Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Contradiction And Opportunism Marks JS Panel Report

THE report that the parliamentary special committee on constitution amendment finalised on Sunday, containing as many as 51 recommendations, is loaded with contradiction and smacks of political opportunism. It also undermines the committee’s self- professed claim to restore the constitution on the ideals and values that defined the people’s struggle for freedom, which culminated in the successful nine- month long war of independence in 1971. The people put their lives on the line, against the Pakistani occupation forces in the hope of establishing a state that will be politically republic, culturally secular and economically egalitarian. Regrettably, however, the committee has recommended retention of Islam as the state religion, at the same time suggesting that the state’s policy should be religion-neutral and that the state shall not afford any political status to any religion. The obvious contradiction could be explained by the inadequate understanding of secularism by the committee at best and a crude attempt at securing the sympathy and support of the Islam-pasand electorate at worst. Moreover, the recommendation that the people of Bangladesh will be known as Bengali by nationality and Bangladeshis by citizenship is not only in contravention with the core principles of democracy but also an affront to the national minority communities. Worse still, the committee has recommended insertion of the word ‘upajati’ to define the national minority communities, a definition that these communities have clamoured against for years. Such a blatant manifestation of Bengali chauvinism is an impediment to Bangladesh’s natural progression to a citizens’ state from a nation state and risks undermining the progress towards achieving natural peace in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. It may also rekindle mistrust in the ethnic minority communities of the intent of the Bengali ruling class. The least said about the recommendation for reinstatement of socialism as one of the fundamental principles of the constitution the better. The ruling Awami League has long ceased to be a party ideologically inclined to socialism, if it ever were, and pursued neo-liberal economic policies, at the behest of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral lending agencies, especially since the 1980 s, a fact that the committee members should be aware of more than anyone else. Hence, its recommendation for a return to socialism as a state policy is essentially a ploy to hoodwink the people at large. Finally, in recommending repeal of the non-party caretaker government provision, although it had earlier decided to propose two caretaker models for the prime minister to choose from, the committee showed, once again, where the ultimate power rests. Moreover, by proposing constitutional recognition of the slain president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the father of the nation and incorporation of his ‘ declaration of independence’ in ‘ the early hours of 26 th March, 1971 ’, an issue that historians have not yet been able to reach a consensus on, in the constitution as well as inclusion of his March 7 , 1971 public speech in its schedule, besides recommending that his portrait should be preserved and displayed in public offices, government, semi-autonomous and private organisations, government and non-government educational institutions, and foreign missions in Bangladesh, the committee seems to have only subscribed to the idea of perpetuating the practice of cultism and dynasticism in politics. These are just a few examples; there are more. The committee is claimed by its key members to have sought to weed out the distortions that different regimes—elected or unelected, civilian or military—had caused to the constitution since 1975 and to restore the constitution of 1972 ‘in line with the [recent] Supreme Court verdict. ’ In reality, however, the committee appears to have been driven by the same intent and impulse that it claims dictated the constitutional amendments since 1975 —tailoring the constitution to partisan needs. Most importantly, the report and the recommendations therein are loaded with the risk of instigating a political crisis that may eventually set back the existing political process. Hence, the ruling party would be well-advised to give the report a second thought, instead of pushing the amendments through by dint of its numerical strength in parliament.

History Will Mark You As Traitors

Bangladesh will become a communal, fundamentalist and failed state like Pakistan if the spirit of the 1972 's constitution is foiled, a citizen's platform has said. "And if it happens, parliament will be held responsible," said a press release on Monday from the Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee (Committee for Elimination of Killers and Collaborators of 1971). "If you [the government] take part in this evil, history will forever mark you as traitors," the organisation said in the release. Addressing the MPs, it said, " People voted for the Grand Alliance in the election of 2008 to ensure trial of war criminals and restoration of the four pillars of the 1972 constitution, not to legalise the 5 th and 8 th Amendments…" The special committee on charter review finalised its report on June 5 with 51- point proposals on the 15 th amendment to the constitution. In its report, the special committee proposed to keep Islam as the religion of state and to retain religion-based politics and ' Bismillahir-Rahmanir-Rahim' in the preamble of the constitution. "Presentation of these proposals in parliament would be a treachery with the ideology and spirit of Bangabandhu and the 1972 constitution," the organisation said in the release. "It will be a hideous example to retain the proposals by disobeying the Supreme Court verdict." It said, "The former presidents Hussein Muhammad Ershad and late Ziaur Rahman passed the 5 th and 8 th amendments in order to create a fundamentalist state like Pakistan. It had nothing to do with their love for Islam." The press release was signed by committee advisors' panel president Prof Kabir Chowdhury, executive committee president justice Golam Rabbani, committee president Shahriar Kabir and general secretary Kazi Mukul. The 5 th Amendment added Bismillah to the preamble of the constitution while the 8 th introduced Islam as the religion of state.

AIDS, The 30 Years War

IT WAS not quite a birthday present, but it was pretty close. On May 12 Network (HPTN), an international research collaboration, announced that its most important project was being terminated—not because it had failed, but because it had succeeded. The study, led by Myron Cohen of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, had looked at 1 ,763 couples, most straight, some gay, from Africa, Asia and North and South America, in which one partner but not the other was infected. All were counselled in safe sex, given free condoms and offered regular medical check-ups. In half, the infected partner was also offered anti- retroviral drugs, even though he or she did not show actual symptoms of AIDS and would thus not normally have been treated. Over the course of six years there were 28 cross-infections. Of those, only one was in the group receiving the drugs. On June 5 th, a little over three weeks after HPTN’s announcement, AIDS will be 30 years old—or, more accurately, it will be 30 years since America’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported a cluster of unusual infections in Los Angeles that were the first medically recognised cases. On June 8 th a meeting of the United Nations’ General Assembly, expected to be attended by 40 heads of state and government, will discuss progress in fighting the pandemic and wrestle with the question of what to do next. HPTN052 , as the trial in question is known, points the way. What HPTN052 shows is that the drug treatment used to prolong the lives of those infected with HIV, by stopping the virus reproducing in their bodies, can also stop the virus’s transmission. It might therefore be the key to bringing the pandemic under control. The crucial word is “might”. People do not like taking medicine, particularly if they have no symptoms. And drugs cost money. The war on AIDS has done well, financially, over the past decade (see chart 1) , but people are feeling the pinch and the cash is no longer increasing. That is ironic, as there are now several clear ways of attacking the problem, above and beyond the usual exhortations of chastity, fidelity and condom use. It is no time to give up the fight. The past decade has seen real progress. Though it is true that there are two new infections for every new person put on anti-retroviral drugs, and that AIDS is killing 1.8 m people a year ( see chart 2) , it is also the case, according to UNAIDS, the United Nations agency responsible for monitoring and combating the disease, that 6.6 m people in low- and middle-income countries are on such drugs, and that the rate of new HIV infections in 33 poor countries has fallen by a quarter or more from its peak. In 2001 the number on drugs was trivial (see chart 3) and the peak number of deaths, in 2005 , was 2.1 m. At the moment, only those showing symptoms of AIDS, or whose level of a crucial immune- system cell has fallen below a certain threshold, are offered treatment. Even so, there are reckoned to be about 9 m people who need treatment but are not receiving it. Add those who have no symptoms and that becomes about 27 m. At $100 for a year’s course of the drugs, plus around $400 for the cost of administration, they would need a lot of money. In 2010 , according to UNAIDS, the world spent $16 billion on the epidemic. Treating all 34 m people infected might mean almost doubling that. New balls, please Prevention by treatment is, nevertheless, a heady prospect. Indeed, Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS’ s boss, thinks the result of HPTN052 is “a game changer” . It would be a long game. Not only would anti-AIDS drugs have to be made available to everyone infected—so- called universal access, which is a UN objective, and which the organisation hopes might be achieved by 2015 —but all those people, or, at least, the vast majority of them, would have to be persuaded to take them. That is difficult enough when someone is ill. The latest report from UNAIDS * suggests that almost one in five of those put on the drugs stops taking them within a year. It will be even harder to persuade the asymptomatic to pop a daily pill or two for the public good. They might do so for love, of course. More selfishly, one result of HPTN052 in those receiving drugs was less tuberculosis, a disease that is a common consequence AIDS. So people now thought symptomless may not be quite as symptomless as they seem. Indeed, in 2010 the World Health Organisation raised the immune-system threshold below which drugs are offered by 75 %. That is a step on the way to offering the drugs to all infected people anyway. Nor is treating the infected, whether for their own good or for the good of others, the only approach being investigated. Several trials have shown that circumcision is a good way to stop men catching the virus. It can reduce the risk by about 50 %, and the message has got out. The rate of circumcision in Africa is rocketing. Attempts to protect women, by developing vaginal microbicides that destroy HIV in infected semen, have been less successful. Initial trials using a seaweed derivative failed, and might even have made things worse. But a trial using a drug called tenofovir had promising results, reported last year, and further tests are going on at the moment. Moreover, there is already one well-proven way of stopping the virus’s transmission using drugs. This is between mothers and children at birth. Even a single dose of another drug, nevirapine, halves the risk of an infected mother passing the virus to her baby. More extensive courses can reduce the risk by 90 %. There are also the good-old standbys, behaviour change (a euphemism for less promiscuous sex) and condom use. Here, the data are equivocal. As might be expected, the message is getting through in some places, but not in others. In South Africa, for example, according to UNAIDS, 77 % of men and 68 % of women reported using a condom last time they had sex. In 14 other high-prevalence countries, though, more than 70 % of both sexes reported that they had not. The armory, in other words, is getting fuller. But war costs money, and money is in short supply at the moment. The first UN meeting on AIDS, held ten years ago near the 20 th anniversary, catalysed the formation of the Global Fund ( which also has tuberculosis and malaria in its remit) and that, in turn, led to the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief ( PEPFAR) created by George Bush junior. No one likes to be seen as mean and so, in a decade of rising prosperity, politicians put their hands in their taxpayers’ pockets and donated generously to the cause. This time, the atmosphere is different. It is still the case that no one wants to be seen as mean, but the game of chicken is now the other way round. Then, each act of generosity made it harder for others to refuse. Now, each withdrawal from the fray makes another’s easier. Many of the biggest donors to the Global Fund, including America, Britain, Canada, France and the Scandinavians, are still committed (Japan’s position, in light of the recent earthquake and tsunami, is unclear). But the Netherlands and Spain have announced cuts. Germany (and also Spain) are delaying their payments during a review of the fund’s auditing procedures. (The review, ironically, is a result of those procedures being uniquely transparent for an international aid agency, and thus highlighting shenanigans in a few recipient countries that might otherwise have remained buried.) And one country, Italy, has simply stopped paying its pledged contribution without explanation.There is also dark talk of several countries trying to water down the language of the declaration that the UN meeting is expected to issue, so that it no longer has numerical targets with specific dates. In a time of austerity, then, value for money is even more important than it might otherwise be. A group of researchers led by Bernhard Schwartländer, director of evidence, strategy and results at UNAIDS, have therefore put their minds to how to spend what is available most wisely. Dr Schwartländer and his team looked at ten approaches to treating and preventing AIDS, ranging from drugs, via intervening in the prostitution industry, to searching for joint savings by collaborating with other areas of international development. They then devised a computer model that attempted to show how these would play out in each of 139 low- and middle-income countries. The result ( see chart 4) is that expenditure peaks at $22 billion in 2015 , and drops below $20 billion in 2020. If Dr Schwartländer and his colleagues are right, therefore, the world (and this includes at least the middle-income members of the 139) needs to stump up a maximum of $6 billion more at the peak of things than it is doing now. Moreover, this extra money would, according to Dr Schwartländer’s sums, largely be offset by savings on treatment avoided—for, compared with business as usual, 12. 2 m infections would be averted, and 7. 4 m deaths.Game, set and match? There are even a few ambitious scientists who talk not just of treatment, but of cure. Exactly how this would be done induces a flurry of arm- waving, but their reasons for believing it is theoretically possible—and thus worth investigating—are that about one infected person in 1 ,000 is now known to control the infection naturally and never develop symptoms, and that several studies have identified antibodies that appear to neutralise HIV. This suggests that boosting the immune system with an appropriate vaccine, or developing appropriate antibodies for injection as a drug, might be possible. Certainly Bertrand Audoin, the executive head of the International AIDS Society, thinks so. He, and people like him,

Felani, Limon Victims Of Unjustified Use Of Force

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina is reportedly very much dismayed by the ' rubbish politics' that some of her cabinet ministers, advisers and other party leaders have resorted to over the shootout of teenager college student Limon which caused the amputation of one of his legs to save his life.    She has reportedly advised her ministers and advisers last week to refrain from making unnecessary comments on the shootout as it has severely damaged her government's image because of their irresponsible statements.    The Prime Minister's anger is no longer a secret. The state-run news agency BSS last Wednesday ran a story quoting a source close to the Prime Minister on Limon's innocence. However, the news item was withdrawn five hours later as it appeared to be carrying conflicting views with the stand taken by other agencies of her government.         Ministers causing problems    This is how ministers and senior government officials are causing more problems for the Prime Minister rather than helping her sort out critical issues. In Limon's case, RAB personnel have shot him taking him to be a terrorist as news reports said without slight verification of his involvement with a local terrorist group.    The incident has caused a nationwide furore mobilizing public opinion against extrajudicial killings, mainly by RAB personnel in the name of fighting terrorists. It has almost assumed an international dimension now bringing external pressure on the government to reign in the activities of the elite force.    However, since RAB has caused the Limon incident, government leaders have come out this time rather blindly in support of the shootout to establish that Limon was a terrorist and therefore the shooting was justified. Besides, local RAB unit which was involved in the incident and police also came out in support of the shootout.         RAB DG's statement    Director General of RAB, Mokhlesur Rahman, on April 11 said Limon Hossain is the victim of a 'shootout' between RAB and criminals. "He just became the victim of the incident," he said. But now police and RAB investigation framed charges that Limon was a terrorist. It was further reinforced by an investigation commissioned by the Home Ministry saying Limon's involvement in terrorist activities has been established.    Home Minister Advocate Sahara Khatun and State Minister Shamsul Haque Tuku later made open statements, saying Limon was a terrorist. Even Prime Minister's defence adviser retired Major General Tarique Siddiqui, who is also her family relative, made a statement last week saying that not only Limon but also his father was also involved with local terrorist groups and the RAB action is therefore justified.    He further accused the editor of a leading Bengali daily for ' orchestrating conspiracy' against the elite force and working to tarnish RAB's image at home and abroad by his newspaper's extensive reporting on the Limon incident. He said the government has information that this editor is involved in promoting terrorist activities and he may be arrested any time. But the government is going slow.    Limon's case has been taken over by the Human Rights Commission. Its chairman Prof Dr Mizanur Rahman has announced that the commission would provide him all legal support to see that the case moved unimpeded. Many more such organizations have also lined up support behind the cause of the poor rural boy who used to contribute to his family's livelihood by taking up hard physical labour while also attending to classes in the local college.    In the backdrop of such developments, the Prime Minister seemed to have gathered the truth. Reports sent to her by relevant sources said Limon was innocent and was a victim of unjustified use of force by the elite force which caused him to lose his leg.    Sources said she is supportive of rehabilitating the victim and his family including the state support for his treatment as per the ruling of a High Court bench. The Prime Minister's views came out in a report of the state-run news agency BSS last Wednesday quoting a senior official at her office. BSS chief editor however, justified the removal by saying it lacked authenticity.         Felani "is not Bangladeshi"!    Not only Limon's case has become a big embarrassment. Last week Home Minister advocate Sahara Khatun made yet another comment in New York on the ill- fated teenage girl Felani sparking public outcry. Felani was shot dead and kept on hanging in the barbed wire of the border fence by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) in January this year. She was crossing the border from the Indian side with her father to return to their village home in Kurigram district.    At a time when the Limon issue is causing big embarrassment to the government, criticism is also pouring in as to why the government has failed to lodge a strong protest with the Indian government on Felani's killing, Home Minister Sahara Khatun said that Felani was, in fact, not a Bangladeshi citizen. She made the comment apparently to justify the failure of the government to lodging a strong protest.    It may be pointed out here that when the Felani incident took place, the Home Minister's sympathy was very strong and she publicly expressed express grief her killing and offered financial support to the family. The then IG of Police Nur Mohammad personally visited her village home and handed over the condolence message along with a sum of Taka 300 ,000 to the bereaved family. If it were true then why is she saying now that Felani was not a Bangladeshi national?    It is true Felani was living in the India and her father was working as a labourer at a brick field in Delhi. After the incident, India instead of sympathising with them evicted the entire family from their Assam household and pushed them out of the border. The Bangladesh authorities received them and helped them rehabilitating in their village home. One wonders why then Sahara Khatun this time said that Felani was not a Bangladeshi national.    Is it to circumvent criticism of the government' s failure to protect its national? The Felani case is a cross border issue, Limon's case is a domestic matter; however, both of them are victims of unjustified use of force by security forces.

It's Not Just Dominique Strauss Kahn, The IMF Should Be On Trial

Sometimes, the most revealing aspect of the shrieking babble of the 24 /7 news agenda is the silence. Often the most important facts are hiding beneath the noise, unmentioned and undiscussed. So the fact that Dominique Strauss- Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is facing trial for allegedly raping a maid in a New York hotel room is – rightly – big news. But imagine a prominent figure was charged not with raping a maid, but starving her to death, along with her children, her parents, and thousands of other people. That is what the IMF has done to innocent people in the recent past. That is what it will do again, unless we transform it beyond all recognition. But that is left in the silence.To understand this story, you have to reel back to the birth of the IMF. In 1944 , the countries that were poised to win the Second World War gathered in a hotel in rural New Hampshire to divvy up the spoils. With a few honorable exceptions, like the great British economist John Maynard Keynes, the negotiators were determined to do one thing. They wanted to build a global financial system that ensured the money and resources of the planet were forever hoovered towards them. They set up a series of institutions designed for that purpose – and so the IMF was delivered into the world. The IMF’s official job sounds simple and attractive. It is supposedly there to ensure poor countries don’t fall into debt, and if they do, to lift them out with loans and economic expertise. It is presented as the poor world’s best friend and guardian. But beyond the rhetoric, the IMF was designed to be dominated by a handful of rich countries – and, more specifically, by their bankers and financial speculators. The IMF works in their interests, every step of the way. Let’s look at how this plays out on the ground. In the 1990 s, the small country of Malawi in Southeastern Africa was facing severe economic problems after enduring one of the worst HIV-AIDS epidemics in the world and surviving a horrific dictatorship. They had to ask the IMF for help. If the IMF has acted in its official role, it would have given loans and guided the country to develop in the same way that Britain and the US and every other successful country had developed – by protecting its infant industries, subsidising its farmers, and investing in the education and health of its people. That’s what an institution that was concerned with ordinary people – and accountable to them – would look like. But the IMF did something very different. They said they would only give assistance if Malawi agreed to the ‘structural adjustments’ the IMF demanded. They ordered Malawi to sell off almost everything the state owned to private companies and speculators, and to slash spending on the population. They demanded they stop subsidising fertilizer, even though it was the only thing that made it possible for farmers – most of the population – to grow anything in the country’s feeble and depleted soil. They told them to prioritise giving money to international bankers over giving money to the Malawian people. So when in 2001 the IMF found out the Malawian government had built up large stockpiles of grain in case there was a crop failure, they ordered them to sell it off to private companies at once. They told Malawi to get their priorities straight by using the proceeds to pay off a loan from a large bank the IMF had told them to take out in the first place, at a 56 per cent annual rate of interest. The Malawian president protested and said this was dangerous. But he had little choice. The grain was sold. The banks were paid. The next year, the crops failed. The Malawian government had almost nothing to hand out. The starving population was reduced to eating the bark off the trees, and any rats they could capture. The BBC described it as Malawi’s “worst ever famine.” There had been a much worse crop failure in 1991-2 , but there was no famine because then the government had grain stocks to distribute. So at least a thousand innocent people starved to death. At the height of the starvation, the IMF suspended $47 m in aid, because the government had ‘slowed’ in implementing the marketeeing ‘ reforms’ that had led to the disaster. ActionAid, the leading provider of help on the ground, conducted an autopsy into the famine. They concluded that the IMF “bears responsibility for the disaster.” Then, in the starved wreckage, Malawi did something poor countries are not supposed to do. They told the IMF to get out. Suddenly free to answer to their own people rather than foreign bankers, Malawi disregarded all the IMF’s ‘advice’, and brought back subsidies for the fertiliser, along with a range of other services to ordinary people. Within two years, the country was transformed from being a beggar to being so abundant they were supplying food aid to Uganda and Zimbabwe. The Malawian famine should have been a distant warning cry for you and me. Subordinating the interests of ordinary people to bankers and speculators caused starvation there. Within a few years, it had crashed the global economy for us all. In the history of the IMF, this story isn’t an exception: it is the rule. The organisation takes over poor countries, promising it has medicine that will cure them – and then pours poison down their throats. Whenever I travel across the poor parts of the world I see the scars from IMF ‘structural adjustments’ everywhere, from Peru to Ethiopia. Whole countries have collapsed after being IMF-ed up – most famously Argentina and Thailand in the 1990 s. Look at some of the organisation’s greatest hits. In Kenya, the IMF insisted the government introduce fees to see the doctor – so the number of women seeking help or advice on STDs fell by 65 per cent, in one of the countries worst affected by AIDS in the world. In Ghana, the IMF insisted the government introduce fees for going to school – and the number of rural families who could afford to send their kids crashed by two-thirds. In Zambia, the IMF insisted they slash health spending – and the number of babies who died doubled. Amazingly enough, it turns out that shoveling your country’s money to foreign bankers, rather than your own people, isn’t a great development strategy. The Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz worked closely with the IMF for over a decade, until he quit and became a whistle- blower. He told me a few years ago: “ When the IMF arrives in a country, they are interested in only one thing. How do we make sure the banks and financial institutions are paid?... It is the IMF that keeps the [ financial] speculators in business. They’ re not interested in development, or what helps a country to get out of poverty.” Some people call the IMF “ inconsistent”, because the institution supports huge state- funded bank bailouts in the rich world, while demanding an end to almost all state funding in the poor world. But that’s only an inconsistency if you are thinking about the realm of intellectual ideas, rather than raw economic interests. In every situation, the IMF does what will get more money to bankers and speculators. If rich governments will hand banks money for nothing in “ bailouts”, great. If poor countries can be forced to hand banks money in extortionate “repayments”, great. It’s absolutely consistent. Some people claim that Strauss-Kahn was a “ reformer” who changed the IMF after he took over in 2009. Certainly, there was a shift in rhetoric – but detailed study by Dr Daniela Gabor of the University of the West of England has shown that the substance is business- as-usual. Look, for example, at Hungary. After the 2008 crash, the IMF lauded them for keeping to their original deficit target by slashing public services. The horrified Hungarian people responded by kicking the government out, and choosing a party that promised to make the banks pay for the crisis they had created. They introduced a 0.7 per cent levy on the banks (four times higher than anywhere else). The IMF went crazy. They said this was “highly distortive” for banking activity – unlike the bailouts, of course – and shrieked that it would cause the banks to flee from the country. The IMF shut down their entire Hungary programme to intimidate them. But the collapse predicted by the IMF didn’t happen. Hungary kept on pursuing sensible moderate measures, instead of punishing the population. They imposed taxes on the hugely profitable sectors of retail, energy and telecoms, and took funds from private pensions to pay the deficit. The IMF shrieked at every step, and demanded cuts for ordinary Hungarians instead. It was the same old agenda, with the same old threats. Strauss-Kahn did the same in almost all the poor countries where the IMF operated, from El Salvador to Pakistan to Ethiopia, where big cuts in subsidies for ordinary people have been imposed. Plenty have been intimidated into harming their own interests. The US-based think tank the Center for Economic and Policy Research found 31 of 41 IMF agreements require ‘pro- cyclical’ macroeconomic policies – pushing them further into recession. It is not only Strauss-Kahn who should be on trial. It is the institution he has been running. There’s an inane debate in the press about who should be the next head of the IMF, as if we were discussing who should run the local Milk Board. But if we took the idea of human equality seriously, and remembered all the people who have been impoverished, starved and killed by this institution, we would be discussing the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission – and how to disband the IMF entirely and start again. If Strauss-Kahn is guilty, I suspect I know how it happened. He must have mistaken the maid for a poor country in financial trouble. Heads of the IMF have, after all, been allowed to rape them with impunity for years.

Arrogance Of Identity Politics

Benjamin Netanyahu’s behavior with President Obama overstepped the limits of decency and diplomatic protocol. One can disagree but one should not be abrasive and rude, more so in public in the house of the host. David Rothkofp (of Carnegie Foundation) wrote,  “ In the wake of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's embarrassing and diplomatically maladroit performance at the White House on Friday and President Obama's two addresses about the Middle East in the past four days, the core questions Americans and the world confront regarding the Israeli- Palestinian dispute are thrown once again into stark relief.” Netanyahu forgot during his meeting with the US President that the US was not only the first country to recognize Israel as a sovereign and independent  country  within hours of its coming into existence but in the world today the US is perhaps the only friend that Israel can count upon in times of need. Netanyahu should have remembered that the US lost the Vietnam War despite having nuclear weapons as did France in Algeria and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The premise of defamed Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan that if Pakistan had nuclear weapons then independent Bangladesh would not have emerged and India could have been deterred on the Eastern Front is fallacious and contrary to the lessons of history. Netanyahu’s excessive dependence on the Israeli lobby in the US Congress for support of Israeli intransigence, even when such support goes against the vital interests of the US as demonstrated by Professors John Mearsheimmer and Stephen Walt in their book Israeli Lobby and US Foreign Policy, is dangerous for Israel itself. They argued, “No lobby has managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical.” They added that "in its basic operations, it is no different from interest groups like the Farm Lobby, steel and textile workers, and other ethnic lobbies. What sets the Israel Lobby apart is its extraordinary effectiveness." According to Mearsheimer and Walt, the "loose coalition" that makes up the Lobby has "significant leverage over the Executive Branch", as well as the ability to make sure that the "Lobby's perspective on Israel is widely reflected in the mainstream media." They claim that AIPAC in particular has a "stranglehold on the U. S.Congress", due to its ability to reward legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda, and to punish those who challenge it. According to the New York Times Netanyahu requested the Republican leadership that he be invited to address the Joint Session of the Congress to upstage President Obama’s speech on US policy on the current situation in the Middle East and North Africa. His arrogance in challenging the American President who is ultimately charged with framing US foreign and security policy that would serve American interest is beyond comprehension. Equally incomprehensible is the comment by possible Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney ( National Review, February issue) that “ Israel must now contend with the fact that its principal backer in the world, the United States, is seeking to ingratiate itself with Arab opinion at its expense.”  Some similarity can be found in the intense rivalry between the two political parties in the US- -- Republican and Democrat¬-- -and the two main parties in Bangladesh engaged in a gladiatorial contest for power. While our political parties  display  intense discord on almost all issues the American political parties, having centuries of  practice of democratic norms, are more mature and tolerant of opposite views. Some Republican leaders assured Netanyahu that a Republican Congress would act to contain the Obama administration’s policy on Israel “favoring” the Arabs. By making such promises the Republican leaders run the risk of putting pressure on the US administration in adopting policies that may ultimately harm the US interest in the Islamic world. As it is Pew Research Center reports indicate decreasing US popularity in the Islamic world, partly due to US policy on the Palestine issue and partly due to a suspicion that the influence of persons like the Paul Wolfowitz-Richard Perle variety have not withered and continues to sway US policy on various matters. John Mearsheimer (Imperial by Design- The National Interest- Dec 2010) writes that abundance of survey data and anecdotal evidence show that anger and hatred against the US among the Arabs and Muslims is largely driven by Washington’s policies on Israeli treatment of Palestinians, presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia after the 1991 Gulf War, US support for repressive regimes in the Arab world, etc. Mearsheimer cites  the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9 /11 , as expressed by the 9 /11 Commission: “By his own account KSM’s animus towards the US stemmed not from his experiences there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with the US foreign policy favoring Israel.”   The Arab Spring has amply demonstrated that Israel is not the only democratic country in the sea of autocracies and that George W Bush’ s policy of threatening the Arabs with democratization was unnecessary and the idea of “ Arab Exceptionalism” was erroneous. While Al-Qaeda is universally despised, and no less in the Muslim world,  and its philosophy is totally rejected, the Western world should pause to think why Pakistan despite being the recipient of billions of dollars of US assistance, considers the US as the top on the enemy list even above India, the  traditional enemy. No thinking person believes that Israel should be destroyed, and even the most anti-Semite would know it is a military impossibility. Arabs, indeed the entire Muslim world, would like to have normal relations with Israel. The impediment lies in the mindset of people like Netanyahu who refuse to believe that peace cannot be achieved through conquest and repression.   President Obama is indeed an exceptional leader who is thoughtful, benign, and modest. His “subversion” of Pakistani sovereignty in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and drone attacks is to safeguard the global interest against terrorism. Regarding Arab Spring David Rothkopf writes, “He is different from his predecessors in that he feels more kinship with people of the region as a whole and does not see it as a cartoonish world of good and evil or of a few leaders standing  in the place of whole nations. He recognizes that he is living at a pivotal time not only in the history of Middle East but also in the history of the US foreign policy.”   One hopes that the American people would rise above the calumny of the so-called Muslim Problem disseminating the idea of Muslims spreading the contagion of terrorism in an otherwise prosperous Western civilization and demand that justice be done to a people oppressed for decades by a few who themselves were victims of holocaust perpetrated by a madman and of repression in centuries past.

PM's Stance On Caretaker Provision Likely To Touch Of A Political Crisis

THE stance that the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has taken in respect of the provision for election-time non-party caretaker government, i.e. it should be totally scrapped, points to a dramatic change of heart on her part and tends to undermine the consultative process that the special parliamentary committee on constitution amendment conducted, involving civil society, intelligentsia, professional groups, political and social organisations, media, etc. The prime minister is quoted in a report front-paged in New Age on Tuesday to have told the committee during a four-hour meeting on Monday that ‘as the [ Supreme Court] verdict has declared the caretaker government provision illegal, any elections under a caretaker government will be void.’ She also said the committee should go by the verdict of the court first, not its observation that the provision could stay for the next two general elections. Notably, as recently as on May 13 , the prime minister asked the parliamentary committee to find out ways to retain the provision without violating the court’ s verdict. On April 27 , when leading a delegation of the ruling Awami League in the consultation meeting with the committee, she proposed some changes to the provision and even went to the extent of suggesting that the caretaker administration should be formed with five members each from the ruling party and the opposition. Here, it is also pertinent to note that the special committee on May 28 prepared a draft, on completion of the consultation process, proposing two alternative caretaker government models for the next two general elections, for the prime minister to choose from. By asking the committee to have the provision scrapped altogether, Hasina has essentially proved that the consultation was a futile exercise in the first place and, by implication, her opinion prevails over anyone else’s—so much for her government’s promise for democratic changes in governance and politics. Hasina also said the committee should retain Islam as state religion and Bismillah, including its Bangla translation, in the constitution, which is ironical, given her and her party’s self- professed commitment to building a secular-democratic state founded on the ideals and values of the war of independence. In sum, the amendment that the special parliamentary committee now looks set to propose is unlikely to bring about any meaningful changes in the constitution. Thus, it would not be far-fetched to conclude that the entire exercise may have simply been a political game of chess, ultimately geared towards securing the incumbent government’s control over the electoral process. Importantly still, the recent development could only reinforce the suspicion that the Awami League-led government may actually have manipulated the judiciary to secure verdicts on one constitutional amendment after another with a view to furthering its partisan interests. Indeed, governance by an unelected administration, even for a brief period of time, is antithetic to the core principles of democracy and we have no reason to support perpetuation of the election-time caretaker government system. However, there is hardly any reason to believe that the prime minister and her party are seeking to scrap the provision out of their commitment to democracy or democratic governance. Had it been so, they would not have fought for the system in the mid- 1990 s in the first place. Besides, there would at least have been some visible efforts on their part to strengthen the Election Commission on the one hand and democratise their action and attitude on the other. There is hardly any reason to believe either that the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which opposed the provision when in power in the mid-1990 s, is now demanding its retention out of its commitment to democratic principles. It is only too obvious that, while their stances on the issue may be different, their objective is essentially the same: one wants to retain power and the other wants to return to power. In such circumstances, a political crisis may very well be on the cards. If a crisis were to unfold, the responsibility would be the prime minister’s and the prime minister’s alone. After all, the special parliamentary committee on constitution amendment, predominantly composed of ruling party members, did propose retention of the caretaker provision with some modifications. Most importantly, the impending crisis could cause a serious setback to the existing political process, which, needless to say, the nation can ill-afford. Hence, she would be well-advised to reconsider her position and not push the country to the brink of political uncertainties.

List Of Cyber Weapons Devoloped By Pentagon To Streamline Computer Warfare

The Pentagon has developed a list of cyber-weapons and -tools, including viruses that can sabotage an adversary’ s critical networks, to streamline how the United States engages in computer warfare. The classified list of capabilities has been in use for several months and has been approved by other agencies, including the CIA, said military officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a sensitive program. The list forms part of the Pentagon’s set of approved weapons or “fires” that can be employed against an enemy.“So whether it’s a tank, an M-16 or a computer virus, it’s going to follow the same rules so that we can understand how to employ it, when you can use it, when you can’ t, what you can and can’ t use,” a senior military official said. The integration of cyber- technologies into a formal structure of approved capabilities is perhaps the most significant operational development in military cyber-doctrine in years, the senior military official said. The framework clarifies, for instance, that the military needs presidential authorization to penetrate a foreign computer network and leave a cyber- virus that can be activated later. The military does not need such approval, however, to penetrate foreign networks for a variety of other activities. These include studying the cyber-capabilities of adversaries or examining how power plants or other networks operate. Military cyber-warriors can also, without presidential authorization, leave beacons to mark spots for later targeting by viruses, the official said. One example of a cyber-weapon is the Stuxnet worm that disrupted operations at an Iranian nuclear facility last year. U.S. officials have not acknowledged creating the computer worm, but many experts say they believe they had a role. Under the new framework, the use of a weapon such as Stuxnet could occur only if the president granted approval, even if it were used during a state of hostilities, military officials said. The use of any cyber-weapon would have to be proportional to the threat, not inflict undue collateral damage and avoid civilian casualties. The new framework comes as the Pentagon prepares to release a cyber- strategy that focuses largely on defense, the official said. It does not make a declaratory statement about what constitutes an act of war or use of force in cyberspace. Instead, it seeks to clarify, among other things, that the United States need not respond to a cyber-attack in kind but may use traditional force instead as long as it is proportional. Nonetheless, another U.S. official acknowledged that “the United States is actively developing and implementing” cyber-capabilities “ to deter or deny a potential adversary the ability to use its computer systems” to attack the United States. In general, under the framework, the use of any cyber-weapon outside an area of hostility or when the United States is not at war is called “direct action” and requires presidential approval, the senior military official said. But in a war zone, where quick capabilities are needed, sometimes presidential approval can be granted in advance so that the commander has permission to select from a set of tools on demand, the officials said.