imperfect | world | 2010

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

May 13,2008

Flooding in Bangladesh

Some views on climate change in Bangladesh:

1. Land is disappearing everywhere, but new land is taking shape elsewhere. The problem is that the politicians here lack a long-term strategy of gaining, developing and protecting new land.

2. Nowadays most of the sediment simply disappears into the deep sea. This is practically a mortal sin in a country that should have started a program long ago to use the fertile silt, mica and clay to protect its coastline, thereby protecting future generations from drowning.

3. Despite climate change, the country could even grow. Ultimately, though, the greatest threat in Bangladesh comes not from water but from political chaos.

Some forthright views from Carvajal Monar of Royal Haskoning in an article by Gerald Traufetter.

Apr 25,2008

James Moriarty

Seeing Cherie Booth yesterday on TV demanding the immediate shipment of Hasina for medical treatment made me think about foreign interference in Bangladeshi politics. So I am going to blog about James Moriarty, the US ambassador to Bangladesh. His arrival earlier this month portends, I fear, a menacing level of interference.

“Diplomatic activism,” if we can call it that, has been key in the recent developments in Bangladesh not least in the installation of the current military-backed caretaker government. So what can we expect in the future? Judging from his recent stint in Nepal, Mr Moriarty is not the type to engage in sensitive diplomacy. Indeed one journalist wrote “Moriarty was to prove very much an American cowboy in a Nepali china shop.” Read “cowboy” as euphemism for stoking conflict, murder and mayhem. As the results favouring the Maoists come in from Nepal, Mr Moriarty - their implacable opponent - must be wondering where he went wrong. The truth is that he never did possess a realistic view of what was possibile in Nepal. Mr Moriarty’s CV on the web tells us he has won several performance awards. Perhaps these were won mainly when he was behind a desk in Washington. In Nepal, his performance would have earned him a severe dressing down given the perverse outcome. And hence perhaps his appointment/demotion to Bangladesh.

So what did he do in the last four years in Nepal? And what can Bangladeshis anticipate? Since 2001, with the appointment of Christina Rocca as Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, the USA’s military involvement in Nepal has been considerable. The US pumped millions of dollars into building up Nepal’s security forces. Military exchange programs got expanded, and the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) saw its numbers swell from a pre-2001 figure of 35,000 to 100, 000 in 2005 and a projected 150,000 by this year. US military advisers swarmed the place, and the compliant RNA did their bidding from sabotaging peace talks to murdering people in cold blood. Many people believe that US arms support during this period intensified violence and killings of innocent people. John Mage writes:

The resumption of civil war in the fall of 2003 saw the highpoint of U.S. military involvement in Nepal. Elaborate permanent quarters for U.S. “advisers” were constructed adjacent to RNA headquarters in the centre of Kathmandu. Through its International Military Education and Training Program (IMET), the U.S. trained the security forces in “special operations.” There ensued “a policy to allow mass disappearances accompanied by tacit approval at the highest levels of state to use mass torture, extra-judicial killings and other gross abuses.” The government announced a plan for “Village Defence Volunteers,” based on Latin American paramilitary “death squad” models. This proved too much for the European Union Heads of Mission in Nepal, who up to this time had followed the growing U.S. intervention without adverse public comment. They warned, with diplomatic understatement, that in other countries such plans “have often been responsible for grave violation of human rights.”

Mr Moriarty arrived in 2004 and lost no time in engaging in “diplomatic activism.” The infamous killings and destruction of property in Kapilvastu in the Terai by the death squads revealed Moriarty’s political objectives. I again quote at length from John Mage:

“These semi-official communalist murders were immediately denounced by the European Union ambassadors and “Human Rights” groups. Moriarty, recalled to Washington for consultations, was reported to have pointed to these death squad activities as reasons for “optimism.” Moriarty returned to Kathmandu in May 2005 and did not deny the report when confronted with it, merely stating that there was a “range of opinion” about the Kapilvastu death squad outrage. Moriarty said his main concern was that the RNA was running out of bullets. Not wishing openly to break ranks with India or the European Union on the question of military assistance to the increasingly isolated royal regime, the United States turned to its Israeli surrogate. In August a “huge cache” of 5.56 mm bullets for the U.S. M-16 rifles was reported to have been supplied to the RNA by Israel.”

Earlier this year, another commentator, Mohan Nepali, had this to say about another massacre in the Terai:

“James F. Moriarty visited Nepal’s Terai region (bordering India), met Madhesi leaders and instigated them to take actions against the Maoists. Immediately after this, devastating communal violence erupted in the Terai region. The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, comprising not only armed robbery, smuggling and kidnapping gangs from both India and Nepal but also political workers and supporters from different mainstream parties ranging from moderate to ultra-rightist views, massacred 29 civilians in Rautahat in March 2007. The massacre is globally known as the Gaur Carnage.”

Moriarty’s job therefore was to stop the Maoists at all costs. Pratyush Chandra, writing in CounterPunch says, “for the US, the main task of the Nepalese politicians must be to eliminate the Maoists, not to bring in a stable democracy. The latter could be just an instrument in this regard. The “authoritarian rule” imposed by Monarchy per se was not wrong, If it had eliminated the Maoists, it would have been declared successful.”

A large number of writers describe how time and again James Moriarty over-stepped the boundaries of diplomacy to pursue these aims. On the eve of the historic April 2006 revolution which humiliated King Gyanendra, Moriarty was machinating to get the Seven Party Alliance to break their pact with the Maoists “and reconcile with the monarch contrary to the spirit of the people” according to Narayan Prasad Wagle. He goes on to state that

“Moriarty’s visits of army camps and frequent speeches about domestic political affairs do not confrom to diplomatic norms and etiquette, and principles of Vienna Conventions on diplomatic relations. The arms deal between the government and the Maoists was unreasonably delayed partly due to the threat of suspension of aid by America if the conditions put forward by it (were) ignored.”

I wonder now that Moriarty has left the country whether he has come to terms with why the Nepalese did not swallow his viewpoint. I wonder if he remembers his words from 2005 when he said the maoists were a “terrific threat” and wanted an “absolutely terrific totalitarian state in Nepal that also threatens the stability of the entire region.” His use of the word “terrific” is a bit strange as the writer Professor Gary Leup noted. He means it in the pejorative sense clearly. (Again according to his CV he speaks many languages including Nepali and Bangla. Some would say he should practise his English more - preferably back in the USA). But Gary Leup in the same article may have some light to shed on why Mr Moriarty’s dreams were never realised. Professor Leup assumes the voice of Thomas Paine and writes :

“The rebellion in Nepal is a revolt in favor of Reason. It makes no sense for 72% of its people to live below the poverty line, many in conditions resembling medieval European feudalism. It makes no sense for the government to neglect the population and present the king as the incarnation of a god. It makes no sense for 60% of the development budget to come from abroad, or for the country to so lack job opportunities that 50,000 Nepali women have to work as prostitutes in Mumbai, India — half the city’s total. It makes no sense for infant mortality to be 70 in 1000 because there’s just one doctor per 25,000 people, or for longevity to average 59 years, or for literacy to stand at 45% with only a third of girls getting any education. The revolution will quite likely change all this. The world is my country, all men my brothers, all women my sisters. So I reject the horrid depictions of it and yes, I support the truly terrific revolution in Nepal.”

Apr 15,2008

Jacqui Spliff

The procession of Labour cabinet ministers visiting Bangladesh continued this month. Jacqui Spliff, correction Smith, had a few things to say at the British High Commisioner’s residence the other day. Like her predecessor, the offensive John Reid, this Home Secretary also is obsessed focussed on terror. I wonder if she will flesh out some of the points she made below. They elevate the status of Bangladesh as a terror exporting country. Certainly, last January, this assessment by the foreign powers had something to do with what transpired in the country.

And this week Jacqui revealed that there were currently 30 active and ongoing terror plots in the UK. And some 2000 people involved. Well, I never…whoa etc. Like in true Tony Blair style, this government wants people to be scared. And scared people will accept anything including of course the lengthening of detention of terror suspects to an unprecedented 42 days. ( If you recall Tony tried 90 days and was defeated).

The labour party no longer uses the phrase “war on terror” but otherwise all things remain the same. Anyway, this is what Jacqui had to say in Dhaka:

There is a potential linkage between terrorists in Britain and terrorists in Bangladesh and we have shared interest and endeavor to tackle it through both short- and long-term measures…


We agree with the US analyses about HUJI-B [Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh] as a potential threat.


We value our counter-terrorism relationship with Bangladesh very highly.

Back to the good old days

Apr 11,2008

Committee to Mess up the bloody place

The battle hardened fundamentalist forces took us back to pre-Jan 2007 days today when they turned the streets of Dhaka and Chittagong  into the type of potentially deadly confrontations we used to witness between the two established Bangladeshi tribal groups. Members of the Committee to Resist Normal Civilised Behaviour (also known as Committee to Resist Anti-Quran Laws), Jamaat and others took to the streets to protest against any kind of implementation of laws which give equal property rights of women. 

It would be anti-koranic and against the teachings of the prophet they argue. Remember the koran is the uncreated word of allah himself. It applies, whether you like it or not, to all places and for all time for muslims. It is beyond negotiation and it is the absolute truth. Got that?
Reformist muslims will come forth with all sorts of checks and balances and quotations but the fact of the matter is that it all adds up to nowt. You can’t do battle on the terms set by these mullahs. Every piece of surah or hadith has its reply from these learned chaps. So what is the answer? Build a tradition of secular politics? Um….i think we all know the shameful history of Awami League. Build a progressive politics based around Bangladeshi nationalism? Um… I think we all know the shameful history of BNP on that. Um…er…fight them on the streets? Now you are talking…

The liberal in me is piping up and squeaking - but what about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? What about the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women? What about our secular intellectual tradition? Well we haven’t bothered much really in the past -  with women or minorities or children or workers or refugees or the disabled or the infirm or journalists or ….. this nebulous concept called democracy.

Aloo bortha links

Apr 3,2008

The general has spoken: “let them eat Aloo bortha.” That is the advice given by Bangladesh’s top general concerning how to deal with the country’s rice crisis. To mark this historic and remarkable exhortation, I give below a recipe for aloo bortha.

1. Boil potatoes until soft. In the UK I find the Maris Piper variety to be best.

2. Fry onions and dried red chillies.

3. Set aside the onions and dried chillies to cool.

4. Add a modicum of the oil you have just used into the boiled potatos. Crush the chillies into the potatos, and mix the whole thing with the onions.

5. Salt to taste. Roll into fist sized balls.
Serve with rice, as the general has suggested, immediately.

A particularly large helping of bortha is required for Hasina who has ear trouble, eye trouble and standing-up-in-court trouble.

And John Pilger’s defence of Mr Slippery Moudud Ahmed is made bortha of by Asif Saleh in CiF . But Asif old chap, could you not have used the space to talk about other things? I mean Pilger’s intervention is old hat and has been dealt with sufficiently. Why make unnecessary aloo bortha of that has-been from down under?

Mar 28,2008

Yesterday the UN unveiled “ten stories” it thinks the world should know more about. Statelessness is one issue on the list. The blurb, which is illustrated by an image from Bangladesh, says:

Statelessness is a corrosive, soul-destroying condition that can colour almost every aspect of a person’s life. People who are not recognized as citizens of any state may be unable to go to school, work legally, own property, get married, or travel. They may find it difficult to enter hospital, and impossible to open a bank account or receive a pension. If someone robs or rapes them, they may not be able to lodge a complaint, because legally they do not exist.

Mar 24,2008

Mobile phone jammers

After today’s news, I have identified a niche in the market.  Please contact me if you would like to buy one of these wonderful devices. Designed specifically to save you a lot of embarassment. I will do you a good deal on bulk orders of these portable mobile phone jamming devices.

Mar 14,2008

Ah finally some good news for Bangladeshis….Tahmima Alam has won the regional Commonwealth best book prize ( Europe and South Asia) with her book “A Golden Age.” It is on my ever expanding reading list for this year… Well done her and I wonder what she will do with the 1000 smackeroos?

It is said that ex-PM Hasina’s stomach has become a pharmacy in the last three months….perhaps that is why  5 members of the 7 panel team of doctors looking after her have been replaced? The CTG says they were partisan doctors ( …as well as being relatives of various Awami Leaguers). We have a partisan judiciary ( or has that really ended??) - so why not partisan doctors? The hosptial is keeping schtum ( they have most to gain after all if they treat her…) with John Gomes, the General Manager of the hospital, declaring he knows nothing. Would someone please tell the man that as General Manager its his damn business to know? The “dodgy 5″ believed that she was in danger of going deaf among other things. There might be some truth in that. Instead of pumping her with medication, has anyone tried telling Hasina to stop shouting? It might do her hearing and her party a lot of good?

And then we have this editorial. It is disheartening news that after announcing a radical set of measures concerning women’s property rights, the government climbed down after pressure from the great guardians of koranic truth. So what the hell is this editorial doing painting a rosy picture and ignoring the vociferous objections to the proposed law? What have I missed?

Mar 12,2008

The man from down under spouts selective nonsense about Moudud Ahmed in an article melodramatically entitled “The Prisoner of Dhaka.”

Feb 21,2008

….lets dwell on its legacy for a moment. I am not keen on rituals and I am wondering whether 21st February has become some kind of moribund ritual. And I am thinking that the resounding recognition given to this day by the international community ( International Mother Language Day) is not being lived up to.

Let me start with a little anecdote. I am the researcher and co-producer of a documentary on the urdu-speakers of Bangladesh (Swapnabhumi - The Promised Land). Its been well received so far and is shortly to hit the international festival circuit. I am currently working with the Bihari community to have this documentary shown in all the camps in bangladesh where they presently live in segregation. They had chalked in February as the start date for these shows but then community leaders felt that February was too sensitive a month to hold such a showing. The mainstream Bengali community had no problem showing the docmentary at a Film Festival yesterday but the biharis thought it would be asking for trouble and decided to postpone the showings until next month. I was disappointed by their decision - a decision born out of fear and 2nd class status -  but I did not push it. I don’t live in one of those god-forsaken camps. I accepted it with regret and a feeling of the distance still left to go….

There is a moment in our documentary where a Bengali poets laments the fact that there are so many talented urdu poets in Bangladesh yet Bengalis don’t know anything about them. And that their language is derided.

Is this the legacy then of 21 February? Is this the measure of our inclusiveness? Of course urdu holds a particular problem for Bengalis given that the tyrants of Pakistan wanted to shove this nawabi language down our throats. But the legacy of 21 February falters elsewhere as well.

Its alliance and celebration of a particular nationalist narrative has had particular implications for those who are Bangladeshi but are not Bengali. You can sum it up in one word - exclusion. The Chittagong Hill Tracts is a festering example of what exclusion from a nation amounts to. The monoculturalism in the CHT goes far beyond just language.

Why can’t the martydom Bengalis witnessed on 21 February 1952 not infuse them with sufficient indignation to deal with these areas of shameful silence? Yes its a rhetorical question. And yes we all know the real answer. However, lets demistify it just in case you regularly get off on this banal ritual and feel great about it. Language policy is always a calculated issue in the hands of a political elite or a state. We know from our contexts - whether you are in Europe, Asia, America or Africa - that a language policy can be spun as something which promotes national integration and social cohestion. We also know that it can be a tool to suppress and marginalise. What is Bangladesh doing 56 years after the lessons of that fateful day?


Feb 16,2008

Taslima Nasreen from Tehelka

This interview with Harinder Baweja was done before the extension of her visa (due to expire tomorrow) by the Indian government. She is confined to a safe house and she does not how long the extension is for. She was awarded the Prix Simone de Beauvoir by the French government for her writing but was not allowed to receive the award from French President Nicolas Sarkozy when he visited India last month. Here is an excerpt from the interview.

Do you think you have become a political pawn?

I think so. And I am not a political person. I am a writer. I don’t do politics. I just love to live in Kolkata because my language is Bengali. And I love Bengal. I am writer who writes in Bengali not in English. I want to be with my readers, with my Bengali friends. And my relatives from Bangladesh can come to see me in Kolkata. So I feel at home in Kolkata. I don’t want to do any politics. I don’t want to be used for political purposes. I begged many times not to use me for any political purposes. I am a simple human being. I write for humanity and human rights. I want to live on my own and also write whatever I believe in. So I am not harmful for society, I want to do good for it. I want to write about women’s rights and freedom so that they can get self-esteem, strength. There are so many women who love my writing. So it’s important for them and me. Also I can find meaning in my life if I could live here peacefully. I was living here peacefully until I was used for political purpose.

Feb 7,2008

I leave it to you dear reader - which is the less palatable news? That bird flu is running rampant in the country or that the equally deadly Hasina might be let off on a technicality? The most bizarre ruling has just been passed by the High Court. Apparently Hasina cannot be tried for alleged crimes which took place several years ago and committed before this caretaker government took over. Tried, that is, under emergency regulations (with no bail etc). Interestingly of course when it comes to the punishment of others for similarly old or older crimes,  the Awami League are most eager for the current emergency government to go ahead and pursue them. It is her party, for example, which is baying for blood for those who committed crimes in 1971 and later.

You will notice that the same article makes reference to Khaleda denying corruption. I ask you, dear reader, was there ever any corruption in the country in the first place? I am sure if you asked the High Court in its current mood they will deny it existed.

Saifuddin Ahmed Manik

Feb 3,2008

Saifuddin Ahmed Manik

Former communist party leader and latterly Gono Forum general secretary Saifuddin Ahmed Manik died today after a long battle with cancer. In the last two years I saw him several times in Singapore and Dhaka. He defied the usual image of a chemotherapy patient. He was always exuberant and jocular. Having undergone a six month course of chemotherapy myself, I was simply bowled over by how utterly dismissive Manik bhai was about the day to day awfulness of it. He was a picture of tenacity. But this disease is equally tenacious and in the end Manik bhai succumbed. I shan’t write a political obituary here. Others are better qualified to do that. Instead I wish my comrade farewell. Peace to you Manik bhai.

Jan 27,2008


Suharto’s daughter said: “We ask that if he had any faults, please forgive them”

“any faults.” The understatement of this century so far?  Surely matches the breathtaking revisionism of Le Pen’s statement about the holocaust being a “mere detail in the history of World War 2?”