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Friday, May 25, 2012

Bangladesh Railway : Bribery, anomalies rule recruitment

Yusuf Ali Mridha, the suspended general manager (East) of Bangladesh Railway, had recruited more than 600 railway employees on back dates in just two months before an amount of Tk 70 lakh was seized from a microbus of the former railway minister's aide Omar Faruq Talukder.

Railway officials said Mridha had expedited the appointment process with direct support from Faruq, the sacked assistant personal secretary of the then railway minister Suranjit Sengupta. 

Many job seekers have alleged that they had paid money to get jobs in the railway's east zone.

The public administration ministry in August 2010 approved the recruitment of 7,275 railway staff within a year. It later extended the deadline by six months to February 11 this year, as the railway managed to recruit only several hundred staff in the one-year time frame, said the officials.

A total of 1,611 railway employees -- 1,128 in the east zone and 483 in the west zone -- were recruited between August 2010 and February this year. Of them, 624 were appointed in the east zone after the expiry of the February 11 deadline, according to a source in the railway's establishment department.

“One-third of the total recruitment was made after the expiry of the February 11 deadline, and before the seizure of Tk 70 lakh on April 9,” said a senior railway official, asking not to be named. 

Recruitment data are usually sent to the railway headquarters every month, but the establishment department did not get any recruitment data of the railway's east zone from January last year to February this year. 

“Mridha, who became general manager (east) in January 2011, did not send the recruitment data on due date, as he tried to keep it secret,” said the source.

Mridha and Faruq might have taken bribes from applicants in advance, but failed to give them jobs within the February 11 deadline, it said. 

“They had to use back dates on documents to legalise appointments.” Many in the railway are aware of this malpractice, the source said.

There have been allegations of widespread irregularities in recruitment in the railway's east zone. Many job seekers alleged that they had to pay Tk 3 lakh to Tk 5 lakh for each post of Class III and IV employees.
Railway Director General Abu Taher said none could make recruitments on back dates. “This is illegal. Punitive action will be taken if anyone is found involved in such irregularities,” he told The Daily Star.

A departmental probe headed by the railway director general last month found no involvement of Suranjit in the Tk 70 lakh scandal. In its report on May 13, the probe body said the seized money belonged to Faruq.
The probe body prepared the report based on statements of Faruq, Mridha, Enamul and some BGB personnel.

Suranjit stepped down as railway minister on April 16 following the seizure of Tk 70 lakh from the microbus of his APS Omar Faruq. Many in the railway claimed the amount of money stashed in the vehicle amounted to several crores. 

On the night of April 9, Faruq's microbus driver Ali Azam drove the vehicle carrying Faruq and railway officials Mridha and Enamul Huq to the BGB headquarters in the capital. The driver loudly told the guards that there was illegal money in the microbus.

The BGB personnel searched the vehicle and found Tk 70 lakh, reportedly collected from job seekers, stashed in the vehicle. They detained the four but released them the next day after verifying their identities.
Faruq was sacked; and Mridha and railway divisional security commandant Enamul Huq were suspended following the incident.

RECRUITMENT IN WEST ZONE

A total of 443 people were recruited in the railway's west zone in a year from August 2010 to August last year. The general manager (west zone) sent the recruitment data to the railway headquarters every month in line with the rules. 

No recruitment was made in the west zone during the extended period of six months, said sources in the railway.

The general managers of the east and west zones enjoy absolute authority to recruit staff in the railway.

 

Police for mandatory national identity card (NIC) for cyber cafe users

The Police have proposed amendments to the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, 2006, keeping provision for mandatory use of national identity card (NIC) and registration of user's name and address for using cyber cafe to check growing incidence of cyber crimes.(The Independent)

Under the Police Reform Programme (PRP), Bangladesh police have urged the government to bring some amendments to the Act to bring all Internet providers -- cyber cafes and mobile phone companies - under the law, a cyber crime expert affiliated with PRP said.

After amendments to the Act the use of national identity card will be made mandatory for the cyber cafe users, he said adding that registration of the names and addresses of the users will also be mandatory for using cyber cafe,, as criminals usually use cyber cafes for committing such crimes, he said.

The Internet providers will have to close all the pornographic websites by using a centrally monitored server after the amendments, he said. Anyone failing to operate business abiding the law would face exemplary punishment, he added. Justifying the amendments he said the governments in Europe and the USA bring amendments to the information technology related Acts in every three months with the changed trend of such crimes.

In this regard Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Barrister Shafique Ahmed said, "A process is underway to amend the ICT Act-2006 to make the law effective in preventing the growing trend of cyber crimes."

Asked about the mobile phone crimes, the cyber crime expert said that police could easily identify the mobile used in crimes by its IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number and according to law import of mobile phones without IMEI number is prohibited.

Cyber crimes are increasing every day and such crimes have no boundary as one can hack website of a country. a criminal residing in London can withdraw money from a bank account in Bangladesh using modern technology.

"Cyber crime is not an issue that will go away, it will continue and, with new technologies emerging, it will remain a constant challenge for both the internal and international law enforcing agencies," high officials of the police said.

A cyber crime squad was set up in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in 2008 but even after four years of its formation it is failing to work smoothly due to lack of trained officials, necessary equipment and logistic support, they said.

International economic security will be vulnerable and online hacking will also increase, if we fail to introduce the mechanism of busting the digital crimes", they said

"There are some information more valuable than money and are to be protected. It is possible to nip a high-tech crime, if we get to know it before it is committed. It is impossible to fight against firearms with bows and arrows, they added.


UK asks Bangladesh for neutral probe into incidents of disappearance

The UK has called on Bangladesh to conduct an “impartial and transparent” investigation into the disappearance of Ilias Ali. Ali went missing in April while returning to his residence.

The UK has pressed Bangladesh for impartial and transparent investigations into the disappearance of M. Ilias Ali, a leader of main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and others.

"We are concerned about the disappearance of Ilias Ali. Our high commissioner to Bangladesh and ambassadors of eight other European countries called on the Bangladesh authorities on May 9 and urged them to conduct thorough investigations into disappearances, including that of Ilias," British Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Lord Howell told the House of Lords Monday.

The Minister of State was answering a question put forward by Labor Peer Lord Harris who asked what diplomatic representations were being made about the disappearance and alleged kidnapping of Ilias and other opposition politicians.

Ali, a former lawmaker and BNP organizing secretary of Sylhet Division, went missing along with his driver while returning to his Banani residence in the early hours of April 18.

Lord Howell also said, "We support Bangladesh in its efforts to stabilize its politics, to move towards the best kind of elections at the next appropriate time and to develop and lift its people out of poverty and the appalling environmental challenges that they also face."

He further said in meetings with the officials of the Prime Minister's Office and the foreign ministry, they had urged the Bangladesh government to do everything they could to trace Ilias and investigate the matter.

However, Britain feels the drive to end this "dark atmosphere" over Bangladeshi politics must come from within.

There are allegations, too, that the crime buster Rapid Action Battalion is involved.
Lord Howell also informed the House of Lords that the EU heads of mission during visit to Bangladesh in February stated its concerns very clearly.

Besides, UK's senior ministers, including the foreign secretary, have been in direct personal contact with senior officials, including the foreign minister, of Bangladesh.

"It is a concern for the UK because it is an important nation and destination of one of DFID's largest programs, with $1.57 billion due to go to support Bangladesh development over the next four years. It is a nation that the UK wants to see stable and prosperous and to build on its economic achievements, which are beginning to show dividends," said Lord Howell.

 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

For God’s sake, let Alfred Nobel rest in peace

ALFRED Nobel, a Swedish chemist, engineer and later industrialist, invented firstly dynamite and a decade later more powerful but smokeless ballistite, which enabled him to earn fortunes through his global interests in explosives and acquire large holdings in the Baku oil fields in Russia.

Fortunes thus earned fomented whisperingly in the ears of the unmarried man as Alfred Nobel was to make a will for Nobel Prize before his death in 1896.

By dint of the will, five Nobel Prizes were established in chemistry, physics, medicine, literature and peace. The Royal Academy of Science, Stockholm, was to award Nobel in physics and chemistry, the Royal Caroline Medico Institute for Medicines, Stockholm, medicine, the Swedish Academy for Literature, Stockholm, literature, and the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Oslo, peace. In 1969 the Nobel Prize for economic science was added in memory of Alfred Nobel by the Bank of Sweden.

In pursuance of the will, the Nobel Foundation is the legal owner and joint administrator along with the awarders of six prizes. The will further specifies that awards are to be made annually ‘to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.’

Alfred Nobel, basically a pacifist, witnessed devastating effects due to the rampant use of his inventions in warfare. He was literally moved and shocked and felt the need to do something about peace. Peace activist Bertha von Suttner, Nobel’s acquaintance, did also influence him immensely for world peace. Having regard to the development of global peace, Nobel added peace prize through inclusion in his will, ‘The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have done to the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for holding and promotion of peace congresses.’

Proposals for all Nobel prizes need to be submitted by February 1 every year and the final decision after due process by the committees of awardees is to be finalised by November 15. The peace prize has, however, been singled out to include not only individuals but also institutions.

Until 2011 the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to 101 individuals inclusive of 15 women, and 20 institutions. However, no award could be given for various reasons for 19 years. Apart from war effects and promotion of Peace therefore, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded within the purview of the ‘Will’ for reasons, other than warfare issues, the following list (mentioned only a few) will suffice for justification and judiciousness in order to award the Nobel Peace Prize for:-

Founding Red Cross.

Founding Inter Parliamentary Union.

Formulating general principles of science of international law.

Providing leadership in Peace movement.

Promotion of arbitration.

Dovetailing Peace societies with various nations.

Helping creation of League of Nations.

Helping to cope with famine.

Efforts to involve church, not only in work for ecumenical unity but also for world peace.

Social reform work and leading the Women’s International League for Peace and freedom.

Aiding refugees.

Companion for others through friends services and to desire to help them.

Founding International Relief Organisation.

Struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

Protection of human rights in the ICRC’s 100 years existence.

Campaign for civil rights without violence.

Contribution to the green revolution.

Founder of Missionaries of Charity.

Non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights.

Social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation to respect the rights of the indigenous peoples
Contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.

Advancement of economic and social opportunities for the poor, especially women, through pioneering microcredit.

Disseminating greater knowledge about man-made climate change and how to tackle it.

Non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for their rights to full participation in peace-building work.

We have now arrived at the core issue of awarding of Nobel Peace Prize, 2006, to Prof Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank, Bangladesh, in consideration of advancement of economic and social opportunities for the poor, especially women through pioneering micro-credit.

Point to be noted here is that all other Nobel Prizes are awarded in retrospect often two or three decades after the awarded achievements, whereas the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded for more recent or immediate achievements.

Microcredit means small long term loan on easy terms for self-support of the poorest people, especially women, who have no means to provide security - a visionary concept of microcredit duly conceptualised by Prof Muhammad Yunus. More than 100 countries have now been trying to follow this concept. By 2006, the Grameen Bank had seven million borrowers with average loan amount of Tk 7000, the recovery rate being over 95 per cent. It is thus clear that of the above list shown as justification for consideration for Peace awards, microcredit stands out most. Nobel Peace Prize is a matter of high repute now-a-days globally, but a dismal picture has been hovering over the blue sky of Bangladesh. By now we have made the Nobel Peace award most un-peaceful, bitter and unwelcome, by uttering, bickering and jittering, that may be summed up as follows :-

Peace agreement with Chittagong Hill Tracts people should have the priority over all others to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, - so was claimed at the premises of the Supreme Court by a responsible officer of the govt. Perhaps, the core points of time frame, implementation and happiness enjoyed and so expressed by all concerned parties have been overlooked in such a claim. The Hill Tracts people have been raising hue and cry for package implementation. In factm there has been an aggravation in the matter as the govt has shown its inclination to changing the present nationality of ‘Bangladeshi’, conceptualized by Ziaur Rahman, to encompass all and sundry regardless of their mother tongue and local dialects, to ‘Bangalee’.

A minister’s simplified formulation of lobbying, attending parties, having cheese sandwich and white wine so on and so forth in various cosmopolitan capitals of the globe which would, in turn, enable some one to be entitled to Nobel Peace Prize has shown virtually fathomless depth of knowledge, in such a naive formulation. One may raise two, inter alia, valid questions:-

    (i) Why don’t you do the same for a peace award for Hill Tracts agreement?
    (ii) Are we not dwarfing the tall image of Nobel Laureates like, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, 

Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Albert Lutuli, Rigoberta Menchú, Wangari Muta, Leymah Gbowee and a host of other stalwarts?

(c) A technocrat minister has invited Prof Muhammad Yunus and Sir Fazle Hasan Abed of BRAC to test their popularity by joining politics. The purposeful meaning of democracy is that you have to listen to the views of all and sundry whether they are in politics or not, for we know politicians shake the hands of the voters before vote and shake the bodies of the voters after the casting of votes. The minister’s invitation is tantamount to tuning Shivas’s songs while husking, the most irrelevant and unbecoming, though.

While the world is progressing we are falling apart with myopic vision that speaks of pulling down the ascender rather than ascend thyself.

It may also be pointed out here that Sir Fazle is the only Knighthood recipient since Bangladesh came into being, a great honour for Bangladesh as well. Sir Fazle, a UK-educated professional accountant who was earning handsomely in the late 1970’s, having been heavily shocked at the death of millions in 1970’s tidal bore in the coastal area of Bangladesh gave up his job and single-handedly formed Bangladesh Rural Advancement Centre, BRAC, as an NGO and over time turned it into the biggest NGO of the globe. Let us pull ourselves, and move heaven and hell to win another Nobel Peace Prize for Sir Fazle, a Magsaysay recipient, as such option seems to be bright and prospective.

Can we disprove presently the nature’s theorem as composed by Poet Swift’s line on poetry? :

‘So, naturalists observe, a flea
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller fleas to bite ’em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.
Thus every poet, in his kind
Is bit by him that comes behind.’
-Well, May I Say – ‘May God Help us’.

 

What will Hillary Clinton's diplomatic legacy be?

She's just come from convincing Chinese leaders to free blind dissident Chen Guangcheng. Soon she'll cajole India's leaders to reduce oil imports from Iran. But at the moment, Hillary Rodham Clinton is renewing old friendships in one of the world's poorest nations.

"Two of my favorite men in the world!" she gushes as she sits down to chat with Muhammed Yunus, a pioneer in providing microcredit to the poor, and Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder of the world's largest development organization.

This is vintage "Hillary," as the headlines here dub her: part tough-talking diplomat, part back-patting politician. As she prepares to leave the national stage after a 20-year run, Clinton is winning bipartisan respect at home and admiration abroad for her role as the nation's 67th secretary of State.

"You have got a beautiful smile," says Nabila Hossain, 25, a lecturer at American International University here, who nabbed the best front-row seat for one of Clinton's signature town hall events this month. "You're maybe the most influential woman in this world."

How she uses that influence as she approaches 100 countries and 1 million miles — this 18,932-mile jaunt tied her with Madeleine Albright's record 96 countries — is the story of a natural-born politician in diplomat's clothing.

Ah, the clothing. The "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits," as Clinton calls it, captivates people wherever she goes, along with her changing hairstyles and on-again, off-again glasses. On Page 6, The Telegraph of Kolkata, India, calls her "the most powerful woman in the world." On Page 17, it notes her power is coiled inside "a black pantsuit, finished with white detailing, a white crew neck tee and patent black shoes with an inch of block heel."

At 64, the former first lady and U.S. senator from New York cannot escape the stereotyping she has spent a lifetime combating. Instead, she uses it to make her case for gender equality, one of the paramount causes of her career.

The book on Clinton may not be complete if she tries to become the first secretary of State since James Buchanan in 1856 to win the White House (something she says she will not do). But the chapter on her tenure at Foggy Bottom is largely written, and the reviews are in: Indefatigable. Innovative. And indentured, some say, to a president who has made the major foreign policy decisions himself.

Eight months before her self-imposed retirement, Clinton is piling up awards and accolades faster than clear-cut achievements. She hasn't done anything as momentous as opening the door to China like Henry Kissinger or assembling the first Gulf War coalition like James Baker. Still, the liberation of Libya, establishment of diplomatic ties with Burma and the assembly of a coalition against Iran bear her imprimatur.

Clinton's goal, exemplified in her dealings this month with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is to pull allies and even adversaries into more and deeper alliances so that as the world turns, U.S. values and interests are advanced.

"We want a seat at every table that has the potential for being a partnership to solve problems," Clinton said in an interview with USA TODAY. "I think it's a smart but necessary approach in the 21st century, where we are all so networked and where we don't have the luxury of picking and choosing. We have to be engaged everywhere."

Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the National Security Network, credits Clinton with restoring "diplomacy that's so sure-footed, you don't notice."

"That has everything to do with her presence and stature on the one hand, and her sheer doggedness and ability to master her brief on the other," Hurlburt says.

Clinton has done it while dealing with her share of professional and personal complications, from the Arab Spring and the Wikileaks breach of diplomatic correspondence to her mother's death, husband's heart surgery, daughter's wedding and her own broken elbow, which postponed trips to Italy, Greece and Russia.

Americans are supportive: 66% view her favorably in a USA TODAY-Gallup Poll taken May 10-13, the second highest mark in her two-decade Washington career. She's been rated the most admired woman in the world in Gallup polls for 16 of the past 19 years.

What stands between Clinton and the great diplomats of the past, some say, are two things: a landmark accomplishment and a free hand from the White House to carve her place in history.

Perhaps the biggest omission from Clinton's résumé is advancing Middle East peace. "She hasn't picked up the ball, and neither has President Obama," says Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. "To me, it signals that they just don't have a policy any longer when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians."

Clinton defends her all-in approach. "It would be, I think, malpractice to say, 'I'm only working on this thing, and I'm just going to beat it into the ground. Everything else can just wait,' " she said. "Because we just can't wait."

Republican diplomats who served in the Reagan and two Bush administrations have been incredulous that, given Clinton's stature and work ethic, she hasn't been given more free rein. "The president has really wanted to be his own secretary of State," says Elliott Abrams, who served at the State Department and National Security Council during Republican administrations.

Clinton has only the highest praise for her relationship with the president and the White House. "We have intensive discussions," she said. "We don't always agree in the Situation Room, but I think it's quite remarkable we close ranks because we think we're all on the same team."

'A lot of singles'

From her first days on the job, Clinton refused to take the advice she said she received from a predecessor: Don't try to do too much.

"It seemed like a wise admonition, if only it were possible," she said at the time. Her in-box, she said, included two wars, conflict in the Middle East, threats of violent extremism and nuclear proliferation, global recession, climate change, hunger and disease. Later, she was handed an earthquake in Haiti, a tsunami in Japan and Arab uprisings from Tunisia to Egypt's Tahrir Square.

Her solution: Get the State Department involved in everything. She created an emphasis on economics, insisting that deputies and embassies go to bat for U.S. businesses operating overseas. She started a global counterterrorism forum to boost countries' abilities to fight terrorists. She linked her department to the Pentagon, trading staff members and ideas as part of a "smart power" initiative linking diplomacy, development and defense. She worked to advance Internet freedom around the world and use the latest technologies to aid U.S. diplomacy.

"It's a question of whether you see a lot of singles equaling a home run," says Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "She's had a lot of singles."

Clinton has been perhaps the administration's central player, outlasting many of her counterparts and forging key partnerships with Obama's two Defense secretaries and two national security advisers. She and Obama, once rivals for his job, have meshed as sober, careful and pragmatic policymakers.

Perhaps more than anything else, Clinton has reached beyond heads of state to town halls, local TV, social media, women's groups and the young people who represent more than half the world's population. While working behind the scenes in Beijing for Chen's freedom and before the cameras to advance U.S.-Chinese relations, she took time to attend a "People to People Exchange" session and a demonstration of clean cook stoves to prevent widespread deaths among the world's rural poor.

"You really have no choice," she said about her hectic travel schedule. "Even though we live in the age of so-called virtual reality, where I could do a videoconference with anybody in the world in government, I could even be satellite-beamed into a personal appearance somewhere … nothing substitutes for showing up."

Dennis Ross, a veteran diplomat who has worked for both Clinton and Obama at the State Department and the White House, cites Clinton's outreach to average citizens as a "signature of her stewardship … I wouldn't underestimate the impact of that over time."

Foremost among those citizens have been women. Perhaps her best-known speech was delivered as first lady in Beijing in 1995, when she declared, "Human rights are women's rights, and women's rights are human rights, once and for all." At State, she established an at-large ambassadorship for global women's issues and the Women in Public Service Project, which works with five women's colleges.

"It is in her DNA," says Claudia Fritsche, Liechtenstein's ambassador to the United States, who attended a recent dinner in Clinton's honor despite representing a country so small that it cannot host the secretary's blue-and-white 757 and entourage. "I have never seen her without passion and compassion on gender issues."

Geographically, Clinton's top achievements have come in Asia. She broke with tradition by traveling there instead of Europe on her first trip in February 2009 to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China. She has been at the forefront of Obama's effort to re-establish the United States as a Pacific power and block China from dominating the important military and economic travel lanes in the South China Sea.

Clinton's historic visit to Burma last December marked the first by a secretary of State since John Foster Dulles in 1955. Kurt Campbell, her assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, recalls the moment when Clinton and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi finally embraced.
"I've been waiting so long to meet you," Clinton said.

"Me, too," the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner responded.

Clinton played a leading role in Libya, lining up Arab partners for the military effort to oust Moammar Gadhafi and serving as an invaluable intermediary to prevent the coalition from fraying. "Without America's cajoling, hand-holding and occasional arm-twisting, that coalition never would have come together or stayed together," she said recently.

Speaking in Qatar days after the Arab Spring sprang roots in Tunisia in January 2011, Clinton issued a prophetic warning to the region's autocratic leaders. "Those who cling to the status quo may be able to hold back the full impact of their countries' problems for a little while, but not forever," she said. "If leaders don't offer a positive vision and give young people meaningful ways to contribute, others will fill the vacuum."

Even so, she stuck with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak until the end, calling his government "stable" weeks before it collapsed.

Clinton has worked with allies to isolate Iran, economically through tough sanctions and diplomatically at the United Nations. With Obama in 2009, she helped to rescue a Copenhagen summit on climate change from failure, eventually leading to an agreement by developing countries to help reduce carbon emissions. She was instrumental in getting Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accept a runoff election in 2009 that gave him more credibility, but the relationship remains rocky.

'I've lost track of time'

On the road, Clinton combines a diplomat's cool with a mother's warmth. The exhaustion that comes with having traveled 777,721 miles over the equivalent of 70 full days and nights shows only with occasional absent-mindedness. Signing the guest book at Kolkata's Victoria Memorial, she turns to a reporter for help.

"I have no idea what day it is," she says. "I've lost track of time."

Little wonder. Clinton missed an entire Tuesday, flying from Washington to Beijing. She flew on consecutive days to Dhaka, Kolkata, New Delhi and back to Washington. The transcontinental flights were interrupted only by naps in her private suite and tarmac strolls during refueling stops in Alaska, Japan and Germany.

"She seems to be living in an airplane," says Barkha Dutt, a popular TV news anchor at NDTV in New Delhi. "And yet not once does she show signs of any flagging energy."

•In China from May 2-5, Clinton faced a delicate dance: how to negotiate not one, but two successive deals on behalf of Chen, 40, the dissident whose refuge in the U.S. Embassy for six days had drawn howls of protest from Chinese authorities, while participating in the 4th annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue between the world's two most influential nations.

The dueling agendas were on display during meetings with China's top leaders. While Clinton and her counterparts wrestled with trade and security issues and the world's hot spots, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell pounded busily on his Blackberry.

She left with Chen's path to the USA agreed upon but not completed, and pleased that the conference had gone off without a hitch — a sign, she said, of the maturing relationship between the world's largest developed and developing nations.

"We had a very difficult challenge in dealing with Mr. Chen, which was made, I believe, more possible of a positive outcome because we had this other set of activities going simultaneously that both of us, the Chinese and the U.S. sides, were invested in," she said.

•The stop in Bangladesh was "personal," Clinton said, coming 17 years after she and daughter Chelsea first visited in 1995. Her female counterpart, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, put it this way: "Hillary Clinton has been something of a household name in Bangladesh."

That was obvious from the throngs of people standing four to five rows deep along Dhaka's dusty riverbanks and railroad beds. A sign along the motorcade route read, "Heartiest congratulation to our beloved U.S. foreign minister Hillary Clinton."

"We want to see Bangladesh succeed. This is personal for me," she said. "I remember the faces of the men and women I met in the villages."

•In India, Clinton became the first secretary of State to visit Kolkata, but it wasn't her first trip. She had been there in 1997 for Mother Teresa's funeral.

This time, her schedule included a private meeting with the new chief minister for West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, who replaced decades of communist rule. The next day's headline in The Economic Times of New Delhi told it all: "Ego massaged by U.S. secretary of State, Banerjee positive on U.S. investments."

Her stop included an event designed to draw attention to India's problem of sex trafficking, where Clinton donned a green elastic bracelet with the phrase, "Cool Men Don't Buy Sex."

"We're still struggling to make it a mainstream issue," she told representatives of 10 organizations fighting the problem. "It has no place in a modern India."

Clinton was forced to field occasionally hostile questions during the trip. Is the United States anti-Muslim, asked a man in Bangladesh. Why isn't it tougher on Israel, asked a woman in Kolkata. In each instance, she refuted the premise and defended government policies. Israel, she said, must protect itself from Iran — "a regime that has a history of aggressive behavior, and I don't think you deal with aggressors by giving in to them."

More often, the questions focused on her role as a powerful woman and her future plans. In China, Zhou Yuting, 22, a university student fresh from studying abroad in New York City, said Clinton provides "a gentler, milder image" of America than her male counterparts. In India, Hena Gorsia, president of the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, said, "Whether she breaks through that invisible ceiling in 2016 or not, she's going to leave behind footprints."

Clinton demurred every time the White House was mentioned. "I'm very flattered, but I feel like it's time for me to kind of step off the high wire," she said in Kolkata.

"Well, we hope you change your mind," Dutt interjected — echoing the sentiment expressed a day earlier in Dhaka by Ejaj Ahmed, director of the Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center.

"Hopefully the next time you visit Bangladesh," he said, "you'll be on Air Force One."

First Bangladeshi woman scales Everest

Nishat Majumder has become the first Bangladeshi woman to scale Mount Everest, the world's highest mountain.

She reached the summit at 9:39am Bangladesh time on Saturday, Enam Ul Haque, the president of Bangla Mountaineering and Trekking Club, told The Daily Star.

The club organised the adventure while Plan Bangladesh, a non-government organisation (NGO), co-sponsored it under a campaign titled "Because I Am a Girl".

Another Bangladeshi mountaineer, MA Mohit, accompanied Nishat during her adventure, Enam Ul Haque said.

Mohit is the first Bangladeshi who scaled the Everest twice, he added. 

Musa Ibrahim is the first Bangladeshi who conquered the Mount Everest on May 23, 2010.

Nishat, a 31-year-old accountant, on April 9 started the adventure from Kathmandu to the base camp of the Mount Everest to hoist Bangladeshi flag atop the highest mountain.

On April 6, Nishat flew from Dhaka for the adventure, a press release of Plan Bangladesh said earlier.

Wasfia Nazreen, another Bangladeshi girl, has also reached the Everest base camp to scale the highest mountain. 

Three Sherpas – Lakpa Sherpa, Premba Sherpa and Mingmaa Sherpa – helped Nishat conquer the Everest, said Enam Ul Haque. 

Nishat and her associates stayed a while at the peak of the Everest and have started descending to the base came, the president of the club said.

The mountaineers are expected to reach the base camp in a day or two, he added. 

 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Goom Or Enforced Dissapperance

Introduction:The current government led by Awami League (AL) came to power in early 2009, with a manifesto that included zero-tolerance on human rights abuses. Bangladesh Constitution prohibits human rights violations and it is obligatory for the state organs to respect the principles of universal human rights.

Unfortunately, the government has failed miserably to protect human rights for all its citizens. A well documented report by Odhikar reveals that the Human rights situation in 2011 deteriorated very seriously compared with previous years (www.odhikar.org).

The areas of general concern:

In recent years, the rights issues in Bangladesh have been discussed covering the following areas:

Suppression of political opposition, curtailing media freedom, attacks on journalists,
Restricting dissent and criticism of government policies by threats and physical attacks,
Unlawful detention and torture in remand,
Using police and security services as party tools,
Politicization of judiciary, restricting the scope for justice,
Increasing political, administrative and economic corruption,
Patronizing criminality and violence by ‘party cadres’,
Mass withdrawal of criminal cases out of ‘political consideration,
Presidential clemency to party cadres convicted for murder,
Violence against women, garment and domestic workers,
Attacks on religious minorities and inter-ethnic violence,
BSF atrocities along the border,
India's water aggression, etc.


All these issues together with the very sensitive issue of the BDR massacre trial have been highlighted, in varying degrees, in different media, both nationally and internationally. Unfortunately, none of the stories have enhanced the good image of Bangladesh and her rulers in the international stage.

International rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Asian Human Rights Commission, etc., have expressed grave concerns at the rights situation in Bangladesh, but the government has not taken any concrete actions. Utterances by different ministers and government leaders tend to give the impression that ‘everything is fine; they forget that it is not their words but actions that are under public and media scrutiny, both at home and abroad, and that the much sought after democracy, rule of law and a truly civilized society would remain only pipe dream if remedial measures are not taken to improve the overall rights situation in the country.

˜Goomâ or ˜Enforced disappearance"

In a short essay, it is not possible to a full picture of all the aspects of Human Rights Abuses in present Bangladesh. (All details can be found in the Odhikar Reports, www.odhikar.org). I shall, therefore, very briefly deal with the most recent concern of GOOM or Enforced disappearance, which was once associated with ˜death squads or ˜vigilante groups operating in some South and Latin American countries during 1970s.

Political and social violence has been more or less a curse for Bangladesh from the beginning. The government and their party followers have resorted to all types of legal and illegal means to marginalize, intimidate, harass, defeat and, on some occasions, even to kill, some of their respective opponents or enemies, which led to cycles of violent confrontations and political and social instability. This evil culture has continued over the years, with ups and downs, but truly it never ended. When the regime in power (whether civil or military) became unpopular and lost public support, they resorted more to ‘hard line tactics for suppression of all opposition and perpetuating their misrule. Even all the ˜elected governments showed this tendency in the past.

The Elias Issue and the dubious government role

But, apart from the old culture, the country is now faced with a new threat of extreme concern – that of ˜GOOM or ˜enforced disappearance. The culture of ‘GOOM’ has been going on for a while, with little notice from national and international media, but this has now become the greatest concern after the ‘forced disappearance’ of Mr. Elias Ali, an ex-MP and a powerful leader of BNP. Elias Ali along with his driver was picked up at midnight about 3 weeks ago by some unidentified persons. Nobody knows about the identity of the miscreants, but it is widely believed that they are members of the security agencies or of a pro-government vigilante group. So far, there is no concrete news on the whereabouts of Elias Ali and his driver; we do not know if they are dead or still alive. Mrs. Elias Ali met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for help, but so far the promise to help find Mr. Ali has remained unfulfilled.

The government has not only failed in their duty to find Mr. Ali but several AL leaders have made some very rude remarks about the personal character of Elias Ali, even suggesting that the BNP leader Khaleda Zia might be responsible for the disappearance! Obviously, BNP and its allies, already ˜under seige by the government (thousands of their party leaders and workers being charged with allegations of corruption, extortion, terrorism, etc.) and fighting for their political and organizational survival, reacted very strongly and decided to challenge the government both inside the courts and on the streets.

The Elias issue has thrown the country into a new phase of controversy and uncertainty. Even the US Foreign Secretary Hillary Clinton expressed deep concern during her visit to Dhaka last week and asked for proper investigations into the ‘disappearance’ of Elias Ali and the trade union leader Aminul Islam. Ironically, this caused anger within the ruling circles, some of them even accused Secretary Clinton of ‘unwanted’ interference.

Alarming rise in the ˜Goom incidents

The disappearance of Elias Ali is politically the most explosive event, but this is not the first or the last incident of this type of crime. Enforced disappearance started from the beginning of the current government and has only increased during the last 3 years.
The rights group Ain-O-Salish Kendra says that at least 22 people have disappeared during the first four months of this year. According to Odhikar, 30 persons were victims of enforced disappearance in 2011, 18 in 2010 and 2 in 2009; this shows an alarming increase in such incidents. In comparison, extra-judicial killings by law enforcing agencies fell from 127 in 2010 to 84 in 2011. This suggests that “a shift is taking place by which citizens are placed outside legal protection and legal trials by terminating them. The State might have adopted the GOOMâ tactic because of the national and international outcry against extra-judicial killings.

The daily New Nation ran a horror story yesterday (09 May, 2012). It says that Police have recovered 100 bodies from different parts of the capital city and 60 bodies from different Thanas of Dhaka district during the last four months. The skeletons, bodies or parts of bodies were recovered either from the rivers Turag and Buriganga or from canals and open-fields. Most of the victims could not be identified. “The actual number of unidentified bodies would be much higher as all of them could not be traced after they went missing. Many of the bodies might have been dumped into rivers which were carries away by strong current.” Nobody knows if all or some of the dead bodies belong to the victims of enforced disappearance (at the hands of state organs) or they were victims of ordinary ‘disappearance’ (perpetrated by non-state actors such as underworld criminals or terrorists).



Who are the culprits?

The government denies that any of the state agencies is involved in ˜enforced disappearance or any other type of extra-judicial killings. But it does not explain the disappearance of the driver of the car carrying 7 million taka in cash allegedly bound for the Minister Shuranjit Sengupta' residence about a month ago. The minister' APS and other passengers of the car came out of hiding a few days after the incident, but the driver still remains disappeared. One or two witnesses of the sensational Saudi diplomat murder case are also without trace. Involvement of the state is clearly suggested.

The government may deny it, but there is widespread public perception that some rogue elements within the government and/or within the security establishment or even some foreign special forces are involved in this type of crimes. Their aim is not yet totally clear, but in the absence of transparent governance and in an atmosphere of all pervading lust for absolute power on the part of some people, conspiracy theories thrive. People cannot differentiate the truth from falsehood or propaganda. Even the topmost political leaders become suspect in the public eye due to their short-sightedness or stupidity. This causes political process to fail and creates a destabilising situation that invariably invites undesirable outside actors to usurp political power.

Crusader 100?

One very dangerous story found its way in some print and internet media recently. In short, it says that about 100 AL activists were secretly trained in 2009 by Indian R&AW in different techniques of covert operations. Code named “Crusader 100” this group maintains safe houses or operation bases in secret locations in Dhaka and carry out abductions, torture and killings of targets selected from the opposition groups. (http://www.free-press-release.com/news-raw-trained-crusader-100-in-action-in-bangladesh-1335098104.html)

It is difficult to prove the truth or falsehood of such story, but in the prevailing circumstances of unending distrust and suspicion, and from the past records of ˜joint efforts by the Indian Intelligence Agencies and some elements with AL camps, operations of such death squads or vigilante group cannot be totally discounted. It is not improbable that the enemies of Bangladesh would try to discredit all political forces and lead the country to a failed state status, so that a direct foreign intervention could be justified at a future time.

The current government has lost much of its popular support due not only its failure to solve the ever increasing economic and social crises, but also to what is seen as the policies of appeasement and subservience towards New Delhi. It is assumed that it lets the Indian security forces and intelligence agencies enter Bangladesh territory ‘in discreet manner to hunt for anti-Indian elements within the country and gradually eliminate them. This is also consistent with the ruling elites dictatorial actions and with their not-so-hidden agenda for establishing one-party dynastic rule.


The Goom culture must stop

The use of GOOM culture as a weapon against selected targets is a dangerous development and must be discouraged and condemned by all people with a minimum degree of sanity. This is something different from and more dangerous than the usual violent confrontation with political opposition, and unlawful detention, custodial torture, and extra-judicial killings by the state law enforcing agencies. The killings of alleged criminals and terrorists, mostly by stage managed incidents of cross-fires or encounters by Police and RAB, have led to these forces being termed as ‘death squads.

We do not know exactly who is playing the new game of GOOM in Bangladesh and what it wants to achieve by playing this dangerous game. It is an urgent duty of all patriotic citizens of the country, irrespective of party or political affiliations, to remain vigilant on this latest danger and to put pressure on both the government and opposition parties to unmask and punish the criminals. The barbarian crimes of enforced disappearance in Bangladesh must be stopped.

BY :  Dr. K. M. A. Malik.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Notoriety inside Bangladeshi Kindergarten Madrassa

While it is well documented and known to all that Koranic schools are breeding grounds of jihadists around the world, for past several years, there is mushroom growth of Kindergarten Madrassas [Koranic Schools] in Bangladesh, mostly being funded by dubious Afro-Arab sources. Only in Dhaka city, the numbers of such Kindergarten Madrassas are almost crossing the double digit, while the number of such madrassas within the country would be above twelve thousand. It may be mentioned here that, according to latest statistics, currently the number of Koranic Schools [both Qaomi and Dakhil] in Bangladesh are above 81,000, where at least 190 million students are getting fanatic-styled teachings of Koran and Islam with Jihadist indoctrination. Counter-terrorism experts believe, jihadist instigation through the misinterpretation of Koran is continuing within Koranic Schools around the world, and in recent past, the numbers of such institutions are increasing in the Western nations in an extreme alarming level. The Afghan-styled Jihadist activities generated rights within such religious schools through the creation of Talibans, who later joined hands with international terror outfits like Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah. The initial indoctrination of "kill a Jew and Christian and remain a good Muslim" gets planted into the minds of innocent children, who attend such Koranic school, thus ultimately turning them into miniature Ladens, who feel inspired in placing the Jihad-monger terrorists into the position of religious heroes. At the same time, practice of sodomy and sexual exploitation of the boy students by the madrassa teachers as well as senior students are very common, while girl students are becoming frequent victims of sexual and physical violence. According to statistics, girl students in the Koranic schools, especially those residing in the dormitories – lose virginity within the age of 10-12 in the hands of the male teachers, while the secret cases of pregnancy and abortions are not nominal.

A specific case of notorious physical violence of girl students in a Koranic madrassa in Bangladeshi Capital came into the media spotlight on May 2, 2012, where a female teacher seared legs of at least 14 students of Talimul Quran Mahila Madrassa [Women Madrassa of Koran Training] with a hot spatula in her punitive attempt to make them feel the "severity of hell-fire" for not performing prayers. The girls, aged between eight and twelve underwent the hellish experience and extreme notoriety as they were not regular in their prayers. The victims received treatments at a local hospital while the madrassa teacher Jesmin Akhter went into hiding after the father of a victim child lodged complaint with the local police station.

Abdul Jalil, father of torture-victim Jannatul Ferdous [8] said, the madrassa teacher Jesmin Akhter inflicted burns on the 14 students in the morning time for not being regular in offering their prayers. While burning the legs of the students with the hot spatula, Jesmin Akhter shouted saying "look this is the little example of the real hell-fire. You all will burn in the hell for not being regular in offering prayers."

Eye witnesses said, the notorious madrassa teacher placed her spatula on a burning gas oven adjacent to the classroom and each time burned legs of three students, keeping them standing in line. It was learnt that Jesmin Akhter was residing in one of the rooms of the five-room apartment, where the madrassa was located, along with her husband. Jesmin's husband used to tease the girl students on a regular basis, while few of them had also been sexually assaulted by the husband of the notorious madrassa teacher.

In addition to giving Koranic teachings to the girl students, they were regular told stories of "Islamic Heroes" such as Osama Bin Laden and the girls were given instigation in sacrificing their lives for the "cause of Islam". The teacher used to give encouragements to the girls in becoming a jihadist and even they were told of heavenly rewards, when someone would "embrace death" being a "martyr". The minor girls were regular taught of hating the Westerners and the Western cultures as well as those locals, who "follow the Western societies".

The case of Talimul Quran Mahila Madrasa is just one amongst many, while most of such notoriety remains isolated within the thick Islamic veils or dark curtains. There is no official record on the exact number of Koranic schools in Bangladesh, while the government does not have any regulatory body to monitor the activities of the Koranic school, especially those Qaumi Madrassas, which follow extremist Deobondi indoctrinations. 

 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bangladesh Is South Asia's Standard-Bearer

The former 'basket case' is more moderate on religion and more pragmatic on development than its peers.

Despite its 160-million strong population, Bangladesh can find it hard to elbow its way onto the global stage. It's in an area where India is cast in the lead as the dominant economy, Pakistan plays the intermittent villain, and Sri Lanka and Nepal feature in cameos as countries with uncertain futures. Yet when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touches down in Dhaka Saturday—the highest ranking American official to visit in nearly a decade—she'll encounter a country that can teach a lesson or two to all other regional actors.


The world's third-most populous Muslim-majority country stands out as a model of moderation. Unlike in virtually every other country in the Muslim world, Islamists in Bangladesh are on the defensive. Seven people, including high profile leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami, South Asia's most powerful Islamist group, face war crimes charges for their role in slaughtering Bangladeshi patriots, Muslim and Hindu alike, during the country's 1971 war of independence against Pakistan. 

Current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed's father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (1920-75) led that struggle, which claimed 3 million lives according to the Bangladesh government. The trial reveals the government's willingness to deal with one of the most painful episodes in the young nation's history. It also shows its refusal to allow Islamists to label the regime as "anti-Islam" for pursuing them, a form of blackmail that often obstructs justice in other places. 

In a similar vein, Bangladesh can boast one of Asia's best records of fighting Islamist terrorism. The South Asia Terrorism Portal estimates that only nine people have lost their lives since Ms. Hasina swept to power at the end of 2008. In the four years before that, terrorists claimed 56 lives at home, while the Bangladeshi terrorist group Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (or HuJi-B) carried out high-profile terrorist strikes in India.

Much of Bangladesh's success in confronting the most intolerant elements within its own society comes from crafting an inclusive national narrative. Unlike Pakistan, Bangladesh does not define itself by faith alone. Most Bangladeshis see no contradiction between being proud Muslims and proud Bengalis. This self-confidence gives the country the ability, which some other Muslim societies lack, to push back against extremism. 

Then there's the down-to-earth pragmatism present in Dhaka's approach to development. Over the past five years, the economy has expanded on an average of 6% per year. Unlike India, which is hobbled by socialist-era labor laws that interfere with hiring and firing, Bangladesh has built a world-class apparel industry that employs more than 3.5 million people and supplies global brands like H&M, Walmart and Tommy Hilfiger. Thanks to this, the country is already the world's second largest exporter of readymade garments after China. If it plays its cards right, Bangladesh, more than any other South Asian nation, could attract a fresh wave of labor-intensive manufacturing looking for cheaper alternatives to China. Goldman Sachs lists Bangladesh among its "Next 11," countries that have the potential to become major economies. 

And after years of tensions with its bigger neighbor, Bangladesh is now being practical and seeking to normalize ties with India. The two countries have already settled long festering territorial disputes and opened up trade. A landmark transit agreement would place Bangladesh at the heart of a potentially dynamic growth corridor encompassing northeastern India and a newly democratizing Burma. This is currently being stymied by Indian politician Mamata Banerjee, who as chief minister of the West Bengal state that borders Bangladesh opposes an allied water-sharing agreement with Dhaka.

Still, Dhaka and New Delhi are pushing for this agreement and it could succeed, possibly ushering in a new peace dividend in the region. At any rate, Dhaka's pragmatism in its foreign relations stands in contrast to India, which can't always suppress its preachy rhetoric of nonalignment (toward the West), as well as Pakistan, which often sputters in a sea of Islamic fundamentalism and knee-jerk opposition to India. 

That said, Bangladesh is hardly free of problems. Ms. Hasina and her chief opponent, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party's Khaleda Zia, have created a poisonous zero-sum politics, which has come to the fore again in recent days. The BNP is up in arms at the disappearance of one of its leaders last month and they blame Ms. Hasina's ruling party. They have shut down the country with crippling national strikes four times in the past month. 

No one knows how the BNP official in question disappeared, though, and a string of similar disappearances reflect a deteriorating law and order situation. Either law enforcement is engaged in extra-judicial actions, or vigilantes can roam free with impunity. Neither is encouraging. 

Meanwhile, the Islamist threat has been reduced but not eliminated. The BNP remains at best ambivalent and at worst actively sympathetic toward Islamist forces similar to those that have helped drag Pakistan in a downward spiral. And though Bangladesh's army deserves some credit for keeping its distance from politics since late 2008, it's by no means certain that the country's latest experiment with democracy, barely three and a half years old, will last. The military first seized power in 1975, and has done so repeatedly since.

But for now, these worries can take a back seat. This weekend, a country once dismissed by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as a basket case, gets to show one of his successors how wrong it has proven him. 

 

River-linking Project : Experts stay concerned

Find Pranab's assurance far from reality.

 

Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee yesterday reassured that India's river-linking project will not harm Bangladesh as it does not include any Himalayan river that flows down to Bangladesh.

Many Bangladeshi analysts contest his view and say the project has already affected Bangladesh with India diverting Teesta water to Mechi River in Bihar through the Mahananda. 

India has been diverting water from the Teesta to the Ganges basin though the water was supposed to feed the Brahmaputra river in Bangladesh, said Engineer M Inamul Haque, former director general of Water Resources Planning Organisation (Warpo). 

“If they say they are not doing anything that harms us, it is not true. We have already been affected for diversion of Teesta water,” said Inamul, a leading hydrologist in the country. 

India has recently completed a survey on linking the Ganges River with the Sundarbans and is conducting another survey on the Manas-Sankosh-Teesta-Ganges project. 

It also initiated another survey on the Brahmaputra after the Indian Supreme Court had asked the Indian government to go ahead with the river-linking project. 

While India keeps Bangladesh in the dark about its projects on trans-boundary rivers, different websites, independent studies and international reports give a gloomy picture, just the opposite of what the Indian high-ups are saying. 

A report titled “Mountains of Concrete” published by non-governmental organisation International Rivers in 2008 says, “As many dams are built in the Himalayas, on every tributary and every river, the downstream impacts will extend from the mountains to the plains and all the way to the estuaries.” 

“A large number of dams in the basins would cause dramatic transformations in the patterns, quantity and quality of flows,” it says.

A group of Bangladeshi experts conducted a study five years ago to ascertain the impact of the Indian project that involves linking 30 major rivers and diverting the water of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra.

About 30,000 square kilometres of Khulna and Barisal divisions, and parts of Rajshahi and Dhaka divisions will be severely affected, says the study. The capital also falls in the danger zone.

“We basically conducted a qualitative study based on information from several sources. The effects could be even worse,” said a senior analyst, who was involved with the study. 

Biodiversity, agriculture and industry in the Ganges Dependant Area (GDA) -- both sides of the Padma River -- and parts of the Meghna River bank will be badly hit if India implements the river-linking project. 

The GDA alone covers 20 percent of the country and is home to around 30 million people. 

The river-linking project aims to divert river water from India's north-eastern region that witnesses an annual rainfall of 3,500mm to its west, a region with annual rainfall as low as 700mm. 

“If we want to ascertain the impacts of the river-linking project, we need details. But we do not know what they are doing,” Dr Ainun Nishat told The Daily Star earlier. 

During Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's India visit in January 2010, Bangladesh and India signed a treaty on bilateral cooperation that includes sharing of river waters.

Bangladesh allowed India to use water of the Feni River for its plant in Tripura after the two countries resumed talks for sharing the water of Teesta and Feni rivers last year. But India has still kept Bangladesh waiting on signing the Teesta water-sharing deal.

In the meantime, India went ahead with its river-linking and Tipaimukh hydroelectric projects. It did not even inform Bangladesh about the formation of a company to implement the Tipaimukh project. 

Pranab yesterday told the Bangladesh prime minister that a subcommittee under the Joint Rivers Commission will be formed to conduct a study on the proposed Tipaimukh dam. Bangladesh will be informed about the findings to clear confusion from people's minds about the project.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Beware, Hillary Clinton is a warmonger!

THE US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is coming to Dhaka today, on a two-day visit. Press reports inform us that her initial itinerary had involved attending the fourth round of US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing on May 3-4. That the decision to visit Bangladesh (May 4-5) and India (May 7-8) was ‘sudden’. A ‘surprise stopover’.

Ms Clinton’s visit to Beijing was preceded by the Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng’s escape from house arrest to the US Embassy; while the western media furore has abated somewhat after US officials stepped in and brokered a deal on his behalf with the Chinese government, deep concern in western circles over his safety and security continues to be expressed.

Forty-year-old blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng — who has suffered intimidation, beatings, jail and extralegal house arrest — escaped from being confined at home on April 22, 2012 and took refuge in the US embassy. He has since been escorted to a Beijing hospital where he was reunited with his family. The deal was brokered by US officials with the Chinese government. Chen’s release led Hillary Clinton to state, ‘I am pleased that we were able to facilitate Chen Guangcheng’s stay and departure from the US embassy in a way that reflected his choices and our values’ (May 2, 2012).

After being released, Chen, on May 3, phoned into a Congressional hearing to detail his predicament. He has also ‘begged’ that he wants to leave China with his family ‘for the US on Hillary Clinton’s plane.’ This has been followed by a Chinese foreign affairs ministry statement on its website which says that the blind human rights activist may apply to ‘study abroad’. Interestingly, his dramatic journey to the US embassy — described as ‘mission impossible’ — was aided by US officials. The Guangcheng story has generated international headlines; while China experts, journalists and human rights activists discuss how the conflict may be further resolved, Chen has expressed his desire to meet Ms Clinton in person. To seek ‘more help from her’. To ‘thank her face to face’. The New York University, meanwhile, has been kind enough to extend an invitation to Chen (ABC News, May 4, 2012).

When Ms Clinton mouths ‘our values’, one is forced to ask, pray, what may these be? Or, more pointedly, how far do these extend? Whom do they exclude?

Obviously not to the Palestinians, in whose case, as Philip Weiss reminds us, the US chooses its ‘interests’, over its (purported) ‘values’. Former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter had said this spring, ‘Whenever I send out a [twitter] message about the suffering, the detention without trial, civilian deaths by armed force in all these countries, I now get messages back that say to me, What about the Palestinians?’

Scores of Palestinian prisoners are on hunger strike presently but not a peep out of the US embassy there. No dramatic ‘mission impossible’ rescue efforts either. Nor do State Department officials dare write about the rights of the Palestinians, when they are in its employ.

Clinton’s ‘our values’ statement also reminds us, writes Weiss, that Israel has blocked the investigation of the massacre of 21 members of the al-Samouni family during the 2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. That the US has helped Israel by quashing the UN’s Goldstone Report which had characterised the attack on the family as a ‘war crime’.

According to the B’Tselem’s summary of the events that led to the family’s massacre:

‘On 4 January 2009, soldiers gathered about 100 members of the extended a-Samuni family in the house of Wael a-Samuni, in the a-Zeitun neighborhood of Gaza City. The next morning, at 6:30 A.M., when a few members of the family tried to leave the house, the military fired a missile or shell at them, killing Muhammad a-Samuni and wounding two other persons. A few seconds later, the military fired two more shells or missiles that hit the house directly. The house collapsed on its occupants, killing 21 persons, including many women and children, and injuring dozens of other family members.’

The Red Cross, B’Tselem and other human rights organisations had repeatedly requested that they be allowed to help remove injured persons, but permission had been granted two days later. By then, four wounded family members had bled to death. Of the 21 killed, nine were children, ranging in ages from 6 months to 16 years (Richard Silverstein, ‘IDF Closes Book on al-Samouni Killings, Whitewashes Massacre’, May 3, 2012).

On May 2, 2012 the Israel Defence Forces informed B’Tselem that it intended to close the investigation. 

While ‘mistakes [had been] made [which had] led to unfortunate consequences,’ these had been ‘inadvertent’. In other words, ‘not culpable’.

Similar bouts of amnesia which exclude people selectively from ‘our values’ occurred when Ms Clinton, while testifying before a senate committee on February 28, 2012, stated that Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad could be branded a ‘war criminal’.

‘Based on definitions of war criminal and crimes against humanity, there would be an argument to be made that he [Assad] would fit into that category.’

But this is part of the American political and media establishment’s rhetoric, writes Bill Van Auken, aimed at winning western public support for ‘yet another imperialist intervention in the Middle East.’ A regime change venture dressed up as a ‘crusade for human rights.’

When the US secretary of state speaks of war criminals and war crimes, which definition does she rely on? It could well be the International Criminal Court’s legislation, largely drawn from the Nuremberg tribunal, where war crimes are defined as a number of acts — including murder, extermination, torture, imprisonment and enforced disappearance of persons — knowingly ‘committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population…’ (Bill Van Auken, ‘Hillary Clinton and Middle East War Crimes’, Global Research, March 3, 2012).

Further, it could well be that the urge to define Assad as a war criminal gained ground after the 27-day siege of the Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs, seized by armed militias, who, it must be noted, abducted and murdered non-Sunni residents of the city, had ended. The US-backed rebels were forced to pull out on March 1, since Syrian military strength had proven to be superior.

Hundreds of Syrians were undoubtedly killed in the month-long siege. Many of them had been unarmed civilians.

But when twenty times as many unarmed civilians had been killed over a shorter period, only 400 miles away from Homs, had similar outrage been expressed by Ms Clinton?

When the entire city of Fallujah in Iraq had been turned into a free-fire zone? When inhabitants had been warned to leave but men and boys had been turned back? Had been ‘forced to face an onslaught of napalm, cluster bombs, white phosphorus shells and other munitions’ which had incinerated their victims? Had brought their homes crashing down on them?

Of the 50,000 Fallujans who had been either unwilling or unable to flee, more than 6,000 died.
Seven years on, Fallujans suffer an ‘epidemic of birth defects, childhood cancers and other ailments caused by depleted uranium shells and other ordnance dumped on the city.’

There are greater war criminals around than Syria’s Assad. Before you start pointing fingers, make sure your hands are clean.

While it is true that the Bush administration was in power when the Falluja massacre had taken place, it is also true that one woman had agreed with all the lies uttered by president Bush, as a YouTube video available here demonstrates http://prisonplanet.com/articles/november2007/271107Warmonger.htm .

Bush: [the] Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons (July 10, 2002).

Hillary Clinton: Saddam Hussein has worked, rebuilt his chemical and biological weapon stock (October 10, 2002).

Bush: Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists including members of al-Qaeda (January 28, 2003).

Hillary Clinton: He [Saddam] has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists including al-Qaeda members (October 10, 2002).

Bush: [the] regime is seeking a nuclear bomb (January 28, 2003).

Hillary Clinton: and [Saddam] will, keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. So, it is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interest of our nation, it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our President (October 10, 2002).

Bush: this war will end in the defeat of totalitarians (August 31, 2006).

Hillary Clinton: any vote that might lead to war should be hard. But I cast it with conviction (October 10, 2002).

It is also true that Hillary Clinton later lied. That, as a Democratic contender for the post of president in the 2008 elections, she had said, ‘If I had been president in October of 2002, I would never have asked for authority to divert our attention from Afghanistan to Iraq and I certainly would never have started this war.’
Hillary Clinton’s feminism has been called to question as well, for, when servile commentators gush over her ‘feminist foreign policy’, over how she ‘has gone out of her way to press feminist issues’ — the growing gender imbalance in China because of the high abortion rate of female foetuses, sexual violence as a weapon of war (Democratic Republic of Congo), the need to provide clean cooking stoves to save women from smoke inhalation which kills 1.9 million per year (Madeleine Bunting, ‘Clinton is proving that a feminist foreign policy is possible — and works’, Guardian, January 16, 2011), others point out how, over 4 million Iraqis, mostly women and children, have been turned into refugees. How, Ms Clinton seems gung-ho ready to do it to Iranian women as well, having recently warned Iran that time is ‘running out for diplomacy’ (Guardian, March 31, 2012).

Despite the fact that the IAEA’s latest reports on Iran’s nuclear programmes, and congressional testimony from the director of National Intelligence, asserts that ‘there is no strong evidence that Iran has decided to restart its nuclear program’ (Reuters, March 23, 2012).

Warmonger, or, maybe, as some insist, a war criminal? I leave it to you to decide.

BY :   Rahnuma Ahmed.

Hilary Clinton and her new ‘Asia Pacific’ agenda

THE US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is gracing us with a short visit as part of her tour of the Asia Pacific to bolster what has been described as a giant stride to cement US relations with the countries in the region. Her visit coinciding with that of the senior Indian minister Pranab Mukherjee may not be taken at its face value. The two visits must have been planned in tandem and observers are prone to believing that there might be some common purpose. She was in Beijing this week and from Dhaka she will hop to Kolkata and Delhi onwards. Curiously, all US high dignitaries visiting Bangladesh in recent days have been doing the same — either coming to Dhaka via Delhi or leaving Dhaka with a stopover in Delhi. Almost as a routine. Dhaka appears to be on the sidelines of the Washington-Delhi axis.

However this time Delhi seems to be keeping a relatively low profile, the centre stage will be obviously around the ‘second-most powerful lady’ on earth.

Official pronouncement from the US embassy here shows no specific agenda for the visit. However, the grand agenda of the Obama administration for the Asia Pacific has already been detailed by Clinton herself in the following few words:

‘The future of politics will be decided in Asia , not in Afghanistan or in Iraq, and the United States will be right at the centre of action.’

No wonder she is on her trail in that very pursuit. And she enunciates her government’s policy in this regard further:

‘...We are ... expanding our alliance with Australia from a Pacific partnership to an Indo-Pacific one ... How we translate the growing connection between the Indian and Pacific oceans into an operational concept is a question that we need to answer if we are to adapt to new challenges in the region. Against this backdrop, a more broadly distributed military presence across the region will provide vital advantages.’

It is therefore not unlikely that her current visit might be part of that endeavour to ‘translate’ the said growing connection into an ‘operational concept’. It is all the more plausible in the wake of China’s multifaceted effort to shortcut Malacca through Myanmar and the Bay of Bengal, thereby the Bay of Bengal, including Bangladesh at its heart, attaining newer geopolitical nodality.

Myanmar’s ascendancy in the priority list of both the US and India is unmistakably clear. In spite of the bitter relations over decades India is seen to be waving olive towards Myanmar since the beginning of the nineties. And the US also after decades of hard fisting is now in a completely new mood.

On November 30 Clinton reached Myanmar for the first official visit by any US secretary of state to that country in last several decades. The country, which was so far being treated as a pariah, appears to have suddenly emerged as a coveted destination for the West. However, her historic encounter with the pariah was not as warm as it was expected to be. The reception was too cool not to be kept unnoticed. As per reports from her entourage, at the newly built majestic Nay Pye Taw airport, the grand lady received much less attention than the prime minister of Belarus arriving there the same day. Moreover, the official mouthpiece of the ruling party of Myanmar, The New Light of Myanmar, gave her a sleek second-page treatment, while the latter received a ‘lavish front page treatment.’ Her meeting with the Myanmar president was limited to diplomatic formality as reported in the press. She had to be satisfied with a bare feet walk around the statue of Lord Buddha in the Shwedagon pagoda, the ‘cultural epicentre’ of the country near Yangon and a friendly meeting with the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the ‘democracy icon’ of the West, in a country severely handicapped due to economic and diplomatic sanctions for decades.

In spite of that, in the light of the new game plan of the Obama administration to hop from the sandy deserts of Middle East over to the lush green of the Asia Pacific, this pilgrimage certainly opens up a new chapter in the geopolitics of our region.

The game plan succinctly pronounced by Clinton in her Hawaii speech and her write up for the Foreign Affairs Quarterly last year captioned — ‘America’s Pacific Century’ — is being read and reread all around the globe and especially in this part of the world.

Her agenda is clear:

‘As the war in Iraq winds down and America begins to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, the United States stands at a pivot point. Over the last 10 years, we have allocated immense resources to those two theatres. In the next 10 years, we need to be smart and systematic about where we invest time and energy, so that we put ourselves in the best position to sustain our leadership, secure our interests, and advance our values. One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment — diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise — in the Asia-Pacific region.’

This is how she starts and then she goes on:

‘...just as our World War II commitment to building a comprehensive and lasting transatlantic network of institutions and relationships has paid off many times over — and continues to do so. The time has come for the United States to make similar investments as a Pacific power, a strategic course set by President Barack Obama from the outset of his administration and one that is already yielding benefits.’

It is now clear that the Indian Ocean-Bay of Bengal region will be under floodlight in the coming days. China has already inked a deal with Myanmar to build an 850-kilometre super highway with rail-road-pipeline, connecting mainland China from Yunnan to Kyauk Phyu in the Arakan coast of the Bay of Bengal. With super high speed trains plying at 200-350 kilometres per hour, the time distance over this stretch of land coming down to 4-5 hours only, the geopolitical scenario changes dramatically. According to the Times of India this will provide the missing link to China’s ‘String of Pearls’ strategic construct starting from East Africa through Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

In this backdrop the recent verdict of ITLOS in the Bangla-Myanmar tussle over the Bay waters attains greater significance. Although it was an unfortunate retreat by Myanmar from her 1974 commitments on the maritime boundary and Bangladesh had to swallow the bitter pill (of course with victory celebrations to hoodwink its own people!), the verdict, nevertheless, brings peace and stability in the Bangla-Myanmar water front, at least for oil and gas exploration. Ironically, all the contractors now sharing the blocks on either side are from the US, India and South Korea, birds of the same feather! Secretary Clinton and Pranab Mukherjee’s visit may not be out of context in this regard also.

When Clinton says, ‘Just as Asia is critical to America’s future, an engaged America is vital to Asia’s future’, or ‘the region is eager for our leadership and our business — perhaps more than any time in modern history’, some of her readers quip: ‘No Madam, Asian countries ... have their own fish to fry. It is high time that Monroe was buried, dead and forgotten.’

Monroe buried or not, we may remind ourselves that even during the last century America was at the heart of the Indian and Pacific Ocean region for more than fifty years. It chased and destroyed the Japanese navy in the 1940s, started a war in Korea that hasn't ended as yet. A massive military engagement in Vietnam lasted nearly 25 years, not to mention the ending.

Therefore a ‘new American century’ in this region is perhaps not as new as it is being projected. US alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand are already there. Clinton considers those as the ‘fulcrum’ for her ‘strategic turn to the Asia-Pacific’, to leverage the regional presence and enhance the regional leadership of US at a time of ‘evolving security challenges’.

What are those security challenges? Obviously the biggest challenge comes from the dragon on other side of the Himalayas, including the few recalcitrant still on the ‘wrong’ side. And Clinton is fairly open. Apart from the oft-repeated prescription to China, she reprimands the recalcitrant minnows:

‘As we deepen our engagement with partners with whom we disagree on these issues, we will continue to urge them to embrace reforms that would improve governance, protect human rights, and advance political freedoms. We have made it clear, for example, to Vietnam that our ambition to develop a strategic partnership requires that it take steps to further protect human rights and advance political freedoms. Or consider Burma, where we are determined to seek accountability for human rights violations. We are closely following developments in Nay Pyi Taw and the increasing interactions between Aung San Suu Kyi and the government leadership. We have underscored to the government that it must release political prisoners, advance political freedoms and human rights, and break from the policies of the past.’

Huntington left India as the ‘grey area’ in his global divide between the so-called ‘Western civilisation’ and the ‘coalition of the Islamic and Sinic civilisation’. It is not yet clear whether India has shed that ‘grey’ contour and sealed her fate finally with the so-called West.

With the Bay of Bengal turning turbulent in the foreseeable future, Bangladesh needs to put her steps cautiously and be prudent in playing her dimes, to ensure that there is no free ride.

BY :   Dr Ferdaus Ahmad Quarishi.