l Nana chinta, nana bhabna...

Monday, November 28, 2005

Newsflash: The Media Is To Blame!

We're kind of used to our politicians making statements that would make the average citizen chuckle under his or her breath. Well, this time Nizami joins their ranks. In short, he thinks the prominent media coverage is to blame for the recent rise in militancy in the country. I mean, really, how stupid does he think people really are?

Mahfuz Anam does a pretty good job at putting this pronouncement in perspective.

I should note though that good as this piece may be, it still engages in a kind of vacuous blame-game right at the end that pisses off those who support Jamaat and similar organisations but are not interested in militancy. Yes, the Jamaat of 1971 was complicit in the heinous crimes of that day, and the militants of today certainly draw inspiration from their assassinations of the intelligentsia who, in their mind, represent the enemy, but such broad-sides are not that conducive to building the bridges that we need to at this time.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The jujus are in the house

With elections only a year away, and the AL putting nothing more than a token resistance and basically falling on their face every time they try to organise something, it seems that the biggest challenge to the BNP is getting its house in order:

"Ministers, MPs took all benefits depriving others: Say aggrieved BNP grassroots leaders" - from The Daily Star

In the same issue, there is another piece that is quite interesting:
"Media: Whipping boy of every unsuccessful government", by Mahfuz Anam

Thursday, August 18, 2005

We are attacked, again!

It has been a horrible day. I've been so angry for so long, I can literally feel my skin crawl. An unprecedented string of bomb attacks began about 24 hours ago, and as of know, we think 400+ bombs went off in 63 of the 64 districts within a span of about 30 minutes, killing 2 people and injuring 125.

I don't know what makes me more angry.

Maybe its the senseless carnage and the wanton disregard of human life and property.

Maybe its the fact that we have retarded leaders, who instead of trying to calm the people down, resorted to their blame games to score a few cheap points. Braindead Hasina spent no time blaming the government while attention-seeking whores in the BNP declared AL had done this to prevent the SAARC Summit from going ahead. Some Islamist parties declared that JMB didn't have the ability to carry this out, others declared such a party did not exist at all, and that the whole thing was a Western-Zionist conspiracy. With divisions like this, no wonder our enemies find it so easy to hit us again, and again, and again.

Or maybe its the fact that our security services were caught with their pants down, and that like the attacks on Hasina and the British High Commissioner and the assassination of Kibria, I can have as much hope that the perpetrators of this attack will be brought to justice as I can expect the next horse to sprout wings.

Of all the people involved, only the terrorists seem to have a plan. Honestly, I don't know who did this, and I am not going to speculate. Knowing our history, it could be anybody. But this I know - this attack defies all norms of human civilization and the government better bloody well get its act together and hunt down these bastards!

Have we not suffered enough?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

On Aug 15th

I just read an incredible piece in the Daily Star on how Mujib is seen by many in he post-liberation generations, and it spelt out exactly how I feel. I'm posting it below; its a must read for any in our younger generations, who can see beyond the need to call a hartal on this day, or celebrate it with 100-lb cakes.

Source: http://www.thedailystar.net/2005/08/15/d50815090169.htm

Bangabandhu And The New Generation
Connecting with the founder

Asif Saleh

A few days ago, in order to catch a live glimpse of Bangladesh vs Australia cricket match on the Internet, I logged on to a Bangladesh based website called bangladeshlive.net. While we were waiting for the game to start, the website showed a documentary on our liberation war. At one point of the documentary, I saw the March 7 speech of Bangabandhu -- the speech which is known as a big inspiration behind our liberation war. Suddenly I realised that I am 31 years old now and I had never before seen the actual video footage of this great part of our history.

Unfortunately, such is the relationship between the Mujib and post-Mujib generation -- a relationship of disconnect. Most of the post-liberation generation grew up either not knowing anything about him or knowing wrong and fabricated information fed by the two political parties.

After I grew up, the first time I ever saw Bangabandhu on television was when I was 16 -- after the fall of Ershad. Yes, it is hard to believe that in my formative years, I have never read about the founding father of my own country. Whenever, I heard his name mentioned, inevitably it would be in the context of some foolish comparison of him with Ziaur Rahman. As if to admire one of them, you have to hate the other.
I grew up admiring Zia for his personal honesty and leadership. When I was seven, I watched from the roof of our house the grief of hundreds and thousands of people who came for his funeral on Manik Mia avenue. I shed tears like others as well. That created a lasting impression.

I grew up watching the anti-autocratic movement against Ershad and admired the principled stand of BNP leader Khaleda Zia. Yes, I was termed as a BNP sympathiser because of that. Without really thinking about any ideology, I thought as a "Young Turk," Zia's party was always something I could relate to while Mujib's party always refer to this man who I have never seen or can connect to. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, to me, was a passing thought. He was a leader whose picture I have seen but whose story I have never read. I only heard about him from my parents and when the forty-something Awami League leaders mentioned him in their speeches in a vague language.

Why am I saying all this? Because that is how me, my friends, and most of the younger generation formed opinion about Bangabandhu in the post-liberation Bangladesh. Lack of information compounded with fierce and bitter fight over the comparative greatness of Mujib and Zia created a permanent block on knowing the truth about him. The more each party tried to portray their version of the history, the more historical facts became the casualty. And the more the young ones like us became distant, bitter, and eventually indifferent about it. In fact, the progressive forces had a lot to lose here because they did not have the state machinery working for them.

However, instead of being empathetic with them, the young generation grew more distant from them. Why? Firstly Awami League brought Bangabandhu down to the level of a petty partisan leader instead of keeping his status as the undisputed father of the nation. Secondly, instead of a progressive and intellectual fight back, they resorted to mindless unquestionable worshiping of Bangabandhu. It became a mantra where if you believed in our liberation war, you had to accept Bangabandhu's greatness -- unquestionably.

Any question that the young, curious, and uninformed mind may have, they will be termed as a neo-razakar. A few years ago, in a related Internet newsgroup, I proposed that AL, instead of blaming others, needed to do serious soul-searching on why they lost in so many elections after the restoration of democracy in 1991. Immediately, I was kicked out of the group moderated by a fierce fan of AL. To him, any criticism of AL was tantamount to blasphemy and therefore it could not be allowed. It goes without mentioning that such arrogance and idol-worshiping of a party and its leader is the last thing you want to do when you are in the business of winning new minds.

The biggest harm this brain-dead fundamentalism had caused was that it made Bangabandhu a distant and untouchable figure from the perspective of the young generation. For example, we often hear that AL has to realise the dream of the Shonar Bangla that Bangabandhu dreamt, but as someone who was brought up during the Mujib black out chapter of our history, how am I supposed to know what his ideas truly meant? No one talks about the very four core principles of the constitution that founded Bangladesh.

Maybe they talk about it in political slogans and vague speeches. But no one talks about it in a language we can understand -- in the context of Bangladesh of today. Ask these unpopular questions, you will be in the black book of Mujib worshipers just like I was.

Such fundamentalist supporters, unfortunately, are the biggest liability for the legacy of Mujib. I have an organisation that is built of young Bangladeshis worldwide. Originally people from all sections were part of it but now I have changed focus and am building the organisation entirely of the young. Partly because it is a lot easier to get an objective and fresh approach from a young mind and partly because their unclouded minds are more focused on implementing an idea rather than just talking about it. Recently, we did a project on creating website on the bomb blasts in Bangladesh -- the backgrounds, the investigations or lack of it, etc.

The principle motivation for this was not letting the facts surrounding these blasts become a causality before it is too late in the midst of blame and counter blames -- like so many other matters of importance in our history. We focused on just documenting the facts and let people make up their minds about it.

Can we find a similar study on Bangabandhu? In any historical matter of importance, finding a objective resource for historical study is a rarity in Bangladesh -- an objective study of Bangabandhu's career is no exception. As we are targeting to start an internship program, I am looking to compile a reading material for on the history of Bangladesh for the 2nd generation Bangladeshis. I know it will be a long struggle to come up with something authentic and objective on Bangabandhu.

Speaking of objectivity, I refer back to the footage of the leader of the nation on March 7 that I started watching on bangladeshlive.net. I admire his speech. Thanks to those twenty-something organisers of the website, I see him unfiltered and unadulterated. As I have grown up now, I have access to more information about him. I gathered a fond interest towards the history of our nation. Now that I think about him, I think of him as a great leader who led a political struggle effectively, but who was a failure as an administrator and a visionary. Now as I have read up a little more on him, I can connect with him a little bit more. I connect with the four principles of the constitution that he led to create. Such a progressive constitution still makes me proud to be a Bangladeshi.

It is time for our younger generation to connect with Bangabandhu like this and be similarly proud of him. It is high time that we rescue him from all the mudslingings of the politics. It is time Awami League brings him down to earth from the unreachable pedestal they have placed him on. It is time BNP stops manufacturing histories about him. Our politicians will do this man a favour by not abusing his name in speeches and on agendas.

They need to realise that only by bringing out the real Bangabandhu will they be appreciated by the public and most importantly by the younger generation. We need to evaluate him and his position in history objectively -- not for personality worshiping but for understanding what we should expect from our political leaders. We need to create the seeds for the next Bangabandhu from this new generation who will learn from his mistakes and be inspired from his accomplishments. We owe it to our nation and to our future generations.

Asif Saleh is the Founder and Executive Director of diaspora human rights organisation Drishtipat.org.

Monday, August 15, 2005

"Someone Tell the President the War Is Over"

The New York Times usually has good op-eds, but this one was particularly good.

(c) Barry Blitt (Source)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Yangoon the prat, Delhi the bully

Myanmar pulled a fast one recently. The New Age reported today:

... the Myanmar government has expressed its inability to provide funds to construct the Myanmar portion of the 153-kilometre road link.

The Myanmar government recently, in a letter to Bangladesh government, said that it would not provide any funds from its own resources or seek foreign funds to construct the road connecting the two countries, saying that the project is not in its priority list.

Even Bangladesh’s proposal to persuade donor countries to finance the project has been turned down by the Myanmar government, said a communications ministry official, citing the letter of the Myanmar government.

‘If Bangladesh finds any donor for Myanmar to finance the road link project, we will use the funds for some other priority projects,’ said an official quoting the letter, received early this month.

The letter asked the Bangladesh government to construct the entire road at its own cost or approach donor countries for funds to construct the road on its own initiative.

Can you believe the cheek? Yangoon tells us that not only do they not have the funds for the road, but if we find the funds for them, they're just gonna use it on someting with a higher "priority". Huh?!

Just to put things in perspective, this is what the deal was supposed to be:

According to officials the road, which will stretch from Taungbro to Kyauktaw in Myanmar via Ramu-Gundom to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, was planned to be constructed in two phases at the cost of Tk 933.46 crore. The Bangladesh government, according to the plan, would construct the 43-kilometre road in the first phase, out of which 20 kilometres would be in Bangladesh and 23 kilometres in Myanmar, at a cost of Tk 163.49 crore. The total cost for this would have been borne by Bangladesh. Out of the total sum, Tk 94 crore would have been spent for building the 23-km road from Taungbro to Bawli Bazar inside Myanmar along with two bridges and 90 culverts. Japan had also agreed to provide equipment to Bangladesh for construction of the 43-km road in the first phase, according to officials of the communications ministry. Later, in the second phase, another 110-km stretch of road from Bawli Bazar to Kyautaw in Myanmar would have been constructed at an estimated cost of Tk 770.26 crore.

We were going out of our way to be nice and make the road for them because this 153-km "Myanmar-Bangladesh Friendship Road" was supposed to be an alternate route for the Asian Highway that would allow us to connect with China and the South East Asian countries without having to go through India, which would have been a good thing because it's been quite a big pain in the butt recently.

And things were going well too - in June, we learnt that the government was planning to start constructing the road in the next fiscal year. There were no objections from the Myanmar side, (and why would there be - we were making their roads for free..), and no signs that things would turn sour.

So you can imagine how ridiculous all this suddenly sounds - a done deal suddenly falls so far off their priority list that we are asked to unilaterally fund a bilateral project.

Why, then, is Myanmar throwing a tantrum like a little kid, going "I won't, I won't, I won't!"?

This is where India comes in.

It so happens that at around the same time, high-level talks were also taking place surrounding the Myanmar-Bangladesh-India gas pipeline that started back in 1997. While Bangladesh stood to earn $125 million as transit fee form the gas pipeline, the clear beneficiaries were India and Myanmar - Myanmar would sell its vast yet unutilised natural gas reserves to generate much-needed revenue, and the gas would go towards meeting India's rapidly growing energy needs. That India already has part-ownership in some of the off-shore reserves, and Myanmar also desperately needs the revenue to prop up its stagnant and close-to-bankrupt economy make the deal particularly sweet for the two.

Seeing this as an opportunity to hash out some bilateral issues with India, Bangladesh decided to tag on three conditions to the tri-nation pipeline project - measures to reduce the trade-imbalance with India, providing corridor for Nepalese and Bhutanese goods to Bangladeshi ports, and access to hydroelectric power from Bhutan and Nepal. Initially, India seemed to be willing to consider these conditions, but later on hardened its stance and ruled out typing bilateral issues to a trilateral deal. Bangladesh, for its part, stuck to its conditions.

When energy ministers from India and Myanmar met in New Delhi on July 6th to explore an alternative route to the pipeline, Bangladesh was given a last minute invitation to make it virtually impossible to attend. The alternative route, by the way, was simply one that would bypass Bangladesh by adding an extra 500 km at a cost of Rs. 250 million to the 900 km pipeline that itself would cost Rs. 450 million.

Bangladesh felt India was trying to play hardball, and wished it 'good luck' - it felt there was no way the pipeline would be viable, not only because of the extra cost of the circuitous route that would have to pass through very difficult terrain, but also because India's NE is infested with separatists who would like nothing more than a pipeline to blow up every once in a while, making it a security nightmare for India.

Sure enough, nothing positive was heard about the possibility of pursuing the alternate route. Bangladesh, meanwhile, hinted that it would be willing to negotiate on some of its conditions. There's obviously some margin for negotiations, since we haven't had talks of any sort with Nepal concerning hydroelectricity and Bhutan has no excess supply after meeting India's demands, so one would think that as long as we manage to get the trade issues sorted out, things should work out to everyone's advantage.

It was reassuring to see that Delhi was responding in kind - India requested Bangladesh to reconsider and to that end, the Indian Additional Secretary of the Petroleum Ministry is expected to sit in two-day talks with the Bangladeshi Energy Advisor of the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources on August 5th and 6th.

This is the backdrop against which Myanmar is backtracking on the road project. No doubt, it is to create pressure on Bangladesh. Why do I blame India for this diplomatic imbecility on Myanmar's part? India knows that if the road does not happen, Bangladesh will have to use the portion of the Highway through India, something it is loathe to do. Myanmar doesn't have an inherent interest in the pipeline passing through India - it will earn the same revenue and will see little change in its production end, since the Indians will take care of most of the development and distribution investment. On the other hand, the costs for India will change dramatically if Bangladesh does not come on board. So while Myanmar doesn't have an inherent interest, it is forced to consider the demands of its significant customer, and thus has probably been asked to play some hardball itself.

What the outcome of this situation will be is hard to tell. Myanmar will probably be made to rescind its decision by India if it manages to negotiate successfully with Bangladesh. It does put us in an uncomfortable position though - we not only stand to lose the transit fee revenue if this doesn't work out, but it also chokes one of our accesses to the South East. The prestige issue given the significance of this road project in our Look East Policy can't be ignored either.

A little bit of outside help would also be nice at this point. China has emphasised the importance of the Chittagong-Kunming connection via Myanmar a few times and it could be asked to tell Myanmar to stop bullshitting around - China being a major patron of theirs and all.

Irrespective of the outcome though, Myanmar will have lost our trust by its reckless behaviour. I doubt it cares though - Myanmar's military junta is nonchalant about many important matters that relate to the average citizen, and I wouldn't expect concerns of bad business etiquette to be high on its agenda. This "Friendship" Road might still happen, but the trust that is important in any important friendship will have already been lost.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A post about nothing

I think I'm suffering from news fatigue.

Its harder being a news junkie these days than ever before. There is just so much going on, and most of it is quite depressing. You start wondering, at which point, really, did the world start falling apart at the seams? Can't help but think, the world's gone mad - bloody mad!

At home, a disturbing number of innocent young men are falling victim to extra-judicial killings by elite crime-busting squads because of some old vandetta or simply as a result of mistaken identity. A Canadian MNC is getting away with burning our resources into thin air, literally, and we're left wondering how they got paid in the millions without a contract, while leaving a trail of incredible incompetence and corruption in its wake. And the toothless opposition is preparing to protest something for the millionth time, and for the millionth time yet, we're all going to sigh and look away, tired and nonchalant, with rickshawpullers and taxidrivers wondering if its their vehicle that's destined to be sacrificed at the altar of political violence.

Abroad, you wake up one day to find that otherwise normal folks, like the bloke you could've been playing cricket with on any other afternoon, or the teacher who could've subbed in your sibling's school, have gone and blown themselves up in London. In Iraq, you pray that you won't get blown up while you do the day's grocery shopping or get mowed down by GIs on your way back because they weren't quite sure if it was groceries or something much less wholesome that you were carrying. And all this while, Sharon prepares to scream "lights, camera, action!!" for Act 7, Part 13 of his favourite production, "Let's Fuck Up The Palestinians Just a Wee Bit More!".

I dread reading the news now; every day, its more of the same, and while its a habit of old that's hard to kill, catching up on news has become the thing I put off until I've run all the errands for the day, as opposed to the first thing that I used to do even before I'd had breakfast.

I think what really did it for me, and has just had me disgusted since by the state of world affairs, is when I finished reading the book, "Shake Hands With The Devil", by Romeo Dallaire, the UN Force Commander in Rwanda during the genocide. His vivid descriptions of horrors that you wouldn't think human beings would be capable of leaves one shaken, disturbed and with a sick feeling in the stomach. A book like this also makes you realise how we've all become so desensitized to the horrors going on around us, that in addition to shaking hands, we as humans wink, smile, wave, and even embrace the devil, and not even realise it.

Not realise, that is, until it all comes crashing down one day and everything seems to be part of one big, degenerate mass.

Screw the news. Its 5 am, I'm going to bed.