Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Palestinian flag raised at UNESCO

The Palestinian flag has been raised at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for the first time, Press TV reports. 

Acting Palestinian Authority (PA) chief Mahmoud Abbas, who attended the event in Paris on Tuesday, said that joining the UNESCO has been “an important step for Palestinians.”

In addition, Abbas said in a press conference after the ceremony that Israel has to “stop its settlement activities in the occupied West Bank.”

The PA chief added that there should be “peace in the Gaza Strip and the whole occupied territories.”

On October 31, the UNESCO voted strongly in favor of membership for Palestinians. Of the 173 members voting, 107 were in favor, 14 opposed and 52 abstained from vote.

The United States and Israel opposed the move. Washington announced it would cut funding to the UN organization.

The UNESCO is the first United Nations agency that Palestinians have joined since they submitted their bid for full membership at the UN to the Security Council in September. 

RMG makers get $66.35m export orders

The country's apparel manufacturers bagged export orders worth US$ 66.35 million in the just concluded annual exposition in Dhaka, organisers said Tuesday. 

At the "BATEXPO 2011", Bangladesh attained orders from international buyers worth $64.77 million as spot orders and $1.58 million as stock lot orders, said Md Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), at his office in the city. 

Last year, the amount of spot and stock lot orders was worth $63.50 million and $1.50 million respectively.
Orders this year is up by 2.07 percent over those received in the same event last year. 

Mohiuddin was speaking to reporters at a press conference to disclose the outcome of the three-day fair organised by BGMEA at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre. 

The "22nd Bangladesh Apparel and Textile Exposition", which concluded on Monday, showcased products and services of local and foreign companies in 146 stalls. 

15,690 visitors visited the fair venue, in addition to 175 foreign buyers and 3,015 representatives, the BGMEA chief said. 

'Chained' Pakistan students freed

About 50 students have been freed from a religious school in Karachi, Pakistan - where some were being kept in chains, local officials say.

Reports suggest the male students, some as young as 12, were kept in what amounted to a torture chamber.
They were beaten, deprived of food and pressured to join the Taliban, the reports say.

At least two people helping run the madrassa have been arrested, but the head escaped, police said.
Pakistan's interior minister has ordered an inquiry into the incident.

The captives were found during a police raid on the site in the central Sohrab Goth district of Karachi late on Monday, police said.

"Those recovered are aged between 12 and 50 and are mainly of Pashtun ethnicity," Gadap Town police superintendent Rao Anwar told Pakistan's Express Tribune newspaper.
Taliban 'link'
A police official told the BBC that most of the students were drug addicts whose parents had left them at the madrassa for treatment. 

One boy said Taliban members had visited the seminary and told them to "prepare for battle".

Some Islamic schools in Pakistan are accused of being training camps for militants, and a police official told AFP news agency that the possibility of such links would be part of the investigation into this school.

Government records suggest there are more than 15,000 madrassas in Pakistan, providing education for more than two million students - about 5% of Pakistani children in formal education, AFP said.

But officials suspect thousands more unregistered schools provide the only affordable education option for children of poverty-stricken families. 

DCC polls under new EC: Ashraf

Elections to the newly bifurcated Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) will be held after the formation of a new Election Commission, LGRD Minister Syed Ashraful Islam said on Tuesday.

Mentioning that the current EC has declined to hold the polls due to time constraint, he said the new EC will hold the elections to Dhaka North and Dhaka South city corporations, reports Prothom Alo.

Ashraf, also the general secretary of the ruling Awami League, made the comments after a ceremony organised to distribute trucks among municipality mayors at Agargaon in the city. 

About DCC split, he said, “Dhaka city is not being divided by barbed wire. Passports or visas will not be necessary to travel from one part of the city to another.” 

“Local governments in different countries are being decentralised. London’s local government system has been divided into six, while that of New York in five. Recently (New) Delhi has been decentralised. In the future, Dhaka will require more administrative rearrangement,” the minister said. 

Earlier on Monday, the EC decided not to hold the split-DCC polls by February next year due to time constraint.

According to the recent changes brought to the Local Government (City Corporation) Act 2009, polls to two city corporations -- DCC North and DCC South -- must be held within 90 days, a deadline that ends on February 29.

But the present EC is not getting the stipulated 90 days because the tenure of Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda and Election Commissioner Sohul Hussein expires on February 4. Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain, the other election commissioner, will retire on February 14.

On December 4, the LGD in a letter requested the Election Commission to make necessary preparations for holding polls to the bifurcated DCC within the 90-day deadline.

Amid widespread criticism and protests, parliament on November 29 passed the bill splitting the DCC into two and introduced the provision for holding the city polls within 90 days. The House took four minutes and a few seconds to pass the bill.

President Zillur Rahman signed the bill into a law on December 1.

Protesting the split, BNP enforced a dawn-to-dusk hartal in the capital on December 4. The main opposition party also said it would re-unify the DCC when voted to power.

After the changes took effect, city mayor Sadeque Hossain Khoka, also a BNP leader, and all of its councillors automatically lost their posts.

In line with the changes, the government appointed two administrators on December 4 to run the two city corporations until mayors and councillors are elected.

Scars of Bangladesh independence war 40 years on

I was born in the middle of a cold winter night in December 1971 in Sindh, Pakistan. There was a blackout and bombs were falling. 

Pakistan was losing a war and it was also losing its eastern half, separated from the rest of the country by more than 1,600km (990 miles) of India.

After nine months of internal strife and a military crackdown against Bangladeshi separatists, the full-scale war with India was swift and decisive. It lasted just 13 days. 

The defeat of the Pakistani army on 16 December 1971 was a triumph for India and the Bengali insurgents it had assisted.

For Pakistan, it was perhaps the darkest moment in its history and the ultimate humiliation. The army stood accused of mass murder, torture and rape. Tens of thousands of Pakistani soldiers were taken prisoners of war.

Forty years on, I decided to examine the legacy of this brief but bitter war.

Growing up in Pakistan, we did not talk much about the war at home. In school, we seemed to rush through that period of our history.

On a recent visit to my old school in Karachi, I picked up an officially approved history book. 

The book recognises that East Pakistanis felt culturally subjugated and economically exploited by their dominant Western half. 

But it suggests the causes for separation include India, Hindu propaganda and international conspiracies. 

At my old school I asked a group of teenage students if they had heard of the Bangladeshi accusations of genocide or widespread rape by the Pakistani army.

"That's wrong, that's propaganda!" several said. 

"The Pakistani army is a professional army. They are Muslims. They couldn't have done that to their brothers and sisters over there." 

'Foolish operation'

But if Pakistan has tried to treat the events of 1971 as a closed chapter, in Bangladesh, the wounds of the war are very fresh

On my first ever visit to Dhaka, it was immediately clear that the Bangladeshi narrative of 1971 remains firmly focused on the violence unleashed by the Pakistani army. 

Many Bangladeshis still feel very bitter about their treatment by West Pakistan, with discriminatory policies over economics and language.

In 1971, the West Pakistan leadership appeared to have made up its mind to answer this resentment with military force.

"It makes me think how foolish the entire operation was, how mad it was and how tragic it was," said Serajul Islam Choudhury, a professor at Dhaka University. 

"There's no possibility of bringing down an entire people by the military coming from abroad. The loss we suffered was enormous." 

As he stared at the list of names on a memorial honouring the teachers, students and staff of Dhaka University who died in 1971, his emotion is palpable.

"To this day, I feel very sad thinking of my colleagues who were killed during the military operations." 

The Bangladeshi government says that three million people were killed during the nine months of conflict. Some say that figure is too high and unverifiable.

And the mainstream Bangladeshi narrative is also accused of omitting alleged atrocities perpetrated by Bengali separatists against communities who were deemed loyal to Pakistan. 

Entire villages are reported to have been attacked, homes burnt and families killed.

Aly Zaker was among thousands of Bengalis who took up arms to fight for independence. 

"Our target was the Pakistan occupation force and their cohorts, who were created within the confines of Bangladesh with quislings," he says. 

He believes that minorities only faced retribution after they had acted as proxies of the Pakistani army and killed Bengalis.

Existential fear
As I learned more about 1971, it seemed to me that many of the geopolitical patterns of Pakistan and the region were formed during that conflict. 

Back then, the Pakistani army was accused of forming militia groups to do its bidding in East Pakistan. Since then, it has been seen to use similar tactics in Afghanistan and Kashmir. 

Many warn that the dangerous nexus between the military and jihadi militant groups is now threatening Pakistan from within.

Ikram Seghal, a defence analyst who lectures in Pakistani military colleges, believes the biggest internal challenge to Pakistan today is terrorism. 

But like many in the military, he sees India as the principal external threat.

"If you look at the Indian armed forces deployment along the Pakistani border - their forward bases, their armoured divisions, their strike divisions - they can mobilise and go to war with us in 72 hours. 

"While for us, short of a nuclear strike, we cannot hold them."

This existential fear of a bigger, hostile India is central to Pakistan's security paradigm. In 1971 this fear was reinforced by the crucial role India played in the break up of Pakistan.

For India, the situation became serious when nearly 10 million Bengali refugees crossed the border into its territory. There was a humanitarian crisis, but also an opportunity to cut Pakistan down to size

Pakistan's army today
A K Khandker is a senior minister in the Bangladeshi government and served as a separatist commander in 1971. 

He says India started providing weapons and training to the rebels in May of that year, and stepped up the programme after signing a pact with the Soviet Union in August. 

According to Mr Khandker, the attacks by Indian-trained separatist fighters were so effective, that by November "the Pakistani army was physically and morally exhausted." 

Today he says that without India, the independence of Bangladesh "would have been extremely, extremely difficult".

"The help that India gave to us, we are so grateful to them," he says.

One might expect that the Pakistani army's failure in 1971 would have diminished its power in the country. But in my lifetime, its influence in shaping and running the country has grown exponentially.

It seems the conclusion the Pakistani army drew from its defeat in 1971 was to grow stronger; to exercise more control over civilian affairs. 

Many in Pakistan still regard the army as a saviour, the glue that holds the country together, saving it from corrupt politicians and enemies like India - and increasingly America. 

But others feel it was the army's tight grip on power that contributed to the break up of Pakistan in the first place. 

They believe that the military has stifled the country's democratic development, undermining its very fabric.

"I'm a soldier and proud of being a soldier. But all the ills of Pakistan are because of the armed forces intervention in the civilian affairs," says Lt Col Abdul Qadir Baloch. 

He retired from the army just a few years ago and is now a member of parliament. 

"If the army had not imposed as many martial laws in this country - four so far - we would have had 15 to 20 elections by now and a much better lot of politicians than the sort of pygmies we have got today."

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