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Archive for the ‘Asia’ Category

World Refugee Day

May 28,2008

World Refugee Day

It is World Refugee Day on 20th June 2008. According to the UNHCR there are 33 million refugees and internally displaced people. The 3rd Annual Tokyo Refugee Film Festival will be raising awareness of this by screening

“A select array of films from across the globe (giving voice) to seldom-heard stories of hope, despair and resilience.”

I am happy to note that our film Swapnabhumi - The Promised Land will be part of the film festival.

May 5,2008

UPDATE: 0870 60 60 900 is the DEC (MYANMAR) BURMA APPEAL.

The initial estimate by the Burmese state was 351. They revised that by 10 x. Now Western diplomats are saying that Burmese officials are putting the figure at around 10,000.

“Utter war zone”

“It’s a bad situation. Almost all the houses are smashed. People are in a terrible situation.”

Read more Here.

I did a quick check of - there is no charity doing anything. The Oxfam site is similarly devoid of any mention of Nargis. Christian Aid has labelled it as one of their 6 emergencies.. There is actually a Facebook group but it is not raising money.

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.”

Mar 22,2008

Rohingya 1

Rohingya 2


Eddy Van Wessel, a dutch photographer, shot these photos last year.  If you go to his site, you will see Sidr related photographs too.

The pictures show Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The Special Raporteur reported to the Human Rights Council last week. In his report (about Burma/Myanmar) he highlighted :

(the)continuous deterioration in the economic and social sectors, which further aggravated the humanitarian and human rights situation in the country. The increased militarization in rural areas had contributed to the impoverishment of villagers and to the increase in the number of internally displaced persons.

He further noted that

humanitarian assistance should not be hostage of politics and the population of Myanmar had the right to the same level of assistance from the international community that other countries in the region received

Burma rejected the report for its lack of impartiality and objectivity. And, oh yes, they didn’t even let the man come into the country citing some feeble excuse.

And the camps in Bangladesh? Two years ago, Janet Lim of the UNHCR thought that the camps were among the worst she had seen in her career with the agency. However “Two years down the line things have changed quite a lot,” she says in reference to Nayapara.

I must say its not often one encounters positive news like this. I hope its not the UNHCR just talking up its successes?

The freer, livelier atmosphere in Nayapara and nearby Kutupalong Camp – together home to more than 27,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar – reflects a new spirit of cooperation between the Bangladeshi government and the UN refugee agency.

Boycott Lonely Planet Guides

Feb 23,2008

I bet you didn’t know that the Lonely Planet travel guide series is owned by the BBC? Yes it is, and the BBC is one of 28 UK companies with dealings in Burma. Gone are the days when progressives the world over would praise the World Service for saving lives. Now the BBC is slave to financial concerns. The call to boycott Lonely Planet comes from the Trade Union Congress, Tourism Concern, New Internationalist and The Burma Campaign UK. They argue, quite rightly, that a travel guide on Burma “helps give legitimacy to the brutal regime, as do the tourists who use it to visit Burma.”

The Burmese seem not be fussed. They are more upset by the sagging breasts of Rambo. Come again, you say? Yes. They have taken offence at Sylvester Stallone’s man-breasts physique and lunatic demeanour in a film where he kicks Burmese ass. Perhaps they would have been happier if his breasts were firm and his appearance more comely? Here is a still from the film:
Rambo 2008

Feb 5,2008

Mention Uzbekistan to me and I conjure up romantic visions of a fabled city called Samarkand, and of the great and vibrant trade route or Silk Road and all the great intrigues and powerplays down the centuries from Alexander the Great to Tamurlane to the Great Game to….er Islom Karimov. Who he you ask? Well firstly he is a mate of George Bush. So if you are thinking that Karimov must then be a tinpot dictator who boils people to death and presides over a country which uses child labour for cotton production, you would be right.

So what has all this to do with Bangladesh? Well from July, several European and U.S. firms will not buy Bangladeshi garments if they are made with cotton from Uzbekistan. This Uzbek cotton is bad news for an industry already under a variety of pressures - a lot of it self-inflicted of course. President Karimov recently wrote a book with a very catchy title - “Uzbek people will never depend on anyone.” This is a somewhat surprising title as Uzbekistan is very much dependent on trade. Therefore they are sparing no effort and have sent out their deputy minister for foreign economic relations and trade and investment Nasriddin Najimov to reassure cotton importing nations that all this child labour stuff is a load of old codswallop and that the country can’t be held responsible  if Uzbek children love to play in cotton fields picking cotton. Its a traditional child’s pastime apparently.

And talking of children, Karimov’s daughter - Gulnara Karimova - has just been appointed a minister! Now which country does that remind you of?? She is a real go-getter it seems having accumulated vast amounts of wealth in the country’s energy industry. Not only that she is also multi-talented. She appears on state tv in her music videos. Going by the name Googoosha, you can see her perform a delightful ditty here on Youtube.

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?”

2007 - A bad year for dynasties

Dec 29,2007

Bangladesh did it haphazardly. Pakistan did it violently. And Nepal did it democratically.

In July of this year, there came the stunning news that Sheikh Hasina had been arrested. The writing was on the wall for some time but no one could believe it when it actually happened - especially not Hasina herself! She always thought that her status as daughter of Mujib conferred some special status  above and beyond that due to a politician or even a party leader. And she repeatedly reminded people of that relationship in her own hectoring, finger-wagging style. The powers of state were supposed to be hers by birthright and then suddenly and incredibly, she was at the mercy of those powers! Before the CTG took over and during Khaleda’s tenure in 2006, Hasina was busy preparing her son to take on the job. After each deadly clash on the streets, her son Joy ( who would stay at home during the demonstrations behind mummy’s apron), would visit the wounded in hospital. Yes it was a farcical as that. Read HERE and HERE.   But with her arrest, the annointed son has not had the spine to show up in Dhaka and protest in person. He prefers blogging in the US and has launched a toothless petition on the web seeking his mother’s release and which has garnered something like 800 signatures (many obviously fake- I put in two names myself!) over all these months .

And not long after, in september, came the arrest of Khaleda Zia. And before that her dear son Tarek was arrested. Ah Tarek. I doubt if there has ever been a “politician” so bereft of a sense of proportion and so unable to appreciate the role history had handed his family. Uncouth and uneducated, she and her son Tarek are finding out the hard way. “Zia is the idea, Khaleda is the present, Tarek is the future.” Last year that slogan looked menacingly possible but now Tarek’s chances of becoming the future are as good as George Bush’s chances of becoming a Hafiz.

And  this week’s awful news of the killing of Bhutto. Two brothers and father…all dead. That is the tally. They are blaming the nebulous Al Qaeda ….as it says you must on the song sheet. Musharraf’s anti-democratic politics had nothing to do with it of course! US stooge status has brought further ruin to this failing state of Pakistan, a process that started in 1947.

And this week too the Nepali political parties have decided to boot out the monarchy. I say democratically above but I am not forgetting the ten years of bloodshed between 1996 and 2006. Nearly 15,000 people died in that conflict - mostly non-combatants. The Maoists walked out of the interim government and demanded that the monarchy end. And it looks like it will.

But getting rid of these dynasties, though significant, pales in comparison to the other upheavals these countries are likely to witness in the near future. Brace yourselves.

Oct 27,2007

Greetings from Nepal. Its been nineteen years since i visited this country. And goodness, what changes…I was smitten by the place last time I was here and this time…well I will be writing about it somewhere else! I get to practice my hindi here, and I think I can understand about 20 percent of simple Nepali conversation. Damn useful when bargaining for nick-nacks.

Anyway, here is an interesting USAID study (pdf) concerning health intervention in the garment industry. They note a positive impact on turnover of staff, absenteeism and work place attitiude to management.

This intervention indicates there are economic, health and welfare benefits of developing workplace health programs. The study findings will add evidence to a broader business case for workplace and company-sponsored health services.

Oct 17,2007

DVD cover of Swapnabhumi

( cover image UNHCR-GMB Akash; design Catalin Dantis)
Swapnabhumi: The Promised Land ( Documentary, 90mins)

This is a story of six decades, three countries and statelessness. A story about the urdu-speaking community of Bangladesh.

The terms “urdu-speakers” and the more loaded “biharis” are used to refer to muslim people who originally emigrated from India to the newly created East Pakistan in 1947 and afterwards.

Many of them, but by no means all, originated from the state of Bihar and were fleeing large scale communal massacres.

Three decades later, during the struggle for independence in Bangladesh in 1971, this community became embroiled in conflict. Isolated as collaborators against Bangladeshi independence, this moment was a defining one for the urdu-speakers and has had a devastating legacy.

This is a story abou the 160,000 people from this community who live isolated in 116 “camps” or “settlements” in Bangladesh.

Script & Direction Tanvir Mokammel; Co-Producer and Researcher Shafiur Rahman; Editing Mahadeb Shi; Cinematography Anwar Hossain; Background Music Syed Shabab Ali Arzoo; Sound Mashrur Rahman; Assistant Directors Uttam Guha & Sarwar Tamijuddin; Commentary Chittralekha Guha; Assistants Research Khalid Hossain & Mohammad Hasan; Produced by Kino-Eye Films.

Free Burma!

Oct 4,2007

Free Burma!

Dilla Kulub in Space?

  • Filed under: Asia
Sep 23,2007

Another country which is not new to “cartoon capers” is Malaysia. The Danish issue got up the wicks of these cartoon haters and most recently, an image of Christ with a fag in one hand and a can of beer in the other also did not go down well. But its a lot more serious than that:

Malaysia’s first astronaut is going to blast off on October 10th and so, very thoughtfully, Malaysia’s Department of Islamic Development have produced a 20 page booklet for the lucky sod giving him guidelines about how to fulfill his muslim obligations. They are hoping he will choose to fast and pray five times a day whilst spinning around the earth 16 times in 24 hours and in zero gravity. What is day up there in space is not well defined by the learned people at the department. Perhaps just as well….I calculate the astronaut would have to pray 80 times if the satellite is circling the earth 16x a day…? The booklet also covers washing rituals but sadly the press report does not go into much detail here. I suspect they are packing some dilla kulub for him? What do you think?

Are you surpised the Malaysians can send people to space? Well actually, the Malaysian is hitching a lift with the Russians. Part of a billion dollar deal where Malaysia buys fighter aircrafts from Russia and gets a free ride to space for a bloke thrown in.  Here too the ever vigilant Islamic Development have anticipated issues and are ready with solutions: they doubt the Russians have the technology to prepare halal food for their fearless muslim brother-cosmonaut and so have instructed the good mossolman to only eat enough to stave off hunger. You can’t make it up…. (Buying a whole fleet of fighter aircrafts ….now thats pretty Islamic).

Malaysia Airport Photos

Sep 20,2007

Workers in airport, KL

waiting in KL

Suddenly the papers are full of indignation about what has been happening to stranded workers in Malaysia. Well they were a few days ago. These things happen all the time. I repeat: all the time. And at various points of the chain leading to work. Yes the scale is bigger here, and the High Commission shenanigans are disgraceful but let me say it again….these things happen all the time. I blogged about a mini-incident here. Anyway, about time there was a hue and cry. Above photos from Bazuki Muhammad, a photojourno in KL.

Sep 16,2007


Just another scary American? Yes. With some scary information for fellow republicans still with their heads up their arses:

‘I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.’

From Alan Greenspan’s autobiography.