres in the Gulf of Aden and plan exercises in humanitarian relief in 2012. Gen Binge dismissed American concerns that the Chinese were deploying new and modern weapons to counter America, the New York Times reported.

Gen.Binge conceded that China's military technology is decades behind Pentagon and its military spending is far behind the United States. China's army is a defensive force, he said. Gen. Binge suggested that the US should severely cut its defence spending. According to one estimate, the US spends $21000 per minute on defence spending.

A triangular tussle is going on between the US, China and Pakistan. The US has threatened to suspend its $800 million military aid to Pakistan which the analysts claim is an "empty gesture." Pakistan has strong military ties with China. The US-Pak tie has chilled since US found and killed Osama bin-Laden in May this year in Pakistan's garrison city of Abottabad. The US frustration with Pakistan is understandable. In today's inflamed climate anything that looks like a concession to US is politically all but impossible, the Financial Times in an editorial said. The stakes are too high for the US to cause a serious rift. The US needs Pakistan's help to stabilise situation in Afghanistan.

The Financial Times has urged Washington to be mindful of Pakistan's concern about Indian activities in Kabul. The Paper called for resolution of the Kashmir problem between India and Pakistan.

Importance of voting for the Sunderbans

Precious time is ticking away. We only have about four months, till  November 11, to mobilize for an all-out struggle to have one of Bangladesh’s proudest possessions, its Sundarban forest, the largest mangrove forest and unique in the world, elected as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The contest is in the final phase and Bangladesh cannot absolutely afford an outcome of non-inclusion   of the Sundarbans in this global seven natural wonders list for obvious reasons.

Getting selected will not only make the nation proud or have the name of the forest imprinted in the minds of millions of people round the world. The triumph would also, very significantly, be a feather in the cap of Bangladesh for other tangible reasons. 

It would create the motivation for the regular arrival of foreign eco- tourists in large numbers to  Bangladesh and they, of course, spend in this country. Thus, a huge tourist bonanaza  on a sustainable basis is likely from our winning in the race to have the Sunderbans selected as one of the seven  natural wonder sites.

Tourism creates employment. According to the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), the tourism industry accounts for 11% of total global employment. It is said that every twelve tourists create a new job. Unfortunately, tourism is one of the most neglected sectors in Bangladesh.

The number of eco-tourists in the world has been increasing by more than ten percent a year. Initially, Bangladesh may set its target to attract one million eco-tourists a year and may well attain it if the Sundarbans is finally selected as one of the seven natural wonders. Add to that the benefits it would deliver to the Bangladesh economy.

Out of the 440 natural sites of the world, 28 were selected by polls by July 2009 of which the Sunderbans is one. But the countdown for the final selection has started. Only seven natural wonders will be finally selected from the 28 already selected.

But are we going to be content with being only semi-finalists instead of winning the trophy? This question is looking increasingly stark as the countdown has come closer. Many times in the past it was noted that Bangladesh missed invaluable opportunities presented to it on a platter.

Take, for example, the offer of a free undersea connection to the information superhighway that Bangladesh received in the nineties. It was spurned by short-sighted bureaucrats who thought that the same would compromise the country’s requirements for secrecy or its security. But only a decade later Bangladesh was found seeking such connections and paying for the costs after the late realisation about how important such an acquisition would be.

Bangladesh would be well set on the path to becoming an information technology (IT) power if the right decision was taken by its then government to steer the country in the right direction. The appropriateness of the old idiom “a stitch in time, saves nine” has still plenty of relevance in the context of Bangladesh.

Thus, one should not be misunderstood for being apprehensive about Bangladesh’s preparation though the incumbent government deserves praise for successfully organizing World Cup cricket in Bangladesh. It cannot be, thus, dismissed as not having the capacity or the outlook to reach targets on such vital matters.

Another example of its relatively better alertness was its last minute actions that saved the country from the fallout for not moving in time to make its claim to the adjacent Bay of Bengal. This had been the responsibility of successive governments, but was neglected.

Nonetheless, anxiety remains as a huge effort is required and we need to go all out from now to ensure our berth among the seven. Earlier, in January this year, the relevant minister stated that 150 million votes would be needed to ensure a win for the Sunderbans.

That is, almost all the votes of the total population of Bangladesh will be required to launch the Sunderbans effectively into the winning position. As far as it is known, the number of votes so far has not crossed 10 million. So, evidently we are still far away from the target.

But how many Bangladeshis, so far, know about the contest and their patriotic duty to vote for it? A couple of roadshows, at least, across the country should have been held by now to make the people aware. But not even one has been staged.

Publicity in the mass media or otherwise to this end is still not loud or extensive enough.  A telephone facility exists for the voting but one has to pay a charge for using it to vote although that cost would be considered nominal by many.

But only people’s spontaneous enthusiasm must not be relied on. The government should make an offer of toll-free calls through numerous points in the country and urge the people to avail these facilities.  The telephone companies and the NBR must get their act together on these aspects at the soonest.

But the biggest push can be no other than India and Bangladesh coming together on this. Sixty per cent of the Sunderbans falls within Bangladesh and the remaining 40 per cent in India. Thus, it should be in India’s interest as well to make sure that the Sunderbans wins in the contest. It can be a shining example of a win-win situation for both countries.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to come to Dhaka  in September. A number of treaties are likely to be signed during his visit. The occasion would be wonderfully suited to sign another accord whereby both countries would undertake to cooperate to motivate their people respectively to vote in great numbers for the Sunderbans.

India and Bangladesh are among the seven most populous countries in the world. So, there is no reason why the Sundarbans will fail to win in the selection process if the population of both countries are inspired through systematic publicity and motivational programmes to cast  their vote massively.

Also our expatriate community is fairly large in number. They should be also persuaded to take an interest in the matter by voting as well as motivating people in their host countries to vote for the Sunderbans.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bad borders, good neighbours


Today, as US, European, Russian and UN officials meet in Washington to discuss the future of the Middle East peace process, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, remains adamant that a peace deal premised on returning to Israel's pre-1967 borders poses an unacceptable risk to its security.
He is right: The country's 1967 borders are not militarily defensible. But his use of this argument to reject the only viable formula for Israeli-Palestinian peace -- a negotiated two-state solution based on mutually agreed upon land swaps -- is wrong, and it does not serve Israel's security interests.
Israel needs peace with the Palestinians, and that will likely require a return to the 1967 lines with a few adjustments. These borders can be made defensible if they come with a security package consisting of a joint Israeli-Palestinian security force along the West Bank's border with Jordan, a demilitarized Palestinian state and a three-way Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian defense treaty. Combined with such a package, the balanced formula President Barack Obama outlined in his May 19 speech can give Israel the security it needs and deserves.
Until June 1967, Israelis feared that a swift Arab military move could cut Israel in two at its narrow "waist" -- an area near the city of Netanya, where the country is less than 10 miles wide. By doing so, Arab tanks and artillery could have reached Tel Aviv within a few hours. In the 44 years since, the geography has not changed, but the threat has.
Today, there is a menace we did not face in 1967. Short- and medium-range rockets, mortars and missiles supplied by Iran are making the lives of Israeli civilians a nightmare. Thousands of these rockets have been launched from Gaza into Israeli towns and villages since Hamas wrested control of Gaza in 2007; and if an independent Palestine emerges on the West Bank, these weapons could find their way there, too.
That is why the border between the West Bank and Jordan must be made impenetrable. This cannot be done remotely, from the 1967 lines; it will require a joint Israeli-Palestinian military presence along the Jordan River.
Such joint military activity would not violate Palestinian sovereignty and could be modeled on Israel's current coordination with Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. It would be far more effective than deploying an international force. After all, UN forces in southern Lebanon have failed to prevent a colossal military buildup by Hezbollah since Israel withdrew from the area in 2000.
Second, the Palestinian state must be demilitarized. No tanks, artillery or missiles can be deployed within its boundaries. In the absence of this weaponry, international guarantees will ensure Palestine's security and territorial integrity.
Third, an Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian defense treaty is necessary to safeguard their common strategic interests. Joint military planning and sharing early warning systems to prevent threats from Iran, its proxies and other jihadist forces in the region would cement this treaty.
This security package would make the 1967 borders defensible, and keep Palestine from becoming another launching pad for terror. Moreover, an Israeli-Palestinian agreement would bring about a dramatic, strategic change in the Middle East. It would remove the obstacle preventing moderates in the region from uniting against militant Islamist extremists and lay the groundwork for a new strategic alliance in the region, including the Persian Gulf countries, which are natural business partners for Israel, Jordan and Palestine.
As a result, Israel would be able to extend its hand to new democratic and secular governments in the Arab and Muslim world. And those committed to Israel's destruction would be confronted by a new alliance with enormous economic and military power.
I have devoted more than three decades of my life to defending Israel, from the Litani River in Lebanon to the western bank of the Suez Canal in Egypt, and I would never support irresponsible, hazardous solutions to Israel's security problems. I don't believe durable peace in the region is possible unless Israel remains the strongest military power between Tehran and Casablanca.
We have no choice but to protect ourselves in a perilous world of aggressive Islamist fanatics and complacent, confrontation-averse Western democracies. But nurturing settlements in the West Bank and maintaining an occupation in order to protect them is not the proper way to do it.
Following that path will lead to disaster. Israel could become a binational state of first- and second-class citizens at war with each other; a third Intifada could break out, damaging Israel's economy and destroying Palestine's nascent infrastructure; or the pro-negotiation policy of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, could collapse, allowing Hamas to take power in the West Bank. If this happens, the doomsday prophecy of rockets raining down on Ben-Gurion International Airport just might be fulfilled.
To avoid this fate, we must embrace the proposals of our American friends, end this conflict and allow Israel to become an active member, rather than an isolated actor, in the rapidly changing Middle East.

Arctic may be ice-free within 30 years

Sea ice in the Arctic is melting at a record pace this year, suggesting warming at the North Pole is speeding up and a largely ice-free Arctic can be expected in summer months within 30 years. The area of the Arctic ocean at least 15% covered in ice is this week about 8.5m sq kilometres - lower than the previous record low set in 2007 - according to satellite monitoring by the US National Snow and Ice Data
Centre (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado.
In addition, new data from the University of Washington Polar Science Centre, shows that the thickness of Arctic ice this year is also the lowest on record.
In the past 10 days, the Arctic has been losing as much as 150,000 square kilometres to sea a day, said Mark Serreze, director of the NSIDC.
"The extent [of the ice cover] is going down, but it is also thinning. So a weather pattern that formerly would melt some ice, now gets rid of much more. There will be ups and downs, but we are on track to see an ice-free summer by 2030. It is an overall downward spiral."
Global warming has been melting Arctic sea ice for the past 30 years at a rate of about 3% per decade on average. But the two new data sets suggest that, if current trends continue, a largely ice-free Arctic in summer months is likely within 30 years.
That is up to 40 years earlier than was anticipated in the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report.
Sea ice, which is at its maximum extent in March and its lowest in September each year, is widely considered to be one of the "canaries in the mine" for climate change, because the poles are heating up faster than anywhere else on Earth.
According to NSIDC, air temperatures for June 2011 were between 1 and 4C warmer than average over most of the Arctic Ocean.
The findings support a recent study in the journal Science that suggested water flowing from the Atlantic into the Arctic ocean is warmer today than at any time in the past 2,000 years and could be one of the explanations for the rapid sea ice melt now being observed.
Computer simulations performed by Nasa suggest that the retreat of Arctic sea ice will not continue at a constant rate. Instead the simulations show a series of abrupt decreases such as the one that occurred in 2007, when a "perfect storm" of weather conditions coincided and more ice was lost in one year than in the previous 28 years combined. Compared to the 1950s, over half of the Arctic sea ice had disappeared.
What concerns polar scientists is that thicker ice which does not melt in the summer is not being formed fast as the ice is melting. On average each year about half of the first year ice, formed between September and March, melts during the following summer.
This year, says Jeff Masters, founder of the Weather Underground climate monitoring website, a high pressure system centred north of Alaska has brought clear skies and plenty of ice-melting sunshine to the Arctic.
"The combined action of the clockwise flow of air around the high and counter-clockwise flow of air around a low pressure system near the western coast of Siberia is driving warm, southerly winds into the Arctic that is pushing ice away from the coast of Siberia, encouraging further melting." Sea ice has an important effect on the heat balance of the polar oceans, since it insulates the (relatively) warm ocean from the much colder air above, thus reducing heat loss from the oceans.
Sea ice also has a high albedo - about 0.6 when bare, and about 0.8 when covered with snow - compared to the sea - about 0.15 - and thus the loss of sea ice increased the absorption of the sun's warmth by the sea.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Farewell To Fair Elections?

Unquestionably the ruling Awami League (AL) government has opened a Pandora's box by annulling the Caretaker Government (CG) system. On May 10 , 2011 the Supreme Court of Bangladesh repealed the 13 th amendment to the Constitution declaring the Non-party CG void and ultra vires to the Constitution; but allowed holding of "two more parliamentary elections" under the CG. Disregarding the second part of the verdict the AL has abolished it in parliament. This action can best be described as the farewell to fair elections that could lead to serious turmoil because many people do not support the AL. It is advisable to the incumbents: the ruling AL government should see reason to avert disorder of its own making because the Prime Minister must not forget that a large section of the polity favour the CG system and distrust the AL, pure and simple.    Noted jurist of international acclaim, Dr Kamal Hossain, who always advocates for national unity, on 5 July last said the repeal of the CG system will be major barrier to free and fair parliamentary elections. Terming the government's decision suicidal, he urged the Election Commission ( EC) at a two-hour dialogue on 5 July with EC to take bold stance for the restoration of the CG system through further amendment to the Constitution.    The system, brainchild of Jamaat- e-Islami but enthusiastically adopted as the singular agenda for movement and agitation against the BNP government, was institutionalised by means of the 13 th Amendment to the Constitution in 1996.    As we look at the political scenario, abuse of judicial process and administrative power is rampant. Out on a spree the government has allegedly applied for withdrawal of more than 16 , 000 cases filed against the leaders and workers of the ruling AL. What is more, in September 2010 , President Zillur Rahman granted clemency to 20 AL activists who had been sentenced to death for murder.    The helpless people of this country are witnessing with dread and disgust their dear motherland Bangladesh being metamorphosed into a police state where the government is using the police force to unleash repression and atrocity to rigidly throttle the voice of dissent a la fascist regime which eliminates opposition and under which rule rights are nonexistent and laws are selectively enforced.    The police, under the leadership of two police officers -- reported to be former student front leaders of AL -- beat up, kicked and injured Opposition Chief Whip Zainul Abdin Farroque in the morning severely at one stage of an altercation with him at Manik Mia Avenue in the capital. As his head was bleeding profusely the BNP leader was hospitalised. This nefarious act has beaten up Democracy itself, to say the least. During the incident five lady MPs of opposition BNP were hurt in police action. Several hundred opposition party leaders and activists were arrested.    Lower grade policemen, not to speak of police officers, have sufficient knowledge that an opposition chief whip enjoys the rank and status of a State Minister. Then how could it happen? However, Speaker Abdul Hamid was kind enough to express regret about the assault on Opposition lawmaker Farroque during Hartal. [ It is worth noting that according to a recent survey conducted by six Bengali daily papers including the Prothaom Alo and the Jugantaor, 80 per cent respondents were in favour of Hartal ]This he said when an 18- member delegation of the BNP-led opposition met him at his parliament office, and also assured opposition lawmakers of writing to the home minister who in her usual cavalier style later said that she would see to it.    Since the start of the ruling AL government Opposition political parties, have been repeatedly prevented from exercising their constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right to protest against the government's failure to secure the basic needs of the ordinary people. During their street agitation the police, aided by members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), the student wing of the ruling party attacked and seriously injured leaders and activists of BNP and its allies.    The bottom line is: fascism is baring its fangs jeopardising people's life. It is time the citizens, intellectuals and jurists protest in one voice against the government- sponsored atrocities.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Constitutional Crisis Adds To Instability, May Spark Anarchy

The long feared season of instability has begun to strike terror in the heart of the ordinary people. Streets look deserted. Billowing smokes from charred vehicles scare poor hawkers off their daily avocations.    A hurriedly concluded scheme to alter the Constitution has accentuated this already precipitous slide toward what seems like an inexorable move toward anarchy. This 48- hours- strike may be a prelude to many more prolonged ones. There is blood in the horizon.         Shot from without    This nation is now plagued by a combination of political, economic and constitutional crises; prompting the most suave-and the otherwise dispassionate-Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, to forewarn an unpredictable political transition to hit home sooner. Yet, our ruling party leaders are too complacent. They think there's no alternative other than them. The French proverb " Apr├Ęs moi, le deluge" is as pet a deduction within our kitchen cabinet as is the buzzword recession in the West.    That Dr. Singh did utter such a caution prior to his official visit here shall evoke more curiosity, although his view is a view from without. Within the nation, one finds the vital institutions facing impending dismemberment or incapacitation; due to too many police chiefs being in custody, too many generals being on the run or in captivity, and, too many political dissidents being subjected to cruel and degrading treatments. The Parliament, on the other hand, has long been a one-party monologue of monotony, obsessed in composing and singing its own eulogy.         Precedent overlooked    The Constitution is the solemn charter of the people. Its amendments must be inclusive of public opinion from all spectrum of the society. It must also be reflective of the unified national desire. The manner in which a Constitution is amended speaks about the degree of deference a government attaches to the rule of law.    Constitutional amendments in Australia and the Republic of Ireland require that they are placed before the people for voting after being passed by the legislature. In Denmark, once an amendment is approved by the parliament, a general election must be held and the new parliament must approve the amendment again before it is finally submitted to a referendum.    In Canada, there are five different methods of amendment set out in the Constitution, each relating to the specificity of the proposed amendments. Most of the methods require the consent of various provincial legislatures too, following the passage of an Act by the federal parliament.    In the USA, any constitutional amendment must be mooted by a joint resolution by the ruling and the opposition parties. Once passed, it is taken as being reflective of the public desire and does not require a Presidential assent.         Hurried move    The failure of our President to refer the 'relevant' Amendments to a referendum constituted a serious omission in discharging his constitutional obligations, which the Article 48 guided him to do in a manner that 'shall take precedence over all other persons' and shall conform to the Constitutional and other legal standards. We may understand why it happened in the manner it did. That, however, must not preclude us from analyzing the intricacies involved in it.    Every circus needs a joker. The lingering circus of the Constitutional Amendments was destined from the beginning to using the President as the gullible joker. That is what has led.    President Zillur Rahman signed the 15 th Amendment bill into a law on July 3 , within 72 hours of its passing by a Parliament where opposition members were absent. The amendment brought 55 changes to the Constitution, some of them involving the revival of the 1972 Constitution. Such a sea change occurred in a hurry; the lapse between the SC verdict in May - that the "Constitution ( Thirteenth amendment) Act 1996 ( Act 1 of 1996) is prospectively declared void and ultra vires the Constitution"-and the enactment of the 15 th Amendment Act being only weeks apart.    The caretaker system too having been annulled in the process, the BNP and the other opposition parties do have an issue relating to their participating in an election under the ruling party. That is the political dimension of the crisis. The legal dimension is: The nation will hold the AL-led government responsible for amending the Preamble to the Constitution without seeking public mandate through a referendum, as was required.         Procedural pitfalls    The exercise was a purely partisan manoeuvring of narcissist vintage, and, it has added more fuel to the frenzy of instability that the nation has been enduring for too long. People are now braced for another prolonged spate of insecurity which may lead to anything, anytime, according to many observers.    This crisis is more ominous than what is being seen or felt. The Amendments have imperilled the fundamental principles of our State policy, which Part II (Articles 8-25) of the Constitution lays out elaborately and are ingrained firmly in the 'inviolable' Preamble of the Constitution. It's not that they couldn't be changed, if needed; but not in the manner the 15 th Amendment had done it. Yet, adamant to do it anyway, a legally correct way for the government would have been to amend Article 142 first, which contains the statutory guidelines relating to amending any provision(s) of the Constitution. Instead, by doing it through sheer majority prowess, and avoiding the mandatory guidelines, a gaping vulnerability is laid exposed for prospective judicial challenges to pounce upon it and to seek for instant annulment of these Amendments.    Article 142 contains a statutory definition of the word ' Amendment,' Article 142 (1)( a) being more explicit. It states: "any provision may be amended by way of addition, alteration, substitution or repeal by Act of Parliament," but not without complying with the procedures outlined in Article 142.    These procedures were wilfully violated. Article 142(1 A) explains the necessity of holding a referendum if the bill, passed by the two-thirds of the parliamentarians, proposes to amend the Preamble to the Constitution, or, Articles 8 , 48 , or 56 , in specific.    Article 8 , in particular, refers to the fundamental principles of state policy, the first subsection of which (ss 8(1)) saying, "The principles of absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah.....shall constitute the fundamental principles of state policy." The Preamble to the Constitution also states in para 2 : " high ideals of absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah....shall be the fundamental principles of the Constitution."         Preamble altered    The 15 th amendment removed ' Absolute Faith and Trust in Allah' from the Constitution; the alteration directly relating to and altering the Preamble, as well as Article 8. Above all, the revival of Article 12 to restore secularism is a substitute to that fundamental state principal, i. e., 'absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah,' which came into force vide the Proclamation Order No 1 of 1977 , and, later, got ratified by the Parliament to be an integral part of the Preamble.    Finally, the word 'Allah' has been removed in the translation of Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim, which too constitutes an alteration of the Preamble. The new translation reads, 'Absolute Faith and Trust in God.' Secularism denotes defiance of God and Allah, both. The replacement of Allah with God is politically pretentious, substantively hollow, religiously misleading.    Other major additions to the Preamble are the incorporation of the speech of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, made on March 7 , 1971 ; the alleged declaration of independence by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman after midnight of March 25 , 1971 ; and, the proclamation of Independence declared at Mujibnagar on April 10 , 1971.    Playing with the preamble being a serious matter-politically and legally-it required of the President, pursuant to Article 142(1 A), to refer the proposed Amendments, within seven days after the passing of the bill at the Parliament, to the Election Commission for holding a referendum on the subject in order to obtain public opinion with respect to whether he (the President) should assent to such a bill, or not.    That is what the framer of the Constitution had intended to, aiming to absolving the President from any blame in such sensitive matters. But the President had squandered that opportunity. Earlier, he is on record for saying that his PM makes no mistake. Although many brushed aside his comment about the PM's infallibility as a mere satire, this intentional disregard for the rule of law is unlikely to be pardoned by the today's suffering multitudes, by the posterity, and a bloody history being bigoted by this agonizing ordeal of a nation in tears.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Police Violence Unfolds Ugly Side Of AL's Rule

The extreme viciousness with which two police officers and the men under their command repeatedly beat up Zainul Abedin Faruk, Chief Whip of the Opposition in the Jatiya Sangsad ( parliament) on Wednesday has revealed afresh the ugly and terrifying side of Awami League's rule. On the same day Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in parliament, Home Minister Sahara Khatun, Minister of State for Home Shamsul Huq Tuku elsewhere and by Awam League Joint Secretary Mahbub Alam Hanif at an office of his party made statements endorsing the police atrocity. While Sheikh Hasina and some MPs of the ruling alliance virulently spewed vituperative against the main opposition party BNP, its chief former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia and the severely tortured Zainul Abedin Faruk, on their part the Home Minister, her deputy and the influential Mr. Hanif attempted not only to lay the blame for the wounding of the Opposition Chief Whip on himself but they suggested that his injuries are only a few and quite light. On the other hand, they accused Faruk of provoking the police officers and of being violent. The Home Minister and the Minister of State for Home both sympathised with the police.    On the other hand, Zainul Abedin Faruk has received severe injuries in the head and back. To stop the bleeding from his head doctors at the United Hospital had to apply eleven stitches. BNP's acting Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir has said that eight more stitches were needed to close the wounds on his back. Eye witnesses saw as did viewers of TV news on private channels that Faruk was bleeding a great deal even while he ran for his life towards the MP's dormitory. The policemen dragged him out from a lift there and mercilessly beat him.    Earlier they had kicked him with their riot boots on and also trampled his body. A physician at the United Hospital told journalists that there were marks of beating all over Zainul's body. A report in the Amar Desh daily newspaper said that Zainul's tongue came out of his mouth after he was thrown on the street from a police vehicle. Zainul himself said that when he was losing his sense at this stage he thought he was going to die. In spite of these atrocities government leaders are justifying the actions of two police officers who led the attacks on Zainul.    Meanwhile, it has come to light that both these officers were leaders of Awami League's student wing before they joined the police force and that the present government has kept them in their jobs despite there being records of serious breach of discipline in their service career. One of them was in the police hospital yesterday for on injury sustained on Wednesday. The Home Minister went to see him and other policemen injured in scuffles during the first day of the two-day countrywide general strike (hartal) called by BNP. Jamaat-e- Islami has also simultaneously called a strike. Several groups have supported it. BNP has claimed that on the Wednesday about 300 of its supporters were injured by mainly police action and 400 others arrested at different places in the country. A number of vehicles have been burnt in Dhaka and elsewhere allegedly by hartal supporters.    The merciless beating up of Zainul Abedin Faruk took place when he was picketing, along with other opposition MPs, on the roads adjacent to the parliament building. Such activities were temporarily banned in the area because the parliament was in session. A newspaper photograph shows that at one stage Faruk was threatening to throw a stone towards a passing vehicle. (The vehicle is not seen in the photo which perhaps is because it sped away). It seems the police took this action of Faruk as the pretext to torture him. This police atrocity seems to be deliberate because they could have easily arrested him and removed him from the scene. There were many times more policemen than the few MPs picketing there.    Begum Khaleda Zia and other BNP leaders have charged that police attacked Faruk with an intention of killing him. However, they did not instantly declare any hard line protest action beyond continuing the strike into the second day. Perhaps they will in the next phase of their agitation.    What seems to be clear from the angry and negative reaction of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her party men to the BNP-led strike and Faruk's falling victim to police atrocity the ruling party is in no mood to restore the non-party care-taker government system during general elections. This has strengthened the suspicion of most of the other political parties that Awami League wants to remain in charge of government during elections so that it can manipulate the election results in its favour. The opposition seems certain that Awami Leaguers are hell-bent on retaining power so that (a) they do not have to face punishment for their corruption and other crimes and (b) so that they can loot more in future.    Meanwhile, Awami League has lost much ground in the Union Parishad elections just held in the country. They have secured a little more than half the positions of the local council chairman with BNP closely behind them. This means BNP has improved its support significantly since the parliament elections two and a half years ago. Out of 3790 posts of UP chairman Awami League and allies have won 1844 while BNP and allies 1627. These elections were marred by violence and by rigging by ruling party's candidates.    Violence during the union parishad elections was widespread in which 65 persons, including children, were killed. More than 8000 persons have been wounded in clashes and attacks. Police fired more than 1000 rounds of bullet during these disturbances. The Election Commission remained a mere spectator during these election violence. This high level of violence has shown that there cannot be peaceful and fair elections yet in Bangladesh under a party rule.