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Rumi Ahmed
30 Nov, 2010, USA

So, Zafar Sobhan thinks BNP is mafia.  This made me laugh.  You see, that’s the thing with Bangladeshi politics — you have to laugh at it, because the alternative is to howl in despair.

Let’s be fair to Zafar.  It’s not just him who thinks this way.  I’ve heard it from many AL leaning folks over the years: the last BNP government was like the mafia, Tarique ran Bangladesh like a crime lord, the corruption and violence all pointed to mob rule.  So let’s lay off Zafar.  He is just more articulate than the most.

Instead, let’s look at the message.  So, the BNP government was like the mafia.  What does that mean?

Well, how does the mafia work?  There is a system of patronage, whereby the Don confers favours on those under his protection, and they in turn does the Don’s bidding.  Then there is extortion.  You want to do business in a mob neighbourhood, you pay a protection fee.  And finally, anyone stepping out of line has to be disciplined — made to sleep with the fishes.

BNP was all of these we are told.  Hawa Bhaban cronies ran the country like a private fiefdom.  There were rampant extortion, from the top to bottom.  And there were killings like the 21 August.

The 21 August was a crucial turning point.  After that event, many people said ‘we used to follow Zia’s ideals, not this Khaleda-Falu politic’.   For many who had no love of AL shunned BNP because of its mafia-type transformation.

That was then.  What do we see now?

We see that minister’s brother’s company is given lucrative contracts for electricity generation without any tender process.  And then we see that act being indemnified through legislation.

We see prime ministerial advisors openly declaring that only the ruling party members will be appointed for government job.  We see the public servants humiliated because they wanted to follow the law, and not the party diktat.

We see dissenting voices shut down and thrown into jail by partisan judges.

What was that about patronage, favor, and extortion?

Not as bad as BNP, you say?  Not like AL is killing opposition politicians, like the BNP did on 21 August.

Never mind that no one has actually produced any evidence of BNP being involved with 21 August (as opposed to covering up afterwards).  For the partisan AL mind, it’s a given that BNP did it.  And AL is not as bad.

Except for the inconvenient fact that AL is, of course, as bad if not worse.  In Natore, an upazilla chairman was killed in broad daylight a few weeks ago.  The entire thing is available in youtube.  And Sheikh Hasina personally saved the killers by saying ‘this was BNP’s internal conflict’.

We don’t need Julifikar Ali Manik’s complicated conspiracy theories.  All this happened in public media.  Sheikh Hasina intervened to save killers.

As I said, after 21 August, many BNP supporters abandoned their party.  I don’t know a single AL-er who owns up to Hasina’s action after the Natore killing.  None.

You know why?

Because AL is a cult.  It’s a cult whose members believe that their party can do no wrong.  It’s a cult whose members believe their leader can do no wrong.  It’s a cult whose members simply refuse to face the reality, and would prefer to believe in conspiracy theories where everything is someone else’s fault.  It’s a cult whose members, otherwise perfectly fine people, lock away parts of their reason, compassion, and conscience.

The 21 August assassinations will hang over BNP until it unconditionally apologises for it, and the real killers are convicted and punished.  Until that happens, the charge of ‘BNP is mafia’ will bite.

BNP may be mafia.  But so is AL.  And AL is also a cult.  No matter what happens to BNP, until the AL-ers free themselves from their mental slavery, Bangladesh will remain doomed with a plague on both houses.

Rumi Ahmed
18 July, 2010. USA

Updated: Amar Desh online version again available.

Article 39 of the Constitution of Bangladesh:

39. Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech.
(1) Freedom or thought and conscience is guaranteed.
(2) Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of
the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation
to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence-
(a) the right of every citizen of freedom of speech and expression; and freedom of the
press, are guaranteed.

Bangladesh Supreme Court just struck down the Awami League government’s ban on popular newspaper Amar Desh. Amar Desh online version is now available.

**************************

Based on precedence of two previous cases concerning Daily Ittefaq and Daily Banglar Bani, this verdict was very straightforward and expected. Accordingly High court verdict came with very clear judgment and an appeal by the government was a very shameful and surprising act. Esp when the government itself declared that Government had nothing to do with the ban, it was done by the district administrator of Dhaka.  And more shameful and less surprising was the act of the chamber judge of Supreme Court, Justice S K Sinha. Without letting any hearing to be allowed, he simply stayed the judgment of High court.

It is shameful because the chamber judge just violated his oath to uphold Bangladesh Constitution by allowing a Newspaper to remain closed illegally. It is not surprising considering the precedences in which  the court of the Chamber Judge is being used more frequently by the government to stall high court verdicts unfavorable to the Government.

More interestingly a case in pending in the Supreme Court in this regard. A contempt of court case was filed against Amar Desh editor Mr. Mahmudur Rahman  because Amar Desh quoted a senior lawyer of the supreme court, suggesting the same allegation against the chamber bench. In the report Daily Amar Desh quoted senior most lawyer of Supreme court and ex justice Mr TH Khan as saying, ” Chamber Judge means a stay of high court order”.

And yet more interesting was the fact that Mr Mahmudur Rahman is now ‘shown arrested’ in a case of anti corruption Commission for not submitting wealth report. In a recent spate of Supreme Court verdicts,  all acts of anti corruption commission were deemed illegal. Persons convicted by ACC are all set free and many of them are in important positions of current government. Even our current prime Minister challenged the wealth submission order of ACC, never submitted her wealth report and fought a lengthy court battle.

Sometimes, acts of the government, its law enforcement apparatus and the attorney General’s office seems bizarre. Yet again, more bizarre is the silence of the collective conscience of the country, our columnists-our editors-our TV anchors, regarding this total mindless acts of our government.

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Rumi Ahmed is a Bangladeshi blogger contributing from United States.

Rumi Ahmed
USA

I hear… of your recent saying that both the Army and the Government needed a Dictator. Only those generals who gain success can set up military dictatorships. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship.”

– Abraham Lincoln, message to General Joseph Hooker, Army of the Potomac

May 30 is the 28th anniversary of President Ziaur Rahman’s death. It came approximately 10 years and 2 months after he gave a radio announcement, from Chittagong, declaring the Independence of Bangladesh on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, then in the custody of the Pakistani Army.

During our Independence War, he was Sector Commander over much of today’s Chittagong Division, and commander of Bangladesh Army’s ‘Z” brigade. At the end of the war, with Pakistani forces crumbling before the assault of joint Indo-Bangladeshi forces and surrendering on 16 December 1971, he was awarded the Bir Uttom.

At the onset of independence, Zia became one of the senior-most officers of the Bangladesh Army. His performance during the nine-month war and his radio announcement at the onset of the war marked him as different from his fellow officers. He was made Brigade Commander of Comilla, close to where his force had done most of the fighting during the war.

The Government brought him to Dhaka in June 1972 and made him Deputy Chief of Staff, under Major General Shafiullah, who commanded the “S” Brigade during the Independence War. It is as Deputy CoS that he moved into the 6 Shahid Moinul Road residence, where he would live the rest of his life. It is from this post that he observed the imposition of one-party dictatorship in Bangladesh when Sheikh Mujib, by a constitutional amendment, made Bangladesh a one-party state, banned all other political parties, all but four newspapers, and named himself President.

After the brutal assassination of Sheikh Mujib and most of the members of his family by a group of army officers, Zia was elevated to Chief of Staff but placed under Major General Khalilur Rahman, who was made Chief of Defense Staff. The regime, after killing Mujib’s four most-trusted political lieutenants, heroes in their own right, planned to send Zia abroad, as it sent Shafiullah. However, before that could transpire, the murderers were toppled by a counter-coup led by Brig. Khaled Musharraf, Chief of General Staff, one the most valiant leaders in our Independence War. Zia was placed under house-arrest. He was then freed by a counter-counter-coup by Col. (rt) Abu Taher, fellow Sector Commander, and leader of the banned Jatiyo Samajtrantik Dal (National Socialist Party). The counter-coup also tragically resulted in Brig. Mosharraf’s death.

Shafiullah, Zia, Mosharraf, and Taher were all awarded the Bir Uttom, the highest gallantry decoration awarded to living participants. Under normal circumstances, they should, by all right, have been able to look forward to long careers in our defense forces, promotions to command rank, and eventual retirement with the whole-hearted blessings of a grateful nation. Instead, Shafiullah was abroad, Mosharraf was dead, and Taher advoced a left-leaning revolutionary state. With the adoption of one-party statehood by the Parliament, the Awami League, until then Bangladesh’s pre-eminent political party, had also been disbanded. Zia found himself with no credible political establishment to hand over power to, a faction-ridden armed forces that was more dangerous to Bangladeshis than to foreign enemies, and an economy on the brink of collapse.

His subsequent actions, becoming Chief Martial Law Administrator, founding BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party), introducing multi-party democracy, allowing the publication of newspapers, holding parliamentary elections (in which Awami League became the largest opposition party in parliament), trying to revitalize the country’s industrial sector, and adopting a muscular foreign policy, were the attempts of an imperfect man to try and make the best of an imperfect situation. He survived eighteen coup attempts, before being killed by the nineteenth one, in his beloved Chittagong, the scene of his life’s greatest hour, where he had come to resolve inter-party factions in his young BNP. Bangladehis from all walks of life poured into his funeral prayer service, making it the single largest such gathering in Bangladesh’s history.

I cannot know, but I imagine he must have been a little tired by the end of his life. If the last thought that flashed through his mind was his young widow and the two little boys he left behind; maybe, after death, he found the peace he had been denied in life. The generation which should have together led Bangladesh, together turn old and hale and watched their children grow up in a free country as free men and women, and in the twilight of their lives accepted our accolades as Bangladesh’s greatest generation, had together torn each other apart. His would be the last life to be lost in that decade-long bloodbath, but by the sacrifice of his own life, he would bring the killing to an end; all subsequent transfers of power in our country would be bloodless, if not voluntary.

Testimony is paid to Zia, throughout the year, by Awami League leaders who slander and villify him every chance they get. They try to tear down the man who allowed them to re-form, and graciously accepted their leader’s return from exile in India. His statues are broken down, and bridges leading to his memorial in Dhaka, beside the National Parliament, are mysteriously removed under the cover of night. All debates about the fate of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, his great predecessor, inevitably contain someone viciously belittling him.

Yet, the idea of Zia remains. Our only head of state to have actively fought the Pakistanis in a field of battle, today he sleeps the well-deserved sleep of those who have fought the good fight. It remains to us to do our best in the imperfect world he left for us.

*****

Rumi Ahmed is a blogger from United States.

Originally Published on: Onnesha.TK

Ti[aimukh Dam

Tipaimukh Dam. It is clear that it will put it's adverse effect on Surma and Kushiara as well as other rivers of Bangladesh too.

The Indians are going ahead with the construction of the massive Tipaimukh barrage-this events collectively impinge on us in more than one ways but the one which directly affects our very ability to survive is the issue of water-sharing of some 53 common rivers between India and Bangladesh. By constructing Tipaimukh and other barrages, India is depriving us of life-giving waters, drastically reducing our ability to survive and therefore this is the issue needing immediate and continued public attention and the subject of this commentary. India has resumed construction of the Tipaimukh barrage on the Barack river just a kilometer north of Jakiganj in Sylhet; the construction work was stalled in March 2007 in the face of protests within and outside India. The barrage when completed in 2012 is supposed to provide 1500 megawatts of hydel power to the Indian state of Assam but in return its going to bring about a major disaster for Bangladesh, practically contributing to drying up of 350 km long Surma and 110 km long Kushiara rivers which water most of the north-eastern regions of Bangladesh. The Tipaimukh barrage is going to seriously affect not only agriculture in large portions of Bangladesh, particularly in winter, but is also going to bring about negative ecological, climatic and environmental changes of vast areas in both Bangladesh and India.

Indian government is constructing the dam without consultation with Bangladesh government, which is violation of International River Law. Three crores people of the northern and eastern parts of the country would be vulnerable seriously when the construction of the dam would be completed by 2012.

It’s not just this one Indian barrage that is a source of considerable concern and trepidation in Bangladesh; in 1976 India put into operation the Farraka Barrage which more or less destroyed the Ganges-Brahamaputra Basin, most of which lies in the deltaic plains of Bangladesh and in 1990 India also constructed a barrage along the Teesta river thereby virtually making ineffective much of the Teesta barrage project constructed down-stream in Bangladesh to support irrigation and agriculture in the north-west region of the country. What is even more worrying is that India has evolved plans to divert waters, from the north of the country to its drought-prone southern and eastern states, of some 53 river which flow from India to Bangladesh.

Bangladesh shares a common border with India in the west, north and east and with Myanmar in the southeast. These borders cut across 57 rivers which discharge through Bangladesh into the Bay of Bengal in the south. The upstream courses of these rivers traverse India, China, Nepal and Bhutan. Trans-boundary flows, which enter Bangladesh from remote catchments extending short distance to thousands of kilometers upstream, are the important source of water resources.

Bangladesh gets 7 to 8 percent of its total water from the Barak in India’s northeastern states. Millions of people are dependent on hundreds of water bodies, fed by the Barak, in the Sylhet region for fishing and agricultural activities.

Environmentalists in Bangladesh have held many talks on the adverse impact of the proposed dam. They say the dam would dry up the river and the water bodies in the downstream, leaving millions jobless and upsetting the ecological balance.

Among the trans-boundary rivers, the ones most affected by Indian barrages and their related systems of canals, reservoirs and irrigation schemes are Ganges, Brahmaputra, Meghna and Teesta. Although the Indian and Bangladeshi governments have a water sharing agreement for the Ganges, there are none for the other 53 rivers that cross the border. With the Tipaimukh barrage now underway, India seems to be going ahead with its mega-project of diverting river waters from its north to its south and east, thereby putting Bangladesh’s very survival at stake.India is taking unilateral decisions about matters which affect Bangladesh’s core interests and if these cannot be resolved bilaterally, Bangladesh must look at options of going to multilateral forums such as the UN to get its right not only recognized but also implemented. International laws dealing with water-sharing of common rivers and sources are ambiguous, unclear and contentious and so, Bangladesh ought to vigorously pursue these matters, perhaps even garner international support for a change in those laws dealing with water-sharing – this international dimension is a crucial factor affecting the management of the trans-boundary river systems. There is thus, no scope for Bangladesh to be deflected from this core issue of water-sharing notwithstanding Indian deceitful and diversionary insistence and propaganda on “terrorists and transit”.

The Indian high commissioner has admitted that a dam will be built on the proposed Tipaimukh hydropower project over the cross-boundary river Barak but said it will not harm Bangladesh. (But I don’t know how? You will put a barrage in the river and it will not affect the nature???)

The Tipaimukh hydropower project was not like the Farakka irrigation project. A little amount of water will be diverted to produce hydroelectricity and the water will be released soon, Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty said. (So he agreed that Farakka Barrage is a problem for Bangladesh. And saying that Tipaimukh will not be like that! But how Bangladesh would beleive it? India previously said many thing abouthis Farakka Barrage. But ultimately Bangladesh is suffering from it. So how will we beleive that you are talking truth? And one barrage must put it’s adverse effect on nature. And the position of the Barrage clearly indicates that Bangladesh will offcourse suffer with this project. It will be a destructive project for Bangladesh. We must protest it now!)

Bangladesh should not be wary of the project, he told.

He said bilateral discussions have long been on-going on the project. Indian government has invited Bangladesh to see the dam site and its design, Chakravarty said. A Bangladeshi organisation, International Farakka Committee, demanded suspension of ‘construction of Tipaimukh barrage’ and rightful share of the Indian river Ganges.

The organisation called upon the United Nations to form a regional river commission involving China, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

Government of Bangladesh and people of Bangladesh must be aware of this project from now and must have to protest. It will come as a destructive project for Bangladesh. bangladesh will become desert if the project is completed. India is using their power to complete this destructive project. They are trying to giving wrong ideas to Bangladesh as they given at the time of constructing Farakka Barrage. They are doing the same thing here. We all now that how Bangladesh is suffering because of this Farakka Project. How our Bangladesh is affected by the Farakka Barrage. We don’t want to see more destruction in bangladeshi economy and nature. We must protest. And it is the time. Bangladeshis must be aware of this from now and this is the only way to safe our beautiful country Bangladesh.

Which Party you are going to vote this 18th December, 2008 Bangladesh National Election?
Is it Awami League Or BNP? Is it any other party other than these two major parties? Give your answer. This just a poll. Please take part in it.

Capt. Husain Imam
October 27, 2008. Dhaka.

According to adviser Hossain Zillur Rahman, the unofficial spokesman of the caretaker government, the much sought after national election, scheduled to be held on December 18, is now on the highway and it is determined to reach its target dead on time. Yet the uncertainty with the election that has all along overcast the political horizon ever since the present CTG took over the helm of affairs of the country some 21 months ago is not over.

Mr. Suranjit Sen Gupta, one of the top ranking leaders of Awami League, thinks that the election train might have got on to the highway, but the possibility of a highway crash can never be totally ruled out. So the people should still be extremely cautious about it. I tend to agree with himDespite the fact that there have been several dialogues (official as well as unofficial) between the government and the two major political parties, AL and BNP, and after the one held last Thursday both sides claimed to have narrowed down the differences significantly, three major demands, almost common to both the parties, as pre-conditions for participating in the election, still remain unresolved.

The demands are: One, the party chairperson/president has to be fully, permanently, and unconditionally freed and allowed to participate in the election. Two, the emergency has to be fully lifted. Three, the upazilla election date has to be rescheduled and held at least 15 days after the national election.If we understand what Dr. Zillur Rahman has been telling the public in the recent days, the CTG is prepared to relax emergency rules to an extent so that the political parties can carry out their election campaign and the voters can cast their votes freely and independently without any fear or intimidation from any quarters. But they are not prepared to lift the emergency rules fully.

The reason is not difficult to understand. They do not want those political leaders who have been held on charges of corruption and convicted in the trial courts under emergency rules to contest the next election. If the emergency is lifted, they will all be probably eligible for contesting the election.

The political parties might have to come to an understanding with the government at least on this issue if they really mean business. Because, one thing is for sure, people don’t want to see those who are perceived or known to have committed large-scale corruption, abusing state power in the recent past, entering politics or contest the next election.

And for the caretaker government, it is probably high time they gave up any hope, if they still have, of implementing the “minus two” formula. When Dr. Zillur Rahman can confidently say that there is no bar whatsoever for the two ladies, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, to lead their respective parties in the next election and get their party candidates elected in the parliament, but is unable to say in clear terms whether they will be able to contest in the election themselves, one has valid reason to be wary.

BNP secretary general Khondokar Delwar Hossain has clearly and repeatedly said that his party will not participate in the election without Khaleda Zia. The stand of Awami League on this particular issue is not different either. That there can be no election, let alone a credible election, in the country without these two ladies is a stark reality.

Even if the central leaders of both AL and BNP, under compulsion and in the interest of a smooth transfer of power to an elected government (for argument’s sake), decide to go to polls without Sheik Hasina and Begum Zia, there is every possibility that they will face stiff resistance from the grassroots level workers and leaders of their parties, making it almost impossible to go through the election process. The earlier the CTG realises it, the better it will be.

As for upazilla election, most of the political parties including AL and BNP think that the date fixed for upazilla election, with only five days gap from national election, is an impractical proposition, running the risk of creating a mess for both the elections, and have rightly asked for shifting the date of upazilla election by a fortnight or so. The Election Commission will be well advised to listen to the mainstream political parties and act accordingly.

One more thing the caretaker government needs to realise. With only 50 days or so left for the national election, there is no scope for them to undertake any more experiment or embark upon any further adventure with democracy. They have had enough of them over the last 22 months. A few of them might have proved productive. But most of them, I dare say, met with disappointing consequences.

The latest idea to get the two ladies sit across the table and talk, a brainchild of their common lawyer Barrister Rafique-ul Huq, died its natural death before it could even see the light of the day. And now when we hear from Dr. Zillur Rahman that they would like to continue holding dialogues with the political parties to bring about a qualitative change in politics, we welcome their initiative but when they say that they would like to get a commitment from the political parties as to how they are going to run the country after the election, one cannot but feel pity for them.

If the CTG is really serious about holding a free, fair, and credible election on December 18, they ought to resolve the three core issues — participation of Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia in the election, lifting of emergency, and rescheduling of upazilla polls — before even declaring the election schedule on November 2.

* * * * *

Capt. Hussain Imam is a retired merchant navy officer and a contributor to New Age and Daily Sangbad

(দৈনিক সংবাদ).

Sikder Haseeb Khan

Imagine that you’re sitting on the throne of Bangladesh’s politics. You are ruling with emergency powers, but dissent is swelling. You are in the midst of an economic crisis. You are threatened by powerful shadowy figures in your own security and intelligence apparatus. Your previous international patrons now uncomfortable. You need an exit, preferably an honorable one.

So you want to hold elections. But a fully free and fair election will almost certainly result in an outcome that you have reason to distrust, for it may return to power many popular politicians that your administration has persecuted severely. So what do you do in this tense situation?

The answer: engineer the elections—but do so carefully, without raising too many alarm bells. Ensure that voting goes smoothly on election day, without hijacking of ballot boxes, prevention of voters from casting ballots, or any such crude tactics that would be obvious to an observer. In other words, engineer it, not rig it. Here’s how…

Bar dissenters

The first step that the regime has taken: prevent feisty politicians from running in the election. Convicting politicians in quick trials—whatever the charges—will come in handy: declare them ineligible for holding public office. Then government would then intensify an “anti-corruption drive” prior to the candidate registration date in order to bar the local political activists that it doesn’t like.

Field proponents

At the same time, the regime has to leave enough of Awami League and BNP outside the legal net so that the parties themselves can participate in the election. It will continue hand-picking “reformist” politicians or possible turncoats, and intimidate or otherwise persuade them to compete. It will support selective campaigns from both security and funding standpoints. As a recent report by the International Crisis Group noted, “the army is preparing a countrywide list of its own ‘clean’ candidates to contest the 2008 polls.”

Whether or not these candidates will represent a King’s Party or an existing political platform doesn’t matter. What matters is that mostly pro-regime candidates will be allowed to compete.

Shape the grassroots

Then the regime has to ensure that the party rank and file do not rebel. It has already arrested thousands of activists all over the country to prevent dissent, and intimidated thousands others to conform. The government is also trying to bar parties from having students’, teachers’, and workers’ organizations, which usually house most of the activists. In this altered playing field, the government wants to hold local elections first, under either a state of emergency or very limited openings, to ensure that its supporters are able to infiltrate the grassroots level prior to a national election.

Since parliamentary candidates have to rely on grassroots leaders to carry their campaigns, shaping the grassroots will help ensure that parliamentary candidates are forced toe a pro-regime line.

And local elections are not going to be monitored as much by international observers, so the field will be set to stage ‘upsets’. After all, this unrepresentative government claims that it’s only doing what the ‘people’ presumably want.

Control the cities

Another area that the regime has been trying to bolster is its support base among the urban civil society elite. Its attempt to get Dr. Yunus to lead this effort failed. Many of its other supporters among the urban elite are unappealing and unelectable in the perspective of the majority of voters. So, to the extent possible, it is redefining the boundaries of constituencies to give urban areas a greater share. This increases its chance to increase regime loyalists at least in the metropolitan areas. Holding non-party municipal elections is part of this plan.Increase authorityThe final ingredient is to increase the power of electoral authorities to arbitrarily declare results void. The Election Commission has been doing exactly the same. It is about to “empower it to cancel the candidature of any parliamentary contender for gross violation of electoral laws and declare vacant the seat of an elected lawmaker for giving false information in the account of the election expenses” (New Age, 29 April 2008). And who’s going to determine this violation? The Commission of course. Given this government’s woeful record, you can wave due process bye-bye in any such decision.Satisfaction guaranteedSo voila! Now hold national elections, and at the end of the day, you have engineered a nice exit strategy by making sure only your friends are elected. No violence, no ballot box hijacking, and a lot of claps from foreign observers.

* * * * *

Sikder Haseeb Khan is a Bangladeshi author. This story has also been published in The Progressive Bangladesh.

xanthis
September 30, 2008.

It can be taken as an assertion of the regime to clarify ACC is not just a tool of political suppression. The international recognition of the military backed regime’s current stance was influenced by the high court granted bails of politicians at a row. Many people inside or outside the government, political or apolitical, have been found to get aggrieved by having the politicians back to the show. So, the High Court’s denial of Sheikh Hasina’s bail appeal at Noor Ali’s extortion charge and ACC’s charging Begum Zia to the Barapukuria Coal Mine charge, can be taken as a showdown of, that the media attracting anti-graft drive has not gone that alcoholic, as of Addition Attorney General Mansoor Habib told, the denial of Sheikh Hasina’s bail appeal has been a regain of the public image of the Appellate Division.

But we must not kick the reality away.

We are now in the timeline, cleanly eighty days away of the national poll. People of Bangladesh, though most of them are not too much optimistic, are looking forward for nothing but a free fair general election. They don’t care whether a High Court or Supreme Court judge gives a judgement freely or having the pen held apart by somebody else. Presently the most important concern of everybody is a free and fair poll. And it ain’t necessary to mention that two events been held today, High Court’s denial of Sheikh Hasina’s bail appeal at Noor Ali’s extortion charge and ACC’s charging Begum Zia to the Barapukuria Coal Mine probe, can be anything but not to be taken as a move by the regime with deliberation of holding a free and fair poll.

BBC interviews Barrister Rafiqul Haque and Additional Attorney General Mansoor Habib

It will be an addition to this regime’s long ‘fun list’ if they defend these two incident as the outcome of freedom of judiciary. Sheikh Hasina’s release at parole, meeting with four advisors at Sudha Sadan, flying abroad to children, all in some 20 hours, has let people know how free the judiciary is. But that supersonic speed of the regime was not questioned due to people took it as a step ahead to an election. Where the judiciary is in no way free rather is under full control of the authority, Sheikh Hasina’s not getting bail today is definitely a move which wants her to get free not in a short time. She is scheduled to return home on October 17. My personal speculation is Sheikh Hasina will get the bail by then, if nothing unexpected is happened. And this lead us to see the sudden blustering of ACC is nothing but to show up their prolificacy, a response to the claim of ACC’s going off the effects.

But all of the lines above can have ascription to the reality if we let that the election is going to be held. It’s still a ‘national confusion’ that how long Bangladesh is going to take to see an immediate election on her soil. A lot of conspiracy theories are being stated, some explicating there’ll be an election in December 18, most of the theories bring references from the history that all the military backed regimes have been found least keen to have an election held. For some major differences between the present military backed regime and previous martial regimes, references from Bangladesh’s experiences are less prioritized. But if we look abroad, the most common chronicle of a military (directly or not) takeover of the government-

• Ousting the democratic system with excuse of massive street violence with an immediate promise of nearest possible polls,
• Summoning the loyalist media to convince people about corruption of politicians, then arresting them,
• Setting apolitical civil society members to give the regime a look of ‘not a complete military setup’.
• Massive deployment of military officials to the civil system.
• Expected decline of economy due to lack of keen investors to invest in a ‘yet to have democracy’ state.
• After a certain amount of time, surrendering to the politics.
• And tremendously sluggish and stumbling restoration of democracy (confusions or failures over election) with millions of questions to answer and sometimes with a flow of blood in parallel.

The embarrassing fact is, the list of events above has taken place in Bangladesh exactly as same, the list which ends with the possibility of extremely torpid restoration of democracy, sometimes with a line of blood flowing in parallel. That’s why the fear grows that whether it’s really going to be an election or something else. Sheikh Hasina’s release (in parole or whatever) was great shake-up to the political deadlock. After Khandoker Delwar got EC’s invitation, this was another jump to progress. Begum Zia’s release has been a nearly fulfilment of the process. Now, what it needs is Sheikh Hasina back to the show in order to have a free and fair election. Already Begum Zia has stated, “This government may have complicacy in legality, but we must take this government as a reality, and maybe we will have to accept this government.” The same statement was from Sheikh Hasina months and months ago. This must be a high time for the regime to list the state of emergency in order to carry on a free-fair election rather than  the High Court denying anymore bail appeals of Sheikh Hasina and anymore charge sheets with Begum Zia’s name.

xanthis
September 27, 2008.

It’s not important that whether this is fortunate or unfortunate, but we are always to stuck some phrases and the political circumstances constantly precipitate our discussions to move towards those words. Prior to the January 11, 2007 coup d’état, the word banging our skulls was, ‘Dialogue’ (Bengali: সংলাপ). Every evening we were used to watch news in TV channels with video clips of Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan and Abdul Jalil. Smiles they were used to have was more friendly than necessary, that many suspected whether they are on the discussion of becoming in-laws in some consent. It’s clear that they were not talking about being in-laws as they have not been in-laws till today. But, this is never to be unfolded that what really these two guys had been talking about for five long days in the North Plaza of Bangladesh Jatiyo Shangshad.

Immediately after the coup d’état of January 2007, two words that have taught us and made us through all possible levels and layers of annoying monotony on earth, were ‘Corruption’ (Bengali: দূর্নীতি) and ‘Reformation’ (Bengali: সংস্কার) After going through a high quality X-ray test, the regime finally completed the list of leaders from all over the countries whose spines were subsequently missing, although they could stand straight. May be it was their standing straight without a backbone which impressed the regime; they were all admitted to the School of Reformation. Pickups from BNP got their graduation in October 29, 2007, whereas the whole studies of Awami League leaders were a complete covert effort. They were either given high quality lectures, or the lectures were so poor that they cannot act constantly in a flow, sometimes talk completely contradictory to the lectures they were given, again sometimes talk exactly how they are supposed to talk after reformation learning. However, after Begum Zia was released in bail, the BNP reformist pickups deserted their reformation alumni at a row, so the reformation word now is a bit suppressed, or you can say dropped.

Well, these are all old stories, but important. We were talking about words at hike. And beyond all suspicions, the word that is now trailing our ears aggravatingly is, ‘Dialogue between Two Leaders’ (Bengali: দুই নেত্রীর মধ্যকার সংলাপ). With the blessings of FBCCI leader and ‘progressive’ and ‘shushil’ businessman Anisul Haque and astray involvement of the 1/11 regime, Barrister Rafiqul Haque’s slack proposal for sake of words now have been the word to entitle the lead political news reports of media. The involvement of this regime in this case is the counted one. According to straight-forward talker Barrister Haque, we’ve learnt that Advisor Hossain Zillur phoned him at that very night of his statements at High Court office, to let him know that the regime is interested immensely to be a hand to the effort to combine two leaders at a table.

BNP-AL unity, two leaders embracing each other, resolving all political complicacies, these words have shiny attractive colours at the eyes of the media, as well as Anisul Haque and others of his type feel immensely glad to come to the media with these gaudies. We must not forget FBCCI President Abdul Awaal Mintu in 2001 presented a boat-printed sari to Sheikh Hasina and a paddy-printed sari to Khaleda in order to bring peace over this country. I don’t know where those saris presently are, but what I know is the outcome of those attempts was zero. If this memory recall sounds like I’m discouraging Anisul Haque to combine two leaders, well, the recall doesn’t sound that wrong.

The government have many questions to be asked about their interest behind having two leaders together in a dialogue. First question will arise about their own stance. They want two leaders talking to each other, but for what? In what point they’ll be insisted to come to agreement? Hossain Zillur Rahman consequently hails honesty and sincerity in the intension of the regime. But by showing strictness, the regime can’t have two leaders agreeing with them. They are adamant about having the elections amid state of emergency. They are adamant about having two elections back to back. Whereas our two political parties are almost similar in following issues:-

• The election in no way and no way can be held amid state of emergency. There is no utility of lifting it hours before the dawn of election date. It must be lifted, some weeks before the election.

• Upazilla election cannot be carried on seven days after the general election. In general election, candidates will have to reach people through grass-root leaders and activists. But grass-root leaders will be already campaigning for the Upazilla election where many of them will be candidates. In the circumstances, the whole campaign will be a complete mismanagement.

• There should be councils before having the parties approving any proposal from the government. The communication with all layers of party activists must take place. This is the prerequisite of democratization of political parties that the present 1/11 regime has been hailing like তোতাপাখি (parrot).

But here this is the other part of regime’s deliberation of arranging Khaleda-Hasina dialogue, where they’ve sternly turned down all these three points of unity of two parties. CEC Shamsul Huda in Dhaka, Hossain Zillur Rahman is Washington and D. Fakhruddin Ahmed in New York, have been saying, “There will be no problems with back to back elections!!! There will be no problems with back to back elections!!!” But we must not reproach the reality. It’s easy for a school to take back to back exams in its rooms. Teachers won’t have it as a big deal to invigilate back to back exams if they are provided with enough rounds of tea with biscuits and most importantly special allowances. But the students will be losing momentum and confidences to sit for both the exams. What would happen if the CEC Shamsul Huda were set to sit for matriculation exam and intermediate exam in one week? In that case he were not the one be the CEC today for sure.

Many have become quite relaxed after D. Fakhruddin’s addressing to the nation that the confusion over state of emergency is almost over. This is ridiculous. At the initial stage of 1/11 government when almost only person who knew to talk in Bangladesh was Barrister Mainul Hussain, who subsequently tried to debate in favor of carrying on election amid emergency rules. Barrister Hassan Arif several times stated that it’s possible to go for any election amid emergency rules. Gen. Matin, because of not being a guy of the courts, didn’t stated anything directly, but told the regime will consult its lawyers to explore resorts to hold the election amid emergency rules. Because of this is the emergency rules, nobody dared to ask any adviser that why the emergency ain’t lifted. This question will be a direct hit to the foundation of this regime which is extremely weak and fragile. Having a lawsuit being carried on in Supreme Court which challenges the regime of its legality and lawfulness of existence, this regime’s situation is enormously vulnerable and in the circumstance, they must come to agreement with political parties in issues of emergency rules and back to back election controversies. Before looking for the agenda of two leaders’ dialogue, they must take care of the one which is already an agenda at the agreement of BNP and Awami League.

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Now, about the dialogue between two leaders. My personal observation is no such thing is going to take place in near future. I can see the attitude of Amir Hussain Amu. I can see the statements coming out of Suranjit Sengupta’s mouth. Shameless word selection of Abdur Razzaq in working committee meeting is also taken under consideration. This is almost clear that these three leaders, Amir Hussain Amu, Suranjit Sengupta and Abdur Razzaq, in no way are interested to have the two leaders dialogue to turn to reality. Sheikh Hasina still ain’t a free lady as Khaleda Zia is. But the momentum is stepping ahead in such way where we will have her free in some days. After getting free, she should recollect what happened to the party in last 18 months and what roles these three leaders played. This will be totally unexpected if these three leaders are taken back to positions those they held before 1/11. Bashing the family members of opponents is the way Amu, Suranjit and Razzaq have chosen to reconcile whatever they have learned from School of Reformation. But Sheikh Hasina must be good enough to recognize this. This will be a total discouragement for other loyal AL leaders if they see these three are forgone untouched. If Sheikh Hasina is going to take steps against backstabbing tendency of these three leaders, we can have hope of a dialogue. Otherwise, there is no way for the dialogue to be a reality. Though a dialogue (may be of month long) cannot solve all political disputes overnight, but the socialization of two top leaders I think should be considered.

Not in order to have political solutions overnight, just for sake of being less aggressive in future, the socialization of these two leaders are very important. And FBCCI President Anisul Haque is not the guy for this job. Barrister Rafiqul Haque is okay, he helped both of the ladies to bail out of the hell, and he is trusted by both of the ladies. Two parties too can take the initiative. I’ll prefer initiatives taken by Khandoker Delwar Hussain and Zillur Rahman. B

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But FBCCI, BGMEA, Anisul Haque and bla bla, really should mind business.

Anand Kumar
19 September, 2008.

Attempts to neutralized the battling Begums appear to be faltering

As Bangladesh slowly moves towards its much-delayed December parliamentary elections, the military-backed caretaker government is still trying to figure out what to do with the bitter political enemies, known as the “battling Begums,” whose decade-long feud nearly wrecked the country and debilitated its political system.

It appears likely that Shaikh Hasina, chief of the Awami League, and Khaleda Zia, who heads the Bangladesh National Party, will be in the thick of electoral politics despite attempts by the caretaker government to neutralize them in a desperately poor country where politics have overshadowed attempts at economic reform, state-owned enterprises are strikingly inefficient, power generation is inadequate to handle the economy and there have been continuing delays in exploiting natural gas resources.

Per-capita income is only US$1,300 and public debt is a staggering 37.4 percent of GDP. Garment exports and remittances from Bangaldeshis working in the Middle East and East Asia are mostly responsible for economic growth of 5-6 percent as the two women struggled for political power until the military heaved them out in January 2007 as the country descended towards chaos, partly in alarm that religious fundamendalists were making dangerous inroads on power.

The government’s credibility is at stake, given the continuing emergency. Although hundreds of political, judicial and government figures were jailed on corruption charges after the crackdown, the return of corruption has been another dampener and many fear that the country has gone back to square one.

The parliamentary elections now look almost a certainty as both former prime ministers have been freed. Shaikh Hasina, chief of the Awami League party, was released on July 11 by the government, and subsequently went to the United States for treatment of her ears, damaged during a bomb-blast in a political rally in Dhaka in 2004. The blast was suspected to be organized by her political rivals.

Khaleda Zia, on the other hand initially resisted an offer of freedom from the caretaker government, demanding the release of her elder son Tarique Rahman, widely seen as her political heir. Although the caretaker government wanted her to go abroad as well, Khaleda refused, fearing she would not be allowed to return before the elections. The caretaker government, like many others in Bangladesh, views the two bitter enemies as responsible for many of the country’s woes and would prefer what has been called a “Minus-two Formula.”

But the Minus Two Formula seems to have fallen flat, now being exchanged for what is being termed the “Manage Two Formula.” The government has been unable to foster any alternative political scenario despite including encouraging splits and dissensions in the existing two parties. They are now trying to create a better democratic environment by putting restrictions on the two women.

When Shaikh Hasina and the Awami League criticized the release of Tarique Rahman and Khaleda, the caretaker government got the sense that the old political rivalry had not disappeared. To stop Bangladesh from returning its era of perennial political hostility they have pressured the two women to enter face-to-face talks although it is believed that they have not spoken with each other for nearly a decade. The purpose of these talks is to discuss how to promote fair competition in politics and do away with the culture of mudslinging.

The caretaker government has apparently asked Barrister Rafique-ul Huq, who is defending both of them in court, to mediate. Khaleda appears to be ready, but Hasina and the Awami Legue first want an apology from Khaleda for her earlier behavior. They also see her hand in the attack on Hasina which deafened her in the 2004 rally in Dhaka.

Khaleda has also been asked to keep her son Tarique Rahman out of politics for few years. Often referred to as the most powerful man in Bangladesh despite having held no ministerial post in his mother’s government, Rahman is widely regarded as the epitome of corruption. Khaleda has agreed, sending Tarique to the UK for “treatment.” He is not likely to return before the coming elections. She also announced that Tarique’s continuing treatment will keep him out of politics for the next three to four years.

The caretaker government has also suggested that Khaleda withdraw the expulsion order of ex-BNP secretary general Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan and joint secretary general Ashraf Hossain and accommodate the pro-reformist faction of the party.

It is clear, however, that the earlier feudal trend in Bangladesh is not that easily eradicated, as was manifested when, after a meeting of the BNP Standing Committee, the party’s highest policymaking forum, it was decided that Khaleda would lead the party for life. When that proposal was made public, however, it attracted widespread criticism and created controversy among the party rank and file. The development shocked the lower rungs of party leadership who were expecting the devolution of power and intra-party democracy instead of the earlier centralized party structure.

Khaleda refused the offer although it was because of the overarching presence of the military-backed caretaker government. Some of her party members even offered to make changes in the BNP constitution, in which the chairperson now nominates all 15 members of the National Standing Committee (NSC) with the chairperson as its chief. That would have effectively reduced Khaleda’s fiefdom.

Dissenters are also being sidelined in the Awami League. Abdul Jalil, the former party general secretary, was not allowed after his release from jail, mainly because he fiercely criticized Hasina in a mercy petition to the caretaker government in July last year. Instead, Syed Ashraful Islam was asked to continue as acting general secretary Hasina’s instructions.

Another problem is likely to emerge from the religion-based parties, particularly the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami, which is also part of the BNP’s four-party coalition. New provisions promulgated by the caretaker government bar parties from being registered on religious ground. This will create problems for Khaleda’s partners like Jamaat and Islami Oikya Jote. The registration of political parties is however being resisted even by the two leading parties BNP and Awami League. They are citing shortage of time for not being able register.

The present political situation in Bangladesh has created a dilemma for the international community, which wants a political transition to democracy and are concerned by the continuing emergency. However, they also seem to have reached a compromise.

European Union (EU) officials say that the EU might not send a full election observation mission if the government does not restore people’s ‘basic freedoms’ at least six weeks before the national polls planned for December. However, if fundamental rights such as freedom of movement, assembly, association, and speech are reinstated, it would send observers even under the state of emergency.

A struggle for concessions seems to be on between the caretaker government and the leading political parties of Bangladesh before the parliamentary elections that are likely to be held in the third week of December. If the two main political parties have agreed for certain restrictions, the caretaker government has also conceded few things. The government has relaxed the ban on trade-union activities at industries, commercial enterprises, ports and factories on certain conditions.

They have also now agreed to hold Upzila (sub-district level) elections after the parliamentary election. This has been a major point of dispute between the Bangladesh Election Commission and the leading political parties. This seems to have removed the last hurdle. But whether Bangladesh get the democracy it needs, for which the caretaker government tried during their stay in power for last two years, remains uncertain.

Anand Kumar is an Indian journalist and specialist in Asian political analysis, contributes in Asia Sentinel, Asian Window etc.

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