Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bangladesh Political Situation Update - 17th May 2007

1. Which way are we going? : Which side are you on?
“Ki Bhai, Kemon bujhtasen desher obostha”

Translation: “Hi brother! What do you make of the political situation in the country?”

One good way of figuring out which way we are headed is to have a look at the condition of the vehicular traffic in Dhaka. Nothing moves above 30 kms per hour and everyday the confluence of more rickshaws competing and challenging slick cars and buses – means the average kms per hour will probably dive down to 15 in no time? But what is unbelievable is all of this is happening at a time, when it seems we have a semblance of peace. There are after all no hartals, no roads blockades, no procession, yet the traffic nightmare and jams have only magnified and nobody – not even the military that jointly runs the country are pushed to do a quick fix.

The analogy between traffic condition and the state of the country, other than the time we are as wasting indicates progress (cars) being challenged at every opportunity by slow human driven vehicles (rickshaw). The annoyance that we feel when we are on the move, is the same annoyance we feel, when we read newspaper, watch TV or try to comprehend, which way this nation is heading. Dark, dim and forlorn appears to be our collective future, for we have taken it for granted that the status quo ‘may not be challenged’ – not until 2008. It is only fools and opportunists that believe democracy will be restored.

Let’s take a look at how
the voters list will work out, the first spanner into the wheel:

Bangladesh's election commission engaged the country's army on Sunday for help in drawing up an accurate voters' list so it can hold national polls next year ~~ Of the 91.4 million names on a voters' list prepared in 2006, more than 12 million are fake or duplicates, according to the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, posing an obstacle to transparent balloting.
that brought in
this loud retort from political parties:

Major political parties including Awami League (AL) and BNP yesterday urged the Election Commission (EC) to reconsider its decision to prepare the voter roll and national identity cards at camps instead of going door to door.
Every decision that the CTG has taken thus far has been challenged, and every time a new issue appears in the horizon, the reactions bog down the running of the government, just like rickshaws do to vehicular traffic every day.

Meanwhile the ‘minus two’ plans to throw out both ‘Begums’ from the country has fallen on foul weather. One wonders if the smart alecks that initially had planned such a move will ever be identified, but international condemnation and ‘shaming of Bangladesh’ continues.

Voters in Bangladesh, as well as those of us who analyze politics in South Asia, were no doubt fed up with the endemic corruption and political wrangling. So there is strong support for cracking down on corruption, but I believe there is little appetite for these types of political meddling. But that's what the interim government is creating, by harassing and intimidating politicians on all sorts of questionable grounds. In addition, if the interim government begins to favor newcomers, it runs the risk of losing popular support. When that happens, the fight against corruption will suffer a premature and tragic death.

To govern a country as populous and as desperately poor as Bangladesh is no easy ob. The task becomes almost impossible if its politicians are bent on making it ungovernable. If the army-backed caretaker government in Dhaka has so far received popular support for many of its moves, it is because it has restored a semblance of governance in the country. Sheikh Hasina Wajed's return home poses a new challenge to the interim administration. True, domestic and international pressure forced the government to retract its earlier decision not to allow her to come back to Dhaka. But it would be unfortunate if Bangladesh returns to destructive politics and anarchy. Both Ms Wajed and her rival, Begum Khaleda Zia, have to come to terms with the new reality in the country.

and there is also an Islamic terrorist scare that’s has been atypical of reporting from ‘across the border’, whenever the internal situation in the country turns ‘fluid’ :

Reports from India suggest that the US anti-terrorist intelligence is also concerned about possible "contamination" of JMB extremism in places of unrest like Singur and Nandigram in West Bengal where the peasantry, mostly Baishnab or Muslim, are putting up solid resistance of non-violent non-cooperation to land acquisition plans of the West Bengal government, defying police actions and genocidal attacks by pro-government political activists. US embassy officials have also reportedly met Moulvi Siddiqullah Chowdhury, a leader of Jamaatul Ulamae Hind with substantial local influence, to assess the danger of "jehadists" infiltrating the popular resistance.

2. Die-Nasty Politics: Is Khaleda on her way out?

Two of the best quotes on dynastic politics I have read so far:

Dynastic politics does not have to be a symbol of negativism. Hereditary politics cannot always be all bad. But questions about the negative and the bad arise when
clearly there is a propensity on the part of the nation's leading political players to promote their clans, without having them test their abilities in the rough and dizzying world of politics.
During the run-up to the cancelled January elections, one opinion cut through the
political polarization and achieved some consensus among non-partisan Bangladeshis. Whether articulated by shopkeepers, drivers or high-level UN personnel, this viewpoint could be summarized thus: "The best thing for this country would be to throw the two begums into the Bay of Bengal."
Another drama over Khaleda's trip abroad. By the way things are going in the political arena one can’t be too sure if the reported plan to throw Khaleda out of the country is true. Some analysts are of the opinion that she is genuinely unwell and needs to be hospitalized in Singapore. It is too early to say if she is leaving at all, for newer speculations suggest that the CTG has not yet okayed the departure of her younger son Arafat Rahman Coca, and ‘drama’ or whatever, we shall know shortly.
In a last minute drama, former prime minister and BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia postponed her suddenly scheduled departure to Singapore for a later date although preparations had been underway to board her on a flight last night. After a reported long cold fight between Zia family and the military backed interim government, Khaleda suddenly had taken the decision on Sunday to go to Singapore for treatment but her 'ailment' became too egregious to board a flight ast night, leading to the postponement despite having her name on the passenger list of a Singapore Airlines flight. ~~~ Sources however said Khaleda's decision to leave the country springs from her efforts to save her younger son Arafat Rahman Coco from any harassment, and because Coco himself persuaded his mother to leave the country due to the present 'adverse situation'.
Rumours circulating in Dhaka say, the CTG remains adamant that Coco remain in the country as new corruption charges may be brought against him shortly. In event of Khaleda’s departure with her original retinue, i.e. everybody, less Tareq Rahman who is in jail, it should not be too difficult to assume that it was part of a negotiated deal with the CTG. Meanwhile Tareq’s fate is on the hold for the next six month and anything may happen within that time frame.

3. Tasneem Khalil: Worth checking out the ‘new’ Buzz

I heard from friends in the Daily Star that Tasneem took leave the day after his traumatic experience with the Joint Forces and his rejoining date is yet unknown. Under the circumstances, I think its best that we wait out a period of time so that he can be with his family, while he plans out his next move, specially his next entry in his Blog, his first person account - which has now become most important to all of us to bury our apprehensions and all speculations. Fundamentally we need to know, what could have been so offensive in his Blog to be meted such treatment? If he was taken in for
‘personal reasons’ as Mahfuz Anam makes out in his statement, we wonder what they could be, and if they are malicious SMS messages, what are the contents?

Tasneem silence is understandable. He could still be under surveillance, and/or he might have signed some kind of undertaking, or might have been forced to make promises by authorities (a very common practice I may add) not to write for a while to earn his release, we don’t know. But what we do know merits a deeper thought. It would appear that Tasneem had some score to settle with powers now aligned with his employers or vice versa, and reading between the lines of
Shahidul Alam of Drik’s Blog, one is surprised that the 3rd May roundtable could have gone unreported by the mainstream media. Read on:

Mahfuz Anam, the editor of the leading English daily, The Daily Star, had proudly told me, “In all these years, not a single story had been spiked.” That was some time ago. Things were different now. The story of military involvement that Tasneem had revealed was pulled back from the press in the last minute. A commentator on the roundtable at Drik on the 3rd May, International Press Freedom Day, had equated the Daily Star and the Daily Prothom Alo with a new political party. The newspapers had elaborate reporting on the US ambassador’s love for democracy and a free press. The Drik roundtable, featuring some of the bravest journalists working in the land, went unreported. The roundtable had discussed the military, the corporate deals taking place, the heavy hand of foreign countries. It talked of deals being pushed through in the absence of dissent. Tasneem had deliberately not been asked to speak. That would be inviting trouble.
It would make sense to find out from participants of the Drik roundtable if any transcript of the days proceedings are available?

Let me add that I have never been a great admirer of either Mahfuz Anam of DS or Motiur Rahman of PA and have always believed that both are
neither ‘national newspapers’ nor serve ‘national interest’. I have thought them nothing more than ‘dhandabaaj’ (business crooks) and Media Mafia in the truest sense.

Words from the grapevine now ‘almost’ confirms Shahidul’s assertions that the DS and PA ‘gong’ (read cartel of ‘intellectuals’, Lawyers and petty Phd’s) are bending over backward to accommodate US interest in Bangladesh, and actually applying the final blemishes to the formation of a military backed political party. Lord beholds! The ‘3rd Force’ of the past ‘foaming at the mouth’ speculations didn’t have to be either the mullahs or the military – but a fusion of the military and ‘honorable’ uncivil citizens of the Civil Society jungle, that also includes if it is to be believed, ‘progressive’ mullahs. Who were the 3rd Force is now very clear. Politics make strange bedfellows?

It is therefore not very unusual to see radicals like Tasneem to have to face the back of a baton. Was he working on an ‘insider’s story’ to expose the cartel? We don’t know, but we have to keep digging, and my hunch is there is more in hand than a pile of dirt that awaits us folks. The DS/PA cartels are the new ‘collaborators’ of the unfinished Liberation War, and if there is even an ounce of patriotism left in us, they have to be resisted forcefully.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

TV update on Tasneem Khalil's Arrest

Hi all,
I am putting together this post culled from television news sources that I have been monitoring since 7 p.m., with an almost complete account from the Channel 1 report about and hour ago:
  • Channel 1 quotes a letter purportedly written by Mahfuz Anam the Editor of The Daily Star -TDS - which has aparently been circulated to TV channels.
  • It appears that Tasneem was not arrested for any reporting done for or on behalf of, or directly related to the TDS
  • The news report quoting Mahfuz Anams' letter said Tasneem was arrested for purely 'personal reasons' ; matters that may or may not be related to his Blog or to some SMS that he may or may not have sent to others
  • It was also reported that Tasneem would be set free 'soon', no date or time has been made available

Good night!


Protest the arrest of Journalist and Blogger Tasneem Khalil

Hi all,

Just a quick note to update everybody to the arrest of Blogger Tasneem Khalil, who is also on the employ of the reputed
Daily Star newspaper here in Bangladesh. Initial reports indicates, he was picked up from his residence by Intelligence agents of the Government sometimes after midnite last night (i.e. Friday 11th May, 2007), although the exact reason for his arrest is yet unknown at the time of filing of this report.

Suffice to say, Tasneem has always been a courageous journalist and he might have fallen foul of the law for a number of reports that he authored ~~ the most recent being for Human Rights Watch titled Judge, Jury, and Executioner:Torture and Extrajudicial Killings by Bangladesh’s Elite Security Force which details the performance of the Rapid Acion Battalion (RAB).

Meanwhwile Bloggers in Bangladesh and all over the world have joined in condemning the arrest of Tasneem and many have started mailing Western politicians and human rights groups to details his plight and ensure his release. While all of this happens, I am of the opinion that the case of Tasneem can be best served if a group of Bloggers get in touch directly with his employer The Daily Star and its Editor Mr. Mahfuz Anam, who I understand has clouts' with the military for it to 'see sense', as also contacts with the caretaker Government to ensure his speedy release.

As of 15:00 hours Bangladesh standard time no private TV channel seem to have picked up the news of Tasneems' arrest and it would make sense that some Bloggers call the Channels and ask them to do all that is humanely possible.
Since the arrest occued after midnite the print media has not yet picked up the story and hopefully tommorow, the journalist fraternity will wake up to Tasneems' plight.
I request everybody to do their best and importantly pray for Tasneem and his personal safety and security.
Truncated to this link are 3 filings/updates on Tasneems' arrest in BdOsints digital archive for ready reference.



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