Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Japan, World Bank give Dhaka lesson in diplomacy

It is interesting that some ardent supporters of the ruling party are coming out of denial over the Padma Bridge fiasco and admitting that this government has messed up its diplomacy badly. An editor who is well known for his pro-ruling party sentiments said on a TV talk show recently that he was surprised that even India that could have put in some strong words for Bangladesh in its fight against the WB over the cancellation of the Padma Bridge loan preferred to let Bangladesh fight its battle alone. Judging by the array of contradictory statements from the government leaders in languages both undiplomatically and unparliamentarily on the Padma Bridge, it appears that the government is both embarrassed and confused.
 Early in its term, this government wasted special friendship with China built painstakingly since 1975 ironically because it has bent over backwards to please India that has now failed to come to its rescue over the Padma Bridge.  China would have perhaps come to Bangladesh’s aid if relations with it were as warm as under previous governments. The government is in an open and self imposed fight with the US that it has accused of conspiring against Bangladesh at the instigation of Dr. Mohammad Yunus. Recently, the government accused Germany for critical comments of the German Foreign Minister on human rights issues. The British have also expressed strong reservations on issues of human rights and governance. The other European and the EU Ambassadors do so regularly. Thus when the government needed support on the PB loan issue, there was no friendly hand in sight. 

The reason for those governments’ unhappiness is simple. The government, caught in a cobweb, is failing to put personal issues behind to lead the country ahead on issues of national interests to build bridges and friendship with foreign nations and institutions. It is intriguing that why a government in desperate need of global support for advancing its national interests should fail to use Dr. Mohammad Yunus’ influence for the purpose? Instead it chose accuse Yunus of conspiring to influence the US and the WB against it and cancel the loan for Padma Bridge. Surprisingly, the government has chosen to humiliate the Noble Laureate knowingly that such action would not like by important countries and global leaders.
When this government took up issues with Dr. Yunus, it said that there were principles that were more important than a Noble Laureate’s position and importance. It called him “blood sucker of the poor” and brought corruption charges against him. None of the accusation was proven and Dr. Yunus came out clean. In fact, the Government’s attempts to humiliate him did not do its image abroad any good. In the process, the government ended on the wrong side of Dr. Yunus’ long list of powerful friends abroad.
If the government had not taken its fight with Dr. Yunus in the media, perhaps a lot of the diplomatic damage would have been avoided. When individuals as powerful as a US Secretary of State make a request, it is simple common sense to accept the request or if the government has an issue, decline that request diplomatically. For some mysterious reasons, this government chose to turn down all requests from powerful global leaders on Dr. Yunus with contempt. It appeared that it was relishing the attention of powerful world leaders and nations on their attempts to humiliate Dr. Yunus not realizing what damage it was causing to the pursuit of the country’s interests abroad.
Unfortunately, the government repeated the same mistakes as it made with Dr. Yunus with the cancellation of the PB loan by the World Bank exposing its bankruptcy in diplomacy. The government leaders went overboard in abusing the World Bank in a manner that made little sense except if one believed that such sycophantic actions were meant to please the Prime Minister. In a series of confusing and hard to believe responses to the cancellation, the Finance Minister attempted what was poor diplomacy. 
The government nevertheless continued to accuse the WB of corruption while absolving itself of the charges brought against it by the Bank. Throughout, the WB refused to be drawn into one sided vilification of it by senior leaders of the Government including the Prime Minister. Perhaps emboldened by the WB’s silence to respond, the Finance Minister suggested that the WB could go ahead and elaborate the charges of corruption against the government to back the Prime Minister who said that there was no corruption in her government over PB project and that instead the WB should answer charges of corruption against it.
On another level, the Foreign Minister, after a meeting with the Japanese Deputy Prime Minister in Tokyo where she had gone to attend an international conference on Afghanistan, said that she was assured that the PB loan could be “under a new framework of donor arrangement”. A Foreign Ministry statement issued on her meeting went on to state that “Japan would pursue the donor groups, including the ADB, to embark on a negotiated settlement in respect of the project”. Clearly, the Ministry was in a hurry to convey the good news to the Prime Minister that the Japanese are with the Government of Bangladesh and not the World Bank on the PB issue. The Ministry did not wait to consider that a public announcement that Japan would follow a different path than the WB would embarrass it. 
Both the statements have turned out to be diplomatic faux pas. The Resident Director of the WB Ellen Goldstein tactfully underlined the Finance Minister’s faux pas in an interview with a leading English Daily in Dhaka. She said that the WB would not release anything about the PB to the media on principle. She suggested that Bangladesh could disclose all evidence it submitted to it on all aspects of the charges of corruption, including names thus putting the Finance Minister in a spot who said earlier that the Government would not disclose those evidences to protect the WB’s confidentiality. She nevertheless did not lose the opportunity to mention that the WB contacted the Bangladesh Government only after it was given credible evidence of corruption verified through multiple sources that the Canadian Company SNC Lavalin had given bribes aimed at winning contracts for constructing the PB with funds from WB/ABD/JICA.
In her written interview, she refrained from answering names of those charged with corruption concerning the amount paid by the Canadian company to win contracts. Nevertheless, she left little doubts that the WB’s case has been based on clear evidence that the Bangladesh government sidetracked. She also said that although the cancellation would not affect WB’s aid programme for Bangladesh, and added: “the government’s weak response to evidence of corruption in a flagship operation adds to mounting concerns about a deteriorating governance environment in Bangladesh, and this will be reflected in our programme going forward.” Thus by some bad diplomatic moves, the Finance Minister has put the government where the opposition wants it; a demand to make public the WB’s correspondences.
Like the World Bank Country Director, the Japanese Ambassador Shiro Sadoshima spoke to underline the foreign ministry’s faux pas. He chose to do so in a seminar arranged by the Diplomatic Correspondents’ Association of Bangladesh. What he said destroyed the hopes that the Foreign Ministry had built based on the Foreign Minister’s visit to Tokyo. He said that Japan would wait for the government’s investigations of the WB’s allegations of corruption to end before deciding on its involvement in the PB. The Ambassador also said that the construction of the PB is theoretically possible from domestic sources but highly unlikely to happen.
The Foreign Ministry failed to consider what is obvious to those who know Japan and its foreign policy goals and objectives in building hopes that it would come on Bangladesh’s side parting with the World Bank. Japan would never cut links with WB where the latter has walked away from a mega project because of corruption. Further, the Ministry also seemed unaware that in Japan’s aid diplomacy, the question of funding any project where there is even the slightest suspicion of corruption is absolutely impossible. Among the aid providing countries, Japan has the highest ethical standards and its parliament is the most effective watch dog against corruption.  
The Ministers, by some poor diplomacy, and the leaders of the ruling party by some insensible and mindless statements have pushed the government into uncharted waters. It is time they shut up and deal with the PB issues outside the media to avoid more serious disaster lurking in wing. They would do themselves, their party, the government and their leader a great service if they cared to wait and see what would happen to the case in the Canadian court and the fund that SNC Lavalin has allegedly paid to officials in the Bangladesh Government based on which the World Bank has cancelled the loan.
The World Bank Country Director and the Japanese Ambassador, in particular the latter, have shown what diplomacy is about. They have made some very strong statements about this government without use of any undiplomatically or unparliamentarily language. There are warnings obliquely mentioned in their statements about the case in the Canadian court, which the government is not even focusing. Our negotiators and those conducting diplomacy on behalf of this government would do well to study their style of diplomacy and their statements to see the mess they have made and the dangers that they have alluded to. The most perplexing aspect of this government’s negotiations is after all the abuse that its leaders have heaped on the WB, the Finance Minister is still expecting the WB to fund the PB. 
If this is not perplexing enough, the Malaysians have on their own said that they would start the project by October while an Australia-based Chinese company has offered to build the bridge with a financial option better than the World Bank! In the midst of the air of surrealism created wittingly or otherwise by the government leaders over the Padma Bridge, the only sensible statements that have found their way to the media so far have been those of the Japanese Ambassador and the World Bank Country Director. 

BY :  M. Serajul Islam. The writer is a former career diplomat and retired Ambassador to Japan and Egypt.

PADMA BRIDGE : Hunting the truth

“Truth is stranger than fiction,” it is said. Yet man’s search for truth is never ending. Gautam Buddha sat under the Bodhi Tree in search of the truth. Others strive to find it through reasoning, fact –findings and evidences.
To ‘hunt for truth’ is a dangerous proposition and that is what Shiro Sadoshima, the Japanese Ambassador has suggested as perhaps, the last resort to unearth the facts which underlie the myth of the Padma Bridge. 

While exchanging views with the Diplomatic correspondents’ Association at the National Press Club, he said: “We are discussing the financing issue among ourselves as our tax payers would raise question about our spending”. He then added: “Bangladesh’s position in CPI (corruption precision index) is not recommendable.”

The democratic government in Bangladesh, he said, is not functioning properly and from the investor’s point of view, it is not a good thing. He suggested that formulating policies about governance, integrity and corruption is vitally important and when these policies would be in place, it would bring good results. Commenting on the allegations of corruption that had come up in the run up to the finalization of the World Bank credit, he said: “There are allegations out there and you have to deal with it. Basically we are in a process of making our position”, he said, adding: “Your government’s action will help my government take a decision. We are watching very closely what actions are taken to hunt the truth”.
Replying to questions whether the construction would be possible with Bangladesh’s own finance, he briefly remarked: “logically possible but not viable.” Substantiating his statement he argued that the construction of the bridge is not the only purpose. What matters is the service to the people. Financing is important in providing the service as the government has to keep it at a reasonable price level. If the cost of financing is high, the government would have to provide huge amount of subsidy. “Those subsidies”, he said, “would kill government. We are watching that portion”. 
The views of the Japanese Ambassador, our biggest development partner over the last four decades, spell out the multi-faceted implications of the failure of the Bangladesh government to strike the biggest credit deal ever with the World Bank . First , the failure has hit the 16 districts of the country’s south-western region very hard. 
Here the proportion of population living below the poverty line is about five percent higher than the national average. Lack of connectivity with the country’s all powerful and all- embracing civil –political bureaucracy in Dhaka is primarily responsible for the existing disparity which will grow further if the under-developed areas are not connected to the centre with a viable network of communication .
Second, after this unforeseen turn of events for which the same unwieldy bureaucratic machine is largely responsible, Bangladesh’s position in the Corruption Perception Index is no longer recommendable to the taxpayers of the donor countries who need to understand how the investment mix will change overtime and where it will land. If they are not happy with the risk involved and if the funds are misplaced and raise questions, they simply decline participation. 
Third, in the existing circumstances it will not be sufficient for the government to simply play out the math, continuing to pick up kid’s Tiffin money and threatening to build the bridge with ministers’ one day’s pay as the government loses high-profile contests in the eye of the world community. It may be able to build the bridge even with the money of some unknown tycoon in Malaysia, but that way the government will never prove it’s innocence: that nobody in government or connected with it is involved in the corruption game. The Padma Bridge issue has created a distance between the government and the international community and that distance may further widen, which is fatal. The government badly needs to pitch down-to-earth, be substantive and specific to the purpose, get gritty and show willingness to scuff its shoes in pursuit of meaningful understanding with the comity of nations of which we are an integral part.
Fourth, stepping up understanding is more complicated than just playing the game of politics to win elections. It’s really the big world out there. And the nature of the challenges each nation is facing is not only bilateral and multilateral, but trans-national as well. The biggest challenge before the government is to present an affirmative agenda, not a reactive one. There are as many electoral constituencies within the country as there are countries and world bodies with which we have relationships. So at the end of every day we have to find out whether we have maintained proper relationship with everyone and shown enough courtesy. We must keep an eye on the long term trend because the global community is working toward a coherent goal. None will wait for us if we falter or fail to catch up.
So, there is a matrix of issues involved in each of the international communications and it is surprising that the Foreign Ministry has not spoken a word on the issue. Relationship with the world is critical to the formulation of state policy having the perspective of diplomacy when decisions are made. We have invested time and effort over the last forty years to build up relationship with different states and important world organizations. 
As a sovereign state we may insist over the prerogative that we are entitled to conduct our affairs following a go-alone policy. But when we assert such a prerogative we disconnect ourselves with rest of the world and lose the battle straightaway. It is, therefore, essential that we think along the same line as rest of the world thinks. 
We have to go and meet, talk and listen to manage all our relationships. What matters most is the trust and confidence; with that we can always find the common ground to work on. And there will be a more likely convergence if the country or organization we are talking with feels that we have developed a cordial relationship. We have spent an enormous amount of time and energy just building those relationships. Now it is all about having enough trust between the partners so that misunderstandings do not occur and there can be greater appreciation of each others’ point of view.
At the moment there is a grey area where the national interest or the public interest is not self-evident. It is important that we re-establish the relationship with the World Bank so that there is a measure of respect in negotiations especially in a situation when a crisis has developed. In the Padma Bridge case, the government must prove that it acted “in the public interest” and not for “private gain” of certain individuals.
Economist Thomas Sowell very aptly described how people work differently for different purposes: “Those spurred on greed may well drive throughout the night or take short-cuts over rough terrain, while those operating “in the public interest are more likely to proceed on a less hectic pace and by safer or more comfortable routes.”
Unfortunate though , the government, in the instant case, has chosen the rough terrain for a short-cut which is not a safe route for the people of this country.
BY :   Abu Hena.

Myanmar Shouldn't lead the Rohingyas to secession

If the Myanmar government doesn’t accept the Rohingyas as their citizen let a separate independent state for the Rohingyas be created in the Arakan region.

 Myanmar President U Thein Sein’s open confession that he desires to expel all the Rohingyas from Arakan uncovers one true that it was the Myanmar government that perpetrated the recent episode of communal rioting that killed and wounded and displaced unspecific number of people. According to Mr. Thein Sein, as “the Rohingyas don’t belong to their ethnicity so they are illegal and hence would be deported if any third country would accept them” and in his language “This is what we are thinking in the solution to the issue.”

Such irresponsible utterance of Mr. Thein Sein indicates that he and his associates is the main architect of the planted massacre against the relatively peaceful Rohingyas. The episode of so-called rape of a Buddhist woman allegedly by Rohingya youths was nothing but a pretext. Such conclusion is further strengthened seeing role of Myanmar security forces, who instead of protecting the Rohingyas sided with the Buddhist rioters. It means it was a state-sponsored massacre and the entire government of the Thein Sein should be prosecuted in the International Court of Justice for their crime against humanity.

On the other hand, claim of Myanmar President is contrary to history. There are enormous historical evidences and records to disprove his claim that the Rohingyas are illegal intruders. Arakan virtually is an extended cultural, linguistic and religious unit of ancient Bengal. As a natural Physiographic unit, the whole region of Arakan is separated from the rest of Myanmar by Yuma range running north to south. It is close to Bengal in comparison to mainland Myanmar where Muslims reside since over one thousand years. The medieval Bengali literature flourished in Arakan. The literary works of Daulat Kazi, Alawal, Mordon, Nassrulla Khan, etc., bear the testimony of Bengali Muslim predominance in the region.

Earlier The Arab Muslims first came in to contact with Arakan through trade and commerce during the 8th century A.D. and since then Islam started spreading in the region. After the advent of Islam in Arabia, Muslim traders, preachers, pirs, saints, darvish from Arabia, Iraq, Persia and other regions of central Asia gradually thronged the region. Moreover, the legendary Hanifar Tanki and Khayafurir Tanki (both are shrines) in the Mayu territory between the rivers Kaladan and Naf, the shrines of “Babazi Shah Monayam of Ambari” and “Pir Bader Shah” (Badr-al-Din Allamah), situated on the coast of the Bay of Bengal at Akyab, all bear evidence of the arrival of Muslim saints in Arakan in the early period of history. Muslim traders and preachers settled in the region that subsequently spread Islam among the locals in Arakan. The Rohingyas are the descendants of those Muslims. History says, Arakan was an independent country for centuries and the Burmese Buddhists invaded Arakan and during the British rule the region remained with Rangoon.

So the Rohingyas are not newcomers or intruders in Arakan. They are Muslims, they speak Bengali, still there is no scope that they originated from the territory which comprises Bangladesh today. But a few people of Bangladesh territory went to the region in search of work who married the local women and fathered children.

No government, other than Thein Sein, earlier ever claimed that the Rohingyas were illegal intruders in Myanmar. In fact, there is no scope to brand them as illegal intruders, as they are the original residents of this region, which was engulfed by the Buddhist settlers after Burmese invasion. Most importantly, the Rohingyas actively participated in the independence movement of Burma. Like all other Myanmar nationals they participated in all national and regional elections held in different phases of time. Even the former successive Myanmar governments signing agreements with Bangladesh facilitated the return of most Rihiingya refugees who crossed the border in 1978.

Now Thein Sein cannot reverse or bury history. In fact, he invokes a fatal game. If the Rohingyas, due to their marginality in all respects, including population and economy, are treated as illegal intruders in Arakan where they live for over thousands of years, then none is legal anywhere in the world. If his utopian theory is accepted it will be an example and whole world will face unprecedented chaos and rivalry as the majority will claim that the minority people are illegal intruders. His audacious statement to confine the Rohingyas to refugee camp and ultimately to deport them to a third country simply invites problem not for Myanmar, but for other countries, particularly for Bangladesh. Despite repeated anti-Rohingya genocide since 1942, they remained clam and loyal to Myanmar Union. But the irresponsible utterance of Thein may change entire scenario. He simply provokes the Rohingays to be armed and unruly to wage war against the non-Rohingyas now living in Arakan.

The expansionist powers around the world may avail of the situation that will seriously cause Myanmar and beyond. Sein should come to his sense that he doesn’t live in an age of darkness or barbarity or isolation. He should leave his military, better to say, dictatorial mindset and communality and stand for democracy, humanity and human rights, above all reality. He should repent and seek apology for such aggressive and inhuman utterance and take appropriate step immediately to rehabilitate all the Rohingyas in their homeland with equal status and privileges who are scattered in many countries of the world, including Bangladesh and end all types of discriminatory draconian laws and rules that were imposed on them in recent years.

The Myanmar leadership should come to its sense. They made crime snatching away all the rights of the Rohingyas, including their state-identity, voting rights, rights of having children, marriage, and all other privileges what they should enjoy as the nationals of Myanmar. Their problems seldom get international media coverage as they are marginal in number (around one million), and Muslims in faith. The international community remained, as if, ignorant of their problems, for decades. International community cried for democracy even awarded a Nobel Peace Prize to Aun Sun Shuki for her struggle for democracy, but paid no heed to the causes of the Rohingyas that led the Rohingyas to be persecuted by the predominantly Buddhist community under a so-called democratically elected government of Sein. Now the time has come to solve this problem once for all.

If the Myanmar government doesn’t accept the Rohingyas as their citizen let a separate independent state for the Rohingyas be created in the Arakan region with its capital in Akyab. Such tiny state has already been created for the religiously and ethnically minority people of East Trimor. The international community should ask Myanmar government what option they prefer whether they are ready to accept the Rohingyas with full status as Myanmar nationals or form a separate state in Arakan out of Myanmar. There is no other solution to the problem. If they choose the first option they (Myanmar government) are to pledge with a guarantee that such massacre will never occur again against the Rohingyas or any other marginal community now living in Myanmar.

Being a neighboring country Bangladesh can’t ignore the tragic state-sponsored persecution against the Rohingyas. Bangladesh government should genuinely evaluate the inner mindset of Myanmar and lodge strong protest against it, as Myanmar President points his finger towards Bangladesh as their ancestral abode what is totally contrary to historical facts and documents. There is little scope for Bangladesh to remain silent or try to solve the problem through bilateral dialogue that will simply prolong the problem and misery of the Rohingya people. Bangladesh should mend and warm up its cold relations with the Muslim and democratic world, ASEAN region, Japan and Australia and particularly ask China to bridle Myanmar. Initiative should be taken to table the issue before the regional and international forums. It is no longer a bilateral issue. Our passive role and tolerance made the Myanmar arrogant and believe that we are too weak to face Myanmar in any level. We should reverse such fancy conclusion of the Myanmar rulers. Rohingyas have rights to live in their homes in Myanmar, and Myanmar is obliged to create and provide congenial atmosphere in Arakan region for the honorable repatriation of the Rohingya refugees or create a separate independent homeland for them in Arakan what is actually belonged to them.*

BY :   Mohammad Zainal Abedin. : Email:

Humayun laid to rest

Humayun Ahmed has been laid to rest at his favourite retreat at Nuhash Palli in Gazipur on Tuesday.

Thousands of people including his fans, relatives and friends thronged Nuhash Palli to say 'good bye' to the popular writer who captivated them for nearly four decades.

As Humayun was buried, rain, which had fascinated the writer most in his lifetime, poured down incessantly.

Humayun's elder son Nuhash led the pallbearers who gave their shoulders and placed Humayun in the grave. Nuhash was wearing a Panjabi of blue colour, the colour his father related with rainy season in many of his fictions.

Humayun's daughters Sheela and Nova, second wife Meher Afroz Shaon and her sons Nishad and Ninit attended the burial along with the writer's two brothers – Muhammad Zafar Iqbal and Ahsan Habib – and two sisters.

Following family's decision early morning on Tuesday to bury Humayun at Nuhash Palli, the ambulance carrying Humayun's remains left BIRDEM mortuary. The ambulance with Shaon and her sons aboard reached Nuhash Palli at 12:05pm.

Nuhash, Sheela and Nova, Humayun's children with his first wife Gultekin, reached their before the ambulance came.

Fans started to throng Nuhash Palli as soon as the first light of the day appeared and about a kilometre of road stretching from Nuhash Palli to Pirujali village was filled with people.

All of them took part in the writer's last namaj-e-janaza conducted by the Imam of a local mosque Mozibur Rahman. The writer was laid to rest in his grave dug out at Humayun's favourite part of Nuhash Palli, Lichu Tola.

Humayun died on July 19 at a New York hospital after battling with Cancer for about ten months. His first janaza was held in United States followed by the one held at Jatiya Eidgah on Monday.

His burial site selection saw division among family members. Shaon claimed Humayun's last wish was to be buried at Nuhash Palli while the writer's three elder children from his first wife wanted their father to be buried at a place in Dhaka easily accessible by all.

Zafar Iqbal informed the media about the decision of burying his brother at Nuhash Palli at 2:30 am Tuesday saying they did not want to get Humayun's burial delayed anymore.