Thursday, September 10, 2009

Letter to the President

Mr. President (and staff):

Bangla Nation just learned from the Bangladeshi newspaper, The Daily Star, that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League has been invited to New York for a meeting with other heads of government from UN troop contributing nations.

Bangla Nation thoroughly applauds and supports this invitation. Resolving ongoing and future conflicts will require a great deal of cooperation between those financing peacekeeping missions and those who contribute the manpower. Moreover, Bangla Nation believes this forum will be a wonderful chance to figure out the capability shortfalls that Bangladesh suffers in terms of equipment and training for these missions.

This meeting will also provide an opportunity to establish a more positive relationship with Bangladesh, a country of 160 million Sunni Muslims that, while enjoying substantial human development over the past few decades, still lags behind in positive governance and economic/occupational development. With an ongoing militant and political Islamist threat, the United States' attention on Bangladesh would be well received.

With humble regards,

Bangla Nation

Friday, September 4, 2009

F*CK the BBC

Evidently the latest form of Western imperialism takes the form of ridiculous news articles on some less developed countries (LDCs). The recent articles represent the height of irresponsibility, ethno-centrism, and tabloid journalism.

Bangla Nation must ask is the BBC nothing more than an American tabloid? In its drive to gain readers it must report the most ridiculous and outlandish topics from various countries?

Here are three articles, Bangla Nation will not give the links because it will NOT be responsible for promoting traffic to this sad degenerate of a former news powerhouse.

"Red faces as Bangladesh papers fall for US moon landing 'hoax'", BBC, 4 Sep 2009
"Dressing Down - Bangladesh suit ban to save power", BBC, 2 Sep 2009
"Bangladesh police an arresting sight after beautician's tips", BBC, 25 Aug 2009

To be fair, the BBC also ran 2 article on the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) mutiny case and 1 article on the awarding of hydrocarbon exploration rights to US and Irish firms.

"Bangladesh guards in fair trial plea", BBC, 27 Aug 2009
"Elusive truth", BBC, 27 Aug 2009
"Oil firms win Bangladesh rights", BBC, 25 Aug 2009

Bangla Nation finds it hard to believe that the BBC can find no other newsworthy items in the whole of Bangladesh. However, if Bangla Nation's allegation is correct, it is not that hard to believe that the correspondent never leaves Dhaka.

Bangla Nation believes that the heart of politics and economics may be the primate city, but the very soul of Bangladesh is in the hinterlands. That is where the "news" is.

Short-term expediency maims in the long-term

Bangla Nation believes this is some sort of rule for Bangladesh. Political expediency driving a decision which eventually returns to maim the democratization process, or worse inflict violence on the Bangladeshi populace. As far as Bangla Nation is concerned the worst form of political expediency has been the co-opting of political Islamists, in particular Jamaat-e-Islami, by the political parties. More importantly, it is the usage of Islamic idioms, symbols, and phrases in official government discourse (obviously Bangladesh is far from the only political system guilty of this). Bangla Nation believes that the Awami League should return its roots, secularism (though without the authoritarianism). A move towards this ideal would involve the cessation of colluding with Islamist political parties and devolving local administration to the upazila parishads.

Curiously, the Awami League government decided to promote awareness of the H1N1/Swine Flu (of which Bangladesh has over 250 cases) by engaging local imams in raising awareness (Daily Star). While, this may be a good idea in the short-term, the Awami League government must not devolve local administrative tasks to religious leaders - this only promotes their accumulation POLITICAL and RELIGIOUS power.

Rather the Awami League government should remain true to its electoral pledge of devolving some power to the local administrations. This has not happened despite a upazila (sub-district) election over six months ago, the local administrations are still beholden to the districts (Daily Star).

Bangla Nation believes that the Awami League should honor the pre-Independence vision of its founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman by not accommodating the Islamists. By the same time, the Awami League should honor its current pledge to strengthen local governance. Bangla Nation believes that by doing so information on the H1N1/Swine Flu will reach the populace's ears through government representatives, not religious leaders.

At present, the Awami League is doing little more than surrendering local governance.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Are the PM's words empty?

Not three days have passed since Bangla Nation implored Bangladeshi voters and the international community to hold Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to her alleged commitment to "building up a non-communal, democratic Bangladesh where people of all faiths will live in peace and plenty" (see...). Prime Minister Hasina needs to show her support for Bangladesh's minorities, not just because they voted for her party, by ordering an investigation into the circumstances and situations of the minorities in Bangladesh. Moreover, security personnel should be in place to protect the Hindu community. Most importantly, the police need to bring the criminals and hate activists, especially their leaders and political patrons (if they are acting under Opposition orders), to book and make a stern example of them.

Three days ago, just before PM Hasina's speech, a gang (from a neighboring village) beat up two youths of Dighalkandi Sahapara village (Puthia). In response, 10 Hindu families filed a general diary with the local police. Later that night, 30 suspected BNP-Jamaat "cadres" attacked three of the families, injuring 12. During the assault, the attackers hurled abuses at the families for supporting the Awami League during the December elections. The Awami League President of Baneswar union indicated that "criminals" had been after the land of the Hindu families in the village for a long time (Daily Star).

Disturbing and inexcusable are the only words to describe the situation that the Hindu community continues to find itself in. Bangla Nation believes that if Prime Minister Hasina intends on being more than an empty politician expelling hot air, addressing the grievances of Puthia's Hindu community would be a good place to take action.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

JMB seeking safety in remote border areas

Pressure on and insight into Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen's activities continues. Despite the number of significant successes against the group, the government must also initiate a drive into their past (or present) political and influential patrons. In addition, Delhi and Dhaka must be prepared to cooperate on the issue of trans-border governance and security. Addressing these two points will ensure that the JMB remains disorganized and will prevent, or at least introduce major obstacles to the emergence of, the rise of another militant organization, whether Islamist or not.

A full-time member (ehsar) of JMB was arrested in Patgram sub-district (Lalmonirhat) far to the north which borders West Bengal (Daily Star). Quoting intelligence sources, another report noted that members of JMB were reorganizing themselves in remote riparian islands (char) in the "northern districts." In addition, commanders had been assigned to some districts including to the unnamed "northern region

In addition to India and Bangladesh cooperation in policing/governing the border. A RAB source highlighted an area in which the US and UK could assist Bangladesh, equipment: "the far-flung chars are considered a safe haven for the militants as it takes the law enforcers hours to reach such places, thus giving the terrorists time to evade arrest" (New Nation).

Perhaps London and Washington will consider selling Bangladesh some helicopters? This won't happen as long as the political patrons remain above the law.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Hold PM to her pledge NO MORE EMPTY WORDS

It is generally said that one shouldn't promise what won't be delivered and that one shouldn't speak of action unless willing to take action. Politicians, from any country, are notorious for this sort of obnoxious behavior. When they do it is known alternatively (depending on the speaker) known as pandering, politicking, promising, or just being idealistic. Keep it simple - they're lying.

If Bangla Nation was a Bangladeshi voter; it would cry from the lack of choice. If the caretaker government could not sort out the "battling begums," who else might? The people? We wait. The international community? Not likely, particularly, Beijing which is far more interested in selling Bangladesh electricity than institution and nation-building.

Yesterday PM Hasina gushed to a Catholic delegation that the Awami League government is "strongly committed to building up a non-communal, democratic Bangladesh where people of all faiths will live in peace and plenty." In addition the PM stated 'people of every religion and ethnic group would live in this land with their respective dignity and rights' (Independent).

Was it not PM Hasina's Awami League that joined hands with Ershad's Jatiya Party, which amended the Constitution to make Islam the state religion in 1982? Was it not the same PM Hasina and Awami League that subsequently welcomed the Jamaat-e-Islami in Opposition in 1995 in order to overturn the Bangladesh Nationalist Party at the time (Hashmi, Women and Islam in Bangladesh, 190)?

Is it not the same current Awami League government that has stood by while adhivasi communities in Tangail, CHT, and Naogaon remain landless and exploited (see, see)? Is it not the same Awami League government that has failed to protect the Khasi community from terror and crime (Daily Star)?

And why has there been no inquiry into the 'missing' millions of Hindus. The PM has high praise for Christians, but no such words for the millions of Hindu devotees who have simply vanished from Bangladesh.

Bangla Nation says that talk is cheap, and while these words come from a blog, Bangla Nation is not the Prime Minister nor even a voter of Bangladesh. Bangla Nation hopes that Bangladesh's voters and media hold PM Hasina to these statements and each of the political parties for their past actions and omissions. The international community should also hold these individuals and parties responsible.

Bangla Nation hopes that when the 1971 War Trials are concluded, than an inquiry and trials are opened to atone for the disappearance and terrorizing of millions of Bangladeshi Hindus. If PM Hasina "pledged" that, Bangla Nation would not believe it. If PM Hasina proposed it to Parliament, well before elections, the Bangla nation would have hope.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

ID cards won't stop "infiltration"

Meghalaya Chief Minister D.D. Lapang made his intentions crystal clear when he asked that the identity cards be first handed out in districts bordering Bangladesh. Bangla Nation wonders if the chief minister would also hand out identity cards to Bangladeshi citizens, who come under Indian jurisdiction when the Indian Border Security forces crosses the frontier and plant a flag in Bangladesh? Or perhaps he would prefer to simply take the land and deport the rest?

Bangla Nation agrees with the need for identity cards (with some caveats), as Telegraph points out, Meghalaya and Assam have been "illegally infiltrated" over the last several years. CM Lapang has demanded a "peace bonus" (which thoroughly confuses Bangla Nation) to counter militants who are using Meghalaya as a "sanctuary and transit point." Perhaps this peace bonus is the extra battalion of security forces which would act as a second line of defense for the BSF.

Bangla Nation asks defense of what? Bangla Nation thoroughly agrees with the need to protect borders, but why not re-train and increase the pay of your existing troopers? As has been noted, militants cross borders because they can bribe. So rather than bribing one set of troopers, they now have to bribe two. Moreover, an "extra battalion" of security forces is no positive signal to Dhaka especially given the recent incursion (see...).

Washington and London should support the providing of ID cards to Meghalaya's residents (all of them, including the legal Bengali Muslims), their support would probably get the program done faster than the 18 months that is predicted. However, Washington and London (not to mention Dhaka) should strongly object to the extra battalion of security.

If Meghalaya (and Delhi) are serious about curbing illegal migration (or infiltration) then a dialogue must be started. A dialogue that would hopefully build trust and the sharing of information to help mitigate the other's concerns. ID cards and an extra battalion of underpaid border guards won't be enough to stop the infiltration. ID cards can be purchased, just like border guards. Without Delhi-Dhaka dialogue, which won't happen without Delhi's respect for Dhaka territorial integrity, the ID program will fall flat and merely cost money without any real benefits.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why does Bangla Nation...

... advocate linkages between Dhaka, Washington, and London?

Bangla Nation has not sold out. For the positions advocated by Bangla Nation represent areas in which Dhaka-Washington-London have clearly identifiable and defensible interests. The way Bangla Nation sees it, many of the problems confronting Dhaka (but certainly not all) have a trans-border/trans-national, that is a geographic, nature to them.

But why not Beijing or Moscow? For the simple reason that neither of these states are representative democracies and thus their intentions are opaque, to whom do you answer if not your constituents? Bangla Nation may be based in Washington and it could be argued that it maintains a pro-Atlantic bias, but as Jyoti Rahman wrote recently in the Forum "we don't have to imagine a liberal democratic narrative for this Republic. It is the most truthful account of our history." To put it simply, Bangla Nation believes that similar political systems (representative democracies in this case) often find friendship.

This is not to suggest that a friendship should be one-sided. Regardless of the gentle reader's view of "neo-Western imperialism," Bangla Nation will be the first to point out the curious nature of an American position, such as seeking recognition of Kosovo despite withholding support for War Crimes Trials (see...).

From another perspective: The time is coming when Washington and London will seek Dhaka's advice and insights regarding programs like the border village watch (see...) and the socio-cultural war on extremism (see...).

Does the gentle reader desire additional information on Bangla Nation's positions? Ask!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Jurisprudence attempting to end the terror of fatwa

One of the more exciting aspects of democracy is the judiciary, particularly when it questions the other branches of government. Prime Minister Hasina must immediately enforce the High Court's interpretation of the law, investigating extra-judicial punishments, its perpetrators, and most importantly, exposing government acquiescence to the punishments. Washington and London should support the High Court's assertion by pressuring Dhaka to carry out all of the investigations including those which would be damaging to prominent political figures. If Dhaka is unwilling to carry out these interpretations then a special investigation should be led by non-partisan experts who will report their findings without favor.

Yesterday, the High Court directed the government to investigate extra-judicial fatwa (religious edict) punishments, which include such punitive measures as lashing and stoning (much of which ends in death) and take action against those responsible. Moreover, the court also sought an answer to a rather pointed question, how and why has the government, and in particular the police forces, allowed these punishments to continue (Daily Star)?

The banning and prevention of fatwa by village salish (arbitration meeting) would bode well for Bangladesh's rule of law but it would serve an even greater purpose. The protection of a woman's fundamental human rights; even a cursory glance of the cases listed by the Daily Star, highlights the horrific ordeal that some women endure for debasing their religion, caning for reporting rape, publicly whipped for refusing sex with a relative.

As the High Court has plainly interpreted, this "religious" law is not the law of Bangladesh. Importantly, these fatwas are meant for much more than the individual women that it terrorizes; it is a scarcely veiled threat to all women in Bangladesh.

This may be a fine day for Bangladeshi jurisprudence. But only when PM Hasina wholeheartedly agrees to uphold the rights of women by arresting and prosecuting the issuers and complaint police and politicians, will Bangla Nation agree that it is a fine day for Bangladesh.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Respect and protect minority rights

Bangladesh must come to respect and protect the rights of its minority citizens, whether they are religious minorities, linguistic minorities, racial minorities, or political minorities. The US and UK should impress upon Dhaka the necessity of protecting adhivasi rights in particular, and minorities in general. An action program, similar to the government's new socio-cultural battle with extremism (see...), would entail a judicial review of pending court cases against and by the adivasis, the promotion of their interests as national interests, and community development. The latter defined as institutionalizing an effective response to the community's grievances.

The US and UK do not need to preach in this regard, particularly the US which has a deplorable record of treating its Native American communities. However, the US and UK do have funds, equipment, and expertise. These should be offered to work in partnership with local Bangladeshi organizations working to protect the rights of the adhivasi community. Most importantly, the adhivasi community should be empowered to take care of their own rights. If they have grievance, they should file it with the police. If the police are ineffectual than they should seek redress from the local government. Bangla Nation believes that the community should not have to "bribe" to have their lives protected!

Land use continues to be a problem. Well before Bangladesh was ever created, the Garo and Mandi have utilized the forests in Madhupur, Tangail. Within the last century their interests have been quashed under various regimes, British, Pakistani, and now Bangladeshi. In the most recent past, the Department of Forests has sponsored the in-migration of Bengali-speaking settlers into the area and fenced off the forests and developed it, similar to the Chittagong Hill Tracts (Daily Star).

In the CHT, 3,300 families have begun squatting for almost three decades as the government has never provided papers of ownership. Instead the families are regarded as "temporary caretakers." On the issue of finalizing their ownership, which is mandated by a previous CHT development project from 1980, the deputy commissioner noted that the some papers could not be given due to a lack of proper survey. However, some would be getting their papers by 15 September (Daily Star), 29 years later.

Bangla Nation believes this is unacceptable (and probably is not alone in this belief). If the deputy commissioner's office in the periphery do not have the equipment or manpower to perform their duties in a manner even remotely timely then the deficiency needs to be addressed. The problem is that in a country of scarce resources the adhivasi communities receive nothing, no rights, no protection, no representation. A more equitable division of the government's attention is required, if that is achieved then the only shortfall will be for equipment - and there is more than enough aid agencies and NGOs to provide equipment.

But these organizations cannot force the government to protect its people.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Awami League's socio-cultural war on extremism

Until recently, it has seemed that Bangladeshi governments have only seemed content to arrest militant Islamists, trying them, executing some, jailing the rest. Less than a week ago, Bangla Nation lauded the steps taken by the Awami League government in bringing in the Ansars into the policing program for the borderlands (see...). Now it seems that the Awami League is taking the fight to the militant Islamists on another level, socio-cultural discourse.

Bangla Nation believes that without a doubt and without delay, Washington and London (all national and international donor organizations in fact) should immediately announce public support for this program and offer any assistance necessary to set it up quickly, transparently, and effectively. The Awami League government has taken a bold step in the war against extremism, it would be a shame if the move faltered or had little impact for lack of support from the international community. Aid money can easily be diverted to the government's scheme as it falls under so many broad fields, economic development, community building, and education. Even more importantly, this program is taking an approach that has only been discussed - treating extremism as a social and conscious choice before it manifests into physical violence.

Evidently, the new Awami League program will involve 14 different agencies and is said to be aiming for the "remotest parts of the country" and aims to educate the populace on the "destructive nature of extremism." The program involves: screening documentaries, training imams at mosques, organizing anti-militancy campaigns, engaging unemployed youths in development work using small loans (micro-credit perhaps?), and effective monitoring of religious institutions. Each government agency will be responsible for a piece of the program, thus the religious affairs ministry will supervise the training of imams (Daily Star).

This program is no less than a multi-pronged attack at the heart of Islamist extremism, namely misunderstanding, unemployment, poor oversight, and lack of "life choices." These "life choices" could be a job, education, and could be simply described as "opportunity." Bangla Nation believes that even more cross-community building activity should be involved in order to develop a sense of shared ownership in the program, tying in communities together for their mutual benefit. Moreover, the involvement of the communities is paramount - even staging plays highlighting the problem of militancy would be a terrific step forward.

This program will also have far-reaching consequences. At stake is the validity of the entire concept, that extremism must and can be fought in the minds of people. It will have its detractors at home and abroad. Some will call it a waste of money (Bangladeshi taxpayer's as well as donor's). Only the program's effective administration, diligent application, and uncorrupted governance will ensure its success. Others will consider it a waste of time, that one cannot fight extremism with speeches, books, and plays. To take such a narrow view of the problem is to ignore and underestimate its dimensions, violent extremism is not social deviance. It is a social movement.

Given that this program is a multi-year and probably decades-long commitment, it must not suffer for a change in political stewardship, the international community MUST hold future Bangladeshi administrations to this program, whether it is the BNP-Jamaat alliance or another Awami League government without PM Sheikh Hasina at the helm.

The Awami League government has taken a pioneering step against violent extremism. Bangla Nation believes this is a step in the right direction and should be supported by the international community. Only by winning and convincing people that the social movement, the culture of violence, the choice of inflicting death and destruction is absolutely wrong - can one even begin to beat violent extremism.

Ramadan mubarak!

Update: War crimes and Kosovo, quid pro quo

The US and Bangladesh have yet another opportunity to advance their interests through cooperation. Though the two steps should have been taken unilaterally it appears that both countries are seeing each other in realist terms, necessitating that one take the first step forward. Washington, as the economic and political powerhouse, must concede the first step in order to promote a sense of goodwill with Dhaka. Moreover, the US initiating the first step would also be significant considering Dhaka's request, support for the 1971 War Crimes Trial, is much more significant to the internal stability of Bangladesh than Washington's is for the US, request of diplomatic recognition of Kosovo.

Yesterday, Bangladesh's Foreign Secretary indicated that Bangladesh did not perceive the diplomatic recognition of Kosovo to be necessary despite the US Ambassador's call for recognition for the former Yugoslavian state (Daily Star).

Though he noted that Dhaka wishes to maintain good relations with both Moscow and Washington. Bangla Nation thinks that this desire would easily be set aside for Washington's vocal support for the 1971 War Crimes Trial and most definitely for Washington bringing pressure on the Saudi Kingdom and Pakistan for ending their criticism of it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Quicknote: Hartal, landlessness, and rape cast a shadow in CHT

No significant moment is ever enjoyed without a number of problems occurring. Luckily, the problems are usually solvable, if the responsible party acts in a just, efficient, and timely way. These problems become an opportunity; an opportunity to prove that the radical change is just what needs to be done. Bangla Nation believes that the Bangladeshi government must seize the initiative in dealing with these problems before they escalate. The US and UK should continue to monitor this ongoing situation and be ready to step into to promote enclosure and land reform in the CHT once the withdrawal process is complete and the security situation normalized.

Prime Minister Hasina found herself in this position today. Earlier a woman, presumably Bengali, from Islampur village was found raped and murdered in a neighboring indigenous village, Modonmohanpara, in Panchhari sub-district, Khagrachhari. In response the Bengali settler organization Samo Odhikar Andolan and its student front Parbatya Bangalee Chhatra Parishad called for a dawn-to-dusk hartal (general strike) in the sub-district (Daily Star).

Bangla Nation believes that PM Hasina should immediately condemn this violent act, for not only does it disturb the peace in a restive region, but is an abominable crime against women. While the hartal will probably go forward, since the Bengali settlers have been threatening one for a month now, the security must ensure that this passes peacefully and without incident. Most importantly, if Bengali settlers attempt to avenge Nasima's death they must be arrested without delay. Finally, while protecting the indigenous community from the possible excesses of the Bengali settlers, they must also fully and impartially investigate Nasima's death.

Yesterday, the High Court rejected two petitions attempting to prevent the continued withdrawal of the Army brigade and camps from the CHT (New Nation).

Thus, the Awami League government has earned a green light to continue upholding the 1997 Peace Treaty despite the reservations from Bengali settlers. The police forces must continue to provide impartial security to both groups of residents. The government, as well as the U.S. and UK, should work together in solving ongoing landlessness among the adhivasi community (Daily Star) and promoting a sense of shared identity between the settlers and the adhivasis.

Such projects could be as simple as providing teams of surveyors to help speed along land surveys or logistical and communications support to the government in the shape of vehicles and laptop computers. NGOs should also take steps in promoting community development and conflict resolution by promoting a shared sense of responsibility for the security and development of the region.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Confronting "Jihadis" in the village, the new trench

If there has never been a more golden opportunity for the US and UK to work with Bangladesh on substantial issues of border security, this is it. The US and UK must support Bangladesh's training program for border village paramilitaries. Their support will not only increase the effectiveness of the village guards but they will also be able to increase cooperation between paramilitary units and the security forces. Dhaka's plan has enough credibility to seriously undermine militant efforts in moving across the Indo-Bangladesh frontier. American and British support for the plan will make the militants' efforts much more costly. In short, this plan is brilliant and should be supported by Washington and London.

Dhaka's plan calls for training the Ansar-Village Defence Party units in border villages to be able to "eradicate militancy." They reason that since the Ansars will be working primarily in their own villages they will easily identify strangers and, with their new training, will be able to gather information on the newcomers and provide it to security forces for action. In addition, the plan also calls for recruiting women in equal numbers as men (Daily Star).

However, Dhaka must be on guard against walking into a similar situation that West Bengal is facing in Midnapur. It must not rely totally on the Ansar-VDP for its information and security, doing so could cause a total collapse in information-gathering if the Ansar-VDP is unable to complete its mission. JMB members clearly read newspapers: What is going to protect Ansar-VDP agents from their wrath, especially if the village is far from any security force? The answer: a strong relationship with the Bangladesh Rifles.

Bangla Nation believes that in addition to training the Ansar-VDP in this regard, Dhaka, Washington, and London should also look to training and providing for the local Bangladesh Rifles units as an additional facet to the recent proposal to PM Sheikh Hasina.

Although the proposal by the BDR Director General included such mundane things as changing the name, uniform, and insignia of the BDR. A more substantive proposal involved creating a three-tiered intelligence unit.

The first tier would sit alongside National Security Intelligence and Directorate General for Forces Intelligence, the national intelligence organizations. The second tier, under a regional head, would focus on counter-intelligence similar to Rapid Action Battalion. The lowest tier would focus on field intelligence and cross-border intelligence, similar to the army (Daily Star).

This intelligence unit has great potential and would allow the BDR to extend its eyes and ears in the border areas, its home, and work with the Ansars. US and UK training for the BDR and the Ansars would encourage these two organizations to work together for their mutual benefit. Ansars could call in information to BDR, informing them of possible JMB cadres moving across the border into their village, BDR moves in and apprehends the suspects, brilliant.

This may solve security issues along the border, but what about the local governance...

Sidenote: The proposal did not seem to resolve any of the outstanding issues of the BDR including poor payment (as compared to the Army) and the continued appointment of Army officers to lead the BDR. Dhaka must allow the BDR to command itself. The proposal to recruit retired army personnel should be rejected, allowing retired army personnel to join is fine, pushing for it will simply make the BDR a de facto extension of the Army.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The U.S., others, MUST back War Crimes Trials

The U.S. must back proposed trials for war crimes in Bangladesh. The U.S. government should be expending political capital gained from the recent elections to push other countries to either support the trials or to at least stop blocking and agitating against them. Close to four decades is too long to atone for genocide. The movement of Bangladesh toward secular democracy is in the interest of the US, UK, and India.

Apparently, some in the diplomatic community in Dhaka believe that the trials would "sharpen the political division in the country" (New Nation). Probably so, but only briefly. Clearly something would be wrong in a society if War Crimes Trials passed without a whisper. At any rate, the only parties truly opposed to the trials are the Islamists and that is only because some of their leaders will be brought to trial; moreover, the instability brought by the political divisions will be quickly overcome and pale against national reconciliation.

Most importantly, the trials will end the legitimacy of the Islamist message. How can a party purport to be patriotic and for the reformation of the society/government (barring the fact that this reformation is actually a fundamental change), when its very leaders are partly responsible for the deaths of millions, the essentializing of the nation and state, and were actively engaged in preventing the emergence of Bangladesh - all in the name of religion? Religion had nothing to do with it. It was a quest for political power on a platform that appealed to the electorate and in the pursuit of that power, Islamist forces killed.

The U.S. has clear interest here. If the US supported these apolitical trials, it would be supporting one of the most firm steps toward established secular democratization in Bangladesh's history. The trials will de-legitimize the Islamist political message, making the only viable alternative - secular, multi-party democracy. The trials will expose current politicians (not just in the Islamist political parties) support for militant Islamism during the 1971 Liberation struggle. The trials, if conducted apolitically, will finally put this issue to rest (though of course there will continue to be murmurs) then the country will be able to put some of the past behind it and address the more recent past (1975, 1983) and the future.

The Dhaka Awami League General Secretary's comments on holding the trials concurrently with the murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (in 1975) and the attacks on the Awami League rally 21 August 2004 (Daily Star). Bangla Nation that it is wise to keep these issues separate. First, address the 1971 Liberation War in full. If necessary address, the 1975 coup in the same context, national reconciliation. However, the attacks on the Awami League rally must be held in a criminal court as these were criminal attacks. If the perpetrators are the same in each case, then so be it, let the most harsh sentence carry.

New Nation noted that some countries, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and some 'quarters' in the country were attempting to prevent the trials. The only 'quarters' in these countries that would try to prevent a clearly internal issue probably have something to lose if they go forward, namely, their anonymity in supporting the genocide. They should take solace that they are not on trial and stop their interference.

If Saudi Arabia takes an official position and cuts aid to Bangladesh, other donor countries, Japan, South Korea, the US, the UK must be prepared to step in and assist.

The US must not stand idly by and watch these trials occur. By standing still and quiet the trials could become purely political with no reconciliation and no justice. By actively supporting and speaking in favor of these trials the US will be in a position to offer suggestions on the conduct of these trials, offering observers, financial aid, and expert assistance to ensure that these trials remain apolitical. The purpose of these trials is not only democratization but national reconciliation; the US must support these causes.

Sidenote, Bangladesh must still define secular: Is it the absence of religion from the government? Or the lack of government support for any one religion (that is patronization)? Bangla Nation believes it should be the latter, as a multi-religion country Bangladesh should not patronize any one religion, but nor should it deny the fact that it is a Buddhist-Christian-Hindu-Muslim-Secular country.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A long way from home...

Bangladesh and India have been presented with a nice opportunity to cooperate in an area that will benefit India, as well as Bangladesh. Delhi should seize this opportunity to open a genuine dialogue with Dhaka on border issues. Although there are a number of outstanding disagreements, the Chittagong Hill Tracts (like the Rajshahi border) offer an area where the two can cooperate in the interests of common defense and shared border security.

Recently, five Indian nationals were arrested in the Noymail area of Dighinala sub-district, Khagrachhari. They evidently entered the country through Tripura, (which makes geographic sense) and Bangladeshi security forces believe they are members of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Daily Star).
The NDFB, seems to be composed of two factions, one is engaged in talks with the government while the other is blamed on a string of violence since at least last year which has left scores dead and hundreds injured. Both are working for a separate homeland for the Bodo tribe in India's often neglected northeast (which include the states of Mizoram, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh). A number of these states are experiencing various levels of unrest and separatism which mostly stem from tribal-nationalism, uneven regional development, and anti-migrant sentiments (there are a large number of Bangladeshis in Assam).
In March, the NDFB was blamed on a bombing in which 24 were injured while at market in northeastern Assam (BBC). A few months later, Indian intelligence agencies reported that the rebel-NDFB faction was planning bomb attacks throughout Assam (Telegraph).
These arrests seem to suggest that the group is quite a distance away from its normal range. The Bangladeshi security services will no doubt attempt to find out why they crossed into the CHT. Dhaka should provide any relevant information to India as well to address any upcoming threats; Delhi should reciprocate and provide Dhaka with any details regarding the reasons the NDFB would be in the CHT in the first place.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Public financing and merging... not a corporation, militancy

Two recent revelations continue to shed light on the extent of the Islamist militant threat in Bangladesh. Whereas past investigations and probes stopped at the heads of militant organizations, leaving the political patrons unscathed, the current Awami League government seems poised to not only go after the political patrons but the financing vehicles as well. If the Awami League succeeds in bringing the traitors to book, a Constitutional book, then perhaps this Awami League government will be best known to history as the government that secured secularism as one of the founding principles of Bangladesh.

But if the investigations fizzle as they always do, then the people of Bangladesh, particularly the Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and adhivasis will face yet another Islamist militant group bent on subverting democracy and imposing their view of a homogeneous society on Bangladesh.

Today, Parliament asked the Ministry of Social Welfare to probe the dispersal of government monies during the past BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami administration (2001 through 2006). A specific name for investigation is the Secretary General of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid, who was Minister of Social Welfare at the time. Specifically the investigation aims to uncover the monies distributed to various NGOs during that time and what they did with it (Daily Star).

Ministers and MPs patronizing projects is nothing new in democracies, its an accepted method in retaining votes in the constituency. But what if your political party believes in fundamentally changing the system? Who then would your constituents be? The agents of that change one would imagine. Even if the probe uncovers nothing, such oversight would benefit the government and the country. Its a step in the right direction of ensuring that NGOs are doing what they're supposed to be doing, which is bringing services and aid to people in need.

While the political patrons remain on the loose, Daily Star has reported that JMB and HUJI have held several meetings on the topic of merging. Interestingly, it was revealed that executed JMB chief Abdur Rahman founded JMB after defecting from HUJI. The merger talks apparently begun in response to the government's execution of six JMB leaders and the wave of arrests following the 17 August 2005 bombings.

The talks of merging the JMB and HUJI are unsurprising given that the reason that Abdur Rahman was the reason they split (though Bangla Nation wonders on his particular reasons). Moreover, it would also make more sense now given that both organizations have probably suffered significantly over the continuing pressure from Bangladesh's security forces.

However, former Inspector General of Police SM Shahjahan said it best 'It would not be possible to uproot militancy soon until taking measures against their patrons or guardians.' (as quoted in Daily Star).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Inexcusable violence

A recent spate of violence, over the last few weeks, continues to highlight the threat of the so-called Sarbahara outlawed parties in the southwest of the country. The violence has increased in its ferocity and in the number of actors, but it remains confined to one or two incidents a week, scattered throughout the division but often in the districts bordering India. The government must assert its policing authority in these areas before the local populace loses complete faith in the security forces to maintain their security.

The last three weeks have witnessed a number of brutal killings in the districts of Kushtia, Choudanga, and Meherpur. In the former three "outlaws" (colloquial indication of a Sarbahara cadre) and one probable outlaw where killed in the most brazen way possible. The Superintendent of Police in Kushtia noted that this method is a popular way in asserting a group's authority and ensuring extortion (Daily Star/Daily Star).

In Meherpur, an attack was carried out on a suspected Sarbahara cadre in a similar way to the Naxalite attacks in West Bengal (albeit they're probably not linked). The victim was "called out" of his home, via cell phone call, and abducted (Daily Star).

The locals, probably finding the police authorities ineffective in protecting them and their business interests, took the law into their hands when a gang beat a leader of the Purbo Banglar Community Party (Janajuddho faction) to death when he came by to pick up extortion money in Choudanga town (Daily Star).

These incidents have occurred despite government assurances (Daily Star, July 2009) that a special drive in the southwest would take place to curb the violence. Even if the drive does take place, it is wonder how much of a lasting impact it will have on the security situation, Bangla Nation noted that a special drive took place almost one year ago in the same districts (see...).

A special drive needs to occur as the government must demonstrate that it can effectively protect its citizens and their interests in the border regions. Punishing the Sarbahara criminals will help prevent situation similar to mid 2004 when Bangla Bhai rose to prominence. However, the government must also seek aid from NGOs and the international community in opportunity-creation, whether educational or occupational, in order to prevent unemployed youths from recruited by the Sarbahara gangs.

Update: Army Pullout Protested, Halted

Two weeks of the Army's pullout of one brigade and a number of camps in the Chittagong Hill Tracts has been paused until the 19th of August. The pullout should continue despite protests from the Bengali settler community in the CHT. The High Court is taking a conservative approach to limit the anger of the Bengali settlers; thus hopefully quelling any notion that a more violent program should be followed.

The High Court ordered a halt to the pullout, lasting from 16 August until 19 August (Daily Star). Concurrently, the Parbattya Bangalee Chhatra Parishad and Parbattya Chattagram Sama-Adhikar Andolan, two Bengali settler organizations in the CHT held a half-day strike in Langadu sub-district, Rangamati. All shops and educational institutions were closed and police were on hand to prevent any untoward events (Daily Star).

The settlers should realize that the police are there to not only protect the CHT local but them as well. Hence their presence to prevent the situation from getting out of hand.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Blast from the past

Occasionally, the past reflects the state of the impending future (now, the present). With the gift of 20/20 hindsight we are able to judge that at certain critical junctures a bad decision was made. A statement may have been, or not have been, uttered, a phone was not picked up, or thoughts not conveyed. While this sort of analysis rarely impacts current problems, it does shed important light on how we arrived at this situation.

Recently declassified reports from the U.S. Office of the Historian related a number of anecdotal encounters between the senior U.S. and Indian leaders following the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (called Bangabandhu, Friend of Bengal), the father of Bangladesh on 15 August 1975. The transcripts involve none other than the recently deceased Henry Kissinger.

A few remarks are noteworthy and shed some light on why we are currently dealing with the situation we are now in (meaning Islamist militancy in Bangladesh), Kissinger reportedly said at one point 'the real worry would be if countries with resources like Saudi Arabia get radical leaders. Then there would be trouble.'

It helps to understand the context of this statement first its temporal place, 1975. The big enemy for the U.S. is the Soviet Union hence the U.S. was probably comfortable in the fact that the military coupsters were 'pro-US, anti-Soviet' though 'less pro-Indian.' Bangla Nation's view on this matter are clear. The only way for Bangladesh, and to a lesser extent India, to progress is together.

The earlier Kissinger remark could be taken as yet another piece of evidence in the framework of realpolitik, for the sake of completeness, it was only for a lack of crude (though Bangladesh apparently has good reserves of natural gas) that Bangladesh missed making the cut.

Though the days of realpolitik have not quite passed, there is at least a general understanding among U.S. leadership that static resources are no longer such a prominent factor in driving policy.

On a side note, the information came from the Daily Star. Sad, that Bangla Nation learns of news about the U.S. from a Bangladeshi newspaper.

Teacher turned AK-47 enthusiast

Occasionally, even the most coincidental events may inadvertently trigger an investigation into something completely unrelated to the incident itself. Usually this is referred to as a "lucky break," thankfully luck doesn't have as much to do with it as reasoned observation and awareness of the context.

As Bangla Nation understands it: Islamism, the political ideology that seeks to establish a system of government (a state) run by shariah law. As it is normally presented in Western (meaning U.S., European, et cetera) media the Islamism movement is primarily being backed by illiterate rural villagers (CNN Transcript, 28 April 2009). To be sure, Islamism gains a substantial amount of its backing from the rural masses, who may be illiterate. But it would be a mistake to believe that this political system appeals purely to that demographic.

Bangla Nation has devoted some time to pointing out exceptions to this notion (see... and here...), recently Daily Star reported that a teacher at Jaldhaka Pilot Girls' High School in Jaldhaka sub-district, Nilphamari was receiving his full paycheck despite having been arrested in February 2009. At the time, he was an ehsar (full-time member) of Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).

While the salary payments are probably a system of failed bureaucracy, the teacher is far more interesting from an intellectual perspective. For he was not just any teacher, he was a senior teacher at a government-run (secular) girl's high school. Something that one would not expect if the term of reference was only the notion that JMB cadre were poor, illiterate villagers from the countryside.

The Government of Bangladesh is serious about eliminating Islamist militancy, the recent spate of arrests of high-profile figures in organizations like JMB, Lashkar-e-Taieba, and Harakat-ul Jihad Bangladesh are evidence of that. What is not entirely known is the method in which the Bangladeshi government is seeking to prevent new "converts" to the political cause of Islamism, whether militant or gradualist (like the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, political party).

Such a method would have to entail at least two different approaches, addressing the grievances of the individuals that are being recruited and developing a political program to point out the deficiencies in the Islamist political agenda.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Quicknote: A glimmer of hope...

Awami League President and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina may be sitting at a mental cross-roads today. Likely, she is torn between two desires. The first is the desire for continued power and personal glory. The second is the desire to ensure the continued development of Bangladesh and the political party. The two are not necessarily intertwined.

Approaching her 62nd birthday and the recent passing of her husband, may he rest peacefully, may have caused her to think a bit more about the future of the Awami League without her. Any venerable leader knows when to start passing the reins of power, even if it is a slow transition.

Ten days ago, Bangla Nation discussed the Awami League's and Bangladesh Nationalist Party's sidelining of their "reformists" (see...).

Now it seems, that Sheikh Hasina is now thinking about assigning some function to the advisory council to which she banished the "reformists." The New Nation has noted that she wants to better utilize the experience and expertise of senior leadership in the interests of the country and the party. Such a turn is not unwelcome.

Sheikh Hasina will remain the President for the foreseeable future, but it is wise to engage the "reformists." For the most obvious reason, they must be engaged to keep them loyal, as the New Nation notes they are busy in their constituencies, no doubt entrenching themselves, possibly independently of the Awami League apparatus. The other reason is to engage them in a meaningful way is to incorporate their ideas and views - to progress the party and, if they continue to hold the people's trust, the country.

One wonders what Khaleda Zia, BNP Chairperson, will make of this. Her party conference will probably be held in the November-December time frame. Just far enough away to watch and judge the success of the Awami League's experiment.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Medal of Freedom or... Sixty Years in Prison?

In a rare moment of galactic symmetry, cynical politicking, or pure dumb coincidence, the 13th of August, 2009 encapsulated the United States' relationship with Bangladesh. On one hand is the field of development encompassing social, economic, and sustainable development. And on the other is violent extremism.

Today, US President Obama bestowed the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the US, to Nobel Laureate (2006) Mohammed Yunus. Yunus, who hardly needs an introduction, is the pioneer of micro-credit and the Grameen Bank. If my memory serves me correctly, Yunus begun the scheme with US $26. Since 1983, the bank has disbursed over US $8 billion (New Nation).

Yunus has share of critics, some contend that micro-credit programs have done nearly as much as people think. In fact, on Tuesday Finance Minister Muhith leveled this exact criticism: 'Why is the number of poor families still seven crore in Bangladesh if three crore families had benefited from it?' (Daily Star) A similar argument is that micro-credit does help the "poorest of the poor," the poor who are too sick or too old to start a micro-business in the first place. Moreover, micro-credit doesn't always address the underlying causes of poverty - poor healthcare, poor educational opportunities, or overt/subtle discrimination.

However, this is not to diminish the impact that Yunus has had on the world. His ideas have helped millions in many countries. His efforts deserve the Nobel Prize and the Medal of Freedom.

About 540 miles away (as the crow flies) there was a very different ceremony going on. A court in Atlanta convicted an American citizen (second-generation Bangladeshi) on terrorism charges. Evidently, he was arrested in Bangladesh after making questionable statements to US authorities a year earlier and combined with a number of other circumstances, videos of target selection, possession of "violent jihad materials," discussing attack plans with co-conspirators in Canada (whom he and his friend met on-line), and other significant allegations (Daily Star, US Department of Justice).

As the Star presents it, the young man almost seems like a misguided youth who let his machinations get the better of him. Taking your thoughts, your prejudices, your misconceptions too far.

This case should be appealed. If for no other reason than the US judicial system needs to clarify these items. Does simply communicating, possessing books, and taking video make one guilty of supporting terrorism? More succinctly, does every person who communicates with possible or confirmed terrorists, possessing books advocating "violent jihad" and "casing videos" ALWAYS become a terrorist or a supporter of one? One imagines that the jury was convinced BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT that this young man was going to provide material support to terrorists, hence the guilty verdict.

This is why the verdict should be appealed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Best Wishes for Janmastami

Driving home my previous point.

Daily Star and New Nation.

Jamaat = LDP?

Does a homogeneous society ensure democracy?

Not quite. India is the most populous democracy on the planet and it has hundreds of languages, every major religion (and many smaller ones), and a variety of ethnic groups from a variety of families, yet it has been a democracy since 1948. What about Indonesia? Its recent successes in the Parliamentary and Presidential elections this year brought it one-step closer to a establishing a firm democratic tradition, despite its highly regional, and sometimes communal, politics.

Now look at Japan, barring a short period of time, the Liberal Democratic Party has been in power since World War II. Yes, Japan has elections but does the total absence of any meaningful opposition equal true "democracy?" Maybe this is what Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh considers "democracy."

A democracy where one can vote but everyone already knows the outcome. A democracy where a single political group sets policy for 5 decades. Though to be clear, the LDP does have its share of factions, and I'm willing to bet the JIB does too. A democracy representing a society that is truly "homogeneous" (though such an aspiration is impossible).

In JIB's case it is a homogenously "Muslim" society. Yes Non-Muslims can stay, supposedly having their rights and freedoms guaranteed by the JIB charter, but they will be suspect. Perhaps they will require all Hindus, Ahmadiyyas, Christians, Buddhists, and adhivasis (even the Muslims ones) to take an oath of loyalty (Zee News)?

Late this weekend Daily Star discussed the discrepancies between Jamaat's charter and the Constitution. Briefly (as reported in the Star): Jamaat's charter stipulates that people must not accept anyone except God as the law-making authority,change the state to ensure complete observance of Islam, and safeguard the country's independence and sovereignty through revival of Islamic values and national unity.

However, in a 1989 verdict: 'By amending the constitution the republic cannot be replaced by monarchy, democracy by oligarchy, or the judiciary cannot be abolished.'

While Jamaat disputes these discrepancies, in their website they state:

"Islam is the only code of life revealed by Allah, The Lord of the Universe. This code of life encompasses the whole gamut of human life. It does not only prescribe beliefs but also the norms of behaviour. Its guidance covers all spheres of human activities, both spiritual and material. The Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami upholds Islam in its entirety. It aims at bringing about changes in all phases and spheres of human activities on the basis of the guidance revealed by Allah and exemplified by His Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him" (Jamaat's website).

The Election Commission must review and summarily hold Jamaat to its charter. If the charter is found to be in contention with the Constitution then the party must be banned. If the party wishes to compete in a multi-party democracy, it must agree to adhere by the rules of the game. Unless Jamaat intends on starting a revolution, whatever victories it enjoys in an election will not give it a mandate to replace the Constitution and the rule of law.

It is worth stating there is absolutely nothing wrong with a political party grounded in religion. One may look to the Christian Democratic Union of Germany or the Justice and Development Party in Turkey for inspiration. The problem arises when the organization seeks to abolish the state and political system outside the bounds of law.

Finally, Jamaat must come to terms with Bangladesh's polity. The concept of a "Muslim" state was abandoned in 1971. While the "Islamization" of the political arena has continued somewhat since then, Bangladesh remains a multi-ideology, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, society.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Quicknote: High Treason?

If a group of politicians provided shelter for violent militants with a stated goal of subverting the state and replacing the government - would that constitute treason? What if, over the course of a police investigation, the police encountered "limitations" due to the political party in power?

Bangla Nation believes that these individuals should be tried and, hopefully, convicted regardless of their familial ties or contributions to the country, government, or religion. Moreover, the associated political and non-political organizations should also be investigated as thoroughly as possible; in this instance, Dhaka must catch and try the kingpins rather than the cronies. Finally, if a political party is found to be complicit in these activities it should be shunned, banned, and struck from the history of Bangladesh.

The Islamist militant network in Bangladesh continues to coalesce thanks to additional information obtained from detained Lashkar-e-Taiyeba leaders, Obaidullah and Mohammad Mansur Ali.

In the latest revelation, the two have revealed that a number of local level and "prominent" national level leaders may have been sheltering LT cadres per "secret deals" with the group. Additionally, a former Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) official noted that at least seven political patrons were known between 2001 and 2006. However, he noted cryptically that "limitations" imposed from the ruling BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami alliance at the time hindered the investigation.

In addition to exploring the involvement of certain politicians with LT, RAB is also intending on investigating the political patrons of the Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh to discern whether any of them also have ties with LT or Harakat-ul Jihad Bangladesh (Daily Star).

The 'Bad Neighbor' Policy

Usually, when something doesn't make sense or there are multiple possible solutions to a question one applies the principle known as "Occam's Razor." This basically states that if there are two explanations the "simpler," the one with less assumptions, should be taken as the primary hypothesis. India's recent aggressions in the Indo-Bangladesh border leaves one with at least hypotheses, neither of which casts Delhi in a good light.

In the first (and the more simpler), we may surmise that Delhi has lost control over its far-flung Meghalaya-based Border Security Forces.

In the second Delhi has decided that, regardless of the pro-India government in power in Bangladesh, it will press its border claims. In this hypothesis Delhi doesn't appear to care that it is simply gift-wrapping more ammunition for the anti-India bogeyman speeches of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami.

This hypothesis would also tie into the first and will probably be verified upon the eventual press release from Delhi that the BSF units in question acted of their own volition and that it has summarily dismissed the low-ranking officers responsible.

In this latest incident, BSF troops took position within Bangladesh and refused to vacate until BDR troops took up a stronger position and forced the BSF to depart under "strong protests." The Director General of the BDR noted there were still some outstanding border claims leftover from the 1948 Partition (New Nation).

Bangla Nation hopes that the former hypothesis is the case, though this would be an embarrassment for the Congress Party. For the latter would signify that Delhi has little interest in being the 'good neighbor.' Taking Awami League's pro-India stance as cheap change would severely hamper a number of India's efforts particularly counter-terrorism and regional hegemony.

In counter-terrorism, India needs the cooperation of Bangladesh to effectively police and, eventually, govern the border. It is no secret that Islamist militant groups cross the Indo-Bangladesh frontier (see...).

India's status as sole regional hegemon would be challenged if the Awami League forsakes its pro-India stance. If Awami League cannot find a reliable political ally in the Congress Party where else would they turn? Certainly not to Pakistan, but to China.

Bangla Nation imagines that the last thing Delhi would want would be the Awami League cosying up to the People's Republic.

Rather than sending in the BSF to claim and possibly start a shooting-skirmish, Delhi (and especially the Congress Party0 would be well advised to diplomatically engage Dhaka on resolving the outstanding border issues, as well as the status of the enclaves and exclaves.

Addendum: In a odd twist, a pre-scheduled battalion-level flag meeting between the BDR and BSF was to take place as well in Jakiganj sub-district, not far from the recent flashpoints (Daily Star). This twist makes one wonder as to Delhi's grasp of this situation.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Update: CHT Withdrawal Continues...

As expected Bengali settlers in the CHT protested the departure of the Army per the Awami League government's upholding of the 1997 Peace Treaty. Though fear and reservations will be expressed by the Bengali settlers in the next few months, they will probably prove to be unfounded. Regardless, in order to maintain the trust of the various communities the local security forces must be ready, and able, to fill the gaps that the Army is leaving.
The real security risk won't come from the adhivasi community in the CHT; it will come from the Bengali settlers, some of whom may become overwhelmed by a seige mentality and feelings of abandonment by the government and Army. As long as the remaining security forces can keep this fear in check the CHT will be well on its way to a normal security atmosphere.
For the moment, 2,000 protestors blocking the departure of the army camp in Dighalchhari (Barkal sub-district, Rangamati) should be taken as a sign that the Army is still a respected institution in the country, despite allegations from certain members of the Opposition (Daily Star).
The Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) responsible for the administration of the sub-district indicated that he did not feel "any security crisis" was present. Hopefully, this feeling (and reality) remains.

Quicknote: Unequal Development

There is a large body of geographic literature that describes the "primate city" concept, it is a city that is disproportinately large compared to other cities in the country. There has also been much discussion on the core-periphery concept where a region's resources are concentrated in a narrow area, often at the expense of the "periphery." The "primate city" and the "core" can go hand-in-hand, as the central government concentrates its resources in a few, usually urban, areas. For our purposes here, this almost always results in unequal development.

NGOs usually seek to address this imbalanace, focusing their efforts in the periphery - bringing development to those who were unable to take advantage of the government's programs. It would appear that there is also a peripherial-periphery. An area where not even the NGOs can reach.

Far to the south, in Cox's Bazar division, on the border with Burma/Myanmar lies Teknaf upazila. There some 45,000 children receive no education due to a complete lack of school facilities, whether government- or NGO-administered, in 77 of 143 villages. As a result the children, who should be in school, are working. While in one instance the local union council set up a school for the children it was forced to close due to a lack of funds (Daily Star).

This situation could easily fall prey to the "scare resource" argument. However, a re-prioritzation of resource away from the "core" (Dhaka) or the "core-periphery" (Chittagong) could help stem the rural to urban migration which cripples urban areas in "Less Developed Countries."

In a sense, the government attempts to alleviate the sufferings of the "primate city's" inhabitants by diverting more resources to the city. This comes at the expense of "peripheral" programs. Residents in these areas enjoy even less benefits and state patronage than before. The result is obvious, rural citizens migrate to the urban area in search of oppurtunity.

However, this is not to say that Dhaka should become dilapidated in return for a "rural paradise." A balance must be found to keep Dhaka growing at a manageable, meaning economically, socially, and demographically sustainable pace, while at the same time improving education, healthcare, and occupational opportunities in the periphery (both core-periphery and periphery-periphery).

NGOs should also be flexible enough to repriorize their efforts to take into account their own success. By enabling local staff to take over the NGOs operations in the area, NGOs will not only be freeing up their own staff to expand operations, the local community removes their dependence on NGO assistance.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Don't forget about the Rohingya

In a perfect world, no one would be a refugee or an internally displaced person. Even in a resource-rich imperfect world there would be enough cash, donors, goodwill, and supplies to assist refugees and IDPs. The world we live in is not such a place. Aid should be prioritized for countries, such as Bangladesh, which are hosting large populations of refugees who are unable to be repatriated either due to fear of persecution or to the intransigence of the home country.

The Rohingya refugees, fleeing the military junta in Burma, recently gained higher visibility than usual thanks to the thoroughly criminal way that the Thai military treated the refugees - confining them to a boat and setting them adrift in the Indian Ocean (al-Jazeera). There may be as many as 200,000 Rohingya scattered throughout Bangladesh mostly in makeshift camps along the border, some of which are administered by the UN High Commission for Refugees. Only 24,000 are registered.

Burma has long asserted that it is not throwing out its own people, merely repatriating "Bengalis" (Irrawaddy). Whether or not this question is answered by the Burmese junta, Bangladeshi government, or West Bengali government - the Rohingya community has a right to live on their land and to enjoy equal citizenship with the rest of Burma's ethnic groups, regardless of when they arrived in Burma, their religion, or their language.

That so many Rohingya are pushed into Bangladesh, itself a struggling "Less Developed Country," is the nadir of misfortune. Earlier today, Dr. Abdur Razzaque (Food Minister in Bangladesh) called for international organizations to expand a "social safety net" in Myanmar/Burma and the implementation of an immediate rehabilitation program. He also suggested that unregistered Rohingya in Bangladesh were "creating social problems" (New Nation).

In a perfect world, rehabilitation/repatriation and an expanded safety network would be more than enough to address the Rohingya's plight. The fact that Western aid organizations had to wait months before gaining access to the Irrawaddy delta after Cyclone Nargis, to help Burma' own "acknowledged" ethnic groups, makes this nothing more than wishful thinking.

To scapegoat "unregistered Rohingya" as the cause of the country's social problems smacks of ethno-centricism and is distressingly similar to the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the forums of many countries, from the U.S., to Russia, to Australia.

Until the military junta collapses, Bangladesh will have to carry the weight of the Rohingyas since ASEAN will never address the problem (and countries like Thailand are all too content with pushing the problem into the ocean). The only available option for Dr. Razzaque is to open his hand to the UN and to other humanitarian organizations and hope that additional aid flows into the country.

Update: Naxalites say 'no' to flowers

The Naxalites have dropped all pretenses in the killing of local adhivasis in Midnapur. Whereas last week the Naxalites at least denied a triple murder, blaming it on the CPM, this week the Naxalites have outright claimed responsibility. This, coupled with the revelation of a new anti-Naxalite adhivasi group, is a positive development.

Interestingly local Naxalite leader Bikash, who last week held a rally in Lalgarh and told the villagers "not to be scared" of the Maoists, claimed responsibility for killing two more people today. In one killing, he claimed that the individual was a member of the People's Committee Against Terror (apparently formed to counter the Naxalite-backed People's Committee Against Police Atrocities).

While this claim was not further explored by the Telegraph, it did note that Manik also sold puffed rice at police camps, became friends with a jawan from the police, and even gave a daughter in marriage. The Naxalites almost certainly knew this. Bikash claimed the other murdered was a "police informer."

The establishment of the Committee Against Terror is an encouraging sign, it would be even more encouraging if it was setup without any government backing or support. Regardless, the West Bengal government should support the movement. With the Naxalites continuing their wanton violence against the locals the West Bengal government simply needs to keep their own security forces in check.

If the West Bengal government can simultaenously eliminate "police atrocities" and prevent local CPM leaders from taking retribution against villagers, than the Naxalites will at least be kept out of the villages.

Quicknote: World Indigenous Peoples Day

Lofty words and goals given by politicians on auspicious days are suspect at the best of times. Were they to be held responsible for these remarks by their people it would probably drive them to either keep silent on such days, like the World Indigenous Peoples Day, or follow through with their sugary speech.

On Sunday, Minister for Information and Cultural Affairs Abul Kalam Azad noted that the government is finalizing an act for protecting the languages and "cultural traditions" of indigenous people. He noted that the present government has formed an independent land commission, removal of discriminatory acts and ensuring equal rights in education and employment. Minister Azad said that poverty, malnutrition, inadequate access to education and health care as the most critical problems. Finally, no formal function would be complete without making a dig at the Opposition (New Nation).

Unfortunately, the Minister only mentioned the issue of adhvasi land rights in the context of already solving the problem, the formation of an independent land commission. However, if he is talking about the Chittagong Hill Tracts, that commission won't be completing its work until December. Cryptically, Law Minister Shafique Ahmed said that the CHT Land Commission 'will [Bangla Nation note: only] be the first task to recover the lands on indigenous people' (Daily Star).

Land commissions must be set up for the rest of the country and they must be empowered to enforce their verdicts. The news stories from December are likely to headline: "Adhivasi land still in hands of grabbers - despite ruling." However, this remedy is only for land that has already been grabbed. As far as Bangla Nation knows there is no law protecting the land rights of the adhivasis (and there was no mention of that in anyone's speech). If there is a law it is not being enforced either because of poor understanding or outright negligence, as was previously noted (Bangla Nation).

Thus, it is imperative for the government and the police forces to cooperate in returning and protecting the adhivasi communities' land rights. Anything less would simply make today's speeches - just that, speeches.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Empty words from the Elephant

Despite its size the elephant is not generally acknowledged to be the king of the forest or of the savanna. That title is reserved for the tigers and the lions. The elephant, in most circumstances, does not cause smaller animals to run, hide, or otherwise avoid its presence. The elephant is more a part of the community than the lion or tiger.

Delhi, assuming it wants to enjoy a good relationship with its neighbors in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), might still need to learn this lesson. India is the regional elephant - demographically, economically and politically. This status, and the region's history since independence, can make its neighbors a bit anxious - and that is probably an understatement. Whether or not Delhi has genuine goodwill towards its neighbors will never be known but a recent border spat with Bangladesh, and events over the preceding weeks, call it into question.

Near the Shreepur border (Jaintapur, Sylhet) the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) have alleged that Indian Border Security Forces (BSF) are actively assisting the Khasi community in Meghalaya with resolving land disputes - across the Indo-Bangladesh border. The allegations state that BSF troops, over the last three days, have walked across the border and "captured" disputed land by removing flags that the BDR had placed (New Nation). It is very likely that the Khasi's border dispute is with Khasis in Bangladesh - the tribal community had been split in 1948 during Independence and Partition.

By itself these allegations are serious the BSF is assisting in resolving land disputes, making a mockery of the civil justice system. That these disputes are across an international boundary, makes the BSF's actions a casus belli.

But there's also another dimension. Two weeks ago the BSF and BDR held a flag meeting in which they pledged to maintain a "tension-free" border. At the Tinbigha Corridor point (Patgram sub-district, Lalmonirhat) the BSF Deputy Inspector General of Jalpaiguri Sector agreed "not to open fire or kill innocent Bangladeshis." Besides, the BDR and BSF agreed to address other cross-border issues including human and drug trafficking (New Nation).

Within a week the BSF Director General ML Kumawat held a conference with his BDR counterparts in Dhaka. The discussion featured topics such as the continued murder of Bangladeshi citizens on the border, the repatriation of criminals, and border development and policing (Daily Star). Since the beginning of July the BSF has killed at least 4 people in addition to the land-grabbing (13 July, 16 July, 21 July).

If the recent BSF actions, regarding the "capturing" of land, were undertaken unilaterally, without the consent of Delhi or BSF command than the officers responsible should be held responsible for their brazen disregard for international law. If these actions were taken with the consent of Delhi - then not much can be done.

As the regional hegemon, India will act as it sees fit. However, only through cooperation (and trust) will the region progress in any meaningful way. Trust is not built through holding a conference and simultaneously "capturing" land.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Flowers in the barrel of the gun perhaps?

The stalemate remains in southwestern Bengal, but two recent events have highlighted the importance of popular support. The first is the West Bengal government's admittance that its police forces have sacrificed popular support during Phase 2 of Operation Lalgarh. In the second, the Naxalites may have created a division that may cost them manpower and more importantly, public support (at least in the short term). The CPM and security forces must take advantage of the Naxalites misstep swiftly and without the "terror" that usually accompanies their liberation.

In addition to lacking a viable police informer network, West Bengal has blamed the police forces themselves for the failure of Phase 2. The government has admitted that after security forces reclaim an area from the Naxalites, returning CPM "informers" would point out households that sheltered the Naxalites. Police forces then "unleashed terror" on the villagers. It is little surprise that when the tide turned, these same villagers pointed out the CPM "informers" to the Naxalites (The Telegraph).

The police forces' actions led to the formation of the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities, which is meant to represent the tribal communities grievances against the police forces but also happens to be supported by the Naxalites.

Claims that the Naxalites were liberating the tribal communities from CPM oppression has been cast into doubt with the murder of three 'young tribals' belonging to the Jharkand Party (Naren) at Magura village in Binpur, Midnapur. Evidently the JKP(N) is quite popular as the local Member of the Legislative Assembly, Chunibala Hansda, is also from the party. The JKP(N) stated that the three were not prominent members or police informers, just party cadres. Hansda also noted that party workers were preparing to flee the area en masse (The Telegraph).

Realizing their mistake the Naxalites issued a press release stating that they hadn't committed murder. It was the CPM, naturally (The Telegraph). Barring some very surprising evidence, this press release is probably false.

Despite the denial, the Naxalites probably thought they had identified an opportunity prior to the slaying. That opportunity lies in the aftermath of a CPM informer killing, namely, political domination. The general sequence of events is: Naxalites kill CPM leaders/police informers, people and party members flee and are displaced, people and party members remain reluctant to move back, Naxalites take over.

Where the Naxalites miscalculated was in their assumption that all political parties were equal in the eyes of the tribal communities. They won't make that mistake again.

Quicknote: CHT Pullout Begins

The Army began its pullout from the Chittagong Hill Tracts with two temporary camps being dismantled and their troops redeployed. Whether the camps are temporary or permanent is largely irrelevant. The important item is that the Bangladesh Army is being returned to barracks, its presence is being replaced by national law enforcement officers and border patrol units. And of course, the Awami League government is honoring the 1997 Peace Treaty.

The Bengali settler organization Samo Odhikar Andolan and its student wing, the previously mentioned Parbattya Bangalee Chhatra Parishad, reiterated their opposition to the pullout and vowed hartals and blockades (Daily Star). The settler organization must learn that such a violent protest will only hinder the CHT in the long-run, economically and socially. If there is to be lasting peace in the CHT, Bengali settlers and Adhivasi groups must set aside their differences and work together.

For his part, Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma (Santu Larma) president of the Bangladesh Forum for Indigenous People, demanded a time frame for the removal of the remaining security camps and noted that "land-grabbing" of Adhivasi's land has not ceased (Daily Star). A time frame though politically delicate, could prove useful for the government. Like US President Barak Obama's Iraq timetable, the CHT timetable does not need to be quick, nor ridged and could be subject to the security situation in the Hill Tracts. The establishment of a timeline would also demonstrate the Awami League's dedication to transparency.

As was previously mentioned, the rights of the Adhivasi communities must be protected. Land-grabbing, the seizing of Adhivasi land by individuals without compensation, needs to cease. The land that has been grabbed should be returned or compensated. Finally, land demarcation commissions should be setup and surveys implemented. On this point, Bangla Nation and the SOA/PBCP are in agreement.

The land, upon which the two dismantled camps were built, has been given back to their original owners. However, they are prohibited from building structures on them until 2011 according to the terms of the rental agreement with the Army. This was a good move, if the Army needs to return and re-build a security camp there will not be bad blood with the original owners. The government has committed to withdrawing 35 camps total and a brigade. About 10 camps will be withdrawn from Khagrachhari, 9 from Rangamati, and an unspecified number from Bandarban - however, the numbers from Khagrachhari and Rangamati were not final (Daily Star).
Addendum: On Wednesday, the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Commission announced that it would launch a land survey next month (Daily Star).