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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.
31 January, 2010, Dhaka
When BNP chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia criticises Sheikh Hasina or her government on any matter, (or vice versa), it can be in most cases assumed that the latter must have done something good. The more severe the criticism, the higher is the chance of such assumption turning out to be true.
If we go by this theory, the way BNP chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia has reacted to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent visit to India is a clear indication that Sheikh Hasina’s trip has been a tremendous success.
Sheikh Hasina has during her visit signed three treaties, one memorandum of understanding (MoU), one protocol, and a joint communiqué. While the treaties related mostly to ensure security of the region through united action against terrorism, religious jingoism, political insurgency and women and drug trafficking, the other agreements including the joint declaration aimed at resolving all other bilateral and multi-lateral issues through mutual discussion based on good friendly relations between the two countries.
Sheikh Hasina thinks that her visit has been a complete success. She thinks that the visit has opened a new horizon of bilateral and regional cooperation between the two countries. Why should she not?
As reported by an Indian journalist, when Sheikh Hasina, during her summit meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, took out her list of demands, Manmohan Singh told her that she did not have to ask anything. Whatever was the need of Bangladesh, India would go to the furthest extent to meet those demands.
Regarding Tipaimukh Dam, the most sensitive issue for Bangladesh, Manmohan Singh has categorically told Hasina that India will not do anything that will harm Bangladesh. About sharing water of Teesta and other common rivers, both the countries have agreed to a ministerial level JRC meeting on urgent basis.
India is our big neighbour, bordering us on three sides — east, west and north. It is a vast country, seven times bigger than our country by population alone. It is the largest democracy and one of the fastest growing economies in the world, poised to be the third biggest economic superpower in a decade or so.
When the prime minister of such a country, and if the prime minister is Manmohan Singh, one of the finest men at the helm of affairs anywhere, gives such assurance, why should not Sheikh Hasina, as prime minister of Bangladesh, feel confident of her success in the mission?
Given the nature of the politics BNP has been pursuing ever since it came into existence, it is not surprising that the chairperson of the party will oppose every move Sheikh Hasina makes, and if it is anything related to India, she will use her anti-Indian trump card and go to any extent to spoil the broth.
Begum Zia has tried to do exactly that. She has, through a hurried press conference, termed the visit not only a total failure but also harmful to the nation. She has accused Sheikh Hasina of giving everything to India and getting nothing for Bangladesh in return. She did not stop there. She has, as she did when the AL government signed the historic peace treaty of Chittagong Hill Tracts in 1997, accused Sheikh Hasina of selling the country to India.
In 1997, it was up to Feni that Khaleda Zia accused Shekh Hasina of selling to India. This time it is the whole country. No wonder, Sheikh Hasina was quick enough to ask Begum Zia if she needed an Indian visa to visit her hometown in Feni.
Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India and the agreements or understandings arrived at during the visit have, as many a political analysts, academics and economists across the region agree, turned over a new leaf of relation between the two countries, and if the treaties and the agreements see the light of the day, both the countries, indeed the whole South Asian region will be immensely benefited. The whole region will usher in a new era of peace and prosperity. Why not wait and see?
Bangladesh has allowed India, along with Nepal and Bhutan, to facilitate transit of their cargo to their hinterlands through Chittagong, Mongla and Ashuganj port and, in return, Bangladesh will also be able to transit its cargo to and from Nepal and Bhutan using Indian territory. This will not only bolster economic activities of our ports and earn huge revenue but also help develop trade and business activities between the countries. This is a practice not uncommon elsewhere. Singapore and Rotterdam are glaring examples in front of us.
It is unfortunate that Begum Zia or for that matter her think tanks and advisers do not realise that their anti-Indian card has gone all blunt. The present generation is not prepared to buy it any longer. They want to go ahead with the others. They know very well that in the face of imminent threat of climate change and terrorist activities across the region there is no alternative to active cooperation and friendly relation among all the neighbouring countries of the region.
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Hussain Imam, a former merchant navy officer, is a regular contributor to The New Age, the Daily Star and Daily Sangbad.
M. Tawsif Salam
19 July, 2009, Dhaka
Dr. Dipu Moni’s remark about Indian High Commissioner Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty that he breached a diplomat’s code of conduct was not her first remark to be considered as a flap. She received spectacular criticisms after forgoing an Indian journalist who marked Bangladesh as a ‘buffer state’ in a press conference presided by her. People from the top brass of present Awami League government power structure have set some more examples of being kind to forgo a couple of must-protest commentaries of people associated with India. The most recent one was Dipu Moni’s presence in a seminar where Indian High Commissioner added the adjective ‘so-called’ while naming Bangladeshi experts, especially those who are critical to India’s unpopular Tipaimukh dam. After the Chakravarty’s flawless conduct, BNP’s lawmaker Adv. Mahbubuddin Khokon, who is also BNP’s sole representative to the parliamentary body for foreign affairs, demanded immediate expulsion of the rowdy diplomat.
Following Khokon’s demand, Dr. Dipu Moni’s popular remark about Chakravarty’s breaching the code of conduct was almost covering up the controversy that she caused by her silence against humiliation of Bangladesh. Now, it’s to be noted that Dr. Dipu Moni became a part of several events where she received criticisms by either her humiliating silence, or her apparent incompetence to put thrashing replies against what it’s been insulting remark against Bangladesh; and throughout all these Awami League’s attention to her activities never became public. But at a certain point Awami League top brass became really tensed about her statements and took no time to differ what she told about the rowdy diplomat. After no time from Dr. Dipu Moni became coldly vocal about Chakravarty’s rowdiness, Awami League’s spokesperson and the Minister of Local Government and Cooperatives Syed Ashraful Islam said that he at no point thinks that Chakravarty has breached a diplomat’s code of conduct.
The Tipaimukh Dam issue has seen more passes than sometimes satirically presented Dutch ‘total football’ could ever have produced or suggested. We don’t know who were midfielders, attackers or defenders, but the passes have been subsequently carried out by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Water Resources, and Environment & Forest, without much of the senses of their particular roles. Whenever the responsible individuals received stern quizzes about the issue, they either kept passing it to other offices, or made remarks those are solely enough to humiliate the sovereignty of a nation.
The Minister of Commerce Col. Faruk Khan, who in accordance with his official functions wasn’t supposed to be concerned with the issue, claimed all of a sudden that the Bangladeshi experts who are being critical to Tipaimukh issue don’t know anything. Following his statement, Chakravarty made two subsequent comments; one is that the protest against Tipaimukh issue was politically ill-motivated, and the other is no laws on earth could bar India from building Tipaimukh dam. Quoting Chakravarty, Minister of Communication Abul Hossain also told the protest against Tipaimukh dam is insubstantial. Minister of Water Resources Ramesh Sen, who did something more serious than a quotation, told that if there is any negative impact of Tipaimukh dam, Bangladesh should concede the damages at least for sake of the alliance with her greater neighbor.
As it has been told earlier, this series of comments is solely enough to humiliate the sovereignty of a nation. The present government as well as the ruling party, and most importantly Syed Ashraful Islam who was in a hurry to reestablish the submissiveness of his government to the Indian authority by differing Dr. Dipu Moni’s cold protest within hours, should get the note that friendship cannot be imposed. You just cannot pick up a group of people and ask them to recite “Bangladesh and India are friends”, who already are holding newspapers with headlines of Bangladeshi frontier population body-counts to the BSF bullets. Or, you cannot just ask people to accept long-lasting damages just for sake of alliance with a nation which appoints ‘so-called’ diplomats to meddle in our internal politics and humiliate our sovereignty.
People won’t accept speeches from a minister like Ramesh Sen hints to sacrifice Bangladeshi resources for sake of India’s friendship, or of lawmakers like Abdur Razzaq states Bangladesh can make up her desertification by importing Tipaimukh produced power; hence Bangladesh can accept both her desertification and Indian bills just to have power produced in Tipaimukh. These comments hint their loyalties being to something else than the sovereignty of Bangladesh.
This post has also been published at Weekly Economic Times, 26 July, 2009 issue.
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.
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.
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
But FBCCI, BGMEA, Anisul Haque and bla bla, really should mind business.