Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ghulam Azam urged ME not to recognise Bangladesh

Apprehending defeat in the Liberation War, former Jamaat-e-Islami chief Ghulam Azam fled to Pakistan and tried to convince countries in the Middle East not to recognise Bangladesh, the prosecution told the International Crimes Tribunal yesterday.

Chief Prosecutor Ghulam Arieff Tipoo said this while reading out the formal charges against the former Jamaat ameer at the tribunal yesterday. Ghulam Azam, 89, is facing charges on 62 specific crimes against humanity committed during 1971.

Tipoo said after Ghulam Azam escaped from Bangladesh on November 22, 1971, he formed “East Pakistan Restoration Committee” in Lahore. He used the committee to launch an anti-Bangladesh movement in the name of an Islamic movement and tried to influence the Middle East into not recognising Bangladesh, he added.

The three-member tribunal led by its Chairman Justice Nizamul Huq yesterday began hearing the formal charges against Ghulam Azam. The formal charges contain 191 pages and yesterday 44 of them were read out before the tribunal. 

The tribunal will continue the hearing today [Thursday]. The court also set February 23 for delivering a verdict on Ghulam Azam's bail petition.

Ghulam Azam was produced before the tribunal yesterday but he left after lunch break. The hearing continued in his absence.

According to the formal charges read out by the prosecution, Ghulam Azam, as a leader of the East Pakistan Restoration Committee, met a Saudi prince after the Liberation War.

“The Hindus have taken over East Pakistan…They have knocked down mosques and turned them into temples. They have burned the Quran. They have killed many Muslims,” the prosecution quoted Ghulam Azam as telling the prince.

The prosecution said Ghulam Azam's Bangladesh citizenship was revoked in 1973, but he returned to the country on August 11, 1978, during the regime of Maj Gen Ziaur Rahman. He got into the country on a Pakistani passport, according to the formal charges. 

Earlier in the day, after the hearing on a bail petition of Ghulam Azam, the tribunal said it would deliver a verdict on February 23. This is Ghulam Azam's second bail prayer. His first was rejected on January 11 when he appeared before the court, which sent him to jail.

Yesterday, the former Jamaat ameer also filed several other petitions, which the court heard and disposed of before it went into lunch break at 1:00pm.

The petitions included illegible pages and missing documents among the volumes of documents the prosecution gave to the defence.

Abdur Razzaq, chief counsel for Ghulam Azam, also said the defence had not received copies of the case diaries, which the prosecution claimed had been submitted to the court.

The court then ordered the defence to collect the case diaries from the court. It also ordered that legible copies be given to the defence team within two days. 

The prosecution was further directed to provide the defence with missing documents, which were mentioned in the index but were not provided to the defence.

The tribunal, however, rejected a fourth petition which asked for a copy of the original complaint that the defence claimed had triggered the investigation and led to the case.

In his submission, Abdur Razzaq argued that the complaint was at the heart of the case and the defence had a right to obtain a copy of it.

Countering the petition, prosecutor Rana Dasgupta referred to several provisions, which made it clear that the complaint was part of the case diary.

The petition was then rejected.

Another petition, seeking adjournment of hearing on formal charges, was scheduled to begin yesterday. The hearing is pending with the court and is expected to begin after the hearing on formal charges finishes today.

Defence lawyer Imran Siddiq, in a lengthy bail petition for Ghulam Azam, said his client had motor difficulties and was suffering from old-age complications.

He claimed that hospital food made the 89-year-old more ill and that he had lost weight. He said Ghulam Azam should be given bail as he would not flee the country and would face trial.

Chief prosecutor Tipoo, however, said the ground for the bail prayer is pretty much the same as Ghulam Azam's first bail prayer, which had been rejected by the court. He said Ghulam Azam had been effectively the “mastermind and springboard in steering the paraphernalia of Jamaat” and other organisations like the peace committees and Razakars, Al Badr and Al Shams.

These organisations collaborated with the Pakistani occupation army in 1971 and actively engaged in thwarting the liberation forces, he said.

The former Jamaat chief made an attempt to address the court as arguments over his bail petition went on. When Razzaq brought that to the court's attention, the tribunal chairman said, “But he addresses the court through you.”

The court then fixed February 23 for delivering the verdict on the bail petition.

Ghulam Azam is one of the front men who actively helped the Pakistani occupation forces' attempt to foil the birth of Bangladesh in 1971.

The prosecution on January 5 brought 62 specific charges against the former Jamaat chief. On January 9, the tribunal accepted the charges and ordered Ghulam Azam's chief counsel Abdur Razzaq to produce him before the court on January 11.

On January 11, Ghulam Azam appeared before the tribunal, which rejected his bail petition and ordered the authorities to send him to Dhaka Central Jail. They also fixed February 15 for hearings on charges framing.

The arrestee was moved to a prison cell of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University hospital for treatment the same day.

Ghulam Azam is among six Jamaat-e-Islami leaders and two BNP leaders now facing war crimes charges at the tribunal.

The curious case of Padma Bridge

We need a bridge over the Padma river and the government is going to build it soon. This statement or something to this effect has been circulating since the time of the Ershad regime which ended in 1990. Since then all other governments also talked of the bridge, which finally everyone thought is going to be materialised this time. 

But now a question mark hangs over the bridge again.

What is more curious is the way things unfolded. Since the current government came to power, the bridge concept moved quite fast. Multilateral and bilateral agencies started showing concrete interest in the project. And finally funds were firmed up. 

From there everything fell apart. And various curious statements were made and actions taken, many of which raised serious concerns. 

Construction of the bridge was supposed to start sometime around last October. But then the World Bank's vice-president made a sudden trip to Dhaka and met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to convey that the bank has evidence of corruption in appointing a Canadian consulting firm. A month later the bank wrote to the government about corruption in selecting pre-qualified bidders for the bridge construction. Then former communications minister Syed Abul Hossain's name came up in the scam. 

After some initial defensive statements, the government asked the Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) to probe the alleged corruption. The commission, not unexpectedly, gave a clean chit to Abul. Now the government has a paper to wave claiming its innocence. And in the middle of it, the Canadian connection was forgotten, or rather deliberately set aside. 

Only from time to time, the bank has been saying its funding decision has been suspended pending an investigation by the Canadian police of the alleged corruption relating to the consulting agency. 

And then a curious statement was made by the prime minister who said the government will not accept any fund from the World Bank if it cannot prove corruption in the bridge project. The statement is perplexing because it can only mean that we will accept fund from the bank only if corruption is proven. There lies the hilarity of the prime minister's proposition. A pertinent question can be: will the bank provide fund if corruption is proven? Or more fundamentally, is the bank eager to give us the fund, and we are the ones who are being picky? Or is the government just setting the escape route in case the Canadian police unearth something fishy?

The other actions by the government also make the Padma Bridge case curious. While the government kept on denying foul play in the bridge affair, it looked for alternative sources of fund. And Malaysia came to the rescue, offering to build the bridge. The government touted the Malaysian offer as a triumph over the World Bank. Very curiously, it was propagated that the work of the bridge will begin in April although there was no clear cut idea where the money was coming from. And even plans for restaurants, shops and entertainment facilities were laid out. And now we know the Malaysian deal is not on track, and the work is not starting in April. So who the government is trying to fool? The government itself is losing face, again and again, by its own actions.

But even if the Malaysian deal could be pulled off, what would be the cost? The World Bank's fund would come with an interest rate of 0.85 percent. And nobody knows how costly would the Malaysian fund be. It is now clear that Malaysian firms have no financial muscle (interestingly the firms which are supposed to do the job have not been selected yet). They want to raise funds from financiers in Dubai. So it would be a commercial loan at a high interest rate not less than 8 percent or may be even higher because of the high inflation regime. So for whose fault would we, the taxpayers, bear that huge extra cost for the bridge? Or rather why should we pay so much extra money for the actions of the government? 

The whole Padma Bridge affair now needs transparency as public money is involved here. First we need to know from the World Bank what exactly its findings are. The bank itself is acting funny by keeping things under the rug. The government said there cannot be any corruption because contracts were not signed. True. Then what proof does the bank have? Abul Hossain's alleged involvement in the alleged corruption has been well publicised. But what about the Canadian firm? Why so little has been said about it? 

It is time we solve the curious case of the bridge.

Bangladesh eyeing purchase of 10 Russian Yak-130 aircraft

Bangladesh is eyeing possible purchase of 10 Russian-made Yak-130 lead-in fighter trainer aircraft, a news report said on Wednesday.

Russia's official news agency Itar-Tass in a Singapore-datelined report said on Wednesday that talks were at the initial stage.

"Bangladesh has a big budget, more to it, a state loan might be used," president of Russia's aircraft building corporation Irkut Alexei Fyoforov was quoted as saying by the agency.

Fyoforov reportedly said the market capacity for Yak-130 aircraft might reach 2,500 planes till the year 2020.

"We hope to grip from 25 to 30 percent of this market," he was quoted as saying.

The Yakovlev Yak-130 (NATO reporting name: Mitten) is a subsonic two-seat advanced jet trainer/light attack aircraft or lead-in fighter trainer (LIFT) developed by the Yakovlev Design Bureau.

Development of the plane began in 1991, and the maiden flight was conducted on April 26, 1996, the report said.

In 2005, it won a Russian government tender for training aircraft, and in 2009 the first planes were put into service in the Russian Air Force.

As an advanced training aircraft, the Yak-130 is able to replicate the characteristics of several 4+ generation fighters as well as the fifth-generation Sukhoi T-50, it said.

It can also perform light-attack and reconnaissance duties, carrying a combat load of 3,000 kilogrammes.

The report could not be independently confirmed.