Friday, April 12, 2002

'Spooky Stench’: Light a Matchstick or two!

Response to: "Musharraf Chasing Terrorists In Chittagong" of 29th July 2002 in www.tehelka.com.
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It is always a ‘treat’ to have pieces like this one from Mr. Saleem Samad or his fellow ‘co-scoopist’ Mr. Subhir Bhowmick, for they have this amazing knack of weaving facts, fiction and fabrications which, combined, makes for excellent ‘toilet reading’ or is it ‘toilet necessity’?

For those with dreadful constipation these stories works as a miracle drug as it scares readers to a state of ‘defecating in fear’ - the stench, no ‘minor aberration’! However, for those of us not afflicted with the cruel bowel malady or are ‘not so very scared’ this is a chance to ‘light a matchstick or two’?

Readers, it works!

If any of you have had the misfortune of an access to ‘heavily overused’ public or private toilets in Bangladesh and are ‘force majeure’ compelled to SIT (or crouch) on the ‘throne’ immediately after somebody has ‘eased’ him or herself OUT - try burning a matchstick or two, and blow them OFF right away. Relief to the ‘senses’ is guaranteed, and I stake my reputation or the lack of it to this claim. Even in the inadvertent situation when one ‘breaks wind’ in public, the result is just as effective. Let me know!

Despite knowledge of such ‘native miracles’, we Bangladeshi have an obsession for anything ‘foreign’ and it has all to do with our rather long colonial legacy. While our generation might not have tasted this, it remains nonetheless, firmly ingrained in our psyche. Therefore, our ‘first port of call’ on Mr.Samad’s ‘story’ is the TIME report of Al-Qaeda fighters and Taliban being shipped into Chittagong port from Karachi.

Guidance -- it has to be ‘an American news magazine’ to give Mr.Samad this very important ‘chin up’ to lunge into his fairy tales, for benefit of readers in yet another very important ‘foreign (read Indian) website’: www.tehelka.com

Let ‘s ask ourselves?

Are reports in TIME sacrosanct? Mistakes can happen and do happen - whether willingly or unwillingly is quite another matter. However, there seems to be some cohesiveness in the TIME report and Mr.Samad’s hallucinatory fairytale, especially in the use of the word ‘source’ that he often conjures at a drop of the proverbial hat. It was of course nameless, affiliation-less ‘Bangladesh intelligence sources ’ that neither TIME nor Mr.Samad will ever reveal and came up with this very ridiculous claim. That is well within the domain of what is termed ‘journalistic prerogative’, or so we think. Hang loose!

But what about common sense?

Anybody with the most basic knowledge of the workings of transport industry’s (I was in it for 15 long years) know for a fact that the romantic notion of ‘stowaways’ in ships is now history. Any International transport company, whether aviation or shipping, has to produce a mandatory ‘manifest’ of its cargo, human or otherwise, to the authorities at every port of call. Therefore, to assume that ‘a Saudi-owned vessel smuggled 150 Al-Qaeda and Taliban out of Karachi to the Bangladeshi port of Chittagong’ is nothing but a ‘seaway heist’ on our cumulative imagination.

With computerized reservation and tracking systems in place worldwide it is now, not only possible to let the public at large know about the contents of the cargo of a vessel, but exactly when, where, why and how and importantly to whom, consignments were discharged at any given time and this can be done on a minute by minute basis anywhere in the world, including SURPRISE Bangladesh. Any takers?

There are, of course, individual stowaways and sometimes ship full of refugees, heading out to freedom. Most of the time they are caught and that makes news. To imagine that 150 Al-Qaeda fighters on a US hot pursuit were in one ship and ‘got away’ is really pushing it a bit too far. Also with the high US vigil at all seaports in November of last year, it is very unlikely that such a thing could happen and therefore
this ‘great scoop’ falls flat on its face.

If Mr.Samad believes in the authenticity of the TIME reports, I challenge him to let me only have the name of the Saudi vessel, and the date of its call in Chittagong port, and I will make sure he has the right answers. Also in his overheated narco-fantasia, it seems his geographical sense has also taken a pathetic yet convenient leave.

Imagine a Saudi ship, all the way from Karachi to Chittagong, by sea lapping the entire length of India’s coastline and slipping away without the knowledge of the Indian authorities, is anything but hogwash.

But what is of concern is the manner Mr.Samad, taking a queue from the TIME report and without a breather, rambles on in the next paragraph:

"Diplomatic and official sources said that questioned by Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) at several interrogation centres, the Bangla-speaking mercenaries disclosed that they were recruited and trained by fanatic Islamic organizations at 17 camps in Chittagong and Cox's Bazar, at the southern tip of Bangladesh."


This is a highly misleading stunt, because anybody reading the www.tehelka.com report and not the one from TIME will be led to believe that the above is only a continuation of the TIME report?

Time to light the first matchstick!

Read the full TIME report here ... to find out for yourself:

TIME reports:

"According to diplomats, a few al-Qaeda fugitives may have been given money and transport to get out of Pakistan by sympathetic staff at an Arab consulate in Karachi. Bangladeshi intelligence sources say that in the same month, a Saudi-owned vessel smuggled 150 al-Qaeda and Taliban out of Karachi to the Bangladeshi port of Chittagong"


Please note the words ‘may have been given money’, preceding the sentence, only confirms that TIME was merely being speculative and the next sentence of ‘Bangladesh intelligence sources’ was only its continuation. There was nothing in the TIME report on ‘Bangla-speaking mercenaries’ and this ISI ‘speak all’ information that Mr.Samad weaves so intrinsically is only to garner validity to the recent propaganda in the Indian media that www.tehelka.com is an ISI not a RAW outfit.

‘Blowing the cover’ in intelligence parlance was Mr.Abdul Ghaffar Chowhury’s article on these exact same lines in the Dhaka Bengalee Daily Protham Alo on the 2nd of August 2002 making it a signed, sealed, and delivered case that Mr.Samad’s ‘sensational scoop’ was nothing short of a ‘RAW feed’ that wished public opinions in Bangladesh ‘the way to be guided’ - prior or post the Musharraf visit to Bangladesh.

Now on to our second ‘port of call’ - the case of ‘jihadi camps’ in Chittagong.

Who on earth are the ‘diplomats’ that Mr.Samad seems to quote - if not INDIAN diplomats? These stories of ‘clandestine camps’ are well known to him for in his career as an ‘eminent’ journalist, he had managed to infiltrate behind the lines (albeit the other way around), enter, stay over night, photograph, and interview RAW backed Shanti Bahini guerilla’s in their camps in the Indian side of Chittagong Hill Tracts when very few people could. 17 ‘jihadi camps’ in comparison within the territory of Bangladesh should be a piece of cake!

With this great talent at ‘sniffing out’ clandestine activities, why is it that, despite the repeated propaganda about such so-called camps circulating for as long as our memory can serve us, {even during the long Awami League tenure, when the Government of the day was part of the propaganda chorus), has Mr.Samad failed to do a ‘Shanti Bahini’ out of ‘ Al Qaeda jihadis’? The answer to that is - they do not exist, period.

If the ‘jihadis’ at all exist in the territory of Bangladesh, it is within the hallowed precinct of the Indian High Commission in the bulging ’disinformation files’ of Mr. Mathur, the Dhaka station chief of the RAW, whose selective contents - Mr.Samad has been ‘commissioned’ to disseminate.

Time to burn the second matchstick. Ummmmmhmmmmhn!

Mr. Samad refers to ‘contemporary history’ to further elucidate his point on the existence of ‘jihadis’ when he says:

"After several plots by the hard-line Islamic fanatics were unearthed to assassinate former prime minister "Shiekh Hasina, the security was further tightened. The parliament last year passed a bill to provide elite bodyguards, Special Service Force (SSF), to protect Hasina even she is voted out of the government."


(Typos are Saleem Samad’s not mine!)

But is that the truth?

Sheikh Hasina’s paranoia on security had more to do with her hunger to hang on to power and reduce Bangladesh to an Indian backed ‘dynastic fiefdom’ - something her father had attempted and had to pay a price with his life back in 1975. That story of an attempt on her life in Kotalipara, Gopalgunj by a time bomb, turned out to be a dud and the well-woven ‘conspiracy theory’, fizzled out in due course. To give a ‘foreign nod’ to my above contention - a FBI team that came to investigate the incident left Dhaka without making any comments. No one has tried to find out why - not even Mr.Samad.

What Mr. Samad very sinisterly, has tried to conjure up this instance is nothing more than a by now hackneyed attempt, to once again vilify Bangladesh, assuming that each and every of its citizen has somehow slipped back to collective mass amnesia.

Irrespective of whose interest he serves and his ‘Ashoka fellowship’ on counter intelligence in India notwithstanding- I do hope that Mr. Samad is a patriot. Without sounding unpatriotic on my part, I for one will not dispel the fact that Bangladesh militants had ‘not gone’ to fight for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan or to Kargil, and Chechnya. Yes they have and they will continue to do so as it was none else but the
Americans who, back in the eighties, helped preach the sermon of ‘obligation of Muslims’ to volunteer for any ‘jihad’ call.

There is yet another reason. Contrary to popular misconceptions, Bengalees are a martial race, and in the eighties, in the ‘US backed jihad’ in Afghanistan against the Soviets, thousands of Bangladeshis perished without a trace, as they did in the Israeli siege of Beirut when they fought shoulder to shoulder with the PLO. Back then despite their Islamic identity, the world snapped its finger and tapped its feet and considered them ‘heroes’ even when they fought under Usama Bin Laden.

Today they are ‘necessary villains because again it is the Americans that wants us to believe that way. Fair enough, beggars may not be choosers we have no choice. Lest we forget in 1971 our Mukti Bahini guerillas were also ‘miscreant terrorist’ in the US/Pakistan schemes of things.

The information’s provided by Mr. Samad is nothing new nor authentic, but to espouse propaganda fed by ‘intelligence’, ’diplomatic’, or ‘informed sources’ that Bangladesh has somehow become the training and breeding ground for ‘global jihadis’, and that a blueprint for Pan Islamism is being designed here, is not only untenable but outright treachery. Toeing that line for any Bangladesh citizen means that the ultimate price has to be paid is by none else but its fellow citizens already condemned to being amongst the poorest in the world.

What is hurtful is when apparently responsible citizens of Bangladesh get involved in pre-emptive propaganda exercises for one or the other side never ever thinking once for the interest of Bangladesh. They have all the time to ‘inform the world’ through a notorious Indian intelligence website the existence of ‘jihadis’ out to make massacre when they themselves could become part of a slaughter. Can Mr. Samad furnish proof that he has informed the authorities in Bangladesh the privileged information’s he seems to habitually receive? No he has not - because the interest of his sponsors will not be served by his so doing.

On the so called ‘jihadi camps’, just a few months back the Bangladesh Foreign Minister not only vehemently denied their existence he volunteered to provide helicopters to help locate them! I guess for responsible journalist, suffering from ‘fear psychosis’ of the Saleem Samad variety this is an opportunity that could be well seized upon and one up for grabs even as I close this piece.

Should Mr. Samad consider a helicopter trip for a ‘jihadi camp sighting’ mission at GoB expense, I would very much like to hop in to the seat next to hi. I have never flown a whirly bird!

‘Fasten your seatbelts Ladies and Gentlemen don’t burn matchsticks and remember there are no toilets in this helicopter'!!

‘That smell Mr.Samad...... must be the ‘jihadi’ pilot"?

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